Managing Christmas travel with kids

With my entire family in Cali and E’s parents in Florida, traveling at Christmas is a fairly common occurrence for us. Although E prefers not to travel at the holidays, I actually enjoy it. Traveling feels like home to me.

You see, I always lived far away from my grandparents, too – so growing up, we either traveled for Christmas or had family come and stay with us. I can remember very few Christmas mornings with just the four of us… and more than a few Christmas mornings spent in exotic locations, like an old schooner moored somewhere in the Caribbean.

So yes, to my husband’s dismay, we do continue my family’s tradition of travel at Christmas. It’s not always easy with a little one to arrange a big, traditional “Santa style Christmas” several hours from home – especially if plane travel is involved. So, we’ve gotten pretty creative with a few Christmas travel hacks that have served our family well.

Reschedule Santa’s visit

Several weeks before the trip, we write a letter to Santa letting him know about our trip, and asking if he can make a special delivery to our house on the weekend before we leave. He always writes back and says yes, and that it will actually help lighten his load for Christmas morning. Then we have our little family’s big “Christmas morning” on a pre-set weekend before we leave. It still feels like Christmas, even if it’s a week or two before the real deal!

This saves us from lugging gifts there and back – plus she has a few fun new gifts and items to take on the trip. We typically save her stocking and a few small gifts to open on the trip – and often our beloved Elf, Emmalina, has shown up magically while on a holiday trip out of town. These little touches have always worked well for us – kiddo never suspected a thing!

Celebrate differently

Christmas is a time of beloved, time honored family traditions – but it can also be fun to learn how other families, countries and cultures celebrate the holidays. We’ve come to love the Christmas pageantry and colorful decorations of Mexico, which is a place we’ve celebrated the holiday on multiple occasions. I still enjoy English Christmas crackers and remember the unique slim, oval glass Christmas tree ornaments on my grandparents’ trees in England – similar, yet still quite different from the ornaments we typically see here in the US.

Then there was Christmas 2016, where the three of us we woke early in our hotel room, showered and got dressed, put on festive Christmas headgear (a fun thing that is easy to pack when traveling!) and then headed to a nearby park for a joyful family nature walk at sunrise that put all other holiday celebrations past and future to shame. It was simple, intimate and just gorgeous!

And, we’ve had some pretty fun Christmas celebrations at sea. As a child, I had many – and even as an adult, I’ve had a few. Norwegian Cruise Line does a great job orchestrating a festive Christmas with kids on board, including lovely wrapped gifts handed out by Santa and his elves Christmas morning, a caroling extravaganza on Christmas eve, and of course festive meals and desserts galore throughout the holiday. I’m glad to say we’ll be celebrating Christmas again this year with Norwegian – and in Mexico again, too. There’s nothing quite like snorkeling in crystal clear ocean water on Christmas day!

Don’t stress the details

My biggest tip to families traveling at Christmas is to try not to stress over the details too much. Family time is the most precious gift at all, and if you’re traveling at the holidays it is probably to spend time with family. Keep actual gifts small or ship them ahead of time, and consider taking an extra empty bag with you if you know kiddo will be plied with gifts on your trip – that will save stressing over how to get them back home again.

Focus instead on family time, and talking about why the holiday is special and important. Try not to worry too much about the traditional Christmas morning at home that you’re missing out on. There will always be more Christmas mornings at home – and sometimes the ones spent away from home doing unusual things in strange places are the ones we remember most. I know I do.

I respect my beloved husband’s wish to not travel on Christmas, so we’ll always spend at least every other year at home for the holidays. But I have to admit, I do love seeing and sharing in Love Actually moments in an airport around the holidays – because it is then, more than ever, that love actually is all around us.

What about you – are you pro-holiday travel or against it? There’s no wrong answer here. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below or over on Facebook!

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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