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Holiday Travel Memories

had never been so cold before, and I hope I’ll never be so cold again.

It was December 2005, and I was on a weeklong tour through Bavaria in Germany. And I had not brought gloves.

I was a young travel writer, not long out of college, and had been invited to join a FAM tour through the region to experience Germany’s famous “kriskindlmarts” — open-air Christmas markets. I was excited to see Germany and explore the holiday traditions. But I was not prepared for the cold I would encounter there.

Since it was my first trip to Europe, I didn’t know that average highs during the daytime in Germany would be in the low 20s Fahrenheit. A quick Google search would have turned that information up easily, but I never even thought to look, a rookie mistake.

If my first mistake was one of meteorological ignorance, my second was one of cultural ignorance. Never having visited Europe, I didn’t realize how much of a visitor’s time there is spent on outdoor walking tours, as many trips to domestic destinations focus on museums, shows and other indoor attractions. And I did not realize how hearty, vigorous and determined a people the Germans tend to be.

So it was only a few hours into the first day of our tour that I realized that Germany was really cold and that we would spend most of our time there walking around outdoors. I did my best to warm my hands inside the thin pockets of my black leather jacket, but this was not enough to keep them warm.

Fortunately, a fellow traveler on the FAM had packed an extra pair of gloves and, upon seeing how cold I was, he took pity on me and lent them to me for the rest of the week. I’m not sure how I would have made it through the week without that gesture of kindness.

Once I was properly dressed for the cold, I was able to fully enjoy the holidays in Bavaria. This is the land of storybooks and fairy tales, and the Christmas celebrations there did not disappoint. The kriskindlmarts were alive with colors, scents and songs. Dozens of vendors filled the public squares, selling handmade trinkets, woodcarvings, toys, blown-glass Christmas ornaments and a variety of other goods. Festive shoppers warmed themselves around large bonfires and sipped hot chocolate and mulled wine. Carolers filled the air with traditional holiday music. In short, Christmas in Germany was picture-perfect.

Many travel groups slow down after fall and hunker down through the holidays and the winter, waiting for warmer weather to start traveling again. But for those willing to brave the cold — and savvy enough to bring the proper clothing — the holidays present some extraordinary travel opportunities.

Whether you pursue your own European Christmas adventure or visit one of the many destinations around the country that put on special decorations, performances and events for the season, holiday travel is always rich and meaningful. As you enjoy the Christmas season at home, I encourage you to think about planning a special holiday trip for your group next year. Just don’t forget your gloves.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Going On Faith!

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.