Stress-free family holiday travel

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Along with seeing friends and family, the holidays mean crowded airports and packed roads. The American Automobile Association predicts that 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate this Thanksgiving. Millions more will be flying and driving over the Christmas break. Lessen the aggravation by maintaining your sense of humor, allowing extra time for everything, and by following these stress-busting strategies.

Strategic planning

Travel on less busy days. Avoid the crush by not driving or flying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or on Dec. 24, traditionally the heaviest travel days. Consider departing early by plane or car on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day if you can make it to your destination for the heart of the family celebrations. The actual holidays also tend to be the cheapest days to fly.

Consider a smaller airport. Regional airports, as opposed to major hubs, come with the conveniences of easier parking and smaller crowds as well as shorter check-in and security lines. These advantages can outweigh any added drive time required to get from the gate to your downtown destination. Instead of flying into Boston’s Logan International Airport, ranked on Orbitz’s list of the busiest airports for Thanksgiving travel this season, consider landing at Manchester Boston Regional in N.H., 50 miles north of Boston.

Lighten your load. Mail your gifts ahead of time. This adds room in your car and can save you money on luggage fees when flying.

Bring the correct documents. When crossing an international border — heading to a Mexican beach, Canadian ski resort or other international destination — with a minor child, it’s wise to bring a copy of the child’s birth certificate plus a notarized letter of consent from the stay-at-home parent authorizing the travel. In cases of divorce, you may be asked to show the custody decree as well. If the other parent has died, a copy of the death certificate may be requested. Since rules — established to thwart child abduction by non-custodial parents — differ by country, always check with your destination’s embassy or consulate.

Pack insurance cards and permission forms. If your son’s buddy comes along on your dude ranch trip and he breaks a wrist falling off a horse, you will need a copy of his family’s insurance card plus a notarized statement from his parents authorizing you to obtain medical help in case of emergency. Without these documents, the hospital just might make him comfortable until his parents can be contacted.

Battle germs. Tote sanitized wipes to disinfect steering wheels, airline trays and plane armrests.

Make “what if” plans. When meeting friends or relatives at a destination or airport, don’t rely only on cellphones. Go low-tech too; just in case your phone dies or service isn’t available, develop a Plan B on how to meet up and what to do in case of missed connections.

Keep essentials handy. More hours en route means you need extra batteries and battery packs for computers, tablets, smartphones and video games. With babies on board, pack extra diapers, changes of clothing, food and bottles. Be sure that this “essentials” bag is easily accessible in the car’s front seat (not the trunk) or as an airline carry-on (not as checked luggage).

At the destination

Do a safety check. With toddlers in tow, whether at grandma’s or at a resort, child-proof the rooms. At your relatives’ house, move the crystal bowls and the china figurines from the cocktail table to high shelves out of your toddler’s reach. Block the stairs with a baby gate (pack one if needed). Several hotel chains offer complimentary child-proofing kits that contain outlet covers, corner guards for tables and toilet bowl locks. Consider bringing these items to your relatives’ house as well.

Know the house rules. Find out what the house rules are at Aunt Sally’s ahead of time and explain these to your kids. Your aunt may not allow food to be eaten in the living room or dogs in her dining room, even if your family does.

Bring or buy special needs foods. If your 5-year-old will only eat a certain brand of mac and cheese and your 12-year-old is a vegan, don’t expect your cousin to prepare special fare for your kids. Offer to bring or purchase the items your kids need.