The best way to minimize holiday travel hassles with your family: plan ahead. Whether you’re driving or flying, these tips will help you avoid stress.

by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

Traveling Family

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6:13p.m. EST December 5, 2012 – The best way to minimize holiday travel hassles: plan ahead. Even after you’ve locked down the cheapest airfares, plotted the easiest driving routes and lightened your load by mailing the presents, sweeten the festivities by following these stress-busters.

Getting There

Allow extra travel time. Don’t be a turkey and arrive late. For Thanksgiving 2012, AAA estimates more than 43.6 million Americans will head 50 miles or more from home, a 0.7% increase over 2011′s 43.3 million travelers. Factor in the crowded roads and slow moving lines at airports when calculating your travel schedule.

Keep essentials handy. More hours en route means you need extra batteries and electronic chargers so that your computers, video games and cell phones will last as long as your road trip. With babies on board, pack extra diapers, changes of clothing, food and bottles. Be sure that this bag is easily accessible in the car’s front seat (not the trunk) or as an airline carry-on (not as checked luggage).

Make “what if” plans. When meeting friends or relatives at a destination or at an airport, don’t rely only on cell phones. Go low tech too; just in case your phone dies or service isn’t available, develop a plan B on how to meet up and what to do in case of  missed connections.

Bring food and water. Like armies, families travel on their stomachs.  Healthy snacks and bottles of water and juice go a long way toward quashing the crankies. When flying, allow additional time in the terminal to purchase sandwiches and drinks to take on board.

Plane Tips

Check-in at the airport early. Be aware that the airline may reassign reserved seats if you haven’t obtained boarding passes 30 minutes before departure. If you fail to show up at the gate within 10 minutes of scheduled take-off, the airline may cancel your reservation. See more tips at www.dot.gov/airconsumer/defensive-flying-tips.

Know your rights if bumped. Getting involuntarily bumped is relatively rare.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, about one passenger in every 10,000 suffers that fate because of an oversold flight. During the busy holiday travel season, however, volunteers to take later flights may be in short supply.  Although there are exceptions, if bumped and delayed between one and two hours on a domestic flight, you may receive compensation equal to double the price of your ticket up to $650.  If your delay is longer, payments may be four times the value of your ticket up to $1,300.  Read the fine print at www.dot.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights.

Understand options for delayed or canceled flights. For these situations, unlike being bumped, there are no federal compensation requirements. Instead, each airline determines whether to offer meal vouchers or other reimbursements. Salvage your trip by being savvy. While lining up at the ticket counter for a new flight, call the airline’s reservations number on your cell phone as this might be quicker. If a blizzard closes the entire airport, don’t leave the facility until you have a confirmed flight out even if it’s several days away. Also, ask to be wait-listed on several, earlier flights. Then, when the airport reopens, show up with your bags in case better connections become available.  Check out www.dot.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights.

Car Logic

Stow emergency gear. Be prepared for car problems and bad weather by equipping your car with jumper cables, flashlights, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, ice scraper and blankets; thermal reflective blankets are thin, moderately priced and effective at retaining body heat.

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