In the previous post, I wrote about memorable Christmases we’ve spent travelling. I love the fact that having Christmas away gives you a totally different perspective on the occasion. But it’s wise to do a bit of pre-planning to make sure all the family are happy when the big day rolls around.
This is my guide for how to have a merry Christmas aboard when you are travelling with children or teenagers, based on what we did the year we spent Christmas Day in Hoi An in Vietnam.
How to have a merry Christmas aboard
1. Do a bit of research
Before we went to Vietnam, I spent a lot of time searching for and reading blog posts about Christmas in Vietnam, to get an idea about what was possible, and some tips for good restaurants or activities. It gave us a clear idea of what to expect, and I could answer the kids’ questions and/or concerns about being in Vietnam for Christmas. Judy Gambee’s post at Home to Roam was particularly helpful.
2. Start talking gift sizes down early
Several months out from Christmas, I started suggesting great smaller gifts that the girls could include on their wish lists. There’s limited suitcase space to bring stuff home (not to mention, to take stuff over).
Having said that, the year we were in NYC for Christmas, Santa brought the girls a trampoline…or at least, he left them a lovely letter explaining that the elves in the late-delivery department would arrange delivery and set up in January after they were back home.
3. Remember to pack the stockings
4. Let Santa know where you’ll be
Kids should write letters to Santa letting him know where they will be for Christmas Day so that there’s no confusion about whether he will know or not. My girls are away from home so often for Christmas, I think Santa must have their delivery address written in pencil on ‘his list’. But as long as he’s been informed in advance, he always manages to find them.
5. Decide what is non-negotiable
When you’re an adult, part of the attraction to being overseas for Christmas is to experience different traditions and ways of doing things. But kids don’t always see things that way. It’s good to have a clear idea of what they need for Christmas to seem familiar and meaningful.
A Christmas tree in our hotel room in Hoi An was a priority, and luckily (thanks to the Home to Roam post above) I knew there was probably a shop in Hoi An I could locate one in. Like Judy and her family, we also did Neville’s Original Taste of Hoi An Walking Food Tour (on Christmas Eve!) and Neville’s wife, Colleen was able to point us in the the right direction to find the shop.
A few minutes of negotiation over the price of a fully-decorated plastic tree, and the deal was done. By the time we got back to the room a few hours later, it had been delivered (via motorcycle) and set up for us.
5. Think ahead for wrapping
There is no point in taking gifts with you already wrapped – they will look like they have been through a shredder by the time you unpack suitcases after the flight. But don’t rely on getting wrapping paper in a country like Vietnam.
Instead, I took a roll of plain brown paper and a ball of red and white string (both from the supermarket here in Melbourne), a roll of sellotape, scissors, and a couple of packets of gorgeous red, black and white gift tags. It was probably the least I’ve ever spent on wrapping paper for Christmas, but every gift looked fabulous.
6. Check travel insurance
If anyone in the family is going to be getting something particularly valuable for Christmas (jewellery, cameras, iPads etc?) check that your travel insurance covers those items.
7. Embrace the unusual
We weren’t quite sure what to expect of our hotel’s compulsory Christmas Eve dinner (you can read my description of it in this link), but it turned out to be the most hilarious night. If the adults are getting into the non-traditional Christmas spirit, the kids and teens will tend to follow suit.
8. Eat, drink and be merry
One of our party was not a very adventurous eater, but bravely gave most Vietnamese foods a go in the lead up to Christmas. She did request that we have something ‘traditional’ (i.e. like you’d have in Australia or England) for Christmas Day lunch. We found that at The Cargo Club. And they even served Australian wine, so we felt totally at home! In the evening we branched out for a Vietnamese feast on a Cinnamon Cruises boat on the Thu Bon River.
9. Start your own new traditions
After I read the Home to Roam blog post, I was quite taken with the idea of the kids having matching t-shirts to sleep in on Christmas Eve…so the girls and I chose some at the markets in Saigon that they, Britannia and her brother all wore on Christmas Eve. Plus Queenie, The Impossible Princess and Britannia took themselves off to the hotel day spa on Christmas Eve afternoon and asked the girls there to paint their nails in fun designs (kiwifruit, watermelon etc) to celebrate Christmas.
10. Like ET, phone home
Using the hotel’s wi-fi, we Skyped back to our family Christmas in Western Australia, and also posted Christmas morning photos to Facebook. Technology nowadays means that maintaining that connection to home is cheap and easy. Heck, I can still remember the days when you had to pre-book an overseas phone call for Christmas Day. Haven’t things changed?
Have you had a merry Christmas aboard? What worked for you?