Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
We hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, whether they went back home or traveled in some random location.
We spent our break in Japan and South Korea and got back to Bangkok in time for the New Year.
This time of year can be hard for expats and long-term travelers, and it might be one of the few times we really don’t want to be away from our hometowns. But most long-term travelers do spend at least one Christmas, if not several, somewhere unfamiliar out in the world.
We have both done it many times now, and the experience is always a bit surreal and different from the last time.
Here are some of the experiences we’ve had:
We’ve spent Christmas in our “home away from home.”
My first Christmas as an expat was in Guangzhou, China and I didn’t get enough time off to go home or travel. Simon’s first year in Bangkok was the same.
The good news is that 1st year ESL teachers usually have great friends and plenty of enthusiasm for the place they’re living, so the holidays are weird but a ton of fun.
In China, a big group of us found a restaurant serving Christmas dinner and then went to a party that lasted until the wee hours of the morning (even though we had to work the next afternoon).
In Thailand, Simon had the best night out of his life on Christmas Eve and then spent most of Christmas Day trying to recover while forcing down Christmas dinner (which admittedly doesn’t sound great, but he always looks really happy when he’s reminiscing about this).
I’ve spent Christmas with another family.
My next Christmas abroad was in England with Simon’s family. If I’m not with my own family, this might be the next best thing. It was nice to spend the holiday in a more traditional setting with a big tree, a home cooked meal, parents and grandparents around, and plenty of gifts. I was still on the other side of an ocean from my own home, but I felt just as cozy and nostalgic and as ever.
We’ve spent Christmas in the perfect Christmas location.
Another excellent Christmas recommendation for a traveler? Iceland! Everything was covered in snow, decorated just right, and full of holiday spirit. It was just the two of us, but it felt like we had walked into that perfect scene on a Christmas card.
We’ve had a backpacking Christmas.
This year we experienced Christmas with bags strapped to our backs, and although we spent the actual Christmas day in a (weird, empty, slightly pay-by-the-hour-ish) motel in Busan, South Korea, we spent most of our two week trip going from hostel to hostel. Backpacking in Asia couldn’t be more nontraditional, but it is also a very social way to travel – so if you want to feel part of a community rather than alone in a foreign land, this might be the way.
We’ve spent Christmas where they don’t really “do Christmas.”
For many of our holidays abroad, we’ve been in Buddhist or otherwise Non-Christian cultures that don’t really celebrate during this time of year. Decorations are put up, but there is something slightly off about them – whether they are using strange pastel colors or making the characters a bit too cartoonish compared to what we are used to.
The day itself is the most bizarre, as all the shops and businesses stay open and you’ll find everyone just going about their lives as usual. This can be extremely interesting or extremely depressing depending on your attitude.
But no matter where you are, you are likely to find a group of fellow expats and travelers who are determined to celebrate together have an amazing time. In Busan, we holed up in a cozy pub to drink mulled wine and champagne for two days. There were many other foreigners around doing the same. It wasn’t the most traditional, but it was a great time and will make a great memory.
Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? We’d love to hear about your experience! Share with us below.