Holiday Travel: Is It Worth It?

Seeing my first Great Lake (Erie) Thanksgiving weekend 2013.
Seeing my first Great Lake (Erie) Thanksgiving weekend 2013.

With Thanksgiving just around a few days away, people across the country are making travel plans, whether they are for next week or next month. Of course it’s justifiable: people want to see their families during winter holidays, and this may be only time of year that some people can take off from school and work. With millions of people planning trips, should the true traveler go along with the masses?

Thanksgiving is typically a low-key holiday for me. Most Thanksgivings growing up were simply spent at home with just immediate family. There were a few times we made the trip to California to spend the weekend with relatives, and once we even took a frigid Thanksgiving camping trip to Yosemite National Park, but I’m pretty sure every single Thanksgiving was spent in either California or Oregon. This coming Thanksgiving will actually be the first Thanksgiving in four years that I will spend the day with people that I’m related to. The past three years in Nebraska and Ohio, I have been blessed to be connected with a different coworker each year that invites me to be an honorary family member for the occasion. This has even provided me with opportunities to see new places. Two years ago, I discovered the area around little West Point, Nebraska. Last year was the complete opposite of the small-town holiday as I explored metropolitan Cleveland.

Riding the California Zephyr somewhere along the Colorado Rockies.
Riding the California Zephyr somewhere along the Colorado Rockies.

Although I don’t care much about what I do for Thanksgiving (as long as I celebrate it!), I have always gone out of my way to spend Christmas with my family. When I first moved out of Oregon, I wasn’t sure if I would keep this tradition, but I was able to take an affordable train trip from Omaha to Sacramento, and then from there to Klamath Falls where my family picked me up on Christmas Eve morning. In the following years it ended up being more reasonable to fly, but even then it proved to be an adventure, such as last year when the fog delayed me for three days so I had to go to Eugene to catch a red-eye flight!

One of the light displays at the Shore Acres Holiday Lights. The sequence shows the sea lion jumping into the water with a splash!

Even back when I didn’t have to travel to see my family, we would occasionally take a trip around Christmastime. If we didn’t go to Southern California for Christmas, we would always spend Christmas at home, but sometimes we would go on a little trip before or after the 25th. In fact, the first time we went to Mexico was when my family took a cruise the week before Christmas! Another fun destination was camping at the Oregon coast to walk around the intricate Shore Acres Holiday Lights as we sipped hot cider. In fact any trip to the coast was a warmer way to celebrate the Christmas season. When I visited two years ago, my family made an overnight trip to Brookings and went through a bit of California on the way there.

Redwoods
Standing among Redwoods in Northern California, Christmas 2012.

So yes, I love Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all the special occasions of winter. Of course, I also love to travel. And as you can see, I’ve done my share of holiday travel… but is it worth it? Let’s weigh the pros and cons:

Pros:

-Students are guaranteed at least a few days off.

-In many industries, it is easier to get this time of year off than any other time. Well, this doesn’t apply if you work in retail, but I was sometimes able to get a day or two off in December when I was a store associate!

-Traveling to see family or do something meaningful makes the holiday even more memorable.

-Sledding, snow shoeing, skiing, and other activities that can only be done during winter weather make for a great excuse to hit the snow caps.

-For those who want to avoid the cold, traveling south can make the winter more pleasant.

-There are some special events limited only to this time of year, such as light displays, living nativities, and old-fashioned Christmas parties.

Cons: 

-Prices jump on everything travel related! It’s not much of a stretch to think of the price of flights, gasoline, or hotels as doubling. Even budget travel resources, such as trains and hostels, have a tendency to rise for certain holidays.

-Many destinations get incredibly crowded. And you thought Black Friday shopping lines were bad!

-If this season eats away too much at your travel budget, this could prevent you from going on trips at other times of year when the weather is better, crowds are smaller, and prices are lower.

-Even in areas with more pleasant weather, you are more likely to be able to do more in the summer months at the same destination.

Although I could come up with more pros than cons for holiday travel, I think each of these cons are pretty negative. So what’s the verdict? Well, if I need to travel in order to properly celebrate a holiday, then by all means I will travel! But I’m not going to go out of my way to book a trip to Bermuda, or take off for an extended snow trip in the Rockies.

Because so many people are unwilling to work as Christmas comes closer, I think this is a perfect time to pick up some extra work. (And then use that extra cash on a later trip!) Several years ago when I worked part-time in retail, as soon as my school went on break I ended up with practically a full-time schedule in order to keep up with the extended shopping hours and cover for my coworkers who could not make it to work. Right now, I just finished my training for my seasonal job at the Harry and David call center, where pretty soon I could be picking up 70 hours per week if I wanted to! (Plus, I get free and heavily-discounted gourmet food and gifts, which- let’s be honest- that’s why I’m really there!) Naturally, jobs like these involve dealing with people who find the holidays to be more stressful than they should be, but when I think of dealing with each cranky customer as putting money in my travel fund, it puts everything in perspective.

Since I don’t have to travel for Christmas this year since I’m already living by my family, I appreciate the fact that the money I could be spending for just a few days of Christmas break can now be used to fund a couple weeks on a future trip. But even though I won’t be going on any extended trips to exotic locations until 2015, I do plan to take several smaller trips over the remaining weeks of the year. Just from writing this post right now, I think I may have convinced myself to make a trip out to the Pacific coast! With my connections and employee perks at Harry and David, I have the opportunity to go on their popular tour where you can see some of the world’s largest popcorn poppers and acres of pear trees. And although Christmas break is a popular travel time, travel business isn’t so great in the weeks before and after, so I may take advantage of discounted travel prices during this time.

In fact, I’m getting ready to go on a trip this very weekend! I’ll be leaving in just a few hours, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get back!

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