Becky Hart | Sep 28, 2023
Christmas isn’t for everyone. Neither is holiday travel. So where do you go when you want to get away but aren’t in the festive spirit or the mood to deal with the crowds and expense of a holiday vacation?
Embrace your inner Grinch. We have you covered with alternate Christmas vacation ideas.
More than 100 million Americans travel at Christmastime each year, and that number has been slowly increasing in the last couple of years. According to AAA, the number of air travelers increased by 14% from 2021 to 2022. Based on travel trends this season, there’s no reason to think that trend will reverse.
To know where not to go, it helps to find out where most people do travel at Christmastime.
New York City with its Rockettes, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and Broadway shows is always a popular and, therefore, crowded and expensive holiday destination. It was the top holiday destination for American travelers in 2021, followed by Orlando and Las Vegas.
If Christmas is a holiday of lights and Paris is the City of Light, then it makes sense that the French capital would rank highly for holiday travel. Shopping throughout the city, music and displays at historic churches, and all-around glitz of the season make Paris a major draw. London; Cologne, Germany; Prague, Czechia; and Lapland, Finland (said to be the real home of Santa Claus) also see their share of Christmas visitors.
First, don’t confuse these less crowded places to visit in December with being less fun or less popular. They each offer their own holiday delight. Book an escape to one of these hidden gems.
There are many similarities between Panama and Costa Rica, but when it comes to tourism, most choose La Pura Vida of Costa Rica. That means more room for you when you spend Christmas in Panama.
You’ll find plenty of festive activities in Panama, starting as early as November. Just be prepared for it to look a bit different than you might be used to at home. Expect more time on the beach and parades with a carnival-like feel, even if Santa is there.
You don’t have to completely avoid Europe and its delightful Christmas markets if you don’t want to. Just head a bit off the beaten path to experience them with fewer people. Because Croatia is known primarily for its beaches and summer fun, you’ll find fewer tourists there in December. Dubrovnik and areas inland still provide the holiday cheer but with some room to breathe.
There’s something special about a Scandinavian Christmas. People of the north embrace cold and celebrate it with festivals, cozy drinks, and plenty of fun outdoor activities. You’ll find this in Malmö, but because it’s obviously not Stockholm, you’ll see fewer tourists crowding the markets.
Hocking Hills admittedly seems like an outlier on this list. Logan, Ohio (population: 7,000) isn’t exactly on the same level as some of these larger cities. But what the others have in metropolitan appeal, Hocking Hills has in understated natural beauty.
Even in the winter, you’ll enjoy a quiet hike through gorges and amongst (sometimes-frozen) waterfalls. You might even be able to snap some unspoiled winter nature photography. Forbes voted Hocking Hills State Park as a top place to travel in 2023, so don’t sleep on this surprising park in southeastern Ohio.
Traveling during the holidays can get expensive. The rules of supply-and-demand mean that you’re going to pay more for flights, gas on your road trip, even hotels or cruises. Plus, you might have gifts for out-of-town friends and family, and there are always extra meals out and tasty treats to buy.
Some extra expenses are hard to avoid, but with a few adjustments to your travel plans, you can save money at Christmas.
Traveling on the right day can help you save a few dollars. If you’re flying, look for a mid-week flight. These tend to be cheaper any time of year, and because Christmas is on a Monday in 2023, you can avoid some of the expense (and crowds) you’d find otherwise if you choose a weekend fare.
If December 25 is just another day for you, consider flying then. Because those who celebrate expect to already be at their destination by Christmas Day, this tends to be one of the cheapest days to fly in December.
Find more tips for how to score the best deals on flights.
One Thai bhat is about 3 cents in U.S. currency. Assuming you steer clear of high-end Bangkok hotels, that means you can get nice accommodations for less than $20 per night. The same goes for food. Upscale restaurants will, obviously, cost more. But you can also find authentic eats for much less.
Humidity in Thailand is lower this time of year, making December a good time to visit … unless you’re looking for a destination with a strong Christmas ambiance. Most Thai people are either Buddhist or Hindu, so you won’t see many holiday lights and glitter.
You can ski on a budget during the holidays. Lift tickets at Solitude Mountain are among some of the more reasonably priced, even on Christmas Day. If you’ve ever wanted to hit the slopes in Utah but the price tag of well-known slopes like Park City have kept you home, here’s your sign to change that.
Helen is the Little Bavaria of Georgia, so if you’re looking for a European feel on a more modest budget this Christmas, head to this town of less than 1,000 residents. Just picture yourself among the snowy Blue Ridge Mountains, strolling through a Christkindlmarkt, and when it’s time to relax, a sip or two of local wine.
If you have your doubts about Helen, Georgia, just know that more than one Lifetime Christmas movie has been filmed here. If it has enough holiday spirit to transform the life of a city grump who works too hard and doesn’t believe in the magic of holidays until finding love and sharing an emotional-yet-chaste kiss in the snow, then it's good enough for us.
Among the upsides of this destination in December: warm weather, beautiful beaches, and all-inclusive resorts. Those resorts are what help keep the price of your trip down, even during holiday time. Although there can be some unexpected fees and add-ons that drive up the cost, having meals included as part of your stay can be a big money saver. Knowing that many guests are choosing to spend Christmas on their property, resorts will often decorate for the holiday, so you’ll still get that festive mood.
Stay in Tulum and you’ll be close to key archeological sites. You can also head inland a bit more to visit the Mayan Ruins of Coba, explore underground caves, or take a sailing trip.
Some of us prefer to avoid Christmas altogether. Maybe you aren’t Christian. Perhaps you aren’t close with family or grief makes it a difficult holiday and you’d just rather not deal with it this year. Travel can be the perfect way to get away from the constant ho-ho-ho's.
To avoid Christmas, pick a destination where no one celebrates it.
Laos is a communist and predominantly Buddhist nation, making it an ideal place to escape the commercialism of a Western Christmas. Tourism is helping to bring money to this poor country, so a visit at Christmastime can be a win for everyone.
Explore history, culture, and nature on your getaway. Make a stop in Vang Vieng if you’re into ecotourism.
Most Moroccans are Muslim, but stay in Marrakech — a popular destination for tourists — and you’re likely to see some Christmas influence as hotels and the like cater to visitors who want to celebrate.
To avoid that, book a riad, a traditional home that often offers more privacy, where you can create the non-festive atmosphere your heart desires. Even better, venture beyond Marrakech to the famous “Blue City” of Chefchaouen or Meknes, full of hot spring spas.
Some Egyptians do indeed celebrate Christmas, but they tend to be Orthodox Christian. That means they celebrate Christmas in January, not on December 25. If you’re looking to avoid the holiday, just make your way to Egypt in December before their festivities kick in.
You’ll find more rain than at other times of the year — although calling it a rainy season is a bit of a stretch — but you’ll also find milder temperatures. Enjoy this time to visit the Pyramids of Giza, the Red Sea, the Mummification Museum in Luxor, or Ras Mohammed National Park.
Stunning natural beauty? Yes. Cold? Very. There aren’t many times during the year when Mongolia isn’t cold, though, with temperatures rarely exceeding 0° F until as late as May. Because it’s the off-season, it’s also the cheapest time to travel to Mongolia. This might be the right time for you to experience dog sledding, unique ice festivals, or joining a tour that lets you live with nomads.
Mongolia is about 50% Buddhist, so check this destination off your travel bucket list on your non-Christmas trip.
Some places are simply magical in December. Much of Europe is renowned for its Christmas markets and showy light displays. But that’s not what you’re looking for. Try one of these non-holiday destinations instead.
Most Americans don’t know where the Faroe Islands are (north of Scotland, tucked between Iceland and Norway). Even travelers who can find them on the map usually opt for sunnier, warmer places to get away. December is the darkest month here, so you won’t find many tours operating. While that’s a turnoff for some, it might be exactly what you need to escape the Christmas hustle and bustle. Rent a cottage and indulge in a slower pace.
We’re leaving the specific destination open on this one. The best place to volunteer abroad is the one that matches your skills and allows you to contribute to the host community responsibly.
You might teach English as a second language or help with education programs if you like to work with kids. You might volunteer to clean up beaches or nature preserves if the environment is dear to your heart. You might even assist with agricultural or infrastructure projects if you like to get your hands dirty.
Staying busy with non-Christmas activities is a good way to spend your time. Someone suggested working, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, book a personal retreat and spend time on yourself.
Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman combines physical training with recovery treatments to help you with physical wellness goals. We think a little self-care is the best gift you can give. Read more about this Omani retreat and others in our in-depth travel guide for wellness retreats.
If you really, truly want to avoid Christmas, New Zealand is the place. More accurately, the route to New Zealand is what you want. For those of us in the United States, we can board a plane in New York on December 24 and arrive in Auckland on December 26, skipping over the day completely. Order another tomato juice and enjoy the ride.
Even if you aren’t celebrating Christmas — traditionally or otherwise — many others are. The holiday rush can lead to travel mishaps. Overcrowded airports and the potential for inclement winter weather increase the odds of the unexpected.
Why leave it to chance, hoping that your hotel or airline will cover you if something happens to disrupt your trip? Protect the money you spent on your trip and your health (flu season, anyone?) with the right travel insurance for your winter trip. Use our interactive tool online or talk to a live, licensed agent today. A few simple questions will have you ready for your escape.
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