For parents who like to – or need to – travel with their kids during the holiday break, the perennial question is always how to handle presents. The question is more complicated when kids still believe in the big guy in the red suit.
A survey from vacation rental company HomeAway shows that 42% percent of kids who travel at the holidays worry about Santa Claus being able to find them. But even kids too old to believe in St. Nick expect to find presents under the tree and this still raises a host of logistical challenges.
Here are five options we’ve found for dealing with the present question when you travel for Christmas.
Choose a time a few days before you leave town and decide to make it “Christmas” in your house. Do your family’s Christmas Eve traditions the night before, like a special dinner or leaving cookies for Santa. Then wake up the next morning to find that Santa came early! Tear open presents, make a special breakfast or stay in your pajamas all morning; whatever it is you like to do on the day itself. Making your own Christmas can itself become a family tradition.
Friends who have tried this trick note that it works best with very little kids who are happy to believe Santa came early, or tweens and teens who don’t care when they get gifts so long as they get them. There’s definitely an in-between age where Santa coming early could easily raise more questions, confusion and possible distress than you’ll want to deal with.
We decided to going skiing over Christmas break with our young daughter a few years ago. We didn’t want to deal with keeping track of tiny game pieces in a hotel room or risk leaving a beloved new toy behind. So Santa delivered a stocking overflowing with candy, a new book and small presents. He also left a note saying he stopped by our house with other goodies. These were waiting under our tree when we returned home (one of us “forgot something” and went back to the house to put the gifts under the tree before we left town).
It worked – sort of. My daughter had at least a few novelties (plus a day of skiing!) on Christmas and was excited to see what was waiting for her back home. But since then she has insisted on being home on Christmas Day, so she can be where Santa delivers.
Until our Santa phase is over (any year now…) if we travel over winter break we leave on the 26th. It’s nice to be able to give kids a full day with their new goodies before putting them in a car or on a plane to Grandma’s (or the Bahamas). But since Christmas morning is really when all the important stuff happens (from the kids’ point of view) you could even fly out late Christmas afternoon or evening. Thanksgiving and Christmas can be the easiest days for holiday travel because most people are already at their destination and the airports are relatively empty.
The hard part is explaining to parents, in-laws, siblings and cousins that you’ll be celebrating the holiday with them a day or two late. Work with them to decide whether they will delay the family’s main holiday celebration until you arrive or if you’ll be joining up for secondary celebrating.
Once kids are old enough, consider giving gifts that don’t need wrapping. Maybe taking the family away for a ski or beach holiday or big-city weekend is the present for that year. Thinking a bit smaller, consider giving tickets to a play, concert or sporting event, membership to your local climbing gym or a cooking class to enjoy at your destination or back home after the holidays are over.
As a New York City teen nothing made me happier than being handed a tiny white envelope on Christmas day. That envelope meant theater tickets, which made me feel much more sophisticated than all those kids getting clothes and CDs. And tickets take up very little room in a suitcase.
If all else fails, turn to online shopping. Assuming you’re visiting family, have all your Santa presents (and anything else you want to give) mailed to you via your relative’s home. Then buy wrapping paper and tags when you arrive.
You’ll still have to get those presents, and probably additional ones, home. Bring an extra suitcase for these even if you’re driving. If you’re flying consider getting a series of flat-rate boxes from the post office and shipping your presents back again. Just think, when they arrive home you’ll get to open them twice!
Traveling with babies can be tricky, but travel insurance may be able to provide some reassurance.
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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