Celebrating Hanukkah When You Travel

With Hanukkah falling during winter break this year, many Jews, including my own family, will spend at least part of the holiday in a hotel. It's never quite as cozy as celebrating at home, but with a little planning and effort, Hanukkah in a new city can be rewarding and memorable. Here are some of my thoughts and tips about how to enjoy Hanukkah when you are traveling.

Light the Menorah

Makeshift Menorah
Makeshift Menorah
It's just not hanukkah unless you light the candles. If you're having a beach vacation, a makeshift menorah with birthday candles stuck in the sand. Beautiful, right? In a hotel room, bring along a few tealights.

If you think you'll travel during Hanukkah in future years, it's worthwhile to invest in a small travel menorah. Look for one that uses birthday candles, like this travel menorah

Give Experiences

Learning about steam at the San Francisco Exploratorium Science Museum
Learning about steam at the San Francisco Exploratorium Science Museum
More and more families are shifting to give experiences as Hanukkah gifts instead of toys or other presents. If you're vacationing during Hanukkah, that makes even more sense - pick a special activity to do each day that is your Hanukkah gift to the family. You can either make wrapped gift certificates to give to the kids the night before, or vote on what you'll do each day.

Give Travel-Friendly Gifts

A Mini-Microscope makes a great travel toy
A Mini-Microscope makes a great travel toy
Another great way to go is to give gifts that are portable and can be used on the trip. Here are a few of my favorite ideas for this year:
  • This SE Mini 45X Brass Microscope w/ Illuminator is small enough to fit in a four-year-old's pocket, and it's the perfect thing to explore any environment in more detail. It's especially great if you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors, in lines, or anywhere that your kid might need an easy activity. Plus it's just over $4!
  • Art supplies are always a popular gift in my family, and travel well. I just love this , Faber-Castell Air Dry Glitter Dough Note that it needs to go in your checked baggage though - playdough and airport security don't mix! These Watercolor Pencils are great because your kids can draw with them dry in the car or on a plane, and then paint over them with water in the hotel room. Don't forget to pack a notebook or pad of paper!
  • A Hanukkah Craft set? Yes please! Here's a cute Glitter Hanukkah Stickers , or a full craft set Hanukkah Craft Set. Our family made the trek to Target this year to pick out some of their great kits (they're out of stock online, but you may be able to find one in your local store)!
  • Playmobil sets are a sure hit in our family. Ideally, I choose a set that fits in with the theme of our holiday. For example, the Playmobil Child with Seals for a trip to the beach.
  • Want more? Any of the travel toys in my product guide would make a great gift.

Find Local Celebrations

Hanukkah Menorah in San Francisco's Union Square
Hanukkah Menorah in San Francisco's Union Square
Search Google or call a local temple to find out what the local Jewish community is up to. Menorah lightings, hanukkah parties, or a visit to a local temple can all be very special memories, and a nice reminder that Jewish traditions are similar around the globe.

Eat a latke

Ok, you're right, the best latkes are homemade and cooked in oil - a frozen, microwaved latke just won't do, so if there's no local Jewish Deli, you might be out of luck. Why not search out the best donut shop in town instead and enjoy some Hanukkah Sufganiot?

P.S. I've got a whole collection of Hanukkah inspiration on Pinterest. You don't need to be a member to check it out. Hanukkah Pinterest Board
Reader Question: What tips do you have for celebrating holidays when you travel?

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  1. Amy @ Pit Stops for Kids on December 19, 2011 at 12:20 p.m.

    When we travel during the holidays (and the gift of an experience is our children's 'big' gift), we also wrap small travel toys so they have something tangible to open (gift cards to the experience works well too, as mentioned above!). It helps them to connect the experience with the concept of a special treat, and we were probably going to buy the travel toys anyway!

  2. Lisa on December 20, 2011 at 10:21 a.m.

    Happy Hanukkah!!

  3. Keith on December 22, 2011 at 3:10 p.m.

    Nice article. Looks like we get to do a smaller version of our traditions on the road as well.

    My wife is a travel nurse and has to take call over the holidays. We are stuck in this little apartment, 734 miles from home.

  4. holly on December 25, 2011 at 4 p.m.

    Great tips - happy hanukkah!

  5. Gemma on January 8, 2012 at 7:57 a.m.

    Very cool post.
    I've also travelled twice through the holidays, I was about 7 the first time and 12 the second. It's a strange experience as every other year you have traditions but on holiday you have to re-create Christmas or Hanukkah. Hope you had a wonderful holiday! :)

  6. SteveC on January 8, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.

    Great post! Thank you. I like the idea of the Hanukkah candles in sand if there is no menorah to be found.