For many, visiting family for the winter holidays is a matter of “how,” not “if.” But this year, rising costs could make travel less affordable, especially when paired with other life changes — say, moving cross-country, going to school or getting married.
The best way to tame these holiday travel costs? Set financial boundaries with your family and friends early on. Having these conversations can be intimidating, but there are ways to make compromises that keep the holidays feeling special without derailing your goals.
Accept that travel isn’t always possible
As you add new commitments to your life, it can get hard to maintain the same holiday travel routine. Younger millennials may find themselves moving farther away from their families for job opportunities, like Audrey Peshkam, who moved to New York earlier this year from her hometown in Southern California to work for a nonprofit organization.
“For the first time, visiting my parents for Christmas is going to be a pretty significant expense,” Peshkam says. “If I stay in New York long term, I’ll have to justify the cost of a cross-country flight every year.” She hopes that as she progresses in her career, the financial strain will decrease.
Antoinette Myers Perry, who lives with her wife and dogs in the Washington, D.C., area and is currently earning her third postgraduate degree, has been balancing these trade-offs for over a decade.
“When I was in the early parts of my career, I couldn’t always afford to fly home,” Perry says. “Holidays also meant picking one parent and sibling over another, which was often a heartbreaking choice.” (Perry’s family is split across states.)
“Now that I’ve gotten older and established my own family, it’s even harder,” she adds, explaining that she now has to take into account her wife’s family and her dogs’ travel limitations, too.
As jobs, partners, pets and kids add complexity to holiday plans and magnify expenses, it’s essential to keep your expectations in check — and communicate them with your family.
Finances and family occasions are often two of the most important aspects of adult life, which can cause conflict if they’re not in sync. To avoid misunderstandings, communicate your limitations in advance.
Perry says that for years, the conversation about her ability to visit home for the holidays was so difficult that she would just outright avoid having it. She would opt to spend holidays with faculty and community members during college and early adulthood instead of traveling.
Now, she aims for compromise, helping her family to expect visits that work with her budget and schedule.
Whatever your holiday travel limitations are, it’s better to be honest than overextend your finances to avoid letting people down. Even if you can’t afford a plane ticket, you can still make plans to catch up with friends and family members over a phone call or video chat. And in some cases, if your loved ones know about your financial situation in advance, they might be willing to cover some or all of your travel expenses.
Offer to host
For many, a significant shift in life is when “home” shifts from somewhere you visit to somewhere you host. Millennials are establishing their own houses, families and holiday traditions, and they may find that it feels right to start inviting retired parents to come to them. While hosting comes with certain expenses and time commitments, it might be more manageable than traveling for some.
You might be able to convince your family to come to you instead by sharing your situation. Pets and kids are an extra hassle to drive or fly with, and having a new home can be a good excuse to invite people over.
If flights surrounding popular holidays are out of your budget, try an un-Thanksgiving (or an un-anything) to celebrate the same traditions during a less busy week. Another option is prioritizing one essential holiday, whether that’s a religious occasion, a seasonal favorite or a family member’s birthday.
“My family cares a lot more about Christmas than Thanksgiving,” Peshkam says. “I can’t afford to go home for both, so they know I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with friends.”
If you’re unable to visit your own family for major holidays, talk to friends, neighbors or coworkers. You may be surprised how willing people are to open their homes and share their holiday meals with extra guests, including their partners and kids.
“Spending holidays with community members who were kind enough to host me in their homes expanded my definition of family,” Perry says. “And as I’ve shared these diverse experiences with my own family, they’ve almost always forgiven me for not making it home.”
More From NerdWallet
Dalia Ramirez writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.