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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 11, 2021.

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 looking to survive them (check out your odds if you’ll make it out in one piece), there’s one major chore you, and all travelers, have to get done with: 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.

Skip the Airport, Send Gifts Through the Mail

Thinking 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 — though you can totally wear that new tie that Dad got you on the plane … if you’re that brave.


Don’t Go Cold Turkey Without Mom’s Food: Freeze Those Leftovers!

One of the things that always makes us homesick is the lack of a good home-cooked meal, right? While our office broke out into a fight about whether or not one can take home room-temperature turkey and live to tell the tale, we found a great solution: freeze that turkey (and everything else)! If you freeze the leftovers, pack them into nestable food storage, you can arrive back at your place with still-cold (and 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, so don’t miss out!

Don’t Lose the Booze: Protect the Alcohol (At All Costs)

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 buy one of those foam bottle protectors. The foam protectors can cost upwards of $25 per bottle, so you should also check if the company that you want to impress your in-laws with ships their wine for added convenience.

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

My Preciousssss! Swaddle Your Delicates

A lot of people carry delicate items like ornaments, dinnerware, or other breakable gifts with them on their holiday travels. 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.

Stuff Your Face, But Always Have Extra Space in Bags

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 way home and make sure that your family has a checked 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.


Last But Not Least … 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.

Do you have any holiday travel packing tips that we missed? Fill us in by commenting 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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