Season's Fleeings Travel outfitters are finding that, for more and more folks, anywhere is better than home for the holidays.

October 19, 1997|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They are mothers bucking the role of hostess to the hordes, singles with no invitations, couples escaping the tug of rival in-laws, and families happy to hit the road together come vacation time.

Whoever they are, come the holidays, they are anyplace but home.

Thanks to travel outfitters who recognize a lucrative trend when they see one, excursions over Christmas and New Year's are burgeoning. Book a walking or cycling adventure a few hours or half a world away, settle in at a resort with all the holiday fixings, or celebrate the season on a cruise ship all decked out for the occasion.

Demand has become so strong for holiday-time trips that this year many travel companies are allotting sections of their catalogs to holiday escapes. Most include Christmas or New Year's festivities, but some are just winter getaways timed to the holiday break. Saga Holidays, which specializes in trips for travelers over 50, devotes 24 pages to holiday-time trips, from a country and western-theme romp through Branson, Mo., Memphis, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn., to New Year's Eve in Scotland at a traditional Hogmanay Festival with kilted bagpipers and dancing until the wee hours. Hot-weather escapes include Palm Springs, Calif., and Spain's Canary Islands. Many of the trips have no single-supplement fee, and Saga offers a roommate-finding service for those that do, so single travelers can avoid an additional sting to their status.

"I think our clients see holiday travel as a kind of extravagant gift to themselves," says Cary O'Leary of Saga Holidays. "Our guests love the idea that they can pamper themselves by having someone else do all the work, putting them up in beautiful lodgings, cooking them elaborate meals, and showing them interesting sights while they just relax and enjoy themselves."

Butterfield & Robinson, an innovator in adventure travel with an accent on comfort, has introduced several far-flung excursions over Christmas and New Year's. They include a hiking, canoeing and wildlife-watching expedition in Belize and Guatemala; a walking trip in coastal New Zealand, and a walking and cycling trip in Morocco, with a Christmas Eve feast, casbah-style, at the deluxe seaside Villa Maroc in historic Essaouira and shopping for kilims and other treasures at the open markets of Marrakech.

"We used to avoid scheduling trips during the winter holidays, figuring this was at-home time for most people, but our guests started asking for trips specifically during Christmas and New Year's, so now those are special departures for us, and they're almost always sold out," says Cari Gray of Butterfield & Robinson.

Valerie Gilbert of Backroads, which offers 12 walking, cycling and kayaking excursions from California to New Zealand during the holidays, says couples and families find they actually have more togetherness on trips than they would at home.

"Between cooking, cleaning and other distractions, many people find themselves constantly running around with little quality time to relax with the people that matter most," she says.

They also can get a leg up on the battle of the bulge that inevitably accompanies the holiday season. For example, participants in Backroads' multisport camping adventure in Mexico's Baja Peninsula can have their Christmas cake and sweat it, too -- hiking, cycling, kayaking and snorkeling along the whale-rich Sea of Cortez. A less rustic inn-to-inn trip provides the same workout over New Year's. Or, they can celebrate Christmas aloha-style cycling on Hawaii's Big Island, with hiking and pedaling around stark Volcanoes National Park, and Christmas in the lush Waimea hill country.

For a really wild Christmas adventure, consider Himalayan Travel's two-week camping safari in Zimbabwe and Botswana, which includes optional canoeing on the Zambezi River.

Here are some other reasons to leave home this holiday season:

* Texas bird-watching: Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, a top bird-watching outfit, trills in the New Year with a South Texas sojourn among the whooping cranes, roseate spoonbills, American oystercatchers and other sea birds of Copano Bay and, inland, the birds of prey of the Rio Grande Valley.

* Sierra Club treks: The Sierra Club celebrates the New Year in California's Death Valley National Park, with day hikes out of Texas Springs campground, one mile from Furnace Creek headquarters. The campground has washrooms with toilets and showers. Or, for Christmas and New Year's at the top of the world, join the club's holiday trek in Nepal, with camping in tents set up by Sherpa guides.

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