Solo Travel at Christmas

by Gray Cargill on November 8, 2009

Much as I would love to be a full-time travel blogger, I have a day job to pay the bills.  My travel time is limited to whatever vacation time I’ve accrued throughout the year.  The best week for me to travel is the week between Christmas and New Year’s (because my office shuts down).  This is also a week when most people shy away from solo travel.  I’m not sure why there seems to be a taboo about people traveling solo during the holidays.  Are they afraid they’ll look pathetic and friendless at a time of year when most people are with family and friends?  Or is it the crowded airports and expense of holiday travel that keep them at home?

I thought it might be interesting for newbie solo travelers to see how I plan my travel, so I’ll be sharing my planning process for this year’s holiday travel as it happens.  (Even if it winds up being a “what not to do” series!)  Normally, I would have had my holiday airfare and hotel all booked by now.  I tend to decide on a destination at least four months out, and book airfare three months out.  Not this time.

I have been monitoring airfare for the past two months and am running up against the sad fact that airfare around the holidays is very, very expensive.  (This wasn’t the case last year when I flew to New Orleans for just $310.)  My first choice destination was Hawaii, but I quickly realized it was out of my price range this year.  I’d like to keep my total trip expenses under $1800, because I’m trying to save my money for a trip to Europe next year.

So I’ve had to fall back to my second choice, San Juan.  Airfare is still too high for me, so I’ve waited to purchase in hopes it will come down a bit.  (Bing Travel is the only source I’ve found that backs my decision.) I find it ridiculous that airfare from Vermont to Puerto Rico should be $640 or more! Hotels there are also very expensive that week, but I’m confident I can find something cheaper through Priceline or by renting a condo.  On the bright side, lounging on the beach is free and wandering around Old San Juan taking pictures is free, so activities shouldn’t cost me that much.

Meanwhile, I see that flights to New Orleans are much cheaper than to San Juan (though not as cheap as last year), and hotel prices are cheaper, too.  I’d love to go back to New Orleans someday, because I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to last year, but I didn’t want to go again this soon. My heart is set on Puerto Rico, since I haven’t been there before.  Still, how can I justify spending $400-600 more on a trip to San Juan, given that I’m trying to save up for that Europe trip?

So that’s where I’m at right now–monitoring flights and hotel prices for multiple destinations daily, gambling that prices of airfare to Puerto Rico will go down, or, if not, that the low airfare I’m currently seeing for New Orleans will remain low, ready to jump on whatever deal I can, possibly at the last minute.  This is rare for me. I’m not a “fly by the seat of the pants” kind of traveler.  The thing is, even though I want to travel that week, I don’t have to.  Which is why I can wait. I am in the driver’s seat.

What do you think?  Should I go for the immediate gratification of spending the extra money to go to San Juan, or do I go to the less expensive city of New Orleans and save my bucks for a trip to Europe next year?  Or do I not travel at all and have more money for Europe?  Decisions, decisions. . . .

SoloFriendly November 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Not at all, Johnny. I see my family several times throughout the year, so it's not as big a deal to me as it would be to people who can only see their families at Christmas. Plus we celebrate early (in fact, just had our family Christmas this past weekend), so there is no big family gathering on the real holiday.

Johnny November 9, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Dont you miss friends and family at that time if year, I know for you its a good time to travel but I would really miss them.

SoloFriendly November 9, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Hi, Stephanie! Yeah, it's a tough decision. I'd really prefer to go to SJ, but that might push my Europe trip out until 2011. It's a lot of money to save–especially when I'm still traveling in the meantime. I'm lucky, I live a mile from the Burlington airport. Unless the savings were very substantial, it just doesn't make sense to fly out of a different airport (once you add in ground transport costs and parking fees).Unfortunately, right now,JFK is only $30 cheaper than flying out of BTV and Laguardia is the same price. Albany and Manchester are actually more expensive, which is shocking. And of course, having to drive to any of those airports during winter can be dodgy.

London rocks, you'll have a great time there. Isn't it nice using those long holiday weekends to travel? I look forward to reading about your adventures!

Stephanie November 9, 2009 at 2:21 pm

I've been to San Juan and it's very nice, I imagine going during Christmas time would be very festive. Have you looked at flying out of New York? I managed $300 round trip from JFK a few years ago.

My general theory is that if you're going to spend some money top travel, you might as well spend the extra money to do what you actually want to do. But I'm definitely not the best financial advice guru…

One thing that is nice about living at home is I don't have to go visit my family during the holidays. I'm using my thanksgiving break to go to London instead.

SoloFriendly November 9, 2009 at 12:07 pm

My inner frugal traveler agrees with you, which is why this has been such a hard decision to make. Thanks for your comment, Frugal Expat!

Frugal Expat November 9, 2009 at 11:56 am

I would rather go to inexpensive city… 😉

SoloFriendly November 9, 2009 at 10:55 am

Not at all, Johnny. I see my family several times throughout the year, so it's not as big a deal to me as it would be to people who can only see their families at Christmas. Plus we celebrate early (in fact, just had our family Christmas this past weekend), so there is no big family gathering on the real holiday.

Johnny November 9, 2009 at 10:30 am

Dont you miss friends and family at that time if year, I know for you its a good time to travel but I would really miss them.

SoloFriendly November 9, 2009 at 9:03 am

Hi, Stephanie! Yeah, it's a tough decision. I'd really prefer to go to SJ, but that might push my Europe trip out until 2011. It's a lot of money to save–especially when I'm still traveling in the meantime. I'm lucky, I live a mile from the Burlington airport. Unless the savings were very substantial, it just doesn't make sense to fly out of a different airport (once you add in ground transport costs and parking fees).Unfortunately, right now,JFK is only $30 cheaper than flying out of BTV and Laguardia is the same price. Albany and Manchester are actually more expensive, which is shocking. And of course, having to drive to any of those airports during winter can be dodgy.

London rocks, you'll have a great time there. Isn't it nice using those long holiday weekends to travel? I look forward to reading about your adventures!

Stephanie November 9, 2009 at 7:21 am

I've been to San Juan and it's very nice, I imagine going during Christmas time would be very festive. Have you looked at flying out of New York? I managed $300 round trip from JFK a few years ago.

My general theory is that if you're going to spend some money top travel, you might as well spend the extra money to do what you actually want to do. But I'm definitely not the best financial advice guru…

One thing that is nice about living at home is I don't have to go visit my family during the holidays. I'm using my thanksgiving break to go to London instead.

SoloFriendly November 9, 2009 at 5:07 am

My inner frugal traveler agrees with you, which is why this has been such a hard decision to make. Thanks for your comment, Frugal Expat!

Frugal Expat November 9, 2009 at 4:56 am

I would rather go to inexpensive city… 😉

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