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Stress-free Holiday Air Travel

AA airplaneThe holiday season is upon us and many of us will be traveling by air to friends and family or even to exotic locales to celebrate the holidays. With the crowds, stepped-up security, and children hopped up with holiday excitement, airline travel during the holidays can be particularly stressful. It doesn’t have to be.

Here are a few ideas to take a pressure off and enjoy tour holiday air travel.

Travel on off-peak days/times. There’s nothing that will raise your blood pressure faster than heading to the airport with thousands of others. If your schedule is flexible, consider leaving very early or very late in the day or a day or two early. I have two friends who are veteran travelers and always get up very early to get to the airport. Also consider traveling on the actual holiday. You’ll avoid long lines, crowded parking lots, and security snafus.

Country Inn Bloomington

Airport hotels like the Country Inns & Suites Bloomington Mall of America offer stay-park-fly packages that can take the pressure off holiday travel.

Stay at the airport. Consider staying at an airport hotel the night before to avoid rushing to the airport and trying to find a spot in packed parking lots. Many airport hotels offer stay-park packages that allow you to leave your car in the hotel’s parking lot and take the hotel’s shuttle right to your airline.

Give yourself extra time. Airport security lines are going to be longer. It’s going to take more time to find a cab. The lines at the gas station on the way to the airport will be insane. Give yourself more time—way more time—than you usually do.

Breeze through security. You can speed your trip through airport security by being prepared. Empty your water bottle or coffee cup before getting in line. Have your photo ID ready (and be sure to check beforehand whether or not your state’s driver’s license or ID is still accepted by Homeland Security). Re-pack any bath or liquid/gel items into 3.4-ounce containers and put them all into a clear, quart-sized plastic bag. I always secure that bag with a thick rubber band to avoid it opening in the security checkpoint. Take out your laptop and put it in a separate security bin. Remove your jacket and shoes. Let the security personnel know if you have a pacemaker, replacement joints, metal plates or other health issues that will set off the alarms.

Pack lightly and carry it on. Take just what you need and not more. My mother-in-law, a veteran international traveler used to tell me, “Take half the clothes and carry twice the cash.”

Cruise, luggage, travel advice

You’ll stress less if you pack less stuff.

By packing lightly, you can carry on or gate check your luggage. It’ll save you oodles of time and decrease the stress from having the airlines losing your luggage.

Even if you can’t carry on your luggage, at least carry on your medications, extra prescription glasses or contacts, itinerary, contact information/phone numbers, camera, and electronics.

Don’t wrap gifts. At holiday time, wrapped gifts can slow airport security lines. Leave your gifts unwrapped, even if they’ve been professionally wrapped. Put them in gift bags instead.

Take a break. Even if you’re not a member of an airline club, you can purchase a one-day pass to unwind and de-stress. The small price is worth it to keep your holiday travel stress in check. The clubs offer complimentary snacks and drinks, free WIFI, and, most importantly, a break from the crowds.

Visit the chapel. If you’re not willing to spring for an airline club lounge, check out the airport’s chapel. Normally, they’re empty (or nearly empty) and quiet. Sometimes I retreat to the chapel for a little peace and quiet to do a little meditation.

Toronto Airport art

Some airports like Toronto’s Pearson International Airport offer interesting artwork. Photo Yvette Cardozo.

Treat yourself to an airport massage. Many of the larger airports offer day spa treatments, including chair massages. For just a few dollars, you can have a masseuse work out the knots.

Enjoy the artwork or airport museum. Many airports have fascinating art exhibitions or even museums. For instance, in Portland, Oregon’s airport, I always take time to check out their rotating art exhibit in D terminal. In San Francisco, the airport has a very cool aviation museum. At Vancouver, BC’s airport, the native art collection is really special.

water bottles

Drink more water. Go easy on caffeine and alcohol.


Stay hydrated and go easy on alcohol and caffeine. In the rush of holiday travel, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. Being dehydrated can cause headaches and make you more vulnerable to catching a cold or flu virus. Take along am empty plastic water bottle or refillable water jug and fill it after you pass through security. Then drink, drink, drink. However, don’t fill up on alcohol or caffeine. Neither too much alcohol nor caffeine will help you deal with the pressures of holiday travel. Both are also diuretics and can leave you dehydrated.

Carry snacks. Being hungry can make you crabby. And, too often, the food choices at airports are expensive and loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. Instead, carry snacks that’ll stave off hunger and keep your energy up like nuts, apple slices, and cheese (drier, aged cheese and those in individual servings are great).

Take a nap. If you’ve got a long layover, a nap (15-45 minutes) can make you feel refreshed. I always carry foam ear plugs, a neck pillow, a pashmina for warmth, and a small alarm clock (to make sure I don’t sleep through my flight’s take off).

Choose non-stop flights. Whenever possible, choose non-stop flights. The more connections you have, the more likely you’ll face delays and cancellations that will add to the stress.

Bring your tunes. Music has the ability to change your mood, regardless of the stress around you. Bring your iPod or other music player and headphones and easy-does-it music selections. If you don’t have a music player, bring earbuds or other headphones so you can tune into the plane’s music selections.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. Deep breathing can decrease stress hormones and help you keep your cool. Breathe in slowly to the count of four and then breath out slowly to the count of six. Repeat this 10 times a session.

Cheese Italy

Hard cheeses travel well and provide a protein hit. Photo Anne Weaver.

Chill out. Science has proven it’s not what happens to us that causes stress, but our reaction to it. If you know you’re likely to encounter longer lines, more people, flight delays and other hassles, you can prepare yourself by choosing a chilled-out reaction. Instead of getting angry at flight personnel who announce flight delays, for instance, recognize that they’re stressed out and under pressure too. Instead of getting angry and frustrated, adopt a bemused attitude. See how many people you can make laugh and choose to enjoy yourself and others in the moment.

Happy flights and happy holidays to all. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

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Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at