Going home for the holidays is one of the BEST feelings in the world.
Growing up in a military household with four brothers meant the holidays were always full of family and tradition. Since we moved around so much, our family was often what marked the holiday season since we always had each other no matter where we lived.
My mom did a wonderful job of setting up traditions in our family that would be consistent, even if our location was not. And there were a few times we weren’t even in our own home for Christmas because we were moving to the next place. But we would always decorate a gingerbread house, drink hot chocolate while decorating the tree, and open our “Jesus boxes” Christmas morning (my parents didn’t “believe” in stockings by the fire, so we had “Jesus Boxes” to open small presents instead).
One tradition my brothers and I came up with on our own emerged around the time we had gone to college and the years following. Every year, we try to “win Christmas”.
Yes, “win Christmas” is actually a phrase we have amongst the Kay kids.
The concept is simple: have the best, most thoughtful gift that makes Mama or Papa cry. That’s right, we try to make our parents cry the ugly cry. The bigger the tears, the better.
We spend months trying to think of the one thing that could evoke the most emotion, the most feels—that one thing that is better than all the rest.
My poor parents and their kids trying to sabotage their emotional state ever December 25.
One year, I actually won Christmas.
It was the year I had graduated college. I had taken my first grown up job working for a non-profit in England for a year.
I should insert that another tradition the Kay boys and I have come up with is a good ol’ surprise. The art of shock and awe in our otherwise composed parents’ faces bring us absolute joy and delight.
When I signed on with the organization I was with, I told my parents I wasn’t going to be able to make the trek (or spend the money) to come home for Christmas. Secretly, I was planning out my trip home—including enlisting many accomplices who would aid me in this special Christmas present.
Tickets from Stoke-on-Trent to LAX are NOT cheap. However, the organization I worked for paid for all our travel (we also worked for free). They graciously included a round-trip ticket home for the holidays as a part of the deal when I signed on.
I just didn’t tell my parents that.
In fact, I told them I was going to Christmas with a friend in Manchester. I called my mom the week before and told her about all the plans we had, and all the British traditions that were so fun and festive.
Seeing the looks on my parents faces when I showed up on their doorstep one December night was priceless. They. Were. Shocked.
That is by far my favorite Christmas memories.
Now that we are all grown and moved away, it is more difficult to get together every year.
Even though the holidays is the most wonderful time of the year, it can also be the most expensive—especially when you don’t live near your loved ones. So wether you are going over the river and through the woods to see Grandma, or you are winging your way across countries or oceans to see loved ones, there are a few things you want to keep in mind when it comes to Holiday travel.
Holiday Travel Tip #1: Book Flights Early
According to CNN Travel’s post, How to Get the Best Price on a Holiday Plane Ticket, the best time to book your flights is 28-60 days before Christmas.
Travis and I decided to go to Nashville this year for Thanksgiving. We ended up getting a great deal by booking about 60 days out. But for Christmas, make sure you book as soon as you can. Prices will only go up from here. Look down at tip 4 for some good sites to compare flights.
I use tools to track the best times to fly and keep an eye out for sales advertised for my favorite airlines. If you see a good deal, you might as well book it. There is not guarantee that will come around again.
Holiday Travel Tip #2: Avoid Peak Days
Don’t travel on the days surrounding holidays. Guess what—everyone is flying those days! Because they airlines know that, they are going to charge more on peak days of the holiday season.
For Thanksgiving this 2019, those dates are going to be November 26 or 27. Christmas, the busiest days are December 22, 23, 24, and 26. For New Year, it is December 29 and January 2. Look at your schedule to see if you are able to tweak your travel days just a little to get the best price on flights.
If you want to get there before Christmas, Monday is the best day to fly.
CNN Travel also says the lightest and least expensive travel day is New Year’s Eve, and the busiest travel day is December 26, and the lightest travel day is December 31.
Holiday Travel Tip #3: Travel Early or Late in the Day
Another thing to keep in mind is that the cheapest flights are generally the first and last flights of the day. Don’t be afraid to adjust your sleeping schedule just a bit by flying super early or super late.
These are going to be the cheaper flights. Also keep in mind that early bird flights are less likely to get delayed, (where as the later flights might be most likely to be delayed, so maybe plan to sleep in the next day).
I live about 2 hours (with decent traffic) away from LAX. Sometimes I will evaluate what time I will have to leave, the price difference, and then I might consider getting a hotel near the airport the night before. This usually means my husband can drive me down the night before and I don’t have to pay for parking.
If you do choose to pay for parking by the airport, check out Cheap Airport Parking for some of the best deals in the area.
Holiday Travel Tip #4: Do your research
Use apps like Hopper to find the cheapest days to fly. This app gives you a color-coordinated calendar showing the cheapest days and dates to fly. It gives a great visual for how certain times of the week are better to fly than others.
The other thing I love about Hopper is that it will tell you the best time to purchase your tickets. They can even send you an alert when it comes time to buy at the cheapest rate.
I use all this information for research purposes only. There is an option to buy on Hopper, but I want to make sure I am finding the best rates, which can sometimes means taking the data I received from Hopper and going to another site. More on that in the next tip.
Holiday Travel Tip #5: Shop Around
When it comes to flying, use those dates you got from Hopper and plug them into a site like Sky Scanner, or go directly to airlines sites. With Sky Scanner, I love they search for the best prices on various airlines across the board. But it is not a complete list.
Certain airlines like Southwest only post their fares on their website—so make sure you check their site directly for the prices they have on flights. Keep in mind, also, that though Southwest is not always the cheapest fare, your bags will always fly for free. That can make up to a $100 difference, especially if you have a lot of presents to bring with you.
BONUS Holiday Travel Tip: Send Presents Ahead
Let’s say you DO find an awesome fare but have to pay for luggage, try to see if you can get away with not checking a bag. We know the holidays mean lots of presents, which could mean lots of luggage. But if you don’t want to fork over the extra dough, take some extra time to plan ahead.
Thinking ahead may be using Amazon Prime to ship directly to the people receiving them or the house you will be staying in. My younger brother is know for sending all the presents he got for people directly to my parents house every Christmas (then he asks me to wrap all of them but my own).
But if you bough presents throughout the year, look into how much it would cost to send them ahead of time. Not having luggage will save you headaches when it comes to sweating your connections or losing your bags. It will save you time, and sometimes it can even save you money!