It’s the most [insert adjective] time of the year! Are you prepared for the holiday season? You can get started with these easy tips to simplify your holiday plans, from booking travel to saving on shipping. This is just one tool in your holiday survival kit!

When you book air or train travel, use Google Flights to locate the cheapest travel deals, and don’t forget to check well-priced airlines that don’t always show up in searches, like SouthWest, Virgin Airlines and JetBlue. Experts say that good deals exist 28 days or more before your departure date, and flying on the holiday itself can help you find cheaper fares and smaller lines and crowds.

Make accommodations for pets while you’re out of town. Ask a trusted relative, friend, or coworker who can take care of your furry friends. If using a kennel, determine their space capacity early to avoid missing out when they get fully booked closer to the holidays.  

Create a holiday budget. Determine how much you can spend on gifts. You might consider making categories of people for smaller, less expensive gifts (like colleagues and acquaintances) and buying in bulk to divide amongst the people in this group. You can also use Pinterest to find creative DIY gift and wrapping ideas with materials you may already have in your house to help minimize costs. For deployed and forward-deployed Marines and loved ones who are separated, personalized gifts made with items within reach can be a valuable, sentimental gift to be cherished and used in holiday decorations for years to come.

Don’t pay for shipping twice. In 2018, more than 55 percent of holiday gifts were purchased online. Some retailers – like Amazon – have gift wrapping options for a few extra dollars, and sending gifts directly to the recipient can save you time in line at the post office, money on shipping costs, and can help ensure your gifts make it on time.

Plan out your holiday meals. Knowing what you’ll need in advance allows you more time to find the best prices at your local stores, and will limit your list to the necessities. If you’re hosting a gathering, don’t hesitate to let your guests know what they can bring to help take the stress off of you. If you’re a guest at someone’s home, ask your host what you can bring, and don’t be afraid to bring a simple but delicious side dish, or go the store-bought route and use an inexpensive, decorative serving dish for the visual. 

Make some time to give back. The Marine Corps community is full of ways to get involved. If your loved one is deployed, you may be able to contribute to a unit holiday care package. You could also check around your installation for ways to serve those Marines on duty or those not with their families throughout the holidays.

Involve your deployed loved one in your holiday celebrations. Take advantage of technology and plan to decorate, spend time, and eat your holiday meal (or leftovers) on video chat together, if possible. Differences in time zones may require flexibility and creativity, but it will be worth the effort to help you and your Marine feel connected.

Stay present. Remember, the best gift is each other. When you’re not on the phone with a loved one who is far, making a conscious effort to stay off your phone and other devices will help you stay present and engaged with those around you.

Disclaimer: The inclusion of third-party organizations does not imply DoD endorsement.