Having Christmas away from home? Whether you're spending the festive season cosying up in a cottage in the next county, or jetting off to spend Christmas on the beach, don't miss these 10 essential tips for surviving – and enjoying! – your well-earned break.
Family skiing holiday or long haul to the southern hemisphere’s sunnier shores, Christmas away from home is a great idea – in theory. Put the plan into practice and there are plenty pitfalls to take the shine off in the most unexpected ways. First and foremost, remember you’re dealing with mini-creatures of habit and they’ll already have festive expectations and more than a few hard and fast rules. Be prepared, have some tricks on standby, don’t forget the presents and you’ll be fine – or even fantastic.
If you’re headed to the land of snow and ski slopes, a traditional Christmas comes as standard. And cute country cottages in the UK are another dead cert for cosy, homely atmosphere. But, take your travels to the likes of the Maldives, Seychelles or South Africa and it’s best to make sure where you’re staying is going to feel satisfying seasonal – in spite of the weather – come 25 December. Self-catering gets around the issue, lets you design your own celebration and leaves a bit of wiggle room to add some interesting local customs into the mix too.
In the holiday excitement, don’t forget to pay attention to all important grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins back home. An early Christmas Day is easy to do, builds a bit of excitement, satisfies non-travelling family and can also be nice if you’re headed somewhere with a completely different culture like the Middle East or North Africa: lack of trees, Santa and reindeer won’t be such an issue for kids if they’ve done a bit of that already. And pre-festive festivities means less presents to pack.
Even if you aren’t going to the ends of the earth, saying ‘hi’ and sharing a great time on Christmas morning is a travelling family must-do. Whether you choose Skype or FaceTime, make sure you have your apps and devices organised and understood before you go, don’t forget phone chargers and check the connection where you’re staying – perpetual screen freeze doesn’t make a merry family get together.
A big part of keeping the holiday exciting is building in plenty of activity, especially when homesickness is likely to hit. Christmas Eve is the make or break, so plan something special, extraordinarily distracting and don’t forget to book in advance. Pantomimes, kids’ theatre, ballets and concerts are great in UK cities and European capitals. If you’re opting for all-inclusive, check what entertainment’s included in the package before you book. And think local theme-park shows or even a Christmas movie in destinations where they don’t do any of the celebrations kids are used to.
The excess-baggage excuse is a big, ‘so what’, to anyone under the age of 10 so if you don’t manage to fit in a gift giving orgy before you head off, fit some time in for shopping when you arrive. If that’s not going to happen, start managing expectations early and get good and ready with some fantastic alternatives – saving a phenomenal treat for 25 December could go a long way to getting you off the hook. Alternatively, if you’re very organised, order online and arrange for a few ‘essentials’ to be delivered to your destination.
Every family has something that just says ‘Christmas’ immediately to everyone. If it’s a life-size garden nativity, you’re probably going to have to give it a miss this year. But a small decoration, a personalised stocking, favourite chocolate tree ornaments or even an advent calendar are all packable and can make a huge difference in those inevitable, ‘but how will Santa find me?’ moments.
Finnish Lapland, the French Alps, Austrian Tyrol or deep in the heart of beautiful Bavaria, don’t demand much festive creativity. If you’re heading further south: think local, do what the locals do and make it an adventure. Not a challenge with older kids, but a bit of advance warning is good for under fives –a sunny beach is amazing fun on Christmas day, as long as that’s what they’re expecting.
Christmas might be the most wonderful time of the year for kids, but it’s also the busiest and most booked up in advance. Before you make any promises about holiday events, festivals, shows, theme-parks or experiences, check what’s on and get tickets organised. A nice walk round Kissimmee doesn’t cut it as an alternative to Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration at Disneyworld.
Hopefully the days of travelling anywhere with a suitcase full of British food are behind us. Doesn’t mean you can’t pack a few familiar treats for the big day when you’re not on home territory. And, it’s surprising how well a favourite food can work as an incentive for kids if Christmas dinner turns out to be a bit more exotic than expected.
Finally, and most important of all, reassure any concerned young travellers about Santa’s all-seeing, all-knowing powers. And, if they still aren’t convinced: write a letter together about your holiday plans and send it off to the North Pole, works every time.
If you don't fancy being away for the day itself, take a Christmas holiday that has you home in time for 25 December: meet Father Christmas in Lapland.