The Ghost Of Christmas Past

Here at Lonely Planet we don’t like to trade our passports for mince pies when it comes to the Christmas season. Once all the gifts are bought and wrapped, we love to pack our bags and travel the world – just like Santa (sadly, without the sleigh).

In the spirit of the season, we’ve asked some of our very own travel addicts to share their weird and wonderful tales of Christmases spent on the road.

christmas market Bask in the twinkle of Christmas decorations and seasonal cheer at Austria’s Christmas markets © anyaberkut / Getty Images

A quintessential Christmas with Krampus in Austria

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

Bailey Johnson – Destination Editor for Central America and the Caribbean. Follow her tweets @The_Traveling_B.

Giraffe, Nyala Park, Malawi Ditch the snow for a Christmas safari in Malawi © Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Getty Images

Strange stocking fillers and a Christmas safari in Malawi

My mum’s cousin lived and worked in Malawi and in 1996 my parents decided to spend Christmas with them. It was both the best and strangest Christmas ever. We couldn’t bring many presents with us, so I remember getting a stocking filled with a toothbrush, Tic Tacs and some banana chips (things readily available in Malawi or the airport!). Our Christmas tree was basically a twig and we didn’t have a turkey, but we did run barefoot across boiling-hot sand to go for a swim in a lake and went on a safari to see the tallest giraffes we’d ever seen. It was definitely a Christmas to remember.

Ellie Simpson – Traveller Communications Analyst. Follow her tweets @GutsyGrad.

tom-stainer Sun, sea and sand: check. Santa hats? Double check! Tom’s all set to celebrate Christmas in Thailand © Tom Stainer / Lonely Planet

Four’s a crowd on a honeymoon in Thailand

I went to stay with my friend in Bangkok last December, and over Christmas we decided to head down to Phuket for a couple of days. Checking Facebook upon arrival, we realised that some friends of ours were in town at the same time – on honeymoon. After a day drinking Singhas on the beach, we decided to surprise them by crashing their first Christmas dinner as a married couple at Baan Rim Pa. Looking back, I imagine they didn’t much appreciate us joining them at probably the most romantic restaurant in Thailand. Still, it’s not every Christmas you get to spend catching up with friends on the other side of the world.

Tom Stainer – Destination Editor for Iberia and Turkey. Follow his tweets @TomDoesTravel.

bure It’s good to get away, but perhaps a remote bure in Fiji is just too secluded © Himani Himani / Getty Images

The unexpected guests of honour in Fiji

We were on a catamaran hopping between islands in the Yasawas, Fiji, when our names were called over the tannoy. Dutifully we reported to the nearest staff member and were told we’d been upgraded. Off the boat, it turned out we were less upgraded and more abandoned – we were the only guests staying in our bure (a Fijian cabin made from wood and straw) and it was also the only bure on this section of the island. We had planned to spend our Christmas Day lounging around, drinking cans of Fiji Gold beer and swimming in the sea. However, the bure‘s chef had other ideas. On Christmas morning he had us hiking up over the headland to attend church in the next village with his family. The tiny airless church was packed with the faithful and my partner and I – the sweaty guests of honour – were made to sit at the front, facing the congregation for the whole two-hour-long service.

Claire Naylor – Senior Editor. Follow her tweets @RoadTripJones.

megan-1 Chinese students celebrate their first Christmas with sparklers © Megan Eaves / Lonely Planet

A DIY Christmas goes off with a bang in China

I spent Christmas 2006 in a small town in eastern China, where I was living and working as an English teacher at the time. Christmas isn’t widely celebrated in China, so 25 December was a normal workday, but my school asked me to arrange a Christmas party for the students and staff. I took a group of students out to the local small-goods market, where we managed to source some decorations and a small, fake Christmas tree. I taught my best class to make paper snowflakes. We had a big party in one of the large classrooms; everyone wore Santa hats and all of the Chinese teachers got tipsy and then let the teens run around in the dark on school grounds setting off fireworks.

Megan Eaves – Destination Editor for North Asia. Follow her tweets @megoizzy.

blackjack Be wary when Christmas Eve fizz gives you courage in the casino © Michael Lander / Getty Images

Taking a gamble on Christmas Eve in Antigua

The thing with casinos is the house always wins. But after an afternoon spent soaking my liver with poolside pina coladas and complimentary Christmas Eve fizz, I drew this simple conclusion: I. Could. Not. Lose. I confidently fanned casino chips out across a blackjack table, envisioning the rules to be the same in Antigua as they were in my nan’s kitchen playing for penny sweets. After several unsuccessful hands, I pitched the croupier for a sixth card. Scandalously she refused, meaning that, upon ‘twisting’, the man to my left went bust. Then he went broken. Then he went proper fist-slamming, spittle-spraying angry, and screamed that it was my fault. As the man’s fury gathered force (and a crowd), the croupier called the manager. After a schoolyard dressing down in front of the gawping gamblers, I coyly collected my chips and headed back to my hotel, safe in the knowledge that my nan would’ve let me win, especially on Christmas Eve.

Dan Fahey – Destination Editor for Western Europe. Follow his tweets @FaheyDaniel.

Beautiful landscape of Himalayas mountains A lone trekker looks out across the Himalaya © kapulya / Getty Images

Home alone in the Himalayas

I had a very strange Christmas Day in the Himalaya in Nainital, India. After failing to find anything remotely Christmassy going on for most of the day, I stumbled across an Indian Santa wandering around the lake giving out presents to kids, and was inspired to hire a horse and trek up to the fading colonial hotel on the hilltop in the hope of finding a Christmas dinner. When I got there, I was the only diner, and the chef had gone home for the night… The caretaker rustled me up a rudimentary chicken curry, which I ate, alone, by candlelight, in a vast, empty ballroom with room for 100 people. Happy Christmas to me.