10 ways to survive holiday travel

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(CNN) — The annual Thanksgiving debate over your mother’s turkey-roasting method and your uncle’s political sideswiping is just about over. Even that storm that snarled up travel on the East Coast during the busiest travel time of the year has passed.

It’s nearly time to go home.

More than 46 million people are estimated to be traveling this Thanksgiving, according to AAA projections, and 90% of them are traveling by car. With a little luck, some patience and planning, they’ll make it home this weekend.

Here are several ways to stay sane this busy holiday season:

Check your flight, no matter where you’re going. Think you don’t have to worry about bad weather because you’re returning home to a sunny spot like Florida or California? Not so fast. That airplane you’re picking up in San Diego may have been coming from Minneapolis or Chicago. If your aircraft is coming from a city hit by foul weather, it can hold up your warm weather travel. Check your aircraft’s journey on your airline website, or pick an app to track your aircraft’s path.

Don’t drive into a storm. Monitor your local and regional forecasts. If you’re driving home to Buffalo and that city is expecting another seven feet of snow (hypothetically speaking), stay put. If there’s a possibility that bad weather could hit while you’re on the road, make sure to have cold-weather clothing and shoes, extra water and snacks, charged-up devices, diapers for the little ones, a full tank of gas and flares in case you get stopped by weather.

Charge your devices. Expect crowds surrounding the electrical outlets at your departure airport to increase if your flight is delayed. And don’t expect rest stops to share their outlets with you. Have a car charger and stash a power pack or a few battery chargers for your portable electronic devices (useful for driving or flying).

Rebook your flight for free. Many airlines have teams devoted to tracking the weather and rearranging flight schedules to avoid bad weather. If the weather proves too dangerous for flight, airlines will often offer customers the opportunity to rebook their flights free of charge, before you leave for the airport. Sometimes, the airlines will even waive fees to rebook customers who see the writing on the wall and call before the bad weather hits.

Act quickly. Rebook your itinerary as soon as possible. While you mull over a new itinerary, other passengers are snapping up open seats. Be sure your airline has your e-mail address and phone number, advises Rick Seaney, CEO of airfare tracker FareCompare.com. If you didn’t provide this information when you purchased the ticket, go online and add it. Elite fliers should use their loyalty program hot lines and head to frequent flier lounges for better access to airline reps. Buy a one-day lounge pass for the better service if you’re not a member.

Follow your airline and airport on social media. Follow your airlines and airports via Twitter and Facebook. Many airlines and airports post the speediest updates to their Twitter feeds, so start following them now. Sign up for your airline alerts to get flight updates e-mailed to your smartphone.

Don’t debate flight attendants about smartphones vs. computers. Your aircraft will probably be packed, and flight attendants will be busy helping infrequent travelers get settled into their seats. Yes, you now have the right to use your iPad and other portable electronic devices in airplane mode below 10,000 feet on some flights. But maybe your tablet looks big enough to look like a laptop? You may be on vacation, but your flight crew is working the holiday. Do you want to argue with people who can throw you off your flight? Be one of the nice ones.

Stock up on snacks. Stock up on nonperishable snacks and drinks for the car (if you’re flying, avoid the drinks, but carry an empty water bottle to refill after you clear airport security). Granola bars, beef jerky, nuts and dried fruit, and other protein-rich snacks can keep you and the children going without spending a fortune at rest stops or the airport.

If you get stuck at the airport. If you get stranded, multitask. Don’t only go to the ticket counter. Use the NextFlight app and type in your city pair to get the next flights for the major airlines, travel blogger Benet Wilson suggested. Then, call the airline on your cell phone and give them your preferred options. You might get booked on another flight before you reach the front of the line. (Also consider nearby cities where you can rent a car and drive to your final destination.)

Stay home next year. Really, you gave the extended family Thanksgiving this year. Maybe work will “require” that you work the rest of that holiday week next year, and you just won’t be able to make it. Just don’t post pictures from sunny Barbados.

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