'This is the busiest travel time of the year,' says Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor for the travel booking website Orbitz.com. 'While there are a lot of factors outside of your control, being more prepared and on top of the things within your power leaves you in a much better position to handle the unexpected.'
Taking that into consideration, here are five things to keep in mind as you begin the oftentimes long, but equally rewarding, trek home.
Arrive early at the airport
This one might be pretty obvious, but it's worth stressing - get to the airport early (two hours before domestic flights and three before international). The earlier you can get through security, the better. If check-in and TSA lines end up being shorter than anticipated, that just leaves you with extra time to decompress and get organized before boarding. There's nothing worse than feeling rushed in a busy airport.
Don't take wrapped gifts through security
While those X-ray machines can certainly see through wrapping paper, that doesn't leave gifts immune to further inspection. Just as you might be required to open your suitcase, you might be required to open a gift. Gifts won't necessarily be unwrapped, but spare yourself the frustration and skip the paper.
Fly on a holiday
If you fly on Christmas Eve or Day, you'll likely encounter cheaper flights and quieter airports. While you might be cutting it a little close, strategic planning can get you home just in time for dinner, without crowds, and for less money.
Bring a surge protector/power strip
An Orbitz survey found that the average family of four plans to travel with at least one computing device per person this holiday season, with nearly half expecting to pack a combination of at least seven smartphones, tablets and laptops. That's a lot of devices. Consider bringing a power strip to help spread the electricity (and holiday cheer). If an outlet is in use, ask the person if he or she doesn't mind sharing. You and your family benefit, others benefit. It's a win-win.
Be patient. Be kind. Be helpful.
In the midst of all the craziness, it's easy to forget that everyone is trying to get somewhere and is under just as much pressure as you are. Take a deep breath, smile, and lend a helping hand where you can. It is the holiday season after all, and a little goodwill can go a long way, particularly in a busy airport.