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Holiday airport survival guide

*Note: This blog post unfortunately does not double as a floatation device, pillow, power outlet, baby changing station or children's entertainment device. It will however provide you with the tips and tools to survive anything from a 10-minute run between connecting flights to a full-on multi-hour flight cancellation camp-out. People are simply looking to get home to family over the holidays, wherever "home" may be. More than any other time of the year, folks are upbeat, friendly and gracious. However, this 'phenomenon of festive friendliness' can quickly become equally grumpy, annoyed, exhausted and belligerent once the notion of a crowded airport and flights are inserted between a person and their final family-filled destination. Hence the need for an airport survival guide!

Tip #1: Layer That's right, even though your carry-on most likely is packed-to-the-gills, make sure you've got room to have a few layers with you. Planes are notoriously freezing or sauna-like hot (and knowing Murphy's Law you might just sit next to the person who's got their vent on the "full blast" setting). If the airlines provide you a blanket at no or low cost on a flight, it might be worth grabbing since airports can get quite drafty on the off-chance you end up stranded due to a cancellation or layover. Be sure to keep this blanket with you when you leave the plane, too! Many people forget that once you've bought it on the flight: It's yours! No sense in paying for a new one on the way back.

Tip #2: Power-up Remember how I just mentioned Murphy's Law in the last tip? Well, it's got a funny way of derailing the best laid of plans especially around the hustle 'n bustle of the holiday travel crunch. With more of our everyday devices requiring batteries to be sufficiently full, the last thing you're going to want to do is huddle near an overloaded outlet begging for five minutes of plug-in time from an angry mob. So, consider buying a mobile battery back-up. Typically these devices come with multiple USB ports, so, should worse come to worse, you can have a smartphone getting juice along with a camera, personal video game device or DVD player (to keep the kiddos occupied on layovers!) Some great brands to check out are Anker, Jackery and Mophie.

Tip #3: Pack-in, Pack-out This is the busiest travel time of the entire year, which means there's a higher chance you might have to make due without your checked luggage if there are delays, cancellations or unexpected "luggage vacations" to a hotspot like Minot, ND for example. So, remember that your carry-on luggage is your temporary life-line. While, yes, we realize that "overhead bins and underseat storage is at a premium...blah, blah, blah", be strategic in how you pack those bags. Make sure that you've got the following:

  • A layer or two (See Tip #1) - this can function nicely as a pillow in a pinch, too.
  • All ticket/travel documentation
  • Some reading material
  • Any charging cords for smartphones, tablets, e-readers, laptops
  • Wear contacts? Bring some solution, contact case and your backup glasses in a hardcase (for in case all else fails!)
  • A hat or sunglasses (Can come in handy to block-out overhead lights for airport-based naps)
  • Cash (as a backup in case for some reason shops and kiosks don't accept plastic and there's been a holiday run on the ATMs)
  • Underwear and deodorant (for that 'not-so-fresh-feeling')
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Food...

Tip #4: Rumble, rumble... While TSA regulations prevent you from carrying open beverage containers through security checkpoints, you can keep food items stored in your carry-on. If you're traveling with kids, this is crucial. You should prepare to have 3-4 snacks with you for a given day (even better if they can double as a quick meal in a jam). This way you can make sure that fatigue or hunger headaches don't strike the wee ones, which is painful and tough for them and...ahem...not exactly easy on you parents. While there are always options for food and drink in the airport, you may need to wait in line and be able to depend on something tiding them over while you wait. By the way, these tips aren't just for children. I've known some pretty formal adults that can begin to have adult-sized tantrums if they don't get food when they need it, so - frankly - snacks are an easy win for travelers of all ages. Try nuts, granola bars, pretzels, apples, bananas and grapes for things that are small and filling.

Tip #5: Get out a little! If you've got a serious chunk of time, some daylight and not too much to lug around with you, get out of the mayhem. Using public transportation or taxi, go explore some of the nearby sights and sounds. A great way to be ready-to-go on a moment's notice is to do a bit of research before you travel (or simply consult your smartphone and a reputable travel website once on-location) and pick a couple spots that are in relative proximity to each other. Remember that doing this will mean having to go back through security lines, so make sure you've got ample time for an excursion. If you do though, it could be a welcome vacation for you from the airport monotony and a little surprise treat you hadn't expected to get out of your travels!

Tip #6: Sleep (cautiously...) Sleep is never the easiest thing to get in an airport, but the body can go through a fair amount of stress when traveling, so take the opportunity to refill the tanks when the opportunity presents itself. And what better opportunity than if you're sitting in an airport for hours? Traveling with a buddy? Great! This tip is best done when a buddy has your back. That way you can catch some shut-eye while your friend keeps an eye on your things. When you're finished, offer to reciprocate like a good friend! If you're alone, simply thread your arm through your bag and set your alarm on your phone so you don't sleep through the boarding process!

Tip #7: Relax and nosh Get cozy, especially if you have an inkling that you're going to be at the airport awhile and take advantage of the comfier seating available in a restaurant or bar. The atmosphere may be just what you need in order to relax and recover your wits and civility. If you're on a budget, not-to-worry. A bit of pacing and strategy with the menu can keep you in a much nicer seat than the concourse, plus it may net you free wi-fi and some peace and quiet compared to the rest of the airport seating areas.

Tip #8: Kum ba yah! Why wait to have family time once you arrive? Hunker-down, get comfy and play a game! Whether it's Go-Fish, travel chess or "I Spy..." there's no better time than the present to enjoy the time with those you love. You might be stressed, but these will help you regain perspective and they're sure to become those fun, wacky memories that you'll all remember fondly and laugh about. 'Tis the season!

Tip #9: Get creative Your call on this one. Have a couple hours on a layover? Maybe you go through the airport and collect one of every brochure you can find for a fun scrapbooking project later on. Have your camera with you? Snap a photo of something that starts with the letter "A", "B" and "C". If you want to really make it interesting, try to make it through the entire alphabet. It's a great way to pass the time and leads to a really unique photo album and perspective on an airport that you might have never seen. Airports are also a great place to draw and write. The energy is palpable and can be just the muse you need to dabble in some carefree creativity.

Tip #10: People-watching One of the best places on earth to do people watching is in an airport. You've got folks from all walks of life and in all sorts of circumstances. You don't have to be an artist to appreciate the amazing beauty, uniqueness and similarity amongst us all, whether it's a couple clambering down a concourse at full-sprint, a family of five being corralled by parents or an elderly couple awaiting incoming family. Life's beautiful, now isn't it?

Bonus Tip: Lines Ok, this one's easy: There will be lines, so bring your 'A-game' and be ready to just deal with it. Add your smile, a heaping load of patience and arrive 2-2.5 hours early for domestic flights and 3-3.5 hours early for international flights. While this little recipe won't always be perfect, you're giving yourself the best opportunity to avoid stress and a meltdown altogether. (Let's leave the meltdowns to the snowmen...)

What tips do you recommend for navigating the airport gauntlet this time of year?

Image courtesy of skift.com

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