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The anti-Christmas travel plan

By Katia Hetter, Special to CNN
updated 10:07 AM EST, Fri December 9, 2011
The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, is the sacred sanctuary of the Sikhs. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, is the sacred sanctuary of the Sikhs.
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Golden Temple in India
Elephant ride in Thailand
Nightime with elephants in Thailand
Vegas vacation
Lower East Side deli
A break from the family
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In India, travelers can explore religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism
  • Learn to drive an elephant and travel down the Mekong River in Thailand
  • Go behind the scenes of the Lower East Side's vibrant Jewish community

(CNN) -- Your grown-up kids aren't coming home for Christmas. They're all married, and it's the in-laws' turn to host dinner in another state. Or your divorce is finally final, and your ex has the kids this year. Yes, you can celebrate a few days later, but what do you do on Christmas?

"The holidays are an extremely difficult time and bring up a lot of memories of the missing loved ones," said R. Robert Auger, a psychiatrist with the Mayo Clinic. "Break the familiar routine that could bring up potentially painful memories," Auger suggested.

Whatever your circumstances, it's your time. For you, the anti-Christmas crowd, we offer a range of options to get away from St. Nick. While it may be too late for a far-flung escape this year, imagine yourself taking these trips next year and put your name at the top of Santa's list.

Spiritual exploration in India

Head to northern India to explore the four major religious traditions of the Indian Himalaya. Asia Transpacific Journeys offers its "In the Realm of the Spirit" tour, which explores the Buddhist tradition in Ladakh, the Sikh tradition in Amritsar, the mystic yogic tradition in Rishikesh and the Dalai Lama's home in exile in Dharamsala. The agency will customize a December trip with a private car and driver at about the same cost as its 17-day tour scheduled for September (which starts at $8,295). This trip ends at the Ananda Spa in the Himalayas, voted as the world's best destination spa by Condé Nast Traveler.

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"The cultures in this area of northern India practice four different religious traditions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism," said Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Transpacific Journeys' India specialist. "It's a compelling and eye-opening experience to spend Christmas gaining an understanding of other faiths, even while our own culture is celebrating its biggest religious holiday. Visits to sacred religious sites, orphanages and practicing meditation might not be your traditional present-exchange-type thing to do at Christmas. But on a holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, it's easy to imagine Christ making a similar pilgrimage."

Thai elephant ride

Explore Thailand's Golden Triangle in luxury at the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. A three-day adventure includes private round-trip transfers between Chiang Rai International Airport and the camp, accommodations, food and drink, one spa treatment, training to drive an elephant, trekking and a Golden Triangle trip.

"Guests will learn to drive an Asian elephant, travel down the Mekong River, and have the opportunity to relax in this extraordinary jungle location," Ellen Bettridge, vice president of American Express U.S. Retail Travel Network, said in an e-mail.

Members of American Express' Fine Hotels & Resorts program who book with a Platinum Card receive guaranteed late checkout and special amenities. Guests may also contribute to the rescue of elephants from Thai cities through donations to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. Rates begin at $2,500.

It's Vegas, baby

While tourists visiting Las Vegas can celebrate a traditional Christmas, why not be decadent instead? For those looking for a high-end experience, travelers can get 30% off at the Wynn Las Vegas or Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. The Aria is offering 20% off, plus two free buffets. The Mandalay Bay is also offering 20% off, plus two free buffets.

"Guests looking for nontraditional celebrations can do anything from take a helicopter ride to see a burlesque show, relax at a spa or even mingle with a celebrity at a nightclub," said Dan Hippler, vice president of marketing for VEGAS.com, where more hotel and show deals are available.

Jewish New York

Jewish residents of New York know Christmas Day is the best time to eat Chinese food and see an opening-day movie. To dig a little deeper into the Lower East Side's present-day Jewish worship and rich history dating back to 1654, book a custom tour with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, where trained tour guides specializing in different aspects of Jewish life are available, starting at $125. Tours can focus on a group's specific interests, religious traditions and kid-friendly walks.

"We make it possible for people to get inside a lot of less well-known but historical centers and sacred sites on the Lower East Side," said Laurie Tobias Cohen, the group's executive director. The conservancy also recommends nearby hotels and restaurants. Call in advance to make reservations, especially for December 23-26.

Too much togetherness?

Even if you enjoy celebrating with your loved ones, too much togetherness can get overwhelming. Guests at Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel in Manhattan, can take a break with the hotel's In-Law Relief Package during the Christmas weekend. The package is available December 23-26 and includes a $50 credit at the mini bar, 20% off the hotel spa, complimentary gift wrapping, free spiked cider cocktails, eggnog, menorah lighting, dreidels and gelt during wine hour. Call 866-996-8396 and use promo code INLAW when booking. If you're not traveling to Manhattan, consider that any hotel qualifies as a home away from your relatives.

Think about someone else

Say you can't afford to travel halfway around the world to get away from Christmas. Call to volunteer at a soup kitchen on the holiday. Head to your local senior living facility, where many staffers want to celebrate Christmas with their families but still have to work on the holiday. Get out of your head and do a good deed. It's good for you.

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