How to prepare for holiday travel in 2020
Whether to travel during this holiday season is an intensely personal decision this year. We have to look at every venture outside of our home where we’ll come into contact with people we don’t live with as a managed risk, so whatever you decide, make sure you are leaning forward and getting the most up-to-date info.
And, it should go without saying this year, make sure all travel for the remainder of 2020, and probably beyond, is flexible. You’re going to want that peace of mind that you won’t incur cancellation penalties on car rentals, hotel rooms or airfare if you cancel last-minute.
While I can’t help you decide whether you should travel this holiday season, I can help you prepare for holiday travel in 2020 with this list of tips on how to prepare for a road trip and how to prepare for a flight. Travel is changing rapidly. Some of the changes might be permanent and other things may return to normal. The best advice I can offer is to be prepared and thoroughly think your plans through.
How To Prepare for a Road Trip
Download a Traffic App
If you’re driving through major cities or crowded areas, get a traffic control app and learn how to use it ahead of time. Waze is one of the more popular traffic control and mapping apps out there. Google Maps also does a good job at taking you around accidents or road construction—or at least letting you know about delays.
View Your Route on a Map
One of the worst thing you can do if you’re traveling to a new destination is to plug in the address into your car’s navigation system or mapping app and set out blindly. Although today’s technology is great, do yourself a favor and get a visual read for where you are going on the map. If you lose connectivity, you’ll at least have an idea of what direction you need to be going in.
This is especially important if you are driving through rural areas where your signals are likely to drop. I remember one very tense trip through the very remote Montana badlands desperately hoping I was going the right way.
Get a Paper Map
Those maps that your dad had in the glovebox that were impossible to fold are not obsolete! Odds are you won’t need it but if you do, you’ll be happy you spent a few bucks to make extra sure you know where you’re at.
Have Your Car Serviced…
…or do it yourself. Check the tires and the spare and make sure all the fluid levels are good to go before setting out. Also, make sure you have any warranty paperwork or receipts for recent repairs.
Check. Your. Car. Paperwork.
Don’t leave home without making sure you’ve got current proof of insurance and registration. Make sure things like any inspection stickers your state requires are up to date.
Most insurance carriers have an app where you can produce proof of insurance in a pinch, but make it easy on yourself and have everything in your glove compartment where you can reach for it easily.
Consider a Rental Car
If you are traveling over 1,000 miles or if you have an older car, consider renting one specifically for your trip. If you shop around, rental rates can be pretty reasonable. Make sure you ask about any applicable discounts, such as military, educator, first responder, student, etc. You can often get discounts through your insurance company, a hotel loyalty program or club memberships, like Sam’s or Costco.
Renting a car ensures that any maintenance issues that might happen are someone else’s responsibility. While it is no fun to break down, if you are in a rental, you’ll have the peace of mind that your ride will be replaced, and you won’t get stuck with a repair bill. You may incur charges with the rental car company if you are deemed liable for the damage, so read those agreements carefully. And always opt for the good insurance if it’s available.
If you don’t routinely have some sort of roadside assistance, this is a good time to check into that.
Check your credit card company, phone carrier, club memberships or other loyalty program you belong to to see if they offer complimentary roadside assistance. You might have something in place and not even know it!
Make a Budget
Although driving is the generally accepted cheaper option to other modes of transportation, make sure you’re clear on how much it is going to cost you to get from point A to point B and back. Forecast how much you’ll spend on gas, food, snacks, and any lodging you need along the way.
You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got emergency money or a credit card that can handle any emergency situation that might come up.
Do You Know Basic Car Maintenance?
Do you know how to put on a your spare tire, jump start your car, or check fluid levels? If you don’t, consider getting an auto savvy friend to give you a crash course on basic car maintenance, especially if you are driving alone or with others that are equally uniformed about what goes on under the hood.
Plan Your Stops
You’ll want to stop every couple of hours to stretch your legs, use the bathroom or drink some coffee. Look at a map and loosely plan your stops or at least give yourself some options.
I like to choose brightly lit gas stations during dark hours. Rest areas, typically managed by the state, are usually good, safe places for a pit stop.
If you’re like me—I live in South Texas—driving in snow or on icy roads isn’t something you get a lot of practice with. If you’re driving into colder temperatures, make sure you have a good emergency kit in your car and brush up on the basics of winter driving. Learn why it is a very bad idea to mash on your brakes while driving across ice and make sure you have something to scrape your windshield with.
I might need an ice scraper twice a year where I live, but if I drive further north, I encounter completely different weather.
Read Up on Local Policies
Traffic and other laws vary from state to state and sometimes even in-state. While you don’t necessarily need to become an expert on local law, read up on things that might get you into trouble. Child safety seat requirements and unattended kids or pets policies are must-knows.
Don’t Overstuff Your Car
You won’t be comfortable, you’ll reduce your visibility and you won’t get great gas mileage. Driving versus flying can definitely bring on the temptation to “Oh, just pack all the things.” Being mindful about what you actually need will give you a better experience.
How to prepare for a flight
Read absolutely everything the airline sends to you
And make sure you’re signed up for emails, text alerts, and push notes. This not only ensures you’ll get the latest and greatest on any flight delays or cancellations but you’ll get all the information you need to know about the airline’s and the airport’s current safety protocols.
Each airline and the TSA has COVID-19 related info on their website. I recommend every adult be familiar with this guidance and know what to expect, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
The guidance you get in advance of your flight will prepare you for absolutely everything that might be different right now, from what kinds of face coverings are acceptable and who must wear them to alcohol sales on a flight. When I flew in September, I witnessed passengers complaining that they didn’t know this or that. Everything was in the guidance I got pre-trip. Read, read, read.
Allow plenty of time to get to the airport
This is good anytime advice. Even though the airports are less crowded and busy right now, still expect a surge in holiday travel and pad your schedule with some extra time. With safety protocols changing to try to stay ahead of COVID-19, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to go with the flow.
And, if you’re starting out from an unfamiliar airport, build in even more extra time. Some airports have off-site parking, and you’re looking at a 20-minute or more shuttle ride to get from the parking lot to the terminal.
Have a layover? Airport amenities aren’t going to be what you’re used to right now
If you’re counting on eating at the airport, you’ll probably be able to find food but the selections might be much slimmer than normal. With fewer people traveling, terminal restaurants and stores aren’t open at full capacity.
If you are a parent-fan of those super-kid friendly airports with playscapes, you probably want to plan a backup layover activity for your child.
Take hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes and extra face coverings
This should be a no-brainer in today’s pandemic world. That said, packing for holiday travel can be hectic so make double sure you have these things. When I flew in September I noticed frequent hand sanitizer stations. I still like to have my own so I can wipe down my seat and my phone. I also noticed a handful of people who wore face shields and goggles in addition to face masks.
If you need a spare mask, check with the individual airline counters or the TSA desk.
Check in Online and Get a Mobile Boarding Pass
This not only makes your travel process smoother but it reduces contact and touch. Make sure to clean your phone after you scan your boarding pass.
Make those rental car reservations EARLY
Even though less people are traveling in 2020, the holiday season is anticipated to be busy. If you need to rent a car make sure you’re not waiting until the last minute. This is especially important if you want to reserve special equipment. If you need child seats or ski/snowboard racks in your rental, don’t book last minute. If your trip contains substantial driving (i.e. from Denver to the ski resorts) you’ll want to brush up on the road trip tips section above as well.
Be Kind to TSA Officers and Airline Employees
You should always practice this but even more so right now when these front-line employees are being asked to enforce what seems like ever-changing rules that aren’t always very popular. Don’t make their day worse by being snarky when you are asked to do something.