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Travel is almost always an expensive endeavor, but that goes double for holiday treks, when travelers are pretty much locked into paying whatever airlines, hotels and services professionals want to charge. Still, it’s entirely possible to save money while traveling during the holidays if you make smart decisions about when to book, what to bring, and how you get from point A to point B. Here are eight tips that will help you get the most out of your travel budget.

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1. Book early, but keep looking.

The easiest way to save big bucks on holiday travel is to plan ahead and buy your tickets and accommodates months in advance. However, once you have everything reserved and ready at off peak prices, there’s still work to do! Use services like Yapta to track airline fares — if prices for your flights drop, you’ll find out about the discount and be able to request a refund.

2. Search fresh every time.

Price comparison websites like Hotels.com and Expedia are great, but you can get locked into a price without even realizing it, or suddenly lose a great deal when you navigate away from a site and then back again. Make sure to delete cookies and clear your cache in between visits to these sites, along with airlines’ own websites, to get the most up to date (and lowest) fairs and rates.

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3. Think carefully about driving.

Sometimes driving can seem like a no-brainer. You can skip the security, no checked bags, and you are in control of your travel times. But is driving really a better option than flying in your case? AAA and Travelmath both have fuel calculators so you can figure out the total cost of gas before hitting the road. Travelmath goes one step further with a calculator that tells you whether flying or driving will be cheaper based on your answers to questions about your trip. Just remember that with a road trip there are always incidental expenses.

4. Pack a lunch.

Whether you’re flying or driving, food on the go is expensive. Have you seen how much those in-air snack packs cost? While many airports still have tough restrictions when it comes to bringing bottled water through security, there are no rules against packing a lunch for the flight. And if you’re driving to your holiday destination, plan to picnic rather than eat at pricey — and unhealthy — rest stop restaurants.

5. Put your bags on a diet.

Airlines nickel and dime everything these days and are much tougher about cargo weight limits than they used to be. If you don’t want a nasty and costly surprise at the check in counter, pack light to avoid oversized baggage fees.

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6. Explore alternative airports.

The temptation to jet out from the closest large airport can be strong, particularly if you’re in a major metro area. But consider that flying out of the smaller airport that’s an hour or more away may mean not only less expensive tickets, but also shorter lines, shorter waits, and less aggravation. When you’re shopping for holiday plane tickets, always make a point of checking to see what airlines, fares and routes are available at all of the airports within a two-hour drive or train ride.

7. Think outside the holiday box.

Of course you want to travel during the holidays — the problem is that everyone else does, too, and that’s when travel gets miserable. Plus, some airlines and hotels tack a holiday surcharge onto their rates because they know people will pay. See if your friends and family are willing to shift the holidays ahead or back by a week or two to avoid the rush and the massive fare hikes. What’s more important, getting the dates right or spending quality time with the people you love?

8. When all else fails, gamble.

If you’re willing to run the risk of staying home for the holidays you may be able to grab the kind of last-minute ‘turkey fares’ that exist just to fill those last four seats on otherwise full flights. The closer you’re willing to get to a holiday before buying, the better your chances of nabbing a deeply discounted ticket.

Jessica Oaks is a freelance journalist who loves covering technology news and the ways that technology can make life easier. Follow her on Twitter @TechyJessy.

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