As a bit of a serial expat who can’t stop moving to new homes around the world, I’ve found myself spending Christmas abroad more than once.
The circumstances have always been a little different, like when I was living abroad with a host family for my first Christmas away from home, travelling with a friend, or when family decided to visit me over Christmas time.
If you’re travelling or an expat abroad, spending Christmas outside of your home country can be a difficult time. Everywhere you look there seem to be families spending time together. People ask you if you’re going home for the holidays, even if home is very far away.
But the prospect of spending Christmas abroad doesn’t have to be a bad one, so don’t get the holiday blues just yet! I have some thoughts on what to do if you find yourself abroad at Christmas, and it looks like you might be spending Christmas alone, based on my own experience.
Use Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, Zoom, & Facebook Messenger
These are your new family and friends, or rather, your means of connecting with them.
We are so lucky to live in a global society, where we can be in touch with friends and family around the world quickly and easily. Gone are the days of snail mail only and expensive long-distance telephone calls.
Now you can basically be in the living room with your family on Christmas!
So get the streaming to the TV sorted and get on calls with your family and friends.
If you have a lot of people you want to speak to it’s a good idea to plan it out a little so it doesn’t interrupt that all-important Christmas Dinner. Or you could even plan it to eat Christmas Dinner together! Open Christmas presents together, play some games, or just have a nice chat. You decide!
Also take time differences into account if you’re calling from overseas. We usually call family in New Zealand from the UK on Christmas morning so that we are both having Christmas Day, and then call family in the same time zone later in the day.
Even if you’re spending Christmas abroad alone because you’re living abroad, it doesn’t mean you can’t go all out. Get a Christmas tree and decorate the house!
If you’re travelling and staying in a hostel hopefully they have some Christmas spirit, and if you’re in a hotel you could even get yourself a teeny Christmas tree for your room. Whatever is going to help you out!
Remember, Christmas is a time for giving, so give something to yourself! Make sure you at least buy yourself some presents, treat yourself to a spa day around Christmas time, a new book, or whatever it is that you enjoy but don’t normally take time to do.
Celebrate an “Orphans Christmas”
This is the name I remember everyone used in the UK to explain a Christmas where we would all get together since our families were far away.
There was no shortage of people to spend Christmas with so no need to be alone. We’d have a big celebration and meal and be able to incorporate lots of different traditions from different families around the world to make everyone feel a little at home for Christmas.
If you’re travelling and staying in a hostel then it’s likely they’ll be some kind of event like this on.
Couchsurfing or Meetup might help you find a local group of people willing to share their Christmas with you, or other likeminded travellers.
If you really don’t want to be alone, then there are multiple ways to find people to spend Christmas day abroad with.
Volunteer at Christmas
A sure-fire way to not spend Christmas alone when you’re living abroad or travelling is to volunteer.
See if you can help out somewhere collecting donations, or ask around different centres to see if they have any Christmas events that need volunteers.
Giving back at Christmas is a great way to bring back some balance to your life and remember what you have to be grateful for.
Embrace new traditions
It might help you to not miss Christmas at home so much if you’re spending it in a different way.
You might never have the opportunity to spend Christmas where you are again, so find out what some of the local traditions are and see if you can participate.
Is there a parade? A special kind of food they eat to celebrate? Maybe Christmas Eve or some other day is the biggest holiday, in which case you can double celebrate!
If you’re spending Christmas in the opposite season it might feel strange, but there are reasons to love Christmas in summer!
Of course, you should follow any of your normal traditions if you want to. Like that one time my Mum took a homemade Christmas cake with us in her carry on from New Zealand to Australia… oh the 90s.
If you still want to send Christmas gifts to your family and friends at home then I’d highly recommend shopping online. Websites like Amazon have an amazing range of goods and you can get most things gift wrapped and sent over.
However, nowadays you’ll also find plenty of independent local shops will do online delivery too. Look for something local to you and then post, or even look for something local to your friends and family and get it sent directly to them!
Check out these 30+ gift ideas for your friends and family abroad, and these gift ideas for kids that love travelling too. If you have a blogging family member or friend I even have some gift ideas for them too!
You could shop for unique things wherever you’re travelling and post them over too.
Consider gift experiences as well! You can read more about why I love gifting experiences here.
Then on Christmas, or whenever you can speak to your family and friends, you can watch them open their presents from afar. If you’re family want to send you gifts for Christmas, then you can advise them to do the same.
If you’re travelling and not sure where you’ll be then you could think about some travel experiences you want to have, and have your family pay money into your account for them, or pay for an upgrade in accommodation.
Have a day to yourself
If none of the above work and you absolutely find yourself alone on Christmas because you’re travelling or living abroad, don’t worry.
Take this as a day entirely for yourself. Turn off your communication devices or log out of Facebook and Skype. Plan a Christmas day just for you.
Whether that’s staying in making a delicious meal, or ordering whatever takeout is open, having a bath and watching movies all day. Or maybe it’s getting out and exploring the area you’re in. Going for a walk through a city that may be rather empty (the perfect time for photos!) or for a walk amongst nature.
You may have to spend Christmas while you’re living abroad or travelling alone, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Remember, it’s just one day.
Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? I’d love to know how you beat any potential holiday blues and made it special!
If you’re thinking of spending Christmas abroad, check out these Christmas wishlist destinations!
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10 thoughts on “How to Survive Christmas When You’re Travelling or Living Abroad”
The last option is definitely me this year (Australian in Canada). But I have been working non-stop in December, so I’m looking forward to a chill day watching Christmas movies, cooking myself a traditional meal and going for a walk. Merry Christmas!
Sounds like you have it all sorted! It’ll be nice to be in a completely different season too, especially if it’s a walk in the snow! Hope you have a great day, Merry Christmas 🙂
This Crimbo will be my first at home in three years. I have to say, I never liked spending it abroad! Thank goodness for Skype. Hope you have a nice Christmas, Sonja!
That’s so exciting you’ll finally be home then! Skype is seriously amazing. I never had it when I first started travelling and now I can’t remember what it was like without it!
I was JUST thinking about these things as well. What makes Christmas feel like Christmas when you aren’t doing the same things you’ve done all your life? These are definitely great ideas for those embarking on the expat journey!
Very true! I think you either bring your traditions wherever you are, or you try to do what the locals do for Christmas so you feel like part of the community. It’s a tough one though! Thanks 🙂
Very good article Sonja! Love your tips! Wish you the best Christmas!
Thanks so much you too!!
God I wish it was this easy, but all I can hope is that it gets easier. While I’ve always been a wanderer, the one constant was that I’d always be home for Christmas. Now, after 25 years of Christmases exactly the same way, I’m on a new continent, celebrating Christmas in a new season with my husband’s family and I feel like the Grinch. The Christmas carols I used to love make me cry and it’s easier to pretend it’s not Christmas than wrestle with the sadness of being away from my family and friends at this time of year, which isn’t hard to do when you associate Christmas with winter, not summer. Please tell me it gets easier.
It can be really hard to change things up when you’ve had a tradition for that long. I hope you were still able to enjoy some of Christmas! For me, things like Facetime and Skype are a lifeline and I make sure to call when it’s Christmas day for all of us. I also like to try and send presents that I think they’ll enjoy, and try and make plans for when we’ll meet again so that it’s easier to deal with. Best wishes xx