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On the fence about taking a trip this holiday season? We get it.
You may be itching to go somewhere warm and tropical or you may just want to visit your Great-Aunt Edna. But you aren’t sure how to make it work. Your schedule is too full and your bank account is too empty. Or maybe you have an upcoming expense that is more important than a trip.
So how do you know if it makes sense to travel for Christmas? Here are seven questions to help you decide:
Things to Consider Before Traveling for Christmas
Can you afford it?
It’s a simple question, but so many people just hit the road at Christmastime without thinking of how they’ll pay for their getaway. Will all those gas fill-ups, hotel stays, and restaurant visits end up on a credit card? If so, you’ll be lucky to have it paid off by Memorial Day. Here’s a better idea: Save up and pay for the trip with cash!
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Will you enjoy the trip?
Don’t go somewhere just because you think you have to. The holidays are crazy enough without the pressure of squeezing a vacation into the mix. And who wants to wake up Christmas morning on an uncomfortable sleeper sofa in your mother’s musty basement? Feel free to cut yourself some slack. Consider having your family come visit you for a change! Santa won’t put you on the naughty list for passing on Christmas travel.
Do you have existing debt?
It’s a lot easier to pay for a trip when you aren’t throwing your money at credit card or car payments every month. Worrying about bills back at home will suck the joy out of a vacation faster than you can say "Bah humbug!" Don’t spend money on a vacation when you aren’t even current on your credit card or student loan. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy yourself anyway with collectors constantly calling while you’re trying to gobble up turkey around the dinner table.
Instead of spending money on a trip, why not get an extra job, make a budget, and clean up your financial house before the new year? Maybe this year is a Christmas staycation! Then you can hit the road next Christmas with more cash and less stress.
Will the trip mess up future plans?
Let’s say you have a teenager who is headed to college next year. That’s something you can see coming. If you don’t have any cash saved to help pay for Junior’s college tuition yet, maybe a trip this Christmas isn’t a good idea. The same goes if there’s a job layoff, wedding, new baby, work relocation, or some other big expense on the horizon. Don’t spend now and wonder how you’ll pay later.
Is it time for a "virtual Christmas"?
Can’t handle the travel? No worries! Thanks to video chat services like Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger, you can open presents and sing your favorite carols with out-of-town family members without leaving the comfort of your cozy home. Although nothing will ever beat a good, old-fashioned hug from Grandma, a video chat call can help her still be part of the action on Christmas morning when the kids are opening her hand-knit sweaters. Not to mention, these services are usually free!
Will the cost of the trip eat up your income?
Say you earn $40,000 a year. For that income, a $5,000 getaway is over the top. If you can’t pull off a more reasonable trip, don’t go. Or look for ways to cut costs by driving instead of flying, going somewhere where lodging is free (Hi, Aunt Betsy!), or packing a cooler of food instead of dining out.
Right now, your money situation may keep you from traveling for the holidays. And although it may be disappointing, use that emotion as motivation to get your money in order so you have more freedom next year. Holiday vacations can be fun—just make sure you don’t wreck your sanity or savings account in the process.
How to Travel at Christmas Without a Credit Card
Higher travel costs at Christmas don’t mean you have to charge it to a credit card. We’ve heard the same thing over and over for years: "I can’t travel without a credit card!" We always wonder what planet people are traveling to because, here on Earth, debit cards work just as easily as credit cards.
All major carriers take debit cards these days, and it’s incredibly easy to just hop on a website—whether it’s a carrier’s site or an online broker—and book a trip. The cool thing about a debit card is the money you use is your money, not a bank’s money.
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Yes, you can use a debit card at a hotel. Some hotels will place a temporary hold on your account for the bill amount to cover "incidentals." In other words, if you invite Mötley Crüe to your hotel room and they put a guitar through the TV, you can expect to be charged for the incident (plus some) to cover the cost. Be aware of how much money is in your account before you travel. Avoid accidental overdrafts by keeping some extra money in your account and asking your hotel if they’ll be putting a hold on your card before you go.
Some people are convinced they can’t use a debit card to rent a car. Rental car companies may make debit card users jump through a few hoops, but that isn’t worth the cost of putting it on a credit card with a jacked-up interest rate.
Just like hotels, most rental car companies will likely put a hold on your account (anywhere from $100–500). That’s just in case you drift into a corner while trying to imitate Jeff Gordon in their Corolla. Give yourself a little peace of mind by calling your preferred rental car company and asking if they take debit cards and what the hold will be. If you still believe you can’t use a debit card to rent a car, you’ve bought into an old myth that is hopefully breathing its last breath.
If you’re not going to be driving much on your trip, consider using a ride-hailing service like Uber. That way you won’t have to deal with a rental car company at all. Plus, you won’t have to pay for parking!
If you’re traveling overseas, you can probably expect some additional fees depending on where you bank. Some banks will charge either a small fee for each transaction or an exchange surcharge for withdrawing money from an ATM. Check with your bank before you go and make sure you clearly understand their policies.
You can also ask your bank about in-network ATMs in the city you’re traveling to, or get plenty of cash exchanged from your bank before you head out. If you’re worried about keeping your cash secure, buy a cheap money belt or neck wallet and wear it hidden under your clothes. Plan ahead and you’ll be fine. It sure beats the long-term cost of using a credit card.
It’s really not difficult to travel without a credit card over the holidays. Don’t allow a decade-old traveling myth hold you back from cutting up those credit cards forever and living a debt-free life! Besides, you don’t want the Ghost of Christmas Past haunting you in May.
Whatever your travel plans are this holiday season, you can hit the road with one of our best-selling audiobooks! Change your Christmas future by learning how to win with money no matter where you go.