Heading home for the holidays

Travel during the holiday season traditionally increases by as much as 50 percent—making it the busiest travel time of the year. This year’s economic uncertainty and resulting financial concerns have many travelers wondering whether they can afford to travel this season. In fact, 66 percent of respondents to a recent poll conducted by Travelocity.com said their concerns about the economy would affect their travel plans this season.

Meanwhile, travelers are not the only ones feeling apprehensive. Airlines are also preparing for a sluggish year. Air carriers across the board are cutting flight prices up to 25 percent, trying to fill the extra space on their flights. This kind of price-cutting right before Thanksgiving and Christmas is basically unheard of, but airlines, cruise ships, hotel chains and vacation resorts are slashing prices to help provide some incentive to boost travel sales during the holidays.

No matter how attractive the deal or how low the prices fall, it’s important to always travel close to your family’s budget. Here are some ideas to make your holiday travel more enjoyable and less draining on your family’s pocketbook.

Take the road less traveled. Gas prices have dropped by almost half since this summer, making driving more affordable. When making your travel arrangements, don’t forget to consider bus or train travel as an alternative. While it may take longer to arrive at your destination, driving can offer great opportunities for sightseeing.

Schedule your trip the smart way. Think twice about “early bird” specials and discount rates. Fares and hotel rates are expected to drop the closer we get to Thanksgiving Day. Keep in mind that a fee may be charged if you decide to cancel or change reservations.

Plan for related expenses. Be sure you’ve budgeted for all of the “little” expenses related to your travel. If you are planning to drive, be sure to budget for gas and snacks along the way, and also any car maintenance needed before and during travel. Remember to budget for your pets boarding costs if you are leaving them at home.

Use credit for convenience. You may want to take a credit card along for safety and convenience. However, it is important to remember that credit should not be used as an extension of your income. If you must use a credit card, be sure to have a plan to pay off any charges in a timely manner and to not spend more than you can afford. Also, keep in mind that gas cards typically carry a higher interest rate than a traditional credit card.

Finally, when determining your travel budget, be sure to consider other expenses that may be waiting for you when you return, such as bills, holiday expenses and next year’s taxes.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.