Sunday, December 1, 2013
Winter holidays on the cheap
Christmas is coming fast and although I do not enjoy seeing red and green in all the stores starting shortly after Halloween, the reality is that for all students, the winter holidays equal a break in studying and most likely a trip home (if you live away from home).
If you are living at home during your studies, lucky for you! You do not have to try to schedule traveling with your exam schedule. Relax, study hard for those final exams, and be empathetic to your classmates who need to make (perhaps) expensive plans for traveling home.
If you are living away at college or university and will be going back home for the break, plan carefully about your trip. Your first step is to look at your final exam schedule to see when you can leave campus.
First of all, do NOT book a plane or train ticket until you know when your exams end – I had friends who purchased plane tickets for mid-December, assuming they would be done; the choice was then to fail a course or give up and expensive ticket once the exam schedule came out and … surprise! Their last exam was on the 19th. Yes, plane tickets are cheaper when purchased in advance, but you cannot afford to miss a final exam (you can reschedule one for medical reasons – not travelling reasons). You CAN book a ticket for after the last day of exam – this may be your cheapest option, if not a fun one if all your exams are finished by December 12th and your ticket is for the 20th.
If you are not traveling far, bus and train tickets can be obtained for a reasonable price close to departure date, and you may be able to car pool with a friend or friend’s parents (remember to thank them profusely and to bring a small gift for the driver, as well as offering to pay for gas).
If you are lucky enough to have your parents pick you up or you have your own car to drive, be generous and offer someone a drive; if you don’t know anyone going in the same direction as you, post a note on your campus (paper or virtual) so that you can offer a ride to someone – this will help your budget in a number of ways: - you can share the cost of gas; you will meet someone who can help you at a later date; you will share the problem if any occurs (you need a nap but want to drive non-stop); you can share other expenses (a large coffee split in two is cheaper than two small ones); you will have good company which will make the trip more fun (ok, not a financial saving unless you were going to buy a new CD for the drive).
Unless your parents are coming to pick you up with a large mini-van, or you are allowed unlimited baggage, limit your size and number of luggage; you often have to pay a surcharge ($25+ per bag) for bags, so the fewer the cheaper, and one large bag is better than two small ones. Remember that if you will receive many presents, these may need to be taken back with you so plan accordingly (and light foldable bag inside another is a great idea).
Finally, use this trip to bring home what you are not using (may seem to be a counter-point to my previous advice to limit luggage) instead of waiting until the end of the school year. If you are flying, a 2nd piece of luggage is cheaper than excess luggage (3rd + pieces) and you will have lots of stuff to bring back later. However, if you have any textbooks that you will keep (instead of selling back), beware of taking them back home right now – they may be good reference for your 2nd semester courses. When you go back in January, think of what you need for the 2nd term that you don’t want to buy in your college/university town and bring back with you, including the winter clothing or items you didn’t think you needed.
And most of all: after all this planning, enjoy being home!