Buttoned Up: How to save money, sanity on holiday travel

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

Traveling this holiday season? If you are one of the estimated 92 million people who just nodded your head to that question, keep reading. Traveling can be a challenge during this time of year, especially if the weather is iffy and/or small children are involved. The keys to surviving with savings and sanity intact are, of course, organization and planning. In that spirit, we've put together seven tips for getting your trip buttoned up well before you head out.

1. Map out where the cheapest gas prices are and plan pit stops in those areas. A car trip out of state? Or even just out of the area? Research gas prices where you're heading and plan to fill up your car wherever it is cheapest. There are four good online tools for researching gas prices: AAA.com, Automotive.com, GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com. That 20 or 30 cents per gallon you save can quickly add up. For example, if you're driving 50 miles both to and from your destination, at 30 cents per gallon the savings will fatten your wallet by $30. Think about it: If you found that money on the street, you'd be ecstatic!

2. Pack food for the trip. Whether you're going by plane, train or automobile, having sandwiches and snacks on hand will significantly cut costs. If you're traveling by train or car, bring your own drinks as well. In addition to saving you money, it is also a great way to ensure you're eating healthily and avoiding the dreaded creep of extra holiday pounds.

3. Ship smart. Getting there by air? Before you get to the airport only to find that your oversized bag is going to cost you big time, compare the costs of shipping your presents ahead of time versus how much you'll be paying in baggage fees. Additionally, see if you can save by prepaying baggage fees. Finally, according to airfarewatchdog.com, "if you are a heavy packer, you'll want to fly with AirTran, Alaska, Frontier and Southwest, even if there's a cheaper fare on another airline."

4. Rent smart. Need to rent a car? Contact your auto-insurance company to see if your current policy applies to rental vehicles so you don't have to pay through the rental agency itself when you're already covered. Compare car size as opposed to miles you'll be driving. Often, larger vehicles will be less expensive than smaller or hybrid gas-savers. If you're traveling a good distance, then probably the gas-saver will be what you need. But if you're flying in and just driving from the airport to your destination and around town, you can save a good chunk of dough by choosing the rental car that has the best deal.

5. Get your gift list in order early. We have a free printable gift worksheet you can download at GetButtonedUp.com. Use it to make a list of exactly what you need to get for whom. Don't go into the store with an "I'll know it when it hits me" attitude because that will inevitably lead to going over your budget. Scour newspaper circulars, online-site deals or mobile notifications and try to purchase when items are on sale. Then wrap and tag them immediately. This not only cuts down on the mad rush to get things done, but you won't tend to spend more simply to save time.

6. Bring entertainment. If you are staying overnight somewhere, be sure to bring "things to do" for grown-ups and children. Idle time can bring about quick trips to town, which in turn lead to spending money you don't want or need to spend. So pack CDs, books, e-readers, games and tablets. Go with small items to save room in the car or in carry-on luggage.

7. Book well in advance. Every week you wait to book your tickets after the last week in October usually adds $5 to your ticket cost. If you're not staying with family, book a hotel room well in advance and check travel sites to get the best deals or package deals.

Bottom line: Holiday travel is often harrowing, but it will be less so if you don't act at the last minute. Organize, research and prepare. Not only will you be able to save some bucks, but you'll have peace of mind to relax and enjoy your holiday with family and friends.

How far will you be traveling this holiday?

The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to yourlife@getbuttonedup.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.