Person in a hooded sweatshirt stares looks out over a rocky beach
One of the most difficult parts of traveling the world is being away from your friends and family for the holidays.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / lolostock

How to Enjoy the Holidays When You're Abroad and Away from Family

Have a Happy Holidays Even Away from Home

Traveling the world is an amazing adventure, but it also brings some challenges. One of the most difficult parts is being away from your friends and family. Most ordinary days you can handle the feeling of being halfway across the world from the people you love, but when the holidays roll around you are guaranteed to feel an extra pang of homesickness.

All your cousins and aunts and uncles are gathered around the dinner table eating turkey or going for a walk to look at the Christmas lights… and you are in a hostel in Cambodia struggling to keep up a Skype connection on the slow internet. You may be only on the other side of the world, but sometimes it can feel like you are on another planet.

So what can you do to alleviate some of this homesickness when spending the holidays away from family? Here are some ideas for surviving this season.

Connect with Other Travelers

So you are feeling a little bit out of place and lonely this holiday? Guess what — all of the other travelers in your hostel probably feel the same way. Why not gather people together and form a temporary family of vagabond wanderers?

Many destinations with a decent population of travelers and expats will have Christmas dinner events at local pubs, restaurants or hostels. There are also tons of unique and festive holiday celebrations around the world to experience. See if any of the new friends you make want to attend one with you.

Or you could organize your own group dinner. You can get together in the hostel kitchen, share holiday recipes from your home countries and bond over funny stories about your families.

Cook or Bake Something Familiar

I was in England during Christmas in 2015, far away from my family in Canada. I decided to bake an enormous batch of a classic family recipe for Christmas cookies. The familiar scent of the cookies brought back fond memories of my childhood and really put me in the Christmas mood.

I decorated them all, wrapped them up in pretty paper and then gave them away to my English neighbors and friends, spreading the holiday cheer. Making a family recipe during Christmas can really make you feel connected to your loved ones.

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Treat Yourself

If you are traveling and living out of a backpack, you probably don’t want a lot of material Christmas gifts because you already have what you need and anything extra will weigh you down. If your loved ones are stumped on what to get you for Christmas, ask for something intangible: an experience rather than an object.

For example, when Lee and I were traveling New Zealand I gave him a white water rafting trip for Christmas. It was a thrilling treat and he didn’t have to worry about finding room for it in his backpack afterwards.

On other Christmases on the road we have spent a little bit extra on a nicer hotel, ordered breakfast in bed on Christmas morning and pampered ourselves a little. You could even get a massage or a spa treatment, or go out to eat at a nice restaurant.

After all, it is the holidays so why not make it special? (Plus, the nicer hotel may have a stronger WiFi signal so you can actually call your family and have a good conversation.) So, if you know you are going to be traveling during Christmas, make sure you budget a bit extra and hide it away until December 25 so you can treat yourself to something nice on that special day.

Do Something Totally out of the Ordinary

When I was in New Zealand, I met a Canadian traveler who knew she would be homesick during Christmas. She decided to spend that day hiking and camping on the Tongariro Crossing, an eerie barren volcanic landscape that stood in for Mordor in the Lord of the Rings films.

Her logic was that if she tried to recreate Christmas in New Zealand she would be comparing it to Christmas to home, and she would inevitably end up feeling sad and wishing she could be with her family. However, if she did something totally different she wouldn’t be comparing it to anything and she would instead be focused on the exciting new experience she was having.

It would be so different and thrilling that she wouldn’t be thinking about what she was missing out on. It is a novel approach, but I’m sure she will never forget the Christmas morning when she woke up and unzipped her tent flap to behold a stunning view of Mount Doom.

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