Updated: Oct 14, 2022
Tell me if this sounds familiar. There you are in your favorite fuzzy socks with steam curling from your favorite mug, your fireplace is crackling, Bing Crosby is crooning and there is pure magic in the air. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so you thought. Pretty soon, you’re buried in thoughts of turkey shortages, shipping delays, Secret Santa gifts, burnt soufflés, what to serve your vegan uncle, school musical schedules and wondering if pumpkin pie really is an aphrodisiac. You just want a festive, joyful and fulfilling holiday season where you spend quality time with the ones you love, without getting elbowed in the checkout line at Kohls. And you know what? You can have that and so much more. So let me tell you why the holidays are the best time to travel, because in all honesty, it will absolutely change your life.
1. Christmas vacations are all the joy with none of the pressure
You know why the holidays were so magical when you were a kid? Because you didn’t have to do anything to make them that way. You just showed up and someone else saw to all the glistening little details so that everything was merry and bright. Now, it’s YOU who must see to the details, and the pressure becomes so great, people dread the season altogether.
But when you travel to places like Strasbourg, which is basically the capital of Christmas and the site of one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe dating back to 1570, they roll out Santa’s red velvet carpet for you. The air is filled with cinnamon and cloves with just a hint of evergreen, each half-timbered house is carefully decorated, there are more than 300 chalets with artisan gifts, mulled wines and sweet treats, and there’s a soaring Christmas tree that stands nearly 100 ft. (30 meters) tall. It’s hard not to feel the holiday spirit when each corner is prettier and more twinkling than the last. And let’s not forget about restaurants during the holiday season. It’s much easier to find an extravagant holiday meal than you might think, most even go through the trouble of putting together special menus for the occasion. Plus, you don’t have to do all the shopping or preparation (where do you even find those little poultry booties anyway?) just to have your mother-in-law tell you for the millionth time that she puts marshmallows in the sweet potato casserole. Bonus, you don’t have to clean up.
2. Holiday travel helps you eliminate the capitalistic monster that has become Christmas
Yes, you could buy your ungrateful (albeit adorable) pre-teens the latest gaming console, or give them even more money for Roblox, although you’ve lost track of how much you’ve spent this month alone. Or…and this is a big or…you could take that money and invest in experiences that create meaningful and lasting memories for the rest of their lives. Think about it this way, do you remember what you got for Christmas when you were 8? How about 11? How about 14? I bet if your family spent time together learning to ski and then hiked through a glacier in Chamonix over winter break, you’d remember that.
Gifts are a wonderful way to show people how much you love them, but they don’t have to come in a dozen packages you squeeze under the tree. As a society, we are buried under so much junk that we’re all suffocating from the clutter. Showing your love means dedicating your time to the special people in your life, not maxing out your credit cards to give people gifts they’ll probably exchange anyway. New “stuff” gives us warm and fuzzy feelings for all of about 10 minutes before they fade away. New experiences give us years of laughter and memories. Speaking of memories…
3. The best Christmas vacations for families create new memories
Memories are so seismically important that this cannot be overstated. None of us have come out unscathed these last couple of years. Between deaths, or sickness, or job losses, or civil unrest, or homeschool, or quarantine, or a thousand other things that have gone wrong, holiday vacations remind of us of all the things that can go right. And all the things we still have to be grateful for, like having the time to spend together during the holidays.
Imagine sipping hot chocolate or going ice skating at the Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park, or taking a horse drawn carriage to see the Nutcracker or the Radio City Rockettes in New York City. Even not-so-great memories have a purpose, we can either laugh about them later or they teach us lessons. The very first time I left the country, I was 15 and spent Thanksgiving in Paris. I ate a cold Turkey sandwich to commemorate the holiday and spent that rainy evening crying in my hotel room on the phone with my mom. But do you know what it taught me? How much I’d taken my family for granted (I was a teenager after all), how important family traditions are to me and how much I truly love a few American holidays (I will not leave the U.S. during the July 4th holiday).
4. Holiday vacations show you how other cultures celebrate
This is a really fun point, and it’s not exclusive to Christmas. One of the best things about traveling during the holidays is learning about new cultural traditions. Some of which, you may want to take home with you (helloooo Christmas Eve tamales). Cross-cultural experiences teach us lessons on inclusivity, that no one way of thinking or worshipping is better than another, we learn about compassion, humility, love, devotion, what really matters. This list goes on and on.
But let’s get specific with what happens to be the tip of the iceberg: Halloween in New Orleans is a unique experience unlike any other, with a distinctly Cajun, Creole, French and magical/mystical flavor you will only find in the Crescent City. For Thanksgiving, you can hunt wild turkeys in Texas or visit Plymouth, MA. Then, there’s the lighting of the 30-foot (9 m) Menorah in Washington, D.C., which is a can’t-miss Hanukkah celebration in the United States capital.
You can tease the kiddos about Krampus, the Christmas demon who terrorizes naughty children in Austria, or see the luminous kaleidoscope lanterns from the Giant Lantern Festival in the Philippines, or attend Midnight Mass at the Vatican in Rome. Want to ring in the New Year in style? Watch the fireworks from Sidney Harbor, Times Square, Zurich or a number of other places that will give you the most vibrant holiday memories you’ve ever had. Celebrating the holidays in the heart of a different culture gives you a deeper understanding of what’s really important in our lives.
5. A Christmas family vacation restores a sense of wonder
Having a sense of wonder comes down to the expansion of what someone believes is possible. It increases our imaginations, gives us feelings of opportunity, of hope, it makes us curious and encourages further exploration. It’s also a key factor in whether or not someone considers themselves “happy.” When we travel during the holidays, we experience new foods, languages, music, decorations, all of which activates different synapses in our brains that can revitalize our minds.
No joke, scientists have studied the connection between travel and boosting our creativity and found that we can actually change the neuroplasticity of our brains through these experiences. We come away with a stronger sense of self, more creative and consistent problem-solving abilities, and it even improves our critical thinking skills. Our perceptions expand to so much more than just what’s in front of us. It’s not easy to find the wonder in things you see every day, but getting away from your comfort zones gives you a fresh perspective because everything is new and you’re seeing it for the first time.
Now that I’ve thrown a ton of science at you, let’s revisit the wonders of tasting a piping hot cup of traditional German glühwein, or strolling the garland-strung cobblestone streets of Quebec City, or wearing a Santa hat with your speedo in the Caribbean. The holidays don’t have to be a time of budget-busting stress and over packed schedules, they can be as enchanting as a five-year-old hearing Saint Nick on the roof again. If only you’ll pick up your passport and go.