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Keep holiday travel fun, within budget

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- With families often spread out over several states, holiday time means travel time.

Susan Cosgrove, a family resource management area agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said families can save money when traveling by making a travel budget -- and sticking to it.

"Making these plans at the last minute probably will not save money, so you need to put some time and thought into it," Cosgrove said. "Make an itinerary for the entire duration of the trip. List items of expenditures your family is likely to incur, such as food, lodging, gasoline, recreation and gifts."

Different families will have different expenses, but all families should decide beforehand how much money they will spend on holiday travel. Families may use restaurant coupons or other special savings certificates.

"Be careful not to get caught up in a deal that sounds 'too good to be true' and get scammed. The holiday season is the target season of the year for scams," Cosgrove said.

Have an emergency fund when traveling. Cosgrove said one major credit card can be helpful in this situation, but it should only be used for emergencies. "Emergency does not mean a clearance sale on rhinestone pumps and handbags," she added.

When planning the travel budget, keep in mind that increased fuel costs affect all travel.

Cosgrove offered several tips for families who will be traveling by airplane this holiday season:

  • Contact a travel agent well in advance of the trip to get the lowest priced airline tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals.
  • Avoid traveling on peak travel days. The busiest days to fly are those immediately before and after the actual holidays. Book flights two days before and after the holiday.
  • It is typically cheaper to fly out of airports in larger cities. However, calculate vehicle fuel costs for driving to the airport and compare the overall cost to see which is the best buy.
  • Do not wrap gifts before flying. Security will have to open the packages, and the gift wrapping will have to be done over again.

Get a friend to drive you to the airport. If you must take your own vehicle, secure all personal belongings inside the vehicle to guard against theft," Cosgrove said.

Families can cut costs by bringing along healthy snack foods and drinks for children to enjoy during the trip.

"Are we there yet?" is a typical refrain for parents traveling with children during the holidays. Micki Smith, an Extension area child and family development agent, said parents can take steps to combat boredom while encouraging learning at the same time.

"Make travel time pass more quickly by engaging your child in car games that enhance reading skills," Smith said. "For example, make a game of finding road signs that start with the same letter as the child's name. Keep a tally; the child who finds the most signs when you arrive at your destination is the winner."

Children also can look for objects along the way that start with each letter of the alphabet -- A for automobile, B for bicycle, C for car and so on.

"Another game that encourages word recognition and reading is a car tag game. Before leaving home, make a list of all 50 states for each of your children. Older children can make their own lists," Smith said. "As you travel, ask children to put a check on their list when they see a car from that state. At the end of your trip, the child with the most checkmarks is the winner."

To keep little ones occupied during long rides, Smith suggests using a shoe bag to hold small toys, books, stuffed animals and other small items. Cut a canvas or plastic 16-pocket shoe bag in half, loop ribbon through the top eyelets, and tie it on the back of the front seats.

A "story time" game also can provide distraction from long trips. One person starts telling the story and stops at a point. Then, the next person adds to the story. The game continues until everyone has had a chance to add to the story.

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Released: Nov. 4, 2004
Contact: Susan Cosgrove, (601) 635-2268 or
Micki Smith, (601) 859-2672

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