Travel Solo at Christmas: planning tips

Christmas decorations from the Christmas Market in Vienna last year.

Christmas decorations from the Christmas Market in Vienna last year.

I received an email from a reader asking me for ideas on traveling solo over the Christmas holidays.

While I tend to stay at home over the holidays – I love being with my family and I actually like the cold – I’m sure planning for solo travel over the Christmas holidays is on the to-do list of many readers.

So I’ve given it some thought, done a bit of research and I have a few ideas. And, as a bonus, I’ve crowdsourced more ideas from the travel blogging community.

First, my thoughts on…

Tips for traveling solo over the Christmas holidays

Where to go?

This is totally a matter of taste. My inclination would be to go somewhere that feels like Christmas. The Christmas markets of Germany and Austria are wonderful. You could go to a rural area like the Lake District of England or many places in Scotland. You could go to a ski resort in North America or a city that’s dazzling with Christmas like London or New York.

Or you could go as far away from Christmas as possible. It’s really up to you. But to plan, you first need to set your sights on the kind of travel you want to do and where you want to do it.

Do you want to be alone or with new friends?

Traveling solo doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. We all know that we meet lots of people as we travel solo but meeting people to share a Christmas with is a little different. In this situation you need to plan accordingly. You might want to volunteer – whether abroad or along side locals in a city not far away. Serving Christmas dinner to people with less means can be very satisfying. Or consider accommodation that is more social such as AirBnB where you can rent a room in a person’s home or a hostel where there will be other people away from home for Christmas.

When to go?

As the travel bloggers pointed out in their comments below, flying on Christmas day could get you the best deal. In an enclosed environment like a plane, a festive mood often prevails among passengers, sometimes even involving the crew. Flying home late on New Year’s Eve could also score you a deal. But flying other days around the holidays will take a bit more work to get a decent fare.

Flying? How to get the best deal:

  • Use a service like Skyscanner’s everywhere button. With the Skyscanner booking engine, you put in your dates and your home airport and leave the destination blank. The results will be flights to all sorts of places sorted from the cheapest to the most expensive. You have to be flexible in your destination but this could be your big Christmas surprise.
  • Book as soon as you can. Flights usually get more expensive the closer to the departure date.
  • Book on a Tuesday or Wednesday in the late evening. It still seems to be the case that these are the times when the airlines release their sales.
  • You can use a booking engine like Skyscanner’s or Expedia’s or Canoe’s (there are so many) to research your options but always check the prices on the actual airline’s site before you book. They are sometimes lower.
  • You can still fly stand-by. Here’s an post on how to do so successfully.

Buy yourself a present. Really!

Who doesn’t like presents at Christmas and while your trip may be your present there’s no reason you can’t have something small and special from your travels. I like to buy earrings – they’re inexpensive and pack easily. But it could be something as simple as a tube of toothpaste of a brand that is new to you. For as long as that tube lasts, you’ll remember your trip every time you brush your teeth.

And now, the suggestions from other travel bloggers…

The nativity scene at the Vienna Christmas market.

The nativity scene at the Vienna Christmas market.

More tips on traveling solo for the Christmas holidays.

Tips for booking flights on the holidays

Annemarie Dooling of The Huffington Post: Flying on the holiday itself is amazing. It’s insane how cheap tickets can be.

Dave Dean of What’s Dave Doing replied to Annemarie – absolutely! I flew from NZ to Australia on Xmas Day a few years ago – it was less than half the price of pretty much anything three weeks either side, and the plane was so empty that I had an entire row to myself. Plus, I basically got to have two Christmases. Success!

Matt Long of Landlopers: Look for special festivals going on and be prepared for unusual opening/closing times.

Kerwin McKenzie of Travel Advice: Book as far ahead as possible, although it may not make too much difference since Holidays is when airlines make their money. Use an alternate airport if possible. Check public transportation schedules as they are usually different around Holidays. Avoid checking a bag and do a connecting flight as it’s usually cheaper. As with all travel, use a credit card that will earn you miles. Use to find good deals and then book on the airline’s site.

Matt Long then replied to Kerwin saying: This is VERY dependent on location. Maybe that’s true for US travel, we’ve traveled overseas the last two Christmas seasons and except for trains (get reservations) it’s been easy peasy and not at all too expensive.

And the conversation continued with Kerwin replying: It is Matt; however, for the most part fares around Holiday travel are higher. The airlines does revenue management, so if the higher fares are not selling, they may make lower fares available. And yes there are some Holidays when international travel is not as popular as domestic U.S. travel. You just have to do your research and like you’ve found, you may find a diamond in the rough

Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discover: If you are flexible with where you want to go, sign up for various alerts from the consolidators or just as easily google last minute deals and make your holiday a reality with a travel bargain to boot.

Eating out solo on the holidays

Billie Frank of Santa Fe Travelers:  Book restaurants for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year’s Ever and Day in advance. As places close, the choices in smaller places may be limited. And popular places anywhere book up way in advance. By the way, Santa Fe is great for Christmas!

Nicole Blaess-Smith of Bitten by the Travel Bug: If you don’t want to be by yourself during the holidays seek out the expat community. You’ll find people who may be missing home or looking to have a nice meal and a few drinks.

Tips for Booking Accommodation on the Holidays

Suzanne Wolko of Philatravelgirl: I’ve spent time in Europe over Thanksgiving. It’s an extra day of vacation as it’s not a holiday there. Look at hotels in the biz district for deals as their US guests are home and occupancy low. It’s a bit easier to find award space during/on Thanksgiving (still need some advance booking time). In Paris there are a few restaurants that serve US turkey dinner (you’ll need a reservation) as there is large ex-pat community.

And encouraging story about solo travel on the holidays

Carol Perehudoff of Wandering Carol: The holidays are  the best time to travel solo! It’s making a statement, you don’t just happen to be alone, you are choosing to be alone. My advice is to talk to everyone around you. People are more open and friendly on festive occasions. It’s the atmosphere. One Christmas Eve, I was travelling to Baden-Baden, Germany, on the train, planning to spend the holidays at a spa. I started chatting to the German woman beside me, who called up a friend in Baden-Baden, and I ended up spending Christmas with a Duke and his friends. Best holiday ever.

I hope you’ll share your suggestions in the comments below.

  • EmilyF

    Thank you! :) I’m here already –
    Absolutely love it!! Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones! :)

  • Enilem

    I know this is a really late reply and it’s too late for you to go now, but I just came out of Iceland and it was beautiful. The nighttime darkness thing is really not that bad as long as you keep busy. My suggestion is you stay at a hostel in the middle of the city (I stayed at Loft) and go on tours if you can’t afford to rent a car. The atmosphere is great and the people are nice and the food is good. Book your tickets six months or so in advance for the cheapest deals. Maybe you’ll be there christmas 2015!

  • ozgur

    You can visit many places. The issue is what youwant to see! Thanks for great advices. If you get near by Austria, take a look at

  • Londongirl

    I live in London and while it’s true Boxing Day is a holiday, it’s also the start of the sales in oxford street so there are many places open for business around there, and all the public transport systems are running. Christmas Day is the only day that’s really closed up, and even then, many pubs are still open. I would just suggest you book well ahead for your Christmas Day meal.

  • EmilyF

    I need ideas for Christmas 2014 as well… Is Iceland a bad option? I really want to go… but I heard there’s like 18hours of night… :-O Not sure what I would do… Any ideas, anyone? The UK (Scotland) is just working out too expensive… but I would love to go there again!

  • Maks

    I’m a bit late joining this post but I hope to go away for Xmas and new year 2014. A bit scared to travel alone, I haven’t decided which country to go to yet. Any ideas where a solo traveler can spend Xmas day? Is there a place where all the solos meet up haha? if you have any ideas

  • Janice

    Hi there, Congratulations on finding what works for you. I remember the mourning after my husband passed away. It was difficult. One of the ways to come back is to change things up. Create new traditions. Ones that work for You!
    I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

  • Lonely widow

    My husband died on December 22, so I never spend Christmas at home. I’ve tried visiting with my children who live out of state but that is not really satisfactory, so now I always cruise over Christmas. It’s not an economy fare but it is worth it to be away from all familiar surrounding and with people who are having fun. One year I traveled to Mexico round trip from San Diego. Another year I sailed the Caribbean round trip from Ft. Lauderdale. This year I am sailing to Hawaii round trip from San Francisco. I don’t know where I will go next year.

  • Monika Blau

    Finding a good hotel when traveling solo is always a tricky part as well. I would recommend this website:

  • Pingback: It’s Already Time To Buy Those Holiday Airfares | TokNok Multi Social Blogging Solutions()

  • Tracey Nesbitt

    Maybe it would be a good time of year to find a house/pet sitting gig? Someone posted a list of several house sitting sites on the Solo Travel Society on Facebook last week…

  • leelaurino

    very good suggestion. I have a ship going to the uk in nov and a month in Italy…… such a waste to come home just for a holiday….even with a family, they don’t do anything and don’t notice if I am there or not….. you were brave with the bus trip! I shall try to find condo listings, so far nothing affordable in dec…. perhaps they need volunteers at a pet shelter since everyone else is off …

  • Tracey Nesbitt

    Lee, I once spent Christmas in London, renting a condo at Canary Wharf. To get around the dilemma of where to eat and what to do on Christmas Day, I booked a bus tour of Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge, which included Christmas lunch in a centuries-old pub in the English countryside. Naturally, the group was made up of others in a similar situation, including solo travelers. It was wonderful.

  • Vandana Singh

    Hi Janice and Tracey!

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  • leelaurino

    thank you for that hint, i suppose my other alternative is a better hotel with a restaurant…..would love to do one of the country house weeks but can not deal with the ‘why are you alone’ questions….

  • Asheville Gal

    The day after Xmas is Boxing Day in London and everything is closed.

  • leelaurino

    plan for food in ADVANCE, many times traveling pre holiday I have found places closed and last year while in New Jersey (yes the center of the food world) EVERY diner and restaurant was closed on Christmas day….. staying at an apt that had NO FOOD….ok must admit i foraged at the wawa, a convenience store/gas station.
    can always find soup, salad and snakes.

    i plan to spend xmas in london this year and worry the same thing will happen. At home in London books rooms but NO ONE wants you in there home at xmas so will look for an apt