Spend the holidays with those family members that live across the country, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Grandma will make cookies, they said.
Nobody told you about the high costs, the confusing planning process and the outright stress of travelling anywhere during the holiday season.
Well, relax. We’ve got you covered. Here’s your guide to all things holiday travel so you can get back to packing up your sweaters, trying to find a present for your grandpa and looking forward to some family holiday fun.
Here’s how to save a little money:
- If you’re driving, plan your stops around gas prices. It’s pretty tempting just to stop for gas when the tank is empty or when somebody in your vehicle has to use the restroom. But you can save at least a few bucks on gas by stopping in areas where prices are low. If you live in a big city, you might want to fuel up once you’re in a more rural area and vise versa. To get more specific, check out websites like GasBuddy to find the lowest fuel prices wherever you’re going.
- Avoid peak travel dates. Flights the Friday before Christmas are likely going to be more in demand — and, therefore, more expensive — than flights on Christmas Eve. Of course, it’s not always possible to pick when you depart on your holiday trip. Often, it depends on when you can get off work or when the kids are done with school. But you can still shop around for the best travel times with different airlines. Try using booking sites like Expedia or metasearch sites like Kayak.
- Consider package deals. Peak travel times can be expensive in a lot of ways, but they’re also some of the best times to find great deals on travel packages. You could be surprised by how much you’ll save by bundling your air and hotel or even your air, hotel and car service. Again, Expedia and Kayak can help. To really save some big bucks, try creating your own “family bundle.” Is there a family member who can lend you a buddy pass for flights or who you could split gas money with for a long car ride? Maybe your cousins could pick you up from the airport (there’s your car service). And if you don’t mind spending the night in your aunt’s guest room, you have free lodging!
Here’s how to pack efficiently:
- Make a packing list. It may seem neurotic, but you’ll thank yourself when you magically have everything you need (and not an item more) upon arriving at your destination. Even better if you can make your list weeks before your departure date. That gives you time to shop around for the best deals on any items you might need to purchase before your trip. Don’t forget to include: one more outfit than you think you’ll need, any important chargers you’ll need, the gifts you’re taking with you and any medications you take regularly or may need while you’re away.
- Skip folding — roll instead. Rolling your clothes into little cylinders just takes up less room than folding them into squares. According to USA Today, that’s how serious backpackers stuff month’s worth of clothing into a pack the size of a box of wine. And, as a bonus, you won’t have to iron those weird lines out of all your shirts. If you’re still having a hard time cramming everything into your bag, try using packing aids like the Eagle Creek Compression Sacs (recommended by that USA Today article).
- If you’re flying, know the airport and airline’s rules. Make sure you know how many bags your airline allows you to carry on and how much you’ll pay to check your suitcases. Most airlines charge substantial fees for bags checked on domestic flights, but most offer at least one free checked bags on international flights. If you are carrying on luggage, make sure you everything you’ve packed will actually get through the Transportation Security Administration’s screening. You’re generally allowed to take as many 3.4 ounce or smaller-sized containers as will fit into one sealed, clear, quart-sized, zip-top bag. Oh, and be careful flying with wrapped presents. TSA agents might have to unwrap them if they need to examine what’s inside. The TSA’s blog has some great tips for what to bring onto your flight and for holiday travel in general.
Here’s how to have a painless journey:
- Don’t shirk on healthy habits. It can be tempting to stay up all night packing the night before a big trip or to grab that greasy breakfast burrito before running to the airport. But newsflash: your family’s holiday party will be ripe with germs (especially if there’s kids involved). You know at least one person will be coughing and somebody will have the sniffles. If you’re flying, the airport adds a whole other layer to that germ tapestry. Don’t make yourself more susceptible to sickness by skipping out on the healthy meals, sleep and exercise you’d usually give your body. Nobody wants to fill crumby on Christmas. Try checking Pinterest for healthy meal options you can make ahead of time and grab on the way out the door. Also, consider reading up on SmarterTravel’s 10 workouts you can do from your hotel room.
- Go digital whenever possible. Digital travel solutions eliminate human error and often speed things along. Don’t be afraid to use them whenever possible! Turn on a GPS for long road trips, even if you generally know where you’re going. Most can route you around traffic or road closures you weren’t expecting. If you’re flying, try pulling up you boarding pass on your smart phone. That way you won’t have to worry about losing a paper copy. A Kindle or Nook takes up less space in a backpack than a hefty book would. Repeat after us: gadgets are your travel friends.
- Take steps to avoid financial woes while you’re away. Your mind is in 999,999 different places when you travel. So make sure you take some time to keep your money safe before you leave. Let your financial institution know you’ll be travelling so they don’t suspend your cards when they see transactions from a different city, state or country than normal. Also, be sure to clean out your wallet before you leave. Remove cards you don’t regularly use and don’t carry our birth certificate or Social Security card with you. For more tips to avoiding financial problems during holiday travel, read this post on the Delta Community Credit Union blog.