airport travel

It’s that time of year again: The busiest and most backed-up travel day of the year is almost upon us. What’s meant to be a mid-season break full of fall fashion and family time can easily devolve into a stressed-out mess where you expend all your energy crawling one stoplight at a time toward the interstate onramp.

Let’s skip all that this year. Instead, transform your holiday transportation nightmare into a revitalizing Thanksgiving weekend mini-vacation.

Pick somewhere to watch the fall leaves turn colors on your way home or back, inject a dose of mindfulness to shift your mindset from one of fulfilling obligations to one of adventure, and avoid the seasonal crowds with one of these three alternative approaches to Thanksgiving travel.

Coast Home in the Carpool Lane

thanksgiving travel hacks

Creepy anonymous Craigslist rideshares are a thing of the past, one thing you should be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Nowadays there are plenty of apps and websites to choose from that’ll get you there and back safely and affordably, and let you meet other adventurous travelers on the way.

Zimride is one of the most popular rideshare platforms. Whether you use it online or in app form, you’ll log in with Facebook and connect to other drivers and passengers who study at your university, work at your company, or have mutual Facebook friends, removing the anonymity that turns off many would-be carpoolers. Other apps and sites like Hitch-A-Ride and Carpool World will offer a few more options.

Moreover, try to approach the platforms with a sense of adventure. Do you see a friendly-looking driver headed to a cool historic town close enough to home that a short train connection or Mom’s shuttle service can get you the rest of the way? Send her a message and take it from there.

Take a Trans-American Train Trip

thanksgiving travel hacks

What ever happened to traveling by train in the US? You don’t have to go to Europe for a tranquil tour of the countryside, and it’s a great way to add a dose of novelty to your Thanksgiving commute.

Train travel at the start of the holiday season has picked up so much that Amtrak is even offering extra holiday service in the Great Lakes area — good news for Chicago-dwelling yuppies heading back home to the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, or New England. Whether you live on the East coast, the West coast, or somewhere in between, there’s probably an Amtrak station close to home, and the national train service has quite a few deals to be thankful for this time of year.

Doing some research before booking your itinerary can save you enough money to fit in an extra day trip on your way home or back. Amtrak Smart Fares are available every week, and you can use them to score a 30% discount on tickets booked the week before you leave. Additionally, students, military personnel and families, veterans and more are eligible discounts everyday, be it a holiday weekend or a spontaneous mid-week jaunt.

For more deals, browse by region and find an itinerary that fits your holiday travel plans.

Skip the Checked Baggage, Opt for a Budget Airline

airport baggage

If home is too far for the carpool lane or the train car, it’s time to take advantage of the explosive growth in discount airlines in recent years that have revolutionized air travel in the US.

Frontier, JetBlue, and Virgin America are some of the most popular, and you can board your flight on all three airlines with a free piece of carry-on luggage big enough to get you through the weekend and then some.

Check Fare Compare to see different airlines’ baggage policies, and take an extra minute to check against the individual airline’s website to make sure the policy is up to date.

And if discount sounds too discount for you, there are other smart ways to bypass baggage fees and still fly home and back in style. Just remember, checking a bag will usually mean one more line to wait in on either end of your trip, so spend a little time training yourself in the art of packing light no matter who you fly with this Thanksgiving.