In 2011, AAA projected 42.5 million Americans would travel for Thanksgiving, a 4 percent increase from the year prior. With that said, we can probably presume the number will rise again in 2012, bringing with it traffic jams, flight delays and cranky kids. Plus, we know airfare for Thanksgiving travel is up by 9 percent this year -- ouch. Have no fear. With the help of our readers, we've compiled a list of tips to ensure a smooth ride to grandma's house.
Book now, but don't book a flight with layovers. Though connecting flights are always cheaper, you don't want to drag the kids from one plane to another, you don't want to spend hours in an airport and you certainly don't want to dash through the terminal like the McAllister family did in "Home Alone."
Once you book your non-stop flight, secure your seats so that the entire family can sit together. Also, if you're planning to park your car at the airport for the duration of your trip, reserve a spot in advance, as spaces quickly book up around the holidays.
If you're driving, research rest stops along your route, and plan which ones you'll visit. Knowing this might even give you something to tell the kids when they ask the inevitable "are we there yet?" question. Also, be aware of detours and map your road trip accordingly.
Download Travel Apps
Part of smart planning means downloading apps. These are a few of our favorites:
Gas Buddy: While it seems impossible to save money on gas, Gas Buddy manages to locate the least expensive gas station wherever you are.
TSAwait: Using statistics from TSA, this handy app calculates how much time you'll spend at airport security, on average. Though average numbers vary based on weather and holidays, you'll still get a good idea of how long the wait will be.
GateGuru: Once you and the kids clear security and get your shoes and coats back on, tap in to GateGuru, which will tell you where the nearest restaurant is located, or where you can find a gift shop to replace the pair of sunglasses you might have forgot. This app also provides real-time user reviews and ratings.
Road Warriors: On our list of Apps to Make Holiday Travel Easier, this app points out the best local attractions along your route, and provides a built-in GPS as well.
For more ideas, see Our Top 5 Favorite Family Travel Apps.
Low blood sugar is a sure-fire way to make anyone miserable. Stock up on sustainable snacks like granola bars, fruit and nuts. Family Vacation Critic readers also swear by lollipops! Those who are flying might be restricted to what they can bring on the plane, especially those flying internationally, but some domestic carriers will allow small snacks, or at the very least, will offer food for a small fee (or, if you're lucky, no charge at all). Check your airline's Web site for details and restrictions.
Next to food, entertainment is most important. Pack coloring books and crayons, iPods and DVDs, and don't forget the Nintendo DSi! Family Vacation Critic reader Trisha Evans Williams also suggests preparing activity bags for each of your children. "On road trips, I prepare the kids their own special bags. Inside are new crayons, coloring books, stickers, pipe cleaners, joke books and other entertaining crafts. I also include a journal for them to draw and write about our trip as we go. It helps them remember and appreciate the trip more."
Jeff Sechler, another Family Vacation Critic reader, created a book called "Are We There Yet? Games, Riddles and Tongue Twisters for Traveling Fun," which requires nothing more than a pen and paper!
... And Don't Forget Gear
Family Vacation Critic reader Laetitia Shelton says it's all about the gear! "Bring an inflatable lap tray, favorite pillow and sleep sack for the plane." She also packs her children's staple items, which include a stuffed animal and favorite blanket.
Other gear essentials: A vaporizer (to stop stuffy noses), an ergonomic digital scale (to prevent extra baggage fees) and a multi-purpose power charger (to charge your iPhone, camera and Kindle). See our list of 7 Must-Have Travel Gadgets for Families for more suggestions.
Consider buying digital cameras for your kids - the Fisher Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera runs about $40 at Toys 'R Us. They'll enjoy taking pictures at stops and making movies of each other in the car.