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Family Christmas Traditions You Can Take On Vacation With You

If you have kids, or even sentimental adults, you might not want to give up on your Christmas traditions while you travel. Here’s how to travel and have your Christmas, too!


I love traveling at Christmas for many reasons. The first of which is that I’m not a huge fan of the Christmas stress. What should I do for my co-workers? Oh no, I haven’t gotten that package in the mail yet; it will never make it! Or the inevitable, I’ve bought way too much for the kids! I don’t even want to wrap them!

Sound familiar? And secondly, I’ve found that traveling at Christmas gets us out of all of those house visits, phone calls, and huge dinners. It gives our small family a chance to shut out the rest of the world and have some quality time together, and hey, isn’t that the real meaning of Christmas?

Christmas trees made out of recycled items on display in a Portuguese street.
Recycled goods to decorate for Christmas.

There are some other benefits as well. Depending on where you travel, you can either experience a different culture during their Christmas festivities, like German Christmas markets or Oberndorf bei Salzburg, in Austria,  where you can ski as well as visit the chapel where they wrote Silent Night and hear them sing it in German.

Frosty the Snowman pushes a small kids pedal car up the hill ready to rent for the next customer.
The most hilarious Christmas activity – taking the kids to rent “cars” from this Frosty!

On the other hand, you can also go to a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. The advantage there is that you won’t have to worry about business closures as life goes on as normal, but in places that you might normally see lots of tourists there usually are fewer.

Preparing Christmas dinner in our AirBnB kitchen in Portugal.
Cooking our Christmas “peru” or turkey in Portugal in our AirBnB…what fun!

If you have kids, or even sentimental adults, you might not want to give up on Christmas altogether. We don’t. We have a few Christmas traditions that we’ve kept and adapted to taking on the road with us.

Our first is that we used to always have one Christmas Eve gift. This helped calm the girls down and go to sleep when they were young children. It was always a new pair of pajamas and a book or a movie, which we would sit around the fire and watch or read together. We still love this tradition, and carry it out no matter where we are in the world. We don’t wrap the present and open it on Christmas Eve, but we do buy new PJs to wear and bring them along, and we usually will download a new book or movie that we can still cuddle up and watch in any hotel room.

Small wooden games like this three tier moving game make great stocking stuffers.
Playing with one of his stocking stuffers as everyone awaits the turkey dinner.

That’s the power of all of these electronics. We can load the iPad or Kindle with Christmas stories and read them aloud in the evenings before bed or even while we’re on the road. Even though we are all adults now, we still read aloud to each other. It’s fun. We’re all experiencing the story together. And those Christmas favorite movies, well, we can download them as well before we leave or stream them when we want to watch them. Who wants to go a year without seeing Frosty the Snowman almost melt away?

Another Christmas tradition that we love and keep is stockings. We’ve adapted how we do stockings, but to be honest I enjoy it more now than when the kids were little. What we do is everyone brings a sock to fill. Yes, you usually will bring socks when you travel anyway, so the rule is that you can’t use a dirty sock. Then we all draw names. You only have to buy stocking stuffers for that one person.

Then we set a money limit and all together we head off to a huge and cheap department-like store. They have these all over the world. In Japan we used a 100 Yen store, in France a Cora. We’ve never had problems finding a good store. Then we buy trinkets, candy, and whatnots to fill the sock. We try to buy things from that country, but it’s not a rule. Anything goes. Then we put out our socks out on Christmas Eve and sometime later, we fill them up. This tradition still gives us some “presents” to discover on Christmas morning.

Christmas dinner out at a Kobe Beef Tepanyaki restaurant inKobe, Japan.
A special Christmas dinner of Kobe beef!

As you know, we try to be rather frugal travelers, but we do try to do something special on Christmas Day. One year, we splurged and rented four-wheelers for a day of jumping dunes and laughing our heads off. One year we combined our traditional Christmas dinner and doing something fun and took a Thai cooking lesson where we pounded and ground our own Thai chili paste. What we decide to do really depends on where we are, but there’s never a lack of choices and it’s just fun to really have a spectacular experience on what we’ve grown up thinking of a very special day.

Lastly, speaking of eating Christmas dinner, we try to keep that tradition alive as well. Okay, so sometimes if we are renting a house with a kitchen we can still go out and try and find a turkey and some fixings, like the time we were in Portugal and we incorporated black market products into our meal, or sometimes we’ll just find a spectacular place to eat like a castle or Michelin starred restaurant. No matter what we eat, we’re all together and there’s no one to distract us from having really quality time as a family.

I have to say, we’ve not missed our old Christmases at all. Our new way of celebrating with travel friendly Christmas traditions is always new and exciting and tons of fun.

Do you choose to travel with your family at Christmas? What Christmas traditions do you keep or adapt?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

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Portuguese tiles and Santas! Click here to find out how to take your Christmas on the road.

Carmen's Luxury Travel

Thursday 24th of November 2016

What a great post! I absolutely love Christmas. That sock idea is great, thanks for sharing :)

Corinne Vail

Thursday 24th of November 2016

Carmen, Yes, for us travelers finding traditions that are road-worthy is important I think. Thanks.,

Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

Tuesday 22nd of November 2016

My kids put up such a stink the one time that we took a trip over Christmas instead of visiting grandparents and their cousins, that I'm not sure we'll be traveling over Christmas any time soon. Having said that, the relatives live 3 hours away, so I've never once spent Christmas in my home. I do like your family's way of doing stockings, though. I think I might try to introduce that tradition to my own family this year. It would be interesting to see what everyone gets.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 22nd of November 2016

Michele, The stocking gifts are just too much fun. We love it.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 22nd of November 2016

Lala, Christmas is all about family!

melody pittman

Tuesday 22nd of November 2016

What a fun idea for a post. My family went to NYC for the Macy's Parade for 10 years, always staying somewhere new and having Thanksgiving dinner somewhere new. My kids miss that tradition so much. Hopefully we will have grandchildren some day and can go back to going. Renting the four wheelers sounds like so much fun! What a clever idea.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 22nd of November 2016

Melody, It's just a good excuse to splurge...you know?

sher

Monday 21st of November 2016

aw what a heart warming post! i'll be with my fam on xmas but great ideas.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 22nd of November 2016

Sher, Lucky you! Have fun.