Dream about vacation

Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of the year to travel in the U.S., so it’s often one of the most stressful times as well. In order to save you time, money, and headaches, here are 7 ways to make the journey as smooth as possible:

1. Start your trip very early in the morning or late at night.

If you plan on hitting the road, this is the perfect time to watch the sunrise while avoiding traffic. If you plan on flying, you’ll possibly save money during the wacky hours, and you can nap on the plane. The security line will be much shorter, and you’ll avoid some of the clueless travelers holding up the line with ridiculous arguments such as, “What do you mean I can’t bring this giant bottle of shampoo in my carry-on?! I just bought it!”.

2. Charge your electronics before you leave.

This may sound obvious, but getting stranded in the middle of nowhere without music, directions, or a way to communicate with your family is the opposite of an ideal situation. For extra assurance, you should buy a car charger or portable charger. I would suggest buying one at Monoprice. They sell electronics that are basically identical to their brand-name counterparts, but without the label or high prices. Most of their items ordered by 2pm Pacific Time ship out the same business day, and they also generally come with free shipping.

3. Print out directions.

It might not be the most eco-friendly option, but if you don’t have the route memorized, it’s a much safer choice. The last thing you want is a phone or GPS without a signal with nothing but cornfields to talk to.

4. Book your rental car for an extra day or two.

Most people are booking their Thanksgiving travel plans for the day before, so prices of car rentals on these days will likely be higher. However, if you’re willing to book the car before your trip starts and keep it a little while after, you might actually end up saving money. If it has to sit in the driveway on those days, then let it be–you’ll deal with much less chaos picking up the car anyway. Play around with the dates that you’re booking your rental to see what the best deal will be. On CarRentals.com, they make it easy to constantly change your dates and refresh your search results without having to input everything over and over again.

5. Avoid airline baggage fees.

Make sure to weigh your luggage the night before. You don’t need a special scale–just weigh yourself first, and then weigh yourself holding the baggage. So, for example, if you weigh 200 pounds on your own, and then you weigh 230 while you hold your luggage, you’ll know that you’re carrying 30 pounds with you. Check the airline’s guidelines for the luggage weight they allow (at times, this may even include carry-ons!).

Also note that baggage fees might be more expensive if you check-in the airport instead of paying them in advance online. You’ll save both money and time that way. The same rule may apply to boarding passes as well.

In some (most likely rare) instances, it’s actually cheaper to mail your luggage. If you’re staying with family and just need a few pairs of clothing, this might be something to think about.

6. Get to know your rental car.

Before you leave the lot, make sure you familiarize yourself with the car. Check which side your gas tank is on and test out headlights, windshield wipers, and turn signals. It’s important that you test these features right away because you don’t want to be charged for anything that’s broken, or more importantly, risk your safety. You should also make sure to memorize the make, model, and color of your car–you don’t want to forget where you’ve parked!

As I mentioned before, I’m a fan of CarRentals.com. They offer great prices for all of the top car rental brands, such as Enterprise, Alamo, and Hertz. I like how their site is easy to use but still has advanced search options. I also noticed that I didn’t get multiple popups from them, which I find to be annoying on certain travel sites.

7. Pack your suitcase wisely.

I’m not going to suggest packing fewer items, because I’m a realist. Instead, I’ll suggest taking advantage of every inch possible. Start by stuffing your socks into your shoes. Remove any items you can from their packages and stick them into smaller containers (except for medicine bottles–airports may question you about pills or you may need the directions from the bottle). Wrap your belts and place them into the collar of your shirt–it’ll keep the shirt from getting flat and it will save room. Make sure to pack your undergarments last because they can easily fit into the smallest corners you have left over.

Jessica Dolnick sets up many of the merchants that you see on We-Care.com, and through extensive research and personal experiences, writes about them in the We-Care blog. Jessica has always been passionate about the nonprofit sector–before working at We-Care.com, she organized benefit concerts, volunteered at her local hospital, and raised over $50,000 for her alma mater. Jessica holds a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in psychology and communication and a minor in education from the University at Albany.