Away from Home for the Holidays

A Christmas tree decked out in holiday lightsGrowing up, I often spent Christmas at my friend Matt’s house. In fact, it often seemed like everyone I knew spent Christmas at his house. After everyone had their family Christmas, we congregated there to celebrate together as friends. Even after college, my friends and I still managed to spend Christmas at Matt’s house, holding onto that one tradition even as our lives grew apart.

I haven’t been home for the holidays in four years. I get asked a lot if I miss being home and in the spirit of Christmas. It must be hard to be away all the time, people say. But while there are things about the holiday season that I do miss, I’m not that bothered by it. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and most of my friends are now spread out around the country.

When I think of Christmas, I think of spending time with friends and family, eating food, and going to holiday parties. The months before Christmas build excitement not only for the day, but for the whole time of year. However, overseas you don’t have that built-up, end-of-the-year, holiday-season feel surrounding you. You’re always on the move, and it’s hard to get into the spirit. When people think of the holiday season, they think of the cold, snow, lots of decorations, work parties, lights, and 24-hour Christmas music on the radio. But as a traveler, you don’t experience that atmosphere. Even if you’re in cold and snowy New York, being away from friends and family reduces your holiday cheer.

Traveling around New Zealand with a lot of first-time travelers, I’ve heard many comment on how sad they are to be away during this time. But I think, as nice as it is to be with friends and family, being away for the holidays can be a great experience.

My friend calls a traveler’s Christmas an “Orphan Christmas.” You have no loved ones around. Stranded from your loved ones, everyone misses that sense of home. And we all come together because of that and form our own “home.” We have to if we don’t want to spend the day alone. All we have is each other, which I feel is a good thing. This places the emphasis less on gifts and more on just being around others and having a good time. Coming together with other travelers also gives you the chance to learn about how the holiday is celebrated around the world.

And that spirit is what the holidays are supposed to be about anyways.

Celebrating in New Zealand, I learned they do Christmas lunch instead of dinner. The British love to celebrate the day after Christmas (Boxing Day), Germans get treats leading up to the holiday, and Swedes and Finns open presents on Christmas Eve. And the food people eat is just as varied as the celebrations. (Don’t get in the way of Brits and a roast or Aussies and a BBQ!) We all bring something different to the table, and that can make for an interesting, unique, and fun holiday.

Being away from home during this season can be a challenge. They say necessity is the mother of all inventions. It’s also the mother of all travel relationships. People want to be with others, and bonding over a holiday is a great way to become close with others.

A traveler’s Christmas has no gifts, no formalities, and no pressure. It’s simply about the food, the people, and the day. And that can give you a renewed appreciation for what this season is supposed to really be about.

  1. This is our first Christmas away from friends and family…and we’re finding we like it! We just spent a very relaxed, quiet Christmas Day on the beach in the Gulf of Thailand…very surreal and very enjoyable. All the best to you in 2010!! Cheers!

    • NomadicMatt

      Gillian! Happy Holidays! Where in the gulf? A thai xmas is so strange. Have you noticed they really really get into the whole decorations and christmas songs? I find that really interesting considering they are a nation of buddhists.

  2. Hey Matt – I just discovered you and am really enjoying getting to know you through your blog & twitter. I think this post is excellent & does make people think about the their holidays (in general) & what they should be about!

    Merry Christmas to you!

  3. Pratik

    ‘A traveler’s Christmas has no gifts, no formalities, no pressure. It’s simply about the food, the people, and the day. And that can give you a renewed appreciation for what this season is supposed to really be about.’
    – That was a well expressed thought Matt!!

    Avid traveller and first-time poster here. Most people spend their Xmas in malls fighting each other for the latest toys and pretending to have a great time with family members for the sake of exchanging gifts. I would take a great fulfilling trip with genuinely good locals to hang out with any day over this sad ritual that we have made Christmas into.

    Maybe if people take a break and actually spend this time away from their friends and family, they would all appreciate each other more while experiencing a new culture somewhere else in this world.

    • NomadicMatt

      I totally agree. Christmas is way too commercialized. In fact, every holiday is. It’s never about people anymore- just about the stuff we give and the things we buy.

      Thanks for taking the time out to comment.

  4. Hello and happy Boxing Day – our family is traveling around New Zealand, too, as part of a year-long RTW journey. I was concerned it would be hard on the kids (ages 11 and 8) to be away from familiar traditions and extended family this year, but quite the opposite: We all had one of the most simple yet special holidays ever. The key was low expectations, low pressure, and embracing the new. We maintained one family tradition by having a special ornament and poem mailed from home; sang carols and Skyped home, and that was it.
    My son, the 8-year-old, loves where we’re at and what we’re doing so much that he wrote about it and filmed a mini movie, which I used our blog space for if you’re interested to see how a family unwinds in an unfamiliar rural setting over the holidays.
    For single travelers who don’t have this kind of family connection while traveling, I encourage you to network and get invited to spend time with a family like ours; we’re happy to meet others and welcome them in.
    Thanks for your post above and for your positive outlook — I’m enjoying getting to know your blog!

  5. Aaron

    Hi Matt,

    I discovered your blog through the NYT link. I spent last X’mas in Kathmandu and the New Year’s traveling down to the Sundarbans in Bangladesh. I am home (in snowy NY) for the holidays this year. While I like being in NYC this time of the year, I must admit it gives you a different perspective about the world when you are away during the holidays. I agree that everyone should spend at least one holiday season away from home. I certainly plan to be away next holiday season.

    Merry Christmas and I look forward to reading more posts from you!

  6. Probably everything depends on personal experience. Although it is already 10 years as I am on the road and travel the World, I am always at home on Xmas eve for family dinner. Can celebrate NYE on the beach but need snow for Xmas :)

  7. Forest

    I think it would be a wonderful adventure to spend the holidays abroad. I want to be in Italy somewhere next year for christmas and the new year. I’d love to see the similarities and the differences in how they celebrate.

    Happy holidays Matt!

  8. Was my first Christmas without family this year, I had a turkey sandwich on the beach in Australia, different to all the snow back in Europe at the moment.

    Merry Christmas everyone, and happy new year!

  9. Carrie

    I’ve spent three Thanksgivings away from home…in London…where, obviously, they don’t celebrate. One year, I cooked a dinner for 17 people! But Christmas? I’ve never been away for it. I applaud your New Zealand trip. I hope to do that someday. Kudos, Matt!

  10. I spent christmas in Hong Kong a couple of years back and loved it. Seeing how the rest of the world celebrates it is really fun. I know what christmas is like back home so why not go and find out what its like in Europe or America.

  11. Lindsey

    I see how some people might like being away for the holidays, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get completely used to it. I can remember a time when my husband and I were backpacking in Thailand during Thanksgiving. It was the first time we had been to Ko Samui and the weather couldn’t have been worse! We were stranded at our beautiful bungalow, and I can remember running through the rain to get to a phone so that I would be able to call home. When I got in touch with family, they sounded like they were having the time of their lives and I knew exactly what I was missing.

    I totally agree with you that the key to having a happy holiday experience when traveling is to surround youself with other travelers. This was our mistake in Thailand. For some reason, we chose to go to one of the more secluded hotels. Lesson learned.

  12. This is our first christmas in our motorhome but we had to travel on the road to be with family! It still did not feel like xmas because we did not get caught up in the “gifts” and buying everything bigger and better for each other!
    I wanted this xmas to be about giving to each other and it was a nice change! Our family brought a “Goat” for a overseas family. It was so nice to be able to “give” a gift to someone that needed it!
    Next year we will be in our Motorhome and we will be somewhere different in Australia so I think that it will be a xmas that will be so different :)


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