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Holiday Packing 101: How to Travel Smart for the Holidays

Written by Mary Zakheim

This blog post was updated on August 3, 2023.

So it’s that time of year again – time to head home for the holidays! Whether you’re expecting to have fun with the fam or just looking to survive them, there’s one major chore before you: packing!

Fear not, intrepid holiday voyagers, because we’ve put together a smart guide to traveling home for the holidays like a total pro. Whether it’s bringing back your 50 new pairs of socks or sneaking mum’s apple pie through customs — we’ve got you covered.

Send Gifts Through the Mail


Dreading the thought of lugging all those holiday gifts with you? Well, there’s an easier way. If you’re not shopping from unique, local stores, you can easily buy gifts for your family online and send it straight to their front door. You can even pay a little extra to get your gift wrapped and personalized with a greeting. How’s that for holiday cheer? It’ll save you a ton of stress of having to explain your nephew’s new magic set to disgruntled airline employees.

After the holidays, you can also ship the presents that you’ve received to your own address. Although you can totally wear that new tie that dad got you while you’re on the plane…if you’re that brave.

Freeze Those Leftovers!

One of the things that always makes us homesick is the lack of a good home-cooked meal, right? Well, here’s an option: freeze that turkey — and everything else! If you pack the leftovers into nesting food containers and then freeze the food, you can bring the food back home with you and arrive with well preserved leftovers. You’re sure to find some inventive ways to rehash that turkey — make a casserole or a great sandwich — which should keep your belly full for another week at least.

Protect the Alcohol

Closeup of four different wine bottles in a wooden crate with straw packing material.

Your best bet to getting that fancy wine your Uncle Ned loves so much across the country is to either swaddle the bottles in your sweaters or a thick towel. Or you can buy one of those foam bottle protectors, but they can cost upwards of $25 per bottle, so you should also check if the company that you’re buying from ships their wine, for added convenience.

Swaddle Your Delicates

A lot of people carry delicate items like ornaments, dinnerware, or other breakable gifts with them on their holiday travels. Again, you should consider shipping these ahead of time. But if you want to carry them in your checked bag or carry-on, the best thing you can do is swaddle them up like a baby.

That’s right, take your chunky winter sweaters, scarves, puffy vests, and wrap them around your delicate gifts like they’re Gollum’s ring. Also, don’t forget to make sure they’re cradled in an equally soft — and unlikely to get hit — spot in your luggage. We also recommend packing delicates in a carry-on so that you can have the most amount of control and supervision over your belongings throughout your journey.

Always Have Extra Space in Luggage


We all know how the holidays are: go home with a carry-on — or better, a small backpack — and come back with a checked bag full of stuff your mom wouldn’t let you leave without. Since you just know it’s going to happen, you might as well prepare for it! Pack a super light bag on your trip out to your holiday destination, then make sure that your family has a checkable bag that you can tote back to where you live.

If you really think ahead, you can also bring your own empty checked bag over on Thanksgiving and leave it to haul more things back during the Christmas holiday. If that’s too complicated, just pack light on your way there so that you’ll have enough room to stuff your winter boots in your luggage for the ride home.

Don’t Forget to Pack Your Sanity

This is pretty important. There’s always a thin line between love and hate among very different personalities, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing tighter than family. So pack a lot of patience, understanding, and keep the eye-rolling to a minimum.


Q: Is it necessary to book flights and accommodations early for holiday travel? 

A: Yes, it’s highly recommended to book flights and accommodations early for holiday travel. This allows you to secure the best deals and avoid last-minute price increases. Popular destinations and dates tend to fill up quickly, so booking in advance ensures you have more options and better availability.

Q: What should I do if my flight gets delayed or canceled during the holidays? 

A: If your flight gets delayed or canceled, stay calm and approach the airline’s customer service desk for assistance. They will provide you with information about alternative flights or accommodations. It’s also a good idea to have the airline’s customer service number handy, so you can contact them directly if needed. Consider having travel insurance that covers flight disruptions to provide additional support and compensation for any inconveniences.

Q: How can I minimize the risk of lost luggage during holiday travel? 

A: To minimize the risk of lost luggage, always tag your bags with your contact information, both inside and outside. Use sturdy luggage tags or consider using a luggage tracking device. Additionally, pack a change of clothes and any essential items in your carry-on bag in case your checked luggage is delayed or lost. Report any lost luggage immediately to the airline’s baggage services desk and provide them with detailed information to assist in locating your bags.

Q: What are some tips for traveling with children during the holidays? 

A: When traveling with children during the holidays, preparation and patience are key. Pack snacks, toys, and entertainment to keep them occupied during the journey. Dress them comfortably and in layers, considering the temperature variations in different transportation modes. Stick to their usual routines as much as possible to ensure they stay well-rested and avoid disruptions to their sleep schedule. Bring any necessary medications or comfort items they may need. Finally, involve them in the trip planning process to build excitement and anticipation.

Q: Is it better to exchange currency before traveling or upon arrival at the destination? 

A: It’s generally recommended to exchange a small amount of local currency before your trip to cover immediate expenses upon arrival. However, it’s often more cost-effective to exchange the majority of your currency at your destination, as exchange rates may be more favorable. Avoid exchanging currency at airports or tourist areas, as they often have higher fees and less favorable rates. Research local banks or exchange offices that offer competitive rates, and consider using credit cards or withdrawing money from ATMs for convenience and better rates.

Q: How can I stay safe while traveling alone during the holidays? 

A: Traveling alone during the holidays can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to prioritize your safety. Research your destination thoroughly and be aware of any potential safety concerns. Share your itinerary and contact details with a trusted friend or family member. Stay in well-lit and populated areas, especially at night. Avoid displaying valuables or large amounts of cash. Trust your instincts and be cautious when interacting with strangers. Stay connected with others through regular check-ins, and consider joining group tours or activities for added security.

Q: Should I purchase travel insurance for holiday travel? 

A: Purchasing travel insurance is highly recommended for holiday travel. It provides coverage for various unexpected situations, such as trip cancellations, medical emergencies, lost luggage, or travel delays. Travel insurance offers financial protection and peace of mind, ensuring that you are not burdened with additional expenses or complications if any unforeseen circumstances occur during your trip. Compare different insurance plans and read the policy terms carefully to choose the coverage that best suits your needs.

Do you have a favorite strategy for packing for the holidays? Let us know in the comments below! 

About the author

Mary Zakheim

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch.

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