Can’t you just about smell it. Those homemade delicacies that no one makes better than your mama and grandma, uncles and daddy, aunties and that crazy cousin, brother or sister. The holiday season is upon us, and food and family are in the spotlight.
But just how to negotiate getting over the river and through the woods to one’s kin and all the lavish spread is another question. As is always the case, traveling during the holiday season can be a stressful, expensive and a challenge-loaded experience.
We offer the following advice—gathered from personal experience and research—to help make holiday travel a bit easier:
Deals are disappearing quickly so make plans and commit. It’s been reported that airlines are tightening their load during the holiday season and may be cutting the number of flights to ensure they don’t wind up with empty seats. When looking for deals, consider flying into airports that might be within a few hours of your final destination. Sometimes having family or friends willing to pick you up at a slightly out-of-the-way airport means you can save a bundle by taking advantage of fare sale bargains. Be sure to calculate the cost of gas and mileage to determine your true savings. Check airlines route maps to determine which airports may be within a reasonable drive.
If there’s any degree of flexibility in your schedule, check fares for a few days earlier and later than your target date to find seats and discount fares. Many airlines have imposed an additional fee this holiday season for flying during the busiest times of the year. Being able to shift arrival and departure by a few days may result in avoiding this fee.
Also consider making a bid at such sites as priceline.com, hotwire.com, skyauction.com. There’s another site, biddingfortravel.com, that provides bidding information advice via message boards. Flexibility is key as some sites don’t reveal all the details of the itinerary until you’ve won the bid, so you may end up flying cheap but having multiple stops along the way.
If you haven’t flown in a while, now’s a good time to check your airline carrier’s policies relative to baggage, seat assignments and more. If you want to save money, it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of baggage fees and weight limits as well as all the new fees that some airlines are charging for such things as pillows and seat assignments.
Also do some Internet research for information on rates at airport and off-site long-term parking lots. Compare rates and check for discount coupons.
Check the airport’s Web site for information on how long the security wait is expected to be on your travel date.
Don’t wait until the last minute to get that oil change, tune up or other significant service needed before taking your vehicle on the road. Remember to have tire pressure checked to ensure you get the best gas mileage possible.
If you don’t have a GPS (or even if you do), make sure the maps you’re using are up to date. Also consider using one of the many free online mapping services such as AAAmaps.com or maps.google.com or w.randmcnally.com to plan your route and places to stop for gas, food and overnight accommodations.
An excellent resource for anyone traveling in Georgia is the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Navigator Web site, www.georgia-navigator.com. It provides current travel information on road conditions, incidents such as stalls and accidents, construction and estimated time of delays. It also gives trip times,
Also help and information is as close as your fingertips by dialing 511 when traveling anywhere in Georgia. This is the Georgia D.O.T.’s phone version of the Navigator system, which provides real-time travel information about roadways and highways, transit and airports. One can also report incidents and accidents and request assistance in metro Atlanta from the Highway Emergency Response Operators, better known as HERO units. While they won’t tow a vehicle, they will change a flat tire, jumpstart a weak battery, provide fuel and coolant. (And tipping for their assistance is not allowed.)
From Atlanta’s Amtrak station, one can travel via train south to points in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, ending in New Orleans, Louisiana. The same Crescent line train also travels north from Atlanta to New York’s Penn Station with stops in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.
It’s suggested that those traveling by Amtrak arrive at the station at 1688 Peachtree St. NW in Atlanta 30 minutes (an hour if one has checked luggage) in advance of the departure time. Amtrak passengers are limited to two carry-on bags.
Amtrak’s Web (www.amtrak.com) notes that seats sell out quickly for the holiday period and recommends that travelers book as soon as possible.
Amtrak offers discounts for several categories: children between ages 2 and 15 travel for half price when accompanied by an adult, active military and their spouses and dependents receive a 10 percent discount, AAA members receive a 10 percent discount and there are also savings for seniors, students and veterans.