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Thanksgiving Weekend Travel Tips

CBS Local -- AAA expects a record number of people to be traveling for Thanksgiving — nearly 51 million people in the United States are estimated to be driving or flying at least 50 miles to their holiday destination. That's 1.5 million more than last Thanksgiving weekend.

While some destinations will clearly be easier to reach than others, any trip of any duration could be ruined by a lack or preparation or a lack of composure. To help you have a more pleasant experience during your Thanksgiving weekend travel, here are some tips to get you going in the right direction.

Start Planning Now

No trip will be completely mistake free, particularly during before and during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. However, with some advance planning, your Thanksgiving weekend travel can be a lot more manageable and less hectic. For instance, if you're flying to your destination, you can go to your airline's website and check in online 24 hours in advance of your departure, as well as print out your boarding pass. Additionally, a growing number of travelers are using an airline's mobile app to present their mobile boarding pass via their device prior to the security screening and at the boarding gate. Driving to your destination also requires a bit of pre-trip preparation, such as checking your tire pressure, fluids, signal lights or better yet, having a complete vehicle inspection by a mechanic in advance of your trip. Also before you leave you have a few other tasks to do, such as considering whether or not to stop your mail delivery, newspaper delivery, making sure your home is secure and alerting neighbors that you'll be gone for a few days.

Pack Smart

If you're traveling by air, you can save time through the airport and money by simply packing lightly. Instead of waiting in an extra long line to check in your bags and pay a baggage fee at the service counter, try packing everything for the trip in a single piece of TSA-approved carry-on luggage and bring along your personal item, such as a backpack, laptop case or purse, allowing you to go directly to the security screening area. Additionally, if you're like most every other traveler, you'll need to bring chargers for your mobile devices, digital cameras and if applicable, your laptop. A smart way to ensure you won't forget anything before heading out is to make a checklist of all the items you'll need, such as medications, gifts and important documents. At the same time, you should also determine what items are best left at home, like valuable jewelry, more than two pairs of shoes or unnecessary gadgets. Traveling by personal vehicle during the Thanksgiving weekend is another scenario when a travel checklist can be very handy.

Get An Early Start

It doesn't matter if you're flying, driving or even taking a train, you should allow plenty of time to arrive at your destination. This is especially true if flying or some other method of passenger transport is part of your travel plans. While the typical recommendation to arrive at the airport for a domestic flight is two hours and three hours for international flights, significantly larger than normal crowds will also be on hand. This means the lines for checked in baggage and TSA security screening will be take much more time, even if you're authorized for expedited screening from sources like TSA's Pre Check, Global Entry or having elite status from a major airline. It's also important to check your airline's flight status before arriving at the airport. To make things even more manageable, visit MyTSA for update to date information on your airport's status and its security wait times. For those driving, it really depends upon the length, time and location of your destination. If you're headed to a major metropolitan, please note that according to Google, the busiest time to drive is the day before Thanksgiving from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Getting to the Airport

Regardless of the day of the flight departure, travelers should allow extra time for traveling to the airport. Also, it is a good idea to know how to get there in advance, and figure out whether a car needs to be dropped off or not. Another thing that travelers should keep in mind is the airport crowds, particularly on the day before Thanksgiving, arguably the busiest travel day of the year. Travelers must also take into consideration how long security lines will be, the distance to reach the boarding gate and making a connecting flight in an unfamiliar airport.

Ways to Save Money on Gas

People traveling by car to their holiday destination have many ways to save money on gas, although some are not as obvious as others. Among the better-known options are having fresh spark plugs, driving at a constant speed on highways, and avoiding quick accelerations and hard braking. Also, knowing where the best gas prices are, turning off the A/C, maintaining proper tire pressure and removing excess weight, e.g. unnecessary luggage. For longer journeys, it's also helpful to pack a lunch rather than make a stop for food off the highway, where prices for food and gas can be marked up for holiday travelers.

Some not so obvious options include keeping windows closed to avoid wind drag and decreased fuel economy, avoiding idling if stopped for more than 30 seconds, avoiding rough roads and filling up the tank after its at a quarter full. Driving with less than a quarter tank can potentially shorten the life of the electric fuel pump or worse, destroy it. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't matter what time of day it is to fill up the tank, although it's definitely helpful to have a full tank before leaving.

For iPhone and Android users, there are plenty of useful apps like AAA's TripTik or GasBuddy to locate the best price on gas, Google Maps and Waze for driving directions and avoiding traffic and Car Care, an app that determines fuel economy, MPG, gas mileage and service maintenance. Lastly, GasBuddy has a convenient online Trip Cost Calculator to estimate fuel costs based upon destination and make of vehicle.

Be Patient

With increased traffic on the nation's highways and crowded airports, traveling before and during the Thanksgiving weekend can be extremely challenging. One of the best ways to cope with the chaotic pace of holiday travel is to just to be as patient as possible and stay on your best behavior when around strangers and congested areas. By doing so, you're not only creating a more pleasant environment, you're also helping protect your health by managing your stress. If you're driving, make certain to know the weather and traffic conditions beforehand and just know that most everyone else on the road is trying to a friend, relative or loved one's home.

[H/T CBS Baltimore, CBS San Francisco]

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