Our Writers Tell the Story of Their Favorite Holiday Travel Memory
Getting Festive Abroad
While many people prefer to stay at home during the holiday season, it’s no surprise that our adventurous travel writers have spent more than a few holidays across the country or even abroad. Celebrating the holidays away from home means coming into contact with new traditions and often having to improvise to make some of your favorite traditions come alive in a new locale.
Holiday travel is a lot of things. It’s stressful as many people are hopping aboard flights this time of the year. It can be lonely as you try to find ways to enjoy the holidays when you’re away from family. And it is exciting because, after all, you are exploring a new place!
To give you a sense of what different types of holiday travel experiences are out there, we asked our travel writers the following question: What is your favorite holiday travel memory?
Here’s what they said!
Pretty much every year from the time I was around seven years old until I was teenager in high school, I’d visit my grandma and aunt during the holidays. My mom and I would travel to Connecticut to stay with my grandma at her big New Milford house, which always felt like a second home to me.
We’d build a snowman in the yard, go sledding on garbage bags in the forest behind the house, and visit the town square where they’d often have a festive little band playing Christmas songs. It was always so charming.
Sometimes we would stay with my aunt in New York City, which was always super exciting. We’d go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, look at the shop windows along Fifth Avenue, and take a carriage ride around Central Park.
There’s nowhere that compares to New York at Christmastime. It always seemed like there were an endless number of things to do, but the best part was always spending time with my family and opening presents around our eight foot Christmas tree with a fire burning in the fireplace.
I’ve been traveling and working from the road for most of the last eight years, so most of the time when the holidays roll around I am spending them in a different country than I did the year before. This year I will be in Georgia (the country), but in previous years I have been in Australia, Thailand, Peru, Newfoundland and the north of England among others.
Since Lee and I live out of our backpacks and try not to have too much “stuff” we don’t usually buy each other Christmas presents while traveling. Instead, we like to treat ourselves to experiences. We will stay in a nicer hotel room, order room service and enjoy treats we usually don’t indulge in on our backpacker budget.
I have a lot of memories of traveling over the holidays, so it’s hard to pick just one. Perhaps I will go all the way back to the first Christmas I spent away from home: in 2009 while on a working holiday in New Zealand.
I was living in a cheap shared house in Christchurch with Lee and an international assortment of young students, including a girl from India, a guy from Saudi Arabia, a couple of Kiwi girls and a couple of Korean girls. I was feeling homesick and the warm New Zealand summer didn’t feel very Christmassy.
So I had the idea of baking some Christmas cookies from a family recipe to remind me of home. The Korean students were fascinated when they saw me baking in the shared kitchen. I realized they had never baked cookies before — which I found quite amazing.
They joined me, rolling the dough, putting the trays in the oven and decorating the warm cookies with sugary green and red icing. They watched the cookies expanding in the oven with childlike wonder and we all giggled as we doused them in sprinkles.
That year, my family cookie recipe brought a little bit of Christmas magic to that dingy student flat in New Zealand and I experienced the joy of sharing my culture with someone else.
If you are traveling abroad and will be spending the holidays away from family here are some tips for overcoming feelings of homesickness.
I went on my first big overseas experience (or O.E. as we call it in New Zealand) was when I was 16 years old. I was lucky enough to go to France for two months, swapping Kiwi summer for my first ever wintertime Christmas.
December and January were spent in the Loire Valley with a host family, eating a lot of baguettes and cheese, and trying to speak French without blushing every time I opened my mouth.
Although I didn’t get the white Christmas I had dreamed of, just being able to experience Christmas in the cold was magical enough.
Stuffing yourself with comfort foods makes a lot more sense when you are huddled inside out of the cold and don’t have to squeeze into a bikini afterwards.
France is also (in my biased opinion) one of the most beautiful places to spend Christmas. Even the smallest villages are lit up with Christmas lights, Christmas markets sell pure happiness, and the sheer amount of delectable food just can’t be beaten.
My absolute favorite memory of this particular Christmas was when I was whisked away to Alsace, in eastern France. Alsace is a fascinating blend of French and German influences, with some of the prettiest villages and most charming Christmas markets in the whole country. If there is one place you ever travel to on Christmas, make it Alsace.
My host family’s family lived in the small town of Altkirch. While on a normal day it isn’t the most beautiful destination, at Christmas it becomes something magical when the town recreates itself as an enchanted forest. The town center suddenly becomes covered in fir trees, and in among the trees are hidden characters and animals from ancient tales and legends.
The fantasy of the enchanted forest is captivating. The fairies, witches and dragons peeping out from the trees are illuminated in ethereal lights, so the town takes on an otherworldly air. I will never forget wandering open-mouthed through that eerily beautiful scene, completely wrapped up in this little piece of Christmas magic.
Traveling during the holidays can be a great way to make wonderful memories spending time with family and friends, but after a number of trips resulting in experiences that were far from joyful, I now tend to travel outside of the holiday season.
During my last adventure, I ended up spending far more time at the airport than enjoying holly jolly cheer with loved ones and toasting to the new year.
It all began when a massive snowstorm descended on the Denver metro area just a few hours before my flight was scheduled to bring me to the east coast for a family celebration in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. At the time, it was only December 23, so I still had two days to get there — of course I’d make it, right?
Long story short, I spent much of those two days at the airport, staring at the terminal screen. I finally arrived in the early morning hours on December 25, exhausted, but still excited to be there in time to enjoy the fabulous lobster dinner that awaited on the Cape.
Unfortunately, that storm had a domino effect, and some of my other relatives weren’t as lucky. As it turned out, neither was I.
The weather, as the song goes, was frightful, and the 70+ mile drive from Boston to Falmouth just wasn’t doable. However I did get to enjoy a delicious bowl of Massachusetts “chowdah” to the tune of some Christmas song that I can no longer recall.