When Jamie Lynn found her family staring dismally at another long and icy Pennsylvania winter a few years ago, she decided something different was in order for the holidays.
So Lynn planned an elaborate and exotic family vacation to a villa on the north coast of Jamaica, complete with house staff to cater to their every need so that it was a real vacation for everyone – mom included.
It proved to be just the right fix for the family of 16 – including grandparents, half a dozen aunts and uncles and eight grandkids – during the frigid holiday season. Younger family members particularly enjoyed sitting with their grandmother and watching cruise ships sail by in the distance as well as “every-cousin-for-themselves” pool fights.
These days, it is much easier for families like the Lynns to rent luxury villas anywhere in the world.
“Dietary needs, instant access to the internet, safety issues and medical services are all increasingly well-provided for,” said Andrew Loyd, chairman of The Bespoke Travel Club, an online portal that acts as a luxury travel guide for high-end travelers.
But no travel company can re-create the emotional family customs and traditions that for many family members, especially the younger ones, make the holidays magical.
Event planner Jaime O'Donnell and her family love traveling over the holidays but they make an effort to keep some rituals alive.
“In Portugal, we fumbled our way through the grocery store trying to decipher items to make our traditional Christmas turkey dinner," she recalled. While on a six-country cruise, family members bought unique gifts for each other at each stop and presented them in the familiar family Christmas stockings O’Donnell had brought from home.
In order to satisfy the traditionalists, who can’t imagine the holidays without the cherished rituals, some luxury agencies have come up with creative solutions that combine the homey with the exotic, Loyd said.
One of those is Sonoma-based Beautiful Places, a villa hospitality company, offers the “grandma house experience,” custom-designing a villa to provide the best family vacations possible. That means arranging everything from favorite foods in the fridge to making sure your personal chef knows how to prepare your clan’s favorite holiday recipes and planning daily family activities and excursions, said BeautifulPlaces president Liza Graves.
They revealed a few tips that you can do on your own to make your holiday gathering a success:
1. Stock Up on the Stockings
It may be too much trouble to travel with a tree’s worth of presents, but it’s not hard to pack those favorite Christmas stockings and holiday wrapping paper so you can exchange some festive gifts you buy at your destination.
2. Airborne Heirlooms
Pack family mementos that speak to both the holidays and how your family celebrates them. The family menorah, for instance, or a gingerbread house kit.
3. Old Traditions, New Adventures
The holidays are about forging memories. One way to do that is to enjoy new and exotic adventures with the family, like zip-lining or snorkeling. Or take part in local holiday traditions, such as a Christmas lights boat parade, local religious service or holiday dinner on a Caribbean beach.
“It’s less about feeling like we are missing out on something and more about focusing on the meaning of the holidays and embracing new adventures,” O’Donnell said.
4. Don't Expect Perfection
Just because you’ve spent a lot of money to go far away to somewhere exotic, don’t be surprised if you’ve packed along some family drama as well. Things may not go perfectly: someone may still be sick or get hurt on the slopes. Try to just embrace the closeness – it’s what the holidays are truly about.
5. Family Style Dinner
One thing that travel agent Stacy Small of Elite Travel makes sure to do for many of her families vacationing over the holidays is to book them an elaborate family dinner.
A family dinner “makes you feel like you are enjoying the holiday spirit,” Small said. “And it’s typically busy at the hotels so always best to book far in advance.”
And if it all doesn’t go as planned, remember you’ve learned some lessons for next year.
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