Yuletide cool in the heat of the season

Airport queues, heavy traffic and overweight luggage can test the holiday spirit. Here's how to keep your Christmas shirt on.

THERE'S nothing like a long airport queue or crawling traffic to test your Christmas spirit, so here are some tips to surviving Australia's busiest travel period.

If you're flying

Sydney Airport says the busiest days for the international terminal are likely to be December 17, 18 and 24, with January 14-16 the busiest days for return flights.

For domestic flights, the peak days are expected to be December 22 and 23, with January 19 the predicted busiest day on the other side of Christmas.

A spokeswoman for the airport, Tracy Ong, says passengers travelling during that period should plan to arrive early, check the latest information on what they can take through security and use internet check-in if possible.

You can check in online up to 24 or 48 hours before your flight, depending on the airline, then all you have to do is drop off your bags.

Checking in online can also allow you to choose your own seat, which could save you the dreaded middle seat on what is sure to be a full flight.

If you're planning to drive to the airport, reserve some parking now, as many options will be booked out ahead of Christmas.

The Sydney Airport website, sydneyairport.com.au, is a good resource for other options for getting to and from the airport, including taxis, shuttle buses, buses and trains.

Another tip if flying is to make sure your details are registered with the airline and are correct, in case they need to contact you.

There are no guarantees - some people say they were not contacted during the recent Qantas grounding - but airlines are generally good at sending out texts and emails to notify passengers of flight changes.

You should be able to update your details online, either linked to the specific booking or through your frequent-flyer membership.

This would also be a good time to work out how to look up flight status on your mobile phone if you haven't already tried it.

If you're playing Santa

Packing light is not easy at Christmas time. But airlines have little holiday spirit when it comes to overweight luggage these days.

It is a good idea to leave presents unwrapped until you get to your destination, partly because the paper tends to tear and partly because odd-shaped presents can attract the unwanted attention of airport security.

Try to carry valuable or breakable presents in your hand luggage if possible - seven kilograms can be a lot of Christmas presents - and make sure you insure anything put in your checked luggage (see box).

Flying is a good excuse to buy gift vouchers but never pack them. Treat them like cash.

If you're driving

Roads and Maritime Services says traffic will be heavy on Fridays and weekends in late December and early January and drivers should check the Live Traffic website (livetraffic.rta.nsw.gov.au) or iPhone app before setting off.

The Pacific and Princes highways are expected to be the worst, carrying double their normal traffic from December 23 to 27.

The F3 Freeway is expected to carry up to 50 per cent more traffic from December 26 to 28. Those heading to Canberra or the south coast can expect about 1½ times the normal traffic during that period. At the risk of sounding like your mother, it's a good idea to thoroughly check your vehicle before hitting the bitumen.

The NRMA attended about 7000 breakdowns a day in the two days leading up to Christmas last year and the number traditionally increases to almost 8500 a day in the first week of January.

New Year's Eve is also a busy time, with large numbers travelling to parties or vantage points between noon and 9pm for the fireworks.

If you're wondering about the best time to fill the petrol tank, a spokeswoman for the NRMA, Lisa Kable, says there have been no spikes in fuel pricing over previous Christmas periods.

Kable says suggestions the petrol stations will prey on travellers to cash in on the busy holiday periods when the volume of traffic increases are a myth not to be believed.

If you're doing a long road trip over the summer break, Navman and the Driver Reviver program have teamed up to produce free travel game cards that will be available at Driver Reviver locations around Australia.

Don't risk it

Few travellers take out travel insurance for domestic trips but consider making an exception for the Christmas-new year period.

Travelling at peak times means more chance of things going wrong and fewer options for rearranging plans if they do.

Think about the value of any Christmas presents you will be carrying and notify the insurance company of any items that exceed standard limits.

A domestic travel insurance policy might cost less than $50 for a week away and could save you forking out a damage excess waiver if you're hiring a car.