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Due to current travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus, there will be a lot of people this year who find themselves stranded in a foreign country for their first Christmas abroad. It can be daunting, and risks pushing you over the edge if you’re already feeling twinges of homesickness, so I’ve put together some advice for surviving your first Christmas away from home.
I know some people don’t see Christmas as a culturally big deal, and who couldn’t wait to escape from the kerfuffle it all and spend it alone up a mountain somewhere, and that’s fine, but they don’t need this guide 🙂 I’ve written this for the travellers like me who (religious or not) see Christmas with family as the best day of the year, and had never imagined themselves spending it away but eventually decided their love of travel won out, or were forced into it by this year’s circumstances. This is for the people who are worried they will struggle with homesickness as the festive season falls upon us. But fear not! Though different to your usual, Christmas away from home can still very much be a memorable, enjoyable day.
It’s a weird year in 2020, and I’ve tried to write this guide to be mostly applicable both to those stuck in a foreign country, potentially in quarantine, as well as those still able to travel more freely – which hopefully will be the only case in years to come!
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Try not to get hung up on all the things you’re missing being away from home this Christmas, and instead fill your day coming up with cool stuff to carry on into Christmases to come. You’ll likely look back on this festive season with bittersweet feelings, so make sure there’s something great to stand out in your memory. This could be a new dish, particular type of gift or a game you play.
2. Tinsel up!
What a way to get into the festive cheer! Not only does it perk you up every time to look at the glittery sparkles glistening as they get hauled into the back of a filthy night bus, but when you’re travelling through unknown lands I feel that having this kind of talking (or maybe just giggling) point is a really nice way to break the ice with locals and other travellers alike. It’s probably not recommended for air travel, but you can definitely brighten up a bus terminal with a simple bit of shine.
And hey, if you’re going to be stuck in one room for most of the Christmas period due to the pandemic, deck the halls/chest of drawers.
3. Get to a backpacker hostel early to find kindred spirits
Obviously if you’re quarantining or locked down, please ignore this point and don’t go spreading your phlegmy goodness around hostel dorms. However, if you’re travelling in a country less affected by the coronavirus, give yourself a good shot at making yourself some mateys before the big day, and check in at a backpacker-vibed hostel least 3 days before Christmas itself. The chances are, most people in the hostel will be there for their first Christmas away from home too, so people naturally tend to band together. It’s one of the best times of the year to make friends, even if that kind of stuff scares you normally. Since everyone is in the same boat being far away from family, there’s a strange sense of bonding in the air that’s hard to explain. Try and find a hostel that’s known for open, friendly vibes and community events – book ahead as these types of hostels tend to book up quickly during this time.
4. Arrange a FaceTime back home
It’s impossible for a festivity-loving, family-orientated traveller not to miss their old life during their first Christmas away from home. Make sure you connect in, and arrange a time for a video call before either party gets too into the spirit(s). I was basically a fly on the wall watching my family opening all their presents during my first Christmas away from home – adventure pulled me away though! Which leads me onto my next point…
5. Remind yourself why you’re spending Christmas away from home
If you’ve made the conscious decision to spend this Christmas away from home for a reason, get out there and remind yourself why! Unlike the Western world, Christmas doesn’t always mean that things close down in other regions, and there will always be parts of nature to explore, so go on a big adventure on Christmas Day and make it one to remember. I’ll certainly never forget having steak and prosecco for breakfast before almost dying hiking up the Cerro San Cristobál in Santiago, Chile with a group of Brazilians who became buddies for life.
6. Get involved with all hostel activities
Around this time of year, it’s very common for hostels and hotels to put on events for all their guests, mostly driven by the fact that so many are run by volunteers from parts of the world that celebrate Christmas culturally. Get stuck into all of them to make friends, make new traditions and take your mind off the fact that you’re here for your first Christmas away from home. Expect things like ‘family’ Christmas dinners, party games, beer pong and film nights, especially as we start to see vaccines rolling out across the world.
Since you’re spending your first Christmas away from home, why not make the most of it and learn about all the different customs in your current destination, even if from afar. Thanks to the other virus that we call missionaries, Christianity was spread to all corners of the earth, and in lots of regions (South America especially), the rituals were mixed with customs from the converted population’s original culture and customs, plus individual families’ traditions, meaning no two Christmas experiences are the same. Ask around the area for any church ceremonies, parades or parties that might be going down, and perhaps check out Viahero for the help of some super-local guides.
Not in an overtly Christian country? Worry not; lots of the countries that don’t have a huge Christian population and don’t have it as part of their historical culture still like to get involved with this western obsession – did you know that in Japan everyone gets KFC on Christmas Day to mimic our roast bird dinners?
8. Treat yourself to a cheeky Christmas gift
You’re probably not going to receive many physical gifts from loved ones during your first Christmas away from home, but being abroad doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself! It can be really easy in the lead-up to travelling to be in such a major saving mode that spending money on yourself doesn’t feel right anymore, but use Christmas as an excuse to splash out on something for yourself, whether that’s a new item of clothing, some locally-made delicacies or a bottle of champagne to spray all over your dorm (in light of tip #3, you probably don’t wanna do this). But yeah, go crazy, let loose, knock yourself out, etc. etc.
9. Support someone else who’s spending Christmas away from home
The likelihood is, you probably haven’t flown out just a couple of days before your first Christmas away from home (though admittedly Christmas Day flights are usually pretty cheapo), so you’ll likely have clicked with at least one person who’s travelling at the moment and also about to experience their first Christmas away from home. Make sure you get in contact with them on the big day, whether just to shoot some festive cheer their way or to take the time for a video call. It’ll make both of you feel better!
FELIZ NAVIDAD, CHICOS.
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