Have you ever been to Europe in December? It is magnificent. From bundling up in the winter chill to the smell of chestnuts roasting on the street corners to the Christmas celebrations and decorations, it really is wonderful.

At one point I was going to be working in London at the beginning of December and had planned a quick romp over to the continent immediately after, but the job got cancelled and so this year I am sitting it out at home.

For years I have been trying to convince my son that we need to have Christmas in San Gimignano, but he won’t have it. To him (understandably) Christmas is something that happens at our house, so if I am lucky enough to get over there it is a trip squeezed in between his school events and pre-Christmas parties. I didn’t do any December traveling while he was little, but the past few years it has worked out perfectly.

Christmas in San Gimignano, Italy. Learn about Christmas traditions in Italy, and why you need to visit Italy in December
December in San Gimignano, Tuscany

If you are in a space in your life where you can duck away for a week or two, December is a glorious month to travel to Italy for an entirely different experience. It is also a great time to take advantage of your airline frequent flier miles and get an off-season trip for next to nothing. The closer you get to Christmas the more tricky the flights get, with people flying home in each direction for the holiday, but the middle weeks of December can be a brilliant time to travel.

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Why You Should Visit Italy In December (at least once in your life!)

1. The Crowds Are Gone

Florence at night in December. The tourists are gone, it's just the locals, the Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit
Strolling the Corsa in Florence in December, the tourists are gone, it’s just me and the locals

This alone makes it worth the trip! Your Italian experience is so different when the crowds are gone. You can walk freely everywhere without the streets being full of tour groups, which lets you really appreciate the beauty that to a degree gets lost or minimized when you are hustling through a crowd. I’m in love with Florence at any time of year, but December there is just incredible. When you can wander around and see the streets only populated by the Florentines and yourself you get a whole new appreciation for the city. It’s the same with pretty much everywhere.

2. You Don’t Need To Wait In Line

With the crowds gone there are suddenly no lines to get into the big attractions. Instead of trying to look at The Birth of Venus over someone’s shoulder you have it all to yourself.

Florence Duome from the tower in Palazzo Vecchio on a hazy December afternoon
The view from the tower at Palazzo Vecchio on a December afternoon with no crowds. I never do this in the summer because there are just too many people

When you’re not wasting hours of your vacation time standing in lines waiting to get in, you can wander at leisure through as many museums and churches as you want. It’s quite remarkable just how much more you can see and do when there are no lines. I find I do double or more, but at a relaxed and leisurely pace.

Humans are not supposed to be herded like cattle, and it wasn’t until I was meandering through museums unfettered that I realized just how stressful it can be when you are at the same place while it is crowded!

As much as I love the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s I never go with my Glam Italia Tour groups – I hand them off to my local guide and meet back up with them at the end. During the normal travel season more than 25,000 people go through there each day, so it is always packed, which can be quite stressful. In order to move that many people through the guards have to keep hustling everyone along, so much of the time you can’t even look at all the things you want to see. Rather than stop and really have a good look at the tapestries, art work and treasures, you are in motion, moving on.

I learned along the way to plan a few hours of downtime after the Vatican tour for my groups to decompress.

One of my friends sent me photos from the Vatican Museums last December. She was strolling around, taking everything in at her own pace, with very few other people there.

3. The Prices Go Down

I love a bargain, so I extra love traveling to Italy in the off-season. The cost of everything goes way down. When the cost of accommodation drops you have far more money for shopping! Between using frequent flier miles to get there and then having fabulous accommodation for a fraction of the price, the trip becomes really economical.

4. You Can Escape The Heat

As much as I adore spending my summers in Italy with my Glam Italia Tours there are some places that I don’t go to because the heat gets overwhelming. For example I normally don’t take my groups to Pompeii during the summer months because it is just so very hot and dusty. The last time I took a tour group there was in September a few years back. It was so hot and humid that I actually started feeling sick and thought I might pass out.

In December though it is amazing! You can spend much more time there just wandering and really taking it all in. It’s the same with the Valley of the Temples just outside of Agrigento in Sicily. I don’t want my travelers passing out from the heat and I don’t want to get heat sickness, so I seldom go there in the summer. December though is perfect! You can be there for as many hours as you want, not only seeing everything but also really enjoying the more temperate weather.

5. The Food!

Frankly, the food is reason enough to go in December! The pre-Christmas foods, the hearty winter soups and the heavier meals that are too much on hot summer days are fantastic in December.

Christmas Markets in Italy, Sicilan cookies at the Christmas markets in salerno, Italy
Sicilian Christmas cookies at the Christmas markets in Salerno, Italy

Every region has its own Christmas specialty foods, from meals to pastries and cookies, things that only show up at this time of year. You can eat them all too, because calories don’t count in Italy!

I tend to spend a lot of time in Tuscany and I love the chilly afternoons and early sunsets in December. One of my favorite things is wandering in to a little trattoria at the end of the day and ordering a bowl of chunky tomato and bread soup. It’s one of those things that loses its magic on a hot summer’s day but is so perfect in winter.

I also love all the Sicilian Christmas cookies and pastries that show up everywhere. I bring home bags of them – they are so unique and wonderful.

Related Post: Gift Ideas For Travelers who Love Italy

6. The Christmas Spirit and Atmosphere

Can I just say I am so fed up with all the Jingle Bells, Ho Ho Ho and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town songs blasting out of every shop, elevator and parking lot loud speaker, from the split second Halloween is over?? The holiday season has become more commercialized than ever and the effort to separate me from my money is exhausting.

When I spend time in Italy in December I fall in love with the Christmas season all over again. Christmas over there isn’t about Santa Claus, it’s about the birth of Jesus, so the decorations, the music, the celebration is completely different.

Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas or are not particularly religious, it is completely charming, and well worth experiencing. I love learning about the different Christmas traditions around the world. I grew up in New Zealand where it is summertime in December, so my childhood Christmas memories are quite different.

Last year I was in Barcelona in December, and their poop based Christmas traditions blew my mind! Read about them here: What The Hell Is Caga Tio??

Italy has wonderful Christmas traditions, and the way the community pulls together to celebrate them is just gorgeous.

7. The Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets in Italy, the market in Trento
Just like a fairytale! The Christmas market in Trento, Italy

European Christmas Markets are spectacular. Anywhere you go they are wonderful, but I particularly love the markets in Italy. Visually wonderful, especially up north where the towns turn into fairytale winter wonderlands, every city, town and village hosts Christmas markets. The atmosphere, the smells, the foods, the decorations and crafts to purchase – it is like every Christmas dream you have ever had.

Some have live nativity scenes, some have carousels and acrobats. All have local delicacies, hot drinks, booths filled with Christmas treasures, and the backdrop of the incredible beauty of Italy. I just can’t get enough of them!

Bonus Info:

Want to know which are the 10 Best Christmas Markets in Italy? This post is already too long, so I have made a separate PDF that you can download, listing the best Christmas markets in Italy, where they are, what they are famous for and why you need to go see them. Each market has photos attached so you can see how beautiful they are!

If you have already signed up for my newsletter this list will be in your email inbox today, so keep an eye out for it! (and you don’t need to request this PDF to get it)

If you are not on my newsletter list and would like the 10 Best Christmas Markets In Italy PDF CLICK HERE.

When I fly to Europe I always start my trip in Los Angeles, where I don’t live, instead of Phoenix, where I do live. It saves me as much as $800 on my round trip flight. I will fly to L.A on Southwest airlines for around $50 each way and with no checked luggage fee (yay Southwest!) which means my total flight cost goes up, but I still end up saving $650+ on my airfare.

Sometimes as stupid as it may seem, my flight from L.A routes back through Phoenix on its way to or from Europe.

But it costs me massively less money to not start or finish my air travel here. I can’t just get on the plane in Phoenix and I can’t just get off it here either, unless I want to pay hundreds of dollars more.

Last year my flight from Rome to JFK got delayed and so I missed my connecting flight. The fabulous person from Delta Airlines told me “Honey this is just plain dumb. I’m putting you on a direct flight to Phoenix!”, saving me hours of extra travel time.

Theoretically I could have just deplaned at Phoenix anyway (if I didn’t have checked bags), making it a hidden city flight, but I had bags checked through to Los Angeles, so that tactic wouldn’t have worked. So God bless the Delta Airlines transfer desk staff!

But it brings me to what I want to talk to you about today, and that is Hidden City Flights, or Hidden City Ticketing, and what you need to know about them.

What You Need To Know About Hidden City Flights

Hidden City Flights

What Is A Hidden City Flight?

So what exactly is a hidden city flight??

Say you want to fly from Los Angeles To Philadelphia and the ticket costs $795. (I’m making up prices for the sake of the example). Then when you dig a little deeper you find a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago that routes through Philly, for $375. You could buy the cheaper L.A – Philly – Chicago flight and just get off at the Philly stopover, saving yourself $420. Philadelphia would be the “hidden city”.

Hidden city ticketing or booking a hidden city flight in this example would be booking that flight to Chicago, but not continuing past Philadelphia.

Seems smart, right? Maybe not…

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Are There Restrictions?

If you were to book a hidden city flight there are some restrictions you would need to be aware of.

Cabin Bags Only

You can’t check bags if you are doing a hidden city flight. When you check luggage it gets checked through to your final destination, so in the above scenario the suitcase would go to Chicago and you would be in Philly.

Taking carry on only can be tricky too – if the overhead bins are small or if they are full the gate agent may have to check your bag before you can get on the plane. They don’t check it to the next stop, they check it to the final stop.

One Way Only

You can only do this on one way flights. If you miss a leg of your flight it cancels out the entirety of the rest of your ticket. So with the example above had you purchased a round trip Los Angeles to Chicago flight you would forfeit everything after that first Philly stop.

No Frequent Flier Miles

You can’t use your frequent flier miles when you do this. There is a chance that the airline will invalidate your frequent flier account if you do.

If There’s An International Connection

If you are part of a flight plan that is international you will need to have your passport and any required visas for the final destination.

Here is an example, and again I am making this up. If you wanted to go from Seattle to Chicago and the airfare was $725 but you found a super cheap flight from Seattle to Iceland for $300, and the flight plan was Seattle – Chicago – Rekyavik you would have to show your passport at check in, even though the flight to Iceland was departing from Chicago. Technically once you landed in Chicago you would be walking to a transfer gate, and not passing back through airport security.

Even though we don’t need a travel visa for Iceland, for the sake of the example let’s pretend that a US passport required an entry visa for Iceland, you would had to have acquired it prior to going to the airport.

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Is It Legal?

A website called Skiplagged uses this technique to get cheap flights. Both Orbitz and United Airlines have filed federal lawsuits against Skiplagged, but lost due to a technicality. The contract is between the passenger and the airline, not Skiplagged and the airline. Sooooo you could be the one on the hook.

As far as I know (and I’m not a lawyer) using this loophole is not illegal. It is controversial, is probably unethical, and can have consequences.

Airplane

Consequences

The Visa Application

There is a chance that you could be breaking the law with your visa application. I haven’t had to do one for a while, but last time I did I had to specify the dates that I would be in the other country, and provide a reason for my travel. You could be opening yourself up to a world of trouble. Without knowing the specific legalities I would emphatically advise against it. You just don’t know when something like this could come back to haunt you.

Re-Routing

Planes sometimes get re-routed. There can be many reasons why, from weather to a passenger getting sick during the flight, to an airplane issue, to a terror threat, to who only knows what else. If you fly often enough you will at some point run into re-routed flights.

Using our L.A – Philly – Chicago example you could find that there was a maintenance problem with that plane so now all the Chicago passengers are being put on a plane that is going from L.A to Dulles to Chicago, and the Philly passengers are being put on a later flight. You would have no recourse in this situation, and the airline would not have to get you on a plane to Philadelphia.

Global Priority and TSA Pre-Check

Everything you do is tracked now, so you have to question whether you are jeopardizing your Global Priority or TSA Pre Check status, or perhaps making yourself ineligible to get them down the line. Just because you don’t have or want them now doesn’t mean you won’t in the future.

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Ethics

There is an ethical question involved with this too, and this is what really bothers me with the concept. If the airline hasn’t been informed that you are not getting back on board, the plane will sit there on the tarmac while they try to find you. There are layers of follow on problems that can cause for other passengers.

Those who are on their way to an international connection can miss that flight, causing them to lose the first day/days of their vacation.

Passengers with a tight connection to another domestic flight can end up missing it because everyone is searching for you.

Airport security now has to find a missing passenger inside an airport terminal – just think for a minute as to how much chaos that can create. In a post 9/11 world I have zero patience or tolerance for any airport hijinx.

The plane can’t take off until they are certain that you didn’t have any checked bags and that you haven’t left anything on board.

These days most of the flights that I go on seem to be full, which means that there is a good chance that someone else needed that seat that you disappeared from.

Conclusion

I fly a lot and would not be willing to take the risk of doing a hidden city flight. I am always working the angles, looking for cheaper ways to fly and looking for the best possible deals, and although this may initially sound like a good idea I don’t think it’s worth it.

I am also a huge advocate for on-time flights and air travel safety, so although I get that its a money saving concept, it doesn’t sit well with me. I wouldn’t do it.

What are your thoughts?

Have you read my book? Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy is available worldwide on Amazon.com


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Do you ever take long flights, especially international flights?

Have you ever put your things in the seat back pocket in front of you, or left anything behind on the plane? If so you may want to check out this fabulous new travel accessory that simplifies airline travel and keeps you your important bits and pieces organized, together, and germ free…

Seat Back pro

If you haven’t yet made your first international flight you may be unaware of all the items you need on hand during a long flight. Things that can easily disappear or get left behind. Thousands of ipads, laptops, cell phones, prescription glasses, wallets, headphones and other valuables get left on planes every month, winding up in the Bermuda Triangle of the airline lost and found department.

Most of these items get left in the seatback pocket, but others slip to the floor and slide under seats.

In Flight Travel Pouch

On an international flight you will need to have your passport out to fill in arrival and customs forms, you will need a pen, lip balm or chapstick, disinfectant wipes, baby wipes, Kleenex. Maybe you need eye drops, cough drops, a travel toothbrush, Advil – you get the picture. Many small, losable, moving parts.

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Typically you don’t want a bulky bag at your feet taking up valuable legroom, and if you do have a handbag or pack at your feet you won’t necessarily see if something falls out during your flight. Or worse, it can tip over and have everything fall out.

SEat back pro

This is where passengers utilize the germy, black hole that is the seat pocket. Pay attention for 5 minutes and you will never go near that beast again! (Just watch passengers and what they do with the seat pocket…) What do you think people do when they blow their nose on a plane, or cough up phlegm? Any repulsive, gross, germy detritus that humans want out of their hands gets put into the seat pocket.

With that in mind I needed to find an effective way to keep all my inflight belongings organized and easily accessible. I get a lot of travel supplies at The Container Store, and while shopping there a few years back I got a really good bag that suspended from the tray table, giving me a place for all my belongings and circumventing my need to use the germ fest otherwise known as the seat pocket.

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It was a really good device, but it was bulky, doubled as a shoulder bag (that I never used) and when I landed I found it quite cumbersome to try and put into my carryon or suitcase.

Seat Back Pro

I just bought this new Seat Pak Pro from The Container Store for my Summer 2018 travels. It works the same way as my old one, hanging from the tray table fastener, but is much less bulky.

I’m taking this one with me on my summer 2018 Glam Italia Tours, and no doubt all the rest of my flights too.

Seat Back pro

Here is what I like about it.

  1. It is slimline, so when I arrive at my destination I can either slip it into my suitcase or into my carry on bag, without dealing with the bulkiness I had with my old one.
  2. It opens all the way so I can see everything easily rather than having to feel my way around the inside of a dark bag on a dark plane. (It’s always when the lights are out that you need that one thing in the bottom of your bag.)
  3. It has the right types of sections for the things you need, with a section for your pen, another for your smartphone, a large pocket for a tablet, sections for passport and documents, headphones and electronics, and 2 other random sections.
  4. The passport section zippers closed. Having your passport slip out of any bag would be a nightmare. With this bag you know exactly where it is, and it can’t fall out.
  5. The iPad section has a fastener, so my iPad won’t slip out or start slipping out while I’m trying to zip everything up and get off the plane.
  6. The fabric is lightweight but strong, and is easy to clean. It’s important to have a strong fabric that won’t tear and that you can clean easily if something gets spilled on it.
  7. It is really well constructed. This is super important! You need an inflight bag that won’t fall apart. I have seen some that are quite flimsy, and can tear easily or get holes in them. I’m a big believer that all of our travel gear should be well constructed and hold up to a beating.

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Find the Seat Pak Pro HERE at The Container Store

Here is an affiliate link for The Container Store online

I hope this was helpful to you!
Happy Travels!