“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…”
I can hear Perry Como crooning those familiar words now, evoking images of that Norman Rockwell family gathered round the holiday table, turkey steaming, silver gleaming, family smiling … The idea of home for many of us evokes thoughts of comfort, welcome, love and belonging. Or it should, in an ideal world. But the reality of going home, especially during the holiday season, may be very different.
Expectations often don’t match the inevitable reality: while you may be yearning for ‘peace on earth, good will toward men,’ the fact is, those relatives you don’t get along with the rest of the year are unlikely to make a miraculous change for a day or two. Maybe your children have fledged the nest and won’t be home this year. If they’ve married, they may be spending the holidays at someone else’s home. Perhaps this is the first holiday you’re facing after the death of a loved one. The thought of going through the motions in the midst of grief holds little appeal.
Whatever the circumstance, there are occasions when you may not feel like singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Bing Crosby. Spending part of the season far from stressful settings may be just the gift to give yourself … Or, you may wish to pack up the family just this once and go some place more restful, without all the hassle and hoopla — at least not any that you have to host and clean up after!
If you’re feeling impulsive, last-minute deals at the holiday season are often available to fill cancellations or leftover space — it’s worth a few Google inquiries, if you’re in the mood to mosey. So, whether it’s this year or another, here are five holiday travel ideas to restore body, soul or both.
Take to the woods at a cross-country ski ranch
There’s nothing more festive at Christmastime than a log cabin in the snow, especially in a mountain setting laced with Nordic ski trails to entice you into the crisp, pine-scented air. The 6,000-acre expanse of Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado, a 2-hour drive from Denver, offers ski-and-spa packages with deluxe private cabins or cozy lodge rooms. In Washington state’s remote Methow Valley, stay in rustic luxury at the Freestone Inn in Mazama, a secluded base from which to explore the 125-mile groomed trail system on the edge of North Cascades National Park. Or, enjoy a classic New England setting at Trapp Family Lodge (yes, that Trapp family, from The Sound of Music) in Stowe, Vermont, with 100 miles of groomed and backcountry trails just outside the door.
Snuggle up and watch the stormy ocean
If the coast is more your cup of hot peppermint tea, few winter pastimes are more evocative than tucking in to an oceanfront retreat and watching the waves rage. The Pacific Northwest is notorious for big winter storms, and few spots offer a more exciting vantage point than the Wickaninnish Inn on the west coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Walk the beach, then warm up with a hot stone massage at the inn’s Ancient Cedars Spa. Stateside, the Stephanie Inn overlooks the sea stacks at Cannon Beach for a romantic interlude on the Oregon Coast. On the other side of the continent, find a country inn in a coastal Maine village to watch a Nor’easter roar.
Soak your stress away at a hot springs resort
There’s no better antidote to holiday stressors than a few days at a natural mineral springs. Look for one that’s far from the urban crush, like Ojo Caliente in northern New Mexico. An hour outside Santa Fe, these healing waters have long been sacred to the Native Americans who call this high desert home. Pagosa Springs, 140 miles away in southern Colorado, offers old-time Rocky Mountain ambiance and is close enough for a side trip on the Durango & Silverton narrow-gauge railway’s winter train up Cascade Canyon. Stay poolside at The Springs Resort & Spa. Not so remote, but ideal for those looking for holiday festivity and historic grandeur, the grand Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, offers traditional Southern hospitality, a full-service spa, and a classic Thermal Bath House where guests have ‘taken the waters’ for decades.
Go barefoot on a tropical island
As far as you’re concerned, snow and sleigh bells can go the way of crowds and crabby relatives — a genuine escape is one that puts the sand between your toes. What better place to run away from it all than a laid-back eco-resort in the Caribbean.
(USVI) is short ferry ride from St. Thomas, yet a world away. Tent cottages with private balconies overlook a secluded white sand beach, while a host of water sports is available nearby. On a stretch of private, palm-fringed beach in southern Belize surrounded by 300 acres of jungle, Kanantik Reef Resort’s thatch-roofed cabanas front the ocean with superb diving and snorkeling just outside the door. If the spirit of aloha beckons, nowhere is it more palpable than at Hanalei Colony Resort, an unplugged hideaway on Kauai’s lush north shore. Tuck yourself beneath a palm tree and watch the winter surf break … You’ll be saying “Mele Kalikimaka” with the locals in no time.
Take a volunteer vacation
This option may be the best holiday escape of all—a chance to realize the true meaning of the season by giving to others. “Voluntourism” combines travel and service in meaningful ways: Extend an African safari as you paint a school or assist at a rural health clinic. Nurture children at an orphanage in Cambodia. Care for elephants in Nepal. Teach English in Costa Rica while you surf and snorkel in your free time. Options are endless, with some 10,000 volunteer vacations to choose from, according to VolunTourism.org, a clearinghouse for volunteer travel opportunities. Whether your interests lie with education, community development, the environment or other projects, a volunteer vacation will feed your spirit as you serve others.
So here’s wishing you Happy Holidays … wherever your heart is at home!