1. Find other travelers.
If you celebrate Christmas, you probably associate the holiday with spending time with family and friends. If you’re away from your usual social circle, it can be really lonely.
A friend of mine nearly always spends Christmas abroad. She usually spends the day with fellow travelers and locals. She offers to cook them dishes that are traditionally made in her country and exchanges presents with them. She also Skypes with her family back home. Between staying in contact with her family and spending time with other travelers, she seldom feels lonely.
Being away from your family doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Find fellow travellers from all around the world, or locals you’ve grown close to. Suggest having Christmas lunch or a gift-giving session together. Many of them might be in the same boat as you!
2. Keep parts of your old traditions alive.
Many of us have unique traditions that we love to follow during Christmas. For me, Christmas is a time for roast meat, gift-giving, cheesy decorations, and drinking ice-cold champagne in Cape Town’s heat, which always peaks around Christmas. And, of course, I always watch Love Actually on Christmas Eve.
For you, it might consist of other things. Are you used to doing Secret Santa? Do you usually celebrate Christmas Eve, too? Does Christmas at home entail a specific meal, décor or tradition? Try to incorporate that into your new place, wherever you are. You might not be at home, but the small details will help you keep the homesickness away.
3. … but embrace new traditions.
Part of the fun of traveling is learning about cultures, traditions and ideas that differ to your own. So why not make a point to respectfully embrace these new celebrations? Use the holiday as an opportunity to try something new.
If you’re joining locals for Christmas, ask them how you can participate in their traditions. When I spent Christmas away from my family for the first time, I found it useful to throw myself into the traditions of my host family. We listened to the Christmas songs they always listened to, I joined them when they went to see a pantomime, which they did every Christmas eve.
Exchanging my traditions with them was absolutely beautiful. I felt welcomed into their home, as if I’d always been a part of their celebrations. While I missed my family desperately, I felt like I became a part of a new family.
4. Give with a purpose.
While we usually associate Christmas with giving presents to individuals, as travelers, we can exercise generosity by giving back to the communities and countries that welcome us.
Find out if there are any local community-led initiatives around Christmas. This could include helping out at a feeding scheme, visiting animals at a local shelter, or cleaning up a beach or park.
At the same time, be wary of voluntourism efforts that do more harm than good. Work only with organizations that are above-board and avoid volunteer work that perpetuates harmful stereotypes, especially if you’re working with a particularly disadvantaged community.
You might still want to send gifts to individuals, especially if you love gift-giving as much as what I do. If your budget allows it, look for locally-made crafts to gift to your loved ones or send locally-made Christmas cards. Send them before Christmas, and ask them to open the gifts while Skyping you.