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Once upon a time, not that long ago, it seemed that Christmas was a time of staying put. Apart from the jolly fellow in the red suit, few people travelled much farther than their posh cousin's place—the one with the pool—for Christmas Day before returning home again with full bellies and a car laden with presents of varying quality.
These days, it seems, more people are taking flight than ever before. Not convinced? Keep an eye on your Facebook feed over the next 4 weeks and there's a very good chance it will be full of friends skiing in Japan or North America, sipping ales in toasty English pubs, or sweltering on beaches across the Pacific and Asia.
The idea of heading to Fiji over Summer, for example, used to illicit tut-tuts from anyone who knew their tropical meteorology. But these days, it seems to be the most natural thing in the world, cyclones be damned. Perhaps our leisure time has become so precious, that we're squeezing every possible drop out of it. And if that means travelling somewhere 'out of season', then so be it. The planes are flying, the cruise ships are leaving port, and there are bargains to be had.
No matter where you're headed at Christmas time, things can get busy, weather can disrupt your plans, and emotions can run high. So we asked some ATAS-accredited travel agents for their survival tips and advice on how to make the most of travels at Christmas.
Travel expert, Bettiann Gain from ATAS-accredited MTA – Mobile Travel Agents, says booking in advance is essential, and it's always worth taking advantage of any 'skip the queue' services at popular attractions.
"As Christmas and New Year is such a busy time to travel, pre-book your tours in major cities where you can, and consider any 'skip the line' or 'fast pass' options available", says Bettiann.
"You'll pay a bit more, but you will be given a scheduled tour (or entry) time. That means you can plan the rest of your day to get the most out of your precious time instead of spending it standing in line. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is a perfect example – you can queue for hours here if you don’t pre-book!", adds Bettiann.
Sharyn Kitchener from Mosman Travel in Sydney agrees that Christmas holidays can be tricky, particularly if you're chasing a white Christmas."Who doesn't have a white Christmas on their bucket-list?", asks Sharyn. "Christmas in the snow really is magical, but it means travelling into winter weather. Let's face it, airports close, flights get delayed, roads close. Any of those things can set off a chain-reaction of late arrivals, no-shows, missed tours and transfers that can completely ruin a holiday.
"My biggest tip would be to always book with an ATAS-accredited travel agent. That way, you'll have a travel professional in your corner, should anything go wrong", says Sharyn. It's good advice. Christmas should be a time of peace on earth and peace-of-mind when you're travelling.
Sharyn suggests travellers make every use of the services of their agent. "Make sure your travel advisor has copies of your passports in case they get lost or stolen. If you've ever had to have emergency passports issued, you'll appreciate how much this can help speed things along", says Sharyn.
A final, practical tip from Sharyn: "Allow a little more time at airports – it’s a very busy time of year for travel and everyone wants to get to their Christmas destination!"
One traveller who very nearly didn't make it is Claire Winnel, Manager of The Cruise & Travel Authority in Terrigal, New South Wales. Claire had a close call with a Christmas snowstorm, but is an advocate for making the most of such situations.
"Several years ago we planned to visit my parents for Christmas in the Cotswolds. Luckily we landed just before a huge blizzard crippled the UK, but we did get snowed in, affecting our road-trip plans. So we bought the kids a sled and they had a ball sleighing down the country lanes", says Claire.
"And Each day we ended up in the local pub with the fire crackling mingling with the locals", she adds. Every cloud, as they say.
For Natalie Hadikin from Mosman Travel, a keen skier, the more snow the better. "While summertime in Sydney can be gorgeous, there can surely be no better Christmas than a white one in a ski resort", says Natalie. "For the passionate skier waking up to fresh white powder and festive alpine surroundings feels Christmas-card perfect", she adds.
As Natalie sees it, there's no better real-world Christmas-card than Colorado with its multitude of legendary ski towns like Aspen, Snowmass, Vail, Beaver Creek, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge.
"Not only do they offer incredible skiing and cater for all levels of ability from beginners to Olympic racers, they're gorgeous travel destinations in their own right", says Natalie. Her picks? "Beaver Creek—Vail's little sister is small, intimate, up-market and every day at 3.00pm you'll find volunteers handing out freshly baked chocolate chip cookies right in the heart of Beaver Creek Village. It's divine. Steamboat Springs—an old cowboy town—is known for its champagne powder and down to earth hospitality. Christmas time in the snow is the perfect holiday", says Natalie.
When we asked Deborah Clarke from ATAS-accredited MTA – Mobile Travel Agents for her Christmas travel tips, her reply was a bit of a surprise.
"Grandparents or older solo travellers, if you are not already, get digital!", says Deborah, a keen user of technology and social media.
If you don't know your WhatsApp from your Insta-whatsit, Deborah has a solution. "Ask your favourite ATAS-accredited travel advisor. After all, they are your behind-the-scenes travel lifesaver and are always willing to help ensure every part of your holiday is perfect—particularly the bits you post on your socials. I just see it as another travel-related service", adds Deborah.
Whether you prefer your Christmas Day hot or cold or somewhere in between, your ATAS-accredited travel agent is there to help. Your ATAS travel agent can help ensure you are set prior to departure but here’s a few travel warnings and useful tips to keep in mind.
ATAS travel agents recommend that Australia passport holders register for travel alerts before they travel.
ATAS travel agents, experience you can trust.
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