I first wrote this article last fall, when COVID was not something any of us even knew about. This year, sadly, I won’t meet my personal life goal of traveling to at least one new country a year – which means I’ll have to make up for it in 2021 or 2022. While an international trip is just not in the cards for me this year, I am going on another road trip, staying with friends and family, which I’ll write about at a later date. I’ve updated the following slightly, and though international travel is not likely to happen for too many of us Americans this November (NO ONE WANTS US), we can still dream and plan for next year.
In 2015, I started traveling internationally over Thanksgiving week, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. (Morgan Freeman narration: Oh, but little did she know, she would be stopping – and sometime very soon.) First was a weeklong Caribbean cruise, tagging along with my friend who works onboard ships. If you’re lucky enough to stow away on a cruise ship, it’s good to be friends with the person in charge of shore excursions. I toured islands by train, bus and catamaran, drank more rum punches than I can remember, got over my irrational fear of snorkeling, hung out with my friend in the evenings and ate Thanksgiving dinner with the ship’s trailblazing female Captain.
In 2016, two friends and I went to Cuba. I had always been fascinated with the country. Long cut off from the U.S., frozen in time, the homeland of many friends. We happened to be in Havana when Fidel Castro died, making for a memorable and historic trip. I felt a bit like “the most interesting woman in the world” recounting the trip at holiday parties that year.
In 2017, I traveled solo to Barcelona. I wandered around, took public transit, went to museums, ate endless tapas and explored every Gaudi site I could get to. During the trip, I met up with one of the friends from the Cuba trip, and we made paella with eight other Americans on Thanksgiving Day.
In 2018, two friends and I went to Ireland and Iceland. We went to the Cliffs of Moher, drove around Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, visited the Blue Lagoon on Black Friday and ate gas station hotdogs – I promise it’s way better than it sounds. On Thanksgiving, we stood on a black sand beach next to a glacier.
2019’s Thanksgiving destination was Russia – St. Petersburg and Moscow. It was incredible. We ate five different types of honey cake, went to the oldest banya (bath house) in Moscow, saw the Peacock Clock in all of its glory at the Hermitage, and haggled for matryoska (Russian nesting) dolls at a public market. And our Thanksgiving meal was Russian Tea at a historic hotel, among other adventures.
Why travel over Thanksgiving?
It started out as a necessity. If you’re trying to make the most of limited vacation time and the year is running out, a four-day weekend sure helps. Depending on how you plan, you could get in a nine-day trip and only have to take three days off. That has international travel written all over it.
Another benefit of traveling internationally for Turkey Day is that it’s affordable. While most Americans are duking it out and paying handsomely for domestic travel (under normal circumstances), international flights are relatively inexpensive. The most I’ve paid for Thanksgiving-week flights was $700 round-trip to Barcelona, including upgrades to premium both ways.
I also love checking out from the incessant commercialism of Thanksgiving week in the U.S. It’s liberating to escape from Black Friday, which I have come to loathe, and the pressure of doing “holiday stuff” for just a little while longer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the giving, thankful, togetherness spirit of the holidays, but I can’t stand that the commercialized “holiday season” now lasts a solid 10 weeks. To me, this makes the holidays less special. Being in another country and learning about their holiday traditions, which rarely have to do with money, is clutch. For example, check out the terror-inducing Icelandic Christmas Cat.
Maybe you still wonder, “What about family and turkey and football?” The good news is that family, turkey and football are all available at other times – you just have to make time for them. Or take your family on a trip with you, and make new traditions and memories.