5 Holiday Travel Ideas for Reconnecting on the Road

Get the family together in a new place this season.

After so many weeks spent keeping our distance, the time we devote to reconnecting with loved ones is precious—especially around the holidays. If you’re hoping to combine family time with some holiday travel this year, here are five ideas for a festive getaway—from snowy and sublime to beachy and bright.

1. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, Michigan, vacation Layne Kennedy/Getty Images

This 4-square-mile island in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, is a summer favorite—best known for its quaint, bicycle-filled streets (no cars allowed!) and its melt-in-your-mouth fudge. Few tourists venture here after October, but for snow-loving families the island offers endless winter delights: horse-drawn carriage rides along snow-packed streets, miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, snowshoeing and fat-tire biking. To mark the holidays, the island holds a tree lighting and Christmas bazaar in early December and New Year’s Eve festivities at the end of the month. Hotel and restaurant options are limited compared to summer, but the island’s wintry charm more than makes up for it. (Get to the island by ferry or plane, weather permitting.)

2. Naples, Florida

Naples, Florida vacation Darron R. Silva/www.darronsilva.com

If the “white stuff” you prefer is sand instead of snow, this beach town on South Florida’s Gulf Coast is a fun choice for holiday travel with a tropical vibe. In fact, Coastal Living magazine has called it one of America’s 10 Best Beach Towns for Christmas. The area welcomes the season with twinkling festivities that include lighted boat parades (with vessels decked out in thousands of lights that reflect off the water) most weekends in December. The greenery at Naples Botanical Garden is illuminated in vibrant hues during the annual Night Lights in the Garden, and there’s a tree lighting, festive window displays and plenty of shopping in the city’s historic downtown.

3. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina vacation ExploreAsheville.com

More than 2,100 feet up in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the holidays reach new heights of elegance and grandeur. This is where, in the late 1800s, George Vanderbilt constructed his 250-room French Renaissance chateau. Biltmore estate opened to the public in 1930, and today, Christmas is one of the most popular times of year to visit. The house is typically decked out with dozens of Christmas trees—including the 35-foot-tall centerpiece in the Banquet Hall—along with some 30,000 lights and candles. Also worth a visit: the AAA Four Diamond Omni Grove Park Inn, where the Great Hall is dominated by two enormous stone fireplaces.

4. Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri vacation Silver Dollar City

The holidays come with plenty of pageantry at this Ozark mountain town known for its spectacular live shows and family-friendly atmosphere. The season kicks off in early November with Christmas-themed shows featuring country, gospel and bluegrass music—and even a musical adaptation of the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. Drive-through light displays twinkle all across the area, and Branson’s tree trail leads to dozens of illuminated Christmas trees. At the Silver Dollar City theme park, there are more than 6.5 million lights and 1,000 decorated trees. Cap off a holiday visit with a ride on the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express train, complete with story time, cookies and hot chocolate.

5. Chicago

holiday travel vacation in Chicago Maggie Daley Park

If a big-city getaway is more your holiday travel style, Chicago is a sparkling choice. During ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo, 2.5 million lights provide a festive glow, and the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is typically topped off by a parade down North Michigan Avenue and fireworks over the Chicago River. Revel in winter’s chill by taking a spin around one of the city’s outdoor skating rinks. Two favorites: near “The Bean” in Millennium Park and along the quarter-mile ribbon of ice in Maggie Daley Park. Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, the city’s re-creation of an authentic German Christmas market, is another annual delight. Browse the stalls for handcrafted gifts—from glass ornaments to wooden cuckoo clocks—while sipping mulled wine and nibbling on hot pretzels.

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