These Are the Best Under-the-radar Family Holiday Destinations, According to Traveler and Mom Samantha Brown

TV host and expert world traveler Samantha Brown gave Travel + Leisure all of her personal tips for family travel during the holiday season.

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

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 of her personal tips for family travel during the holiday season.

Samantha Brown’s Places to Love - Phoenix
Courtesy of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love

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 destination, Brown has a few tips 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 wiggle room, 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 flying back home.

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 food. Pack a cooler full of easy, tasty snacks and premade 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 back seat. Brown recommends keeping your car tidy to reduce stress, so a car organizer and small bristle brush to sweep out crumbs can be 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 jet lag, she recommends visiting Quebec City. Even though this Canadian destination is just a short flight away from many U.S. cities, it feels like being transported across the Atlantic. The city has European-style Christmas markets, including a traditional German option, complete with gingerbread, mulled wine, and sausage. You'll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the wintry weather in Quebec City, including a nearly 10-mile ice-skating path through a snow-dusted forest.

Or, 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 solid option for families during the holidays, and Brown says it's a good destination if you're hoping to bring grandma and grandpa along for the trip, as there's plenty for everyone to enjoy. Plus, the mild winter temperatures make this a great place for a multigenerational vacation.

Want to take a trip a little further abroad next holiday season? Brown recommends visiting Budapest, Hungary. Not only will you get to experience traditional Hungarian Christmas markets, but you'll also have the opportunity to enjoy everything this European city has to offer. Kids will have fun splashing around in the thermal baths located throughout the city, and everyone in the family will feast on 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. Keep in mind that Hungary still has COVID-19 travel restrictions in place for Americans, so this might be a better option for 2022.

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