If you need to travel over the holidays and make it home for Christmas, the time to start planning (and budgeting) is now. The holidays are all about getting together with family, sharing meals and stories, and of course, presents! But visiting can really break your budget if you need to travel to a different city, province, or in some cases, a different country. Good news is there are ways to make the journey on the cheap. Here are seven ideas to get you “home for the holidays” without busting your budget.
7 Ways to Save on Holiday Travel
1. Stay With Family
If your family has room in their house and you won’t be at each other’s throats after a few days, forgo the hotel and plan to use a spare bedroom, basement or even the couch. You might also consider purchasing an air mattress; you can pick one up at Walmart for less than $50, which is a lot cheaper than the cost of a hotel for a number of days. Plus, it can be deflated and stowed away when not being used, making it more convenient for your hosts.
2. Use Airbnb
If staying with family or friends just isn’t an option, consider Airbnb instead of pricey hotel rooms. This service lets you rent short-term lodging when you travel thanks to a network of hosts willing to give up their home for a modest price.
3. Take a Bus or Train
If your family doesn’t live too far away, consider taking a bus or train ride there. Sure, we love our cars, but why spend all that money on gas? And not to mention the stress of traffic. Instead, you can just sit back and relax the whole way, and maybe even catch-up on some reading. If you start searching now, you can probably find great deals on bus and train tickets—there's nothing like a train ride for the holidays. If you're worried about not being able to get around while visiting, chances are you’ll be driving around with family anyway, and if you need a night out away from all the mayhem you can always take an Uber.
4. Set Price Alerts and Shadow Surf
If you’re searching for flights but gasping at the rates, you can always set an email price alert (this is especially useful on aggregator sites like Hotels.com or Kayak). Also, when looking for flights, remember to go into private or incognito mode (also known as “shadow surfing”) that way your browser doesn’t collect information about your browsing, which some airlines will use to raise rates on the dates you want.
5. Pack Smart
This is one of those instances where you do as I say, and not as I do. Every trip I always tell myself I'm going to pack light, and every trip I always end up packing last minute and shoving double the items I need into my suitcase—and I pay the price for it at the airport in extra baggage fees! And the extra stuff never helps; it just makes it harder for me to find the things I actually need. If you’re staying with family over the holidays, pack light and plan to wash a few items if you need to. Most carriers allow one personal item (purse or small backpack) and one carry-on bag at no cost, but add a second bag and we’re talking another $50-$100—so not worth it in many (many) cases.
Since we're talking about packing, it's also a good idea to pack some snacks while you're at it, whether you’re travelling by plane, train, or automobile. Snacks on-the-go can get very pricey, especially at the airport. Instead, pack a few of your favourites snacks from home, and/or go the healthy route and pack some veggies, hummus, cheese and fruit.
6. Ship Gifts
If you want to bring presents with you and they’re bulky, consider having them shipped to your destination ahead of time to avoid the hassle of lugging them around, and the extra cost they may incur if you’re flying. If you shop online and are able to purchase all your gifts on one site, you may even be able to get free shipping. Otherwise, consider gift cards (those pack easily enough) or other small items. And always know that your family will be glad you made the effort to see them for the holidays if you do opt to go gift-free.
7. Travel During the Week
If you can avoid travelling on a weekend, it just might save you money. Travel site Kayak has crunched the numbers, and reports that Canadians generally fly cheaper on domestic flights when leaving Tuesday and returning Friday. For international flights, the best bet is to leave on Thursday and return on Monday. Of course, if you’re having to take unpaid days off work the cheaper flight may not be worth it, so keep that in mind when doing your search. You can also probably save if you’re willing to take undesirable flights, like an early morning flight, a red eye, or a non-direct flight.
There you have it. We wanted to get you these tips now so you have a month or two to plan ahead, and if you have any tips of your own for saving on holiday travel, we'd love to hear them in the comments below! Here’s to the upcoming holiday season—and to saving!