Today I helped decorate the Christmas tree with my parents. It is the first time in two years that I have been at home for Christmas and it was a pleasure to re-live the familial festive routines once again.
However, as a long-term traveller, it is inevitable that you will spend at least one Christmas abroad. I for one have spent the last three out of four Christmases away from the nest, and it leaves you feeling a little out of sorts. No advent calendar, no Christmas tree, no turkey roasting in the oven; it has the potential to be both a sad, lonely time of year if you let it, or an occasion to get stuck in and embrace a new experience.
Let us look at whether Christmas abroad backpacking will leave you feeling Ho Ho or Ho No.
You Get A Chance To Escape
Is the thought of spending a period of forced joviality with your extended family harder for you to swallow than overcooked turkey? For some people, Christmas is a time of arguments, tears and tantrums and that’s all before the first present is opened. Even if you’re not leaving family tensions behind, taking time at Christmas to focus on yourself is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s the end of a year and the beginning of another one, and it may just be that travelling is how you’d like to commemorate it.
Want to dance on a Thailand beach? Go for it. Want to jungle trek, scuba dive or simply lie in a hammock sipping a cocktail? Do it. There is no right or wrong way to spend Christmas abroad backpacking, only the way we’ve spent it in the past, and although we are a sucker for re-watching our favourite movies, there may come a point where we want to change the channel, just to see what we are missing.
You Can Do Something Different
Changing our routines can be like a balm to the soul. A travel buddy I met in Australia told me she had laced up her walking boots and spent the Christmas before hiking through a national park with her boyfriend. No presents, no tree and definitely no Christmas pudding, she had found it wonderfully refreshing to be doing something so out of the ordinary. She said she felt a thousand miles away physically and emotionally from the rest of the world.
Try doing something different this Christmas – volunteer for charity, go for a walk, sit on the beach – and see how it makes you feel. Probably not worse for a change in scenery, and definitely a whole lot better.
You Fully Appreciate What It Is To Live in Another Country
There is nothing quite like the Christmas we are used to: our favourite seasonal foods, the toasts at lunchtime followed by the Queen’s Speech, the family-favourite board games fought over long into the evening. Christmas becomes this hallowed occasion where routines are blindly followed because, well, they’ve always been followed, and we enjoy them.
However, living in another country enables us to appreciate the subtle – and not so subtle – nuances of a Christmas experienced through someone else’s eyes. Take my friend C, for example, who spent a Christmas in Argentina. The family he stayed with ate their Christmas meal of barbeque goat at 11pm on Christmas Eve outside in the garden. The beginning of Christmas Day was celebrated by the lighting of fireworks, and the neighbourhood came together in the street in a raucous fiesta of sparklers and lights.
You may even find yourself – either deliberately or otherwise – in a country where Christmas is not celebrated. Embracing a new culture puts your own into a completely new perspective, and you may find this new balance brings you a happiness and understanding of yourself and your life that you never thought was possible.
You Spend Less On Presents But Give More
Ever tried posting a large box of goodies to your friends and family on the other side of the world? Along with having to be super organised and posting it in November, it is expensive. Very expensive.
Christmas commercialism leaves a lot of people feeling like they’ve just been locked out in the cold. There’s an expectation that love is best expressed by the amount of presents under the tree.
But if money was no object for a backpacker, then we would all be in five star hotels. So, when facing international postage costs, it becomes necessary to pick out small, thoughtful gifts that represent your travels and symbolise your love.
But you know what? If there is just no way you can afford to buy or post presents this year from wherever you may find yourself, realise that it is not the end of the world. A phone call and a postcard will give your family greater happiness and peace of mind than a pile of presents arriving a month too late.
You Appreciate Those You Love Even More When You’re Not With Them
My English friend, N lives in Australia and suffers from homesickness on an almost daily basis throughout the year. As the mercury rises for another Christmas in summer, she says the feeling gets worse. But she acknowledged that the feeling was bittersweet; she loves her job, her apartment and lifestyle Down Under so chooses to remain apart from her family until she has saved enough money to spend a Christmas at home.
Thankfully, technology just keeps making it easier and easier to stay in touch.
Although it is a cheesy sentiment to express, family will know that you are thinking of them, just as they are in your thoughts. Through all manner of reasons, people spend Christmases away from their families, and for most it is a choice they are ok with. It gives you the chance to focus on what you are doing, safe with the knowledge that love is spanning the air miles.
Spend Christmas With A New Urban Family
Urban family or orphan family – the terminology may differ but in the backpacker circuit at Christmas they mean the same. Travellers look out for each other at this time or year, more so than they do already, and inclusivity is abundant.
Whether you are staying in a dorm room in a hostel or living in a shared house, there is no chance you will wind up alone on Christmas. Everyone else is in the same boat; home is several thousand miles away and nobody has their family around them. For this reason, offers to join in with other backpackers for the day will be rife, as you join together to be one big happy travel family.
Take the Christmas meal I attended the other year in New Zealand; there were so many travellers from all over the world packed into one dining room that people had to sit on the floor to eat their pot-luck Christmas dinner off of plates and cutlery they had to bring with them because the host would not have had enough to go round. The host couldn’t bear the thought of anyone being alone at this time of year, so the numbers kept growing, and the fun and camaraderie grew along with every new guest.
Perching on the arm of a sofa with your plate balanced on one knee may feel different to sitting in your family dining room with crisply ironed tablecloth and pristine table decorations, but it won’t feel bad. In fact, you will have to admit it is pretty fun!
It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas, But That’s Ok
As a long-term traveller, it is quite likely you may choose to work to fund your adventures. The hospitality or tourism industry jobs commonly held amongst backpackers are often in places that are open right through Christmas and New Year.
I spent the last two Christmases working.
I thought I would have a problem with that, but strangely enough I found that I enjoyed my Christmas with the hype taken out of it. Working to ensure the tourists I was interacting with were enjoying their day – who came from a culture that didn’t celebrate Christmas – meant that it was less about what I wanted out of my Christmas, and all about what they expected from their day.
And when my working day was over, I made sure I enjoyed a stroll around the lake in the warm sunshine and a cold beer with friends to toast another contented day of exploring the world.
Where are you in the world this Christmas? How do you see yourself celebrating?
Have you spent a Christmas abroad backpacking? How did that make you feel?
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Thanks to Pixabay for some photos