This Family Experienced the Christmas From Hell — How It Made Them Travel Pros

Nightmare travel has taught this family a thing or two.

If it were up to me, I’d never leave my house during Christmas, and instead, park myself by a fire, play nothing but Johnny Mathis while we open presents and enjoy other fun (and free) Christmas activities. But, my family travels during the holidays. My husband is from Chile, and his entire family still lives there. It would be ridiculously expensive for all of our relatives to visit the U.S., so we travel there instead for Christmas.

Read More: 31 Costly Travel Mistakes to Avoid

A Not-S0-Merry Christmas

Traveling during the holidays is not for the faint of heart. It seems like everybody travels during Christmas, so flight prices are exorbitant. Three years ago, for our trip before last, we found tickets for December 23rd going for about $1,000 each — and that was a steal for New York to Santiago, Chile. Since it’s an overnight flight, we knew we’d arrive the morning of Christmas Eve, but we figured that would give us plenty of time to settle in before the following day.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans. Our plane had mechanical issues, so we ended up stranded overnight in Dallas. I was devastated and furious. We weren’t going to get to Chile until Christmas Day. Santa Claus wasn’t going to be able to come for the boys, and we’d miss Christmas Eve, the biggest time of celebration in Chile.

“The airport will put you up for the night and buy your meals,” American Airlines told us. Little did we know, that meant that we’d be shuttled to a dinky hotel 45 minutes from the airport at 11 p.m., and the only restaurant open was the hotel bar. When we arrived, I took our vouchers down and traded them in for cheeseburgers, fettuccine alfredo and wine while my husband tucked our boys into one of the two queen beds. While I waited almost an hour for our food, I got angrier and angrier about our situation.

More on Holiday Travel: The Most and Least Affordable Places to Spend Your Holiday Vacation

A Shift in Mindset

I got back to the room after midnight, and we all dug into our dinner. My husband and I looked over at our boys, chomping down happily on their hamburgers and watching cartoons. All of a sudden, I felt a wave of gratitude that we got to be together as a family on what was now Christmas Eve, and that we’d soon get to see our extended family and be together. I felt so fortunate we didn’t have to sleep in the airport or pay for the hotel or food.

Our mindset shifted that night, and we went from feeling frustration and anger to a sense of compassion for the flight attendants and pilots who were working on Christmas. They provided excellent service, despite the flight delay. When we got to Santiago, we pretended that it was December 24th, rather than the 25th, and we celebrated and opened presents a day late. Nobody cared in the least what day it was.

Influencer family Laurie Sepulveda
©Laurie Sepulveda

Consider: Why We’re Valuing Experiences Over Gifts This Holiday Season

Holiday Déjà Vu

Last year, when we went back to Santiago, we found ourselves at La Guardia airport as flight after flight was canceled due to snow and ice. If we could just get to Toronto on time, we thought, then we’d make our connecting flight to South America. Instead, the hours passed, and it looked increasingly unlikely we’d be flying out that night. Our boys, now ages 10 and 7, watched more films and TV on the iPad than they should have during the nine hours we waited at the gate. They both passed out around midnight in a row of lounge seats, and we covered them up with our winter jackets. We finally got on a flight just past midnight and arrived in Toronto at 2 a.m. Like on our previous trip, the airline put us up for the night, so we got to our hotel around 3:30 a.m. We had missed our flight — it left at 11 p.m., but we’d be able to catch one the following evening.

“We’ve got a full day to spend in Toronto,” my husband cheerfully proclaimed the next morning. Because of our last experience, we’d learned there was absolutely nothing we could do about the delay, so we decided to make the best of it. We had budgeted a little extra for this trip, so we used some of that money to buy tickets to see Toronto’s iconic CN Tower and aquarium. We Uber-ed from our hotel and spent a beautiful, very chilly day touring the city, packing in as much as we possibly could. We had an early dinner, then headed to the airport.

Influencer Christmas decorations in Santiago Laurie Sepulveda
©Laurie Sepulveda

Thinking back to a year ago, our time in Toronto included some of the best memories we had during our trip. Because my husband and I were able to shake off our frustration and annoyance at being stranded, we could look at our extra day for what it was: a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit a city we’d never been to.

Discover: Coolest Airports That Are Worth the Layover

How We Travel Now

Traveling during the holidays is brutal, but sometimes, it’s the only time you have to travel. Our family shifted mindsets to adapt. Here’s how you can, too:

  • Stay flexible. Your travel plans will probably not go the way you are expecting them to. Be prepared to spend extra hours, even days, in the airport. Plan accordingly with snacks, electronics and a day bag of toiletries. The reason plane tickets are cheap so close to Christmas Day is that you can and will have flight delays and cancellations.
  • Be kind. It’s the holiday season. No one wants to be hanging out in the airport, especially not the overworked desk and ticket agents, so cut them a break and try to see things from their point of view. They’re much more likely to help if you’re nice.
  • Look for opportunities. If you get an extra day in a new city, do your best to explore it, even if it’s just in free parks and playgrounds.
  • Be grateful. You’re in a financial place to be able to afford to travel during Christmas, even if money is tight. There are so many people around the world who could never do that. I’ve had many Christmas Eves, but none as memorable as the one spent in that dinky hotel room in Dallas, eating fettuccine alfredo and feeling so grateful to be with my family.
Influencer family at Santiago’s La Moneda Laurie Sepulveda
©Laurie Sepulveda

The old adage is never truer than when traveling at Christmas: You can’t help what happens to you in life; you can only help how you respond to it. Here’s to patience and flexibility this Christmas, no matter what surprises your travel plans bring.

Read More: 50 Easy Ways to Save for Your Next Big Vacation

More From Our Smart Money Squad

We make money easy. Get weekly email updates, including expert advice to help you Live Richer™.