Consider alternate modes of transportation. The cost of gas and air fare fluctates from year to year, so it's a good idea to stop and do the math before assuming one is cheaper than the other. Do some price shopping on trains, buses and fuel-efficient car rentals as well. Our family of four recently saved about $300 by deciding to rent a compact car for a 15-hour trip to a family wedding.
Cut back on gifts. There's no rule that says the holidays have to include mountains of wrapped boxes. (In fact, I'm pretty sure it's written somewhere that "the reason for the season" is something else entirely.) If you can't afford to spend time with loved ones and buy the latest gaming console, be honest with your kids about the choice. My kids have happily chosen fewer gifts in order to spend time with their grandparents. You can also talk to other relatives about scaling back the gift list; we exchange with neices and nephews now, but not with all adult siblings. One year we told our parents that their gift was going to be our presence; they were thrilled we were making the trip.
Make a budget. A real budget. On paper, in black and white. Many times people will talk about what they can't afford without ever sitting down and running the numbers. Open up a spreadsheet and figure out just how much it will cost you to travel and how much you plan on other holiday items. When you have a realistic picture of the expense, you're in a much better position to figure out how to make your trip home happen.
This year will mark the sixth holiday season that my husband and I have lived at least a 12-hour drive away from our parents and grandparents. We've manged to go home for the holidays all but one year, and that one year we missed still haunts me because of loved ones who haven't been able to celebrate since. Spending time with the people who mean the most to you, especially during the holidays, is always worth the effort.