Away for the Holidays: Making it one to Remember

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By Olivia Overman

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For most people, the holiday season is about surrounding yourself with the love and affection of family and friends, and for a lot of people today, this means traveling around the country and sometimes traveling overseas to spend time with loved ones. Whether you’re continuing family traditions or even starting new ones, preparation and plenty of planning are key to ensuring that those treasured traditions are not forgotten and those yet to be made are set to be remembered!

Keeping traditions alive takes work

Logistics, logistics, logistics is the way to go when planning for a holiday season away from home. For somebody who travels to either the U.K. or Ireland most years over the holiday period, holiday traditions are important, but sometimes a little difficult to keep intact.

Holiday cards are mailed at the beginning of December so as to arrive on time, and gifts are packed (with wrapping included separately) and shipped off to their overseas location. Packing and mailing gifts can be expensive, so the key is to think small in size and weight when purchasing gifts. It also helps if you purchase gifts throughout the year, so you are not hit with the expense of gifts and mailing costs all at once. Of course, there is also online order at retailers such as Amazon, which offer quick and easy ways to purchase a gift and have it delivered without any extra effort on your part.

Family traditions

An Irish Christmas: Missing out on seeing family members on a regular basis means the holiday period is just that little bit more meaningful, so keeping family traditions alive during the holidays is important. A visit to Santa Claus in his grotto in Blarney with grandparents on Christmas Eve followed by midnight mass with the family and then early to bed for the children allows the toys requested from Santa to be delivered on time. Christmas morning sees a plethora of family members coming through the family house bringing stories of their lives since the last time we saw each other. For a family who has a number of members living overseas, the tradition of getting together on Christmas Day, sharing gifts, stories and laughs makes everything right in the world for just that one day. Forgotten are the missed birthdays, parties and celebrations because when family and friends are together over the holidays, it’s like you have never been away, and the conversations and the “craic” continue as they always have done.

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Holiday season stateside: For the Gillard family of Woodbridge, the tradition of making ornaments, even after the kids have grown up, continues to mark the holiday season. “We either make a trip to Michaels or get Popsicle® sticks before going to see grandparents in Gloucester, Va.,” said Paquita Gillard. “It’s a tradition the kids started when they were younger and [now]everyone still does it,” she said.

For Julia King and her family, traveling to see her husband’s family in Sumerduck, Va. for Christmas Day marks the holiday, but not until the traditional family photo in the park has been taken and mailed. The canine members of the family are also not forgotten. While they do not travel with the family, the holidays are not the holidays until they get their toys.

Emily Guerrero of Lake Ridge spends most New Year’s Eves skiing in Pennsylvania or West Virginia with family and friends. “My best friend lives in Chicago, and she normally flies in, and we’ll be joined by one or two other local friends and their families. Gathering with my friends and our children to ski is our own little holiday celebration,” Guerrero said.

As with traveling overseas, Guerrero agrees with the theory that booking early is probably the best way to go, but has also benefited from booking last-minute deals. “I’ve booked as early as 10 months in advance and as late as one month. I organize these as group trips with friends, so we typically rent a house or condo. That allows us to split costs and also make most of our meals, which saves money and is almost always better than the food we find at or near the resorts. I’ll use sites like Armed Forces Vacation Club, HomeAway, Airbnb and Craigslist and deal directly with owners when I can. I tend to look for deals where there is snow, and plan that way, rather than limiting my search to one location,” she said.

Speaking about traditions, Guerrero said, “Most of the time, the kids go their own way on the slopes. But for New Year’s Eve, we all gather at the rental home and have dinner together. We watch the countdowns on TV and see the ball drop together. Another tradition is writing down something that we want to let go of or move on from in the New Year, like a habit or thought that is holding you back, and then burning it in the fireplace. You can share it or keep it private.”

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Advice for getting to where you need to go

Travel agent Mackenzie Walsh of Classic Travel in Woodbridge said what we all know to be key, especially around the holiday season, and that is “to book early, as it is an expensive time of year to travel.” Asked whether she sees a lot of people traveling over this period, she said, “People travel [over the holidays]to get away from the cold weather and to go somewhere where the weather is nice.”

“For many people instead of exchanging gifts, going on vacation is the tradition for the family,” Walsh continued. “A lot of people go to the Caribbean, and a lot of families go on allinclusive cruises over the period,” she said, “and we handle all the logistics.”

Traveling by air: Traveling by air these days, whether it is alone or with children, is rarely fun, and traveling during the holidays can sometimes feel like it is more of a hassle than it’s worth. Planning early and packing appropriately can make travel less complicated and, perhaps, even enjoyable.

First, book as early as possible to ensure you have your choice of seating assignments, especially when traveling with children. Most airlines allow you to pick your seats when booking your tickets, so take advantage of this.

Second, make sure you have the correct size luggage, weighing within the stated airline weight limitations. Having to pay oversized baggage and excess weight fees is not the most ideal way to start a holiday vacation.

Third, if possible, try to mail gifts ahead of time to your destination. If this is not an option, make sure gifts are not giftwrapped before placing them in your suitcase. If the transport authorities are concerned about what is in a wrapped gift, they will rip off the paper, and that will be a complete waste of your time and money. Expensive items like jewelry and electronics should always be carried on board in a carry-on suitcase.

Finally, bring extra activities for the children and extra snacks just in case your holiday travel is delayed due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Bebee of Woodbridge and her family have had their family plans adversely impacted by weather over the holiday season. “We often have delays…due to weather, and it can be stressful, which is why we don’t do it [travel to Chicago]every year,” she said.

Traveling by car: “I choose places that I can drive to, such as Shawnee Mountain and the Camelback Resort in Pennsylvania and Snowshoe in West Virginia, which saves travel costs,” Guerrero said.

Approximately 100 million Americans travel by car over the holiday season every year, with Thanksgiving being the busiest travel day. The holiday period between Christmas and New Year’s also sees a dramatic rise in the number of people traveling, so being aware of the busiest travel days is key to planning your travel.

The American Automobile Association offers the following tips as key for getting to your destination safely:

  • Keep your gas tank at least 1/4 filled, doors locked, windows up, safety belts buckled and your children in properly installed safety seats.
  • Stay on main roads and highways.
  • Don’t pick up hitchhikers.
  • Pack a flashlight, first-aid kit, water and snacks.
  • When you stop for breaks, go into the restroom with your kids.
  • Carry a cell phone with you at all times.  Don’t stop to help someone with car trouble. Instead, use your cell phone to alert police.
  • Always watch for suspicious characters and look for ways to avoid them.
  • Whenever you need to stop at night, choose a well-lighted, populated facility. Try to park where your vehicle can be seen.

Securing you and your home

“We [think in terms of]an environmental design strategy when dealing with [home]crime prevention,” said Sgt. Benjamin Grantham of the Prince William County Police Crime Prevention Unit. “Homes with bushes and trees blocking windows and doors and poor lighting are easy targets for criminals,” Grantham said. He continued by providing tips on how to make your house looks inhabited while you are away from home. These include having good lighting and visibility around the home, leaving a car in the driveway, getting neighbors to pick-up mail and taking care of the home in general.

People have deliveries made to their houses, particularly over the holiday period, and this can attract criminals who “will go for the least resistance” when looking for something to steal. “When these [packages]are stolen, it is tough,” Grantham said. “Try to pick up packages at a delivery center or [have them]delivered to your workplace or make sure you must be there to sign for the packages.”

Another way to ensure your home does not appear empty is to leave your pets at home with a pet sitter. “Having the dogs there and somebody coming in and out during the day and evening helps,” Guerrero said. “My older dog, Buddha, hates kennels, so I keep them at home, and somebody stops by three to four times a day to feed, walk and play with them. Sometimes this will be friends and family, or more recently I’ve been hiring one of my son’s friends, who the dogs adore,” she said.

When away from home for a period of time, peace of mind is essential when you leave your pets in somebody else’s care. From boarding facilities to pet sitters, there are numerous options available in the county for your beloved pet. People who travel with their pets, however, must understand the impact of having them travel with you:

  • Accommodation in pet-friendly hotels must be booked in advance. Many hotels have pet-friendly rooms on the lower level, but these can be limited.
  • The American Kennel Club recommends all vaccinations be up-to-date before taking pets on long trips. Also, carry a copy of the pet’s health records just in case.
  • A crate large enough for your pet to stand, turn and lie down in is key to a happy pet. It keeps the pet safe and can make him or her feel more secure.
  • For international travel, the rules and regulations about pets entering a foreign country must be reviewed before attempting to enter. Quarantine may not be what you were anticipating for your pet over the holidays.

Have A Happy Holiday!

Wherever or whoever you spend the holiday season with, it is a perfect time to revisit traditions from holidays gone by or for even starting new traditions. The memories you create, whether making crafts with grandma and grandpa, opening presents on Christmas morning or catching up with friends over a little eggnog, will be memories your family will talk about for years to come.

A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman (ooverman@princewilliamliving.com) is a freelance writer for both online and print publications.

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