Since Micki and I began traveling together, it seems we’ve been away for Christmas as often as at home with family.
There are good things about being with family and friends, like delicious holiday fare, going to fun get-togethers and having the kids play with their cousins, but we also love being away from all the chaotic holiday insanity, like excessive shopping, constant festive preparations and the feeling of having to keep up with the Jones’. We would much rather stay at a nice resort in Vegas with our grown up friends for a few nights.
To be perfectly honest, we’re not exactly fans of winter and having to celebrate the holidays in freezing temperatures means we’re absent more often than not. If Christmas was in the middle of summer, like in the southern half of the world, it might be a different story, but as Canadians can attest to, it can get quite cold in December and January.
That all said, traveling over the holidays has some real drawbacks. This post might make you think twice about booking your dream vacation during this period next year. If you have the option, leaving a week or two before or after the holidays makes so much more sense.
In no particular order, here are nine reasons you shouldn’t travel over the holidays:
Traveling over the holidays is expensive (bring your wallet)
It’s no secret that traveling over the holidays is more expensive. With kids off school, a few extra paid days off from work, temperatures plummeting in most northern cities and the desire to get away from all the chaos back home, it makes perfect sense to schedule it then.
The problem is that this applies to almost everyone around the globe around Christmas and places get overbooked. It’s a simple equation of supply and demand, with demand far outpacing availability. Hotels, car rental agencies, planes, trains and even buses jack up their regular price since it’s not a question of whether people will come, but rather how much money are they willing to dish out.
While looking into accommodation this year in Mexico we saw prices rise fourfold for some places for Christmas week. The same thing happened with car rentals. Most people need to factor this major extra cost in when they do their calculations. Those two extra paid work days probably won’t even cover the additional expense of airfare and hotel at this time of year making them no more valid than taking two unpaid work days any other time of the year.
Surprise, businesses close for the holidays!
Just like you, shop owners and business people want to enjoy the holidays and spend time with their loved ones. This means that there will be far fewer shops, tours, rental agencies, running buses and taxis over the holidays. During Christmas and New Year’s day a lot of countries simply close up shop. This means that at least two out of the seven days of Christmas week, entire cities could look like a ghost town.
You might be on holiday, craving excitement and adventure, but that doesn’t mean the world is waiting on you with baited breath. Couple that in with more than the usual amount of tourists about and things can start to get crazy.
When we were Thailand over the holidays one year it happened that our visas were about to expire. We got stuck in a small town for three days when transportation literally stopped for the holidays. Luckily, we didn’t get questioned when we crossed the border and they didn’t notice our visas were overdue, otherwise that would have been a nice fine.
Hiking up the prices and lowering your options
This is similar to the first point, but this is about the little things that nickel and dime you to death. Over the course of Christmas week small things can definitely start to add up.
One of the most visible ways restaurants hike prices is by only offering set meals around the holidays. Sure, this can be a great deal if you were already going to order a seven course steak and lobster meal, a bottle of wine, the most expensive dessert and a bottle of champagne each, but if your stomach (or wallet) isn’t ready to take that you’re out of luck. That’s all they’re offering and if you want to eat at all that’s all they have.
We’ve seen it advertised as a holiday tax, a holiday gratuity, a holiday special and one place even called it a Christmas Bonus (I guess we were paying for the staff’s yearly bonus). It’s a lot easier and less labor intensive for a restaurant to have everyone eating the same thing. Holiday fare is definitely limited around this time and those that don’t force everyone to eat their specials usually include extras that cost you if you partake or not.
Reduced business hours for everybody!
We know a lot of places are closed certain days over the holidays, but every year we always get blindsided by reduced business hours. These are generally never mentioned when you sign up for the rare tour on a holiday day or head to an attraction. You show up, you drop full fare (and sometimes even an increased holiday fare) and start to enjoy yourself thinking that this is the best Christmas ever. Several minutes or hours into it and you’re suddenly being shuttled to the door.
Sure, the place is normally open until 5 pm, but because the staff (understandably) want to spend some holiday time with their kids they close early that day. Being told you that you should understand because it’s the holidays and to come back the next day (and pay full price again) doesn’t lessen the pain. Of course, since it’s the holidays and you don’t want to look like a jerk, you smile, pretend to understand and then go on your way trying to figure out how kill a few hours before your overpriced set meal is ready.
Wow, where did all these people come from?
That’s exactly what I say whenever I witness the holiday masses. It’s especially hard because we’re usually at our destination well before the holiday crowd shows up. It seems that between the 22nd and 24th the population in any tourist town almost doubles in size. People arrive by the plane, bus and boatload. It’s almost scary to see and tends to make me want to go hide. Little out of the way areas quickly become hot spots and finding your own place away from the crowds becomes almost impossible.
The holiday influx have as much right to be there as we do, but sharing everything that you thought of as your special place only days before gets hard to take. If you love crowds, waiting in line for everything, getting the worst service and being crammed in like sardines then by all means, take your vacation over the holidays. Everyone else is doing it!
So sorry, it’s a holiday, maybe tomorrow…
It’s ridiculous how often we’ve heard that phrase over the years. It’s especially bad over the holidays because, well, people take time off. Weirdly, we’ve had major plumbing issues twice over Christmas during our travels. Once our hot water tank exploded and once a water pump seized. Both on or around Christmas. Hard to enjoy the day when you can’t take a shower or flush the toilet.
This doesn’t only apply to people in homes or condos, this can also apply to those staying in hotels or renting a car. Water, electricity and gas can stop anytime. Parts can break any day of the year. Servicing can be required regardless of the holidays. Repair parts and centers can be closed, technicians can be absent. If they happen around the holidays they could easily ruin a few days. We always make the most of it and make sure those days are always free but we have the gift of time. If we were only here for a week and spent two of those seven days waiting for the car part or water hose to be replaced we would be mighty upset.
Bring it, buy it there or ignore it altogether?
Those are your options for gift giving on the move over the holidays. Sure, you spent a fortune buying overpriced plane tickets, staying in an overpriced hotel and continually paying for overpriced meals and drinks, but all your kids care about is what Santa is going to bring them.
With airlines charging a small fortune for every piece of luggage, do you really want to drag their dream present with you? Is that new bike really going to fit in the overhead compartment? Maybe you downsize this year and pick up a few things locally. Are you ready to gamble that they’ll have what little Jimmy or Jane have their heart set on this year? Will the price of it be double what it is back home?
Those were all questions we asked ourselves this year. Having already been to this area before we knew better what to expect. A few years ago we bought a few small trinkets here for the kids and they were all broken a week after Christmas. This year we decided to buy a few small, higher quality toys back in Canada and bring them with us. Since weight is a definite issue with our long timelines, we kept them small and knew exactly how much space they would take in our luggage going forward. Our kids understood this months in advance. Yours might not.
What are all these locals doing here?
As well as the hordes of holidayers sharing your space, this time of the year you also have to factor in the locals. Like you, they’re off for the holidays and enjoying their time checking out the local scene with their kids and families. Unlike you, they speak the language, have a friend in the business and are getting in everywhere a lot cheaper than you are because they either don’t pay the tourist prices or know their way around the system.
They’ll make their own line, take the best spots and infuriatingly know that the place is closing earlier because they had the good sense to ask about it. They’re generally in a much better mood than the tourist because they know the lay of the land and aren’t at the mercy of those that are willing to forgo their holidays in the hope of making enough cash in this one week to fund their lifestyle for the rest of the year. They add another layer (though generally a fun one) to the already crowded season.
Unforeseen events happen more frequently over the holidays…
Perhaps it’s the extra chaos that marks the holidays or maybe it’s the result of too much going on in one time of space, but the likelihood of something going amiss always seems to intensify around Christmas. Hotel losing your hotel reservation, check. Car rental not having your car available for two days, check. Things spontaneously breaking Christmas Day, check. Buses inexplicably not running, check. Taxis almost non existent, check. Food stores all shut down, check. Restaurants suddenly requiring reservations, check. Prices quadrupling, check. Tourist sites suddenly shutting down half an hour into your visit, check and double check.
It seems over the years we’ve seen it all. If you asked me if you should postpone your trip for a few weeks rather than travel Christmas week I would yell a loud Hell Yeah!
However, the reality is that most people know this all going into it. Does it beat being a slave to Christmas tradition back home with crazy shopping, mad preparations, ridiculous weather, long visits with family and friends, yuletide cheer, Christmas morning unwrapping presents under a real Christmas tree and everything else that goes along with it? Well, the jury is still out with that one.
What I do know is that almost anything beats being stuck in cold weather and snow. For now, that’s reason enough for us to continue our journey and who knows where we’ll be next Christmas holiday season!
Happy New Year all you barefoot nomads out there!
If you have an amusing Christmas travel anecdote we’d love to hear about it below. Good, bad or simply absurd it doesn’t matter. It’s the sharing that counts!
We've been traveling around the world since 2003, first as a couple and now as a family of four. We love sharing our adventures and the lessons we've picked up on the road. Contact us or check our About page for more info.