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10 Last-Minute Tips to Maximise Your Thanksgiving Travel Budget

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Thanksgiving is known as a time for gratitude and family, but it can also present a chance for memorable adventures.

Unfortunately, many Americans have the same idea, which can make traveling around Thanksgiving hard on your wallet.

Read on to learn 10 last-minute travel tips for making holiday travel more affordable so you can spend the season where you want to — whether that’s in the mountains, visiting family, or by the ocean — without breaking the bank.

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Make Your 2023 Thanksgiving Vacation Affordable With These 10 Last-Minute Tips

Whether you're traveling solo ready to explore a new state, heading home for your first Thanksgiving with new in-laws, or tackling travel as a family of five, these 10 tips can help you plan ahead so you can create lasting memories without emptying your wallet.

Tip #1: Advance Unused PTO

After flights, hotels, rental cars, food and beverage bills, and even Christmas shopping on a budget, wallet-friendly Thanksgiving vacations can still cost you. If your holiday travel budget could use a solid cushion, Sorbet can help.

Instead of taking out a loan or getting an advance on your paycheck, Sorbet allows you to advance your unused PTO.

How, you ask?

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you’ve likely accrued paid time off for each period you work.

Many companies offer an option for you to be paid out for these days in exchange for the pay rate you receive at the time of your departure or retirement. With Sorbet, you don’t have to wait.

To get your PTO working for you:

  1. Apply (risk-free) in minutes — with no commitment and the ability to change your mind at any time.

  2. Receive your money on a prepaid Sorbet Visa card within 1-5 business days.

  3. Pay us back when you leave your company and your accrued PTO funds are released.

The money you have locked in unused PTO could help make your last-minute Thanksgiving 2023 trip that much more memorable.

If you choose to use the advance, you’ll pay Sorbet a very small percentage of interest on the amount that will be repaid once you leave your current company.

If your employer offers our services, they would be the ones responsible for paying us directly from your PTO account.

Tip #2: Travel on Non-Peak Days

Flexibility is key to getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to holiday travel. If you can, avoid traveling — both by plane or car — the day before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Consider flying on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday, and if you have the time, wait until the week after Thanksgiving to return home.

You might consider visiting family nearby or exploring another neighboring city within driving distance.

Tip #3: Research Airlines

Again — flexibility is key. Search nearby airports as alternatives and keep an eye on airline prices as they fluctuate. Consider setting a Google flights alert for your desired route, date, or even flight.

Travel sites like Kayak, Expedia, or Priceline offer a good starting place but don’t forget to go directly to the airline website to take advantage of any timely prices, perks, mileage, or points promotions.

Tip #4: Pack Snacks, Meals, and Drinks

No matter your mode of transportation this Thanksgiving, packing accordingly can save you big bucks.

If you’re road-tripping, making multiple stops for food and drinks can be costly, especially when your options may be limited due to holiday hours or closures.

If you’re flying, it’s no secret how expensive airport snacks are. Depending on what airline you’re flying, you might consider looking into single-day lounge access to save money on food and drinks if you have a long layover.

Consider packing an empty water bottle to take through security and filling up at one of the water refill stations and packing a sandwich, snacks, or sweet treats to get you and your family through the travel day.

Just remember to check TSA and airport carry-on guidelines for food and beverages.

Tip #5: Bundle Flights, Hotels, and Car Rental

If you’re traveling to visit family, you can likely cross off the hotel and, potentially, car rental line items out of your budget.

If staying with family isn’t feasible, your flights, hotels, and car rentals will probably eat a good chunk out of your travel wallet.

To help save where you can, compare the cost of bundling. Some travel websites, or even airlines, will offer discounts for bundling one or more of these.

You can then reference the difference it would cost to book them separately and see what the more budget-friendly choice is.

Tip #6: Purchase Travel Insurance

Thousands of flights were delayed — and a number of others canceled — across airports in the United States on one of the busiest travel days of the year. More than 4,200 flights were delayed and another 109 were canceled across airlines on return Thanksgiving travel in 2022.

Purchasing insurance for the trip can help the budget if anything comes up on your way to or from your Thanksgiving destination.

Travel insurance can allow you to reschedule without losing out on the price you paid for your ticket or your precious time.

Every insurance plan Is different, so be sure you’ve read the fine print thoroughly and understand the terms and conditions of the plan before you purchase.

For those traveling overseas for the holiday, or as part of a larger party, travel insurance can be especially helpful in keeping everyone together and the logistics as simple as possible.

Tip #7: Travel Light or Purchase Bags Ahead of Time

For domestic flights, bag fees vary and range from free to upwards of $100. Southwest Airlines famously touts its “Bags Fly Free” policy, allowing passengers to check two bags free of charge.

The majority of airlines charge around $30-$35 for the first bag and $35-$50 for the second bag.

If you’re flying a lower budget airline and don’t want to pay to check a bag — lower budget airlines can charge upwards of $50 for a checked bag — traveling with a personal item (i.e. a backpack or overnight bag) is a great way to save on baggage fees.

Traveling to colder weather and packing light just isn’t feasible? Purchasing checked bags during booking or online check-in can save you. Waiting to pay at the airport during check-in or at the gate will likely incur additional handling fees.

And don’t forget to check that your luggage is within weight limits, typically 50 pounds, otherwise you’ll pay additional fees at the airport if your checked bag is overweight.

Be sure to check ahead of time and make sure your carry-ons are compliant with your airlines. Budget airlines can charge up to $100 at the gate if your carry-on doesn't fit the size limits. Upgrading to a checked bag at the last minute could easily throw off your Thanksgiving travel budget.

Tip #8: Use Gas Apps if Traveling by Car

Gas is often the highest expense when traveling by car, so saving where you can (i.e. filling up where your dollar will go the furthest) will help the budget immensely.

Ahead of your travel, download gas apps to find the cheapest gas prices to reference on your drive.

Apps like GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Fuelio, or AAA Trip Planner can check the prices of gas stations ahead of you on your route so you can plan out your stops — and even see nearby restaurants or fast-food spots.

The basic versions of the apps are free, but they have upgrades that may offer additional discounts, navigation, or real-time traffic reports.

If you play the credit card points game, opting to pay with a credit card that awards bonus points on gas station purchases is a great way to get more bang for your buck while also saving a few.

Tip #9: Prepare To Stay Healthy

Nothing can throw the budget off, or change the mood of travel, quite like a trip to the hospital.

ER visits, medication, or urgent care stops can rack up a bill quickly. Of course, accidents happen, but trying to do what you can to stay healthy while traveling can help mitigate the risk of any unforeseen medical expenses.

Being diligent with hand sanitizer, washing your hands frequently during your travel day, or taking immune-boosting supplements prior to traveling can all help your body fight any infection it may come into contact with during your trip.

Tip #10: Consider Driving vs. Flying

Getting the whole family together is a gift in and of itself, but for many, it can cost a pretty penny. When you have a large family, flying can get expensive fast.

If it’s reasonable, consider packing the car and hitting the road instead of flying. You’ll save money on a rental car and can make memories during the drive, and maybe even do some sightseeing along the way.

5 Thanksgiving Vacation Spots That Won’t Bust the Budget

If you’re looking for wallet-friendly places to go for Thanksgiving, rule number one is to know that you can make any trip more affordable by following the above 10 travel tips.

Secondly, remember that “wallet-friendly” is a relative term and there are always going to be ways to see and stay that may exceed some people’s budgets.

That being said, here are five vacation spots to consider if you’re hunting for affordable places to visit during Thanksgiving 2023.

Gatlinburg, TN

Sitting in the Smoky Mountains, this picturesque town is a great place to spend Thanksgiving with family or explore with friends.

Budget-friendly or free activities include:

  • Hiking

  • Sightseeing

  • Visiting the Cades Cove Historic District

  • Enjoying the downtown Gatlinburg Trolley route

Plan your Thanksgiving trip with this autumn getaway guide.

Williamsburg, VA

Perfect for those who love history, Williamsburg is a great budget-friendly option for a Thanksgiving trip.

On your trip, you can:

  • Step back in time to colonial America and tour living museums

  • Enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving feast

  • Take a ferry to Jamestown

  • Visit local parks and libraries

  • Walk Merchant’s Square

Miami, FL

If you’re in the Southeast and looking for a closer getaway, Miami is a beautiful Thanksgiving destination.

During your trip, you might:

  • Visit the beach

  • Explore the city parks like Bayfront Park, South Pointe Park, or Matheson Hammock Park

  • Visit museums like the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Museum of Contemporary Art, or the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

  • Take a walk through Little Havana

  • Visit the Wynwood Walls

  • Take a free trolley ride to get around to the different attractions in the city

If you’re traveling with kids, the Miami Children’s Museum is a must-visit.

Plymouth, MA

Rich in both its history and natural beauty, Plymouth offers plenty of budget-friendly activities to enjoy while exploring this historic area.

Be sure to add these spots to your Thanksgiving itinerary:

  • Plymouth Rock

  • Plymouth Harbor

  • National Monument to the Forefathers

  • Pilgrim Memorial State Park

  • Brewster Gardens

  • Plymouth Farmers' Market

  • Burial Hill

Santa Barbara, CA

Sunny Santa Barbara offers a gorgeous destination year-round, but a particularly pleasant place to spend Thanksgiving.

Whether visiting extended family or taking you and yours on the road, check out these budget-friendly spots on your next visit:

  • East Beach, Stearns Wharf Beach, or Leadbetter Beach.

  • The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

  • The Cabrillo Bike Path

  • The Santa Barbara Mission

  • The Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Thanksgiving 2023 Can Be Memorable and Budget-Friendly When You Advance Your PTO With Sorbet

In today’s world, it can feel like finding cheap Thanksgiving trips and affordable, budget-friendly travel options during peak holiday travel times calls for creativity.

With Sorbet, you can add some cushion to your Thanksgiving vacation budget by gaining access to money you’ve already earned — without incurring high fees and penalties associated with a loan.

Plus, it couldn’t be easier — simply check and see how many days are actually in your PTO bank, view your balance, and have your money within a week.

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