Christmas at home or away?

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)

Could it be better for your finances, and family, to hit the road or head to distant shores for Christmas? Find out how a festive overseas escape stacks up against a roadtrip for your celebrations.

With the cost of Christmas festivities rising from year to year, it can be a jolly expensive time of year. According to figures from Finder, our collective spend on Christmas in 2018 was more than $25 billion, with the average Australian forking out $1325. While roughly $1 billion of that total goes on decorations, a hefty chunk will be for gifts for our nearest and dearest. In our recent research into giving gifts in Australia, we calculated that, on average, we spend $93 on a significant Christmas gift.

This goes to show just how much money can end up being spent on the traditional way of celebrating the holidays – at home, opening gifts under a tree laden with tinsel, followed by an extravagant feast. What if all that money was put towards a holiday instead? For some families, the big gatherings over Christmas can also become stressful and tiring, with so much effort going into cleaning and catering for the big day. Or you may be in a situation where a family celebration means dividing your day up between meals and festivities in multiple locations, leaving everyone feeling sick of driving around and too much eating in-between.

If you’re coming around to the idea of getting away from it all this Christmas with a domestic or international escape here are a few things to keep in mind before you book:

Escaping in your own back yard

1. The traffic factor

The Christmas road trip may be something you already do in your family, either to escape to a well loved holiday destination or visit your own parents, siblings or in-laws. Because our festive season coincides with the longest holiday for schools, and many businesses too, roads can quickly reach capacity, leading to frustrating delays and many extra hours of travel.

This year, the NRMA anticipates peak traffic on the roads on 18 December when schools finish for the year, on 23 December and Boxing Day.  The 4 and 5 January are also likely to be extra busy as many return home after the festive fun is over. If you can avoid these days, you could save yourself from getting stuck in holiday traffic. Just in case you do encounter delays on the roads, be sure to pack plenty of snacks and extra entertainment to make the time more bearable for hungry, impatient kids (and their parents!).

2. High rates for hotels and holiday homes

Holiday accommodation in Australia is always in high demand when school terms are over and this is even more the case in summertime. According to Finder, places to stay in our most popular holiday destinations can be at their most expensive around Christmas time. Their figures show that travelling to the Gold Coast, for example, can cost up to 63% more for the Christmas period, taking into account higher rates for hotels, flights and car rentals.

3. Last minute deals

If you can afford to be flexible about where and when you travel, a last minute deal could be the perfect way to get away on a budget for Christmas. In the week before 25 December, any remaining rooms are likely to be discounted to maximise occupancy. So if you’re prepared to be open to less popular destinations and even travel on Christmas day itself, you could snap up your holiday at a much more reasonable rate.

 An international Christmas experience

1. The Christmas travel tax

Paying a premium for holidaying during the festive season can also be a problem if you venture overseas. Finder has run the numbers on this ‘Christmas travel tax’ and named Bali, Phuket and Goa as the destinations you’ll pay much more for if you choose them for your Christmas escape. Travelling to the UK, on the other hand, can be quite affordable. Flights are slightly more expensive – an 11% increase according to Finder, but this is offset by cheaper hotel rates.

As with domestic holidays, if you’re prepared to be flexible in where and when you travel, you can get away without being stung with seasonal price rises.

2. Steer clear of crowds

Just like the roads, airports can also become exceptionally busy for key travel dates around Christmas time. In 2018, Sydney airport saw its busiest day ever on Saturday 22 December, so you can expect a similar peak in airport crowds this year on and around Saturday 21 December. If you need to travel from any airport in Australia on these dates, make sure you arrive early for your flight and pre-book parking or transfers to avoid any unexpected delays in your journey.

3. Seasonal opening hours

So you’ve bagged your bargain holiday, made it to the airport in time and you’re all set to have a Christmas with a difference in a far-flung land. Your plan for enjoying some local hospitality in cafes and restaurants, not to mention shopping, might be ruined if everything is closed for the holidays! Some countries and cities will have a business as usual approach to their opening hours, but others may not, so it’s worth finding out what to expect in your chosen location. Even if everything is closed for a few days, you can still enjoy your time, as long as you pack accordingly and book a hotel with room service!


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