It’s that time of year again when many of us pack up the whole family and head off to grandma’s house for some family bonding time. Whether you’re making those obligatory family visits or taking advantage of the school break for a quick vacation, there’s no doubt that it can also be a stressful time of year to travel. Here are some of our favorite tips to make those holiday travel experiences what they should be – fun!
This is a tough tip once kids are in school and balk at missing days. But shifting your vacation plans to avoid peak days can make a huge difference in both prices and crowds.
We planned a ski vacation a few years ago and saved more than $100/night on our hotel room by booking December 22-26 instead of any day we looked at after December 24. We faced smaller crowds on the ski runs and in the restaurants, too.
Similarly, visiting Disney World the weekend before Thanksgiving, we got to experience all the holiday decorations without the peak holiday crowds that began rolling in the day we left.
When planning your trips be flexile and try a range of days. Shifting your travel by just one day, say flying out on Thanksgiving morning instead of that Wednesday, or coming back on January 2 instead of New Year’s Day can make a world of difference to your travel budget and your stress levels.
As much as you and your kids might enjoy being on vacation or with distant relatives on the holidays, there is still a part of all of you that misses home. So if there is a key part of the holidays you always have, bring it with you or recreate it.
My husband loves the German tradition of eating donuts (which are round, like the cycle of the year) on New Year’s Eve. So no matter where we are we find doughnuts (or some other round doughy dessert) and a bottle of champagne to share at midnight.
You might always take a walk after your Thanksgiving dinner, or have a special mug for Santa’s hot cocoa, or a book you always read on Christmas Eve. You might have a family favorite for holiday breakfasts. If your tradition is packable, bring it along. If it’s something you can recreate, even with a few tweaks, do it wherever you are. It will add that little bit of home to your holiday and make a great memory.
Kids, especially little kids, need their routines. Yes your child-free relatives are going to roll their eyes when you insist on being back from family outings for naps or on feeding your kids at their usual time instead of with the rest of the family. That’s OK! You know it’s nothing like the look they would give you when your overtired child had a meltdown at the worst possible moment (and do tantrums ever happen at any other time?).
Don’t be too much of a stickler—being as much as an hour early or late for meals and naps and bedtime is inevitable. But don’t forego your routine entirely, including foods kids are used at least once or twice a day. Kids are happier and easier, and so is life in general, when they are well rested and well fed.
I had a wide-ranging discussion with a group of moms about holiday travel a few years ago and one of the biggest concerns that came up was traveling with sick kids. If they weren’t heading out to their relatives with kids who were already under the weather, someone often came down with something somewhere along the way.
The holiday season brings colds, the flu, sore throats and viruses as well as dehydration from travel and too much running around or bellyaches from eating too many sweets.
I always bring enough medicine cabinet basics to hold us until we can find a pharmacy. This includes peppermint and chamomile tea bags, child and adult pain-relievers/fever reducers, separate cold and sore throat medicines, rehydration tablets and pills for heartburn and other digestive tract ailments.
I also pack immunity boosting products like probiotics, elderberry syrup and vitamin-C gummies. If I’m really good we start taking these a few days before we leave for that airport, hotel or relative’s home all of which harbor people who are contagious with something.
It’s very easy for kids to get caught up in the idea that all holiday gifts come in a box and fit under a tree. And yes, they can actually complain about a lack of Christmas presents while sitting on a beach in the Bahamas, getting dressed for a day of Colorado skiing or enjoying a fun-filled weekend at their cousins’ house. Setting expectations that the trip is the family’s gift to itself before you leave home (and reminding kids along the way, too) helps. So can finding a way to give back, even far away from home.
Consider banding together with relatives to do some community volunteering on Thanksgiving morning. Or find a way to volunteer at your vacation destination. For example, See Puerto Rico is organizing “Meaningful Travel” days during the holiday season and into the New Year. Tourism has been one of the few bright spots in the island’s economy so it’s vital to get it up and running again. Visitors can help to clean up and restore natural features that are popular with tourists, like the Camuy Caves, while staying in up-and-running San Juan area hotels.
You’ll create holiday memories that are unique and meaningful in far more than the usual ways. The gift your kids take away might not be the one you planned on.
Happy holiday travels!
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
Eileen is a journalist whose work has appeared in the HuffPost, U.S. News, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Parents.com and many other publications. She has traveled on five continents, three of them with her daughter. She calls New York City home. You can read Eileen's blog at Familiesgotravel.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
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