Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, right?

By now, a lot of you have probably made plans for the holidays. You’ve packed your bags, scheduled your itineraries, and you’re just about set to head for your much-needed Christmas vacation. Unfortunately, you also need to face the facts. As much as you’ve planned for the coming days, Christmas season is a beast of its own. Not only are you likely to hit congested highways, but you’ll also have to deal with potentially serious weather conditions on the road to Vacation Town. The good news is that if you prepared accordingly, the next few days won’t have to be as stressful as you fear. On that end, we’ve prepared a handy holiday travel guide that should minimize your travel angst so you can enjoy the season the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed.

What should I do first?

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Schedule the coming days. That’s the first thing you need to do, especially if you’re going to embark on a long road trip along America’s highways. Christmas week — that’s basically today until the 25 — is far and away the busiest travel week of the year in the U.S.

According to the AAA, somewhere around 108 million people in the U.S. will travel during the holiday travel period between December 23 to January 1.

That’s 108 million people, folks. And you’re one of them. So plan out your trip as meticulously as you can. It’s easier if you’re traveling alone, but if you’re bringing the whole family with you, it’s important that you take into account all the people that you’re bringing with you.

What are the worst days to travel by car during the 2018 holiday season?

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Congratulations to you if you’ve already arrived at your destination as you’re reading this. That means that you just avoided the worst travel days this Christmas season. On the other hand, if you’re still at home, well, brace yourselves.

According to numerous predictions, the worst days to travel by car this season are Friday, December 21; Sunday, December 23; and Wednesday, December 26.

December 21 is going to be particularly bloody because it’s the start of the last full weekend before Christmas Day on Tuesday, December 25. Don’t even attempt going to a mall unless you go before it opens or just before it closes. Any other time and you’re subjecting yourself to a frustrating round of parking merry-go-round that could literally last hours. If you’re going out-of-state, there’s a chance that you can avoid the expected traffic if you steer clear of the usual rush hour commute in the morning and late afternoon. Remember, December 21 is also the last work day before Christmas. A lot of people will be hitting the roads with you on this day. Even if you do avoid rush hour, you’ll still need to brace for the possibility that traffic will be a crawl throughout the day.

When’s the best time to leave?

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Leave when there aren’t that many cars on the road.

Your best bet is early in the morning, or right before 7 a.m.

It also depends on where you’re going and how far the travel is going to be. If you’re going out of state, you’ll probably need to hit the road as early as 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. You’ll have a little more breathing room if you’re not traveling that far, but you can’t afford to be lackadaisical, either. If you leave 30 minutes later than you intended to, you could be in a world of trouble.

No matter what time you leave, you should also keep in mind that taking alternative routes could be beneficial, especially if you know where you’re going. You’ll have to deal with highways if you’re going out-of-state, but if you’re traveling within your area, try to avoid the major roads and opt for alternate routes to get to your destination.

What if I just leave on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Wouldn’t that be better?

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Actually, yes, it would be from a traffic standpoint.

A report from CityLab revealed that traffic congestion last year was actually lower on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day compared to the days before and after the holiday.

That’s one way to avoid traffic, but if you do decide to travel on these days, there are still no guarantees that you’re traveling on free-flowing highways. More importantly, you’re probably going to cut it too close, especially if there are people waiting for you at your destination.

Ok, my schedule is set. What do I do next?

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Pack accordingly and prepare for the travel ahead. We’re not going to tell you what to pack as far as your personal items are concerned. We don’t particularly care about how many pairs of socks you bring with you on your vacation. That’s on you. What we do care about is your car, specifically the checklist of things you need to do to make sure that it’s ready to make the journey.

First things first. Have it serviced. If you’ve done this already, good on you. If you haven’t, you need to do it stat.

Check the battery, oil, lights, fluid levels, wipers, brakes, tires, belts, hoses, and every other important elements of your car. If something needs to get replaced, have it replaced. If something needs to get fixed, have it fixed. At the very least, callus a certified mechanic and ask him to inspect your car to ensure that it can travel with you. If you live in areas where snow could factor into your travel plans, it’s not a bad idea to have snow tires available to prepare for that possibility.

The car has been checked. Any other essentials I need to bring?

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Food. Lots of it. This is especially true if you’re traveling long distances.

You’ll need food in your car for the trip.

Snacks and drinks will do, but if you’re traveling more than 10 hours on the road, prepare some sandwiches, as well. While you’re at it, bring along some coffee to help you stay awake when you’re driving in the wee hours of the morning.

Other than food, you should also pack a spare smartphone charger, a roadside emergency kit, and jumper cables. If you’re bringing your kids with you on this trip, entertainment options are a must, too. It’s one thing to have to deal with the traffic; it’s another thing entirely to have to deal with restless and cranky kids. Keep them busy and entertained as much as you can and for as long as you can.

Everything’s set. Now what?

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We could be really meticulous about our travel tips for the 2018 holiday season, but we trust that you know better than we do with regards to your personal circumstances. We trust that you can make the right preparations as you embark on your holiday vacations. That said, give our tips a look-over and see if there’s anything you missed.

If you abide by our tips, there’s a good chance that you won’t be as frustrated as other people will inevitably be once they hit the road.
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