Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How to deal with the holiday travel blues

Since I have been dealing with this (some years better than others) for fifteen years, I guess I've discovered some ways that make it work for us. I'll break them up into the two scenarios we Mountaineers may face for the holidays.

Scenario #1: Going back to WV for the holidays

You've decided to spend the holidays "back home" and it's an exciting prospect. You might be facing some daunting challenges, though, like how is Santa going to get all those toys up there without the kids seeing?

In the age of Internet shopping, this problem has become much more fixable. A great idea would be to ship the packages to the home you will be staying at in WV. You can always wrap them once you get to WV. I don't, however, recommend having the Internet store wrap them for you. That's always been disappointing, in my opinion.

If you're shopping on the Internet anyway, the shipping charges won't be any different to have the packages shipped to WV. If you were planning to buy it in the store, the ease of not having to lug it to WV may make paying a little shipping worth the price. Remember, though, a lot of Internet shopping sites offer free (or drastically reduced) shipping charges during the holidays to lure in those Christmas dollars. And how great is it to miss the crowds in the stores?

Back in the days before Internet shopping became so commonplace, I have sent money up to my little elf (a.k.a. Mom) to grab some things for me, so I wouldn't have to "carry" them to WV. She never even charged me for the trouble!

You can also do something I don't really recommend, but something that we have resorted to in the past. Wait until you get to WV and do some of your Christmas shopping. This has involved doing some shopping the day before Christmas Eve or actually on Christmas Eve. That's not ideal, admittedly, but we have gotten some good deals waiting until the last minute. And we didn't risk the chance that our little guy would see his presents before Christmas!

Another challenge you may face when traveling back to WV for the holidays is dividing your time between family members. This is hard and can cause hurt feelings for not only family members, but for spouses too. Make sure you make decisions about how much time you will spend and where BEFORE you travel. Don't add to the stress by hammering out the details at the last minute. Also be firm about your decisions. You can't be everywhere, so make sure you make the best choices and stick with them. Do the best you can. Remember it won't be perfect because nothing ever is.

The only major travel hurdle my husband and I face with regards to this is our families live about an hour apart from each other. We simply stay with one set of family for the first part of the holiday and the other set of family for the second part of the holiday. Again, this is not ideal. Both of our families have get-togethers on Christmas Eve. We've had to make hard choices, but we try not to let the things we miss get in the way of enjoying our holiday. Doesn't always work, but we try.

There is one thing about visiting parents at Christmas that is kind of nice. It's easiest to see all the siblings during the holidays. My husband has 4 sisters and 2 brothers. I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers. But they all end up at our parents' houses or (in my case) grandparent's house during the BIG EVENT of Christmas. With summer traveling, on the other hand, it's much more unlikely to get all those people together, so we have to go back and forth more. That's a post for another season, however.

Maybe the greatest challenge we face traveling to WV for the holidays is what to do with our furry little friend. This can be tricky. If you don't mind boarding your pet, count that money in when you're saving up for the holidays. Be sure to book in advance. The vets' offices or kennels get packed early, so make sure you plan for that well in advance of the week of travel. And keep your pet's shots up to date. We neglected to do this when we boarded our dog so we could travel to NC for a family wedding. So, along with the $100 or so to board him for 4 days, we also had to pay another $150 for a vet office visit and vaccinations! Be smarter than we were!

Maybe you're like us and your family tolerates your furry family member. Remember to be considerate! Keep the dog well exercised, so he's too tired to get into a lot of trouble. And bring your doggy gate from home, just in case you need to block your pet off from a certain area. We don't often chain our Pug up outside when we're home, but we always take the chain when we travel to WV. There might be times when our family appreciates the dog being out of their house!

An 8 hour drive to WV isn't always as much fun as you might think. For the last several years, we have broken it up into a mini-vacation by spending the night at the halfway point.

We're lucky with this because the halfway point for us is the exit off of I-40 for Pigeon Forge and Gaitlinburg, Tennessee. We have a Best Western that is pet friendly that we stop at and spend the night. My son gets to swim in the heated pool and hubby and I get to relax for a few hours, either preparing for the fun ahead or recuperating from the fun, depending on if we stop on our way up to WV or on our way back home.

I have even programmed the number to that Best Western into my cell phone. There have been times when we weren't planning on stopping, but left so late that we were too tired to go on for the night.

You might not be able to stop at a great place like that as your halfway point, but you probably have some place where you can just relax and enjoy the amenities of even a mid-priced Best Western! It's a little vacation within a vacation that my family often enjoys.

Scenario #2: Staying home and missing the family fun in WV

The best advice when this is the case is to make the most of it and ENJOY!

Enjoy not having to travel and having a much more relaxing holiday. Enjoy carrying out your own family traditions and making sweet family memories! Enjoy the money you will save by not traveling and use that money instead to do something fun with spouse and kids.

We have a special candlelight dinner on Christmas Eve and let our son open one present from us. We play games together and always, always, always watch the marathon of A Christmas Story that runs on TV.

We make sure to drive around and look at the Christmas lights in our neighborhood and surrounding ones. We also put a lot of extra effort into decorating inside and outside the house because we'll be home more to enjoy it! And on Christmas Day, after all the fun and excitement, we go to the movies!

The first year we went to the movies on Christmas night was when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was playing in the theaters. For Christmas that year, my son got a Harry Potter costume and he wore it to the theater. We went to the late show and it was very cold that night and I remember we were all freezing as we walked back to the car! It's a great memory for us!

Another bit of advice is to mail your Christmas packages early. Get all of that extended family shopping out of the way, so you can enjoy your holiday at home without the stress and worry of getting things in the mail.

I'm big on gift cards! Love to receive them and love, love, love to give them. We draw names in my husband's family, so I buy gift cards for the ones whose names we've drawn and mail them all, along with a present or gift card for my in-laws, to my mother-in-law's house. That way the recipients can open their gifts from us when all the other family members open their gifts on Christmas Eve.

On my side of the family, we buy for all the nieces and nephews. I like to incorporate the help of my little elf again and send up a check made out to my mom and also some money holder cards that I've already filled out. She cashes the check (because older kids love to get cash for Christmas!) and puts the money in the envelopes and hands them out on Christmas Eve. Easy for me and not too difficult for my little elf!

It's true that Christmas for WV Expats may not be filled with the ease that our West Virginia relatives, who don't have to travel to be with family, enjoy. Still, it can be a wonderful Christmas, whether enjoying the Mountaineer state or carrying those Mountaineer traditions on in our new homeplace!


A. said...

This was great. The only thing I would add, don't forget you need room to bring back all those gifts!

Especially when family doesn't see your little one very often, the gifts can take a lot of space. Trust me your child would rather see you leave your suitcases to be shipped than his/her presents.

Tina said...

That is so true, Amy! That's why my husband and I always ask for gift cards or money, so we have more space to fit our son's gifts! We'd hate to have to give up all our clothes! Ha ha!