Celebrating Christmas Travel Traditions

Maine Christmas

Everyone has their own travel souvenir traditions, and our family is no different. I’m reminded of our tradition every Christmas when I look at our tree in the living room. Since my wife and I were on our honeymoon to Jamaica in 1999, we’ve bought ornaments for our Christmas tree from many of our travel destinations. Here are a few favorites, a little about the trips and what makes them part of our special Christmas travel traditions.

It’s not always possible, but when we travel we keep our eyes out for Christmas shops and ornaments. Many times that means we end up with somewhat tacky ornaments. But sometimes we come across classy pieces too. Here are some of our favorites.

Where it all began

Montego Bay

Our family’s tree decorating traditions begins with this ornament. This was our first ornament purchase as a married couple, and it’s the first ornament that goes on the tree every year. It came from the gift shop at our Sandals Resorts property in Montego Bay.


This ornament signifies our first trip as newlyweds. A couple of months after getting married we took a road trip from our home in Dallas down to San Antonio and Austin. The way the light reflects on the ornament reminds us of how the flood lights shine on the Alamo at night. This ornament also reminds me that we really need to make our way back to San Antonio. It’s such a fun city.

New Orleans streetcar

New Orleans has been such a big part of our lives, especially when we were dating. We both attended the University of Memphis, just up the road from New Orleans. Several times during our college years, mostly for my fraternity’s formals, we hit the road for the drive down Interstate 55 to enjoy Bourbon Street. If I recall correctly, this ornament was bought in one of the hundreds of souvenir shops in the French Quarter on our first trip to New Orleans after getting married. That drive from Dallas isn’t as easy as it is from Memphis.

Panama City Beach

This ornament has a reason for being so tacky: it was bought in Panama City Beach, the spring break capital of the world and the Florida beach community still trying to shake its reputation as the capital of the Redneck Rivera. Yes, we went to PCB for spring break every year. But the community holds a special place in our hearts, especially for my wife. She spent her summers growing up going there with her parents, and we now share a condo timeshare with her sisters. We enjoy the beautiful white sand and clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico every few years. Only problem with this ornament: I don’t know of a lighthouse in Panama City Beach. Oh well.

Life’s moments on the road

San Francisco Chinatown

Sticking to a tacky trend, we have the streetcar bought in San Francisco’s Chinatown. We didn’t want a tacky ornament, but it was the only one we could find. It’s really that simple. If you collect travel Christmas ornaments, sometimes you have to go with ones that aren’t as unique. We found this in a little shop in Chinatown near our hotel.


The word unique brings me to this awesome fish bought in the little seaside town of Marblehead, Mass. We loved driving through Marblehead on our way from Boston to Maine during a very cold March visit 10 years ago. Very dear friends of ours were living in Cambridge while he attended law school. We spent a fantastic five days exploring Boston and New England, including the coastal village of Marblehead. This ornament shows that sometimes the best travel ornaments are the ones that don’t have the obvious plastered all over it. Only a few people know the story behind the ornament, and that’s OK with us.

Eureka Springs

This ornament wasn’t bought anywhere special, but the photo was taken in Eureka Springs, Ark., on our first Valentine’s trip way back in 1997. It was the start of what would become an annual tradition for us over the following 10 years to travel for Valentine’s Day instead of buying presents. It’s a tradition that has been hard to keep up with since we had our son, but it’s one that we need to try to reinstate.

Fulfilling dreams


Everyone has their dream destinations and mine was visiting the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France. I was able to fulfill this dream on a visit in 2012. This ornament isn’t really an ornament, but a clicker that was used by the U.S. Airborne forces during the June 6, 1944, landings. Because they would be dropping in the darkness of a moonless night behind enemy lines, the American forces needed a secret way to communicate. So they had these toy clickers. One click should receive a two-click response.

Venice Christmas

Ah, our ornament from Venice. This one has an interesting story. It was our last day in Italy before flying to England. We had just a couple of euros remaining. It made no sense to go to the ATM to get any more euros out since we wouldn’t be able to use them in England. We were just hours from heading to the airport, but really wanted to get a glass ornament. Fortunately, we found a store that took credit cards and had a nifty little ornament for about 10 euros. Problem was, the shopkeeper didn’t want to take our credit card for such a low amount. We were able to convince her to take our plastic money. But she wasn’t happy. That was my lesson in how small-business owners have to pay those little credit card fees. So I now try to only use my plastic at small businesses when it’s a larger purchase.

Paris Christmas

We love Paris. We’ve been a couple of times. It’s one of our favorite cities on earth. Strangely enough, we didn’t buy this ornament. We asked a relative traveling to Paris to buy an ornament for us. At that time, we had been to Paris once, but it was before we started our ornament collecting. And just to the left of this ornament is the one I bought when visiting Niagara Falls in Canada. The ornament is nothing special, but the memory of seeing the powerful falls certainly is.

Fantastic journeys found everywhere

Liberty Bell

We’ve been to Philadelphia a couple of times and love the city. There is a lot of history and culture, not to mention great food. This bell is not an ornament, which is probably why it’s the heaviest item that hangs on our tree.

Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland actually used to be my biggest travel regret. It might sound strange, but we visited Cleveland with friends while on a baseball trip. No one wanted to go to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame except me. So we skipped it. And I always regretted that decision. So seven years later I found myself in the Cleveland area and made sure I didn’t miss the museum. And you know what? It didn’t live up to expectations. I think I had it built up too much in my mind. It was a pretty cool museum, but it wasn’t what I had built it up to be. And that’s OK.

Snoqualmie Falls

We love the Pacific Northwest. Less than an hour east of Seattle is Snoqualmie Falls. It’s worth the drive.

We could live here

Scotland Christmas

We made it to Scotland for the first time in 2012. It won’t be the last. This ornament doesn’t speak to any one certain place we visited, but when I see the pattern it reminds me of all the wool shops we saw in Edinburgh.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

We only spent a few hours in Glasgow, but it was time well spent to my wife, an interior designer and lover of everything related to art, design and furniture. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is one of the world’s great designers. This chair is one of them.

London Christmas

Our first England ornament is a Santa. But his foot broke off. So we bought this guy at the London Tower on our most-recent visit. It’s not our coolest, tackiest or most unique ornament. But it signifies our favorite country.

Bath Christmas

A Chianti wine bottle ornament bought in Tuscany and a double-decker bus from Bath — two ornaments from the same trip, our last big trip before getting pregnant. Tuscany was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. And Bath, well, it came at the end of a three-week trip, one that I ended up being too sick to eat for the last week, which included our time in Bath. But I don’t remember the sickness. I remember the beautiful city, even in the rain.

The David

If you know art you probably know this one, the great David statue created by Michelangelo. Stacey stared at it for 30 minutes when we visited Florence.

Carmel by the Sea

A visit to Carmel by the Sea, San Francisco, Sonoma and Napa was our first big trip after having our son. It was an awesome week, and a trip I’d love to repeat. And to the right, is the White House. We visited D.C. during Christmas of 2000. It was icy cold, but really cool to see the White House in all its Christmas glory. It was such a simpler time, too, to visit before 9/11.

New Mexico Christmas

Our most recent trip was in beautiful New Mexico, with its mountain views, aspens in their autumn glory and the mile-high wonders for this sea-level family. Just to the right is the crucifix we bought at the Vatican.

We have so many travel memories on our tree. We look forward to gathering more in 2014. Merry Christmas and here’s to a wonderful year of travel in 2014!

33 thoughts on “Celebrating Christmas Travel Traditions

  1. Thanks Samuel. That’s a great idea to send your mom ornaments. My mother is a big Christmas fan. It’s kind of selfish of me that I haven’t thought to buy her more ornaments from our travels. It’s a great idea.

  2. Mrs. O, it’s not about being organized. It’s just become a habit to seek out ornaments, even if that means visiting the tacky souvenir shops and spending more money than we usually would just to make sure we have an ornament to bring home.

  3. Lance,
    We do this very thing, I think it is so much fun to get out each one and remember each trip. Now that we have been doing it so long though, there sure are a lot of memories wrapped up in that tree and 9 times out of 10 we are traveling on, the day after, or the week between Christmas and New Years, so each year we have to put the tree up earlier and earlier, so we can take the trip down memory lane!!
    Cacinda Maloney recently posted…A Lesson Learned on Giving Back: A Traveling Mom and Her SonMy Profile

  4. We also collect ornaments from our travels! We’ve been doing it since 2000 when we got a Sears Tower ornament as a Christmas gift from my husband’s family to remember our first trip to Chicago by. It’s so fun to take that trip down memory lane as up you out your tree up each year!

  5. I loved reading the stories behind the ornaments. I’m more of a magnet collector but started buying ornaments within the last few years. It is such a joy to see them up on a tree. You have quite a collection here. I’d stare at David for 30 min too when I get around to visiting Florence :) Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas! Looking forward to seeing what ornaments you’ll add next year.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…Tropical Fun at a Luau in OahuMy Profile

  6. Wonderful set of Christmas ornaments from around the world. My favorite is the D-Day clicker. Reminds me of the move, the Longest Day. It must be nice to gather around the tree and remember all the cool places you have been and look forward to the places you will go.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Khao Yai National Park day oneMy Profile

  7. Cacinda, we try to get the tree up as soon after Thanksgiving as possible and leave it up until weekend after New Year’s. We are SO BUSY attending and hosting parties and traveling. And when we put the tree up we usually don’t have the time to remember the ornaments. We’re usually just trying to keep our son from breaking them, although at 7 he’s much more controlled now.

  8. Jennifer, a Sears Tower would be cool. Our first trip to Chicago, all we could find was a very basic one from Navy Pier. It serves its purpose, but it really needs to be replaced. That ornament always reminds me of how dead Navy Pier was in the dead of a January winter in Chicago.

  9. Ted, The Longest Day is possibly my favorite movie. I received it as a Christmas present several years ago and my brother thought it was a joke that I was receiving a random John Wayne DVD. I like to pop it in and watch just 30 or 40 minutes sometimes.

  10. We do the same thing, Lance! I can sit and stare at the ornaments on my tree for hours, reliving the travel memories. The clicker from Normandy is awesome. I have a similar-looking ornament to yours from Panama City Beach; mine is from Cayman Islands. Same colors and design :-)
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted…#FriFotos theme: RINGMy Profile

  11. We have the same Niagara Falls and San Francisco ornaments! This is one of our favorite traditions too–my parents started it when I was little and now my husband has been getting into it too. It’s so fun to look back on every year and think about all the good memories and trips we have taken.

  12. Hello – Hope you had a lovely Christmas!
    This is what we do also. And we LOVE putting the tree up each year and looking at the different ornaments from our travels. It’s such a lovely reminder! We only started the tradition back in 2009 so have missed on countries from our earlier travels… No better excuse that to go back :-)
    2wisemonkeys recently posted…tassie here we comeMy Profile

  13. You’ll fill that tree with awesome ornaments before you know it. There are many destinations we don’t have ornaments for, but I’ll also say it’s not practical to buy an ornament from every city visited. From a week in Italy, we have ornaments from Venice, Florence and Tuscany, but nothing from Rome or Siena.

  14. Pingback: 2013: Travel Year in Review

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