7 reasons to spend the holidays away from home

Christmas is traditionally a time for family, but it can also be the ideal time to travel. Who says you have to stay home for the holidays? Here are seven reasons to spend the holidays traveling.

Travel deals

While the holiday season can be one of the most expensive times to travel (especially with those annoying extra fees), it can also be a time of great deals to certain destinations. Especially when you compare what it might cost to fly home to visit family within the US, the price for flying to an international destination may seem downright cheap. Last year, it would have cost my husband and I $400 each to fly to Florida to spend time with my family. For $200 more per person, we opted to go to Spain for 10 days instead.

Check out last-minute flights both on and around the holiday and you might be surprised at what you find. And don’t be afraid to fly on Christmas Eve/Day or New Year’s Eve/Day. This year, I saved $400 on my ticket to South Africa by flying back at 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve.Experience Christmas in another culture
Stockings hung by the fire, leaving cookies out for Santa – these are great traditions to enjoy with your family, but why not try something new this year. So how Christmas is celebrated in Italy, or Mexico, or Russia. Spending time around the holidays in another country can provide you with a unique look at another culture as you see how those people celebrate this special time of year.

Free days off
Many companies shut down for a few days over the holidays, which means you can use a few extra free days to pad your supply of vacation days. A trip that may have used up seven days will only require four if you schedule it from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day.

The end of December is often a better time to request time off as well. Many offices that do stay open operate on only a skeleton crew due to slower business around the holidays.

No taking sides
For children of divorced parents, the holidays can be an exercise in juggling. Add in two sets of in-laws, and you’re looking at four holiday commitments over 48 hours. The rushing and clock-watching is enough to drive you straight into a vat of eggnog. And if you put your foot down and say you can only commit to one family per day, well then you’re playing favorites about the different families.

Instead of rushing from house to house, giving each party just a few hours, schedule a special day with different branches of your family tree before Christmas and then spend the holiday stress free.

Two words: Christmas bonus
If your office still gives out a holiday bonus (lucky you!), what better way to spend it than on an unforgettable trip. Before you have a chance to be “practical” and put the cash towards home improvements, or to slowly spend it on meals out and new clothes over the next few months, take that chunk of change and put it towards a trip you’ve been dreaming of.

Give back
The holidays are a time of giving, so why not use this time to take part in a voluntourism group. Spread your charity work around the globe by heading off a volunteer vacation.

Escape the commercialism
Christmas should have more meaning than presents and parties, but it’s hard to separate the meaning of the holiday from the commercialism that threatens to overtake it, especially when you are bombarded by ads reminding you daily just how many shopping days are left. Escape the onslaught and head to your version of paradise. Lounge on a deserted beach, go mountain climbing, trek through the dessert or just retreat to a little cabin in the woods.

And as a bonus, if you are traveling with a companion, you’ll now have one less person to buy gifts for. Just consider the trip a present to the both of you.

Five ways to make a dollar go further in New England this holiday season

New England was made for the holiday season. Sure, it’s a bit chilly up there in the winter, but bundle up, and it’s impossible not to be sucked in by the charm of one of the oldest corners of America. If you’re looking for a great way to maximize your spending power this Christmas (who isn’t?!), check out five great ideas from New England Inns and Resorts. There’s plenty of variety … but little room for Scrooges.

Cut your own Christmas tree
This is a tough one if you’re traveling any distance, and trying to cram a fir into the overhead bin will not help you win friends and influence others. But, if you’re within driving distance, check out The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, Maine. The holiday package gets you two nights in an ocean view room and a fresh-cut Christmas tree from nearby Bragdon Farms. Fortunately, they’ll wrap it and fasten it to your car. Back at the inn, you’ll also get two hot chocolates and use of the sauna and spa – you’ll need this to warm up a bit; Maine gets pretty cold.

Shop ’til you drop
At the White Mountain Hotel & Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire, you’ll be close to the outlet stores (famous to anyone who grew up in an adjacent state). The package includes discount coupons to make the savings even greater, and you’ll also get breakfast every morning (two-night stay required). So, instead of cramming into the local mall, dash off to do your shopping this year, and make it an experience worth remembering.

No stress involved
Up in Lyndonville, Vermont, The Wildflower Inn wants to make your holiday season as easy as possible. Rather than worry about fold-out couches and relatives lurking in your kitchen in the middle of the night, invade the Wildflower and occupy its 570-acre resort. Stay for three nights, get a full breakfast every day and unwind. Every room has a Christmas tree that’s ready to be decorated. And, the inn will serve dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas day itself. Don’t worry: Santa goes to Vermont (hell, he doesn’t live far from it). Every room can be expected to have packed stockings!

Movie marathon by the sea
Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Maine is offering a low-key holiday that will make any holiday host drool. Instead of fussing over guests, take advantage of the “Ho-Ho-Ho Package,” and enjoy a holiday movie marathon, caroling and a visit from Santa himself (he doesn’t live far from Maine, either). Bring an unwrapped gift for Meadowmere’s Toys for Tots tree (do it), and relax be the fire.

Think past Christmas
There’s more to the holiday season than Christmas. For the next big event, skip the mayhem of Times Square (or the boredom of watching the ball drop on television), and go to Adair Country Inn & Restaurant in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Spend two or three nights at the inn, and sit for a four-course dinner on New Year’s Eve. Bring your tux; formal attire is encouraged. A party will follow, with dancing, champagne and a fireworks display. When the festivities are over, scarf down a late-night snack. Drag yourself out of bed the next day for high tea.

Put your Paws Up for the holidays this year

While the rest of the world is trekking out to Rockefeller Center to see the tree or hanging around Times Square while waiting for the ball’s big drop, head the other way. “The Last Best Christmas Vacation” package from the Paws Up resort in Montana pulls together everything you’d want in a traditional winter holiday celebration … along with the luxurious touch that you’d expect at a remote, upscale and high-touch destination.

From December 22 – 29, 2009, you can hole up in one of the Paws Up villas, dash off on snowmobiles or push yourself along on cross-country skis, while the world continues its rush without dragging you along. As part of this six-day/five-night package, you’ll also be able to enjoy sleigh rides and an old-fashioned tree-trimming party. The basics are covered, too, such as breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, a half-day winter adventure, a decorated Christmas tree (and some egg nog, of course!), nightly ice skating and an open fire nearby. If you have some talent, take part in the Gingerbread house building contest … while wearing the Paws Up wrangler stockings you’ll be given.

Christmas Eve, of course, is when the magic will happen. A special menu will be put together in Pomp, the Paws Up restaurant, and the highlight of the party for the kids will be a special visit from Santa Claus.

So, put civilization behind you this December, and create a vacation experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Enjoy nature, and frolic in the snow … and eat, sleep and relax at a resort that will positively blow your mind.

Ten Finnish festivals to finish the year

We’re into the home stretch on 2009, with only three months left to enjoy. Then, the calendar page flips over, and we take on 2010. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways left to make the rest of this year memorable. In Finland, home to some of the strangest celebrations on the planet, you can find a few interesting distractions – and they’ll make for great stories when you get home. Of course, there are a few mixed in that aren’t so strange but could still be pretty interesting.

1. Rovaniemi Design Week
Head up to the capital of Lapland to enjoy its first ever design week. On its own, this seems pretty mundane … until you get a sense of what’s scheduled to happen. The event will host the 24th Design Challenge, which involves competing to develop the Arctic Circle: Santa’s home base.
September 28-October 4, 2009

2. Baltic Herring Fair
This festival dates back to 1743 in Helsinki and is the oldest event dedicated to Finland’s most important marine product fish. Look for it in the Old Market Square.
October 4-10, 2009

3. Carnival of Light at Linnamäki Amusement Park
The Carnival of Light involves fire acrobats and the Pumpkin Fest parade, not to mention an array of ghosts and witches. A laser show and Harry Potter-themed skating rink tie it all together.
October 8-19, 2009

4. Skiexpo
This is the largest winter sports fair in the Nordic corner of the world and includes downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and other bone-chilling experiences.
October 30- November 1, 2009

5. Etnosoi! Festival
Listen to Hungarian Gypsy music groups Romengo, Nadara (from Transylvania) and Dobet Gnahoré from Ivory Coast thanks to the Global Music Centre and Centre for Romany Art.
November 4-8, 2009

6. Moving in November
Like to dance? Or, just watch? The Moving in November festival brings contemporary dance acts from across Europe. This year, enjoy two Finnish premieres: riffy by Tommi Kitti (love the name) and Moe by Heli Meklin and Michael Laub.
November 3-8, 2009

7. Helsinki Motor Show
This is the only annual auto exhibition in Scandinavia! Go to the Helsinki Fair Center where you’ll see the work of Finnish importers and manufacturers from around the world. Look for a few concept cars while you’re there.
November 26-29, 2009

8. Ladies’ Christmas Market
Load up on locally made products from the women of Finland at The Christmas Market at Wanha Satama. On the shelves, you’ll find plenty of jewelry, ceramics, leather, woodwork, clothing, baked goods and Christmas goodies.
December 2-6, 2009

9. The Declaration of Christmas Peace
Spend Christmas Eve participating in a tradition seven centuries old: the declaring Christmas peace in the Turku Cathedral.
December 24, 2009

10. New Year at the Senate Square
Ring in the new year at Senate Square, where you’ll be treated to professional firework displays and all the liquor you can store in your pockets.
December 31, 2009

Photo of the Day (12/23/06)

This photograph taken by teokaye on a Greyhound ride in Memphis, TN back in 1999 doesn’t exactly scream Christmas or holiday anything. While the hook seen on the man’s right hand serves as an interesting focal point teokaye provided some really sweet details and back story on what was going down. It was Christmas Eve and the man talking was a Jehovah’s Witness. The man apparently had politics on his mind. Teokaye notes that he said Bill Clinton was alright, but George Bush was going to be better. No comment from me, but great photo. It sort of tells the tale that you never know who you’ll run into at any particular time of year. I hope that both Teo and the man without a hand are both having happy holidays this 2006.