Millions of Americans travel each November and December to spend time with loved ones. And while there's nothing like returning home for the holidays, doing so inevitably comes at a cost. If you'd rather not strain your budget too heavily, consider these tips for keeping your expenses to a minimum.
1. Don't wait till the last minute
Waiting until the last minute to arrange your travel won't just put you at risk of not getting a flight; it might also cause you to pay more. According to travel site Hopper, prices for Christmas flights tend to peak about 10 days before the start of the holiday, so if you've yet to make your arrangements this year, be sure to get on that, pronto. Also keep in mind that October is generally the best time to book travel for both Thanksgiving and the December holidays, so that's something to keep in mind for 2018.
2. Travel off-peak
It stands to reason that most people want to fly in for Thanksgiving the day before the holiday and leave the Sunday after. This allows them to enjoy the entire holiday with family while missing a minimal amount of work. But if you're willing to be flexible with your travel, you stand to save a bundle.
Hopper reports that you can easily shave $50 off the cost of your trip by departing the Thursday morning of Thanksgiving instead of the day before. Meanwhile, you can save well over $100 by returning a few days after the weekend.
For Christmas this year, you'll reduce your costs by departing sometime during the week leading up to the holiday, as opposed to leaving on Friday, Dec. 22. Similarly, if you avoid traveling on New Year's Day and instead opt to return a few days later, you could spend about $100 less.
It pays to travel off-peak if you're on a tight budget and have a healthy amount of vacation time. Not only will you save money, but you'll probably enjoy a less crowded flight.
It's often the case that driving to your destination is just as pricey as flying when you factor in fuel costs and tolls. But if you find others to share that expense with, you'll all come out ahead. There are numerous carpooling apps out there that can help you seek out fellow passengers or travel buddies, so it pays to explore your options if you're looking to keep your costs down.
Though these tips might help you reduce the amount you spend on holiday travel, they shouldn't underscore the importance of saving for this huge expense in advance. The last thing you want is to rack up costly credit card debt in the course of your travels, and while it may be too late for the current year, you can do a better job of planning for the 2018 season.
For one thing, estimate your upcoming travel costs as early as January and start setting money aside each month, so that by the time the holidays roll around, you'll have the cash available. You might also consider working a side job in the months leading up to the holidays. More than a third of workers who currently hold down a second gig bring home over $500 a month as a result. If saving in advance only gets you so far -- say, your expenses go up during the year or you're hit with an emergency that depletes your safety net -- then working a secondary gig for a couple of months could be just the thing to keep you out of debt.
No matter where you're traveling this holiday season or next, take the time to plan your journey strategically. A little forethought could put several hundred dollars back in your pocket, which will no doubt come in handy for all those gifts you'll need to buy.