I lived away from my home country for nearly six years. That’s quite a long time, but I nearly never felt homesick. In fact, there was really only one time of year that I felt homesick, and that was Christmas.
I’m guessing it’s true for many people that Christmas is a family time. Perhaps Americans might add Thanksgiving to the list, and other nationalities might have other special days, but certainly for a high number of travelers out there, Christmas is a time where you would ideally like to be with your family.
My first Christmas away from home was spent in Japan, and I remember it well, because it was terrible. For a start, since the Japanese don’t exactly celebrate Christmas, I had to work. I say the Japanese “don’t exactly” celebrate Christmas because they do manage the commercial side of it pretty well, so there were Christmas decorations everywhere and Christmas carols playing at my workplace, giving me plenty of reminders that yes, it was Christmas, but no, I wasn’t enjoying my mother’s cooking and a day of gift-giving, I was at work instead.
Making Christmas Better: Tips for Travelers
But after that, I figured out that there were plenty of ways to make sure my traveler’s Christmas turned out better. Here are some of the things that helped me and might help you too:
Create your own special events to celebrate Christmas
In my second year in Japan I was wiser. I still had to work, but I made sure I had something to look forward to. In fact, it was the special treat after work of ordering home-delivered pizza, which is terrifyingly expensive in Japan. I was so proud of ringing up the pizza shop and ordering in my (slow) Japanese, and then when the delivery guy came he was wearing a Santa hat — it was perfect.
Arrange a time to call home when all the family will be there
Make sure you know what time and where the Christmas events back home are, and plan ahead with a parent or sibling to ring at an arranged time. Even if this turns out to be the middle of the night for you, it’s worth it to chat to everyone, although you’ll probably recite the same story ten times as each relative hands you onto the next one and asks you what you’re up to.
Save any Christmas cards or gifts that people send you to open on Christmas Day
Knowing that there wouldn’t be much celebrating going on around me, I didn’t open any cards during December and had them waiting in a stack to open when it was really Christmas, and that cheered me up no end.
Plan a special vacation — a really Christmassy one!
One year while I was living in Germany, I totally splurged on my dream Christmas in Finland. Well, I did it the budget way really, but ended up learning how to drive a reindeer sleigh on Christmas Day and having a chat with “the real Santa” in Lapland, too! For an Aussie girl like me, the idea of having a really white Christmas (instead of one with temperatures over the century) was a childhood dream come true — and that year, I didn’t give a second thought (or even a first one) to the family celebrations back home.
Arrange a gift exchange with the people around you
Even if you’re in a backpackers’ hostel on some isolated Thai beach, get a group of people organized to give “Secret Santa” gifts to each other — set a small maximum dollar value, draw names out of a hat and spread some Christmas spirit together.
Remember all the hassle of Christmas that you get to avoid
If you were really back in your home town you would have to buy tons of presents for people (remember the crowds at the shops?), argue with the family over the location and timing of Christmas events, and possibly even hang out with relatives who you don’t really care that much about. A Christmas abroad is just for you, and you should enjoy the freedom of being able to spend it how you want — well, more or less.
Enjoy Christmas, Wherever You Are!
With any luck, homesickness won’t hit you at Christmas. If it does, try some of my tips to cheer yourself up, and remember how lucky you are to be traveling. I’ll be at home this Christmas, celebrating with some family and friends, but just remember — I would probably prefer to be out there and traveling, too. Merry Christmas and happy travels!