There’s no place like home for the holidays, as the old song says. But getting home sometimes costs serious money. With these budget travel tips, you can spend less on holiday travel—so you’ve got more in your wallet once you reach your destination.
Budget Travel Tips for the Holidays
1. Create a travel checklist.
Our first budget travel tip is all about being prepared! It’s way easier to save money on your trip if you plan ahead by making a travel checklist. Write out everything you need to do, pack, buy, reserve—and everyone you need to coordinate with to make sure the trip runs smoothly and stays on budget.
2. Budget for all travel expenses.
Use your travel checklist to see how much you need to spend on the trip. Then put these holiday expenses in the budget! But that extra money won’t just show up in your stocking, no matter how much care you use to hang it by the chimney.
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To make room for this seasonal expense, you’ll need to do something. You can cut spending in other areas of the budget, start meal planning to save money on food, or up your income with a side hustle for a few months.
3. Use gas-savings tricks.
Filling your tank can be crazy expensive right now. So, if you’re driving over the holidays, try these easy tricks to save money on gas. Download Gasbuddy so you can check gas prices on route and take the exit with the best deal. Use cruise control when you can. And make sure your tires are properly inflated before you leave town. The little changes can really add up here—especially if you’ve got a long road ahead.
4. Ask for a ride or carpool.
If you’re flying into town, could a relative pick you up? Even if you give them gas money, it’s probably cheaper than a rental or ride-sharing service—especially since these services cost even more in prime holiday travel time.
Also, are other family members near you going over the river and through the woods to grandma’s too? Can you carpool? Yeah, it might mean a few hours of hearing your Uncle Mark retell stories about how he and your dad once set a mattress on fire “on accident,” but it builds character and helps your budget.
5. Pack snacks.
If you’re filling up on snacks at every gas station or pit stop, you’re quickly going to run low on travel funds.
Instead of buying chips, drinks and candy at convenience store prices, pack your own snacks before you go. You can eat healthier—and for pennies on the dollar—if you bring your own food along for the ride.
Take this to the next level by packing a lunch too. No fast-food stops? That’s a budget travel tip for pro money savers.
6. Stick to a carry-on.
Flying? Keep calm and carry-on. In other words, skip the checked bag so you can skip those fees and drop the risk of your baggage getting lost. Okay, but what about gifts in this situation? Glad you asked.
7. Remember good gifts come in small packages.
There are heaps of great ways to save money on Christmas gifts. And when you’re traveling for the holidays, one of those ways is to think of the size of the gift. Of course, some small things can have a huge price tag (like bling or tech), but what about a reasonable amount on a gift card to the person’s favorite store or coffee shop?
Or what about an experience you can enjoy together while you’re in town? Make a little coupon with the details, toss it in a gift box or bag, and you’re making memories in no time.
You could also go in on a more expensive or bigger gift with someone local who’s willing to purchase, wrap and show up with the present. That’s a holly jolly way to get some real gift-giving bang for your buck.
8. Rethink where you’ll stay.
Hotels can be expensive. So, if Aunt Beth says you can stay at her house, but things are a bit snug there—remember it’s not forever. Sleeping on that air mattress might be worth it. And consider chipping in on grocery costs or giving a gift card to her fave restaurant. It’s a great way to show appreciation that’s still cheaper than a hotel room.
If you don’t have a friendly Aunt Beth or an opportunity to stay with friends or family, look at Airbnb or Vrbo, or even compare prices on hotel rooms online. Don’t book the first place you see. Always click around for the best deal.
9. Don’t use a credit card.
Okay, hear us out. The idea that you can’t travel without a credit card is a total myth. And using a credit card for your holiday travel actually has some major downfalls.
For one, you don’t technically have to pay off that balance at the end of the month. And the credit card companies don’t really want you to, to be honest. The average credit card interest rate right now is 17.13%.1 Why wouldn’t they want you to rack up interest with that kind of profit coming their way? Don’t risk the temptation. Next month will have its own seasonal expenses, and there’s always a (poor) excuse to charge something now and worry about it in the future—plus interest.
But here’s the other side: Even if you do pay off that balance, you’re creating a bad money management system. One lump credit card payment each month means you have no idea what you’re spending on different budget categories. Pay for your expenses (all of them) with money you’ve got in the bank. Track these expenses for accountability and to stay on top of your budget.
10. Be flexible about timing.
If you’re able to head out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, those are cheaper days to fly. Also, if you can fly or drive on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, you’re looking at cheaper flights and fewer traffic jams.
For those of you who don’t want to spend your actual holiday traveling, talk to friends and family about celebrating on a different day. The traditions shouldn’t be about a square on the calendar—but about being together.
Hey—these ten quick budget travel tips will help you save money through the holidays. And it all starts and ends with the budget. Check out EveryDollar and start budgeting for free. That’s our best tip for saving money—this season and all year long.