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Travel news and advice

The biggest holiday season travel mistakes you can make and tips on avoiding them

  • With Thanksgiving, Christmas and new year coming up, travel hell awaits – but you can minimise your hassles with these simple strategies
  • Don’t always buy the first insurance policy you see
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 6:15pm

The best way to avoid holiday travel hassles is to stay home. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option.

Holiday travel is an obligation. And what’s worse, we all do it at the same time. The result? Airports and motorways filled with grudging travellers who have picked the worst possible time to board a plane or pile into a car.

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Here are the most common travel mistakes people make during the holiday season.

Waiting too long to book

Right now you might still find a bargain for Christmas or new year, but there are certainly no guarantees.

Google has released a handy tool that enables you to track rates for seasonal flights and hotels by destination. You can select pricing information by holiday – and hope for the best.

Being unprepared

For too many people, travel preparations are an afterthought. The mistakes range from packing the wrong items to forgetting to fill up the car with petrol. And the consequences range from minor (not having a change of underwear) to severe (arriving late at the airport and missing your flight).

Alas, there’s no new way to remember everything. An old-fashioned yellow sticky pad is my favourite, or you could try an app like PackPoint.

Don’t ignore your ticket’s fine print. Airlines sometimes raise luggage fees. Other carriers are making less obvious changes, such as tightening their ticket rules. That means inexperienced travellers may get blindsided.

Leaving too late for the airport

If you are travelling on the busiest travel days of the year – just before or after a major holiday – give yourself an additional two hours just to be safe.

Travelling on the wrong day

The holiday travel hordes move in mysterious ways. For Thanksgiving, for example, not everyone leaves and returns on the same days, according to new research by Skyscanner, an online booking site. That creates a sustained busy period, starting a few days before the holiday. So when it comes to planning, you may want to leave even earlier and stay later to avoid traffic.

The single busiest travel day last year in the US was December 22, two days before Christmas. January 2 was the day the most travellers returned from their trips, followed closely by the day after Thanksgiving. You can see a list of the busiest air travel holidays on the Skyscanner website. Road travel tends to follow the same pattern.

Sometimes, leaving a day early can mean the difference between a stressful trip and a perfect getaway. And sometimes travelling on the day of the holiday (such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Day) means fewer crowds and less traffic.

Giving travel insurance short shrift

Insurance can protect you in the event of trip interruptions, delays, missed connections or lost luggage, and it can cover medical expenses.

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It’s not that people aren’t thinking of travel insurance. It’s that they’re failing to consider important details and options, or they’re going with the first policy they see, offered at the end of an airline reservation. One of the most popular insurance benefits is called “cancel for any reason”. Although expensive, it reimburses 75 per cent of your non-refundable trip cost, allowing you to cancel your trip for any reason whatsoever.

Minimising holiday trip hassles comes down to a few simple strategies. They include conducting careful pre-trip research; paying close attention to the fine print on your airline ticket, hotel room contract or rental car contract (even if you think you know everything); not waiting too long to book; and giving yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.