Texas is the 2nd largest state in the United States. Even so, you may not have any traffic troubles in the vast swaths of Texas that are sparsely populated. Our Texas travel tips for holiday travelers will help you navigate through the metropolitan hubs of Houston and Dallas, even smaller cities like Amarillo.
In many of these cities, traffic can be challenging even on a good day. Over the holidays, you can forget about zipping along the Interstate or getting anywhere fast. Even though holiday travel can be a significant headache, here are some Holiday Travel Tips for Texas Travelers some ways to minimize your frustration and enjoy the holidays.
General Holiday Travel Advice to Take with You Anywhere
Holidays can induce anxiety for virtually anyone who needs to travel long distances to reach family gatherings, no matter where they’re located. The truth is—many more people will be on the road than is usual—and there’s not much you can do to circumvent that traffic. However, through some pre-planning, you can find ways to take advantage of timing, opportunity, and a few more things available to anyone diligent enough to take advantage of them.
Avoid Peak Travel Times
No matter how you cut it, if you leave at a “peak holiday travel time” you’ll be in the same boat as 10s of thousands of other people. While you may feel unique in your frustration, remember that your car is part of the problem, too. Roads can only handle so much traffic!
If at all possible, avoid peak travel times entirely. Leave 2 or 3 days before the holiday if you’re able to. And if you’re close enough, leaving the morning of a holiday can be like traveling inside the eye of the storm—most of the population has already arrived and settled, leaving the roads relatively clear. This strategy works best with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Holidays like Memorial Day— say, if you’re headed to Galveston for some beach time— will not net you the same results.
If You’re Flying, Travel Light and/or Travel First Class
Airports will always be stupendously busy on and around the year’s biggest holidays, including Spring Break and Summer months when the kids are out of school. However, much like the roads, they’ll be relatively empty on the actual day of the holiday. Yet, many people are unwilling to travel to a destination on the actual day of the holiday, for obvious reasons.
What if there is a snowstorm and the airport closes? What if your car breaks down on the infamous Route 66? Fears aside, if you must traverse an airport or a highway over the holidays, pack as lightly as possible. And remember, whenever you’re on the move, bring healthy snacks.
Preferably, you should be able to take your belongings onto the plane with you. Waiting on your bags is just the icing on the cake after a long trip on an airplane. Furthermore, consider upgrading your seat—boarding first, exiting the plane first, the perks of extra legroom, and free mimosas while you’re in the air can certainly take the edge off!
Buy Yourself a TxTag
If you’re a Texas resident and you haven’t yet invested in a TxTag then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. A TxTag works like a prepaid phone card or gift card. So with a TxTag account, you prepay your tolls to quickly navigate the toll system, which is prevalent on all of the major interstates throughout the state.
A TxTag allows you to zip through tolls without a single worry. Without it, prepare to get in line at each tolling area while you wait for your turn to pay. And make sure to have cash-on-had or wait an extra minute or two for a credit card transaction while everyone behind you grows increasingly more anxious—that is, of course if the toll taker is equipped to process credit cards!
Houston is a sprawling metropolitan city that never seems to end. Like Los Angeles, it’s grown from its center increasingly outward where it gobbles up unsuspecting towns, annexing them for its benefit. Because of its breadth and dense population, Houston highways are always congested. Holidays are no exception—during Hurricane Rita, Houston residents were stuck in a traffic jam that lasted over 24 hours!
To travel well in Houston on the Holidays is to avoid those peak travel times altogether. One of the only days you’ll find no traffic on I-10 (which is, according to Texas A&M University, the most congested highway in the entire state!) is on Christmas and Thanksgiving Day. Can you travel on those days? Good! If not, go 2 or 3 days before the actual holiday, or you’ll find yourself in the same congested boat as everyone else.
Amarillo Travel Advice
Amarillo isn’t like the rest of Texas when it comes to its weather. While most of the state remains snow-free year-round (with the odd snow day here and there), Amarillo receives bands of cold weather coming directly from the Rocky Mountains. This can create snowy conditions, often in late November through February. With an average of 15 inches of snow per year, Amarillo gets just 50% less than the national average!
With that said, it’s best to check the weather before you travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas around Amarillo. You never know when one of those mountain-fed bands of snow and ice will arrive. And Texas is not known for its excellent snow removal. If you’re caught in a snowstorm, there’s likely little you can do until the whole thing blows over. It’s best if you see severe weather headed your way to revise your plans to miss the weather altogether or to plan to be away from the office for an extra few days.
Dallas Travel Advice
Traffic in Dallas can be just as bad as Houston, especially on the holidays. While Dallas is further north within Texas but not as north as Amarillo, they rarely see a notable accumulation of snow. Their proximity to tornado alley brings them their fair share of bad weather, but it’s typically in the way of high wind and torrential rain.
Sometimes, it’s best to face the facts—you can’t leave two days early, and you need to be at your destination before the festivities begin. If that’s the case, especially in Dallas, then you’re better off coming to terms with the delays that the holidays cause. You might even want to download a GPS app on your smartphone like Waze.
Also if you know your way around, the Waze app uses crowdsourcing and historical data to give you a traffic projection even a few days out. If an app like Waze is telling you your trip across i75 will take an extra 3 hours, then don’t be surprised when it does and bake that time into your travel plans!
Remember that You Can’t Control Holiday Traffic, but You Can Control How You React to It
No matter how you cut it, you’re bound to face some holiday slow down even if you’ve pre-planned and left earlier than average. You’re not unique in your wish to see your friends and family over the holidays. But how you react to the added frustration of holiday travel is up to you.
Try to take it all in stride—don’t let the pressure get to you and keep a smile on your face. What you’re doing is worth it even if the snow flurries are falling faster and faster while you’re stuck bumper to bumper just 10 miles outside of Amarillo. Eventually, you’ll be where you’re aiming to go, and your journey there will be an afterthought.