Many of us are heading home for the holidays. Others scheduled vacations months in advance, flocking south and away from the ice and snow, or northward to popular winter locales. Wherever your destination may be, it’s important to be aware of the thousands of others headed in that same direction. This is most noticeable when driving, but crowds will form at the airport security gates, as well as in bus and train terminals.
While it is easy to feel rushed and bamboozled by the holiday bustle, keeping organized and efficient is key for safe travel. If you are able, plan your trips a few weeks in advance and avoid the busiest dates and times. For many people this is not possible, so don’t panic. The key is keeping calm and figuring out the safest way to get from point A to point B — and back again! Here are a few concerns to be mindful of and some tips that should help you out.
No Drunk Driving – Ever!
If traveling anywhere — even a short distance — be extremely aware of others on the road. Drunk driving during the holidays — especially New Year’s Eve — is a greater concern than any other time of year. Add to that the danger of icy road conditions and poor visibility from snow. If driving home on New Year’s, stay extremely cautious and keep a safe distance from other cars. Map out travel conditions ahead of time, if possible, and take the safest route home.
Additionally, make sure you are in a good condition to drive home. If you’ve drank too much to safely drive, take a cab or have a friend pick you up. Your own safety and the safety of others on the road should be your first concern, not the convenience of driving home.
Plan for Traffic – to Avoid It!
Holiday traffic — particularly around major metropolitan centers — is an inevitability. Knowing this, you should decide ahead of time how comfortable you are driving through high-volume congestion. If you’re a confident driver, altering your route might not be necessary. However, if you’re uncomfortable driving in high-volume traffic with abrupt lane changes and screeching brakes, that nervousness may impact your driving and lead to a more dangerous situation than if you just took a backroad.
Many nervous drivers alter their routes to avoid areas of heavy traffic. You can do this by getting off the highway at critical junctures and sticking to country roads. Of course, take into consideration that back-country driving is different from city or highway driving. You’ll want to make sure you turn extra carefully, especially on narrow roads and near funky intersections, or in bad weather. A higher percentage of traffic fatalities occur on country roads than anywhere else.
Know Train, Bus & Other Public Transportation Protocols
If you are traveling by yourself — say, going home for Christmas break from college — you may consider taking the train or a bus, especially if you’re a nervous driver. Instead of stressing behind the wheel for hours, you can sit back and rest on the train. All that being said, safety is your top priority, and there are some concerns on trains.
You may have heard about the news of the tragedy outside of Tacoma, Washington, in which an Amtrak train derailed, leaving several dead. A few years prior to this event, there were several other high-profile Amtrak derailments.
With all this in mind, safety is a huge concern: if you are planning on traveling by train, be cognizant of your surroundings and inquire about the proper action in case of an emergency. Derailments tend to be more common on routes that have recently changed, so try to research routes that have been in service for a while. When riding the train, avoid blocking the aisles with your luggage in case of an emergency.
Stay Alert When Traveling on Airplanes
If you’re flying, arrive at the airport at least a couple of hours before your flight. Lines at TSA and ticket-printing issues can hold you up and make your journey a logistical nightmare.
Unattended packages in the airport should be reported to the TSA. Be very careful when you are loading and unloading your luggage: other passengers tend to throw their bags in the luggage compartments without securing them, and nobody wants a heavy suitcase falling on them! Finally, pay attention to the safety demonstrations and videos before the flight: though emergencies are exceedingly unlikely, it never hurts to play it safe.
Practice Safe Driving Habits
If you are set on driving, keep in mind that falling asleep at the wheel is a major concern, especially during long car trips. Listening to something can keep you focused and alert, and stop you from drifting off. For the best experience, you might want to download a relaxing soundtrack for your journey, or burn a CD if you’re old-school. Specific genres of music — particularly songs sitting around 60 to 80 BPM — can relax you during your ride while keeping you focused.
Leave your metal albums at home, though. Frenetic, loud music will boost your adrenaline and make you drive more aggressively, and actually add a level of stress to already-stressful situations.
Podcasts and recorded books are another great option for long car trips. Pick something engaging enough to keep you interested. A tedious recording is one of the few things worse than silent driving: at best, it is torturously boring. At its worst, it can put you to sleep. On the other hand, make sure it’s a topic that won’t totally take your mind off the road. The goal is simply to keep you alert — not distracted.
Stay Safe into the New Year!
Hopefully your travels go smoothly and safely this holiday season. Unforeseen incidents do happen while traveling, so don’t freak out if everything doesn’t go according to plan. Bizarre travel mishaps make for great stories when you make it home. Keep your sense of humor and holiday spirit up during curveballs and everything will be okay.