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Five Reasons to Travel Over the Holidays

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Happy Holidays Inscribed in Sand (Photo: iStockphoto/PeskyMonkey)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 10, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, booking strategy, holiday, hotel, Sarah Pascarella, seasonality, vacation package.

Picture gridlock traffic as you and everyone near you hits the highways at the same time. A table overloaded with turkey and all the trimmings, followed by the extended family asleep around the living room as the football game blares in the background. A few days of pleasant interactions with family and old friends, then it's back in the car (or to the airport), where you and millions of other travelers return to the daily routine. The weather grows colder, and you hunker down for the long winter stretch.

Contrast those images with backdrops of old-world cities throughout Europe, deliciously warm trade winds on Caribbean beaches, or the thrill of racing down a ski slope. Best of all, you're on vacation at a fraction of the price it should have cost you—all by foregoing the holidays for a trip instead. And when you return to the reality of winter and routine, you'll have happy vacation memories to get you through those especially cold and bleak stretches of the season.

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Not to knock nostalgia and tradition, but it's true: If you're willing to skip the usual hometown holiday this year, a great vacation deal awaits you. Here are just five reasons why you should take a trip.

Travel 'Dead' Weeks

The first two weeks of December, as well as the week following New Year's Day, are known within the industry as travel "dead" weeks. The reason? Most people are busy at home with holiday preparations and job commitments, and hotels and planes are typically much emptier than usual. That means you have a great chance of finding a low price for your travel, as providers scramble to fill rooms and seats; you'll also get the benefit of having your vacation spot (mostly) all to yourself.

There are some exceptions, of course: Destinations known for holiday shopping, or seasonal entertainment and attractions (such as New York, London, and Paris) are going to still have crowds and inflated prices. But if you're heading to beach resorts, smaller-city destinations, or taking a guided vacation with a tour group, you'll most likely find your choice of bargains.

Deals Aplenty

If you don't have your heart set on a particular destination, let the deals be your guide. Thanksgiving week is a great time to go globe-hopping, as the rest of the world (unlike the U.S.) doesn't have the glut of domestic travel and traffic during the third weekend of November. And with many popular destinations (such as European countries and Caribbean islands) experiencing the fall shoulder season, the prices are very friendly to American travelers.

At publication time, I did a quick search to see sample offers for holiday deals. Go-today.com has a plethora of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's vacation packages in popular European cities; prices start at $599 for four-night airfare-and-hotel packages in London. Funjet Vacations has special deals specifically for airfare-and-hotel vacations taken between December 16 and January 1. And BedandBreakfast.com has listings for holiday specials, as well as discounts and perks available just for "December Dead Week." As the holidays draw closer, expect to see similar deals and last-minute sales from multiple travel providers.

Smaller Crowds

If you prefer seclusion and privacy to bustling crowds, then taking a trip during this time of year is a great match for your tastes. You'll find that on your vacation, you and your companions may be the only ones on the beach, you won't have to get up early to snag a poolside chair, and you can get a reservation at a swanky restaurant with little lead time. And with these and more perks available for significantly reduced prices, you're getting top value for your money.

Timing-Focused Bargains

If you're willing to travel on the day of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's, you can often get a better price for your airfare. I tested several routes around Thanksgiving and Christmas and found the following results.

Route Day or Two Before Price Day of Holiday Price Day of Savings
Boston/Salt Lake City $594 $458 $136
New York/Chicago $255 $205 $50
Los Angeles/Nashville $451 $368 $83
New York/Nassau, Bahamas $571 $512 $59
Los Angeles/Los Cabos, Mexico $570 $527 $43

In each test scenario, the savings for traveling on the holiday itself were significant when compared to a day or two before. Whether you're traveling alone or with a group, this extra cash can go a long way, especially during the holidays.

Built-In Vacation Time

Many Americans automatically get time off around the holidays—there are school vacations, government recesses, and many private companies close for the week between Christmas and New Year's each winter. As such, it's a boon to take your trip during these guaranteed downtimes at work, and (if you have some flexibility in your schedule), you may want to extend your trip as well. Given the nature of travel dead weeks and abundance of deals available around the holidays, if you have the time off, it may be the perfect time for a vacation.

Your Turn

Do you tend to take vacations around the holidays? Are you planning to do so this coming holiday season? Share your expertise by submitting a comment below!

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