Amy’s Declassified Travel Survival Guide

Christmas Morning

My big brother and I on Christmas morning, 1983

If you are like my little family, you travel to your birth place each and every Christmas.  It is in this task that I find my holidays are the happiest and saddest.  When we moved away, it didn’t occur to me how much I would mourn the loss of Christmas mornings in our home together, opening gifts and making breakfast and just purely enjoying a quiet and restful holiday.  Because that’s all gone now.  Long gone.  And sometimes it feels like nobody cares but us.

I get it.  Moms and dads want us home for the holidays, and we want to be there too.  But we also want to do it with grace and peace, and mostly, we want to establish our own traditions that we can uphold even when we are out of town.  This task isn’t easy, and we are still testing and perfecting our strategies, but here are some ways we are keeping the Merry in our Christmas away from our home.

1.     We pack Advil.  Lots of it.  And Advil PM, too, so we sleep well in unfamiliar beds.  Since we go to Canada we have the added pleasure of picking up the 400mg gel caps – they are like nothing else on earth – truly a Christmas miracle.  The late nights, early mornings, constant over-eating and loud family dinners leave us with headaches, and sacrificing our king-sized bed for the double in my gramma’s spare room can be tough on our sleeping patterns and our backs.  For those of you who don’t agree with taking NSAID’s, I apologize, because I couldn’t get through Christmas without them.  I don’t know how you do it!

2.     We assign each of our parents a day.  My parents are divorced, so that takes 2 days, and my husbands family takes another.  We don’t split those days for anyone.  We do our best to get to their houses as early as they would like us, and stay as late as we are welcome, or until we feel we’ve got to get to bed.  It isn’t perfect, because everyone would like to see us everyday.  Without cloning ourselves this is the best we feel we can do, and the best we feel we can enjoy the days as well.  Running from place to place is exhausting and stressful, and when Christmas becomes either of those things, we’ll be spending it in New Jersey!

3.     We try to set clear expectations ahead of time.  This is out of respect for our friends and family.  We don’t keep them waiting to hear if and when we’ll be around for dinner.  We ask our friends and family what their plans are a week or two in advance, see what dates are most important to them, and then let them know what we can and cannot attend.  Again, it isn’t perfect, but no one is blindsided by our lack of attendance, so there are no hurt feelings.

5th Avenue at Christmas

Laine and Gord on 5th Avenue

4.     Don’t wing it.  Have a plan.  Write it down.  Not to the minute, but at least have a general schedule of parties and events you need to attend.  This is a gift for you and your spouse and kids.  It lets everyone know what’s happening each day so everyone understands what is expected of them.  If you are like me, your family can’t keep the schedule straight in their heads the way I can.  I tend to just know what’s happening (usually because I planned most of it), but expecting that of my husband is unrealistic and unfair.

5.     Build days into the schedule to relax.  If entire days aren’t possible, block out an hour or two here and there, whether it’s a meal out together or a few hours in your hotel with room service.  We try to at least have breakfast with my grandparents each morning.  When we have long days with family we try to sneak out together for a half an hour every day – a run to the store or a walk down the street – just to be together and not get totally separated during the holidays.  I want Christmas to bring my husband and I closer, not to just be a time of year when we make eye contact across a crowded room.  These little moments are sacred to me.

6.     Volunteer to bring the apple juice.  This has been a running joke in my house for the last few years.  I love to cook and bake, and bringing yummy foods to Christmas dinner is one of my favorite things.   But our first Christmas as a married couple, I was assigned to bring apple juice.  It was a gift in disguise.  When traveling, cooking and baking in other people’s kitchens can be difficult and time is of the essence.  It may seem like you’ve got time to whip up that cheesecake or casserole but I’ve learned that if someone assigns you the apple juice duty, take it.

7.     Create new traditions for your own family.  By far, my favorite thing about Christmas Day as a mom has been watching my daughter open gifts and enjoying our time together in pajamas, all cozy on the couch on Christmas morning.  This tradition has been lost in my home, and we feel it like a deep cut on our hearts.  We’ve been searching for a new tradition that is just ours that will in some way replace this loss.  This year we planned a day the weekend before we leave for Ontario to have a Family Christmas Day.  My daughter called it ‘Fake Christmas” and I unsuccessfully attempted to sway her into calling it “Early Christmas” instead.  I think the day was a success.  We opened our gifts together slowly, had breakfast together, created a gingerbread village and watched Christmas movies.  I made a fancy dinner and we enjoyed some baked treats we had made as a family.   We had a wonderful day of just being together and loving each other, and while it wasn’t on Christmas Day, it was definitely a new tradition that we will repeat next year.  This year, my brother and his wife and new baby will be traveling for the first time at Christmas.  They will have to create their own traditions and hopefully, as their extended family, we can help them create great memories as well.

Christmas Party

Laine at her Kingergarten Christmas party!

Being away from the place you call home is never easy at important times of the year, but we are learning how to make it enjoyable and restful, as well as memorable and special.  I would love to hear about how you celebrate, the traditions you keep, and the ways you survive holiday travel.  Drop your ideas in the comments, and if you like what you’ve read, please share with your friends!  Thanks for dropping by!

9 comments on Amy’s Declassified Travel Survival Guide

  1. Karen W
    December 11, 2014 at 9:11 am (4 years ago)

    You have shared some great tips. Part of me actually misses traveling to family for the holidays. When I was married to my ex we had to alternate between his family and mine. And his mom was in PA and his dad usually was at the big family gathering in NY where his grandma lived. My mom was in NYC back then. After the divorce I had to alternate Christmas and Thanksgiving each year with my ex. Now that I am remarried our Christmas is either staying home and having that relaxing Christmas morning or going to my mom’s a couple of hours away. We don’t stay overnight though.
    Thanks for stopping by and sharing with Throwback Thursday Blog-Style. I can’t wait to see what you share this week.

    • amygarwood
      December 15, 2014 at 9:40 pm (4 years ago)

      We live just outside of NYC, and I am SO excited that we will be having an NYC Christmas this year! We aren’t traveling home, which is bittersweet, but if I’m being honest, it’s more sweet than bitter. Can’t WAIT to wake up in our own beds! Merry Christmas! 😀

  2. Beth Bullington
    December 4, 2014 at 8:43 am (4 years ago)

    Those sound like some great tips on how to enjoy the holidays. We are getting ready to celebrate our holiday away from family. I need to think of what traditions we will celebrate here.

    • amygarwood
      December 4, 2014 at 10:37 am (4 years ago)

      Oh gosh, we travel every year and it can be so overwhelming! Good luck creating your own traditions! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your family 🙂

  3. Vania
    January 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm (5 years ago)

    hey Amy!
    I am so thrilled to see you cherishing your family life and taking steps to nurture it, and even including your extended family in that. You have learned a lot and grown wise. Thanks for being open and sharing that. Blessings to you.

    • amygarwood
      January 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm (5 years ago)

      Hi Vania, thanks so much for stopping by 🙂 Wisdom and learning is a lifelong goal of mine, no doubt! I’m enjoying the outlet that blogging brings, and being able to share successes and failures with other people has been a blessing to my life! Hope you and the family are well.

  4. Krista
    January 2, 2014 at 10:43 pm (5 years ago)

    When we started having kids, we decided that Christmas day would be ours – just our little family’s. As we had more kids, I loved that we didn’t have to travel on Christmas Day, but still wanted to be with family. So, we started a new tradition. We invite all the grandparents over for dinner on Christmas Day and it’s an open invitation for every year. Since my kids & husband are so picky and don’t enjoy a typical turkey dinner, we make candy cane flavoured pancakes and a big breakfast to go with it! Plus we spend all day in our pjs! It’s been a wonderful tradition that I hope lasts for a very long time.

    • amygarwood
      January 4, 2014 at 12:33 am (5 years ago)

      I love that you set those boundaries for your family, and have stuck to them, and also – that you stay in pjs! That is a Christmas gift you are giving to yourself! Ha!

  5. Mom and Dad Garwood
    December 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm (5 years ago)

    We certainly understand where you are coming from with the Holiday ritual so far away from home. When the boys were growing up we had an exhaustive Christmas day ! Up as early as they woke up…excited opening of gifts…rush,rush to get them ready to Yaya’s house for Christmas breakfast by 9 and open gifts..Me rushing back to the house to get the roast out of the oven for Aunt Marnie ! Back to Yaya’ we go to Aunt Jean’s/Aunt gifts..stay till 5..back to Yaya’s for duck dinner and home by 11.Now that was a day !!!


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