The question: Help! I'm travelling over the holidays. Any survival tips?
TRAVEL CONCIERGE: Allison Dunfield, a pal who has spent many a December zipping between Toronto and Winnipeg and Saskatoon, has experienced it all: A purse and airline ticket forgotten in a taxi. A suitcase loaded with gifts lost in transit. Kids gone wild at 35,000 feet.
"I once had a kid tell me off because I told him to stop kicking my seat, and this was on Christmas Day," Dunfield says. "It would be a lot better if they gave everyone free champagne."
Ahh, the holidays - when we brave nasty weather and nastier crowds to spend quality time with loved ones. Here's how to make it easier.
*First, take a deep breath. Or five. Do you really need stress because the queue to check-in is snaking across the terminal? "When you start getting tense at the airport or in traffic, take a moment to smile at another person in line, or slow down to let that minivan merge in front of you," says Porter McConnell, who writes the SlowChristmas blog (slowchristmas.org). "You'll find it's contagious. Next thing you know, you'll be sympathizing with the screaming child on the plane."
* Focus on gratitude. Yes, it is a bummer to be stuck in the airport or in traffic, but ask yourself "what is good about my life right here and now?" says Elizabeth Lombardo, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Consider the fact that you are going to visit people you love, you have the means to travel, you are off from work for a few days, you get to catch up on your reading. Force yourself to come up with at least five positives.
*Plan for the unexpected. Factor in the traffic. Get to the airport early. Dunfield's lost ticket? "The only thing that saved me that day was that I had made it a habit to get to the airport three hours early whenever I flew at Christmas, so that worked in my favour." That gave her time to report the loss to the police, negotiate with Air Canada and speed to the gate in one of those golf carts. And if flights are socked in because of storms, keep the airline's reservations office number with you. "It is sometimes better to just call reservations than approach overloaded airport counters," says Arlene Fleming, a customer service agent and the air travel expert for About.com.
And if you're on the road, remember what my Dad said every time my friends and I drove off (and many stranded Ontario drivers discovered this month): Prepare like the car might break down. That means warm clothes, snacks, a snow shovel and an emergency candle and matches.
*Enjoy the journey. Rather than focusing on the kilometres to go, make it fun. Come up with a moniker for your trip (Turkey Quest 2010?), find places to stop and challenge your kids to play DJ. "Have each member of the family take turns doing their own countdown," says Jeff Siegel, a dad from Evanston, Ill., who runs the website myrelationtrips.com.
*Get your Hallmark on. Remember why you're fighting the crowds and inching through snow-swept highways for dry turkey and Christmas socks - the journey's end. Says Dunfield: "It is so great to get to the airport and see all the families waiting for their loved ones. Everyone's hugging and in a good mood."
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your family travel questions.
Karan Smith is a former Globe Travel editor. Special to The Globe and Mail