Everything to Expect: Going "Away for the Holidays"
Ah, the holidays. What could be better than home cooked meals, playing an annual game of UNO with family, watching Elf with your dog, and most importantly, singing Mariah Carey’s beloved Holiday anthem, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with your friends? If you are like me, the answer is “traveling to a new country.”
Here’s my rationale: Home cooked meals can still be prepared after you return home. Authentic Gluhwein and schnitzel, on the other hand, are not going to be so easy to come by in small-town USA. Playing UNO is a fun family tradition, but maybe it isn’t a bad idea to take a break from your sister’s trash talk this year. Watching Elf with your dog is honestly tough to beat, but instead, imagine dog-sledding with 12 Siberian Huskies this winter. As far as Mariah goes, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a worldwide sensation— you will not have a problem finding new friends to belt the high notes. Anyway, you get the point.
Of course, traveling during the holidays is no easy feat. Figuring out the logistics of transportation and accommodation seems to be a tad more difficult during the festive season, and a holiday trip to a different country brings new elements into your celebration, such as local food and cultural norms. After having spent many holidays abroad, I have found a few universal tips that prove to be useful wherever your travels take you.
We all know traveling during the holidays is an absolute nightmare. I have learned time and time again that there is no easy way to make an airport visit during the holiday season a stress-free process. But lucky for you, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep you from running through the terminal with minutes to spare before being abandoned by your flight.
I have found it to be a HUGE help flying on not-so-popular travel days (think Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, New Year's Day). Security lines will be bearable and you will likely score a cheap flight. Most people prefer to eat home cooked turkey on Thanksgiving and not airport pretzels and to that, we say to each her own, you’re just holding out for the schnitzel.
Finding accommodations is hard no matter the time of year, but booking can become exponentially more difficult during the festivities of a holiday season due to price surges and low availability.
If you are traveling solo, I recommend lodging at a hostel. You will be surrounded by like-minded travelers of which you can spend your holiday. The feeling of welcoming and coziness already enveloped in the walls of hostels will surely be amplified during your holiday stay. Not to mention, you will likely save a few dollars and make a couple of new friends along the way.
If you are traveling with your family, I suggest looking into places that offer special features such as a gourmet brunch or live music to guarantee a day filled with family festivities. I also recommend researching what hotels offer the best holiday packages at the lowest price point. Take time to relax and enjoy the holiday as your normally would at home— the majority of the population at your destination will be doing the same.
You should always keep an open mind when traveling to a new country with a different culture, but cultural considerations are especially important during the holidays. You want to make sure the holiday you are traveling for is actually celebrated in your destination. Not all holidays are universal, and even more so, not all holidays are celebrated the same way. Experiencing new festive traditions broadens your global view and leaves you with a story you can take home to share with your family. For example, in Iceland, Santa Claus is not a person, but rather multiple trolls who sneak in through a window to leave gifts in your shoes— a narrative quite different than that of the U.S. Santa Claus.
Along the same lines, you should research any additional holidays that fall during the extent of your trip that you might not be aware of. When I visited Ireland for Christmas last year, I failed to realize that St. Stephens Day occurred on December 26th, rendering most stores and restaurants closed for the duration of the day. On the contrary, you could just so happen to be visiting a country during one of their widely celebrated festivals. In London, neighborhood festivals are heavily anticipated and wildly entertaining. I highly recommend experiencing a different holiday you aren’t normally exposed to.
One of the best aspects of spending holidays abroad is being able to experience the traditional celebratory food served in your destination. Keep in mind, grandma’s stuffing will not likely be on the menu— embrace new cultural dishes! Plus, food is one of the most central aspects to any culture. You would be doing yourself a disservice by not venturing out and trying new dishes!
I spent Thanksgiving in Argentina one year with a host family who insisted on having an American/Argentine feast. My dad and I decided to make sweet potato and green bean casserole, because casseroles are the go-to American dish. I’ll let you in on a little fun fact about sweet potatoes in Argentina- they are baby food green. As for the Argentine component, our host family made empanadas and sweet bread- whose name is certainly misleading. Sweet bread is actually made of various animal organs and body parts. I can safely say I have never experienced a Thanksgiving that has been quite the same ever since, but I am so happy two cultures could come together to celebrate.
Learning about different cultures and seasonal traditions throughout my trips abroad has opened my eyes to the beautiful world we live in. Regardless of culture, background, or ethnicity, an inherent theme has shone bright each holiday I have experienced at home and abroad: the feeling of love and warmth that can be felt in a room full of people who share their stories, thoughts, and cultures.
And for those of you wondering… yes the sweet bread tasted like chicken.
Written by Marin Meiners
Typically with an americano in hand, Marin keeps this team in check. As she says, she's "nothing if not thorough." She's originally from Chicago, Illinois and is currently a senior at the University of Missouri studying Marketing and Business Administration, with plans to graduate in May 2018. She also currently interns for the International Trade Center, providing consulting work to local companies who are trying to enter the international market. Beyond studying abroad in London, Marin found a passion for travel in Iceland, South Africa, and Spain, which are her favorite among the 24 countries that she has visited.
Marin's travel interests include food and dining, music and entertainment, and sports.