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What to Know Before Booking a Tropical Christmas Vacation

If you’re looking for a tropical Christmas getaway this winter, or if you’ve been invited to celebrate Christmas in a warmer climate, then grab your shades and ditch the coat! Celebrating Christmas in a hot and sunny climate might be a new experience for you, and it’s important to keep a few key tips in mind while you’re preparing for your tropical Christmas holiday.

Here are a few things you should know before celebrating a sunny, tropical Christmas, whether you’re headed somewhere familiar or exotic for the holidays.

Girl wearing a christmas hat sitting on the beach next to luggage.

First, My First Tropical Christmas Vacation

I didn’t grow up in a family that traveled for Christmas. Each and every Christmas was spent at home in the frozen tundra of eastern Kansas. I assumed christmases as adult would be just the same, but as I traveled more, grew as a person, and experienced the world on my own, I realized I could spend my Christmas vacations anywhere I wanted. In December of 2021, I decided to have my first tropical Christmas vacation (in tandem with my 40th birthday trip and my second birthday vacation)

I am sure that the memory of a Hawaiian sunset to close a Christmas day filled with sunshine and warm water will stay with me until my dying day. On the powdery white sands of Hapuna Beach on the Big Island, I spent Christmas day trying body surfing for the first time in my life. Lifted by the waves, I spent that Christmas laughing and smiling until my face hurt- something that was never quite true for Christmases spent in the discomfort of extended family back in Kansas.

Whether you are traveling as a solo, couple, friend group, nuclear family, or as a large family group, spending Christmas in a tropical location can be an incredible way to re-set Christmas expectations and encounter your loved ones – or simply the natural work around you- in a new way.

For tips on minimizing stress during Christmas family vacations, check out my article on family vacations with less stress– an article I created based on my training and professional experience in my day job as a therapist.

Pro Tip for Christmas Vacations: Book ASAP!

The winter holidays are one of the most popular times to travel, which means you should book your transport and accommodation as soon as you can. Once you have the dates and destination in mind, book your tickets and hotel!

Another option while you’re browsing the Christmas holidays months before is to check several destinations before committing to one. Instead of deciding the destination and then planning from there, set the rough dates of your tropical Christmas trip and then decide exactly where you want to go. This could help you save a lot on travel and accommodation costs, and it could land you in a more pristine tropical destination for the holidays!

Bring Christmas with You

Being away from home for the holiday doesn’t mean you have to stay in a sterile hotel room. In fact, I have an entire article dedicated to decorating a hotel room for Christmas. With a few packable decorative elements, your hotel or resort room can be cheery and bright with Christmas spirit!

Packing Properly for a Tropical Christmas Vacation

Now that you’ve got your transport and accommodation booked, it’s time to pack your bags. But before you toss your swimsuit and flip-flops into your suitcase, do a bit of research. Just because a place is famous for beaches and warm weather doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for swimming year-round. Things like cold water, storms, or dangerous winter rip tides could put a damper on your beach plans. That’s why it’s important to check out the climate before you pack.

Before you go on a tropical Christmas adventure, it’s also advisable to check the rainy and dry seasons. Make sure that you’re prepared for rain because it can fall at any moment! Also, if you’re traveling to a foreign country, make sure that you also check for any necessary vaccinations or inoculations before going. 

Be Sun Smart! ⛅

Sunscreen for sale in europe at a pharmacy.

Just because it’s December and your tropical destination might be cooler than in other months doesn’t mean that you can ditch your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Even though the weather might be colder, the sun is still sending out plenty of UV rays. Be sure to pack all the proper sun care cosmetics and gear that you need. If you use it during a temperate summer at home, you’ll probably need it for a tropical Christmas, too. 

It Might Get Chilly! ❄️

Despite all this talk of sunshine, you should be prepared for chilly evenings and nights. Even in tropical places, winter evenings can get chilly. You don’t need to pack a whole winter coat and mittens, but bring along a sweater or hoodie to keep you warm when the sun goes down and the cool tropical breezes start blowing. This packing list for Christmas in Mexico is a good starting point to make sure you’ve packed everything you might need for your tropical holiday.

Hold Your Christmas Traditions Loosely

Even in many tropical places, there are Christmas traditions that just keep going. For instance, even where evergreen trees might not be easy to find, people still tend to decorate Christmas trees. Of course, they could use palm, ficus, or other local species, but the familiar winter tradition still holds.

Another example is the delicious holiday food. In other tropical Christmas destinations, the big holiday dinner can look different. While elements of the heavy winter meal might stay on the table, you can expect to see more local fare that is suited to whatever is in season. 

Also, don’t be surprised to see Christmas decorations in places that don’t even celebrate Christmas. Decorations like lights, bows, and Christmas trees have become popular winter decorations all over the world, thanks to Hollywood movies and the export of American/Western culture. Enjoy the local flavors of these familiar elements of your winter holidays!

Finally, don’t expect a tropical Christmas at the beach to be exactly like a Christmas at home. It kind of goes without saying, but there will be new and different ways that you’ll celebrate. Don’t dream of a white Christmas, dream of Christmas on a white sand beach!

A jogger on a hawaiian beach on christmas day celebrating a tropical christmas.

Be Prepared to Pay a Premium for a Christmas in the Tropics

The weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year are some of the most expensive times to travel during the year. Even if you’re going to a place with a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, the worldwide demand for travel and tourism services during that time drives the cost up. 

If you’re traveling to a place that does celebrate Christmas as part of their culture, even if that Christmas looks different from what you’re used to, then you can expect the price hikes to be even steeper. 

For these reasons, you should be prepared to pay more for every aspect of your trip: the transport (like flight tickets or rental car), the accommodation (whether you’re getting a hotel or a vacation rental), and even the food that you eat in local restaurants. 

Main Takeaways on Beach Christmas Vacations

Swapping a white Christmas for the holidays on a white sand beach can be a great way to unwind and escape the cold weather. There are so many great tropical Christmas destinations where you can throw off your coat and soak up the sun this winter.

When you celebrate Christmas in a new place, it’s important to be open and flexible to the new and exciting ways you’ll experience the holiday traditions. Be prepared for different decorations, customs, and food this holiday season!

You should also remember to pack for finicky weather. In many tropical destinations, the winter days are warm and sunny, so you’ll need your sun protection gear. In the evenings and nights, however, you may need a sweater or hoodie to keep you warm. And don’t forget to pack your Christmas stocking! 

Finally, make sure you’re financially prepared for the higher cost of traveling at Christmas time. Plan ahead and book your transport and accommodation well in advance in order to get a better price.

5 Pro-Tips for Traveling Alone to a Beach Destination at Christmas

The thrill of the Christmas holiday is felt all around the world, with celebrations in countries on every single continent. You’re excited to grab your passport and explore a new culture during the most magical time of the year. The only catch: you’re traveling solo this time. 

If your solo travel will take you far from home this Christmas, you might already be feeling a bit blue or lonely. But there’s no need to spend your holidays sad; instead, follow these five tips for thriving as you travel during Christmas!

A man clicking a selfie in christmas attire with luggage in hand.

1. Remember: “Solo” Doesn’t Mean “Alone”

One of the most effective ways to thrive during solo travel at Christmas is to shift your mindset. Just because you hopped on a plane and crossed the border by yourself doesn’t mean that you have to spend Christmas alone!

Choose solitude if that’s what nourishes your would, but feel free to get to know others at the hotel or hostel- even if it is the staff who’s working over the holiday. Go to holiday events (like Christmas markets, concerts, or even religious services) to connect with others. These acquaintances can quickly become a makeshift group of friends for celebrating Christmas!

Here are some of my favorite destinations for solo travelers to spend Christmas.

2. Lean In To Local Traditions

Christmas looks different all over the world, and while you might see some familiar elements, it’s likely that your solo travel will take you far from what you might consider a “traditional” holiday. 

Make the most of this chance to learn about different cultural Christmas traditions. Visit museums, city squares, and/or religious events that can give you more insight into these local traditions. As with all solo travel, keep an open mind and heart: be present and celebrate in the time and space where you find yourself. 

Don’t be afraid to ask local people about their Christmas traditions, either! People are generally excited to share their culture, history, and holidays with travelers who are interested. Simply ask around for local bits of traditional information, and you’re quite likely to find a local who will explain the Christmas celebrations from a unique perspective. Whether it’s lighting lamps in the Philippines or grabbing a coveted Christmas bucket of KFC in Japan or South Korea, participating in local Christmas traditions can be a way to lean into the travel experience.

3. Connect With Your Family

If it’s safe to do so, take some intentional time on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to call your family (or family-like friends) back home. If you’re traveling in a totally different time zone and/or with limited access to the internet, it can be helpful to set this time up in advance. Setting up a time to call your family also gives you a chance to look forward to connecting with them, and it shows your family that even though you’re not home for Christmas, your heart is with them. Intentionality is the key here!

Let them know that even if you’re half a world away, you’re thinking of them on this big holiday. Fill them in on a few of your solo travel adventures, and catch up on their Christmas celebration news, too.

4. Be Prepared

Aside from being open and intentional while celebrating Christmas abroad, you should also make some practical preparations for your solo travel. For instance, be sure to check the weather for your destination. Winter might be harsher than you’re used to, or you might be spending more time outside in the cold weather than you’re used to. Make sure you pack accordingly!

Also, people are often more susceptible to common illnesses (such as the cold or flu) while they travel in the winter. You can preemptively pack some over-the-counter symptom relief, vitamin C tablets, and/or vapor rub just in case. Having familiar cold and flu treatments already available in your bag is definitely preferable to walking around in the cold and trying to navigate the local medicine scene!

Check Closing Times ⌚

During the Christmas holidays, especially on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s likely that many businesses will be closed. This means that you should get any food, drinks, and other necessities before Christmas Eve. Make sure to get enough to last you through the holiday.

You can also check the opening times and availability of restaurants nearby so that you’re not left hungry on Christmas! If you find a place that’s open, be sure to invite your traveling pals to join you for a holiday meal. 

Have Cash Handy 💵

Having cash available during the Christmas holidays is an absolute must. Throughout the holidays, banks will likely be difficult to access. This means that if you need customer support for withdrawing cash or confirming card transactions, it could take a lot longer to get the help you need. Don’t get stuck on Christmas without access to your funds!

Make sure that you have enough cash to last you a few days, just in case. Of course, you should store the cash in a safe place!

5. Stay Generous!

When you think of Christmas, you probably think of presents. And while it is fun to get gifts on Christmas, it’s even better to experience the joy of giving. Just because you’re on a solo trip doesn’t mean you can’t experience that joy!

Before you even leave for your destination, pack a few small gifts in your bag. These can be typical things from your hometown, or handy travel tools that fellow travelers would appreciate. Wrap them with the intention of giving them away on Christmas day. You can give them to other guests at the hostel or hotel, staff who are working in the service industry instead of enjoying the holiday with their families, or people you meet at local Christmas events.

You can also organize a hostel-wide meal, whether you all prepare food together in the hostel kitchen or go out to a local restaurant. You don’t need to pay for everyone’s meal or provide all the ingredients, though. Let the invitation and intention be your act of generosity, and give others the chance to respond generously, as well. 

No matter who ends up at the table or who receives the gifts in the end, make sure to savor the happiness and generosity of the holiday!