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A New Tradition: 8 Reasons to Take a Family Holiday Instead of Exchanging Gifts


About this time each year, I start thinking about what I'm going to give my family for Christmas. Lists are made, budgets are created, and I spend hours scouring the internet for gift ideas.

More often than not, I'm usually panicking come December 20th since I either can't come up with a decent present or I've remembered even more people who need gifts.  On more than one occasion, I've thought, "I wish we could just forget the gifts and spend more time together!"

Stirling Castle, Stirling, Scotland
Best 28th birthday present ever!
In fact, my husband and I have nearly done away with gifts all together for our anniversary and birthdays, as we both love to give new travel opportunities or experiences to one another. For my 28th birthday, we went to Scotland. For our fifth anniversary, we went on a Caribbean cruise. And, for my birthday this year, I got season tickets to the Dock Street Theatre here in Charleston.

We'll probably continue to do gifts for the next year or so for my daughter, but I would love to make a tradition of giving a family holiday to her once she's older. Here's why:

1) It's unexpected. 

Giving gifts during the holiday season is what you do. I'm all for contributing to the office gift exchange or continuing to do the present thing with grandparents and cousins. At least within your insular family, you can go countercultural and give experiences instead of more stuff.

2) Your kids will never forget it. 
Traveling with my parents and sister was (and still is!) one of my favorite parts of childhood. My sister and I still sit around the table at my parents' house and laugh about stuff we saw and did on some of those trips.

I'm a huge proponent of family travel, as it gives you a chance to bond and step out of the ordinary. Plus, imagine your kids' eyes when they come down on Christmas morning to see their bags packed and a big sign that says, "We're going to (insert destination of your choice)!" Even as an adult, I would flip out about that!

3) Your kids already have enough toys. 

Between friends, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, I promise that your child will not feel neglected if you substitute a family holiday for 20 boxes of the hottest new toys. Chances are, those toys will all be broken and/or stuffed under the bed by February 1st anyway.

4) It will give you more time together. 

If you ask most parents what they want, you're likely to hear "more time with my kids." You can't exactly wrap up more time in shiny ribbon, but you can budget for a vacation--and the end result is the same. Unwind, leave the phones and tablets at home, and experience what you love about your family for a few days. It will be much better than hearing your kids argue about which toys are theirs.

5) It could be less expensive than giving gifts (depending on where you go). 

A family holiday doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg--unless you want it to. There's something out there for every family's budget from all-inclusive family friendly resorts to cabins in a nearby state park.

If you're used to splashing out on extravagant electronics and toys, your Christmas budget could easily be exchanged for a few days elsewhere.

If you're more budget minded during the holidays, you could plan a staycation in a local hotel and finally go see a few of those sites you've been meaning to visit with your family.

6) You don't have to clean up all of that wrapping paper.

Unwrapping presents is fun. Cleaning up all of the tape, wrapping paper, and boxing isn't.

7) Traveling is an incredible educational experience. 

A family holiday isn't just about enjoying one another's company. It's also about discovering new things about each other and the places around you. Going on a trip together changes the dynamics of your family, so your kids can see their family group in a new light. They might learn that Dad can hula with the best of them or that Mom can't get enough of the hotel's water park!

If you choose to go somewhere with museums or a historical focus, your kids can learn so much. I remember going to Paris the semester after I'd studied the French Revolution--seeing the Conciergerie after hearing about the Reign of Terror made what I'd learned real. Learning isn't just for school, and it's always better in the company of the people you love.

8) It puts the focus of the holiday on people instead of things. 

Joy. Love. New beginnings.

We hear those same themes over and over again throughout the holiday season. What better way to spend the holiday than focusing on the most important people in your life?
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If foregoing presents completely seems a too extreme for you, commit to a family holiday, but also include a small gift component, too. You can put a very limited budget on the gifts (say, $5 for each person) or you can tell everyone to get creative and only give handmade gifts. You'll retain the fun factor of gift giving while retaining the majority of your budget for your family holiday.

You could also start by doing smaller trips for birthdays and other special times for your family before changing your Christmas traditions. It might make for an easier tradition for kids who aren't too sure about the idea.

What's your favorite part of the holiday season? Would you consider swapping out gifts for a family vacation?
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