Given that travelling can be one of the biggest parts of your holiday expenses, you’re going to love these cheap Christmas travel ideas to stay on a budget.
It certainly doesn’t help that airlines and other travel companies know that many of us try to travel over the holidays – and massively increase their prices accordingly.
Luckily, there are a bunch of ways in which you can ensure that getting to your loved ones won’t empty your wallet.
With some flexibility and creativity, you can ensure that any travel you end up doing over this period is firmly within your budget, allowing you to truly enjoy all that the season offers.
1. Don’t forget that there are still deals, even over the holidays
While it’s pretty rare to see massive discounts on travel around the holidays, there are still deals to be found.
In particular, don’t forget to take advantage of cash back websites that give you gift cards for thousands of stores like Amazon, Walmart and Target just for shopping online.
(You can even get PayPal gift cards, which are essentially the same as getting money back!)
And my personal favourite for this is Swagbucks.
For example, say you buy some plane tickets online through Expedia and then book a hotel through Hotels.com.
At the time of writing this, Hotels.com is offering 8% cash back through Swagbucks and Expedia is offering 10% cash back.
Meaning you’d get 8% of the value of your hotel booking and 10% of the value of your flight back as cash!
It’s next to impossible to find a 10% discount on flights anywhere else over the holidays, so you’d be crazy not to take advantage of this.
Signing up for Swagbucks takes literally 20 seconds. And if you sign-up through this link, you’ll get a $10 welcome bonus!
2. Be flexible with your travel days
It’s no surprise that travelling over the holidays is often a stupidly expensive experience.
If you don’t buy your flights six months beforehand, it can feel like you have to take out a second mortgage just to get you and your kids to their grandparents’ house.
One way to save some money is to travel on Christmas Day
Most people will try to reach their destinations before December 25th and the airlines know this.
That’s why flights before that date can be exorbitant, yet are often very reasonable on the day itself.
In fact, this article found that travellers can save up to 33% if they fly on Christmas Day.
If that won’t work for you, that same article found that flying on the 23rd or 24th will also work well, with tickets being 15% lower on average.
The absolute worst day to fly in terms of cost is the Friday before Christmas, as everyone tries to maximise their vacation time over the weekend before the big day.
RELATED ARTICLE: HOW I SAVED $1,320 ON FLIGHTS (AND HOW YOU CAN TOO)
If you’re planning to drive to your holiday destination, you can follow these same tips when scheduling your day of departure.
After all, flights are cheaper on these days because less people want to fly.
The same logic thus applies with driving: less people will be on the roads on these days.
This means that planning your travel days on these dates should mean that you avoid many of the chaotic scenes you usually see on the roads in the lead up to a major holiday.
It also may see a reduction in the inflated gas prices.
If you end up travelling on the 25th, simply agree with the friends or family who you’re visiting that your main Christmas meal together will be one day later – or even a bit later on the night of your arrival, if you manage to get an early enough flight.
Everyone knows the pain of travel costs over the holiday season. So they’ll almost certainly understand the reason for the slight delay – particularly if it means the difference between you arriving on the 25th and not coming at all.
Be flexible with your return trip too
The afternoon or evening of New Year’s Eve or the morning of New Year’s Day tend to be the cheapest times, for the same reasons as outlined above.
(If you choose the latter option, just be careful not to over-celebrate the night before to ensure a safe drive or a pain-free flight.)
The worst day that you can return is the Sunday after the New Year. People are rushing to get home in time for the work week and are often tired after their vacation. This means that not only is it expensive, but they’re irritated, which makes for chaotic airport scenes – and potentially dangerous driving.
3. Consider alternative accommodation options
There’s no way to avoid it: hotels are expensive at Christmas.
And in cases where you’re travelling for the holidays, the cost of accommodation can sometimes mean the difference between whether or not you’re able to afford to join your friends and family for the celebrations.
Fortunately, there are now a range of other options available!
Airbnb is the most well known choice, offering hundreds of thousands of accommodation options across all price points – and which are almost always cheaper than a hotel.
And staying in an Airbnb can also help you save money in a range of other ways you may not have thought of.
For example, you’ll have access to a kitchen unlike in a hotel. This means that you can save money by making your own meals instead of constantly having to rely on restaurants.
Your apartment or house may also have a laundry, which can really help if you’re planning to stay somewhere for a few days.
Also, if you’re visiting somewhere for the first time, staying in a house or an apartment can be much more of a “local experience” compared to a hotel when it’s often made very clear to you that you are “only” a tourist.
If you’re not already a member, sign-up for Airbnb here to receive $25 credit!
Consider housesitting as a cheap Christmas travel idea
An alternative option is to look into housesitting.
This is a rapidly growing sector whereby you stay in someone’s house for free (or for a small amount to cover utilities) for as little or as long as you want, allowing you to truly live like a local!
You may also have to care for the house owners’ pet as part of the deal, but if you’re anything like me, that’s simply an added bonus!
Check out Trusted Housesitters for this. It’s the biggest housesitting website in the world with tens of thousands of accommodation options in dozens of countries.
4. Don’t pay unnecessary luggage costs
Firstly, as a general travel rule, you don’t need to bring as much with you on your vacation as you think you need.
A great non-Christmas-specific travel tip is as follows: set out everything you need. Then halve it.
Reducing everyone’s stuff down to hand luggage not only saves money, particularly if you’re flying a discount airline that charges for luggage, but it also saves time.
After all, wouldn’t you rather be out of the airport and on your way rather than being stuck in the melee at baggage claim after your flight?
One coat, one scarf, one sweater, one pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, one pair of casual and (if absolutely needed) one pair of formal shoes, one set of pyjamas, two pairs of socks, underwear and one “nice” outfit is often more than enough. You can even save space by wearing the jeans, the casual shoes and the sweater on your flight while carrying the coat and scarf separately.
But how do we carry gifts?
Glad you asked!
Most websites now will offer free or reduced shipping, especially as they’re all competing for your hard earned Christmas dollars.
Amazon Prime, for example, offers a free one-month trial with free shipping during that period on anything you buy from Amazon.
But how does this help with your travel costs?
Well, instead of having gifts shipped to you, have them sent directly to your destination!
(This is also an excellent way to ensure that little – or not so little – prying eyes in your house don’t discover their present before Santa has a chance to drop it down the chimney to them)
Of course, this will require a solemn promise from the recipient that any packages that arrive must not be opened.
Just make sure that you order some gift wrap along with the presents themselves so that you can wrap on your arrival
That way, you’ll be ready for Christmas without the cost – and effort – of having to drag everything halfway across the country.
5. Bring your own snacks
Buying food at airports is never cheap and having to stop the car because someone is hungry AGAIN really eats (pun completely intended) into your travel time.
So save a bunch of money by bringing your own snacks. Not only does it save money, but it’s often a far healthier option than grabbing the nearest sugar-laden treat.
It doesn’t have to require hours of preparation. For example, I’m a big fan of unsalted cashews, with a one pound resealable bag being a perfect health- and budget-conscious option for grabbing the occasional handful as I go about my day.
If you’d like something that has a hit of both sweet and savoury while still keeping things healthy, consider mixing them with some dried cranberries and raisins to keep everyone satisfied throughout the trip.
Add a sandwich for everyone and you’ll be good to go!
Need some help with saving money over the Christmas period in relation to gifts, decorations, food and drink, or travelling? Or want to learn how to make money this Christmas? If so, click here for more of our “We Wish You a Frugal Christmas” series.
By the way…it’s no secret that Christmas can be a difficult time financially. Why not make things easier for yourself by grabbing our completely free, interactive Christmas Budget?
Let us know in the comments where you plan to spend this holiday season. Bonus points if you can make everyone else a little bit jealous!