How to Have a Stress-Free Thanksgiving: Hosting & Traveling Tips

Do you love Thanksgiving? Of course! And by ‘Thanksgiving’, we mean a home already twinkling with lights, a plate overflowing with delicious food, and a party in full-swing with family and friends.

However, every year, each of us is caught in a whirlwind of tasks and travel that leaves us thinking there must be a better way… and there is. Just take a deep breath and follow these easy tips to avoid Thanksgiving stress.

How to Host a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is only the most anticipated home-cooked meal in our country’s collective consciousness. But, that doesn’t mean you have to morph into Martha Stewart and host a holiday party that would put a pilgrim to shame. Let’s face it, there’s enough drama around the holidays without party performance anxiety. 

Here’s how to dial down the pressure on the whole shebang so everyone (including you!) can enjoy an occasion worth being thankful for.

Prepare as Much as Possible Ahead of Time

Trying to get everything done at the last minute with guests knocking at your door sparks serious stress. Instead of simply scheduling your cooking throughout T-day, a surprising number of dishes can be made in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

When it comes time to shop (ideally a few days before the big event), avoid the weekday evening rush and weekend crowds. In addition to making sure you have all the ingredients for your menu, remember also to consider the dishes and equipment you’ll need, such as a roasting pan or a masher.

Some elements of your Thanksgiving meal can also be completed before T-day. Gravy, for example, can be made the night before with stock from turkey wings (that are also a perfect snack). Cranberry sauce can be made days ahead, as it keeps well in the fridge for a long time. Check out these additional tips from The Kitchn for making the big meal in advance.

On the day of, ask kids to help set the table first thing after breakfast so that unforeseen events won’t slow things down. Finally, don’t forget this isn’t Hell’s Kitchen you’re running—turn on some tunes, pour yourself a glass of wine, and enjoy your time before guests arrive.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Don’t feel like you can prepare things in advance? There’s no shame in asking for help. Consider putting every member of the family in charge of bringing a pre-assigned dish and handling a chore—hopefully leaving you only in charge of the bird and perhaps a few sides.

Also, remember that Thanksgiving probably isn’t the most opportune moment to try out new recipes or equipment. And worst comes to worst? There’s always Chinese take-out as a backup option.

Think Creatively to Keep Things at Optimal Temperatures

Do you have lots of drinks to cool and a too-full fridge? Fill your washing machine with ice on the morning of the party and allow beverages to chill in there! Bring drinks out as you need them. The washing machine will drain as the ice melts, and you won’t have to stock coolers all night or empty all the melted ice the next day.

Keeping food at the just-right temperature can also be tricky in a busy kitchen where space is limited. Here are a few tips to keeping a tidy workspace:

  • To keep dips cold and party-ready, slice off the top from a round loaf of bread and remove the inside, leaving a 3/4-inch shell. Put the round in a freezer bag and freeze. The day of the party, pour the dip into the frozen bread round. It will keep the dip cold for 4 to 6 hours. 

  • To keep items like meatballs or mulled cider warm, put your slow cooker to work on the “warm” setting and make sure the lid is securely on. Don’t worry, you won’t suffer any loss in quality.

Don’t Forget to Prep for Cleanup

Allow dirty dishes to soak without taking up all the space in your sink by filling a large plastic bin with warm, soapy water and keeping it in the kitchen. That way, you can simply rinse dishes, then toss them in the tub during your Thanksgiving party—saving you the stress of an increasingly cluttered kitchen.

Another way to cut down on stress, clutter, and calories is to dole out leftovers. For example, you can purchase Chinese food-style boxes (50 for $19.50,, and hand out extras for your guests to take home. The more you hand out, the less there is to take up room in your fridge—not to mention that guests will be delighted with the chance to have their own leftovers for turkey sandwiches the next day.

See Also: 45 Tips for Cooking and Hosting a Great Thanksgiving Dinner

Stress-Free Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the most heavily traveled times of the year, with millions of Americans traveling to friends, relatives, or warmer weather. So how do you maneuver long lines, flight delays, and bumper-to-bumper traffic? From packing to the actual journey, we have expert tips on smart holiday travel, whether you’re flying or driving.

Before You Go

Smart travel starts before you even leave the house. If you’re traveling with kids, whether you’re flying or driving, some extra planning can go a long way. Make sure to pack plenty of games, movies, and music to keep children entertained for the long travel hours. Even though there might be food on the plane or restaurants on the way, a hungry kid is a grumpy one (and prone to be more difficult), so it’s always good to have a few to-go snacks on hand.

As you’re packing, throw a few dryer sheets into your bag—they’ll help keep your clothes smelling fresh, even after a long flight. Got a lot of stuff? Roll your clothes or cram them into Ziploc bags to save some serious space. If you do decide to fold, sticking tissue paper between any fancy formal wear to help keep wrinkles at bay. To keep your jewelry from winding up in a big, tangled knot, string chain necklaces and bracelets through a straw.

If you’re packing liquids, create a spill-proof seal by placing a piece of plastic wrap between the top and body of a lotion or shampoo container. Bringing the wine? Secure each bottle inside a pair of shoes to keep it safe during the bumps and tumbles of the trip. If you’re flying, make sure that you know which items you can and can’t bring in your carry-on.

See Also: You’ve Been Packing Wrong All Along

Finally, before heading out the door, turn down the heat if you live in a cold environment to help save on your heating bill. You may also want to make sure a friend or neighbor has a spare key in case of an emergency.

Tips for Traveling Over Thanksgiving by Car

So you're piling into the car and hitting the road to get to your holiday destination. Unfortunately, so are 91 percent of other Thanksgiving travelers. The biggest travel tip to beat traffic? According to the Travel Channel, it’s to hit the road while everyone else is asleep, by traveling very early or very late at night.

Other tips to get you to Thanksgiving dinner with minimal stress:

  • If you’re planning to cover the average long-distance trip of 275 miles, stick to the two-digit interstates, which are usually the most direct routes through cities.

  • Don’t be afraid to skip fast food and hit the grocery store instead—you’ll thank yourself once tempted by a second serving of turkey and stuffing.

  • Make sure to take plenty of breaks to stretch your legs, and most importantly, switch drivers or pull off the road when you get sleepy.

See Also: 10 Tips to Prepare Your Car for Winter Driving This Holidays

Tips for Traveling Over Thanksgiving by Plane

With so many of us living far away from family and friends, it’s not uncommon to have to hop on a flight to enjoy Thanksgiving with them. Unfortunately, the weather doesn't always cooperate, which means crowded airports, flight delays, and security lines for what seems like miles.

Luckily, there are a few sneaky tricks to get through the airport faster:

Start by checking in ahead of time to help streamline the process—many airlines now offer the option of checking in online up to 24 hours before your flight.

Reading up on baggage weight restrictions can prevent extra fees at the airport. That way, you don’t experience any surprise costs.

If you’re bringing gifts, don’t wrap them! The TSA may want to check the packages that you're taking through security, destroying that perfect packaging you spent so long making pretty. Instead, wait until you’re at your final destination to wrap gifts.

See Also: Thanksgiving Travel Delays: The Worst Days, Airlines and Airports

Always arriving early on heavy travel days by at least two hours—that includes Thanksgiving day as well as the day before. This is especially important if you’re flying out of one of the worst offenders for delayed flights: Newark Liberty International, San Francisco International, LaGuardia, Chicago O’Hare International, and John F. Kennedy International.

If you’re traveling with little ones, take them out of the stroller while you’re waiting in line and get ready to send it through the metal detector. Look for the shortest line and, when at a loss, veer left. Most people tend to move right or toward the center, so lines on the left are often shorter.

Finally, Remember to Take a Minute and Unwind

During the merry mayhem of dinner preparations, cocktail parties, and Thanksgiving travel, it’s important to enjoy some peace and quiet every so often. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have a whole four days off! So, before your schedule fills up, pencil in a few personal hours to ensure that your much-needed downtime won’t be passed over for more pressing errands.

And if you’re still feeling stressed, check out Real Simple’s seven quick stress-busters that can help you brush your shoulders off, even if you have a full house and are smack-dab in the middle of making Thanksgiving dinner.

Do you have any tips for enjoying a stress-free Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments below.

For more Holiday cooking, hosting, and travel tips, visit our 2018 Holiday Guide

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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