Holiday Travel on a Budget -- Savings Experiment

Savings Experiment: Holiday Travel
Savings Experiment: Holiday Travel

Whether you're spending the holidays with family or getting away from everything (and everyone), there are several factors to weigh when traveling this season.

Boy Are My Arms Tired

As airline tickets and gas prices soar, it can be difficult to gauge whether it's more economical to fly or drive. Luckily,'s "Fly or Drive Calculator" helps you calculate hidden costs, like overnight pit stops or time spent commuting to the airport.

If you're driving, AAA, Costco, and Travelmath all offer fuel calculators, so you can figure out about how much gas will run, before you run out of it. According to Mint, a personal finance application, any drive that takes less than four hours is a better budgetary bet than flying.

In addition to the dollar value, there are other elements to factor in, like time. The New York Timeshas a calculator to help you assess how much your time is worth to you.

How to save on holiday travel
How to save on holiday travel

Of course, there are emotional costs, which only you will be able to weigh. Does sitting on the road in bumper-to-bumper conditions make you want to hurl yourself into oncoming traffic? If you fly, are you willing to deal with the possibility of cancelled flights, long security lines, and baggage premiums? If you have kids, you'll also want to factor in how well your children behave in the car versus on a plane. (This may also be an issue with pets, spouses, and in-laws.)

Public Transportation

Most of the world takes the train for short and long trips. Amtrak offers different levels of trains and some routes include sleeper cars. Be mindful that ticket prices go up, sometimes outrageously, closer to the dates of travel. However, if you book in advance, you can find great deals.

Trains offer a surprising amount of amenities. Amtrak is also currently upgrading to include wireless on certain routes, like along its Northeast Corridor. Even the standard trains provide spacious seats, bathrooms, and electric outlets, so you don't have to worry about your computer dying. Of course, you may grow weary of the food selection or being trapped indoors. Still, it's a fantastic alternative to driving, especially if you prefer to use travel time to catch up on reading a book (or writing one).

Then there's the bus, which in recent years has seen a resurgence in popularity due to rising costs of planes, trains, and automobiles. (Not to be confused with the old Steven Martin and John Candy movie.) Bolt and Megabus sometimes offer deals as cheap as a $1 a ride (you read that correctly!).

Check your route, as there may be a plethora of options. Greyhound can get you just about anywhere, but it can be surprisingly expensive on smaller routes between major cities, like Boston, Washington, DC, and New York. It's worth comparing the cost of Greyhound to the Chinatown buses, Megabus, DC2NY, and Bolt. There are also "luxurious" bus lines, like Vamoose, which may be more expensive but have less competition for seats. Most importantly, always check the individual companies' driving records! Google is a beautiful tool.

Getting There Is Half the Battle

Once you've decided on a mode of transportation, don't forget to calculate the price of lodging, food, sundries, and, most importantly, fun. The Professional Hobo enables you to get some idea of how much each day might cost you. After you've done the math, you may really be in need of a vacation. When the time comes, the most objectively important thing to do, no matter what happens, is to enjoy the trip.