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Traveling This Holiday? Crush Stress With 3 Winning Strategies
The holiday season might seem like the perfect occasion for a family vacation, but the reality of coordinating a group getaway can introduce plenty of drama during an already hectic time of year.
According to a survey by Orbitz, about 72 percent of Americans travel at some point between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Long-distance trips of 50 miles or more spike by 54 percent during the six-day period around Thanksgiving, with plenty of Americans taking advantage of travel deals instead of wallowing in turkey stupors.
While many people are on the move during the holidays, these trips aren’t always easy to execute. I don't typically vacation, but I decided to take a trip with my family to the Black Hills in South Dakota a few years ago. We invited extended family members to join us on the adventure, but they hemmed and hawed quite a bit before finally saying they were in. Suddenly, the complexity of this small outing ballooned exponentially. We worked through numerous tangles, and we had quite a few battle scars by the end of the trip.
In other words, relaxing family getaways are inherently difficult to plan. Kids have activities, parents have work, and other family members have obligations. Working parents have a hard enough time juggling priorities on a regular basis — about half of them feel anxious about this daily balancing act. Toss vacations into the mix, and you introduce a slew of supplementary stressors.
To avoid familial nightmares and financial ruin, working parents must prioritize preparation when charting out wintertime adventures.
Making the Most of Your Time Away
The U.S. Travel Association reports that Americans spend about $1.9 million a minute on travel. If you’re going to sink thousands of dollars into a vacation, you naturally want everything to go according to plan.
The same is true of family vacations, though the stakes are a bit higher. When more people are involved in the trip, there is greater potential for logistics problems. Coordinating multiple travel arrangements can create complications, and prices skyrocket for travelers who don’t book until the last minute.
As with any sizable undertaking, preparation is key. You must devote attention to travel arrangements, lodging, meals, and balancing out expectations with your available budget. Most parents can relate to this never-ending tug of war, though it’s a tall order to explain that reality to kids who are dreaming of Disney World.
Win them over with logic. Show them that it’s a lot more fun — not to mention cheaper — to spend an afternoon relaxing at a beachside resort than it is to stand in line for up to five hours waiting for a single Disney ride. They might protest at first, but you can create frugal travel converts by involving them in the planning process. Sell them on the experience, and they’ll eventually come around.
Money Management for Traveling Families
Once you’ve set expectations and gotten everyone excited for a family getaway, it’s time to reach a state of holiday travel nirvana that won’t hurt your wallet or anyone’s feelings. Three simple strategies can help you make the most of your next vacation:
- Embrace the art of budgeting.
You don’t have to be a financial whiz to set a budget. Write down any expenses you anticipate for your next vacation, including everything from car rentals to souvenirs. Above all else, be realistic — even fast food joints can charge more than $10 a person for a meal.
Your raw budget should be based on projections, allowing you to narrow down your travel destination and accommodation choices based on cost. Balance your expenses using three main buckets: where you’re going, how you’ll get there, and what activities you’ll do.
In general, a family can afford to commit about 5-10 percent of its annual budget for discretionary expenses such as travel. Keep this figure in mind as you plan your getaway. If you’re going to travel in the summer as well as during the holidays, you might want to limit the budget for each trip to only half of your overall budget.
- Treat your vacation like a conference.
Ever been to a business convention? From the moment you arrive, you’re presented with an organized agenda to chart out your entire stay. You probably don’t want to be quite as rigid with your own travel planning, but it never hurts to outline your objectives for each day.
Before you set anything in stone, ask everyone in your party what he or she would like to do. Expect to make plenty of concessions, as some members of your party might have limited funds or be unwilling to compromise on accommodations.
When you finally arrive at your destination, limit each person to a daily budget to keep things from spiraling out of control. Try to pay for everything in cash, and only use your credit card if there’s an emergency. It might feel more convenient to charge things to a credit card, but this indulgent attitude can lead to hefty debt payments long after the trip is over.
- Book everything as soon as possible.
Last-minute deals are definitely possible, but they’re few and far between. The more financially responsible approach is to buy and book everything well in advance of your vacation — eliminating unnecessary stress in the process.
Check for deals through your employer or any associations, and scour the internet for online coupons or promo codes. You might also consider signing your family up for airline miles programs, allowing you to rack up frequent flyer miles for future excursions. Another smart strategy? Keep your costs much more manageable by traveling on weekdays rather than weekends.
Weeks and months of planning might feel like overkill, but the hard work will pay off when your family jets off into the sunset for a well-deserved vacation — ideally without breaking the bank. It’s certainly trickier to plan a major getaway during the holiday season, but it all comes down to preparation. Chart the perfect course for upcoming family journeys with ample prep work; then, sit back and enjoy the view.