Parachuting Santa

Holiday or vacay: Trading seasonal traditions for travel

Dreaming of a beach vacay instead of a white Christmas? Instead of rushing around crowded stores and stringing lights, why not gift yourself a vacation instead?

Think it’s not possible to afford a weekend (or even a whole week) away during the holidays? Think again. There are numerous hidden costs to the holidays, from obvious expenses like gifts and food to little essentials like gift wrap and cards, which can really add up. What if you could convert those costs into travel dollars to spend over the holidays?

We love to travel and any chance to squeeze an extra vacation into our budget is an opportunity we jump on. The holidays are the perfect time to take a trip because most folks already have the time off. Plus, with both Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Friday, many revelers will enjoy back-to-back three-day weekends this year.

What better reason do you need to ditch the gifts and pick up that passport? We’ve broken down the cost of holiday spending to show you what you could get if you skip the trimmings and hit the road.

Holiday gifts

The average amount estimated to be spent on Christmas gifts in 2015 is $812, according to a Gallup poll on holiday consumer spending. Why not take a ski trip instead? A weekend getaway with air from Atlanta, Ga., to Aspen, Colo., with budget hotel accommodations costs nearly the same.

Not to mention, if a newlywed couple skips buying gifts, they could use the $1,624 to take a second honeymoon to Costa Rica, Dominican Republic or Mexico instead. Now that’s the true spirit of the season!

Christmas tree

Airport lounge

Have yourself a merry good time at the airport. (Image: m01229, ELITE?!! via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Consumers spent an average of $39.50 on a real Christmas tree and $63.60 on a fake Christmas tree in 2014, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Skip the tree and apply that money toward a day pass for an airport lounge like Virgin America Loft at LAX ($30/day), American Airlines ($50/day) or United Club ($50/day).

Holiday cards

The average price of a greeting card is $2 to $4, according to the American Greeting Card Association. If you forgo one greeting card, you could put that $2 toward a muffin, Pringles, animal crackers or a hot coffee on Spirit Airlines. Skip buying a $4 card and you could get a headset, watch premium TV channels or enjoy fresh food on Virgin America.

And most folks typically send more than one holiday card. The average amount spent on cards and postage is $28.67, according to the National Retail Federation. You could put that cash toward the checked baggage fee on American Airlines and Delta Air Lines (both charge $25 for the first checked bag) and still have money leftover for an inflight snack or drink.


Hanukkah Miami Beach

Spend eight nights in paradise (Image: Herb Neufeld, Florida, Miami Beach via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

The average person who celebrates Hanukkah (Dec. 6–14) was estimated to spend an average of $804.42 last year, according to NPR’s annual Consumer Spending Survey. Instead of eight nights of gift giving, a family of four could turn that $3,000 into a four-night cruise to the Bahamas from Miami.


The average person who celebrates Kwanzaa (Dec. 26–Jan. 1) also spent an estimated $804.42 last year, according to NPR’s annual Consumer Spending Survey. For a family of four, trading holiday costs for a trip could mean more than $3,200 in travel budget. With savvy shopping, that could be enough for round-trip airfare from New York City to Orlando, plus a six-night hotel stay in Orlando, Fla., with money leftover for one day of theme park admission.

Holiday decorations


Skip decking the halls for Disney. (Image: Cliff, Holiday Decorations via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, the average amount spent on decorations is $53.02, according to the National Retail Federation. You could use that cash on a rental car to take a day or overnight trip.

Holiday food

Food is a big part of the holidays. Skip the big dinner, which shoppers spend an average of $107.80 on, according to National Retail Federation, and you could spend the night at a fancy hotel instead. Have a staycation in your city or ring in the New Year with a mini vacay. If you typically host a holiday dinner for 12, use the additional savings to extend your hotel stay and enjoy a spa day, too!

Family travel

Instead of traveling to see your relatives, take the money you would spend and fly to Europe or the Caribbean. Send your family a postcard and, instead of holiday gifts, a cool souvenir. Or, even better, get the whole family together and travel somewhere new. Trade the cost of everyone flying home for the holidays for tickets to the Bahamas and, in lieu of exchanging gifts, rent a house for the celebration.

The whole holiday season

Surfing Santa

Seasonal surf’s up! (Image: OC Always, Surf Santa via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

If you skip the costs of gifts, cards, decorating your home, getting a tree and hosting a holiday dinner, you could save $1,065.09. That’s enough to fly to the other side of the world, from Los Angeles, Calif., to Bangkok, Thailand, for example. Our hearts have grown three sizes just thinking about all the holiday travel possibilities!


Main image: Steve Jurvetson, Parachuting Santa Procession via Flickr CC BY 2.0

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