Information About The Best Small Airports in the U.S.

Several years ago, I wrote a paean to small airports titled The Pleasures and Pains of Small Airports that outlined the whys and hows (as well as some warnings) for small airports, but overall left the finding of those airports to travelers. The absence of this info was expressed recently by an IndependentTraveler.com staffer named Matt Leonard, who told us, “To me, there is nothing in life better than getting that rare flight from Trenton. Easy access, no Newark or Philly. Where are the Trentons of the world? Which airlines fly from them and what flights do they offer? To me, that would be the ultimate travel tip.”

Reading between the lines of Matt’s suggestion, let’s apply the following criteria when choosing some favorite small airports:

1. They must have a decent selection of commercial flights (this seems obvious, but what good is a small airport that only flies a single route to Sheboygan?).

2. They should have easy access in one way or another, such as a location near a highway or close to a traveler’s likely final destination.

3. They should be near at least one major city, so they can act as true alternatives to big airports.

4. They should probably have some additional traveler amenities, such as a car rental counter.

5. Finally, the World Airport Awards defines a small airport as one serving fewer than 5 million passengers per year, so let’s stick with that number here as well. You can see the organization’s top-rated airports here.

Loosely following these guidelines, here are my recommendations for 13 airports to consider on your next trip, more or less from west to east.

Long Beach Airport, Long Beach, CA
Alternative to: LAX or pretty much any other Southern California airport

Airlines: Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, US Airways

Why We Love It: Popular perception might have it that Long Beach is more of a medium-sized airport, as JetBlue arguably made its bones at LGB, but some fairly restrictive noise rules have kept the airport to a maximum of 41 daily commercial flights, and that number doesn’t seem likely to rise dramatically any time soon. The fact that the airport serves one of the world’s biggest cities, is only 18 miles from LAX and hosts airlines that offer flights to a truly solid collection of major airports nationwide put it at the top of many savvy fliers’ favorite lists. Add to these that the airport lies right along I-405 for easy access, and is about four miles from the beach, and Long Beach wins a lot of fans.

I have used Long Beach frequently when traveling to San Diego, which is less than two hours to the south, with a whole lot of beautiful coast (and a number of great surf breaks) along the way.

Bellingham International Airport, Bellingham, WA
Alternative to: SeaTac or Vancouver

Airlines: Alaska, Allegiant, Frontier

Why We Love It: Situated between Vancouver and Seattle, Bellingham offers a very low-key entrance into the Pacific Northwest via what used to be mostly a paper mill and cannery town, but has of late become an enclave for outdoorsy types who don’t want the bustle of Seattle but still want quick access to the San Juan Islands, the Olympic peninsula, the Cascade Mountains and more.

The airport is 90 easy miles from Seattle, and 50 miles from Vancouver — take your sweet pick!

Waco Regional Airport, Waco, TX
Alternative to: Dallas/Fort Worth

Airlines: American

Why We Love It: Waco serves mainly as a connector airport to DFW two hours to the north, but man, can you save yourself some hassle and expense by flying out of Waco and then connecting through the much larger, much more intense and much more expensive DFW airport. With free parking, under-stressed airline and security staff, and way lighter automobile traffic, you can get yourself and your bags checked into American Airlines’ system in Waco, and then travel light onward to the countless airports served by DFW.

Flying from Waco can also be very cost-effective too. In addition to money saved on parking, tolls, miles, etc., fares appear to be lower. The Waco airport folks have put together this useful cost comparison chart — see for yourself.

Note: The airport in Austin tends to get favorable reviews from travelers, so I don’t recommend Waco as an alternative to that one just yet (although the Austin airport is getting busier all the time, so that may change in the future).

Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, KY, and McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, TN
Alternative to: Indianapolis, Nashville, St. Louis

Airlines (Blue Grass): Allegiant, American Eagle, Delta, United, US Airways

Airlines (McGhee Tyson): Allegiant, American Eagle, Delta, Frontier, United Express, US Airways

mcghee tyson knoxville airportWhy We Love ‘Em: These two airports offer entry points to the U.S. South in a very low-key way. Lexington is well located if you are headed to a number of Southern and even Midwestern cities such as Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis and Nashville. Meanwhile, the airport in Knoxville, and indeed the entire Knoxville area, may offer one of the most demure, pleasant and uneventful travel experiences in the U.S.; travelers seem more prone to remember the airport’s rocking chairs and fountains than its security lines, check-in woes or parking hassles.

One important benefit of flying into and out of airports in this part of the country is the relatively low population density, which mitigates somewhat the fact that Knoxville isn’t a large metropolis itself, and is some distance from its other, larger Southern neighbors.

Charleston International Airport, Charleston, SC
Alternative to: Savannah, Atlanta or Charlotte

Airlines: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways

Why We Love It: Like a number of the better smaller airports, Charleston is a joint civil/military airport, and it serves about 2.5 million passengers per year. Situated just outside Charleston, the airport features a number of rental car companies, which keeps the cost of transport into town low. Karl Frederick, an attorney based in New Brunswick, NJ, flies to the airport frequently and offers the following advice on getting around:

“The cab fare to downtown Charleston or Mount Pleasant is about $50, but CHS is one of those places where you can rent a subcompact for around $20/day. For a short trip, renting a car is cost-competitive, although once you are downtown you can pretty much walk anywhere or hire a pedicab, so you don’t need wheels if you are staying. If you can get a ride into town, that works best.”

CHS meets easy-in, easy-out requirements of fans of small airports, but it is the staff that gets the most praise among airport experts and critics. Southern hospitality seems to go far at CHS, which is a helpful issue at a small airport, where delays can sometimes be a fact of life.

Daytona Beach International Airport, Daytona Beach, FL
Alternative to: Orlando

Airlines: Delta, US Airways

Why We Love It: A straight 50-mile shot up I-4 from Orlando and Disney World, Daytona Beach offers its own brand of theme park — it’s like the Jersey Shore with a lot more motorcycles and tattoos, and a much longer season. Funky but still family-friendly in many ways, the town (and the airport) is not Orlando or Miami, which might be all the draw some folks need.

Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, Newport News, VA
Alternative to: Washington D.C.

Airlines: Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, US Airways

Why We Love It: Newport News/Williamsburg International lies right in the middle of a formidable stretch of historical sites and beach towns, including Richmond, Williamsburg, Norfolk and Virginia Beach; it’s even convenient to the Outer Banks. The airport is currently undergoing considerable expansion, which may cost the airport some of its charm while picking up a number of amenities and conveniences along the way. The “international” in the airport name derives from seasonal flights to Cancun.

Newport News is a fair pace from Washington D.C., around 170 miles, but many people who visit the D.C. area make day trips to out Williamsburg and even the beach, so you can do the same, but in reverse, to a much cozier airport.

Trenton-Mercer Airport, Ewing, NJ
Alternative to: Newark or Philadelphia

Airlines: Frontier

Why We Love It: Trenton-Mercer Airport is nearly equidistant from those in both Newark (52 miles) and Philadelphia (42 miles), is located right off a very quiet stretch of I-95, and has a growing roster of commercial flights run by Frontier Airlines. Of all the small airports I have been through, the Trenton airport offered the most effortless experience overall. Its on-again, off-again use by commercial airlines has been a source of frustration over the years, but the current residency by Frontier Airlines seems to have some legs, as the airline extended its lease at the airport this summer through 2018. The airport also recently received substantial funding from the FAA to improve runways and address other safety and modernization issues, so hopefully more airlines are inclined to join Frontier in Ewing, just outside Trenton.
MacArthur Airport, Islip, NY
Alternative to: JFK or LaGuardia

Airlines: Pen Air, Southwest, US Airways Express

Why We Love It: A favorite of many travel pundits, MacArthur Airport has become the go-to airport when TV talking heads and the like mention avoiding the unquestionably gnarly New York area airports. Southwest makes Islip a real player in New York, but be careful; it is a solid 50+ miles to Midtown Manhattan, most of that on the Long Island Expressway, which can be brutally congested at times.

T.F. Green Airport, Providence, RI, and Bradley International Airport, Hartford, CT
Alternative to: Boston

Airlines (T.F. Green): Cape Air, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways

Airlines (Bradley International): Air Canada, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways

Why We Love ‘Em: T.F. Green is a great option if you are traveling to the Boston area, but don’t actually want to go into the city, and in particular if you are headed to Cape Cod and other regional summer destinations. If you are headed into town, it’s only about an hour from Boston, so the drive isn’t that bad — save for the infamous Massachusetts drivers.

Bradley is a bit bigger airport than most of those on this list, but its status as an alternate airport serving a major population center is pretty solid, so it’s worth a mention here. Bradley isn’t in a romantic destination itself, but is located right in the middle of New England, and can serve as a great launching pad for leaf-peeping excursions, American Revolution tours, outings to the New England coast and more.

Bangor International Airport, Bangor, ME
Alternative to: New England

Airlines: Allegiant, Delta, US Airways

bangor airportWhy We Love It: If you are looking to airdrop yourself into a New England forest, look no further than the airport in Bangor, Maine. BGR is in the middle of nowhere, admittedly, but a lot of good comes from that — such as $8/day long-term parking, $2/hour short-term parking, and free parking for pick-ups and drop-offs. Flying into BGR during the peak foliage season will make your eyes pop; book a window seat.

Five Lessons Airports Should Learn

How to Find Other Small Airports
This list is only a small sampling of the potential alternate airports you might be able to fly into, particularly if you are willing to purchase “hacker fares.” To help you find the perfect airport near the perfect destination for an upcoming trip, here are a couple of tactics you may want to try:

1. Check the flight maps of the “alternate airlines.” The airlines most likely to fly to these no-hassle airports are sometimes the most-hassle airlines (the fee-crazy Spirit Airlines comes to mind), but not always, with Southwest and JetBlue the most notable exceptions. From there, check the route maps of AirTran (currently merging with Southwest), Allegiant, Frontier, Porter, Spirit, Vision and the various “Connection” and “Express” adjuncts of the majors.

2. Use the “nearby airport” search function available on most major flight booking sites. You can often find great options there.

Some Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

Knowing what to wear — and, more importantly, what not to wear — on a plane is crucial. Just ask Lady Gaga. In 2010, the pop star donned Alexander McQueen “armadillo shoes” and a wild outfit of black and yellow tape on a transatlantic flight. During the voyage, Gaga began to experience symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, a life-threatening condition commonly caused by a combo of in-flight risk factors like low cabin pressure, dehydration, immobility during a long trip and cramped seats (so says the American Council on Exercise); attempt to endure this environment in a confining getup of tape and 12-inch stilettos, and you’ve got trouble.

heels skinny jeans suitcase
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when blood clots form in veins, elevating the potential for a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms include swollen or red limbs, but individuals suffering from deep vein thrombosis often exhibit no symptoms. Luckily for Gaga, the star knew something was wrong. When she complained that her legs were swelling up during the flight, the cabin crew convinced her to change into something a little more comfortable (and a little less likely to incite an artery blockage).

Chances are you don’t own a yellow and black tape outfit or 12-inch-high heels. But if similar things are lurking in your closet (you fashionable devil), I hope you’ve chosen to reserve such apparel for appropriate occasions, like directing traffic during a Mardi Gras parade — and certainly not air travel. Just as Gaga and other demigods of impractical couture should keep their costumes off the tarmac, those of us who fall into the jeans-and-sneakers category of fashion ought to also think carefully about what we wear on a plane.

Don’t: Tight clothing. Do: Natural, breathable fabrics.
We learned our lesson from Lady Gaga. Tight clothes can restrict blood flow in the already-confining space of an airplane seat. Is the reward of showing off your fantastically toned thighs worth the risk of deep vein thrombosis? Ditch the skinny jeans and don loose-fitting natural fiber garments (clothes made from cotton or linen are a great choice) to give your skin some breathing room.

Five Foods to Avoid Before Flying

Don’t: High heels. Do: Comfortable shoes.
Heels are restrictive, and they’ve been said to cause a long list of maladies, from chronic foot pain to hammer toe. Plus, unless you’re one of Charlie’s Angels, they don’t exactly facilitate a clean exit in case of emergency. Hiking boots are a good bet, as wearing the bulky shoes as opposed to packing them frees up some suitcase space — and you’ll be comfortable walking miles through endless airport terminals. Also consider slip-on shoes, which are wonderful for easing your way through security.

Create a Personalized Packing List

Don’t: Perfume or cologne. Do: Freshly washed clothes.
You’ve been in Europe for two weeks, you’ve only packed so much, and by your date of departure you’ve run out of clean pants and shirts. It may be tempting to throw on something that more or less passes the sniff test and head off to the airport. But remember: Odors are intensified on a plane, where passengers are cramped in close quarters and stale air is recycled throughout the cabin.

The perfect seatmate is one who doesn’t smell like anything. To achieve a zen-like lack of scent, be sure to reserve a clean outfit for the plane ride home. And go easy on the cologne. Better yet, don’t wear any. Scent is subjective. You may adore the delicate bouquet of CK One, but your seatmate could find its aroma noxious. In particular, folks with allergies or asthma could have a reaction to strong perfumes.

Don’t: Offensive clothing. Do: Anything you would wear to church.
In 2005, Southwest Airlines crewmembers booted passenger Lorrie Heasley from a flight because she was wearing a politically offensive T-shirt. The shirt depicted the faces of President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice above the caption “Meet the Fockers.” After the incident, a Southwest spokeswoman told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the airline has the right to deny boarding to anyone wearing “lewd, obscene or patently offensive” clothing.

Two years later, Southwest’s flight crew/fashion police threatened to remove a second female passenger from a flight for wearing clothes considered inappropriate for a family airline. Kyla Ebbert, who was wearing a tight shirt and mini-skirt, salvaged her seat by offering to pull her skirt down and pull up her top, thereby minimizing her cleavage (oh, the horror!).

Whether or not you agree with what Southwest deems “inappropriate,” you’ll want to avoid wearing potentially offensive clothing to minimize a disruptive travel experience. Steer clear of T-shirts splashed with curse words or controversial statements, and anything that tends to raise eyebrows in public.

Don’t: Warm-weather clothing. Do: Layers, layers, layers.
Fliers must brave a multitude of temperature changes throughout their journeys. There’s the sweat-inducing jog through the sunny airport terminal, the warm 20 minutes while the plane sits on the tarmac pre-take-off and that in-flight arctic chill (against which paper-thin airline blankets do nothing). Layers are a traveler’s best weapon against such varying conditions. Furthermore, the more apparel you tie around your waist or throw over your shoulders, the fewer clothing items you need to ball up and stuff into your suitcase.

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Home

Not sure what to buy the traveler on your list this holiday season? While many gift guides offer ideas like luggage or neck pillows for long flights, it can be difficult to pick out such things for other people, especially if they travel often; most frequent travelers have already figured out and purchased the travel products that work best for them.

holiday gifts
Instead, why not give travel-themed gifts that can be used or displayed in your favorite traveler’s home — items that will fuel a sense of wanderlust all year round? Below are eight travel gifts to consider this holiday season.

Flavors of the World

One of the greatest pleasures of travel is tasting your way around the globe, and your recipient can do just that with one of these food-themed gifts. Tea lovers will appreciate the Tea Traveler Tea Sampler, which features blends from Morocco, China, Sri Lanka, India and South Africa. Is your recipient more of a coffee drinker? Try Around the World in Twelve Coffees, with samples from a dozen countries including Costa Rica, Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Other foodie-friendly options include this spice sampler and this box of chocolate bars.

Coffee Table Books

Anyone who loves to travel can’t help but be inspired by the photos in a book like National Geographic’s Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips, in which vacation ideas are sorted by theme (such as road trips, gourmet adventures and pilgrimages). Another gorgeous option is Lonely Planet’s Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World, which is sure to expand your recipient’s bucket list.

Coasters

Coasters make a good small gift or stocking stuffer, with countless varieties available to suit just about any taste or travel interest. These Old World Maps will appeal to many wanderlusters, but you could also try something more specific — like these coasters featuring a Monet painting of Venice (suitable for both art and Italy lovers) or these vintage Paris coasters. Search Amazon or Etsy for more ideas.

Old World Globe Bar

Got someone on your list who loves both travel and wine? Consider gifting this unique 16th-Century Italian Replica Old World Globe Bar. An antique globe opens to reveal a tray for wine glasses or bottles, with another lower shelf below. Its three legs have rolling casters so your recipient can wheel it right into his or her library or living room.

Travel Inspiration

Between trips, travel quotes can provide continual inspiration. For example, Susan Sontag’s famous line, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list,” has been turned into T-shirts, mugs, even pillows. The LakesideDaydreams shop on Etsy offers a number of maps overlain with travel quotes such as “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Buy one and frame it for your favorite traveler.
Travel Calendar

Sure, most of us rely on our smartphones to manage our schedules these days, but there’s something about an old-fashioned paper calendar — complete with gorgeous, colorful pictures — to inspire wanderlust throughout the year. National Geographic’s 2017 wall calendar features images of Santorini, Havana and Paris, among others. For the hiker on your list, consider Wanderlust: Trekking the Road Less Traveled, with incredible shots from adventure photographer Chris Burkard. If you’d rather go for a smaller daily option that your giftee can put on his or her desk, consider this option from Lonely Planet.

Vintage Travel Posters

Give your travel-loving giftee some unique art for a home or office by purchasing a vintage poster featuring one of his or her favorite travel destinations — such as Japan, San Francisco or London. Want more ideas? See Vintage Travel Posters Are Cool Again.

Picture Frames

One of the best ways to keep your travel memories alive is to hang a few of your favorite vacation snaps on the wall. Encourage your recipient to make his or her own travel collage by giving a multi-image photo frame like this one from ArtToFrames (which holds nine 5″ x 7″ prints) or this smaller one from Americanflat (which displays five 4″ x 6″ photos). A less conventional option is this Umbra hanging photo display, which is like a set of clotheslines for pictures.

Avoid This Travel Photography Mistakes

Humans are increasingly intent on documenting our lives photographically; according to one estimate, about one trillion photos were taken in the year 2015 — and many of them were pretty good. A glance at the high-quality images found on Instagram or Flickr is proof that you don’t need pro credentials or expensive equipment to take compelling photos of the world. My sister-in-law has a simple point-and-shoot, but she also has enthusiasm and a really good eye, and her photos are great — funny, touching and enduring. What more could you want?

If the pictures you take on the road don’t quite live up to that standard, you may be making some of the following common travel photography mistakes. Avoid these, and you’ll take more than your share of travel photos worth keeping.

1. Bringing too much equipment.

After a recent trek to Shi Shi Beach, Washington, on which my heavy DSLR equipment got banged around on sea stacks, doused by waves and infiltrated by sand, I purchased a small, waterproof point-and-shoot that offers 16 megapixels and weighs 8.7 ounces. The little camera has been a blast to have around in many ways.

You may find that having too much stuff can actually hurt your chances of getting a good shot; staying alert to and enthusiastic about photographic opportunities becomes much harder after even an hour of hauling 20 pounds of gear. My advice? Take the same approach to packing photo equipment that you do to packing clothes: Bring what you know you will use, and think hard before packing anything more.

2. Underestimating your phone camera.

Following on our previous point — do you even need to pack a separate camera? Most modern smartphones boast more megapixels than a high-quality DSLR I used to cover the Olympics just a decade ago. (It had six megapixels, while the iPhone 6 has eight and the Samsung Galaxy offers a whopping 16!) It turns out that your phone camera holds up pretty well even to fairly recent DSLR cameras. Add to that the availability of sophisticated photo editing apps, and your phone camera has a lot to offer.

3. Forgetting memory cards, batteries or chargers.

This may sound obvious, but it happens all the time. It’s particularly common to assume the battery or memory card is still in the camera when it isn’t. The best solution is to put all your various camera components as individual line items on your packing list, and tick them off the same way you would for socks and docs.

4. Not knowing your camera.

Every camera is different, and with features expanding and improving all the time, it can be hard to keep up. This problem is most common when you purchase a new camera or smartphone right before a trip; there simply isn’t time to learn how it works. Give yourself at least an hour or two to tinker and experiment before you leave — because that elephant on safari isn’t going to stand around waiting for you to read the manual.

5. Burying your equipment.

When you are out and around, the best photos tend to present themselves without warning, so you don’t want your camera to be at the bottom of your backpack. Keep it on top of the bag or even out of the bag; there are a lot of innovative camera straps on the market that make carrying a camera around less burdensome.

This is another advantage to having a small camera or using your phone; these fit easily into a pocket so you have them at your fingertips.

6. Having no people in your photos.

silly selfie of couple with ice cream conesSure, it’s great to take pictures of architecture or animals or food, but if you don’t have any shots of yourself or your travel companions, you might find your photos less interesting to look back on later. I have a couple of very old photos from a trip to Europe — one of the Spanish Steps, the other of a good friend with whom I have mostly lost touch tearing a piece of bread on the Spanish Steps. Guess which one resonates more years later.

Travel is about not only the places you visit, but also the things you do and how you spent your time. I have a few gallery-worthy photos from a trip to Hamburg a few years ago, but my favorite picture from the trip is one of my kid blitzing down a giant helter-skelter slide in a park near our hotel. It captures our experience in Hamburg in a way that no postcard-quality photo could do.

7. Missing the details.

Photos of small things you notice, with which you interact on a human, often touchable level, are often more poignant than broader views of the big sights. A quick example: I have seen and taken a lot of cool photos of the Space Needle, but one I like best is of the giant bolts at the foot of the tower.

8. Photographing the same perspective over and over.

Similarly, photos taken at the same distance from your subject, with the same focal length, the people in the same part of the frame, and the same overall composition, will tend to dampen the experience of viewing those pictures later. Samey-ness of perspective gets old even if you do everything else right.

9. Taking “tourist brochure” photos.

You see this all the time on social media — someone posts a photo, and the general sentiment is that it “looks like a postcard!” Which it does, and you can get it for 65 cents in the souvie shop. Or admirers will tell you a shot looks like a photo a pro would take, but you are not that pro. You want your photos to be your photos; you don’t have to take the same angle everyone else has taken.

10. Failing to photograph popular attractions.

Notwithstanding many of the foregoing points, I have found that deeming it uncool or unnecessary to take photos of popular attractions can actually be counterproductive. If it is worth taking a special side trip to the Eiffel Tower, it is probably worth taking a photo of it — but again, make it your photo, not the same photo that has been taken a trillion times.

11. Failing to turn around.

An old photography adage goes more or less as follows: If you see a great photo in front of you, turn around. Sometimes the thing you are not looking at is even interesting than the obvious subject in front of you. In my sports photography, I see this over and over again; while taking photos of athletes receiving medals, a solid photo is the athlete celebrating, but the great photo might be his or her family embracing and weeping with joy right behind you.

12. Being inconsiderate with your flash.

Blasting someone in the face with a bright white light typically isn’t the best way to make friends, and flash photography is forbidden in many museums and other attractions. With so many cameras automatically deciding whether to deploy the flash or not, it’s vital to know how to turn this on and off. The upside is that so many modern cameras (including smartphones) have exceptional low-light performance, so you can often get a solid photo without flash.

Some Unexpected Holiday Travel Gifts

If you have a traveler or two on your shopping list, cancel that trip to the mall. You don’t have to search through boring racks of discount luggage to find perfect presents for your fellow globetrotters. Sure, suitcases and language translators make nice gifts — but you can do better than that!

santa claus with globe
This year, present your loved ones with travel gifts that are, well, a little less traveled. Read on for 10 ideas.

Traveler’s Handbooks
While most guidebooks are destination-specific, this interesting series focuses on practical tips for nine different types of travelers. If you’ve got a solo traveler, an avid volunteer, a foodie or an adventurer on your shopping list, he or she will love one of these Traveler’s Handbooks. Each volume offers comprehensive advice and anecdotes from experienced travelers in each specialty who’ve been there and done that. Price: $7.99 – $9.99 for Kindle editions, $16.99 for paperback.

Digital Luggage Scale

If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s prone to overpacking, this digital luggage scale from Etekcity can save them a few bucks at the airport. The lightweight scale will tell you how close you’re getting to your airline’s weight limit so you’re not stuck moving clothes from one bag to the other in the check-in line. Price: $7.99.

RFID-Blocking Passport Holder

Help a traveling friend or family member keep their data secure on the road with the Alban Passport Holder Travel Wallet. U.S., Canadian and many E.U. passports have embedded chips that use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to store information. This stylish leather wallet is designed to prevent this data from being skimmed by enterprising thieves with RFID readers. Price: $14.95.

GoGirl

For the adventurous female traveler who often finds herself in remote places without public facilities, the GoGirl just might be the perfect stocking stuffer. This “female urination device” (FUD), made of medical-grade silicone, has a unique funnel shape that allows women to pee standing up just as easily as their male counterparts can — making backcountry hikes, long road trips and other out-of-the-way journeys much more convenient. Price: $19.98 for two.

America the Beautiful Pass

Got someone on your list who loves the great outdoors? Surprise him or her with an America the Beautiful Pass from the U.S. National Park Service. The pass grants a year of free entry to all federal recreation sites across the U.S., including national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and more. One pass covers a carload of passengers (at sites which charge by the vehicle) or up to four adults (at sites that charge per person). Price: $80.

Scratch the World Map

This fun world map allows your favorite traveler to scratch off each country he or she has visited, offering a visual representation of all his or her travel memories. The map measures 33 by 23 inches and is printed on glossy silk art paper. Price: $22.99.
GorillaPod Flexible Tripod

Perfect for avid photographers, the GorillaPod has three flexible arms that can either stand straight or wrap around a wide variety of surfaces — so you can suspend it from a tree branch for an aerial shot or rest it on a table to stablize your camera in low-light conditions. The GorillaPod comes in a wide range of sizes to accommodate various cameras, phones and tablets. Price: $19.95 and up.

Paperblanks Travel Journals

For the traveler who loves to write, sketch or simply jot down notes during a trip, these gorgeous Paperblanks journals make a perfect gift. They come in a variety of colors, sizes and designs. We like the Old Leather Jade Mini Notebook, which comes in a travel-friendly size (4 x 5.5. inches). Price: From $12.66.

Polaroid Z2300 10 MP Digital Instant Print Camera

Remember the old days when you could get the instant gratification of printing out a Polaroid snapshot just seconds after you took it? That’s the retro appeal of this Polaroid Z2300 10 MP Digital Instant Print Camera, which combines the sharability and convenience of digital images with the indulgence of printing out your latest snapshot right on the spot. The camera includes an integrated printer that produces two- by three-inch photos in less than a minute. Say cheese! Price: $129.99.

The Gift of Travel

What’s every traveler’s dream gift? A trip, of course! Amtrak Vacations, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and BedandBreakfast.com are a few examples of travel providers that offer gift cards for flights, trips or places to stay around the world. These gift cards give recipients the freedom to customize their vacations, and they’ll definitely be thanking you (a lot) when they’re building sandcastles in Tahiti or hiding away in a mountain lodge in Switzerland.

Best Tips for Holiday Travel

Planning to visit Grandma’s for Thanksgiving or spend Christmas in Rome? Traveling over the holidays can be notoriously busy, expensive and stressful, but the news isn’t all bad. There are still deals to be found, provided you shop carefully and plan ahead. Check out our 10 holiday travel tips and find some joy this holiday season.

1. Avoid peak travel dates.

At Thanksgiving, Wednesday is the critical outbound “avoid” day as a rule. Traveling on Thanksgiving day proper is often a breeze and more affordable; there are often cut-rate airfare deals on Thanksgiving day. If you can fly home any day other than Sunday, you’ll likely pay less.

At Christmas and New Year’s, the peak travel dates change each year depending on which days the holidays fall. You can generally guess which dates will be the most expensive for travel (consider which travel days would allow you to maximize long weekends without taking too many days off work — and that’s probably when everyone will want to go). If you’re not sure, use a search engine that lets you put in flexible travel dates; these will show you which date combinations will give you the best deal.

2. Shop around.

Whether you’re using booking sites like Expedia or metasearch sites such as Kayak, comparison shopping has never been easier than it is right now. During peak travel season, casting the net as wide as possible will help you understand all of your options.

For many travelers, price isn’t the only or even the most important factor, especially during the holidays. Thoughtful, deliberate use of the “search adjacent days or airports” features found on many websites may also surrender greatly improved fares and travel times.

For more help, see our Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare. Having trouble finding a hotel? Don’t miss No Vacancy? No Problem.

3. Know your airports.

Checking alternate airports is a pretty standard tactic, but this time of year it can really make a difference. At no time can the alternate airport gambit pay off better than during the holiday crush. You can score on almost every front — parking, rental cars, traffic to and from, nearby hotels — and save both time and money.

Keep in mind that smaller airports see fewer flights and, typically, fewer delays — not a minor consideration during the busy holiday travel season.
4. Plot connections carefully.

When booking flights, check your search results carefully for sufficient time during layovers, and build in some time for flight delays and weather woes. Particularly during the winter months, peak travel times often bring peak travel delays, and your connection is more likely to be jeopardized. Avoiding really tight connections might save you a sprint through the terminal or a missed flight.

Also, it is best if you can muscle your flight path into position so that connections are in places less likely to experience delays — specifically, airports in warmer climates. For more advice, see our Winter Travel Tips.

5. Leave early.

During peak travel times, much of the trouble you’ll face lies on this side of the security check-in, from traffic jams and full parking lots to absent shuttles and long lines. Rather than striving to “arrive at the airport early,” you may want to try to “leave for the airport early” to anticipate all the peripheral delays you may encounter.
6. Pack wisely.

In the past, you may have been able to fit everything into your carry-on without having to check any baggage — a strategy we still recommend. However, the TSA rules about liquids and gels make this a trickier proposition. For the record, you may bring liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers, packed within a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. You’re also allowed to bring any liquids (such as coffee or water) or gels purchased after you go through a security checkpoint onto your plane with you. If you want to bring more than the 3.4-ounce amount, you’ll have to pack the items in your checked luggage.
7. Take advantage of shortcuts.

The latest self-service developments in online travel can be tremendous time-savers during peak travel times. Whenever possible, print your boarding passes at home or even pull up your boarding pass on your smartphone.

If you buy most of your gifts online, have them shipped directly to your destination. This will cut down on luggage and the risk of them getting lost.

8. Travel early or late in the day.

As a rule, airports are least congested at times when normal human beings would rather be at home or even asleep. Delays are far less likely for morning flights, and airports usually unclog as the afternoon and evening peak passes.

Caveat: Staffing can be spotty for really early flights, so although your flight is highly likely to be ready to leave on time, check-in may take a while, along with other personnel-dependent steps like riding shuttle buses.

9. Consider package deals.

Peak travel periods can be the best time to buy package deals (such as air/hotel or air/hotel/car), even for folks who would normally never buy one, as the bundled pricing offered by packages can be very competitive. I’m traveling on a package over Thanksgiving, and am almost stunned at the offer; you can barely afford to stay home at these prices.

10. Keep your cool.

Don’t lose your temper, even if things go wrong. Airline employees have considerable power over your well-being. Unfortunately, some enjoy wielding it against you, and few respond well to anger.