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Plan your holiday getaways now

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  • Some Caribbean resort rooms are booked a year in advance
  • Consider safari in Namibia or Zambia instead of S. Africa or Botswana
  • For wintry, candlelit ambience: Scandinavia and Western Europe markets
  • New York, Chicago popular for U.S.-style Christmas scenes
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By Alexis Lipsitz Flippin
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(LifeWire) -- Returning home for the holidays is a long-standing tradition. But these days, that is being turned on its head, as even Christmas-at-home traditionalists travel to spend the holidays at far-flung vacation destinations around the world.

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Is there a holiday travel gift from Santa Claus in your future?

"It's definitely a trend," says Allen Kay, a spokesman for the Travel Industry Association (TIA), based in Washington, D.C. "It's both a generational thing, and (due to) the fact that people have the money to get out of the house and do something different."

Kay says the holiday trend follows another pattern: multigenerational travel. "More than ever before, mom and dad and the kids and the grandparents are all going somewhere together," he notes.

Although TIA statistics show that venturing within four to five hours of home is the foundation of American travel, plenty of people are using their holiday vacation time to take the family on trips all over the world.

Why are so many people turning the Christmas holidays into vacation getaways? The time factor, for one: Children are out of school, and many businesses close during the holidays. Baby boomers, in particular, are hungering for new experiences, and they see traveling as a refreshing change from the usual Christmas gift-giving.

The trend is confirmed by travel agents as well. "I get three calls a week," says Becky Veith, of Becky Veith Travel in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, an affiliate of Travel Experts, Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina. One client, she notes, "said his family decided to take a trip instead of buying each other Christmas presents they don't need."

For people who want to make holiday plans, Veith suggests booking as early as possible. Holiday travel to the Caribbean, for example, is so popular that by the time the holidays roll around, little availability is left, she says. "Many guests return year after year, and often hotels and resorts let guests sign up for the next year during their holiday vacation," Veith explains.

If your favorite Caribbean resorts are booked up, Veith suggests considering lesser-known islands, like Dominica, which has several boutique-style properties, or the mom-and-pop hotels of Saba.

Veith also recommends checking with condominium hotels, properties whose villas are privately owned but rented out year-round. Many resorts hold these units open for the owners to use during the holidays until around October, so check then to see if Christmas week has opened up.

Jody Bear, of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York City, says safari travel to Africa is big during the holidays. She recommends making reservations as much as a year in advance to avoid disappointment, whether you're seeking safari, ski or beach vacations -- all popular at Christmas.

Many of the safari camps in ever-popular South Africa and Botswana are low-density properties that fill up quickly. Consider emerging destinations like Namibia and Zambia, or look for new properties with special opening offers.

If your family is clamoring for a Christmas ski vacation, and you're booking a little late in the game, call the resort, advises Margie Preman, reservations supervisor for Smugglers' Notch resort in Vermont. "It's better to talk to a reservationist who has a handle on what's available and can look for holes between existing reservations as well as at cancellations," she says.

For those who want a little more Christmas in their vacation, the wintry, candlelit markets of Scandinavia and Western Europe are appealing if somewhat expensive given the strength of the Euro and other currencies against the U.S. dollar. These cozy open-air street markets sell traditional holiday food and drink as well as Christmas crafts, ornaments, and toys. Tor Jensen, president and founder of Jensen World Travel in Wilmette, Illinois, sends a number of customers to his hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark, (and its famed Tivoli Christmas Market) for the holidays.

"The Nordic countries get dark earlier in the day, and everyone has candles lit in the windows," Jensen says. "The ambience is superb, and it's not nearly as commercial as Christmas is in America. And white Christmases are relatively common."

Still, many people just can't get enough of American-style Christmas. The TIA's Allen Kay says these travelers generally head to either a big city or regional holiday destinations with themed Christmas events. New York and Chicago, for example, are hugely popular at Christmas time, with outsize Christmas trees, glittering holiday lights, and decorated shop windows.

The main street in Santa Claus, Indiana, is lined with stores like Holiday Foods, Santa Claus Hardware and Silent Night café. The town's Santa Claus Festival (held December 8 and 9) draws some 5,000 visitors, according to Melissa Miller, executive director of the Spencer County, Indiana, Visitors Bureau.

For some, however, Christmas and home are inseparable. Melissa Miller herself returns home every night to Christmas Lake Village, to her house on December 25th Lane. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Alexis Lipsitz Flippin is a travel journalist living in New York and a former senior editor at Frommer's Travel Guides.

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