7 Keys to Surviving Thanksgiving Travel

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If you want to make it home to feast on your family’s famous stuffing or sweet potatoes, you’ll be traveling over Thanksgiving weekend with half a million other people (who probably also think their stuffing is the best!). Sometimes spending time with family can be stressful enough, so we want to make your Thanksgiving travel as easy as possible!

First things first, take a bus or a train! You get much more flexibility than on a plane, and it’s so much cheaper, too! And traveling by bus is so much more relaxing than driving yourself. As everyone knows, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is by far the busiest day to travel, so avoid it if you can. But even if you can’t, Wanderu is here to help!

1) The early bird gets the mashed potatoes

Everything about Thanksgiving travel will be better if you do it early. Book your tickets now before the route you want fills up – and you can still avoid the busiest days on Wednesday and Sunday!

Also, show up to the station early. There will be lines, and you don’t want to be last! Amtrak recommends you get there at least 30 minutes early, but I can say from experience that it is worth getting there even earlier, especially if you’re leaving from a busy station. If you arrive early, you’ll have a better chance of getting your seat of choice and fitting your luggage in the overhead racks.

Come prepared with printed tickets (and tags for your bags, if you’re checking any), and you can skip at least some of the lines!

2) Pack your patience!

Grand Central Station

Thanksgiving travel ups the ante on everything, so don’t expect things to go smoothly. You will encounter long lines, loud people and lots of rowdy kids. But you can handle it! Soon you’ll be home to kick back and relax, and it will all be forgotten. So try to book a ticket that leaves room for delays and know you will get to your destination eventually – and there will be pie. (Also, if the station you’re waiting at has a bar, a cocktail certainly doesn’t hurt in keeping you calm!)

3) Don't stuff your luggage like you stuff your turkey

Other than your patience, pack as little as possible! If you’re going to be maneuvering through crowds and standing around in line, you don’t want to be weighed down by big, heavy bags. Plus, bus and train carriers tend to be extra vigilant about policing the baggage policy on busy travel days.

Amtrak allows two carry-ons and two person items and Greyhound allows one carry-on and two checked bags. If you do check a bag, you must get a printed baggage tag, as not having one could cause you to miss your bus! Here are some other baggage policies for Megabus, Boltbus, Peter Pan, and Trailways.

To keep your Thanksgiving travel as simple and stress-free as possible, simply pack light and keep it to a carry-on!

4) Suit up in stretchy pants

The style du jour of Thanksgiving travel is stretchy pants! Take a cue from Joey Tribiani and rock the elasticized waistband on your trip. Sweatpants, leggings and yoga pants are all great choices. They’ll keep you comfortable for the ride, and you will have them ready for Thanksgiving dinner without taking up extra room in your bag.

Also, keep cozy on top with lots of layers! A sweatshirt or a sweater will fight off the air conditioning chill that can turn a bus or train into an igloo, but you’ll also want a T-shirt or tank top underneath in case you end up packed like sardines in a sweltering station. Wearing accessories like a scarf, hat, or coat makes for more room in your bag – and they make great pillow substitutes. Or check out this ingenious hoodie neck pillow!

5) Eat an early Thanksgiving buffet – of snacks!

While it’s true you are heading toward your biggest meal of the year, you shouldn’t starve yourself in anticipation. You definitely don’t want to deal with Thanksgiving travel while you’re hangry!

So pack some snacks that will last on the road. Granola bars, apples, nuts, carrot sticks, beef (or vegetarian) jerky and individually wrapped cheese are all your friends when it comes to feeling full and keeping the hanger at bay. If you’re feeling ambitious (or just in the Thanksgiving cooking mood), you can even make your own yummy travel snacks!

And don’t forget to stay hydrated – a nice travel water bottle makes it easy!

6) Turn your seat into an entertainment experience

Frederick Dennstedt (edited) / Flickr

Transport yourself to a different place mentally while you’re traveling, and you’ll forget about all the craziness surrounding you. Though the bus or train might not be the right place to Netflix and chill, you can download movies or TV shows to binge watch onboard. Plus you’ll have access to power outlets so the dreaded low battery warning will not be a problem.

And if you haven’t had the time to read that best-seller you’ve been dying to devour, this is the moment! Bring an actual book if you’re old school, or save space with a Kindle or other e-reader, and you can have your own virtual library in your bag.

7) Be grateful for noise-canceling headphones (and earplugs!)

The very best way to survive your Thanksgiving travel might be to just sleep through it! Thanks to noise-cancelling headphones (here are a few cheap, but still useful options) or earplugs, you can block out the cacophony of the travelers around you and make your seat into a cone of silence. Combined with an eye mask and a neck pillow – or a rolled up layer of clothing – you can let the movement of the bus or train lull you to sleep, and before you know it, you’ll arrive at your destination.

Of course, if you’re more of an extrovert – or a caffeine addict who can’t sleep – you can try talking to your fellow passengers to pass the time. Everyone’s in the same boat (or bus) when it comes to Thanksgiving travel stress, and it’s nice to have someone to commiserate with – and maybe even share snacks with, in the true spirit of Thanksgiving!

With this cornucopia of Thanksgiving travel tips, you can head home for the holidays with your sanity intact. At least until you see your family – then you’re on your own!

So book your tickets now, and share your Thanksgiving travel tips and pics by tagging #wanderu on Twitter and Instagram

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About the author
Kate Sedrowski

Kate Sedrowski

Kate Sedrowski is on a mission to spread delight while inspiring and encouraging people to travel. Her favorite travel companion is her teddy bear, and her favorite souvenir is the scar from the broken nose she got in a snowball fight in Québec City.
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