Have a holly jolly holiday thanks to our best travel tips

Downtown Natchitoches Christmas
Credit: Robbie Caponetto

Whether you're loading the car for a multi-state road trip or packing a carry-on and catching a flight, heed our travel tips and you'll arrive ready to celebrate—instead of ready to snap. Holiday travel is notoriously stressful, and tensions are bound to run high, but there are small ways you can prepare ahead of time to make sure you have nothing but smooth sailing this holiday travel season.

Research, Research, Research

You bought the tickets, so now you're finished, right? Wrong. Now is the time to research where you're headed and what you'll need once you get there. Make a list of steps a) to prep for the trip and b) to take once your flight has landed. From packing, transportation, and checking in to renting a car, finding food, and navigating to your destination, it all becomes easier if you've plotted out your trip ahead of time.

Use Your Smartphone

Your smartphone can be your lifeline during holiday travel. There is truly an app for everything, so go ahead and load your phone with apps to help you find what you need—city maps, airport maps, flight trackers, and restaurant locators, for starters. Once you land, you'll have all the information and navigation essentials you need in the palm of your hand. (But be sure to pack your phone charger or a portable power pack—you wouldn't want your lifeline to let you down mid-journey.)

Create Contingency Plans

From travel routes to alternative car rental services, it's always wise to have a back-up plan…or three. The holiday season means that there are thousands more travelers on the roads and in the air. Book what you can ahead of time, and have handy lists of back-up plans that you can lean on if you need to. (With enough preparation, you can handily avoid a Steve Martin/John Candy Planes, Trains and Automobiles incident.)

Be an Early Bird

Book your tickets in advance, and arrive at the airport as early as possible. This will help you avoid any long lines—holiday travel is legendary for lengthy lines and missed flights. If you know you have plenty of time in which to get to your gate, you'll be much more relaxed while weaving through security queues and navigating terminals. If you're on the road, get a head start: It's much better to arrive early than to get stuck in midday traffic. (You may also want to explore a few roadside attractions to get your crew out of the car for an hour or two.)

Keep the Kids Occupied

Skipping this step could mean disaster for a long plane or car ride. The key here is packing just a few activities that you can bring out gradually during the journey. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. A well-timed activity can help you avoid a meltdown and keep the kids entertained. Stuffed animals won't hold their attention for long, so focus on storybooks and activity books with crayons or colored pencils.

Pack Smarter

Nothing is worse than reaching your destination only to find that your luggage is lost or that you left one of your many carry-on bags in the overhead bin. While packing, try to streamline the process, and think about your specific needs. Packing everything in one large checked bag will ensure that your hands are free as you board. Alternatively, packing one carry-on for each person guarantees that you arrive with all of your items and that you can skip baggage claim. Either way, it's smart to pack only what you need and to leave anything that isn't absolutely necessary at home.

Fuel Up

When you're hitting the road, be sure to pack healthy snacks for the journey. So that you don't have to stop every hour for food, bring a cooler with easy-to-eat fruits and veggies. A little prep in the kitchen makes for a much smoother trip. If you're catching a plane, stock up on a few snacks in the airport. That way, you won't have to rely on the next beverage cart slowly making its way down the cabin aisle.

Think Happy Thoughts

When the lines run long, the baby's crying, and you feel ready to give up, take a deep breath. A simple, intentional change of attitude will help you get through the tougher moments—and keep you in the holiday spirit.

For more travel tips, check out the Southern Living travel guides, which offer restaurant, hotel, and sightseeing recommendations for cities all across the South.

Whether on a girlfriend's trip, a romantic getaway, or a family vacation, most, if not all, of these tips will come in handy for the most relaxing and pleasant traveling experience.