15 Tips for Traveling During the Christmas Holiday Season
Traveling during the winter holiday season can be a magical experience. Christmas is widely celebrated in many parts of the world and most places tend to put on a show during this time. But it doesn't come without caveats, so here's what you need to know before taking the plunge during your next Christmas vacation:
1. Choose your destination carefully
The most important choice you'll have to make regarding any upcoming Christmas trip is the destination you pick. If you're opting for a more traditional Christmas vacation, be sure to choose a place with lots of snow and nice mountain vistas. Some destinations such as Rovaniemi even have Christmas travel as their calling cards. On the other hand, some travelers may wish to experience Christmastime without the cold, in which case a host of more exotic destinations can be preferable. Southern European destinations such as Mallorca and Tenerife certainly qualify, but you can even find Caribbean islands that celebrate Christmas in style.
2. Plan in advance
After choosing your destination, start planning your trip as early as possible. This means booking flights, hotel rooms and tickets to your favorite attractions several months in advance at least, in order to make sure you beat the crowd and take advantage of more generous pricing plans. That said, if you decide to go somewhere during Christmas on a whim, take the time to thoroughly research your options before committing to anything. After all, you'll want to save up as much money as possible to spend during your actual vacation.
3. Don't forget about travel insurance
Travel insurance is a must throughout the year, but its importance is even more pronounced during the busy Christmas holiday season. Losing your luggage, having your flight cancelled or getting sick can really derail your trip, so make sure you opt for a comprehensive package that takes all these factors into account. Ideally, you'd want coverage from a well-regarded provider with good reviews and excellent customer service, so you're not stuck on hold if you decide to contact them during this period.
4. Expect heavy traffic
Aside from maybe New Year's Eve, Christmas is the mother of all holidays when it comes to holiday traffic. People go back and forth to visit their families, severely impacting all forms of transportation. Whether you're considering air travel, going by car or using public transportation, expect to be surrounded by plenty of people who all have somewhere to be. Practice patience and don't fret if things go off schedule from time to time. If possible, try having a back-up plan in place in case your initial travel plans get derailed due to congested traffic or delayed flights.
5. Pack wisely
While packing light is always desirable, it can be hard to refrain from stuffing your bags around Christmas. That's partly because winter clothing tends to be heavier and bulkier than its summer counterpart, but also because you probably plan to bring gifts and other trinkets along with you. So at the very least consider bringing an additional suitcase for gifts, and don't have them pre-packed. This should save you some space and will also not result in additional delays in case your package is flagged for a check-up at customs.
6. Embrace local traditions
While the general idea remains the same, Christmas comes in different flavors all over the world. In France it generally comes seasoned with yule logs, while in Italy panettone rules the day. Meanwhile, southern hemisphere nations like Australia actually celebrate Christmas during summer, so having a barbecue on the beach isn't unheard of. Wherever you land, just go with the flow and try to celebrate the holiday in local fashion. Research your destination ahead of time so you'll know what to expect, and go into the experience with an open mind.
7. Bring something that reminds you of home
Most people are accustomed to spending Christmas at home, usually with their families. So going on the road can feel a bit weird, at least at the beginning. To have the best of both worlds, it's usually a good idea to bring something with you that reminds you of home. This can be as simple as bringing a toy or a book that you or your kids are fond of, but you may want to go the extra mile and have a photo of your loved ones by your side as well. Don't bring anything too voluminous though, or you run the risk of it taking up too much space in your luggage.
8. Visit Christmas markets
Christmas markets are a time-honored tradition in many parts of the world. Big cities such as Vienna and Munich are especially famous for their Christmas markets, in which traditional holiday delights such as gingerbread and mulled wine can often be found. Visiting such a market is a great way to put you in the mood for Christmas, so definitely add it to your to-do list. Note that most markets are held outdoors, however, so you're going to want to come dressed for the occasion to not suffer from the vagaries of cold weather.
9. Be mindful of weather conditions
Speaking of cold weather, if you travel around Christmas you should know that meteorological conditions will play a key role, especially in Northern hemisphere destinations. Snow, sleet and other forms of unpleasant weather can quickly appear, making it paramount that you exercise caution when going on the road. In extreme cases, flights may be delayed or cancelled, so you'll want to have a back-up plan at the ready in case things go awry. But even if they don't, warm clothing and good indoor heating are essential for making the most of Christmas.
10. Shop for gifts & souvenirs
Christmas and gifts are virtually synonymous, so you'd be remiss not to go out shopping for some during your trip. What you buy is entirely up to you, but we suggest picking things that are either emblematic of your destination or products that you can buy much cheaper than you would back home. Souvenirs are also a good idea, especially if you want to bring something to the folks back home when you return. Remember, however, that Christmas is a prime season for retailers, so you might find products that sell for a premium compared to the rest of the year.
11. If traveling with children, be wary of sensory overload
It's no secret that kids usually love Christmas, so if you're traveling with your family in tow, be sure to let them bask in the unique atmosphere that characterizes the holiday. This involves sampling all that Christmas has to offer, from special foods and sweets to enjoyable experiences such as ice-skating or visiting Santa. But be aware that your child's energy reserves are limited, and going too gung-ho may result in a sleepy or grouchy kid before you know it. So always reserve some time for rest and renewal in-between your points of interest.
12. Some things may be closed for the holidays
While Christmas is usually a boon for businesses and many try to take advantage of the incoming flux of visitors, not every company will keep its doors open during this time. Some prefer to take certain days off to give their employees additional time to spend with their families. Certain attractions such as museums and other landmarks may even be entirely closed to the public throughout the holiday period. But even if they aren't, Christmas day in particular tends to come with shorter schedules, so plan accordingly.
13. Leave room for surprises to unfold
The magic of Christmas is something that can hardly be put into words. No matter where you go in the world, as long as Christmas is celebrated you're bound to feel something special. For this reason, it's a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your schedule. While having a plan and sticking to it is important, it's also crucial that you don't micromanage everything. Sometimes you'll find a place that doesn't show up on any tourist map that's even better than what you had planned out.
14. Consider places that celebrate other holidays for Christmas
If you're interested in seeing how the world celebrates the end of December without the traditional trappings of Christmas, remember that there are parts of the globe where holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa are the norm. These differ from your average Christmas holiday in terms of traditions and celebrations, but they do take place around the same dates. So if you'd like to go a bit off the beaten path, hunt down such places and experience a new kind of winter holiday.
15. Focus on giving more than receiving
Last but not least, don't forget that Christmas and the end of the year in general is the time for being generous and giving towards the less fortunate than you. Sure, getting presents is a lot of fun, but you can make a real difference in someone's life by granting them something they need or have always wanted. Whether you're considering making a donation to a charity of your choice or simply giving your loved ones something special, remember to be grateful and considerate of others during this period. That is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
And so we've come to the end of our quick list of traveling tips that will make your Christmas vacation all the more enjoyable if you heed them well. Keep in mind that this period tends to be a busy one, so always take things one step at a time and be sure to make the most of your vacation time.