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It’s that busy time of year, traveling to see Grandma, your hometown, or traveling to escape from the holiday madness. Whatever your travel mission is this holiday season, I’ve got some tips for you to get through it with sanity, grace, and maybe even a little bit of cheerfulness.

Don’t Pack Gifts

In the olden days (like the 90’s), holiday travel meant packing up all of the family Christmas gifts into the car or a suitcase. These days, you can streamline the whole process by sending your gifts ahead to your holiday destination. Amazon and other online retailers will ship your gifts pre-wrapped if you want, but I’ve also sent things ahead and wrapped them myself upon arrival.

Another option is to skip physical gifts in favor of gift certificates. That may sound like a cop-out, but most people like thoughtful gift certificates, perhaps to a local restaurant or theater.

Be Prepared for Anything

Holiday travel guarantees one thing—frayed nerves when something goes sideways. And something will always go sideways. Prepare ahead by having everything you need. I find that if I put myself in the mode of expecting disaster, I am less stressed out when it happens, and delightfully surprised when it doesn’t.

If you plan to check a suitcase, make sure your carry-on bag has a change of clothing, medications, and toiletries. For air travel and road trips, I’ve also learned to bring a water bottle with me to refill, along with some soothing snacks, like trail mix or beef jerky. A good book or trashy magazine is great for the moments when you’re stuck, bored, and needing to save your cellphone battery. Oh, and a backup mobile phone battery should be in every travel bag these days, just in case. If you really want to be prepared, add a travel blanket and pillow to your carry-on or car. Just the coziness factor alone makes these worth bringing.

Be Your Best You

Crowds suck, let’s be honest. Tempers flare and patience wanes on busy travel days. Mentally prepare yourself for it, put your game face on, and make sure that game face has a smile. If you need to calm yourself, breathe on through your nose and out through your mouth, listening to the rhythm of your breath. Here’s the thing I’ve learned after 20 years of tour guiding: you can positively or negatively impact the people around you by the way you present yourself. People that start down the negative road zap everyone around them on the way, creating a big snowball of stress.

If you can mentally choose ahead of time to be gracious and patient no matter what happens, the world will be better for it. If someone sneers at you, cuts you off in line, steals your child’s cookie, and lowers their seat onto your knees…take a deep breath and look them in the eyes with kindness. Kindness is sort of like a superpower, it defeats even the crabbiest, hangriest, frown-faced attitude. Everyone could use kindness, especially at this time of year, so be the face of kindness.

Thank Those Serving You

To continue the kindness theme, the best holiday travel tip is to be sure and thank anyone who is working to make your trip happen. Taxi drivers, servers, air hosts, anyone that helped get you from A to B. They would probably rather be somewhere else but instead they are dealing with hundreds of cranky travelers. Tip generously if that is appropriate. It can be as simple as saying thanks, or, to take your travel game up a notch, bring something to give them.

Don’t know what to give? I’ve made it easy for you. I drew a little card. Print out the image above. If you like, attach a candy bar or tiny bottles of schnapps or whatever is your thing, and pass these cards out to the people serving you. It isn’t much, but it’s something. The thanks is appreciated, believe me, these little things mean a lot when you work in the travel industry.


Take Care of You

We think so much of others at this time of year, take a moment to take care of yourself. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, I give you permission to say no to hanging out with that cousin that is obviously sick if you don’t want to. Get plenty of sleep before you travel, hydrate (see, that water bottle is important!), and make sure you don’t forget to eat. If you’re traveling by plane, consider asking your family to NOT pick you up at the airport, and reserve a transfer instead. Nobody likes going to the airport at this time of year, and it may be less stress for everyone if you just get an Uber. Whatever makes you comfortable.

And if all else fails, somewhere near you is a bar that can make you a hot toddy—hot water, lemon, and whiskey. Hot tip: every airplane has the ingredients for this, and it’s the perfect cure for a winter cold (or difficult relatives). Have one for me.

Sarah Murdoch

This post was written by Sarah Murdoch, founder and director of Adventures of Sarah. Sarah has been guiding around the world for 20+ years, after catching the travel bug while studying in Italy in 1995. Between guiding she is also a journalist, travel guidebook writer, occasional architect, and full-time mom to Nicola and Lucca. Click here to find out more about Sarah.


  • Colleen says:

    Excellent suggestions. Best advice: be kind.

  • Darci Lenehan says:

    Sarah – We printed off your design, my 10-year-old Harper enjoyed adding a little color, and we attached to a bag of chocolates for our flight attendant. Harper presented the gift and our flight attendant was overjoyed! Before we landed she even brought a little treat back for Harper and again let us know how touched she was. Thanks so much for helping teach my daughter how a simple, kind gesture can make someone’s day.

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