Not so very long ago, Christmas travel was mainly over the river and through the woods, or the city-suburban equivalent. It was a time for gathering with siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents to catch up on things, to exchange gifts and toasts, to reaffirm that although change is inevitable, family is forever.
That's still the way it is in many families.
In others, a sister's family has moved to Ohio, a brother's is now in California, another sister is meeting her new boyfriend's family in Colorado, and cousins and aunts and uncles - some of them feuding - have dropped out of touch.
Which sometimes leaves us seniors pretty much on our own for the holidays.
AAA, citing a jump in hotel, rental car, and vacation-package reservations, was forecasting an 11.4 percent increase in travel for Thanksgiving and expects a rise for Christmas as well, this after a 25 percent recession-fed slump in 2008 that lingered into 2009.
Many of those returning travelers will be us.
Fortunately, the hospitality industry doesn't go into hibernation for the holidays, and some providers - with business travel virtually nonexistent between Christmas and New Year's - look to us to keep rooms filled and employees employed.
Here's a sampling:
The Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, one of the tourist-heavy neighborhood's better hotels, is offering 62-and-older guests a 25 percent discount off rack rates, plus a coupon book for nearby attractions. The "Senior Moments" special, good through Dec. 30, drops the rate to as low as $152 (subject to change; 1-800-233-1234, www.fishermanswharf.hyatt.com).
We of that certain age like to be pampered - we've earned it. Woodstock is one of Vermont's favorite villages, especially for those of us who like quiet, nostalgic walks in any season. And the Woodstock Inn & Resort (1-888-481-8802; www.woodstockinn.com) is one of its iconic properties. The place opened a spa in September, and to spread the word, it's offering a "Pampered & Great Spa Escape" all winter: Two nights lodging and $888 in spa credit, all for $888. From the literature, here's one option: "For the winter, guests will experience the 100-minute Signature Deep Forest treatment, which begins with an exfoliating body scrub and hydrating wrap and ends with a full-body massage." Ahhh.
Wyndham Resorts is running a "Pay 3 Getaway 4" promotion through Dec. 31: Pay for three nights and the fourth night is free. The catch: The standard AARP discount (10 percent at most properties, sometimes higher) doesn't apply, so do the math. And do your homework: The quality of Wyndham properties tends to vary (1-877-999-3223; www.wyndham.com).
Fine wine and those who appreciate it have no upward age limit. We're back to California - Yountville, in the Napa Valley - where the Bardessono Hotel (1-707-204-6000; www.bardessono.com) is offering a Winter Wine Down package through February. The package includes a welcome bottle of wine, $200 spa credit, $150 dining credit, complimentary wine tasting for two at the Hill Family Estate tasting room, and complimentary shipping of two bottles of wine anywhere in the United States. Cheap? No. This luxurious package is from $788 per couple per night, which sounds expensive - because it is. But after the spa treatments and all that wine, you won't care.
Few places cater to seniors more aggressively than Branson, Mo. (1-800-619-5708; www.branson.com). Things are quiet on Dec. 25 - commerce takes a little vacation here on Christmas, and a lot of the shows (including a favorite, the Andy Williams Christmas Show) shut down Dec. 11 for two weeks or longer. But about 25 of the town's 100-plus shows keep running through the month, as do restaurants, shops, and most walk-up attractions (the Titanic Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum, for example). A highlight: The Silver Dollar City amusement park stays open, with 4 million Christmas lights. Another highlight: Hotel and motel prices plummet. In fact, if you don't mind a little solitude, the season is actually one of the prettier times to visit, especially when you catch a little Ozark snow.
And, finally, New York City hotel prices are notoriously high, of course. Most times of the year, finding a room in midtown Manhattan for less than $200 a night is as rare as a metered parking space. Christmastime is not one of them. Discounts abound; some of them are relative - a 20 percent discount at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park still leaves a $636 nightly tab. But when you poke around, miracles happen, even north of 34th Street. Example: a room in a Hampton Inn near the theater district, on nonglamorous Eighth Avenue, for $135 via www.expedia.com. And who west of Bethlehem (the original) does Christmas better than New York?
Next Sunday: Online Traveler
Dec. 19: Game Traveler