Five ways to hack your holiday travel
For many people, traveling during the holiday season is a necessary evil. Trekking across the country (and potentially the globe) is a journey rewarded with food only Mom can make and memories to last a lifetime. At least, that’s how it works in the movies.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying traveling during the holiday season is an exercise in patience: for angry ticket counter clerks, screaming babies, crowded terminals. The only options to avoid the chaos are to charter a private jet or stay home. For most of us, neither is a likely solution. Which means we’re stuck trying to make the best of the faithful pilgrimages.
Here’s the good news: technology can help alleviate the pain. (But please note the key word in that sentence: “help.” Tech is no panacea.)
Ditch the paper
The first step to reduce the hassle? Make the move to digital boarding passes. By using your airline’s mobile application, you can avoid the possibility of leaving your pass in the printer at home. Most major airlines offer the option, including Delta (iOS, Android), Southwest (iOS, Android), United (iOS, Android), American (iOS, Android), and JetBlue (iOS, Android). And if you’re not a fan of keeping an extra app on your phone, you can have a boarding pass emailed to you, which carries a barcode that can be scanned at the airport. The best part? Now that the technology is commonplace, no boarding agent will look at you strangely when you flash a phone instead of a sheet of paper.
Distract the kids
Traveling with younger children can be frustrating for both you and fellow passengers. To keep your kiddos entertained on long flights or during road trips, the obvious choice is to load movies and games onto a tablet computer and let the kids go wild. (Easier said than done, I know.)
To eliminate fighting over who next gets to use the tablet, my wife and I purchased the cheapest headphones we could find at Walmart—they were somewhere in the $10 range—and a Belkin headphone splitter, which allows multiple headphones to share the audio from a single device. I have yet to come up with a solution for the inevitable fight about what movie to watch next.
Airplanes (and the people on them) can be loud. Kids in a car? Also loud. And unless you’re in a quiet car, the train is a similar situation. You could use noise-canceling headphones if you want to listen to music. And if you don’t?
For the last week, I’ve been testing Dubs Acoustic Filters around the house. (My three kids—who are consistently loud—contribute to the perfect test environment.) These small earpieces are basically fancy earplugs, but instead of blocking all sound out as foam earplugs intend to do, they simply reduce the volume of certain frequencies in your surroundings. I’ve found them perfect for a cross-country flight.
My first rule of traveling with electronics is to remember your ABCs, as in “Always Be Charging.” In the car heading to the airport, sitting at your gate, waiting for your luggage at baggage claim? Charging, always. Thanks to a series of portable batteries and battery cases, I’m able to keep my tablets and smartphones topped off without being forced to hunt down an outlet in the belly of a bustling international airport. For reasonably priced charging accessories, I recommend looking through Anker’s lineup. Depending on how many devices you’re traveling with, I wouldn’t settle for an extra battery with less than 6000 milliamp-hours, which is sufficient enough to fully charge most smartphones two to three times.
Stay on top of the perks
You’ve got enough to remember if you’re traveling for the holidays, but there are a few promotions that could make the effort go a little easier. For example, Southwest Airlines is offering free access to Beats Music, the Apple-owned streaming service, in exchange for your e-mail address. Verizon Wireless has declared November 26 “Connection Day” and is offering some of its customers an extra gigabit of data during the holiday season. (For people who aren’t its customers, the company is offering free Wi-Fi in flights and in airports.) Meanwhile AT&T Wireless is giving customers on its 10-gigabyte Mobile Share plan an extra five gigabytes (and thus 15 in total) for the same monthly price.
Let’s be honest: Nothing will eliminate the stress of traveling during the busiest travel time of year, but a few clever hacks and tricks can go a long way. If all else fails, there’s always eggnog.
“Logged In” is Fortune’s personal technology column, written by Jason Cipriani. Read it on Fortune.com each Tuesday.