15 Hacks For Happy Thanksgiving Travels

Big travel plans this Thanksgiving? Yeah, you and about 44 million other Americans.

And with so many of us engaged in a rat race to get to our loved ones' dinner tables, the voyage can be a drag. Between the flight delays and layovers, gridlock on the streets, and long lines everywhere you go, you may feel like your head's about to explode like an improperly thawed deep-fried turkey.

But your Turkey Day travels don't have to be a nightmare. Here are 15 travel hacks, from the packing stage all the way to the dinner table, to make your drive or flight sweeter than granny's pumpkin pie:

Clean your house before you leave
Dust bunnies and dirty dishes are a lousy "Welcome Home" gift. Give your humble abode a good once-over before you leave, and it will feel that much sweeter when you return.

Pack like a pro
You've probably heard by now to roll rather than fold your clothes to maximize space in your suitcase. But did you know your stowed-away socks and shoes can be used as mini storage compartments? Everything from jewelry to small electronics and toiletries can hitch a ride inside them. Because fewer baggage fees mean happier trails.

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Pack an extra phone charger or two
With the whole family staring at their smart phones for hours, your batteries will drain quickly. Pack at least one charger for every two people. If you need to recharge at the airport and every charging station is occupied, find the USB port on the closest TV.

Keep your feet happy
Leave your clodhoppers in the closet, and opt instead for lightweight, slip-on style shoes or slippers, which are both comfy and a breeze to kick off at the security gate. If your flight is long, wear a pair of compression socks to keep the blood flowing. A pair of FootSmart brand socks generally go for less than $20 and can be found at most Walgreens and CVS stores.

Dress in layers
On a plane and in a car, one person's cozy is another person's unbearable. Stay comfortable by dressing in layers, which you can add or remove accordingly. If driving a rental, try to get a vehicle with dual-control heating and A/C.

Be razor-sharp
About your razors, that is. Avoid a hairy situation and empty the clippings from your electric shaver before you pack it, so you're not left with a wardrobe full of chin stubble if it's jostled open in transit. If you use a straight-edge, protect the razor with a binder clip.

Catch the red-eye
Even on Thanksgiving Eve, the last flight of the night is less expensive and less crowded. As a bonus, if you ride the red-eye, you may be blissfully half-asleep the next day when your in-laws start debating politics and religion over dessert.

Thanksgiving travel is easier if you drive when the kids will sleep.
Steffen Thalemann​/Getty

Hit the road early, while the kids are still asleep
Leave as early as possible if you're road-tripping to your destination. Not only will you beat the traffic, but the kids won't be awake yet to kick your seat and ask if you're there yet.

Personalize your suitcase
Don't risk grabbing the wrong suitcase at baggage claim or having someone snag yours. Make it easy to spot by personalizing it with a bright ribbon, zip tie, belt, or over-sized sticker of a distraught turkey holding a sign that says "Eat Beef!"

Pack an extra book or two for the flight
There's only one problem with the murder mystery you brought for the flight: it's worse than your first attempt at candied yams. Bring a backup or two. Lightweight paperbacks that don't take up much space in your carry-on work best.

Stock up on protein bars
Airport food is expensive; fast food is unhealthy and slows you down. Opt instead for meal replacement bars every now and then, which are filling, take up little space, and won't leave your automobile pockmarked with mustard stains.

Keep a few dollar bills handy
At some point on your trip, you'll probably be compelled to tip someone — a baggage handler at the airport, bellhop, room service waiter, shuttle driver, etc. Seldom are their pocketbooks equipped with credit card swipe machines, so bring some loose bills. And be generous if possible; it really does make you a happier soul.

Don't be a gas guzzler
Use cruise control when possible to minimize fuel usage. More importantly, find a large vehicle that's driving the same speed as you and follow at a safe but close distance. The vehicle in front will block the wind and allow you to draft down the highway in fuel-efficient bliss.

Pack smart for better Thanksgiving travel.

Have a wrinkle-free plan
No matter how you pack your clothes, they're bound to end up wrinkled. Bring along a wrinkle-removing spray so you don't spend half your trip ironing. Or, to save a few bucks, make your own spray.

Get a flu shot before your trip
If you're going to get sick over the holidays make sure it's because of your aunt's questionable casserole, not a virus. Before rubbing elbows with all those Typhoid Marys at the airport get the whole family influenza-proofed.

Marcus Whelchel lives, works and writes in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife and daughter. He is the proud author of the Great Unwritten American Novel.

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