Surf board and Christmas tree on Bondi Beach, Australia


travel at christmas

to escape the festive madness or not?


There is nothing more depressing than being sat on a sofa, in the wintry dark and cold, and regretting your choice to 'sit out' the festive period in the belief that it will be relaxing. This happened to me Christmas 2011. We toyed with the idea of travelling around Egypt at Christmas but were bitten by the 'I can't be bothered to organise it' bug. Instead, we opted for a cosy Christmas at home in front of the fire. This was a mistake on two counts. One, the weather was awful - bitterly cold and wet - more so than usual. This put pay to hopes of pleasant walks around the Christmas markets et al. Two, it was soon afterwards that Egypt erupted with what was later coined The Arab Spring - putting pay to our chances of seeing Egypt safely for some time to come. As the Christmas holidays wore on, regret set in. Never again. Never. Christmas in England is depressing. Cold. Cliche.


unleash trapped time

I'm no great fan of Christmas anyway - now that I'm in my thirties and, seemingly, ageing rapidly, I'm of the opinion that once you've had a cosy Christmas at home, you've pretty much done it. Been there, done that. And bored of it. Christmas is repetitive - and I hate repetition. I get bored. Quickly. The same songs, the same television repeats, the same dreadful weather, the same ridiculous expense. I also despise the 'trapped time' between Christmas and New Year. The 'fun' of the big day is over and there is that awful lull until New Year's Day - relief from which is offered only by the obligatory 'January' sales. Kill me now. Having had a number of Christmases in my own independent 'adult' home and all of the refreshing change that gives you away from the routine of your past family Christmases, I couldn't help but think that the time I was lucky enough to have 'free' at this time of year should be used for something far more worthwhile. There is a world out there and, the fact of the matter is, I'm not going to see it sat on my sofa avoiding the ice and wind, am I? Travel was the answer. As, by this time, travel had subsumed a large chunk of my life this answer was, perhaps, a little unsurprising. 'Let's get as far away as we can' was the modus operandi of Mission: Christmas Travel.


operation christmas travel: india, burma & cuba

We hit back in style on the Christmas of 2012 with a two week journey around northern India's Golden Triangle. It was no coincidence that we chose a long-haul destination not known for its celebration of Christmas. We hoped that a country packed full of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists would mean we'd be well away from it all. Wrong. Arriving in Delhi there were street hawkers selling Santa hats, there were ragged-looking Christmas trees greeting us at our hotel, and really poor cover versions of Christmas songs played in the restaurants in which we ate. This was Christmas delivered half-heartedly and I wasn't sure if this was better or worse than staying at home. Sigh. However, the incongruity of these things made them refreshingly humorous. Christmas 2013 went one step further - still Asia, but this time it was Burma which, we also discovered, was hardly immune to the wave of Christmas cheer sweeping the globe. In one instance, we entered a coffee shop in central Rangoon only to be met with a rendition of 'Merry Christmas' from staff who were all wearing Santa hats. Sweet. Incongruous. But annoying. Not matter how far you travel, I was to realise that there is no way of escaping Christmas - not fully, anyway. You will still hear Christmas songs, you will still see Santa hats and you will still spot Christmas trees - albeit ones looking a little forlorn and out of place. Unless you travel into the middle of the Amazon Rainforest I suspect that, in answer to the question 'To escape the festive madness or not?', the reality is you can't really. If you were in the middle of the Amazon, someone will wish you a Merry Christmas and think they're being nice. Lesson number one: there is no escape - not completely.

This doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend travelling at Christmas. If you are not tied by family commitments it's a great time to get away. I must say that I feel just that little bit smug arriving at the departure airport - bypassing all of the rituals and expectations associated with Christmas and New Year. Indeed, it appears that I am not alone. Over three million UK citizens do the same as me every year - in search of, as they are, an escape, some luxury and some sunshine, too. If you don't enjoy Christmas and New Year, if you hate the routine and repetition, if you hate the pressure to 'enjoy yourself' when you feel the opposite, then just go. You have nothing to lose. Oh, and it means you don't have to go through the rigmarole of putting up (and taking down), those irritating Christmas decorations.


my first christmas as a resident of australia

This Christmas abroad   was undeniably different. This was our first Christmas in Australia as permanent residents. 

We deliberately booked our two week adventure around New Zealand so that we would be in Sydney on Christmas Day. Why? Because to be on Bondi Beach in the sun, wearing an obligatory Santa hat on Christmas Day, is a bit of a bucket list item with many a tourist, traveller and backpacker. No matter how cliché, we had to do this just once for the sheer novelty value! Spending Christmas Day on a beach in 32' heat was, frankly, for someone heralding from the northern hemisphere, utterly bizarre. Two things which do not belong together: a Christmas tree and a bakingly hot beach scene crammed full of parasols, factor 50 and thousands of people - some of whom had decided to bring their own Christmas trees along with their 'eskis'. Hitting the cold but powerful waves of the Pacific, losing my sunglasses and Santa hat in the process, was pretty awesome and, if I'm honest, brought out the kid in me. The fact that Channel 10 happened to be filming the Christmas edition of 'Bondi Rescue' was an added bonus... 

A few days previous we attended the annual Pyrmont community carol singing service in Pyrmont's Union Square. I'm not big on Christmas but it was nice to be part of a community - especially being so far from 'home' and still very much an alien in this land (you can watch a video of the concert by clicking the image on the left). It's nice to experience a less garish Christmas - one which is kept in proportion and doesn't alienate you by trying to consume your every waking moment from September onward. Christmas only gets going in early December and in the increasing heat of the summer months, remains understated. For these reasons I preferred it infinitely...but don't mind admitting that a traditional wintery cold snap with a bit of ice, snow and travel disruption wouldn't have been unwelcome! 

Christmas acts as a bit of a flashpoint for an expat and has highlighted an aspect of living Down Under which I have found the most unsettling: acclimatising to Australia's seasons and the order of the weather (not the weather itself, you understand). It's obvious, I know, but you don't really appreciate just how much your body, and, indeed, your emotions, are in-tune with the rhythm of the weather and calendar year until you live somewhere else where it is different. The weather, and what order it comes in, is a part of a pattern and pulse to which you’ve become accustomed: it’s a comfort blanket and is ingrained. This ‘meteorochronological’ order is also infused with memories, habits and expectations – all of which have gone out of my Sydney window in one big discombobulating throw. I think I've come down with SAD (Seasonal Australia Disorder).


travelling at christmas advice

Don't worry too much about leaving your home empty at Christmas. Take basic precautions like light timers, buying a 'Fake TV' and getting a friend to park their car on your drive if yours will be in a long stay car park at the airport. Paranoia will stop you doing most things in life - just be responsible before jetting off. But do jet off. Also realise that Christmas is all-pervasive. You will never not see trees and never not hear carols but travelling somewhere where the 'Christmas religions' are not in the majority and you'll go a long way to avoiding the worst excesses of the festive period.
Consider taking something Christmassy with you (a present or card for each other) in case a 'Christmas pang' strikes and you suddenly feel like you're missing home. If you feel this may happen, prepare your own little Christmas Day - and do it the way you want to. Maximise the benefits of Operation Christmas Travel by doing particularly un-Christmassy things on Christmas Day. For instance, take great satisfaction in not eating Turkey or make your December 25th particularly amazing like taking a trek up a mountain or some such adventure.


Clockwise: Merry Christmas from Burma - cafe staff wearing Santa hats sing "Merry Christmas" to you as you enter ; Hot air balloon ride over Bagan, western Burma at six in the morning on New Year's Day - much better than a hangover! 




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