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Minimize the stress of holiday travel with these tips.Alan Brown/Visionkick/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

THREE DAYS BEFORE YOU LEAVE: Prepack for success

Eat a salad. Travel writer Sabrina Pirillo says it’s one of the things people often forget to do in the holiday rush.

“Days before I have to get on a flight, I always make sure to eat as healthy as possible. The holiday season is a time where meat sweats tend to overtake workouts,” she says. “I always try to stay hydrated and indulge in protein-packed salads or poke bowls so I feel just a little less guilty over the next few days.”

Your guide to stress-free holidays, whether you’re hosting, socializing or travelling

Now that you’re fortified, do a quick run-through of the documents (passport, visas, parental consent forms) you need and make sure there’s nothing that is expiring. Even better if you can do this a week out, but within three days you’ll still have a decent shot at a rush passport renewal if you need it.

Start packing. First, choose your luggage well. If flying, you want something that meets the size requirements of your carrier, but keep in mind you’ll need room for any gifts you’re bringing home. I’ve been testing out this expandable Travelpro Crew VersaPack Global Carry-On Expandable Spinner and love it. You can customize it with one of four different zip-in organizers. (My favourite are the packing cubes that allow you to organize your gear seamlessly.) If you’ve been particularly good this year, consider packing a collapsible bag such as the Puddle Jumper Packable from Lug to haul all of the loot Santa brings you.

Before you put anything else in the bag, do your laundry. It’ll leave you with more options for the trip and save you coming home to an overflowing basket. Then, lay out your clothes and match them with your planned activities. Be realistic: If chances are high that you’ll spend most of your time in PJs in your parents’ living room, maybe leave all those cute (but bulky) sweaters at home.

No one overpacks like a parent, but hotels often have things for you or your little one that you might not expect, including baby gear.

“We appreciate how difficult it can be to remember everything needed to ensure an enjoyable holiday,” says Rob Housez, general manager of the Chelsea Hotel in Toronto. It’s why the hotel has more than just toothbrushes and toothpaste on hand to help out, he says. "Bathing suits and swim goggles are readily available for our young guests at the Family Fun Zone, our pillow menu will help those who forget their favourite pillow at home, and finally, our concierge and ticketing office can secure tickets to shows and attractions if these arrangements were missed before heading on their holiday.”

Packing presents? Remember that gift cards and items that can be delivered directly to your destination will keep your bags light. If you are going bigger, save the wrapping until you arrive: Customs agents won’t hesitate to destroy your pristine packaging in the name of security. Also, anything with a lithium battery (including the pay-back, noise-making toy you bought for your sister’s first child) has to stay out of checked luggage, so you’ll want to pack that before you load your carry-on with other stuff. And while you’ve got your carry-on in front of you, label it with your name and phone number – especially the black ones.

Now is also a good time to move your must-have liquids into 3.4 ounce (or less) containers. Things such as spices and baby powder are seen as “inorganic powders” and limited to a total combined quantity of 350 milliliters in carry-on baggage. Baby formula, coffee and tea remain among the exemptions for this rule. For a complete list visit the CATSA website.

Finally, make sure you’ve purchased travel insurance and have stored the information on your phone to easily access help should you need it.

TWO DAYS BEFORE YOU LEAVE: Finesse the details

Yesterday’s packing prep likely identified a few holes in your list. Need to make a bank run (having a bit of foreign currency is always a good idea), let your credit card company know you’re travelling or renew a prescription? Today’s the day to do it. Check the weather for your destination. It could change what you’re thinking of packing. And prep lists for anyone who will be taking care of your home (where’s the fire extinguisher?) or pets (where are the treats?) while you’re away. If you’re driving, now’s a good time to do a once-over of the vehicle. Make sure everything is in working order: Check for expired lightbulbs, working windshield wipers and that your snowbrush, ice scraper and winter emergency kit are where they should be. Fill your tank.

Start eating your leftovers; anything that has a limited shelf life should be a part of your next few meals.

Now is also a great time to charge any gadgets you’re taking with you and put all of your gadget chargers, headphones and outlet adapters into your bag or the glove compartment of your car.

Haven’t flown for a while? Remind the kids (and yourself) about plane etiquette, and whether you’re driving or flying, give some thought to portable snacks (no fresh fruits if you’re crossing a border). Make sure you’ve got the Christmas stockings/the chocolate Hanukkah gelt/the Kwanzaa kinara with you too. And if your getaway will include some outdoor sporty fun, this is the latest moment that you want to learn that skates are too small or goggles are missing.

ONE DAY BEFORE YOU LEAVE: Sweat the small stuff

Today’s the day to finally finish packing the bag. You’ll have whittled things down: Don’t give in to temptation to add any “just in case” items now. Keep a list of what you’re packing so that you won’t have to tear it apart to figure out if you remembered your toothbrush. Weigh your luggage. Yup, even your carry on. The baggage limits for each carrier are different so be sure to look at your specific situation. If you’re travelling on more than one airline, check them all.

Consider the things that will make travel time more comfortable. Downloading movies (Netflix, Amazon Prime), music (Spotify, Apple podcasts) and maps (Google Maps or CityMaps2Go) will mean you won’t need cell connectivity to access them on the road or in the air. And don’t forget to download the app for the airline(s) you’re travelling on. Often flights with no seatback TV option have free movies and TV shows available, but you won’t be able to download the app in the air.

Check in for your flight and print or download your boarding pass. Choose your seat. If sitting together or in a particular section of the plane is important to you, you should select your seats at time of booking and pay the associated fee for peace of mind. A quick check of will ensure you aren’t next to the bathroom or in a windowless window seat. Driving? Waze is great for up-to-date route information.

Double check your flight time. Set two alarm clocks for the morning. Put your “out of office” message on your work e-mail and voicemail and begin to imagine the freedom.

CRUNCH TIME: Second-guess yourself

Everything you need should already be packed and at the front door.

Go through your morning routine at home with only the aid of the things in your bag. It’s the quickest way to know if you’re missing anything. Make sure you’ve got the things you might have used last minute: phone, medications, debit cards and any work you need to bring with you. Unplug counter appliances and change the thermostat schedule for the duration that you’ll be away. Throw out the trash. Leave yourself lots of time: Airports are notoriously slower and traffic will be heavier at this time of year. You can assuage a bit of the stress by checking security wait times through the CATSA website before you leave home so you know what to expect when you arrive. (They also have an app you can download and will answer questions on Twitter and Facebook. )

You’ll likely bump into brief moments of panic en route to holiday bliss but try to focus on staying calm. “One fabulous little lifesaver I always have on me is a lavender oil essential roll on,” Pirillo says. “It calms my nerves before a flight and also helps to deal with flight delays. The aroma promotes calmness and wellness and helps to reduce stress and anxiety.”

She adds: “During this time of year, I suggest packing two.”

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