Our 12 days of perfect Christmas planning kick off with a perennial challenge to a stress-free Christmas: travel. Whether your Christmas plans take you into the next suburb or across the world, here's some key strategies to make it as easy as possible.
Many Christmas travel strategies require advance planning, so you may not be able to take advantage of these ideas right now. But bear them in mind when you're getting ready for Christmas 2011.
Don't make too big a deal of it
Getting organised for Christmas is really no different to organising any other kind of travel, but the heightened expectations which surround Christmas can make the whole experience more stressful. If you follow the standard rules for any travel experience — plan in advance, make allowance for things that could wrong, and double-check the details — then there's no reason to assume things will go wrong.
Book travel as far in advance as possible
Christmas is a peak time of year as far as travel providers are concerned, so your chances of getting a discount are always slim. If you wait until a few days ahead, your chances of getting a discount are slim, and your chances of even getting what you want can drop dramatically. The sooner you book, the better the deal you'll see, especially if you're planning an overseas trip.
Check public transport Christmas schedules
Using public transport to move around on Christmas Day has obvious advantages: it means you can enjoy a Christmas tipple when you visit and cuts down on the traffic on the road. However, on virtually any service you'll need to check frequency and availability.
As a general rule of thumb, public transport tends to run on a Sunday timetable on Christmas Day, but the approaches can vary. If you happen to be in London, for example, there's no Tube services whatsoever on December 25. Don't just assume your bus or train will show up; check in advance. Picture by Christopher
Take advantage of online check-in
In the days running up to Christmas, airports often become very crowded. Save time on the ground by taking advantage of online or mobile check-in options if they're available (both Qantas and Virgin Blue offer this service). If you've got luggage to check, you'll still face some delays checking that in, but at least you won't have to grapple with a limited number of kiosks and frazzled travellers who only hit the airport once a year.
Don't buy enormous presents
This is a sensible strategy whether you're just heading across town to visit the in-laws or planning a trip across the world to enjoy the company of your northern hemisphere cousins. Filling the boot with giant gifts is a challenge; filling your luggage for a plane can be impossible, especially as baggage rules have tightened on every airline in recent years. Think compact and you'll be doing yourself and your recipients a favour.
Consider travelling on the day itself
I've travelled via air on Christmas Day once or twice in the past, and actually found it a surprisingly peaceful experience, airport-wise. In part, that's probably because everyone is in a good Christmas mood; in part, it's because things are simply less busy. If you plan well, you can still do Christmas lunch in one city and Christmas dinner in another, keeping all the relatives happy.
Exercise caution when booking bargain deals
There are plenty of great travel bargains to be had, but also plenty of rip-offs. If an offer seems ridiculously good, take some time to investigate the provider. Don't be pressured into signing up for something where you don't understand the terms and conditions.
Make sure your mobile is fully charged
This should be an obvious point, but many people don't remember to keep their phone charged while racing around in the pre-Christmas rush. If you're taking a plane, keep your charger in your hand luggage — that way, you can recharge at the airport if there are major delays. Picture by Very G
Don't try and do too much
For too many people, Christmas becomes a marathon exercise of racing from relative to relative, ensuring that you've "seen" everyone but spending more time in transit than enjoying anyone's company. Recognise that in the dispersed world we live in, seeing everyone on Christmas Day itself is near impossible. Spread your visits over a wider period, and if you can't see someone this year, make time for phone contact and then set them as a priority for 2011.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman recommends caution when packing champagne. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.