Shi Ying won't be making the traditional pilgrimage back to Shanghai to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with her extended family. Instead, they're all going to Japan for shopping and sightseeing.
That new custom lets her family bypass the mobs, clogged roads and subways, lousy customer services - and boredom - that can mark holidays at home. During the past few celebrations, Shi and her relatives left China for Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the US.
"The last thing my parents want for the Chinese New Year is a cheerless holiday with the three of us staying home in Shanghai," said Shi, 30, who works for a non-governmental organisation in Beijing. "Going overseas during the Spring Festival costs about the same as going to some domestic tourist spots."
The essence of China's seven-day holiday, also called Spring Festival, is morphing as rising incomes and an expanding network of international flights prompt more people to go abroad. Outbound travel for the holiday break is expected to top a record 6 million passengers, with airlines hauling near-full loads to Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia.
"Chinese New Year is a major international peak for the Chinese airlines," said Steve Saxon, a Shanghai-based partner at consultant McKinsey & Co. "For many, this is one of the only two opportunities to take a long holiday during the year."
The Spring Festival shuts down the world's second-biggest economy for a week as hundreds of millions of factory and office workers leave their adopted homes in Shenzhen or Beijing to reconnect with their ancestral ones, often on the opposite side of the country. Thousands more expatriates return.
This year's celebration, from Friday to February 2, will see the biggest mass migration of people on Earth. More than 414 million Chinese will ride in planes and trains.
Chinese will travel to 174 destinations outside mainland China for an average of 9.2 days during the holiday period, according to online travel service Ctrip.com International Ltd.