Free Advice: Holiday travel edition

It seems like all of America will be on the move this week. If you’re among the infrequent trippers, it can be easy to overlook the basics.

So here are some tips to help make your trip through the airport or on the highways as good as it gets.

At the airport: If you’re flying with gifts this holiday season, remember to make sure any you plan to carry with you comply with Transportation Security Administration rules — nothing with a large quantity of liquids, nothing paste-like, sharp or otherwise believed to be dangerous.

For gifts in checked baggage, avoid anything that involves compressed gas or some types of electronics batteries.

And don’t wrap anything — you’ll just end up redoing it after TSA agents take their peek inside.

Here’s where to check the rules: www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items.

And the TSA isn’t the only team you’ll have to satisfy. The airlines, too, have rules that — if you breach them — can be annoying and (usually) costly. Chief among them are baggage weight restrictions. Check your carrier’s website for specifics, then weigh your bag before you get to the airport. And give yourself some leeway. The scales at the airport (like those at the doctor’s office) always seem to read heavier than the one at home.

To save money, don’t drive yourself to the airport if you can help it. On-site parking for a week can approach the price of your ticket. Ask for a favor or do the math to see if a shuttle or cab is cheaper than parking. If you can’t catch a ride, make a reservation at a less-expensive off-airport lot. Don’t take a chance on just showing up — even off-airport lots will fill up.

And here’s an inside tip for Delta passengers using gates C10-C27, G14-G22 or Concourses A or B at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: Check your bags at the Delta counter on Level T and take the tram to Security Checkpoint 10 (it’s on the C/G Concourse bridge). The lines are always shorter than those at checkpoints in the ticket lobby.

On the road: One thing is certain about driving to family gatherings: Someone is going to need a pit stop along the way. And it will be at the most inopportune moment.

So here’s help, in the form of a handy Google Map-based database of highway rest areas: http://restareas.appspot.com. It includes each stop’s amenities.

Budgeting for fuel is easy with this site: www.fuelcostcalculator.aaa.com. Punch in your point of origin, destination and vehicle make and model for your fuel cost estimate.

If you need road condition reports, check these sites:

Minnesota: www.511mn.org

Wisconsin: www.511wi.gov.

Iowa: www.511ia.org.

South Dakota: www.safetravelusa.com/sd

North Dakota: www.dot.nd.gov/travel-info-v2

Live chat online

We had our first live chat with the Times Traveler last week, with readers asking questions ranging from the impact on fares of new FAA pilot training rules to when to buy a ticket to Florida.

It was fun trading thoughts with readers, and we plan to do it again. The time and date will be announced on www.sctimes.com, in the Times, on my Twitter feed (@LisaSSchwarz) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/sctimeslisa).

Wondering what you missed? You can check out the archive at http://on.sctimes.com/UW0oLK.

Keep up with the latest news in travel at www.sctimes.com/travel, on Facebook with www.facebook.com/sctimeslisa, and on Twitter as @LisaSSchwarz.
Lisa Schwarz

About Lisa Schwarz

By day, I'm a St. Cloud Times editor guiding coverage of politics, government, public safety and business beats. By night, I'm leading the cubicle jailbreak as the Times Traveler. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LisaSSchwarz and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimeslisa
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