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Four Keys to Family Thanksgiving on the Road

The numbers are staggering: According to AAA, more than 43 million Americans—including a ton of family travelers—will spend Thanksgiving at someone else's dinner table this year.

The vast majority of these people will be celebrating with friends or fellow family members. A small handful, however, will be families traveling independently, giving thanks at four- and six-top tables in restaurants across the country.

My family was this family once; in one of my teen-age years, we had turkey and all the trimmings at an Irish pubby-type place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by folks whose Thanksgivings revolve around travel for travel’s sake (as opposed to travel as a way of getting from home to grandma's house).

Over the years, I’ve researched this phenomenon through interviews and anecdotes. Here’s the inside scoop on why some people take this approach, and what they consider to be keys to a successful holiday.

Guarantee touchstones
A huge part of the Thanksgiving tradition these days revolves around the food: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc. Some of the families I’ve interviewed over the years say that preserving the basics of the meal is the most critical step of doing the holiday while traveling. No, it doesn’t really matter where you eat. Just make sure the place has the right menu.

Give thanks
As hokey as it might be, the spirit of Thanksgiving teaches us to be thankful for the stuff we have. Taking time to reflect on this might be challenging when you’re out and about for the holiday, but it’s worth prioritizing. If you share gratitude aloud, be sure you acknowledge the ability to travel; you never want the kids to take that for granted.

Stay positive
If you’re like me, a Thanksgiving away from extended family every now and again probably sounds like heaven. Just try to keep these sentiments to yourself. The last thing you want is for your kids to know how you really feel about that pretentious uncle. At least until they’re old enough to figure it out on their own.

Stick to a schedule
Just because you’re on the road for the holiday doesn’t mean it’s OK to deviate from other norms. Try to have dinner around the same time the kids always eat. Try to get them to bed at the usual time, too. This consistency will help them adapt to unfamiliar surroundings. It also will help you re-establish routines back at home.

Have you ever celebrated Thanksgiving on a family trip with nobody but your immediate family? If so, where? What was it like? Please leave a comment and let us know.