Traveling with Ease
Expert Advice for Better Holiday-Season Traveling
Here come the holidays. For some, that means it’s time to decorate, wrap presents, bake traditional meals and treats, and get ready for a crowd. For others, this time of year also means packing a suitcase and setting out on a journey: heading home for family gatherings or getting away from it all on a sunny beach, in a snow-covered cabin in the mountains, or even at an exotic resort in a foreign country.
The travel experts at AAA estimate that 43.6 million Americans journeyed fifty miles or more from home during last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, and twice as many traveled during the December holidays. Industry projections say those numbers will be even higher this year. So it’s likely that freeways and airports will be even more crowded, with millions of people trying to get to their chosen holiday destinations during the last few weeks of the year.
There are ways to ease travel strain, though, and travel experts are happy to share their tips.
Make a Plan
“Plan early. Leave early. Expect the unexpected,” advises Jen Yakimicki-Guimond of the North Central Group. “Take a deep breath and repeat. Remind yourself and your companions that the entire country is also traveling over the same set of dates for the same reasons—there is a high potential for delays and disgruntled folks swarming around the airports and interstate travel plazas. Make the decision ahead of time that you are not going to be one of them, and whatever bumps pop up along the way will make a great conversation starter when you are passing the turkey!”
Another way to minimize stress is to schedule your journey on either side of the heaviest travel days. According to IndependentTraveler.com, the peak holiday travel dates for this year will be November 21 and 25, December 22, 23 and 26, and January 2. “Have your holiday dinner a day or two before or after the actual holiday, if schedules allow,” Yakimicki-Guimond suggests, “and enjoy
a more peaceful time getting there.”
Advice for the Airport
For those who plan to fly this December, there is the additional headache of navigating airport security. But Ricki Subel of Landmark Luggage insists that there is no reason to dread the long lines, as long as you are cooperative and prepared. “You help the TSA employees, and without a doubt, they will not make your journey difficult,” she says. “Prepare your 3.4-ounce maximum size liquid products in a one-quart see-through bag, and they won’t make you trash your sixty-dollar bottle of perfume.” If you have any specific questions about new federal regulations, consult the website www.tsa.gov. Other great tips include having easy access to your laptop—which needs to be scanned separately—and avoiding wearing bulky jewelry or belts on the day you travel. “That will keep your belongings safe and help you to get through TSA with ease,” Subel says.
Traveling with Tots
For families traveling with small children, the stress of unexpected delays, navigating children through crowds, and rushing around airport terminals with strollers and carseats in tow can make everyone anxious.
Subel saves traveling with the right luggage can save already-harried parents from a lot of headaches. “Every time I’m at the airport and I see a family struggling with the kids, the diaper bags, the tickets, the scarves and the hats, I just want to reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, you know your lives would be a lot easier if you had four-wheeled suitcases?’ Luggage with four wheels makes pushing a stroller and gliding your suitcase next to you much easier. I hope this holiday, everyone saves some money at the chiropractor’s and finds a way to let your luggage work for you, not the other way around!”
Yakimicki-Guimond also suggests carrying a supply of kid-friendly snacks, and perhaps investing in some special distractions to keep boredom or frustration at bay.
“My six-year-old daughter received a birthday gift called ‘Travel Scavenger Hunt for Kids’ by University Games. It’s the size of a deck of cards, and perfect for any kind of road trip,” she says. A mini-version of “I Spy,” the game asks players to find things in their environment like a car of a certain color, a school bus, or a sign with a specific letter of the alphabet.
And when in doubt, Yakimicki-Guimond reaches for her child’s favorite cartoon characters. “I find having a lot of games on my smartphone and movies loaded on the Kindle keeps her attention whether on land or in the air,” she says.
Hottest Holiday Destinations
If you’re not obliged to visit the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents this holiday season, what’s a good destination for holiday fun? Some travel experts are pointing south.
“This season, I’m all about adventure,” says Subel. “For me, an all-inclusive resort on a nearly deserted beach in Tulum or Guadalajara, Mexico would be exactly what the doctor ordered. Argentina is also one of the most beautiful destinations I’ve ever seen—and you can do so much! You can go to the beach in Pinamar, Buenos Aires for typical Porteño culture and tango, and then head north towards Iguazu Falls and even Brazil, if it strikes your fancy. The exchange rate is in our favor, the food is incredible, and the people will really touch your heart.”
Yakimicki-Guimond also recommends South America for a holiday destination. “I have been hearing a lot about Brazil this year—it sounds like the place to be! With the World Cup coming next summer and the 2016 Olympics just around the corner, Rio de Janiero is as hot as it’s ever been—but Sao Paulo is getting a lot of buzz lately too. Both are remarkably exciting cities, from culture to nightlife
to the natural beauty of their beaches
If your ideal vacation involves avoiding the airport and enjoying the winter sports that Wisconsin is known for, then Granite Peak Ski Resort could be a perfect holiday destination.
Located in Wausau, Granite Peak boasts the highest skiable mountain in the state. The ski area includes seventy-four runs, satisfying skill levels from beginner hills to black diamond runs; one hill even features a vertical drop of seven hundred feet. Granite Peak also has outstanding snowboard runs that include jumps and terrain features. State-of-the-art snowmaking ensures that the conditions are always terrific, and trained instructors are on hand to give lessons. Special night-skiing hours offer skiers and snowboarders a unique chance to play in the snow and enjoy a great view of the city lights. After a full day of skiing, guests can relax with food and drink in front of blazing fireplaces in a historic, split-stone chalet.
“It’s a relaxing vacation, close to home, easy to get to. And what a great way for families to reconnect and have fun together!” says Vicki Baumann of Granite Peak Ski Resort. Skiing, she adds, is also a sport that everyone—kids, couples, college students, grandparents—can participate in. “Some families come back year after year,“ says Baumann. “It’s their holiday tradition.”
Online Holiday Deals
According to travel professionals, doing your vacation research on the Internet can really pay off. Most hotels run lower occupancies over the holidays and offer packages and promotions during these times that will save you money.
Baumann recommends visiting Granite Peak’s website to make arrangements well ahead of your stay: buy lift tickets, reserve lodging, arrange rental equipment, book ski lessons, and research area dining, shopping, and entertainment options in nearby Wausau. As a bonus, check out current conditions at the resort via the website’s live webcam views.
At Dahlmann Campus Inn in Madison, several online packages emphasize the hotel’s ideal location—right down the street from the state capitol building, in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madion campus. For example, a “Badger Pride Package,” perfect for prospective students or returning alumni, includes a UW tee-shirt, baseball cap, campus map, and a copy of the UW-Madison student newspaper, in addition to the night’s accommodations. Other packages feature locally made chocolates from Gail Ambrosius, a collection of Wisconsin cheeses from Fromagination, and a bottle of Prairie Fume wine from Wollersheim Winery along with a weekend stay.
Dahlmann Campus Inn manager Bill Wellman says that, “in general, travelers are more savvy these days. They are using the Internet, comparing different hotel options, and shopping for value. They are really analyzing what they are getting for the money they are spending.”
Thanks to the Internet, Wellman also enters into a dialogue with travelers who evaluate their stays at his hotel on rating sites like Tripadvisor.com. Thanking guests for positive reviews and addressing any complaints or concerns in writing on a public forum attests to the personal attention that guests receive at his boutique hotel.
When to Book Reservations?
Sooner is better, say travel experts.
Baumann, for instance, urges interested visitors to make arrangements to ski Granite Peak as soon as possible. “Reservations go on sale over the summer. The sooner you book, the more options you are going to have for dates and hotel packages,” she says. Through the resort’s website, you can choose from a variety of lodging options, including condos and townhouses with full kitchens, cozy hotels with fireplaces, bed-and-breakfast establishments, huge complexes with indoor water parks, and everything in between. “Because families typically visit over the holiday break, they tend to plan far in advance,” says Baumann. “This is the time when everyone has some vacation days, so they want to spend them having fun, skiing, and relaxing together.”
Extra Amenities for Savy Travelers
More than ever, when travelers arrive at their hotel for the night, they want to “plug in.” They are looking for lots of outlets and charging stations in the rooms, and free Wi-Fi so they can post pictures of their vacation adventures and send holiday greetings via email throughout their stay. “Mobile apps are also gaining popularity among some of the larger hotel chains,” says Yakimicki-Guimond. “For example you can visit Marriott.com or Hilton.com and download their mobile booking apps to your smartphone or tablet.” She notes, too, that these apps are especially useful in helping travelers deal with last-minute changes in their plans or unexpected weather delays.
As the foodie culture elevates our dining expectations, travelers may also notice designer coffee makers in their rooms. To give their guests something extra, the Dahlmann Campus Inn provides a hot breakfast each morning, and complimentary evening appetizers, desserts and coffee in the Chancellor’s Club, often featuring locally sourced food, wine, and spirits.
They also treat guests to some classic perks, such as turn-down service (complete with chocolate on the pillow), complimentary airport taxi service, an always-open fitness center, free overnight parking, and a morning newspaper delivered to your door Monday through Saturday.
“As an independent hotel, we try to provide a unique experience. We encourage all of our guests to really enjoy Madison—visit the Dane County Farmers’ Market, see a show at Overture Center, enjoy a sporting event,” says Wellman. “A lot of the staff are from Madison or they went to school here, and they have a real passion for the area. They love making recommendations for shopping, dining, and entertainment downtown, and our guests appreciate the personal attention.”