5 Tips for Holiday Travel, According to the TSA

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Traveling during the holidays can be a hassle, and airport security restrictions don’t make things any easier. Luckily, the TSA has compiled a list of tips for making your airport experience as seamless as possible.

1. Arrive at the airport early.

While U.S. airports are actually busier in the summer months than during the holiday season, it still pays to arrive an hour or two early. As a general rule of thumb, the TSA recommends arriving two hours early for a domestic flight and three hours early for an international flight. But it all depends on your circumstances—some airports are busier than others, and you’ll want to adjust your arrival time based on how well you know your departing airport, whether or not you’re checking luggage, and who you’re traveling with.

2. Pack smart to make getting through the security checkpoint easier.

Consider packing your bags and dressing in ways that will make going through security a little faster. That might mean wearing slip-on shoes (preferably with socks) and sweatpants or joggers that don’t require a belt. As for packing? Keep large electronic items accessible so you can remove and replace them easily, and pre-pack any liquids in a clear, quart-sized plastic bag so you can pull them out at the checkpoint. Here’s a pro tip: Don’t throw away your empty water bottle when you reach the security line. Refilling it at a drinking fountain or soda machine will be a lot cheaper than buying a new bottle.

3. Don’t travel with wrapped gifts.

If your gifts trigger an alarm, TSA agents may need to remove any gift wrapping. Package gifts in gift bags or gift boxes so you don’t have to re-wrap any presents later on. If you’re planning on giving someone a snow globe, just make sure that it contains less than 3.4 ounces of liquid. Pack snow globes in a checked bag if you’re not sure how much liquid they hold.

4. It’s OK to travel with food.

Yes, it is completely permissible to travel with the fruitcake, pies, and chocolates you smuggled away from your holiday dinner. But the 3.4 ounce liquid limit for carry-ons applies here, too. Solid food items like cookies, cake, or turkey can pass through security, but large jars of jams or sauces may need to go into checked luggage.

5. Don’t bring along any prohibited items.

Leave your fertilizer, bear spray, and dynamite at home—the TSA won’t permit those in either checked bags or carry-ons. For a full list of prohibited items, visit the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” website.