Christmas away from home

Christmas at home can be a magical family time. But what if you won't be spending it in your own home? How do you make sure your family has a super special time without feeling like they're missing out on anything because they're not in their normal environment?

The experience of travel is a wonderful thing, whether it's a holiday to a new destination or a visit to family who live some distance away, and at Christmas time there are plenty of ways to make it feel just as magical an experience as ever. Our kids are 4 and 2, and we've spent the past three Christmases away from our family home, either because we've been away on our family gap year or else visiting (and staying with) grandparents.

So here are my top five tips for how to still have a fabulous family Christmas when you're away from home.

1. Decorate together!

a) If you're staying in holiday accommodation I understand the reluctance to spend lots on decorations you simply can't transport afterwards, but it really does help to make your holiday place feel like a nice place to spend Christmas. My advice is therefore to:
- Buy cheap stuff (pound / dollar stores can be great for this kind of thing)
- Resell anything you can on local websites / Facebook groups before you leave
- Donate anything left to charity

We stayed in an Airbnb in San Diego a couple of Christmases ago so we picked an inexpensive tree and I managed to sell it on afterwards for about 30% of what we'd paid for it. I also threw in the tree decorations for free - better than throwing them in the bin! And I really loved seeing that tree every day, especially the baubles that were all grouped together at the bottom as those were the only branches my toddlers could reach!


(If you're interested to read more about our time there, this is the post from which this photo is taken).

We also put up some coloured lights in the kitchen where we spent a lot of time - easy, cheap, and careful use of sellotape ensured we didn't make any marks on the walls.


Finally, we got a super cheap deal on a little train and track that you put round the base of a Christmas tree, so we bought it and set it up as a pre-Christmas toy / decoration and then boxed it up and took it to a charity shop the day before we left. All along we'd explained to our toddlers that we were going to just use it for a short time then give it to someone else who didn't have many toys, and they were remarkably okay with this when the time came to part with it. A nice Christmas lesson in there too.

b) If you're staying with family or friends and can persuade them to wait for you to arrive to finish putting up decorations then it's a lovely way to feel Christmassy together. Plus every time you see the decorations you'll know that those were the ones you and your little ones decided to place just there. And if the decorating has to happen before you get there, I'm sure your hosts wouldn't object to a few extra things on the tree, or tinsel draped over a picture frame here and there (no Blu Tack required!).

2. Check out the houses that go in for lots of Christmas lights.

You may think it's all a bit over the top, but the kids will love it! Our little ones were delighted when we walked past some of our San Diegan neighbours' homes just as it was starting to get dark (often a great pastime at that pre-dinner hour).



3. Look out for any local festivities

If you're staying with family or friends you'll probably have more than enough going on already, but when we were away on our travels we tried to live like locals for some of the time - not to mention of course with little kids we found we needed some quieter days. We were in LA in early December, and were lucky enough to have a little Christmas street party really close to our holiday accommodation. There was the Christmas lights switch on, a live band, Santa's grotto, and even a free carousel for all the kids!





4. Be smart about present size

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Often you'll be restricted as to how much you can take back with you, so we tend to buy things that are either:
a) little (such as the Paw Patrol Chase (paid link) or Skye (paid link) racer vehicles):


b) will be used before we go (such as small sticker books or edible presents like chocolate buttons!)


c) Optimistically packable (such as this inflatable Paw Patrol wendy house / ball pit (paid link)) PS I DID manage to deflate it again and got it in the suitcase - woohoo! - but the pack of 20 plastic balls went to the charity shop as we knew we could easily pick up alternatives once we were back in the UK.




5. And on the day, try to involve whatever Christmas traditions you'd normally do at home wherever possible. Mr H cooked up a traditional turkey dinner in San Diego, including brussel sprouts, and afterwards he doused the Christmas pudding in brandy and set it alight (much to the amusement - or was it alarm? - of our American friends!).



So there we have it, dear reader: my top five ways to enjoy a family Christmas when you're away from home. Merry Christmas!


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