How to Travel Safely and Wisely for the Holidays

November 29, 2017

Christmas and New Year's Travel Safety

Dealing with the chaos of holiday travel is nobody's idea of fun. Even though we are safely (for most of us) past the turmoil of Thanksgiving travel, Christmas and New Year combined represent an even bigger slice of travel bedlam, especially in and around Long Island and New York.

But you can make life easier -- and safer -- on yourself if you know which are the best days to travel, how to plan for your particular needs and how to stay up to date with road and air travel throughout the holidays.

Holiday Road Travel Tips

Driving for holidaysAn estimated 90 million people will be traveling the nation's roads over the Christmas and New Year period. And, sadly, hundreds of them will lose their lives (statistically, an average of more than 400 per year).

Furthermore, up to 1 million autos will be stranded due to breakdowns and accidents, according to AAA.

Unfortunately, the stretch of the North East between New York and Washington DC is one of the nation's biggest traffic trouble areas. So, if you're planning the hit the road over the holiday period, here's what you can do to reduce the risk of accidents and other problems.

  • Eliminate the two biggest causes of road accidents:
    • Rushing -- remembering that traffic will be heavy and road conditions possibly hazardous, plan lots of extra drive time into your schedule.
    • Alcohol consumption. Just don't. Always have a totally non-drinking designated driver. And if you're a passenger, don’t distract them.
  • Travel on the best days. With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, the worst days for road travel in New York state and beyond will be the Friday and the weekend prior to Christmas and the Tuesday after Christmas. Christmas Day itself is one of the quietest days to drive. Similarly, if you can avoid driving on the weekend before New Years, you'll miss the worst of the traffic. New Years Day itself though could be busy for return journeys. If you can possible wait till Tuesday, so much the better.
  • Monitor weather and traffic conditions. Thankfully, there are plenty of smart phone apps to keep you in touch with local weather and driving. If you don’t have it, try the free Waze app which is used by more than a million New Yorkers for real-time (as it happens) road hazards and congestion. Another useful program is the recently launched, free New York State Thruway Authority mobile app, which offers real-time info plus detailed Thruway maps for the state's 570 miles of superhighway.
  • Make sure your car is in good running order for winter driving. Have your local repair shop give it a thorough check and ensure you carry a winter travel kit that includes a first-aid kit, warm clothing and blankets, a fully charged cell phone and a powerful flashlight. When it's appropriate carry chains, a snow-shovel and some kitty litter for tire traction.
  • Insist on all your passengers being buckled up and encourage them -- especially kids -- to remain calm and avoid distracting the driver.
    Plan your route in advance. Carry maps but also use radio, the above apps, GPS and other real-time communications so you can adjust your journey if necessary.
  • Keep contact numbers for your roadside assistance readily on hand.
  • And if you plan to stop en route -- always a recommended tactic -- lock anything of value in the trunk or otherwise out of sight.

Holiday Travel Tips for Seniors, Pets

The travel needs of some older folk and animals often require special consideration. You can save yourself -- and them -- a lot of worries by planning for those needs well in advance.

For seniors, especially the oldest, once again, the most important need is to allow extra time, especially if there are mobility requirements, or if they are easily confused. Some seniors require extra bathroom breaks when traveling, so be sure to include those in your schedule.

Make sure you pack all medications (that goes for all of us too) and prescriptions as well as other special needs equipment and products such as portable oxygen. Find out in advance where you can get replacements and refills if necessary

For pets, if they're not experienced or frequent travelers, double check with your veterinarian that they're fit to travel.

In your vehicle, all pets should either be stowed in carriers or fully restrained. Here's an interesting report on different types and performances of dog harnesses:

If you're going to be staying away, bring things that are familiar to your pet -- such as food, bedding and litter. Many animals are uneasy in strange surroundings. Familiar items can help them relax.

Flying for the Holidays

An estimated six million passengers will pass through JFK, LaGuardia and Newark during the final two weeks of December and the first couple of days of the New Year.

If you're one of them -- at the risk of repeating ourselves too much -- time, and plenty of it, is the most important factor for a stress-free journey.

Here are some other tips for a safer easier journey:

  • Confirm your flight status before leaving and make sure you know which terminals you'll be using. Most airports now have maps online.
  • If you're driving to and parking at the airport, plan in advance, to allow time to travel between the parking lot and the terminal.
  • This advice provided by JFK International for passing smoothly through security applies generally to all airports (see :
    • Pack luggage in layers (this increases visibility when baggage is scanned)
    • Ready your boarding pass and ID
    • Take off outer garments and shoes
    • Place any loose metal objects in your carry-on
    • Remove your laptop from your bag and place it in the bin
    • Passengers should consider placing additional items in checked baggage since this will ensure a more efficient screening process at TSA screening checkpoints (passengers are reminded that the air carriers request they bring only one carry-on bag and one personal item per person).
    • Passengers are encouraged to have prescription cards for all medications including syringes. Medications should be in original packaging.
    • Passengers can also expect additional security procedures to be in place including possible body pat downs.
    • If you're traveling with a pet, find out and follow the airport and airline rules, including having all paperwork completed and easily accessible. Don't fly unless you know for sure all these arrangements are in place. Also learn about rest and relief areas for pets at the airports you'll be using. You'll find the rules for NY and NJ airports via the link above.
  • If you're traveling with a person with mobility issues, make arrangements for transportation, including wheelchairs at the airport, well in advance, as well as planning to board the aircraft early.

Don't Forget This

Insurance is an important part of wise holiday travel. Don’t forget to check that your car insurance as well as any travel insurance you might need are in place and up to date.

Talk to PRK Insurance to check you're properly protected.

Safe travels -- and Happy Holidays!