Why Spend Thanksgiving in Europe with Holiday Time Off

During what is one of the busiest travel seasons of the year, Thanksgiving weekend, consider taking an international vacation to avoid the crazy crowds. AAA publishes an annual Thanksgiving travel report which reminds us that millions of people hit the road and take domestic trips during this time of year. While Europe is getting crowded and suffering from overtourism, November is an excellent month visit. Why not do something different this Thanksgiving and go on a European vacation?

Spend Thanksgiving Holiday in Europe on Vacation
IMPORTANT: Due to the global pandemic, foreign travel opportunities are sadly quite limited. For most it is not advisable to fly to Europe given the entry restrictions or quarantine for Americans. Be careful, read the latest COVID-19 safety guidelines for your country and where you hope to visit, and consider postponing end of year vacations to better times.

Start making plans for the Thanksgiving holiday over the summer or just after the Labor Day holiday when people head back to school and work. Ask yourself if you should plan to spend it with family like most Americans or would you rather take a vacation. After reading this article you might be tempted to leverage the paid holiday dates (Thursday and possibly Friday if you are fortunate to get both days off at your job) to embark on a memorable Thanksgiving vacation by flying to Europe.

Author’s Note: After my wife and I caught the travel bug and first ventured outside of North America years back, we quickly realized the opportunity to take an international trip over Thanksgiving weekend. We have skipped the traditional Thanksgiving dinner several years for an extraordinary holiday experience in Venice, Turkey (why not?), Denmark, and Japan (another excellent option for fall foliage travel in November).

Can you really skip Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Turkey in the Oven (or time to travel?)

I realize that for most Americans, Thanksgiving is a family ritual and a welcome tradition to enjoy a bountiful multi-generational get-together. It’s also the start of the big holiday shopping season (aka Black Friday) which some find even more exciting, especially after you’ve eaten way too much.  

Don’t get me wrong… I have definitely enjoyed many years worth of Thanksgiving dinners. While I do love to travel at holiday time (and any time), I often look forward to spending a memorable time with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table. The comfort food memories are what sticks with me including the turkey in the oven with a side of sweet potatoes, stuffing, biscuits, gray, and even the jellied cranberry sauce (yes the one in the can!).

However there are several good reasons to skip town and tell the extended family that you’ll be taking a much deserved vacations instead. If you fall into the group of people who cannot ever imagine missing out on Thanksgiving, try this technique with another company holiday. This travel post is not for everybody but if you are budget minded, OK with skipping tradition at least once in a while, and like to avoid crowds, keep reading…

7 Benefits of Taking a Trip to Europe Over Thanksgiving

  1. Use up fewer vacation days as most employers offer one or two paid holidays and expect staff to take off.
  2. Avoid the mad rush of travelers hitting the road or flying within the U.S. all at the same time.
  3. Experience a peaceful flight and fewer crowds when flying out of the International terminal at major airports like Newark, JFK, Boston, Dulles, Chicago O’Hare.
  4. Save money on both flights and hotels which are less expensive during this off-season and unpopular time to travel overseas.
  5. Enjoy pleasant weather at many European destinations, especially the countries in Southern Europe and around the Mediterranean.
  6. Toast a delicious meal in an exotic place where turkey and stuffing isn’t the only option on the menu.
  7. Offer up the perfect excuse when declining an invitation for Thanksgiving dinner.
How about Thanksgiving Dinner in Spain - Canary Islands
What will be on your Thanksgiving dinner plate in Europe?

Now that you have decided to spend Thanksgiving in Europe, where should you go?  While I am not against visiting a colder place with fewer daylight hours such as in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, I advise sticking with big cities that are natural hubs along with countries in the southern third of Europe.  That way you will have more to do, reasonable weather, and there is less risk of tourist attractions having closed for the winter.

Destination Ideas for a European Thanksgiving Weekend

  • Italy (Venice, Rome, Sicily, Milan Lakes, Amalfi Coast)
  • Spain or Portugal (Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Malaga, Lisbon, Porto)
  • Rent an Airbnb for a City Break in London, Paris, Dublin, Munich, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna
  • France (Loire Valley, Nice, Bordeaux)
  • Greece (Athens and the many Greek Islands)
  • Exotic Destinations: Croatia, Romania, Cyprus, Monaco
  • Istanbul, Turkey (to say you visited Turkey for Thanksgiving 😉
  • Purchase a Europe Rail Pass to travel around 1 or multiple countries by train with just one all-inclusive budget ticket.

Follow the U.S. Vacation Dollar $

Pay attention to the exchange rate to make the most of your vacation to Europe. If you are saving and spending US dollars in a foreign country you have to consider the strength or weakness of the dollar. Fortunately the dollar has been a very strong currency as of 2018 and 2019 (2020 and beyond looks a bit weaker) so you’ll get more for your dollar when compared with the Euro. Look up the value of the EUR exchange rate on XE online to follow the trends and convert the cost of your trip into your own currency.

Remember that not all countries use Euro as money in Europe. Many countries such as the U.K. (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – not the Republic of Ireland who are in the EU and use the Euro), the Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland), and many Eastern European countries (e.g. Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria) still have their own currency. Regardless when the U.S. dollar is strong that typically means the other currencies (except perhaps the Swiss Franc in Switzerland) are a better value.

Thanksgiving International Travel Booking Tips and Hacks

Thanksgiving Holiday USA - Travel to Europe Instead
  • Consider flying to Europe on Thanksgiving Day or returning on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, avoiding the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after when it’s peak.
  • Book your flights in September or even earlier when the Fall airfare wars are in full swing. Set up a Google Flight search alert.
  • It will be brisk in many European destinations, so pack layers to stay warm and dry or use the opportunity to do some shopping when you arrive. Make a copy of the European clothing sizes chart.
  • Research weather averages (high/low temperatures), days of sunshine and rainfall totals at Holiday-Weather.com.
  • Do go out for Thanksgiving dinner in Europe on the Thursday evening, but try to order foods which are popular during the holiday season at your destination.
  • Bring back souvenirs for family members who had a more traditional Thanksgiving holiday to share your alternative experience.
  • Have a big American turkey dinner (or Tofurkey if you prefer) with all the trimmings for Thanksgiving once you return. Invite family and friends to celebrate a second time as who doesn’t like a Thanksgiving feast?!
Your passport usually needs to be valid for at least 6 months (check expiration date)

Question: Will My US Health Insurance Cover Me in Europe?

The issue of travel insurance is often forgotten or misunderstood when it comes to foreign travel. Travel agents push trip protection insurance (becomes it’s profitable) when selling package tours, cruises, and flight+hotel bookings. While it is smart to protect your vacation investment in case you have to cancel, are delayed, or miss your connection, heath insurance can be a much bigger concern.

The first question to ask is whether your current health insurance policy will cover you while traveling outside of the your home country (USA in my example). It is a critical question to ask (don’t assume) because you don’t want to risk your health or safety in a foreign country just to save a few dollars. Given them a call or go online to verify and ask questions:

  • Will they cover you in each of the countries that you’ll be visiting?
  • Are there limits to the number of days on vacation, deductibles, co-pays, or reimbursement amount limits?
  • Do they provide medical evacuation coverage in case you need to be transferred to a hospital in a different country?
  • How does the claim process work when you have to pay out of pocket to receive treatment abroad?
  • What documentation should you bring on vacation to prove that your health insurance policy covers you abroad including phone numbers to call in case of emergency?

Travel medical insurance policies are really not expensive compared to the cost of your trip. They are designed to cover your medical expenses when on vacation anywhere in the world outside of your home country. Plus policies with evacuation coverage will pay for the cost of transferring you home or to a country with a modern hospital in case of emergency.

Insure My (Thanksgiving) Trip - Travel Insurance Meta-Search
Search and Compare Trip Insurance Quotes with InsureMyTrip

Whether you are an independent traveler or booked with a travel agency, you have the right to purchase your own trip insurance. This is often cheaper, especially when you use a travel insurance meta-search engine like InsureMyTrip. In just a few clicks you can compare policies that meet your needs to find the lowest price with your preferred insurance company. Give it a try to make sure your Thanksgiving trip to Europe includes health insurance coverage when you leave America.

Make Your Next Thanksgiving a Family Vacation to Be Remembered

It is easy to see how you can turn a busy and stressful holiday into a great vacation opportunity. Make it your work-life balance goal to leverage the free days off you get for the Thanksgiving holiday as an American to visit Europe or anywhere else in the world. This year Europe can be just as affordable as traveling far to visit family. The bonus is how you’ll experience fewer crowds as you explore the history, culture, food, and activities across the European continent.

Those of you who live in Canada can use this same technique during the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday happening on the first Monday in October. You may need to add an extra vacation day or two in order to justify flying all the way to Europe, but you’ll experience mild weather and fewer crowds versus the summer months.

Global Search for Lowest Airfares – Hint: Set Destination to ‘Everywhere’

While spending Thanksgiving on vacation in Europe is probably the best choice for most Americans this November, there are many other destinations worth considering. Asia might be an easier flight for those living on the West Coast while Central and South America are often a shorter and less expensive flight away.

Be aware that the crowds will vary based on your destination so check the official holiday calendar by country and search to check where Americans visit in droves over the holiday period. Another great idea if you have more vacation days accrued and ready to put towards your Thanksgiving adventure is to head down under to Australia and New Zealand. Since the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, Thanksgiving time is the start of their summer.

Why Book Thanksgiving Travel

Missing out on a well-established family tradition (and the foods you crave this festive time of year) can be tough so you don’t have to follow this plan every year. Consider it as an option to do something different over Thanksgiving based on your own travel goals and family obligations. Taking an international trip for the Thanksgiving holiday will always be an excellent way to:

  1. Save limited paid time off (PTO) so you can take more vacations
  2. Travel to Europe when it’s less crowded but still pleasant to visit
  3. Maximize your travel budget, especially when the U.S. dollar is stronger
  • Christina Moore says:

    Taking a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving sounds like a great idea. Not having to deal with the crowded grocery stores, cooking in your own house and getting a break from football sound amazing! A few years ago my husband and I went to Barcelona, Spain over Thanksgiving, and since it was off season we even ended up getting free hotel stay for a night.

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