Thanksgiving has always been an unusual holiday in my family. Ever since I can remember, my parents have preferred adventure over tradition on Turkey Day.
They’re not American-born, so the holiday never resonated culturally. To them, it simply meant my brother and I had a few days off school – the perfect excuse for a vacation!
Now that I’m grown with a family of my own, I’ve happily carried on the tradition of Thanksgiving travel. Over the years, my husband and kids have joined me on some pretty epic holiday getaways. From cruising the Caribbean to safaris in Africa, our Turkey Days are anything but traditional.
I know it seems crazy to some folks. Aren’t the holidays meant for cozying up at home with loved ones? For stuffing your face with delicious comfort food? Believe me, I get the appeal. But for my family, escaping the usual routine and experiencing new places together is our definition of quality time.
Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to start a new nomadic Thanksgiving tradition of your own.
My Parents Didn’t Care Much for Thanksgiving Tradition
I suppose our family’s quirky take on Thanksgiving started with my mom and dad. As immigrants from Eastern Europe, the fourth Thursday of November held little cultural significance to them.
Skipping Out on Sitting at the Table
My parents never Hosted big Turkey Day feasts or insisted we all sit around the table. In fact, I can’t recall ever having a “normal” Thanksgiving dinner at home growing up. My mom would rather cook borscht or stuffed cabbage leaves than mess with strange American dishes.
Taking Advantage of Time Off from School
What DID matter to my parents was that my brother and I had several days off school. They saw it as the perfect chance to take an extended vacation.
“It’s the best travel deal!” my mom would declare. “You take three days off and get nine in return.” Why waste that precious time sitting at home when we could be out exploring the world as a family?
Clearly their logic resonated with me, as I’ve continued my parents’ tradition of Thanksgiving travel with my own husband and kids. It’s easily become my favorite family holiday over the years.
Our Most Memorable Thanksgiving Getaways
Looking back, I’m amazed by all the incredible places we’ve experienced on past Thanksgiving vacations. Here are a few that really stand out in my memory:
The Snow-Dusted Grand Canyon
One year, we bundled up and headed to the Grand Canyon, where a light snowfall dusted the red and orange rock formations. We practically had the trails and overlooks to ourselves as we snapped photos of the majestic wintry landscape. Definitely beat cranberry sauce and stuffing!
Lobster in Boston
My parents decided New England would be a perfect Thanksgiving destination, so off we went to Boston. We spent the holiday feasting on fresh lobster tails and clam chowder. And of course, we had to walk some of it off on the Freedom Trail.
Tapas in Barcelona
Barcelona quickly became one of my favorite Thanksgiving vacations ever. We indulged in mouthwatering tapas and Spanish wines while admiring the whimsical architecture of Antoni Gaudí. An unforgettable holiday fused with art, culture, and cuisine. ¡Olé!
Road Tripping in Mexico
One of my lifelong dreams was driving the entire length of the Baja Peninsula. My husband and I finally did it over Thanksgiving one year. We had an absolute blast road tripping from Cabo San Lucas to Tijuana, stopping to explore colorful pueblos and tuck into fish tacos along the way.
Avoiding the Crowds Heading Home
Beyond making special memories, there are some nice logistical perks to getting away over Thanksgiving week. Namely, you can avoid the travel headaches that come with people returning home for the holidays.
Flying Internationally for Deals
Airfare to Europe and other international destinations tends to drop around Thanksgiving when so many Americans are focused on domestic travel plans. My parents would always scour the flight deals to plan our next adventure abroad.
Road Trips to Save Money on Flights
If flying overseas isn’t in your budget, road trips are a great option too. You skip the airline crowds and fees. Just gas up the car and go! We’ve driven to incredible national parks and cities across North America over Thanksgiving.
Quieter Domestic Destinations
Even popular U.S. destinations feel more peaceful than usual over Thanksgiving. The crowds of summer and winter breaks are gone, but the holiday cheer is already in full swing. It’s an ideal time to visit places like New York City and Walt Disney World.
Gorgeous Scenery and Weather
For me, late November is one of the most beautiful times for adventure travel. Cooler temps, fall colors, holiday decor – it all enhances the experience.
Vibrant Fall Foliage
Some years, we would plan our Thanksgiving trip around peak foliage season. Like the year we toured New England wineries and marveled at the vibrant fall vineyards surrounding us. Pure magic!
Chilly but Peaceful Landscapes
I know not everyone enjoys cold weather travel. But bundle up and the payoff can be stunning. Some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories are of snowy hikes and icy skylines that felt extra special in the off-season solitude.
Warm Weather Destinations
Then again, if you crave warmth, there are always sunny getaways. One Thanksgiving my family escaped to Costa Rica. Between the beach time and rainforest adventures, it felt like summer break. A nice recharge before winter.
Having a Special Meal
You can still enjoy a nice holiday feast on the road if that’s important to you. Here are a few ways we’ve handled Thanksgiving dinner over the years:
Many restaurants and hotels cater to Americans abroad over Thanksgiving. Their holiday menus offer traditional turkey dinners and upscale extras like fine wines and live music.
Ordering a Prepared Meal
Another option is ordering a complete Thanksgiving meal to go, whether from a grocery store or local caterer. Then enjoy your feast picnic-style wherever you are.
Getting Creative with Picnics
If traditional turkey and sides aren’t available, improvise with a gourmet picnic meal. One year in Brazil, we had a beach BBQ. The year in Costa Rica, we packed a Latin-inspired spread.
The thrill of tracking down Thanksgiving food in far-flung destinations just adds to the fun. But you can keep it simple too – the company matters more than the menu.
Meeting New People
Speaking of company, one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving travel is the interesting people you meet along the way.
Potlucks with Locals
Some years, we’ve been invited to share Thanksgiving meals with new local friends abroad. Like the eccentric potluck I enjoyed at a quirky B&B in Oregon. You never know who you’ll bond with over turkey and travel stories.
Fellow Travelers Become Family
Even other travelers can become like family on holidays. You’re all away from home so there’s a sense of community and gratitude. On one Thanksgiving cruise, my kids spent more time with another family than us!
Going It Alone
All my stories involve traveling with family or my husband. But I’ve also done solo Thanksgiving getaways and had a fantastic time. So don’t rule it out if you’ll be on your own for the holiday.
Group Tours to Avoid Loneliness
One idea is to join a group tour or cruise over Thanksgiving. Having built-in companions can be less isolating than totally solo travel. The year I backpacked Thailand over the holiday was a blast.
Embrace Nontraditional Holidays
If spending Thanksgiving Day itself on your own feels too sad, just remember it’s just another day abroad. Focus on the whole trip as a chance to treat yourself. You can always celebrate on a different day, your own way.
As you can see, Thanksgiving vacations have created some of my most treasured memories over the years. Sure, it’s nontraditional. But for me, nothing beats quality time exploring the world with my loved ones.
I hope these stories have sparked some inspiration for your own adventures! Whether a quick road trip close to home or faraway journeys overseas, consider breaking from tradition this Thanksgiving. Make it a holiday to remember.
Wishing you safe and happy travels if you take the leap. Let me know how it goes!