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Holiday Travel: 11 Items to Add to Your Travel Checklist for a Smooth Trip

Going home for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Here's what to pack, prep and check ahead of time.

Open, empty suitcase with travel items arranged neatly around it
We'll show you what to pack and how to pack it. 
Natalia Kostikova/EyeEm/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

If you're among the six out of 10 Americans planning to travel this fall, you'll have quite a bit to do before takeoff, from prepping your home for your absence to figuring out what to pack -- not to mention fitting it all into your suitcase.

With flights and cancellations still at higher-than-normal levels, flying home for the holidays can be especially stressful. But even just driving to grandma's house can be a nightmare.

Fortunately, we've got tips to make the whole process smoother -- from what to pack (and how) to setting up your home for your absence. 

Want more travel tips? Here are the best credit cards to build up miles and how to avoid having your flight canceled or delayed.

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Packing tips to fly carefree

Whether you're trying to squeeze your belongings into a compact carry-on or you're filling up a roomier suitcase you plan to check at the airport, packing strategically can maximize space in your luggage and make it easier to access the things you need most. 

1. Fold, roll and cube your clothes

Every traveler has their preferred method of packing clothes: Some fold their garments, others roll them into logs and still others flatten them into packing cubes. We recommend mixing these three strategies.

Fold your more structured, bulky clothes: jeans, trousers, formal dresses and button-downs. Then roll up the rest of your garments and stuff them into the remaining gaps in your suitcase. For some extra flattening down, squeeze some of those rolled clothes into packing cubes.

2. Prepare for TSA

If you're flying, you'll need quick access to your electronics when you go through security. Stick them in the top layer or outer pocket of your suitcase (or your allotted personal item).

Otherwise, you'll have to jumble your perfect packing as you dig around for your laptop, stalling the line behind you in the process.

3. Put the most important things in your carry-on

When you check your luggage, you run the risk of losing it. That's why your carry-on or personal item is the optimal place for the essentials that would be most difficult to replace: your wallet, contact lenses, glasses, medication, electronics or anything you would hate to be stuck without for a few days.

4. Track your bags

To give your luggage some extra protection from loss and theft, outfit both your carry-on and checked bag with tracking devices, like Tiles or Apple AirTags. Knowing your suitcases' exact location will certainly save you some headaches if something goes awry: AirTags enabled Ross Feinstein, of CNET's sibling site The Points Guy, to find his missing bag and board a connecting flight on time

5. Leave luggage wiggle room if necessary

Is there a chance you'll go shopping or bring back a big gift? As you're loading up your luggage, take into account any extra space you might need on the way back. 

Prepare your car for the road

Not everyone is flying home for the holidays. In 2021, 84% of Thanksgiving travelers planned to travel by automobile, according to Cars.com.

With gas prices coming back down after record highs, driving might seem the saner option. But it also means your safety is in your hands.

Family packing car

Give your car a check-up before taking that family road trip.

Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

6. Get your car checked out

If you're hitting the road for Thanksgiving or Christmas, now is the time to bring your car in for an inspection. Even if the "check engine" light isn't on, have the mechanic check the tires, car battery, brakes, fluids and wiper blades.

7. Prepare for an emergency

If you don't have a well-stocked roadside emergency kit in the trunk, go get one. Some 400,000 drivers need roadside assistance during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to AAA.

Pre-vacation home checklist 

Handling some quick chores before you leave will help ensure that you'll come back to find your home just as you left it. Check out our full list of pre-vacation household tasks.

A power outlet in a wall

It's important to unplug your appliances while you're gone because some of them drain electricity even when they're turned off.

Sarah Tew/CNET

8. Unplug your electronics

This will lower your energy bill and reduce the risk of electrical fires. Before you depart, unplug your appliances, lamps, chargers, routers, computers and TVs. 

9. Lock your windows

In addition to triple-checking all your doors, make sure you secure your windows, the next easiest entry point for thieves. Better yet, a smart lock can alert you when a window is unlocked and allow you to lock it remotely.

10. Put timers on your lights

To make it look like you're home, plug light timers into your outlets or install a remotely controllable smart bulb. Set your indoor lights to turn on and off as they normally would, and set your outdoor lights to turn on at night. 

11. Keep your plants alive while you're away

Don't doom them to wither in your absence. You can fashion a drip system out of a plastic water bottle by filling it with water, drilling some holes toward the top, turning it over and tucking it into the soil deep enough that the holes are covered. For big pots, water-filled wine bottles work well. (There's no need to drill any extra drainage holes: Just leave the bottle open.)

For more ideas, check out our guide to helping your plants thrive while you're away.

Looking for more travel tips? These Google Maps and Google Flights features help you save money and find your way around. Plus, elevate your travel photography with these 12 pro tips.