The holidays can be a stressful time, especially when finances are tight. Living paycheck to paycheck often means not being able to travel to visit friends and family over the holiday season. It also means, not being able to escape during the one time of year when you may be off from work for a vacation. Do not let a tight budget get in the way of you seeing your loved ones or taking a vacation this holiday season.
With a little bit of planning, saving and creative thinking, you will be able to afford that holiday trip without breaking the bank.
Before planning a holiday trip, determine how much you can afford to spend and how much it will cost to travel. Make sure to include all travel expenses, meals and miscellaneous spending money. If your budget does not allow a trip this year, that is okay. Knowing now that you want to travel next year for the holidays will give you more time to plan and plenty of time to save money.
When developing a travel savings plan, take the number of days, paydays, weeks or months you have left before traveling. Divide that number into how much money you need for your trip. This will determine how much you need to save every day, each week or every payday. This is your savings plan and you must stick to it. Saving a little bit every week will make it feel less expensive (even though it is the same cost) than if you were to have to save thousands of dollars in a two-week period.
Selecting an off-peak day to travel will help you save money. Off-peak days are those days that have fewer travelers flocking to the airports in an attempt to leave town for the holidays. Year round, Fridays and Sundays are traditionally the most expensive days to fly. Off-peak days are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which can be a bit more affordable than the busier travel days.
It also depends on the day the holiday falls on. The days right before and right after the holiday tend to be the busiest and most expensive due to the demand of travelers needing to fly in or out of town.
Also, consider flying out early in the morning or very late at night. Afternoon and evening flights are more in demand and expensive than earlier times or very late times in the day. Those times which are less in demand tend to be less expensive than flying at a more desirable time.
Timing is important when booking airfare for your holiday trip. If you book too early, you may miss out on some savings offered later on, however, booking last minute could also be a bit costly. The best time to book your airfare is approximately 45 days before you plan to travel. This is when prices dip down before climbing back up as the holidays approach.
Also, keep an eye on airfare prices after you book your flight. Some companies will offer a refund for the difference if airfare prices drop.
Related: Easy Ways to Save on Holiday Travel
Airfare rates can be a bit expensive, especially when flying into a smaller airport. Consider flying into a larger airport when traveling over the holidays. Though it may be a little bit longer of a drive to get to your final destination, it may be more cost effective to fly in elsewhere and rent a car.
The cost of flying can add up, especially when you have to purchase tickets for the entire family. Depending upon the amount of time you have available and how far you have to travel, consider alternative means of transportation to get to your holiday destination. Look into taking a road trip, traveling by train or bus.
A little bit of research can help you financially when planning a holiday trip. Start by writing down when and where you want to travel. Then start searching the Internet for savings alerts and other money-saving travel coupons and packages. Travel bloggers share current travel trends and first-hand experiences with saving money, including current specials.
AirfareWatchdog.com is a great site when looking for inexpensive airfare. Sign up for email alerts for this site and other similar sites. These alerts will notify you of inexpensive fares to your desired destinations. Social media is also a great place to see where others are getting the best travel deals.
There are also many travel apps that can be very useful when looking for travel deals. Popular apps include CarRentals.com, Hotwire Hotels, Kayak, OntheFly and TravelZoo.
Related: Best Mobile Apps for Discount Travel
Booking everything from hotel rooms, to airfare and rental cars, to spa services can add up. However, booking two, three or all of these in a single package can help you save a considerable amount of money. Individually these items are expensive, but when put in a single package, travelers can save hundreds of dollars.
Skip staying in an expensive hotel during the holidays. Ask to stay with family while visiting. This is a great way to spend quality time with family you may only be able to see during the holidays and they may be delighted to have you stay with them.
One of the biggest expenses you may encounter when traveling is excess baggage fees. However, the weather may not allow you to pack light. Plus, you have to lug all of the gifts with you to and from your holiday gatherings. These are the two biggest culprits that make it impossible to pack lightly when traveling for the holidays. If possible, your goal should be to only travel with a simple carry-on.
Instead of packing your jacket or heavy sweater in the luggage, wear it on the plane. Only bring one heavy sweater with and pack lighter shirts to wear day-to-day. You do not need a sweater for each day you are away, instead have one sweater to use only when you get a bit chilly.
Ship your presents before leaving. You can individually have gifts shipped to your friends and family or have them shipped to the family member you will be staying with. Do the same thing when returning home and have all of your presents shipped to you back home. Depending upon how much you need to pack, it may be less expensive to ship your luggage than to check it in with the airlines.
Ultimately you need to be flexible when traveling for the holidays. This includes being flexible regarding travel dates and methods. A little flexibility in your travel plans could save you a considerable amount of money.
Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.