Susan Michelle's Compass
It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
By Susan Michelle
Dec 7, 2008 - 4:15:54 PM

LOS ANGELESPine. Cinnamon. Fireplaces. Hot Toddies. These are the smells of Christmas for most people, but for me, nothing says Yuletide more than the smell of jet fuel.

Growing up, my family always flew to far away places the minute Christmas was over, so the odors of journeying are ingrained in my holiday experience. I remember so well getting out of the car at the airport when I was little, freezing to death in a thin dress and tights (dressing to fly was still important then), my winter coat left on the back seat—we wouldn’t need coats where we were headed.  I’d stand on the sidewalk, waiting for my parents to get the luggage, sleepily watching my breath exhale into the 20-below wind-chill”¦and then I’d inhale the smell of exhaust and jet fuel—a disgusting odor, really, but upon hitting my olfactory senses, my brain was triggered awake: we were headed for adventure! 

When we landed at our vacation destination, the scents of travel continued to invade. We usually went someplace tropical, and the airports of the tropics always smelled the same: a combination of musty walls, thick, humid air and body odor. I couldn’t identify these smells when I was young. I just knew them as the smell of vacation, of a foreign place, where Christmas, cold and toys pined for all year suddenly seemed a distant memory.

Sure, Christmas lights and decorations still adorned some of our hotels, but there was no snow, and Santa had already retired to the North Pole for the year. In vacation-land, the smell of pine was replaced by gardenias, lilies and jasmine.  The fire smell was not from fireplaces but from tiki torches.  And the water here was not frozen; it was lapping onto a shell-strewn beach, bringing with it the aromas of fish, salt and, well, ocean.

New toys were left at home.  On “holiday,” I was entertained by simpler things: sand, birds, lizards, shuffleboard and waves.  Strange foods, strange accents, strange houses and strange smells hung over everything.  And I experienced it all with my family, who probably didn’t realize the gift of travel was greater than any toy Santa ever brought.

Nowadays, my Christmas traveling is the opposite of what it was then: I leave the land of sun and palm trees and fly to the snow and cold—still sans winter coat—to spend the holidays in a manner that is as simplistic as when on holiday as a child: the “toys” left behind were the adult kind now: computer, fax machine, ringing office phone), and nothing but family togetherness—a holiday only made possible by our collective ability to travel. The minute that trip begins, the same trigger always reminds me that it’s Christmas time again: the stench of jet fuel.

Happy holidays, everyone, whether you have to travel far away or just to the dining room this season. Wherever you are, soak in the smells and remember what your holidays smell like. If you can remember that, you’ll always be able to travel through your memories.

About the Author: A former Hollywood producer and now 2nd-generation travel professional, Susan Michelle travels the planet as the “face” of the fashion-forward Compass travel lifestyle brand. 

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