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posted: 11/2/2013 6:00 AM

Thanksgiving holiday the perfect time to travel overseas

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It's that time of year again. Aunt Edna makes her special mince pie with the maple-leaf crust. Aunt Dorothy makes her Pilgrim centerpiece with the seasonal foliage. And I make my reservations. But not at the local Sheraton or Hilton hotel. These reservations require cashing in miles and flying overseas.

It started more than 30 years ago, after preparing my one-and-only Thanksgiving feast. The kids asked why I put prunes in the stuffing. My husband said the turkey was so dry he was choking. Nobody liked the sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows. And the pumpkin pie leaked. The oven hasn't been the same since.

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I decided then that the holiday should be more about family and less about food. So the next year we flew the coop and left the bird behind. Our family tradition was born.

Since this is the busiest time of year to travel within the United States, we decided to fly out of the country. Because our friends across the pond don't care much about our Thanksgiving, airplanes are less crowded and hotels offer special rates. Prices may be as much as 50 percent less than during the tourist season. While some attractions close during the winter, local residents are often more friendly and take time to talk with you.

Our first pilgrimage took us to Rome, Italy. The kids ate pasta with marinara sauce. I think I ate cat -- which didn't taste like turkey.

We ate our dessert seated at the Spanish Steps. And when night fell, we sneaked into the Coliseum and imagined the feral cats were lions about to fight the gladiators.

The following year we flew to Ireland and rented a van. We stayed in bed-and-breakfasts and ate fish-and-chips for our Thanksgiving feast. We bought fishermen sweaters along the Ring of Kerry and made friends with the only other tourist we found in the whole country.

Since then, we've dined on moussaka in Greece, suckling pig in Spain and haggis in Scotland -- which definitely didn't taste like turkey.

We have picnicked in Peru, dined like kings in Paris, and ate pork skins in Nicaragua -- which did taste like turkey.

This year, we will head for southern Portugal. We'll be staying at the Longevity Wellness resort high in the Monchique Hills of the Algarve region. We'll be taking long hikes in the hills, touring the fishing villages and relaxing in the spa. Part of the time we'll be feasting and part of the time fasting. And we'll return with memories that will stick with us much longer than the traditional turkey dinner would.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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