Christmas got you down? 9 great escapes

Story highlights

Morocco is a perennial favorite for Christmas avoiders

Iceland is also an option as a normally hectic nightlife scene takes time out

CNN  — 

Travel can be a nightmare.

Plan wisely, packing your bags while everyone else is stuffing their stockings, and you can steer clear of the orgy of soulless materialism that some say Christmas has become.

Just don’t expect to get any presents.

Here are nine ways to escape Christmas if it’s just not for you:

1. Go to New Zealand

Queen Charlotte Sound of New Zealand's South Island can be your view on December 25 too.

These days, one of the best ways to take a few hours out from modern life is to fly.

International aviation schedules keep going even over Christmas, so if you really want to spend December 25 out of the festive loop, there are few better ways than ascending to 30,000 feet.

Because the pre-Christmas panic is over, tickets often become considerably cheaper – and the cheaper the fare, the longer the travel time.

Admittedly, you’ll be dependent on your fellow passengers not trying to celebrate at altitude, but airline food will sap the festive spirit from even the most hardened traveler.

New Zealand, thanks to its remote (for most of us) Southern Hemisphere location, makes an ideal destination as it’s so far from everywhere else it’ll probably take you 24 hours to get there.

2. Go to a non-Christian country

Not much will remind you of Christmas in Morocco.

Since Christmas is Christianity’s biggest annual shindig – albeit one hijacked by commercialism in many countries – another option is to head where both Christians and the pervasive forces of global commerce are confined to the sidelines.

Morocco is a perennial favorite for Christmas avoiders, particularly as it also offers a warm escape from the plunging temperatures that merely serve to compound the misery of those who hate the holidays.

You could head to the ancient imperial city of Marrakech, with its lively Djemaa el Fna square filled with musicians, dancers, apothecaries and snake charmers.

After checking into a luxury riad townhouse hotel (Riad Farnatchi, Rue Souk el Fassisi; +212 5 24 38 49 10), you can shop in the souk and sample street food such as chicken tagine with caramelized pumpkin.

The evening calls to prayer should drown out the sound of sleigh bells.

3. Go to a communist country

Kuang Si Falls, one of the few things that stirs in Luang Prabang on Christmas.

Same deal as before, although by communist country we essentially mean Laos.

France’s colonial past has left its festive footprint on Vietnam, and North Korea isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun getaway.

You aren’t entirely safe even in China, where two decades of economic reform have inspired giddy enthusiasm for Christmas’s till-ringing commercialism. Expect trees, Santas and lights in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, and ersatz Christmas dinners in rural tourist spots such as Yangshuo.

However, on the Venn diagram where absence of Christianity and communism form two overlapping circles, Laos lies dead center.

Unlike everywhere else at Christmas, it’s relatively cheap.

The Mekong Riverview hotel (+856 71 25 49 00) makes the most of its location.

4. Retreat

If you’re avoiding Christmas to spare your soul rather than your wallet from bankruptcy, perhaps the place for you is a retreat.

By immersing yourself in the spiritually enriching possibilities of an intensive yoga course (Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Kerala, India; +91 471 227 3093) you’ll not only skip the bingeing season, you’ll get a head start on the January detox.

Absence of carol singers guaranteed.

5. Go to a party town

This might seem counter-intuitive, but a good way to avoid the season of excess is to head somewhere it happens on a daily basis.

Although December 25 is certainly celebrated in world-class party towns like New Orleans, if anything it’s slightly more low key than the rest of the year.

In the Icelandic capital, Rejkjavik, where Nordic appetites for nightlife can leave visitors whimpering for mercy, very little happens over the Christmas holidays, making it a magically peaceful time to contemplate marvels such as the Northern Lights.

In New Orleans, one place to seek sanctuary is Loft 523 (523 Gravier Street; +1 504 200 6523).

Near Reykjavik, the upscale Ion Hotel has its own Northern Lights Bar (Nesjavollum vid Thingvallavatn, 801 Selfoss; +354 482 34 15).

6. Work

More soul-cleansing, this time via the creditable route of voluntary work – which, in a way, combines the giving spirit of Christmas with the best of Christmas avoidance.

Not only will you be donating your time and labor, you’ll be too busy building schools, teaching kids or saving rainforests to think about anything else. Organizations such as Elevate Destinations or Global Vision International are good places to start.

7. Find a no-man island

Read "The Shining" to enhance the no-merriment atmosphere.

If you find a remote spot where no one, not even Santa, can track you down, then giving Christmas the slip should be as easy as mince pie.

Lundy, a windswept but beautiful island in the waters of Britain’s Bristol Channel, isn’t too far from civilization, but there are no televisions or Internet connections, you’re unlikely to get a mobile phone signal and the only way on or off is by helicopter.

You might have to avoid the island’s solitary pub, the Marisco Tavern, on Christmas Day, but the prospect of sitting in front of a blazing fire in the splendid isolation of your very own lighthouse (Old Light Tower, Lundy Island; +44 1628 825 925), will be worth it.

It’s the perfect place to start plotting next year’s Christmas escape.

8. Visit London’s city center

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Beautiful photos of deserted London
02:08 - Source: CNN

London’s department stores may start their Christmas sales ridiculously early – in August – but when it comes to Christmas Day, central London goes all post-apocalyptic. Unlike most of the other big cities around the world, public transportation completely shuts down in London on December 25.

Most museums and shops are shuttered. Streets are empty. The city’s official tourism website has even issued a handy guide to remind travelers how almost nothing operates on that day.

If you can forgive the city its glittering festive street decor, it’s a great day to explore on foot without rubbing shoulders with fellow pedestrians. A prepacked sandwich from a gas station kiosk – if you can find one that’s open – and the gloomy mood of anyone who has to work that day should kill the festivities nicely.

9. Head into the wild

The only kind of Christmas carol you'll hear here is the birds' chirping and singing.

If a huge chunk of civilization is determined to celebrate Christmas, then one obvious escape is to avoid civilization. And lo, the last week of December happens to be one of the best times to trek India.

Professional hiking companies such as India Hikes and Harkidun Protection & Mountaineering Association host multiple treks during Christmas week. Up there with the best is a multiday adventure on the Kedarkantha Trek, one of India’s most stunning winter trails.

If shivering in the cold doesn’t sound tempting, there’s the forests of Panama, where the temperature stays between 25-30C in December. Visitors can join in Central and South America’s annual Christmas Bird Count – the oldest (since 1900) citizen science bird census in the Americas.

After registering as a volunteer with a local bird association, you can choose to count birds in any 24 hour period between December 15 and January 5. And you know exactly which 24 hour period to go for.

Maggie Wong also contributed to the report. Wong is a freelance writer based in London.