If you're spending Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa away from your own living room, you can still make your holiday more "just like home." Rule number one: You don't have to create a holiday exactly like the one your family is accustomed to. Instead, get creative and think outside the box.
Here are some tips for celebrating the spirit of the holidays when you're away.
Rent a vacation home. A rented house or condominium is much homier than a hotel room. "Aside from the fact that you’ll have more room to spread out, you’ll have the amenities you need to make your holiday special," says Christine Karpinski, director of Owner Community for homeaway.com. "You can fill the house with the aroma of baking bread or pumpkin pie as you prepare your dish for the holiday meal, and you can cozy up by the fireplace after a long day of family celebration."
Make your vacation everyone's main present. Most of us don't need more "stuff" anyway. A really valuable holiday gift is the shared experiences your extended family will have together at a fun location, says therapist Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem, author of Questing Marilyn: In Search of My Holy Grail, Personal Growth Through Travel (Quest).
Don't bring wrapped gifts on the plane. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends carrying on and checking unwrapped gifts. TSA officials might have to unwrap gifts "due to security reasons." Instead, pack gift bags and paper tissue separately; they can lay flat in your suitcase and they are easier for most people, especially young children, to open, points out Gracey Hitchcock, editor of dolcedolce.com. An easy option: Open holiday gifts before your trip.
Call for assistance. You can arrange many special little touches if you contact your hotel concierge or vacation rental manager ahead of time. In fact, it’s a good idea to run any large-scale decorating plans past the person in charge first. For example, ask if a real Christmas tree or flaming candles are allowed on the property, suggests Nic Nelson, the owner and manager of a luxury Lake Tahoe rental home. "Many times our guests have put up a real tree in our great room, but I’ve had to take it down due to fire hazard," says Nelson, who is more than happy to provide an elegant, pre-wired artificial tree.
Annie Holcombe, a partner at Oaseas Resorts in Panama City Beach, Fla., has put wreathes in rental units and arranged for visits from Santa. One mom put in a special request at Disney: "For an Orlando vacation, I worked with the Disney florist to have an artificial tree delivered to our room Christmas Eve," says Celeste White, a mother of two from Monterey, Calif. "After the holiday, she had it shipped back home for us. We put it up every year in the kids' extra room in the house, and it’s a great reminder of a fantastic vacation."
Get creative with decorations. No sense hauling that heirloom Christmas tree ornament or that hand-crafted menorah or Kwanzaa bowl across the country. Instead shop at a local dollar store to find inexpensive paper wall hangings and pop-up centerpieces to make a hotel room more festive, says Karon White Gibson, R.N., an Illinois-based TV host. Better yet, look to nature to find indigenous decor: "We put up a real tree for one Florida beach vacation and decorated it with shells and other beach treasures," says Valerie Ramsey, a grandmother of eight and author of Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age (McGraw-Hill).
Make lists and check them twice. Make a packing list of everything you want to bring — especially those small, but important things, like menorah or Kwanzaa candles, or The Night Before Christmas book. "Confirm all meal and activity reservations before you leave town," reminds Lydia Ruth, marketing manager of New York State's Westchester County Office of Tourism.
Create new family traditions. Trying to re-create family traditions away from home can prove stressful — after all, you don't really want to pack the hard-to-find special ingredients to make Grandma’s famous stuffing. "Traveling offers an incredible opportunity to build new family memories and traditions," says Thursday Bram, author of the forthcoming Working Your Way Around the World.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.