Are you as adventurous as this Nordic couple at Christmas?

They say there’s no place like home but there’s also no place like Nairobi. So why celebrate Christmas in the same place every year when you can spend it exploring somewhere new?

Are you as adventurous as this Nordic couple at Christmas?
Photo: Thorunn Bjarnadottir and Sindri Sigurdsson

Thorunn Bjarnadottir is a travel aficionado. The Icelander has spent the better part of the last 25 years living between Scandinavia, Africa and the United States. Moving around the world is second nature to Thorunn, whose mother works in development aid for the Icelandic ministry.

Win a trip for two to Lisbon, Turin or Budapest! Click here to join The Local’s group for European travellers to enter the competition

Click here to read the competition T&Cs

“My mum has been dragging me around since I was a small kid,” she tells The Local. “Every couple of years I’m used to being in some new place!”

Despite the regular upheaval, she “wouldn’t change it for anything” and has herself relocated to New York and Stockholm, where she currently lives. Growing up, Thorunn and her mother would often spend Christmas in some far-flung place – Yuletide abroad has become “a thing” which Thorunn’s fiancé Sindri Sigurdsson has also embraced.

For Sindri, the best part of spending Christmas abroad is discovering how different cultures celebrate and gaining new perspective on the holiday.

Photo: Thorunn Bjarnadottir and Sindri Sigurdsson

“Last time we were in Malawi for Christmas, we went to a safari park for a couple of days,” he recalls. “We spent Christmas Day in the bush, out in nature. The locals put on a party which everyone could join. There was dancing and singing, it was quite different coming from Iceland!”

This year will be the couple’s second Christmas trip to Malawi and their third abroad, having spent Christmas 2015 in Mozambique. Thorunn has also spent the festive period in Namibia, Uganda, Cape Town, New York and, of course, Iceland, where the couple celebrate every other year.

Christmas in Cape Town

Of all the cities to spend Christmas, Thorunn says Cape Town is her favourite. The coastal city in South Africa has it all: an abundance of nature, a mix of African and European culture and more once-in-a-lifetime activities than you can shake a stick at.

Read more about Cape Town in Lufthansa’s travel guide

Photo: Thorunn and Sindri deep sea diving

“I’ve spent a couple of Christmases in Cape Town. It’s beautiful! You get a nice mix of African culture but it’s also very European so you have vineyards, and it’s very modern with everything in the city. You can go swimming, take a sunset cruise, see African animals, see real township life. One time I went swimming with penguins!”

Thorunn and Sindri will complete their upcoming Christmas trip with a short but eventful stopover in Nairobi followed by a romantic day in Paris to celebrate their anniversary. 

Read more about Paris in Lufthansa’s travel guide

With just 18 hours in Nairobi, Thorunn has meticulously planned every minute so they don’t waste a moment.

“There’s a safari park attached to the city so it’s really close to get to,” she explains. “Somebody will pick us up at the airport, take us for safari then take us to an elephant orphanage. Then we’ll go to a giraffe centre where you get closer interaction with the animals, before having some lunch at a local place where we can also buy some traditional items.”

Photo: Thorunn on safari

Christmas traditions

Even Scrooges can’t help but feel somewhat attached to their local Christmas traditions. But spending Christmas abroad doesn’t mean abandoning them entirely. And besides, says Thorunn, it comes with other perks.

“Initially we would bring food with us and try to make it as ‘normal’ as possible. But you would always have sunshine and a different climate than you would otherwise have in Iceland. It’s still festive but it’s quite nice to wear a dress and not trudge through snow in your Christmas outfit!”

Thorunn, Sindri (and Thorunn’s mum) still celebrate Icelandic Christmas on the 24th, opening presents and gathering around the table for a family meal. However, they’re not against experimenting with new Christmas customs – even traditions that originate half the world away.

“Last year we did make quite a significant deviation,” recalls Thorunn. “Icelandic Christmas is on the 24th so we opened presents that evening but instead of making a big deal of cooking dinner, we decided to make it a Japanese Christmas and ordered KFC!”

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Thorunn appreciates the merits of a warm Christmas, but she’s had her fair share of white ones too. In her native Iceland, but also New York where she was based in 2008. She might not have swum with penguins or taken many sunset cruises, but the Big Apple is among the most magical places to spend Christmas.

Photo: Thorunn in New York City

“That year my mother was in Iceland so she came to visit me for Christmas and New Year. It was -14 degrees but there are so many Christmas lights and so many people! It’s really, really festive.”

Read more about New York in Lufthansa’s travel guide

Thorunn and Sindri agree that every Christmas spent abroad is unique but, as the old maxim goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

“Once you go somewhere different, the next year you appreciate Christmas ‘at home’ more,” says Sindri. “It refreshes your holiday spirit.”

We’ve partnered with Lufthansa to launch a group for travel fans across Europe. Members can share stories, exchange travel tips and ask #WhereToNext? Join now to find out about weekly flight voucher giveaways and a big surprise in the new year.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Lufthansa. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.


How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules