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Are You a Holiday Travel Warrior? 10 Tips for Surviving the Road at the Holidays!

A picture of some buildings in downtown Toledo decordated with lots of holiday lights.
We visited some holiday lights during our recent visit to our hometown of Toledo, OH over Thanksgiving.

 

Attention Holiday Travel Warriors!  There’s no place like home for the holidays!

That’s not just the title of a popular holiday song, but something that is true for a lot of people. Millions of people go “home” for the holidays. In fact, an estimated 51 million Americans just traveled over this past Thanksgiving holiday.

I like to refer to people that hit the road, air or rails for the holidays as “Holiday Travel Warriors”. Let’s face it – traveling for the holidays is not easy. It can be expensive. The roads, airports and train stations are typically packed.

On top of it all, Holiday Travel Warriors never get to wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning. I know, because I’m one of them. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed in my own house on Christmas Eve. I’ve never hosted Thanksgiving dinner.

My husband and I have been doing the “over the river and through the woods (and 525 miles in the car across the PA and OH turnpike)” routine for almost 20 years. We’ve had to change the routine over the years, but we always make it work.

If you have to be a Holiday Travel Warrior this year, I’ve pulled together some tips that have helped me get through it year after year. Keep reading!

 

WHAT IS HOME?

We often think of “home” as the place we live. But the reality is that how you define “home” often changes throughout your life.

My Story

When I was a kid, “home” was clear. It was the house I lived in with my parents and brother. I was born and raised in Toledo, OH, and lived there for the first 27 years of my life. Toledo, and our little two-story house was “home”.

In 1998, I spent my last Christmas in Toledo. My husband and I packed up our apartment, and got on an airplane on December 26th of that year to move to the suburbs of Philadelphia. Suddenly, the definition of “home” changed. We had moved, but all our family was still in Toledo. That meant traveling back and forth to Toledo for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year.

For the first few years, it was tough leaving family at the end of every visit to go back to Philadelphia. As the years passed, however, Philadelphia began to feel like “home” and Toledo was just a place we went back to visit.

A few years ago, things got even more complicated when my parents moved to southern Delaware. At that point, Toledo really stopped feeling like home because my parents didn’t live there anymore.

Of course, having two sets of parents living in two different states really made the holidays a big challenge. How do you keep everyone happy when you can’t be in two places at the same time?

What is home for you?

Several decades ago, most people were born and raised in the same place, and lived there for their entire lives. It was unusual for people to move. Today, moving to a new city – even a new country – is very common. This means that more and more families are separated between different cities.

You have college students studying in a different city or abroad. Many people move for their jobs. Military members move based on where they are stationed.

Some people move so often, that they consider “home” to be the place they lived the longest. Maybe it’s where they grew up. For others, home is the place that they’ve established roots with their own family, even if they were born somewhere else.

 

ARE YOU A HOLIDAY TRAVEL WARRIOR?

At this point in my life, I consider “home” to be the house that my husband and I have lived in for the last 19 years. It took a while, but we are comfortable here. Our friends are here now. The house is our house – flaws and all.

But, we NEVER wake up Christmas morning in our home. We also NEVER avoid driving to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. Sometimes it’s an 8-hour drive to Toledo. Other times, it’s a 90-minute drive to southern Delaware. The holidays mean that we are packing a bag and spending the night at someone else’s house.

I’m Not Complaining, Or Am I?

The fact is that I did this to myself. I was the reason we moved 525 miles away from our hometown. Back in 1998, I got a job offer with the company I was working for. The new job was in Philadelphia. Of course, it was a mutual decision to move to Philadelphia. As it turns out, we both love it here and have been very happy with our life here.

But even before we moved, we were always the ones that got in the car and drove to someone else’s house for any holiday celebrations. Full disclosure – we are the ones without kids. So, by default, it’s easier to get the two of us up and in the car on Christmas morning, than it is to tear little kids away from their new toys.

You may be thinking to yourself… it’s a royal pain to host Thanksgiving/Christmas. Be happy you don’t have to do it.

True, but think about the flip side.

  1. I decorate my whole house for Christmas every year (including putting up two trees), only to leave and go to someone else’s house every year.
  2. I have to be completely organized and haul everyone’s gifts around to all the other houses.
  3. When we get gifts, we have to pack everything up at the end of the visit and haul everything home.
  4. We spend a lot of time in the car during the holidays. That means fighting holiday traffic. We’ve even flown back to Toledo a few times rather than driving, and had to deal with delayed flights and lost luggage. I have also spent a lot of vacation days over the years driving 8 hours on the turnpike.

 

A picture of my Christmas tree with multi-colored lights.
This is the smaller of two trees I put up each year. Even though I won’t be home on Christmas morning, I love to decorate the house and make it look festive.

 

What is my holiday tradition?

How we handle holidays has changed over the years. Every family has their own holiday traditions. When you start dating someone, your holiday traditions might change so that you can spend time with both families. When you get married, they change even more as you try to find a compromise that makes everyone happy. If you have children, they change once again as you start to establish your own family traditions.

When you are a Holiday Travel Warrior with no kids, it’s hard to establish your own tradition. My husband and I have things we do either before or after the holidays. We try and make a trip up to NYC every year to see the sights. There are also lots of holiday events in Philadelphia, and we always visit those as well. But, we have no special Christmas morning tradition in our own home.

 

A picture of the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in NYC.
My husband and I try to create our own holiday traditions, one of which is visiting NYC each year. Here’s the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree when we visited last year.

 

SURVIVAL TIPS FOR HOLIDAY TRAVEL WARRIORS

The reality is that I will not wake up in my own bed on Christmas morning anytime soon. So long as our parents are around and family doesn’t live near us, we will continue to be Holiday Travel Warriors. Over the years, I’ve adjusted to the way we handle the holidays. Here are some of my tips.

Tip #1: YOU CAN’T MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY! I put this tip first because it is the most important. As I mentioned, our family lives in different states now. It is physically impossible for us to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with all of them. Even when they were in the same location, we had to switch around family traditions to accommodate everyone. As a Holiday Travel Warrior, you have to realize that you can’t keep everyone happy, so you just have to do the best you can.

Tip #2: BE WILLING TO COMPROMISE. When my husband and I first started dating, we had to eat Thanksgiving dinner at both parents’ houses. My mother-in-law hosted a big dinner early afternoon, so my Mom moved her dinner to later in the evening. Now that our parents live in two different states, we have to alternate holidays with them. This year, we did Thanksgiving in Toledo, so we’ll do Christmas in Delaware. Next year it will switch.

Tip #3: BE PATIENT. Let’s be honest. Holiday travel stinks. If you are a frequent traveler, remember that you are dealing with a lot of people that don’t travel often. This is particularly true at the airports. Not everyone knows to take their liquids out of the carry-on when they go through security. Lines will be long. Service plazas on the turnpike will have lots of crying kids in them.

Tip #4: BE ORGANIZED. Since we won’t be in Toledo this year for Christmas, I have to get everything purchased and wrapped so I can ship it out for them to have. When I buy gifts, I separate them into different bags by family. Certain bags go to Ohio and certain bags go to Delaware. I map out the month of December to make sure everything gets done.

Tip #5: CREATE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. Even though I know I won’t be home on Christmas morning, I still put up my trees. Putting up the trees and decorating the house is a tradition for me. My husband and I put our gifts for each other under our tree, and open them when we are home. Sometimes that’s Christmas night, and sometimes that’s days after Christmas. It’s important to us to have that special time together in our own home though.

Tip #6: BE HAPPY TO BE WITH YOUR FAMILY. There are a lot of people out there that don’t have any family, or their situation does not allow them to be with family on the holidays. So, even if it isn’t perfect, be happy that you have the opportunity to be with the ones you love.

Tip #7: BE UNDERSTANDING. If you get to stay “home” for the holidays and have a Holiday Travel Warrior in your midst, be understanding. Know that they may be missing home or other family. When they can’t make your exact schedule work, know that they are doing the best they can to keep everyone happy.

Tip #8: SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF. I found an amazing deal on a spectacular cruise to Hawaii for 2018. Hawaii is someplace that I’ve always wanted to go, so I jumped at the chance. Only problem? The cruise will have us gone over Thanksgiving. So, we’ll be eating our Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the Pacific Ocean next year. That means we’ll miss Thanksgiving with my family, and that’s ok for one year. I’ve also always wanted to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in person, and spend a Christmas in Europe. Someday, we will make those things happen.

Tip #9: BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR TRAVEL DAYS. If you can avoid it, don’t travel the Wednesday before or the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Those are two of the busiest travel days of the year. You will avoid traffic and get cheaper flights if you travel on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. It may mean making some adjustments to your family celebrations, but it will save you money and stress.

Tip #10: EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY! Wherever you are and whoever you’re with, enjoy it. Some of my best and most cherished memories are of the holidays, so I always make sure to be in the moment no matter where I am.

If you are a Holiday Travel Warrior, I hope these tips help you survive the holidays with a little less stress. I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season! Enjoy!

Are you a Holiday Travel Warrior?  Do you have tips that help you survive the holidays? Comment below or e-mail me at tips2livebywriter@gmail.com.

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