As the holiday season gets under way, a lot of us will be traveling to visit friends and family. It’s the busiest travel time of the year, and that can lead to a lot of stress and a lot of expense. But holiday travel doesn’t have to be all bad.
My first tip and my biggest tip is to just relax. Try to not let the stress of holiday travel creep in. I’m very type A, but I do my best to just go with the flow when it comes to traveling at the holidays. I can’t control everything, so I just need to take a deep breath and relax.
If you are traveling by air, typically, you should get to the airport 60-90 minutes before your flight. At the holidays, I double that. I aim to get to the airport 2-3 hours before my flight. Why so early? To ease stress. If I hit a bit of traffic on the way to the airport, it’s not a big deal. If there is a crazy line to get through security, it’s not a big deal. And when I get through security, I have time to grab some water, go to the restroom and leisurely make my way to my gate. I’m not rushing through or glancing at my watch while waiting at security, wondering if I’m going to make my flight. Sure, it often means I’m at my gate incredibly early, but I’m quite content to just sit and read a book until it’s time to board.
To save money, I make it a point to not buy food in the airport. If you’ve got a long travel day, it can be tough to get around grabbing a meal in the airport, but I do what I can. I always carry a reusable water bottle with me (making sure it’s empty before I go through security) and fill it up from the water fountain. Bottled water has to be the biggest racket at airports. Five dollars or more for a bottle of water I can buy for under a dollar elsewhere? No thank you. It’s also easy to throw a protein bar and some nuts into my bag as well. There are a ton of options for healthy, filling snacks that you can bring through so that you’re not spending a fortune on junk food.
If you do need to eat in the airport, I have noticed that the restaurants are often less overpriced than the snacks from the shops. You’ll spend more than you would just grabbing a soda and some pretzels, but you’ll be getting an actual meal rather than just a quick snack that will leave you hungry in an hour.
When buying your flight, you have a couple of options. You can shop early and hope prices don’t drop or you can wait and hope for a last minute price drop. Personally, I like to fly Southwest, as they will give you credit on your account for a price drop. Sure, you have to use it within a year of the date on which you originally booked the flight, but at least they’re not charging for the change. Plus they make it easy to change your flight if your plans change.
But Southwest doesn’t fly everywhere and some people don’t like their seating policy. So when you buy tickets, do your research. I use Kayak to hunt for flights, but there are a number of great websites that can help you research the best prices.
When you’re flying, should you shove everything in a carry-on bag or should you check your bag? There are benefits to both. Many airlines now charge for a checked bag, so it’s tempting to try to shove everything into something you can bring on the plane. On the other hand, then you have to worry about whether or not there will be space on the plane for your bag. If you have to connect, you will have to carry your bag through the airport. Depending on how much you’re bringing, it might be worth the checked bag. (Or fly Southwest, where bags fly free. I swear, this isn’t an ad for Southwest, I just like them.)
If you do decide to carry on, pack smart. Be aware that there’s a chance they will run out of overhead space and you will have to gate check your bag. This is awesome, because it’s free, but you don’t want to suddenly realize “Hey, my prescriptions and my computer are all in that bag.” Pack so that everything you wouldn’t want to check is in a separate bag, either packed inside your larger bag or carried separately.
My most important tip remains the first. Pack your patience. Just smile and breathe and don’t let the frustrations get to you. It’s the holiday season, so try to share a smile, even if you just want to scream.
Megan is a 40-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.