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How to get home for the holidays in college on a budget

    It’s time to start thinking about the holidays. If you’re a college student, the November and December holidays mean you’ll finally be able to go home, take some time away from your studies and busy school life, and hopefully spend time with family.

    Since the holiday season is also a peak travel season, though, traveling right then can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. That being said, there are some strategies to make it more affordable.

    Continue reading for tips that might help you get home for the holidays from college without busting your budget.

    1. Estimate what your travel expenses might be early

    When planning to get home for the holidays while you’re in college, start by researching and estimating the cost of traveling back home as early as you can. Consider all possible options to get back home as you do this. Options to consider include:

    • Air travel
    • Trains
    • Buses
    • Car rentals
    • Carpooling (and splitting the gas!)

    Compare prices to try to choose the most affordable option for your budget. Be realistic and try to estimate costs as accurately as possible. This will help you get a better understanding of what to expect cost-wise.

    Sometimes, there are extra costs to consider (outside of your main transportation costs) depending on how you’re going to travel that you’ll want to make sure to budget for, too. Suppose you’ll be traveling with multiple pieces of luggage via an airplane, for instance. This may increase your costs depending on the airline and your ticket’s baggage allowance. If you plan to rent a car, you might have to pay car insurance, as another example.

    2. Consider setting a savings goal

    We get it; saving money can be difficult, especially in college. However, once you estimate the total cost of your holiday trip, set a savings goal for yourself if you need to save up for the journey. Divide the total cost by the months or weeks until your trip to determine how much you need to save each month or week. This will help you set reasonable expectations for yourself so you’re not in a pinch at the last minute.

    3. Book your travel well in advance if you can

    Booking your transportation and accommodations (if you’ll need it) well in advance can often help you save money.

    If you’re traveling by air, for instance, generally, the best time to purchase your plane ticket for domestic flights is about two months before your trip. This isn’t guaranteed, just a general timeline to remember.

    If traveling home means taking an international flight, booking around six months in advance can be optimal to get the best price for your trip.

    It’s not just airfare prices that can fluctuate, either. Train tickets, bus tickets, and car rentals can also get more expensive the closer you get to your travel dates. If you’re planning to use one of these modes of transportation, try to book as early as you can.

    And, as you book your travel, look for deals, discounts, or special offers that can help you reduce costs. Monitor and compare prices for your preferred mode of transportation, sign up for price drop alerts on booking sites, and consider signing up for airline and other booking platform newsletters and notifications to stay on top of any deals that could help you save.

    4. Be flexible with your plans if you can be

    If your budget is tight, be open to adjusting your travel dates. Consider traveling during off-peak times. Sometimes, making tweaks to the days you plan to travel can make a difference when it comes to how much you’ll end up spending.

    For example, flying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving may be extremely expensive. If your schedule allows, look for flights on the Monday before or even Thanksgiving morning to see if that would translate into savings.

    5. Find ways to save on transportation that are only available to students

    Airlines, car rental companies, train companies, and bus services may offer student discounts to college students. Try to take advantage of these offers by presenting your student ID or searching for deals online specifically for students.

    On top of those discounts, there may be avenues to pursue at your school to help you save when it comes to getting home for the holidays. For instance, some schools offer free shuttles for students to go to the airport during the holidays. Additionally, some schools help to match students who want to carpool to drive home for the holidays. This can help students save on gas, tolls, and other costs.

    6. Research and utilize any available financial help

    Consider checking with your school to see if they offer financial assistance or travel grants to students who want to travel home for the holidays. Additionally, you can look for scholarships or grants for holiday travel offered by nonprofits, companies, and other institutions.

    7. Plan ahead when it comes to meals and other travel-related expenses

    Consider packing snacks or meals to avoid expensive airport or train station food. Eating out can add up much faster than you think, so planning your meals or being more conscious about how you spend on food can help bring your spending down while you travel.

    In addition to pre-planning when it comes to food, pre-plan when it comes to other expenses you might incur while traveling home, like gas if you’re driving home, transportation to and from the airport if you’re traveling by air, and so on.

    Final thoughts

    Traveling home for the holidays during college should be an enjoyable experience – not a budget-breaking one. Hopefully, planning and utilizing a few travel tips can help make the trip home more affordable.