For the 50+ Traveler

I've never met a suitcase I didn't like. I've been known to pack days (okay, weeks) in advance. What can I say? I love packing! But even a packing geek like me can get overwhelmed when it comes to flying during the holidays. Here’s how to stay safe -- and sane -- during this busy holiday travel period.

Give Lists Some Lovin’

I live and die by lists, especially when it comes to travel. I have a master list for packing, one for travel gear, and one for leaving the house. Writing it all down (and editing my list after each trip) keeps my stress low and my enthusiasm high.

Lists are particularly useful during the busy holiday period. They’ll ensure you don’t leave essential season-specific items at home in your rush to arrive on time for your flight. There’s nothing worse than realizing at takeoff that you’ve forgotten your favorite winter coat or the present you were planning on giving your grandkids.

Underpack Your Bags

In my opinion, the ideal suitcase is one-third clothing, one-third miscellaneous items (like cameras, shoes, toiletries, and gifts), and one-third empty. Yes -- empty! Sadly, the pack you leave with is not the pack you carry throughout your trip. Things just seem to expand overnight, and you don’t want to be struggling with a bursting bag on the third day of your vacation. And, assuming you’re not on Santa’s naughty list, you’ll need room to bring home the gifts you receive.

Don’t Wrap Before You Go

While it’s technically okay to travel with wrapped gifts in your carry-on bag, you and the TSA agents at the airport will be happier if you don’t. That’s because any item that can’t easily be identified has to be unwrapped and examined. That’s aggravating and time-consuming -- and your gorgeous wrapping paper will be ruined.

Use Travel-Friendly Gift Bags Instead

An easy alternative is to use gift bags and tissue paper. I personally leave my gifts unwrapped and slip my flattened gift bags in next to my laptop so that they stay smooth and crisp. If you prefer boxes, choose shoebox-style containers that allow you to wrap lids and bottoms separately. If agents need to inspect the contents, you can easily lift open the lid for them.

Remember TSA’s Tricky Food Rules

It’s okay to bring food with you to the airport, but make sure they are solid products like muffins and fruit.

If you fly frequently, you’re probably familiar with the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule, which dictates that each passenger may only carry liquids, gels, and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or less. What’s more, each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels, and aerosols.

What many people don’t know, however, is that this rule applies to food as well as toiletries. Unfortunately, that means you won’t be able to pack many liquid-based foods in your carry-on. This includes gravy and salsa, containers of apple cider and cranberry sauce, and canned goods like pie filling, sauces, and soups. Even thicker products like peanut butter and preserves are included. If you can pour it or spread it, it’s a liquid in the eyes of the TSA.

Solid foods, like turkey, ham, fruitcake, nuts, cookies, and so on, are allowed in your carry-on bag provided you are flying domestically. Interestingly, while containers of pie filling are considered a liquid, a baked pie is not, no matter how runny the interior filling is.

The restrictions on liquids don’t apply to checked luggage, so if you really want to bring home a large jar filled with your mother’s homemade gravy, you can do it. Just make sure you seal it tight!

Keep Your Passport In A Safe Place

I’ve only ever had one travel experience that made my heart jump into my throat. It was when I came within seconds of forgetting our passports in a hotel room. I had done such a thorough job of reorganizing our gear that somehow our passports got tucked between the corner of the duvet and the bedsheets. It was only a last-second impulse to straighten the sheets that revealed the navy blue edges of our passports. I still get nervous when I think about how close I came to disaster!

Passports, along with all other important papers, belong in a safe place. If that place isn’t on your body, then it should be in a secure and brightly colored travel wallet that keeps things clean and organized. Make sure to include your boarding cards, insurance documents, extra credit cards, receipts, and a little spare money, too. Just because your focus is on family and festivities doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your most important papers safe.

I know that my passion for packing is a bit of an anomaly, but I really do believe that every part of the travel experience should be a pleasure. Yes -- even the packing! And with a little organization, you can have a smooth and happy holiday travel experience, even at the airport.

Want to make holiday travel even simpler? Consider TSA PreCheck.