Nearly a decade ago, my now-husband, Greg, and I did something kind of crazy: We booked a 10-day international trip together. Over Thanksgiving. To Bora Bora. Not only did we jet-set to the honeymoon capital of the world when our relationship was still rather fresh (we’d been dating for less than a year), but it was also the first time either of us had skipped out on traditional holiday celebrations with our respective families.
Luckily, our families did not mind bidding us a bon voyage. While we were wary about traveling during the busiest time of the year — and a little nervous that we might not be compatible travel partners — that vacation ranks as our favorite ever.
Now that we have two small kids and fewer opportunities to travel, we look back on that vacation as one of the smartest decisions we ever made. We’ve even considered "skipping" the holidays as a family when our kids are a little older. Here’s what we loved so much about traveling during the holidays.
WE GOT SOME MUCH-NEEDED DOWN TIME
Spending time with family over the holidays can be a fun, rewarding experience. But let’s face it: Between hosting, cooking dinners to feed an army, and wrangling your kids, cousins, nieces and nephews, it’s not always relaxing (especially if you’ve been stuck in holiday traffic for hours).
Taking a true vacation during the holidays allows you to take advantage of the fact that many employers will close for whole or half days before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s — which means cashing in fewer of your PTO days to enjoy your vacation. For us, this meant we could take our long trip to Bora Bora using only three precious vacation days.
At the time of our trip, both of us also worked busy jobs, and Greg had a long commute on top of that. So being on an island you could bike around in a few hours gave us a much-needed respite from the real world. We could snorkel simply by jumping off our room's balcony and sunbathe on the world's softest, whitest sand. The opportunity to connect with nature — including swimming with sharks and sting rays — helped us de-stress before the end-of-year rush.
We discovered that because many Americans book domestic flights during the holidays, it was possible to find international travel deals.
WE GOT TO TAKE A LUXURY TRIP AT A DISCOUNT
Vacationing in Bora Bora is typically pricey and, initially, Greg and I considered it to be way beyond our budget. But while we were going down the Hotels.com rabbit hole looking for travel deals, we stumbled on an overwater bungalow at the Hilton on Bora Bora — typically starting at $1,000 per night — for a jaw-dropping $360. We decided that the discount was just too good to pass up.
We discovered that because many Americans book domestic flights during the holidays, it was possible to find international travel deals. Thanksgiving in particular is one of the best times to book international travel, especially if you keep your options for destinations open.
WE GOT TO EXPERIENCE THE HOLIDAYS DIFFERENTLY
Naturally, our hotel didn't offer a traditional Thanksgiving meal, so we had to improvise — but we welcomed the opportunity to celebrate the holiday in a new way. At the local market, we picked up a huge fresh-baked baguette for $1, a bag of grapes, fresh cheese, salami, pickles, pineapple juice and rum. We took our haul back to our room, laid out the spread on our bungalow's balcony with its nearly 360-degree ocean, and mixed some cocktails. That night, as the sun set, we ate one of the most memorable Thanksgiving dinners we’d ever had. I'll never forget it.
WE GOT TO START A NEW TRADITION
After that first Thanksgiving trip, we took two more. Two years after Bora Bora, Greg and I went to Belize, got engaged and ate pumpkin pie at a jungle lodge run by an Australian expat. Last year, we went to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which was both our first trip without our daughter and our babymoon before the birth of our son. While we won't take a Thanksgiving vacation every year — the grandparents might revolt — we are hoping to take our kids abroad with us someday and make holiday travel a true family tradition.
WE APPRECIATED OUR TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY MORE
Taking breaks from spending the holidays with our friends and family allows us to really savor the special times we do spend with them. Since we opted out of Thanksgiving last year, we'll actually attend a trio of celebrations this year — a Friendsgiving the weekend before, a small celebration at my childhood best friend’s home the day-of, and then dinner at mom’s and stepdad’s with family the day after. Instead of these gatherings feeling obligatory (or us feeling burnt out), we look forward to them and really cherish the time we're spending with our loved ones stateside.