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Why We Ditched Christmas

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Year after year, we celebrate Christmas with exceedingly expensive toys, too-expensive electronics, too-expensive shoes, too-expensive games, etc. The older the kids get, the more expensive these gifts become. It never fails… the presents are wrapped and placed under the tree where they will be shaken, passed around, opened, looked at, tinkered with, and within a couple of weeks (if we’re lucky) most of them will be set aside or forgotten about. Sound familiar?

I don’t know about your family, but this scenario is all too familiar in our home. So, this year we decided to ditch Christmas. That’s right, we decided to not buy ANY gifts and take our boys (9 and 12) on a family vacation instead. We are all so happy we decided to celebrate Christmas in this way! We saw things, ate things, learned things, and spent such valuable family time together. MEMORIES! I’d like to share a bit about this trip with you, including our budget.

Ditch the Christmas Gifts

Ditch the Gifts

In a previous blog post, How We Travel So Much for So Little, I explain that we subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights; a free, international airfare deal-finding email based service. Earlier this year, when a deal came through from our normally pricey home airport of Wichita, Kansas with round-trip tickets to Amsterdam for less than $500 per person, we pounced. At $497 (cheaper than it would be for us to fly just about anywhere domestically!) we spent $1991 for all four of us to visit Europe for eight glorious days.

Bonus: we didn’t decorate AT ALL for Christmas. No messing with putting up and decorating the tree, no running from house to house to house, no buying gifts, no wrapping gifts, no clean up, no anxiety, and definitely no fear of missed expectations.

Thankfully these tickets were bought during the summer months which gave us time to find inexpensive lodging – and to save up our spending money. We landed in Amsterdam and took a train ride through the Netherlands down to Brugge, Belgium where we stayed for four days before heading back to Amsterdam for the remainder of our trip.

While in Brugge we climbed the Belfry, tasted exquisite chocolates, ate the most amazing Belgian Waffles, and drank REAL hot chocolate. We walked the streets looking for the perfect yarn shop (Stikkestek was dreamy!), we took a boat tour through the canals, visited the annual Ice Festival, museums, and more. And that was just in Brugge!

Christmas vacation

And in the middle of it all I caught this amazing photo of my boys actually interacting with each other in a way that required no referees, no time outs, or me questioning my sanity. HA!

Brugge at night

Chocolates and Happiness in Brugge, Belgium

Horsedrawn carriage ride

Yarn shops in Brugge

yarn haul

Beautiful canal in Brugge

In Amsterdam we visited the Anne Frank museum and the Van Gogh museum, we took a boat tour through the canals, a horse-drawn carriage ride through 800 year-old streets, ate Dutch pancakes that are nothing like American pancakes – I’m going to try to replicate them at home. We visited the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Amsterdam, and saw a skateboarding bulldog. No joke.

Brugge Belfry

How to vacation for cheap in Europe

Fancy yarn store in Amsterdam

Per usual, we decided to book with Airbnb for our lodging. I won’t go into all of the details (because I thoroughly explain how to get the best bang for your buck with Airbnb in this article) but suffice it to say that because of the amazing locations of both of our stays, we did not need to use a bus, tram, or taxi for any of our stay. Everything was within walking distance! Location, location, location! And amenities, but again you can read more about that here. 😉 After booking our Airbnbs, my husband cashed in rewards points on his credit card (that we save specifically for travel, read more on that here) that paid for the majority of the lodging during our 8-night stay.

We took a total of $700 (exchanged for Euros, of course) in cash and paid for other things with our credit cards – about $1,000 after all said and done.

European family vacation

European Vacation – Family of Four

Airfare – $1991 total

Lodging ~ $300 after rewards

Spending cash – $700

Credit card purchases ~ $1000 (including my fancy yarn ♥)

Total for 8 days of one-on-one time with my husband and kids: PRICELESS

Now I do understand that this isn’t exactly a cheap trip, we are definitely fortunate. This 4-person trip also wasn’t as expensive as it could have been either! Without the airfare discount, we could easily have spent triple the amount to get there. Of course in that case, it wouldn’t have happened at all. It also helped that we booked the flights over 6 months in advance, which gave us time to save up our spending money.

With the kids getting older and older, I’ve found that they want to spend less and less time hanging out with Mom and Dad, and more time YouTubing (totally a word), playing games, or hanging with friends. But you know what? In the midst of our trip, while eating some amazing Dutch pancakes, we asked the boys if they were sad that they didn’t get to decorate the tree, or open presents like they are used to. They didn’t miss it – not one bit. I think ditching Christmas was an excellent break from the norm! Will you ditch Christmas next year?

Why We Ditched Christmas

More travel tips and tricks:

Inexpensive & Easy DIY World Travel Map
9 Tips for Traveling with Crochet
How We Travel so Much for So Little
Learn to Speak German with smarterGerman
10 Road Trip Crochet Project Ideas
How Airbnb Works: A Beginner’s Guide to Airbnb
6 Secret Tips to Saving BIG on Airfare {without signing up for 100 credit cards}
14 Tips for Planning a European Vacation on The Cheap

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  1. Christmas celebrating is becoming exhausting. To the point where the real reason for the joy-Jesus’ birth, gets lost. I think it’s a wonderful idea to ditch the modern version of Christmas and get away from the rush. Fun too, to celebrate Christ in another culture.
  2. You spent more on airfare alone, not to mention lodging, eating, oh, and shopping, than my family would spend on Christmas for four children . I hope you appreciate how fortunate you are to be able to consider spending that much money to be "inexpensive". I'll be keeping Christmas, it still builds good memories and cost far less.
  3. LOVE this article posted on FB by a friend! We do the exact same thing and we love it!! This was our 3rd or 4th year and we are addicted to the memories instead of "stuff!" Love your blog! :)
  4. Sounds like you all had a great time.. we didn't spend any money other than price of yarn, for 21 kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. I'll post some pics soon in HHH. Hope to see you on video soon.
  5. We are on year 4 of Family Christmas Vacation. Our 2 boys get $50 each for the trip. They also get one gift after we return. This is way better than having to deal with the same ole same ole every year. Great article.
  6. I used to take my kids snow skiing every Christmas. My kids loved it! Skiing on Christmas Day is the best! I would love to do something like this with my grandkids! I travel cheaply too. Always looking for deals!
  7. This is awesome Ashley! I lived in France and Spain for a few months each when I was in college and it absolutely makes my heart happy that y’all have introduced culture and travel to your boys at such a young age ! They will truly forever be impacted by this trip more than you’ll know! You’ve definitely inspired me to start booking a trip for next Christmas! Ditching the holidays sounds amazing! Thank you for the inspiration and for sharing!
    1. I am so glad you loved it! I lived in Germany for a while as a teenager, and I've been back 8 times since. I just took my sister this August! I feel that it is important to show our boys that things are different in other places, and people are, and that's okay.
  8. Hi Ashlea, Great to read that you had such a great vacation. Sounded really good. I also read about your pancakes as we call “pannenkoeken”. If you want to make them I can sent you a package with pancakemix with the instruction in english. Did you dee any yarn shops in Amsterdam as well? Bye Marloes
    1. Oh how awesome! Yes we had a great time! I will look up the pannenkoeken and see if I can find a recipe first, and I will let you know how it goes! We visited Stephen and Penelope in Amsterdam. Pricey, but gorgeous yarn!