Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Plan Ahead To Avoid The Fog Of Unknown Travel
By Matt Hampton
On the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains are beautiful natural wonders. It is a segment of the country where the Red Spruce and Fir trees still stand taller than any building. The bucolic splendor of the area is breathtaking to behold, and each rock and tree has a story, or at least something to add, to the panoply of our national heritage.
It is also some of the most terrifying country in the world to drive through on a foggy night in January.
In 2002, the family of this intrepid reporter had decided to drive to Florida, from our home in southwestern Ohio, to see my brother play in the marching band at the Gator Bowl.
The entire clan was excited, and it represented an opportunity to spend the holidays, at least a portion of them, on the road, seeing a beautiful part of the country. It was also very spur-of-the-moment. We rented a conversion van, traveled south, and enjoyed the spectacle of college football, all on a moments notice, completely unconcerned with schedule and commitments.
It was the trip back that made my family acutely aware of the dangers of traveling on the fly. As we drove over the Great Smoky Mountains, of the Appalachian Trail, the sun set and the fog rolled in thicker than a down blanket. The air smelled dangerously sweet through the half-inch open windows, and as my mother took the wheel and started an incline, we became aware that the roads, on one side and then another, represented the apex of a set of very steep cliffs. It took us three hours to clear through the fog, going no more than 10 mph at any one point. From that day on, we’ve always been extremely judicious about our holiday travel plans, and for things to go smoothly during the season of giving, planning ahead is a necessity.
First, consider the length and location of your trip. It’s important, no matter where you’re going, to secure airfare or train tickets at least a month ahead of time. Some places, however, are more popular than others, so be prepared to consider alternate routes or modes of transportation.
Also, be willing to use a travel or booking agent. These men and women are professionals for a reason, and they often have access to deals and airfare options that aren’t available to websites or individuals. It’s good practice to have a travel agent you trust, even if things are spur of the moment.
Shopping around is crucial. Airlines, rental car companies and rail lines all have fluctuating prices and deals that crop up for certain areas, or flights, cars or train lines that are being used infrequently. Don’t be shy, take advantage of their desperation.
There’s no substitute for being flexible. When flying anywhere, especially at this time of year, nearly every plane will be over-booked. Traveling light and giving yourself a large time cushion can make it very easy for you to take advantage of voluntarily getting bumped for free airfare.
Ultimately, thinking ahead and being flexible will make your travel plans throughout the holiday season easy to bear.