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Avoiding The Holiday Blues: Tips from an Expert

Some of us have better luck than others when it comes to holiday planning, and many of us have not had a prolonged winter break since we were undergraduates. So, if you haven’t started to think about your winter break yet, now is the time. I did my undergraduate degree at Boston University and I learned early on how to have both a successful and an unsuccessful winter break. I thought it might be useful to review a winter break disaster, illustrate some mistakes to avoid, and provide tips so you can concentrate your efforts appropriately and ensure a positive winter break experience.

During my first winter break at school, I left Boston for my two-week vacation. When I departed Logan Airport it was slightly below freezing – a cool 30 degrees Fahrenheit. At my destination I encountered a 100 degree temperature change. Had I gone to the balmy south? Perhaps somewhere exotic like Latin America or South America? No. The only thing south was the direction of that 100 degree temperature change. I stepped off the plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the temperature was 70 degrees below zero. To be fair, -70 was the wind chill factor. We Minnesotans typically use the wind chill factor to brag about how cold it really is. The actual temperature was about -15 or so, but then again, the wind chill was predicted to drop even further once the sun went down.

My parents had a special ‘treat’ in store for us that year. It turns out they had been suckered into attending one of those two hour time-share property information sessions in exchange for the chance to win a free holiday. Well, mom and dad won that free holiday and we were going to use it during my winter break. We went straight from the airport and drove to our unforgettable holiday destination, Breezy Point, Minnesota. Breezy Point is a small town about 150 miles north (yes NORTH) of Minneapolis. The population is around 800 people and the average temperature is typically ten degrees colder than in Minneapolis. Oh yeah, we were about to have ourselves a real special family holiday vacation.

For you to fully realize what we had in store for us up in Breezy Point, Minnesota, it may be helpful to first understand the region a bit better. Minnesota residents do not enjoy all of the same benefits that residents of other cold climate regions experience. For example, there are no mountains, so skiing is restricted to large hills or cross-country trails.

That doesn’t mean that there are no perks for winter enthusiasts, however. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, which makes ice fishing a very popular past-time. To protect themselves from cold temperatures, ice fishermen build ice houses on top of the lakes. Oh, you betcha, some people go all out building icehouses in Minnesota. Yup, they install heaters, TVs, and even keg-erators. While waiting for fish to bite, they often enjoy eating venison jerky and listening to hockey games on the radio.

For my family, things were a little bit different. Newscasters were issuing warnings not to go outside all weekend, so any thoughts of cross-country skiing were blown. Furthermore, we were not the fishermen type. So other than a brief road trip to nearby Brainerd, Minnesota where we were lucky enough to visit the Paul Bunyan statue that talks to the crowd (you may have seen it in the movie Fargo), we were pretty well confined to our free ‘luxury’ condo.

I’m lucky that I get along so well with my family; we all have a good sense of humor and, most importantly, we had packed plenty of beer. We stayed in Breezy Point for a long weekend and I spent the rest of my holiday in Minneapolis. The temperature was not any better, but at least there was more to do other then hearing a Paul Bunyan statue speak. As I said goodbye to my family and boarded the airplane, I began looking forward to getting back to balmy Boston. As it turns out, I had plenty of time to think about it because airport ground control couldn’t keep the plane defrosted long enough for us to leave the ground. My flight was eventually canceled and my departure was postponed until the next morning when it had ‘warmed’ up to zero degrees.

This experience taught me a lot about Holiday Planning and below are some tips to ensure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to you.

1. Don’t base your holiday planning around ‘free’ holiday trips.

2. If you ignore #1 and choose to assume the free holiday risks, at least make sure you understand the geographical location and seasonal constraints of your ‘free’ holiday. Also follow my family’s contingency plan: pack plenty of beer.

3. If you accomplished #1 above but your family is based in a cold geographical location, have them visit you during winter break holiday.

4. If size constraints (or your nerves) prohibit you from accomplishing #3, start your research early and secure low cost vacations for your family in warm weather destinations. October and November are a perfect time to plan your winter break retreat away from the cold weather.

5. Tip # 4 is ideal, however, I recognize that cost can be an issue, and sometimes families just don’t want to leave home during the holidays. Never fear – October and November are also the perfect time to secure that new friend. Yes – there are plenty of HBS people that hail from warm weather destinations. Now is the perfect opportunity for you to meet them and get yourself invited to their home for the holidays. You should consider the following timeline to achieve your goals:

October: Scope out your prey. Use the Advanced Search tool in the Classcards on My HBS and search under “home regions”. Note the names, pictures and bios under the most geographically desirable locations and list your top three choices (don’t forget to check the ‘partner’ status).

November: Meet and evaluate your options. Make sure you use November to get to know each of your prospects.

December: Close the deal. Do this early so you can still buy cheap flights.

By following these simple tips, you should be able to avoid a lock-up situation in the middle of nowhere for four long days with your family. Good luck on your holiday planning!

November 2, 2004
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