From cooking Thanksgiving dinner and shopping for everyone on your list to figuring out how to keep your in-laws happy for an entire week, the holidays are stressful enough as it is. Add on the very real possibility that winter weather could wreak havoc on your already hectic travel plans and you’ve got yourself a veritable parody of “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Unfortunately, whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, delays and cancelations around the holidays can sometimes be inevitable. At least one area of the country is bound to get hit with snow or sleet at just the right moment, resulting in a snowball effect of delayed arrivals, missed connections and stretched-too-thin crew members who just want to get home for the holidays, too.
While you may not be able to control the weather, you can control whether or not your holiday will be completely derailed by it.
Here are a few things you can do before and during the holiday travel season to prevent a travel nightmare.
1. Don’t travel at peak times.
If possible, when booking your plane or train ticket, try to snag a departure early in the morning in anticipation of delays. You may have to wake up at the crack of dawn, but you can expect quieter terminals and more options to switch your flight throughout the day. Those trying to travel late at night may find the last flight of the day canceled and be forced to come back the next day.
When it comes to driving to your desired destination, Google can advise on the best times of day to avoid holiday traffic.
2. Check the weather early and often.
Use sites like AccuWeather and apps like RadarScope and Dark Sky to get a feel for holiday weather days or even weeks in advance. Although the forecast constantly changes, these resources may be able to predict major storms or weather patterns before they happen, giving you plenty of time to …
3. Come up with a backup plan.
If the weather looks bad, don’t wait until the last minute to start looking for other options. A quick flight search may yield last-minute deals from more desirable airports. Major flight cancelations might mean it’s easier and cheaper to reach your destination by train or bus, if close enough.
Most major airlines offer refunds or change/cancelation waivers due to weather, sometimes even days in advance of a major storm, allowing you to start making other arrangements. Sign up for alerts for your flight, and check travel advisory pages. (Here’s Delta,