Budget Travel Tips for an Affordable Christmas Vacation In 2023

Christmas is one of the most popular times for travel each year. Family gatherings, holiday events, and festive atmospheres draw huge crowds from late December through early January. Unfortunately, this also makes it one of the most expensive times to plan a vacation.

Between peak airfares, hotel rates, and crowds at major attractions, many travelers find that a Christmas getaway seems out of reach. But with a bit of strategic planning and flexibility, you can uncover some great deals and have an amazing trip without breaking the bank.

Book Flights, Hotels, and Cars Early

One of the best ways to save on Christmas travel is to plan and book early. Flights, hotels, rental cars, and other travel expenses tend to increase exponentially as it gets closer to the holidays.

Sign up for fare alerts and check for sales to find the lowest rates. Sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and The Flight Deal can help you find discounted international flights. And don’t assume that Christmas week will definitely be the most expensive. Airlines frequently adjust prices, so check multiple dates for the best deals.

When booking hotels, call to ask if they offer any holiday packages or discounts. Consider using points from hotel loyalty programs or travel credit cards to lower your rates. Rental cars also tend to run low on supply during the holidays, so reserve yours early.

Recommended Booking Timeframes

  • Flights: Ideally, 6-12 months in advance for international, 2-6 months for domestic.
  • Hotels: At least 2-3 months in advance.
  • Rental Cars: At least 1-2 months in advance.

Be Flexible with Travel Dates

Another way to save is to fly and travel on less popular days. The peak demand period extends from a few days before Christmas through New Year’s Day. You’ll generally find the lowest prices if you go earlier or later in December.

For example, flying on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve will be extremely expensive and crowded. But traveling on December 10th or January 2nd can yield huge savings. Avoid weekends and opt for midweek travel as well.

Use a fare calendar or the Hopper app to get an idea of the cheapest travel dates. And consider celebrating the holidays a little early or late with your loved ones this year to accommodate the best deals.

Take Advantage of Free Holiday Activities

One of the best parts of Christmas travel is enjoying the abundant seasonal activities. From elaborate light displays to festive concerts and shows, there are so many free and low-cost things to take advantage of:

  • Outdoor light displays in cities and neighborhoods.
  • Caroling performances in churches and town squares.
  • Holiday-themed parades and festivals.
  • Free admission days at local museums and attractions.
  • Ice skating rinks and parks.
  • Botanical gardens with holiday lights/flora.

Check event listings in the city you’re visiting to see what’s going on during your stay. And don’t assume you have to pay for holiday performances – many churches, schools, and communities offer free concerts.

Save on Lodging With Alternative Options

Hotel prices surge during the holidays, especially in popular city centers. But you can find more affordable rates in the suburbs or outskirts. Sleeping just a train ride or a short drive away from the main attractions can amount to huge savings.

Check hotel search engines for the cheapest locations that still have reasonable access via public transportation. Or consider these money-saving alternatives to expensive hotels:

  • Vacation Rentals: Apartments, condos, and home rentals often cost much less per night than a hotel. Search on sites like Vrbo and Airbnb.
  • Hostels: Shared room hostels can be found for as low as $20/night in many cities. Perfect for solo travelers or backpackers.
  • Home Swap: Swap houses with someone in your desired destination to save on lodging. Try HomeExchange.com.
  • House Sitting: Look after someone’s home while they travel and stay for free! TrustedHousesitters connects homeowners and sitters.
  • Points: Use points from the hotel, airline, and credit card programs to book free hotel nights.
  • Non-City Centers: Stay on the outskirts of town or suburbs where prices are generally lower.

Save on Dining With Smart Strategies

Food costs can really add up when traveling, especially with large holiday meals and constant dining out. Use these tips to keep your food budget under control:

  • Take advantage of free hotel breakfast to fill up in the morning
  • Consider vacation rentals with a kitchen to cook some of your meals
  • Research affordable food trucks, cafes, and diners in the area
  • Look for grocery store options to buy snacks, fruit, sandwiches
  • Visit local bakeries and markets for budget-friendly food
  • Order the prix fixe meal or appetizers instead of pricey entrees
  • Drink the free hotel coffee and make your own with a travel mug
  • Pack non-perishable snacks like protein bars, nuts, beef jerky,

Bottom Line

Hopefully, these tips have shown that you can still have a wonderful vacation around Christmas without going into debt. Now it’s time to pick a destination, find some deals, and start planning your holiday travel!

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