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What It’s Really Like to Be Away from Home for the Holidays

What’s it like to leave behind your own beloved traditions (including that delicious home-cooked family dinner) to celebrate the holidays in a brand-new place? That’s the question we asked the staff of IndependentTraveler.com and its sister sites, Cruise Critic and Family Vacation Critic. In response, we received stories of exploring Christmas markets in Vienna, watching New Year’s Eve fireworks in Quebec City and sharing a Seder in New Zealand.

Below you’ll discover what IndependentTraveler.com staffers loved — and hated — about traveling in a foreign place over the holidays.

Christmas in Germany

What I Loved: I loved how festive it was — the Christmas markets and hot gluhwein were my favorite. In Germany, many families celebrate Christmas for two days, visiting people on December 25 and December 26, so I loved that too. And though people don’t really decorate their houses with lights or bake Christmas cookies, it’s still probably my favorite place to be at Christmastime.

What I Didn’t Like: I don’t think there’s anything I didn’t like. I missed being with my own family that year, but it was a great experience.

— Amanda Geronikos, Associate Editor, Family Vacation Critic

Thanksgiving in Romania

What I Loved: Introducing my Romanian fiance and his family to the American holiday, and having a taste of home (care of a box of Stouffer’s stuffing sent from the U.S.).

What I Didn’t Love: As turkeys were then hard to find in Romanian supermarkets, my future in-laws offered to get one from a farmer they knew. Imagine my surprise (horror?) when my future mother-in-law called and asked if I wanted to come over and take a picture of the turkey before they killed it.

— Dori Saltzman, Editor-at-Large

New Year’s in Quebec City

What I Loved: The fireworks were absolutely the best I’ve ever seen! So gorgeous!

What I Didn’t Like: It was unbearably cold, even with layers upon layers of clothes, and all the restaurants jacked up their prices even for lunch and breakfast.

— Lissa Poirot, Editor-in-Chief, Family Vacation Critic

Passover in New Zealand

What I Loved: Sharing the holiday with Jewish people from all over the world. The Seder I went to had some 75 people, mostly Jewish tourists from all over, sharing the holiday together.

What I Didn’t Love: As Passover is my favorite holiday, it was lonely being apart from the family and friends I normally share it with.

— Dori Saltzman, Editor-at-Large

New Year’s in Amsterdam

What I Loved: Exploring a new city for the first time with the excited buzz of people out celebrating in the streets. We went to a main square to see music and fireworks. We also sat in a bar for a while, drinking hot chocolate.

What I Didn’t Like: The crowds were really packed heading home — the nearest I’ve come to feeling like I could be trampled in a crowd. Plus, people were setting off their own fireworks into the crowd, which seemed dangerous.

— Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor, Cruise Critic

Christmas on a Celebrity Cruise Ship

What I Loved: Not having to cook and not having to worry about driving anywhere = daytime drinking, which leads to nighttime drinking…

What I Didn’t Like: It was weird not being at home and having a Christmas tree with familiar decorations.

— Kim Gray, Sales Director

Thanksgiving in Grand Cayman

What I Loved: Seeing palm trees with Christmas lights for the first time — it was surprisingly festive in Grand Cayman. We spent four days snorkeling in the ocean and traveling around the island: the perfect Thanksgiving!

What I Didn’t Like: It’s tough to think of anything negative, but you do need to do your research to find a good place to eat. Our favorite place was Agua, a wonderful fish restaurant behind Seven Mile Beach, and we enjoyed drinking with the locals — mostly Canadian emigrants — at Coconut Joe’s across the road from the Marriott.

— Carrie Gonzalez, Public Relations

Christmas in Vienna, Austria

What I Loved: We landed early on December 24th, so were able to visit one of the very few Christmas markets that were open on Christmas Eve (most close a day or so beforehand). The market, which stood in the shadow of the Schonbrunn Palace, was not as crowded as it would have been earlier in the month, and it was possible to buy a few last-minute gifts from the craft stalls and try some local baked treats while sipping a hot toddy. The decorations in Vienna were beautiful and the horse-drawn carriages gliding through the old city created a scene which looked like a living Christmas card.

What I Didn’t Like: I love spending Christmas Day at home, eating a home-cooked meal and watching old movies with family, so although we enjoyed a lovely Christmas meal at a restaurant in Vienna, it just wasn’t the same.

— Carrie Gonzalez, Public Relations

Christmas and New Year’s at Disney World

What I Loved: Watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve from the beach at Fort Wilderness, and all of the decorations. The most magical time of year was spent at the most magical place on earth.

What I Didn’t Like: Crowds. Crazy, crazy crowds. The most magical place on earth was dubbed the crappiest place on earth a few of those days!

— Jennifer Kuhn, Community Support Specialist

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