Why Travelling Abroad for Christmas is a Great Idea

| © Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

Thinking of celebrating the holidays differently next year? While for many it’s tradition to spend Christmastime at home with big family gatherings, travelling abroad for Christmas can be a totally different experience – in the best way.

Over the last seven years, I’ve travelled abroad for Christmas three times: Poland, Italy and now Morocco. Including the years I went back to my home state of Minnesota in the US, I’ve travelled over Christmas for five out of seven years.

Warsaw is a great destination for experiencing local traditions over Christmas

There’s no better way to discover a destination’s Christmas traditions than experiencing them for yourself. This might be sampling traditional food, taking part in a religious service or learning about local customs. While I personally don’t identify as religious, some of my favourite Christmas travel memories are from engaging with religious traditions. I attended a midnight mass service on Christmas Eve in a beautiful cathedral in Warsaw, Poland, and listened to the Pope’s Christmas blessing in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Christmas Day.

St Peter’s Square is one of the must-sees on any visit to the Vatican, but especially for Christmas celebrations

Christmas in Morocco

As someone who has grown up always celebrating Christmas though, it’s been equally fascinating visiting a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas at all. My latest Christmas adventure was to Morocco, a Muslim country – it was business as usual over the festive period there. It felt surreal to be listening to the call to prayer in the warm sunshine.

Learning about – and experiencing – new cultures is at the heart of what we do at Culture Trip. All of our trips are led by a Local Insider, who will not only make sure your trip runs smoothly, but who will also offer their personal insight into the local culture as you go.

There are plenty of opportunities for Christmas shopping around the souks in Marrakech

The winter weather can be excessively dreary in the UK – to put it nicely. Whether you fancy a bit of winter sun, or would rather experience a cosy white Christmas, there will be a destination somewhere that suits your needs. Visit the Canary Islands for year-round sunshine, or a tropical destination like Thailand for warm temps. For a wintry city break, why not head to New York City and ice skate around the Rockefeller tree? Or, bundle up and wander around cute Christmas markets in Germany. I planned my Christmas trip to Morocco as I specifically wanted to be somewhere sunny and warm – which was certainly not the case for my family back in Minnesota!

The Munich Christmas Markets are some of the best in Germany

Maximising annual leave over the festive period

Christmas Day and Boxing Day are bank holidays in the UK – so it’s the perfect opportunity to maximise your annual leave by planning a trip around these two holidays. Some workplaces are even closed between Christmas and New Year’s, making it easy to plan a holiday abroad. The actual holiday days fell on weekend days in 2022, which meant they were substituted for a day off during the week. By using just three days of annual leave this year, you’d have a 10-day break off work from 24 December to 2 January. It’ll be similar if you’re planning ahead to the festive season in 2023: save three days of annual leave (27-29 December) to be off for 10 consecutive days from 23 December to 1 January, maximising your time off to the fullest.

Seeing the lights on Regent Street is a must during Christmas in London

Making time for family time

The holiday period can be a very difficult and emotional time for some people. As someone who lives abroad and isn’t always able to see family, Christmastime has sometimes been challenging and marred with homesickness. Having a trip to look forward to – plus the bonus of visiting an exciting destination – can often help alleviate those feelings and in turn helps me focus on the positives. Sometimes you just need to have fun, go on an adventure and blow off some steam.

Even when I’ve been apart from my family, I’ve always made time to connect with them for a quick call. I always plan time into my day on Christmas (Eve or Day – or both) to be somewhere with wifi, so I can chat with my parents and sister in real time. It’s not the same as being together over the holidays, of course, but always makes me feel closer to them.

Visiting Marrakech during the holiday period was certainly a unique Christmas experience

My top tip for travelling abroad over Christmas is to be aware of limited opening hours, and to plan in advance. Attractions might be closed on certain days over the festive period, and in some places restaurants and food shops might shut entirely on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This is especially important if you’re staying in a small town or somewhere remote, which doesn’t have many options for food. You also don’t want to miss out on a bucket-list item because you didn’t know it’d be closed for most of the holidays. Do some research ahead of time to ensure you’ll have everything you need for Christmas if it’s necessary!

For my next Christmas adventure, I’m planning to be in Australia. Having spent all of my life in the northern hemisphere, it’ll be a huge change to experience Christmas Down Under, with summer weather and (hopefully) plenty of sunshine during the festivities!

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