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Holiday Travel Headaches

Foolproof ways to calm the kids (and you!)

Thanksgiving weekend kicks off one of the year's busiest travel periods – and with it, plenty of transit headaches, especially with kids on board. Get the nitty-gritty scoop with these "Insider's Tips" from Travel Leaders, one of the country's top-ranked travel companies featuring a robust network of travel agents (including several in metro Detroit). Read on for their surefire insights.

1. Before leaving home

Protect the homefront. Take care of the details at home, first. Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to collect your mail and look in on things while you're away, and leave them your out-of-town contact info, just in case.

Copies of important items. Bring travel confirmations and key phone numbers (your agent, airline, hotel, car rental company). Keep a list of your credit cards – plus front-and-back copies of the cards and your driver's license – separate from your wallet (in case it's lost or stolen). If renting an auto, take your insurance policy number, emergency phone number, etc.

Confirm departures. Call ahead to see if your flight's on time – and check traffic delays, parking changes and estimated wait times for security checks.

Check-in online. Avoid getting bumped: Do this within 24 hours of departure, and print out your boarding pass. Try to secure an advance seat assignment through a travel agent. And, while you're online, check on pre-paying baggage fees, too. Some airlines offer a discount for this.

Travel charged. If your travel plans are disrupted, avoid stress by ensuring your mobile phone is completely juiced.

Dress comfortably. Comfy clothing and footwear is crucial if you hit delays. Layer to easily adjust for cooler or warmer temperatures. And wear slip-on shoes to expedite the security check.

2. Airport arrival

Get there early. The normal recommended arrival time is 90 minutes for domestic travel; two hours for international. Boost that to two and there hours, respectively, around holidays. Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, get checked in and find your gate.

Parking. If you're leaving the family vehicle in an offsite lot, see if you can make an advance reservation to ensure there's space.

Airport check-in. The check-in kiosk line may be short, but the baggage-tag line usually isn't – especially around holidays. Build in time to reduce stress.

3. Airport security

Know the fed's rules. The Transportation Security Administration recently enacted its Secure Flight Program (click here for FAQs). It also has new tools for screening powdered substances. While meant to detect powders used in explosives, stuff like Aunt Susie's hot cocoa mix may be subject to added screening. Try to keep it out of the carry-on.

Match ID with reservation. Make sure the names on your picture ID and airline reservation match exactly, as required by the TSA. And keep your boarding pass and ID handy.

Know carry-on restrictions. Look them up. And remember: Airlines won't hold a flight for you if you're hung up in the security line.

Minimize security procedures. Again, wear shoes that can easily be removed and placed into the security tray – and remember you'll be required to remove winter coats. Empty your pockets and wait until personal items go into the security screener before you're screened.

4. Other factors

Remain alert. Check the display board often to be sure you don't have a gate change, and don't stray too far from your departure gate.

Food. With airlines cutting back on meal services or charging for limited choices, eat a good meal in advance, or arrive early and eat at the airport. Pack healthy snacks, like protein bars, nuts (almonds are a good choice), granola bars or cheese crackers. Take refillable water containers, too.

Keeping kids happy. Bring goodies, hand-held games, books, crayons – anything to keep them entertained. Remember extra batteries for electronics, and load up the iPods in advance.

Staying healthy. Avoid picking up unwanted germs by washing your hands frequently when possible. Don't forget the hand sanitizer.

On board. Have a credit or debit card handy, since many airlines no longer accept cash on board for snacks, meals or incidentals like headsets.

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