the new christmas adventure

The Christmas season is the season best characterised by spending time with our loved ones, but also spending tons of money in a way that we always seem to automatically justify because, y’know, it’s Christmas. Sure, there’s definitely nothing wrong with spoiling the people we love most with lavish gifts, but a lot of the time we seem to get lost in a flurry of picture-perfect advertisements telling us exactly how our Christmas should look, and the types of material gifts we should be giving… But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way! My family have had a tradition for the last couple of years (this year marks the third of our slightly unorthodox gift idea), and it is definitely a game changer in terms of gift-giving. Gone are the stacks of surplus bath sets that end up never touching the bathroom tiles; gone are the excess socks bursting out of our drawers, enough for a small army; gone are the latest fad electronics that secretly we only wanted because we saw it on TV and it looked cool. In their places lies a whole new kind of Christmas gift: adventure.

Two years ago I was twenty, had just dropped out of my first year of my first attempt at university, and was working full-time. I had more money each month than I ever knew what to do with, and so ended up impulse buying left, right, and center – so much so, that when it came to Christmas I had no idea what I wanted, let alone needed. My mum was pestering me day after day, and eventually she gave in. I thought that I was going to be on the young adult’s equivalent of Santa’s naughty list and get nothing at all, until my parents asked me, “How about we go to Rome for the New Year?” At first, I thought they were pulling my leg. I mean, who goes on holiday over the Christmas period, away from their family, away from the traditions of their own country? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

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Rome, January 2016

As I was growing up, my family struggled a little with money. We were never broke, but there were times – such as when my mum was a single parent of two daughters under ten whilst at university – when money was a bit more of a sore spot. She eventually remarried, and once we started to grow into our home and accumulate more “things”, the need for more slowly dissipated. We reached a point that year where I think we all realised that, actually, we have all we need. And then the question of “So, what do we do about Christmas, then?” came around. My mum and stepdad have always been keen globetrotters, and so the idea of the New Year abroad as a Christmas present all sort of fell into place thanks to their travel savvy. That way, we didn’t get a house full of extra stuff, and we got to see a new part of the world.

Don’t get me wrong, travelling definitely has the potential not to be cheap. But if you’re smart about it and you know where to look, then you can easily travel for around £100 – £150 per person for a short break. My parents are comfortable but don’t have masses of extra money lying around, and so they are smart with what they buy. We always fly with cheaper airlines, and it mostly tends to be mid-week when flights are the cheapest – so we go away then. Even British Airways, which isn’t necessarily regarded as “budget” has ridiculously cheap flights available, so long as you look far enough in advance and, again, fly on quieter days. As for accommodation, we usually end up staying in hotels still, but never something that isn’t budget. As far as we’re concerned, we are only going to be sleeping and showering in that room anyway, and so the majority of the time it’s just a place to crash. We don’t need luxury if we are wanting to explore the city we’re in.

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Berlin, January 2017

Another part of travelling earlier in the year (especially if you live in a colder climate like we do) is that you get a whole different holiday experience. Summer holidays are more than alive and kicking, and whilst I do love to lounge around in the sunshine doing nothing, it is a lot of fun to be on holiday while it is snowing and you need to wrap up warm. Living in Europe has definitely worked to our advantage, as it only takes a couple of hours to fly to a completely different country, and because of this, everything is tons cheaper. Although at first glance buying somebody a holiday for Christmas may seem a little extravagant, it really is around the same price as buying them a bunch of stuff they don’t even need. We have an agreement within our family now over Christmas not to buy things, but to instead spend a little bit of money for a new experience. I feel so much more fulfilled because of it, and it also means that my house isn’t bombarded with thoughtful but, when it really comes down to it, unnecessary gifts.

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