Holiday Travel Tips: Lessons from “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and Expert Advice

Navigating the Challenges of Holiday Travel with Insights from a Classic Film and a Travel Expert

As the holiday season approaches, many people are gearing up for their annual travels to visit loved ones or enjoy a well-deserved vacation. However, holiday travel can often be a stressful and chaotic experience. To help you navigate the challenges and avoid the mishaps that can occur during this time, we’ve gathered five valuable travel tips from the 1987 film “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” Additionally, we’ve consulted with former LA Times travel editor, Catharine Hamm, to provide updated advice for today’s travel landscape.

Arrive at the Airport Early:

In the film, Steve Martin’s character, Neal Page, learns the hard way about the importance of arriving early at the airport. Rushing to catch his flight, he faces unexpected obstacles and ends up missing it. According to Hamm, the classic advice of arriving 90 minutes early for domestic flights and two hours early for international flights is no longer sufficient. She recommends allowing at least two hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights, adding an extra 30 minutes during the holiday season. Even if you have TSA PreCheck, Hamm suggests arriving early, as smaller airports may not offer this service.

Call the Hotel to Confirm Your Reservation:

In “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” Neal and Del Griffith, played by John Candy, encounter a hotel mishap when their flight is canceled. To avoid similar issues, Hamm advises travelers to call the hotel on the day of their reservation to ensure their room is still available. She also suggests familiarizing yourself with innkeeper laws in the state you’re visiting, as they may vary. Additionally, having a backup hotel option can be beneficial in case your first choice falls through. While online booking procedures may seem straightforward, it’s important to remember that unforeseen circumstances can occur.

Keep Your Valuables Close:

Neal and Del experience a theft in the film when their cash is stolen from their luggage. Hamm emphasizes the importance of carrying valuables in your carry-on rather than checking them in your luggage. Checked luggage can be lost or damaged, putting your valuables at risk. Hamm shares her personal experience of having her luggage run over by a forklift, but fortunately, her diamond earrings remained safe. To further secure your belongings, consider investing in a reliable tracker, such as the Samsung Galaxy SmartTag2 or Tile Pro.

Avoid Renting a Car at the Airport:

Renting a car at the airport may seem convenient, but it often comes with additional fees and limited availability, especially during the holiday season. Hamm advises travelers to avoid renting a car at the airport and instead opt for a shuttle or Uber to a nearby rental car location. By reserving your car online before arrival, you can ensure availability and avoid the frustration depicted in the film when Neal encounters rental car issues.

Book Travel in Advance and Avoid the Last Flight:

Waiting until the last minute to book your travel or taking the final flight or train of the day may seem like a strategic move, but it often leads to delays and cancellations. Hamm advises booking your travel three weeks before the holiday, ideally at the end of October. Waiting until the day of the holiday or taking the last flight increases the likelihood of encountering complications and incurring additional fees. Planning ahead and booking in advance will provide a smoother travel experience.


While holiday travel can be challenging, it’s important to remember the purpose behind it – fostering valuable connections with loved ones. By following the lessons from “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and heeding the advice of travel expert Catharine Hamm, you can navigate the complexities of holiday travel with greater ease. Arriving early at the airport, confirming hotel reservations, keeping valuables close, avoiding airport car rentals, and booking travel in advance will help ensure a stress-free and enjoyable journey. So, as you embark on your holiday adventures, remember to embrace the spirit of the season and cherish the moments spent with family and friends.






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