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Holiday travel in Canada: 13 expert-approved tips for flying this Christmas season

Valencia, Spain: January 5th 2021; Covid Christmas travel concept. Line of people with suitcases with Christmas tree in background
Simplify your holiday travel with these expert-approved tips. (Getty Images)

Taking a flight around the holidays is always a little nerve-wracking. Given the summer and early fall we witnessed at Canadian airports, with cancelled/delayed flights, lost baggage and other issues, you might be doubly nervous about travelling this holiday season.

Luckily, as a travel writer and frequent flyer, I've learned plenty of tips and tricks to help make any trip more enjoyable. With that in mind, here are some tips for surviving a Canadian travel experience during the 2022 Christmas season.

Travel tip no.1: Fly out late morning or mid-day

Large airports are usually busy early in the day, but things tend to ease up by late morning. If you’re worried about crowds at security or U.S. customs, try to avoid an early morning departure.

Travel tip no.2: Bring carry-on bags only

You’ll avoid the risk of a lost bag and skip the long lineups at the baggage carousel after you land if you only have a carry-on. Also wear your biggest, warmest jacket on the plane so you don’t use up your carry-on space. If it’s too warm on the plane, use your coat as a pillow.

Travel tip no.3: Use packing cubes

If you need to save space in your carry-on or your checked bag, or if you just like being organized, buy zippered, nylon packing cubes for your clothes. I have a bunch, and find they really save space and keep me organized on the road.

AmazonBasics 4 Piece Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set

AmazonBasics 4 Piece Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set. Image via Amazon.
AmazonBasics 4 Piece Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set. Image via Amazon.

$32 at Amazon

Travel tip no.4: Submit documents in advance

If you're heading to a U.S. airport from Vancouver, Toronto Pearson or Montreal Trudeau, there’s a new app called Mobile Passport Control that allows travellers to submit their passport information and customs declaration in advance and enjoy a priority line once at U.S. border control in those two airports. Some social media posts from travellers have said it saved an hour or more in line.

Travel tip no.5: Get strategic about your seat

For a little extra space around you on a flight, here’s a hack that sometimes works; choose an aisle seat near the back of the plane. Why? Because nobody wants a middle seat — especially not at the back. Those are often the last seats sold on a flight, so if you book an aisle near the rear of the plane, you’ve got a reasonable chance of an empty seat alongside you.

Travel tip no.6: Watch your carry-on size

Given the number of people avoiding checked baggage these days, airline workers are checking carry-on bag sizes with a renewed spirit. Be sure to check the airline's size limits ahead of time, since they can vary from plane to plane.

Travel tip no.7: Bring packable bags

If you expect to bring back presents after the holidays, pack a small, folding duffel bag or knapsack into your carry-on or checked bag so you have enough space to bring them home.

Foldable Travel Duffle Bag

Foldable Travel Duffle Bag. Image via Amazon.
Foldable Travel Duffle Bag. Image via Amazon.

$30 at Amazon

Travel tip no.8: Go to the airport early

Yes, I sound like your grandfather, but it’s true. Pack a book, do the crossword, or download a podcast and relax while you wait for your flight. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry and risk making a mad dash for your plane.

Travel tip no.9: Be ready at airport security and customs.

To make your experience getting through security smoother, be prepared as you wait. Have your laptop and liquids easily accessible, and your travel documents at the ready so you don’t hold up the line.

Travel tip no.10: Pack extra chargers.

While many airplanes have outlets with chargers for your phone or even your laptop, smaller planes often don’t. Your best bet is to bring along a portable charger — and don't forget to make sure it’s fully charged before you go. You can also bring an extra long charging cord in case the plugs or outlets in the place you’re staying are in an inconvenient spot.

INIU Portable Charger

INIU Portable Charger. Image via Amazon.
INIU Portable Charger. Image via Amazon.

$35 at Amazon

Travel tip no.11: Look for great deals

Mid-week flights are usually cheaper than weekends. December 20 is likely cheaper than Dec. 23. Another way to sometimes save is by flying to an airport with lower landing fees — think Abbotsford versus Vancouver, or Hamilton instead of Toronto.

Travel tip no.12: Make travel more kid-friendly

If you’re travelling with kids (or antsy adults), pack LOTS of toys and lots of treats. If you have small children with you, give them something to chew or something to drink as you change altitudes. If they’re old enough, encourage them to open their jaws wide, or yawn. Doing so can help their ears from getting plugged, and keep you from having to deal with a crying child.

Travel tip no.13: Update your passport

It should go without saying, but if you’re leaving the country, be sure you have an updated passport before crossing the border. Lines are better now but it might be busy at your local passport office. If you’re in a big city, try a smaller city nearby.

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