By Elizabeth Rhodes
November 26, 2019
Courtesy of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love

The December holidays can be one of the most wonderful times of the year, but if you’re traveling, they can also be one of the most stressful. Thankfully, TV host and expert world traveler Samantha Brown gave Travel + Leisure all her personal tips for family travel this holiday season.

If you can avoid the airport, that’s the best option during the hectic holiday travel season, but if you have to fly to your December destination, Brown has a few tips for you to keep in mind. Never travel on peak days — try to take a day off or leave on the holiday itself to avoid the crowds. Get there two hours ahead of the boarding time (not the departure time) to give yourself plenty of time, and consider using a skycap for curbside check-in to avoid the chaos of checking a bag on popular travel days. Finally, take stock of the airport you fly into (Is it busy? Are there good restaurants?) so you know what to expect when you fly back home.

Courtesy of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love

Getting to your holiday destination by car? Download plenty of podcasts (Brown recommends “Wow in the World” for long family drives), and stock up on good, healthy snacks. Pack a cooler full of easy, tasty snacks and pre-made meals — you’ll avoid long drive-through lines and unhealthy foods. Be sure to also bring things to keep young kids entertained, whether that’s a ball or bubbles to play with at rest stops or crayons so they can color in the backseat. Brown recommends keeping your car tidy to reduce your stress, so a car organizer and a small bristle brush to sweep out crumbs can be super helpful to have on-hand.

If you're still trying to decide where to go this December, Brown has some recommendations for under-the-radar holiday destinations for families. For a European Christmas experience without the jetlag, she recommends you visit Quebec City. Even though this Canadian city is just a short flight away from many U.S. cities, it feels like you’ve been transported across the Atlantic. The city has European-style Christmas markets, including a traditional German market, complete with gingerbread, mulled wine, and sausage. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the wintry weather in Quebec City, including an almost 10-mile ice skating path through a snow-dusted forest.

Want to take a trip a little further abroad this holiday season? Brown recommends visiting Budapest, Hungary. Not only will you get to experience traditional Hungarian Christmas markets, but you’ll also get to enjoy everything this Central European city has to offer. Kids will love splashing around in the thermal baths located throughout the city, and everyone in the family will enjoy hearty Hungarian street foods like langosh, a savory fried dough snack. For dessert, grab one of the famous chimney cakes — kids will love their unique shape and sweet taste.

Explore a less-visited city in the U.S. to get into the holiday spirit without having to go too far from home. Phoenix is a great city for families to visit during the holidays. Visit the desert botanical garden for Las Noches de las Luminarias and wander through the desert landscape while enjoying the twinkling luminary lights. Brown says Phoenix is a great destination if you’re hoping to bring grandma and grandpa along for the trip — there’s plenty for everyone to enjoy, and the mild winter temperatures make this a great place for a multigenerational vacation.

Samantha Brown’s Places to Love season 3 premieres on Jan. 11 on PBS. The first episode will follow Samantha as she visits beautiful Budapest.

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