Spending the Holidays Abroad : 6 Ways to Cope

If you’re traveling or teaching abroad, chances are you’ve missed a holiday at home.  Sometimes holidays pass without you noticing, but other times you miss the cookies, the family time, and the traditions that make each holiday complete.  You might start to feel like you’re missing out on something at home.  I’ve been there.  I have eaten at Sizzler in Thailand (somewhere I’ve never dined at in the States!) on Thanksgiving, had pad thai for Christmas dinner, and had to search within my camping backpack for a ‘costume’ on Halloween in the backcountry of California.  It’s different, it’s fun, okay, it’s kinda fun.  You still miss home, family, and tradition, but hopefully these five tips will have you missing all that a little less.  Over the years, I’ve come to realize as much as I don’t really care about holidays, they are still meaningful and it’s always good to treat that day a bit different when it comes around.

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Plan an Epic Adventure – This is definitely my favorite way to spend a holiday away from home.  Plan something so awesome and amazing that you will remember that day as the best holiday for years to come. Climb a volcano, zipline through the jungles of Thailand, or try SCUBA diving for the first time, whatever you do, do it big.  On future holidays you’ll be able to look back at your expedition with a smile as you tell your friends and family about it.  Sharing your stories on the anniversary of the day will allow you to realize that while you may have missed one holiday at home, there will be many more to celebrate with family and friends

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Celebrate with a Local Family – Make connections with a local family (very easy to do) and celebrate the holidays with them. Depending on where you are, the locals may not celebrate the holiday you’re missing out on, but they’ll most likely be receptive to learning about a new culture and helping you have a wonderful day.  You could offer to cook for them or ask them to teach you how to cook their traditional holiday meals.  The Thanksgiving I spent in Brasil was one of the best of my life.  I didn’t think about the turkey and cranberry sauce, I was thankful to be on a boat in my bathing suit during a holiday where I’d normally be bundled up and napping.

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Skype, Call or Write Loved Ones – If you’re anticipating missing friends and family, set up a skype date or a phone call.  This is something you should plan ahead of time though.  You don’t want to sit in a guesthouse and repeatidly try to call your family on Christmas.  If they never answer or if the connection is horrible, you may feel worse off than if you would have never attempted to call them in the first place.  If you’re feeling nostalgic during the holidays, you could buy a whole stack of postcards and let your loved ones know just how much you miss them in writing.  Telling people how much you care is so important and we fail to do it enough.  Chances are if you’re missing someone, they’re missing you too and you should let them know even if you can’t tell them in person.

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Complete a Personal Challenge – Often times there are events or challenges (lots of marathons) abroad during holidays.  It’s a happy distraction to keep you from getting hung up on the holiday.  Creating and completing your own personal challenge is an amazing way to create growth during a day where you might want to sit and ruminate about the past.  Thinking and dwelling about past holidays won’t make this one any easier, so challenge yourself to something new or demanding and do it!  Bike 30 miles throughout the city, finish that book you started, say hello to fifteen strangers, practice yoga three times throughout the day, do something, anything that will be challenging to you. Create growth you can be proud of.

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Make the Day About Your Wellbeing, Happiness, and Relaxation – Sometimes instead of a happy distraction, it’s helpful to sit and reflect.  Having a slow day of meditation and reflection during a holiday abroad certainly isn’t for everyone though.  (If you are emotional or a bit down about spending a holiday away, I wouldn’t celebrate this way – don’t set yourself up for sadness – choose option 1-4.)  Anyway, if you are up for a quiet, slow day, treat yourself to a massage or buy a day pass at a bath or pool.  Meditate or peruse through all the questions that have been swirling around in your head over the past few days. We all need days where we do absolutely nothing in order to clear our heads.  Everyone gets to this space differently, but I think relaxation and meditation is a great way to start.  Treating yourself to a day of quiet reflection may be exactly the present you need this holiday.

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Find Your Community – Celebrate with other travelers and expats!  If you’re hellbent on celebrating and you want to do it with other like-minded people, figure out where other travelers and expats are hanging out for the day.  Everyone is a friend during the holidays so you’ll have no trouble finding a small community of expats to celebrate with.  Or maybe your community is the local school you’re teaching at.  Teach them a lesson about your cultural traditions that day or make them a traditional dish to share during snack time.  Whatever you do, surround yourself with friendly faces if you anticipate being lonely during the holidays.

Over the last five years, I’ve spent my fair share of holidays abroad.  Sometimes I miss the turkey and the stocking stuffers, but honestly most times I just wish my family were with me celebrating abroad.  I always try to do something epic during the holidays so that I can look back and think about that event instead of focusing on how I was away from home. Are you abroad this holiday season?  Are you anticipating how you’ll feel or are you excited to enjoy time away from home? If you know someone else who is traveling during the holidays, let them know there are exciting alternatives to a holiday at home. Enjoy your holidays my far-flung friends!

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