Heading Out of Town For The Holidays, The Easy Way

Holiday travel doesn't have to be difficult

If you're going to be traveling this holiday season, now is the time to start planning your trip.  

Vintage Travel MapCredit: Flickr user swimparallel

Regardless of where you're going or how you're planning on getting there or how many children you'll be taking, this is the one-stop shop for travel advice for this holiday season.  Read on for a relaxing, enjoyable (finally!) Christmas adventure.


How Much Should I Spend?

Set a budget now so you can actually enjoy your travel adventure

Travel can be expensive, especially if you're taking children or pets.  The cost of fuel, food, and fun can all be sharply limiting factors in where you travel, how long you stay, and what you do when you get there.  

But don't let that stop you.  The truth is, unless you've been spending cash like Trump, you can likely make some changes to your budget now for a paid-for-with-cash holiday travel adventure.Money Jar(114568)Credit: Flickr user Tax Credits

Set a dollar amount you want to spend on your vacation.  This could be $500, or it could be $5,000, or even more.  The actual amount doesn't matter so much as you make a plan and stick to it.  The point is to set a dollar amount aside, so you know you won't have your vacation coming home with you (except in good memories!)

Don't spend money you haven't earned yet, as in Christmas bonuses, stock you haven't sold yet, or your cousin Eddie's promise of paying you back finally.  If you don't have the money, don't spend it.  That's rule number one of making good money decisions.  If your budget is in shambles, or you're in so much debt you can't keep things straight, read my Four Easy Steps to Debt Freedom or check out daveramsey.com.  Then get ready to have some fun adventures!

Before You Leave

Use this simple checklist now for a great return later.

Whether you're flying, riding the train, or bicycling to your holiday destination, there are some things you can do before you leave to ensure a smooth, hassle-free return after the fun has ended.  Here's a checklist for you to use:

  • Find your passports if traveling outside the country and use passport carrying cases
  • Make copies of all IDs, even if driving
  • Pay the bills before you leave
  • Have the kids finish homework or prepare their backpacks for a return to school
  • Pay your neighbor kid in advance to shovel snow and/or feed and walk your pets
  • Purchase any sunscreen, bug spray, etc in your hometown rather than in a vacation zone to save money

Where Are You Going?

Start planning some fun!

Armed with a solid budget, you are now free to move about the country (or world, for that matter!)  Travel to your destination will likely be biggest chunk of your travel budget, maybe even half, depending on where you'll be heading.  That's okay.  

Aim for a third to a half of your total budget to go towards travel, and you'll be in good shape.  

Vacation FunCredit: Flickr user Ridge Tahoe Resort Hotel

Now the only question is, "Where do we want to go?"  Maybe you want to make this holiday travel a vacation.  Or maybe it's all about the in-laws.  Pick what works best for your budget, and try to squeeze in some fun, such as skiing or snowmobiling.  Even better, travel to a warm, tropical climate and do some underwater sightseeing of sunken treasure ships, deep sea fishing, or just relaxing on the beach, letting the warm waters carry you away to another world.

The Best Way to Travel

Getting from Point A to Point B can be fun with these tips.

Use a travel website such as www.kayak.com to instantly compare all travel sites at once.  It works with flights, hotels, cars, and even package deals.  Book early for the best deals.  If you're traveling to a destination such as Cancun, Mexico, look for all-inclusive packages.  These include hotel, food, and beverages, and sometimes there are on-site attractions that are included.  Be careful, though, because once you travel with an all-inclusive package, your vacations will never be the same.  They're just that good.  :)  

Despite airfare prices, travel horror stories, and YouTube videos like the "TSA Shuffle," (don't touch my junk!) flying is still the preferred method of holiday excursions for a majority of travelers.  Like any other travel, booking early gives you the best prices, and if you are a premium user of iOS apps like TripIt - Travel Organizer (no ads), you can book whenever and the app will alert you if prices drop.  How cool is that!?!

If you are going to drive, figure gas to cost around $4 per gallon, just to be on the safe side.  It's better to have a little extra cash to play with than have to wash dishes or sell a kidney just to get enough gas money to return home.

Travel by TrainCredit: Flickr user Jo@net

You may consider traveling by train, too.  Train can be a relaxing and inexpensive way to travel, and believe it or not, it's very safe.  Many trains have double-decker passenger cars, for better views of the countryside.  Long-distance travel by train is fast and comfortable, and the stops are fairly infrequent.  Many trains are equipped with free high-speed WiFi, too, so if you want to post your travel pics to Flickr or Facebook, it's a snap.  If traveling by train outside the United States, find a train equipped with sleeper cars, a diner, and a "bar car" for a nightcap.  Consider traveling by train for budgetary or simplicity concerns, or if you want to see the countryside from a new perspective.  You'll love it.

I'm Huuuunnnnngry!

You know you'll be hungry!

Unless you're staying with family and cooking every meal in the kitchen, you'll likely spend a large portion of your travel budget on meals at restaurants.  Don't look now, but you're about to eat waaayyy too much and spend even more.  Here's how to plan for meals without experiencing disaster.

Let's Eat Out!Credit: Flickr user mopeder

  • Use food review sites like zagat, yelp, and urbanspoon to find good restaurants near your vacation spot
  • Purchase some groceries locally, and plan to cook at least one meal per day inside. We do this every time we travel.  It's a great way to start the day together, and for our family of five we save at least a hundred dollars per week just by eating breakfast in the kitchen.
  • Utilize the continental breakfast at your hotel. This is unlimited, and most have a large variety of breakfast foods, to fit every palate.
  • Order from the adult menu, and share meals
  • Order from the kids' menu and eat it all yourself
  • Skip dessert
  • Go easy on the alcohol

In the United States, there is a heavy tax on alcohol, and portions are oversized at best.  The same is true in almost every destination city as well.  Save some serious coin and come home without the extra pounds by following these seven tips for eating out while on vacation.

While You Were Out

Burglars target houses that look empty during the holidays.

If you've ever watched the kids movie Home Alone, you'll be well aware of the dangers of leaving your home unoccupied over Christmas break.  Don't be a victim this holiday season. Follow these tips to protect your home.

Home Alone(114585)Credit: Flickr user s_herman

  • Tell your home alarm company you'll be gone
  • If you're friendly with a local police officer, ask him to watch your house
  • DON'T post your travel plans to Facebook or other social media sites 
  • Stop mail and newspaper delivery
  • Leave a few lights on (use a light timer for lamps)
  • Have a neighbor check on things for you occasionally
  • Park a car outside of the garage, to give the appearance of a presence in the house
  • Leave a radio or TV set on in a visible location
  • Schedule a neighborhood kid to shovel your walk and driveway if it snows

Many of us have our Facebook profiles set to public, meaning anyone with a Facebook account can see your posts.  This is a no-no, please go change it now.  What's worse, most crimes are committed by friends and acquaintances, so be extra careful about broadcasting your awesome travel plans to just anyone and everyone.

By following these simple tips, you can travel with peace of mind knowing that your home is protected and looked after.  


Getting back into the swing of things.

Now that you're back from your world adventures, it's time to get things up and running again.  

Start with the physical things.  Dirty laundry goes to the washing machine.  Toiletries under the bathroom sink.  Put your new presents in their new places, and put the luggage back in the garage or wherever it came from.  If you set it up correctly, the mail and newspaper services should resume automatically.  Call the alarm company and let them know you've returned.  Pay the kid next door for shoveling and feeding your fish.

Now it's time to tell the world what an awesome, enjoyable holiday travel adventure you had.  Upload your pictures to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other social media sites you love to use.  

Take a nice long, hot shower and unwind.  You've just paid for your vacation, and returned home safely.  What could be better?  

Congratulations, you're a travel genius, and we all secretly hate you.  Don't let up- it's time to start planning next year's vacation and show us all how it's done!

Share your favorite travel tip in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!