Holiday travel traditions can be as simple as counting cows or playing the alphabet game or looking for all the license plates in the USA as you drive to be with family. Along the way, you have many opportunities to expand the drive to make some new traditions. Here are a few ideas…

Do a scavenger hunt with a destination.

We did this for many years with our family. The first year it was a total surprise. We told them we were doing the Twelve Days of Christmas. The first day and the second were fun short destinations near home. The third day, a Friday, we had their suitcases packed and in the car ready to go. Since they were used to a clue that said, “Go to Dad’s car,” they did that. But this time the next clue took them further away than before. A series of clues led us to a nice destination hotel near the beach, where we enjoyed a few days vacation together. In the years thereafter, we did the clues but they knew that they were on their way somewhere. You could mix this up any way that it suited your family.

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Explore history, nature and amusement.

If you have a chance to combine your holiday travel with some nearby destinations, why not give the family a chance to share in the planning? Offer the broad categories of history or nature or amusement and then have them do the research and find a place to see on the way to or from grandma’s house. You could have as many categories as you have time. Put them in a basket and have a drawing, so that the kids have even chances of what category they will get. An alternative is to do a “Travel Grab Bag” with the places and destinations inside small wrapped packages.

Find an holiday festival or fair.

Many areas of the country pull out all the stops for the holidays. You might be near a famous location – say Plimoth Plantation at Thanksgiving, or Williamsburg all decked out for Christmas. Christkindlmarkets in Chicago, in Philadelphia, PA, Arlington, TX or Baltimore, MD echo the old world Christkindlmarkets in Nuremburg and Innsbruck. Or you may be able to track down one of the smaller regional holiday markets and fairs. Attending will add to the memories you make on that particular holiday drive.


Visit places that just say the holidays.

The little town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (actually a moderate sized city) has a wonderful series of concerts and events all centered upon their Moravian heritage, as do smaller but charming Lititz, PA and Old Salem, North Carolina. You will love seeing these towns decorated with their amazing array of many pointed Moravian stars.

Visit a poinsettia nursery.

There is nothing quite as eye-popping as a vast swath of vivid red poinsettias in bloom, ready and waiting to decorate homes and towns nearby. A sampling of some of the nurseries that offer visits to the general public include: Knox Nursery in Winter Garden, Florida, Stanley’s Greenhouse in Washington DC, Van Wingerden Nursery in Bellingham, Washington, Mitchell’s Nursery in King, North Carolina, Oran’s Nursery in Bradenton, Florida, and Homewood Nursery and Garden Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. Chances are there is a nursery you can visit; check for their special season open house events.

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Help in a holiday dinner outreach program.

Most communities offer a meals program at the holidays to help people in need. Check your local events directory to find out where you can bring a smile, roll up your sleeves, and help make someone’s holiday brighter. You will be teaching your family about the joys of giving. Search using the terms: “Community Thanksgiving Dinner” “Community Christmas Dinner” “Community New Years Dinner” and the name of your town, for details.

See the lights.

There are some fabulous holiday light displays that you can stroll, take a tram, or drive through. The Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California; Clifton Mill, Ohio, the Garden Lights at Atlanta Botanical Garden, Dominion Garden of Lights in Norfolk Botanical Garden (VA), Magic Christmas Lights in Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, Alabama; James Island County Park, in Charleston SC, and best of all, the Night of Lights in St Augustine, Florida (hint, rent a carriage to see them in all their glory). Winter Park, Florida usually has a display of specially illuminated Tiffany Windows from the Morse Museum in their park.


Attend a Madrigal Dinner.

See how the holidays were celebrated in Merry Old England. Yes, the boar’s head, apples, and people in clothing that harkens back to the Canterbury Tales. These can be modestly priced local productions or destination events, such as the Glen Eyre Madrigal in Colorado Springs—a 16th century style four course banquet in the grand Great Hall of the Castle.

Watch “The Nutcracker” live.

This is the quintessential holiday ballet with colorful fantasy and lush music by Tchaikovsky. No doubt a theater within driving distance is offering it. Children are captivated by the experience, especially when you do a bit of advance preparation about what they will do and see.

Attend a holiday concert.

Local churches, professional musical groups and everyone in-between offer wonderful holiday shows. The Living Nativity at Radio City music hall is spectacular and justly famous. Mary Queen of the Universe in the theme park area of Orlando, Florida, offers one of the best in the nation. Set in the awe inspiring modern basilica, the music is sure to put you in a holiday mood. Plan to arrive early so you can enjoy the complementary hors d’oeurves and cookies in the lavish gift shop and find some great items for everyone on your list.

This family holiday traditions have probably sparked some of your own. So make a plan to get out there and enjoy!