Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hands-Up How-To ... find Christmas magic...

     Jamie Ridler has invited her fans to create a Hands-Up How-To Blog and my first thoughts were... what do I know?  But then in reading another blog I follow written by Chick Chat about Christmas, I realized that there was something I could share...

     2007 was a horrible year for me.  I had divorced the fall of 2006 which left me with a great deal of debt from my ex, my father died the spring of 2007, and I had argued with my brother most of the year as I tried to settle my father's estate.   As far as I could see, there wasn't going to be any 'merry' in my Christmas that year, especially if I had to spend it alone.

     I had always dreamed of going back to Germany to visit the magic I had felt as a child when we were stationed there with my Dad's military assignment.  But the idea of going 'alone' had never occurred to me, (a single woman, alone at Christmas, in Germany?  How pathetic could I be?), especially since I have limited vision in my right eye.  When I was in a relationship or married, there was always the consideration of the expenses for two people to travel on limited budgets.

      But then I realized... how much braver could I be?  What better way to take back control of my life and my happiness than to do something totally out of character of the 'old me?'

      I had been working two jobs to make ends meet... a day job that kept me exhausted and bored, and a night job teaching that made me feel fulfilled each time one of my students came to me with that 'Aha!' moment.  I was finishing up the term in September with a class that had more students than any of my previous classes, so my pay when it arrived at the end of the term would be substantial compared to what I had received in the past.

     A friend had recommended Uniworld after her father and stepmother had gone on one of their summer river cruises, so I started researching options.  When I got my pay for that term, it went right to Uniworld to pay for an eight day Rhine Holiday Market cruise!

     So here is my Hands-Up How-To travel alone at the holidays advice for singles of any age:
  1. Be brave!
  2. Plan ahead.  If you don't already have a passport, GET ONE NOW.  Don't wait until you need it for a trip to get it... that almost always guarantees delays in the mail or passport office.
  3. Make sure your cell phone has international coverage... even if you aren't going to spend the holidays with family, you will probably want to call someone and tell them what a FABULOUS time you are having (even better than a Wish you were here! postcard).
  4. Do your homework! 
    1. Learn some of the language before you leave.  Even if you never use it, it will give you a little confidence to at least know how to ask for help or directions.  My Southern girl accent must have been obvious because no matter where I tried to sprechen Sie ein wenig Deutsch they would always respond in English!
    2. Purchase some books before you leave for the countries or cities that you will visit.  Amazon.com has some excellent ones that allowed me to make notes of what I wanted to make sure I saw.
    3. Research airports for all departures and arrivals delays and potential weather issues.  Consider leaving a day ahead - I flew out of JFK and so went up the day before my flight to Germany to see all of the sights in New York.  I stayed the night in a beautiful hotel within walking distance of Rockefeller Plaza.  When I arrived at JFK for the long flight ahead, I was rested, excited, and not stressed from worrying whether or not I would make my connections because of weather delays.  When I returned at the end of my trip, I did the same thing, staying an extra night in New York to get rid of the jet lag.
    4. Pack light and in layers.  My first trip I packed an outfit for each day and a few options ~ way too much!  Wrestling with two suitcases and a carry-on bag when I had to take the train from Frankfurt to Koln... nightmare!  Pack clothes that you can mix and match, and a few of Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets so you can do laundry on board the boat if you really need to.
  5. By booking a river cruise, I just had to unpack once and each morning I would wake up in a new magical city along the Rhine River.  We would tour the city in the mornings and the afternoons we would be free to explore on our own.
  6. Step out of the box!  Try new things!  The chef on the cruise was incredible and I made a vow to try something new every single night at dinner.  I had escargot (not really as gross as the snails in my fish tank back home!), duck (nothing at all like the one on A Christmas Story), and one night for dessert I had champagne, sorbet and caviar (all together in a champagne flute)!  For lunch we often had the option of eating on the boat or in town, and I always opted to eat at one of the local restaurants or holiday markets.
  7. Speak up!  Don't sit by yourself at dinner.  Seek out someone else traveling alone and ask to join them for dinner.  While I was probably the youngest single (at 44) on the trip, I made some wonderful friends by joining a table of other singles for dinner.  We began to call ourselves the Christmas Five Club, and the following year when I took the Danube trip, one of the elderly gentlemen (80ish) I met on the Rhine trip booked the same trip just so he would know someone would be watching out for him and keeping him from getting lost (he was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, but was a wonderful conversationalist).  Even if you don't eat with them again on the trip, you will have met someone new.  River boats typically carry less than 200 passengers... Uniworld cruises about 100 max.  That Christmas there were only 49 passengers... there were more crew members than passengers on board!
  8. Every time I could, I would buy two of the same postcards.  One I would stash away to bring home with me, the other I would 'journal' what I had seen or done that day and then mail it to myself with local postage.  When I got home, my scrapbook was halfway completed with all of my postcard journals that I could match up with the picture postcard I had carried home.
  9. If you do want to go for the holiday markets and shopping, book your trip for the week before Christmas.  Most of the holiday markets will end on the 23rd or 24th, and most businesses will be closed the 24th through the 26th.
     Looking back at the scrapbooks I created from those two trips... they were the best Christmas memories ever!  If I had let my fear of traveling alone at Christmas control me, I would never have had the incredible experiences I did.  Be brave!

2 comments:

  1. I love this post. I am not single but your suggestions are perfect for everyone single or not. Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season.

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  2. That idea of buying 2 of the same postcard and sending one to yourself brought a tear to my eye! What a wonderful post - thank you for sharing! xxx

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