In 2017, R and I spent our first Christmas on the road and away from home. As the only single gals in our respective families, traipsing across Europe for Christmas sounded like a fine idea. We love our families, but we are lucky enough to see them on a regular basis. And without kids of our own, Christmas just kind of feels like another day off. Why not use that day to see how another part of world celebrates?
It was one of our better ideas and we have decided to make it an annual thing. We spent last Christmas hanging out in Bruges, Belgium. This year, we will be in Cologne, Germany. Experts at holiday travel we are not. But we have learned a few key lessons and are happy to share them with you.
Make arrangements early
Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for travel. That means it can also be one of the most expensive. The trick to finding a good deal is to book early. We have gotten amazing deals to Europe during Christmas using Delta Vacations. We found those good deals by looking and booking early. We’re talking March. You might not have to start quite that early, but you are definitely going to want to start earlier than you would for any other trip. When it comes to Christmas travel, spontaneity probably won’t pay off.
Skip the hotel and rent a home
Hotels are nice and all, but if you want a cozy Christmas experience, you will want to rent out a home. Obviously, we are big Airbnb fans around here and we found a great one last year in Bruges to celebrate the holidays. Our place had a nice kitchen, comfy couches and even a fireplace to hang our stockings. It was located across the street from a chocolate shop and steps away from the main square where the Christmas market was in full swing. I love home rentals in general. But they are a must for Christmas travel.
Research what will be open and what will be closed
Each country, and city for that matter, celebrates Christmas a little differently. You will want to do a little research into hours of operation. Find out what museums are open on the days you plan to visit. Do the same with restaurants and the Christmas markets. The Christmas markets in Belgium were open the entire time we were there, including Christmas day. However, that will not be the case in Germany (from everything we have read), so we are tailoring our schedule and plans accordingly.
Make a reservation for dinner
Depending on your chosen location for Christmas, you may or may not have some fun options for dining. In Bruges, most of the nicer restaurants were open on Christmas Eve. We did a little research and found an adorable place in Old Town that served a special Christmas menu. So we made a reservation, which was necessary for having the Christmas dining experience we wanted. The plan was to dress up and go all out for this dinner. However, R and I miscalculated our schedule and instead of dressing up, we barely made our reservation at all! Oh well. We still had a wonderful (and interesting) meal with good friends.
Make a special meal…or two
Perhaps you will be visiting a country where very little is open on Christmas day, including the restaurants. Even if you have plenty of dining options, it can be fun to cook a nice meal in the cozy home you opted to rent. (If you stay in a hotel, you will most likely be out of luck with this one.) Our friends hit up the local butcher and grocery store before the big day and come Christmas evening, we had a delicious, home-cooked meal. We gathered around the table, laughing and eating until our stomachs hurt.
If you want to make a special meal at your rental home, you will need to do a little prep work. Be sure to check out the cooking options at your rental. Take note of pots, pans, spices, etc. (In fact, it might not hurt to bring a few spices with you.) After that, head to the local butcher and/or grocery store. Try not to leave this until the last minute or you might be out of luck.
Exchange a few gifts
There is really no need to bring a suitcase full of presents on a Christmas trip. After all, the point of the trip is to see and do. At the same time, exchanging gifts is fun! R and I decided to bring just enough gifts to fill up each other’s stockings. That way, we would not have to pack too much, but we would still have something to open on Christmas day. When Christmas morning rolled around, after sleeping late and brewing some tea, we sat in our living room and exchanged gifts. It was fun and relaxing.
Decorate a bit
Other than our stockings (made special by my mother), we did not really think about decorations. But our friend G did! She packed small, lightweight decorations that made their place a lot more festive and fun. I would caution going crazy over decorations, you have to pack them in your suitcase after all. But some small options can bring a lot of cheer to what might be a sparsely decorated Airbnb.
Christmas on the road can be a fun and different experience, especially if you are over commercialization and family get-togethers. However, there is a lot of stress associated with traveling during the holidays. Keep the tips we shared in mind and you will be well on your way to having a wonderful Christmas vacation.