Chances are good that most of you will be taking to the roads or skies this week to make the proverbial trek over the river and through the woods to visit family. Let’s be honest here: traveling sucks at any time of the year, but traveling during the holidays always pegs the suck-o-meter. Regardless of weather, you can be rest assured that you’ll face flight delays, long lines for security, obnoxious fellow passengers and indifferent baggage handlers. If you drive, you can count on traffic jams, stratospheric gas prices and a wide assortment of asshat behavior from your fellow motorists.
If you travel, you have my sympathy. I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, so here are some tips for flying and driving that may just make your life easier.
First, we’re RideLust and not FlightLust, so I’ll keep this part brief. If you’re flying during the holidays, get to the airport as early as you can. Two hours before your flight is probably ideal, one hour is pushing it and any less is asking for trouble. You’ll probably face long security lines, since there are more passengers flying these days and the TSA may or may not be pushing back on travelers protesting the full body scanners and pat down searches.
Speaking of pat down searches, I brain farted on my return from the Volt drive, and forgot I had a cell phone in a pocket. This earned me the dreaded “pat down search”, which went off without a hitch and really wasn’t a big deal. There was nothing even vaguely sexual about it, despite what you hear in the media, and I get the feeling the TSA agent didn’t enjoy it any more than I did. They’re doing their job, and if you want to fly it’s currently one potential cost of doing so. My only concern was unattended luggage; as the TSA guy was doing the pat down, Mike kept an eye on my stuff. Had I been traveling alone, my camera and baggage would have sat unattended while I went through the search. There have been cases of iPads being stolen while their owners got TSA-ified, so be aware if you’re traveling alone.
Aside from that, check your airline’s baggage rules and see what they allow on a plane. Most still allow for one carry on bag (that fits in the overhead) and one personal item (like a briefcase). If you’re checking bags, prepare to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege of having the airline abuse or misplace you bags. Travel light: you’re going to see family anyway, so borrow a sweater from them if you need one.
Above all, be patient. Every other passenger is as tired and frustrated as you are, so cut them some slack. Unless, of course, they’re trying to cram eight bags into the overhead, or take fifteen minutes getting their bags out of the overhead while deplaning. In either case, feel free to be rude and confrontational.
If you’re taking to America’s roads this holiday season, I hope your combat driving skills are up to par. Traffic is bad all over, and it’s only getting worse. If you’re driving through a major city, expect to hit traffic jams and plan accordingly. Add another hour to your travel time estimate, unless you’re willing to drive early in the morning or very late at night. Don’t forget to pack your GPS, since routing around a traffic jam can save you hours of frustration.
Before you head out, check your tires and inflate them to the pressure listed on the label inside the driver’s door. Inspect them for nails or punctures, since it’s easier and safer to fix a flat tire in your driveway than it is to do the same on the shoulder of a highway. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, or travel with a car adapter or battery extender, just in case you do encounter trouble on the road. It’s also a good idea to tell relatives when you’re leaving and when you expect to arrive..
If you live up north, check your coolant and washer fluid before heading out. Few things suck more than trying to drive with a road-salt-encrusted windshield and an empty (or frozen) washer fluid reservoir. It’s always a good idea to travel with some blankets or warm clothes in the trunk, just in case the worst happens and a snowstorm closes the road. Been there, done that.
You’ll need gas, which has shot up in price over the past few weeks. Why? Because it’s all about supply and demand. Americans drive more over the holidays, so the price of gasoline goes up. I suggest staying with a name brand and avoiding gas stations right off a major highway if at all possible. Unless, of course, you like paying 25% more for gasoline sold by greedy retailers looking to capitalize on the convenience factor. Want to know where the cheapest gas is in your area? Try a site like Gas Buddy.
If you’re heading out shopping on Black Friday, good luck and vaya con Dios. Remember that shopping mall and discount store parking lots are probably the most dangerous places in America, specifically for crimes of opportunity like purse snatching, strong arm robbery and car break ins. Just as predators congregate at watering holes, criminals flock to WalMart parking lots for the easy pickings. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t be afraid to double back into the store and ask for security if something looks out of place. Shop with friends or family if at all possible, since there really is safety in numbers. Don’t talk on the cell phone as you push your cart loaded with $1,000 worth of electronics back to your car, since this is the equivalent of a giant neon sign reading, “I’m distracted, rob me”. Be especially aware after dark, and avoid parking next to full size vans, SUVs or pickup trucks, which can serve as the equivalent of a duck blind for would-be robbers.
Above all, be safe since we need all the readers we can get. Happy Thanksgiving!