Family enjoying Christmas on a tropical beach (Dreamstime)
List Words : Wanderlust team | 19 December

Top tips for spending a family Christmas abroad

Great advice on how to make your festive season family holiday as happy and stress-free as possible

Pick your 'manger' well

A roof over your head this Christmas (Dreamstime)

A roof over your head this Christmas (Dreamstime)

Your hotel room or apartment will be your home away from home on your Christmas family holiday, so choose it well.

A hotel is perfect if you don’t want to lift a finger, but unless the kids have a separate room, you could be in for a number of early nights, which is not ideal during the festive season. A resort with a well-run kids' club might be the perfect compromise here.

An apartment, on the other hand, allows you to transpose your life back home to a place altogether more exotic. You can cook whenever you want to, keep on top of mundane chores like laundry and pretty much come and go as you please. 

Just check that the oven is big enough if you plan to bring your own turkey to cook on Christmas day.

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Deck the halls

Tropical Christmas decorations (Dreamstime)

Tropical Christmas decorations (Dreamstime)

You might be lucky: the hotel you’re staying in may be decorated festively, or the thoughtful Airbnb owner may have put up a tree. But if you arrive somewhere without even a hint of tinsel, there are things you can do to make your accommodation feel more festive.

The easiest thing to do is go out and buy a tree and decorations. But that can be expensive and, in some places, impossible. Get creative and make your own. All you need is a pair of scissors and some colourful paper. A glossy magazine will do the trick if there is nothing else to hand. Pick the most appropriate-looking pot plant and nominate it as your Christmas tree.

Nativity scene from Peru (Dreamstime)

Nativity scene from Peru (Dreamstime)

In Latin America, tiny terracotta nativity scenes are popular and can form the centrepiece of your Christmas celebrations. If you’re somewhere tropical you can use shells. Even in places like Morocco or Vietnamwhere Christmas is not officially celebrated, you can use the colourful lanterns on sale there as substitutes baubles and Christmas lights. They all make great souvenirs of your trip as well.

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A clear and present dilemma

Nativity scene from Peru (Dreamstime)

Case full of Christmas presents (Dreamstime)

You’ve got three options when it comes to Christmas presents: take them with you; buy them there; or have a present-opening ceremony when you come back. The option you choose will probably be dictated by whether your kids still believe in Santa or not.

If you decide to buy your gifts when you get there, take into account that you may not be able to find what you’re looking for. It may be sold out or it could be much more expensive than back home. (In Poland, for example, Lego is three times more expensive than in the UK).

Taking presents with you also throws up some issues. You’ll need an extra bag to take the presents with you and bring them back home, and how do you do that without making the kids suspicious? 

Speaking of suspicious, it’s probably best not to wrap gifts just in case a customs officer wants to take a closer look. And what about your travel insurance? Is it enough to cover the presents as well?

Families that spend Christmas abroad frequently suggest taking a few smaller gifts to open on the big day and then have a ‘second’ Christmas when you come back. If the kids complain, blame it on Santa not being able to find you.

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Organise Christmas dinner before you go

Christmas Turkey (Dreamstime)

A roasted Christmas turkey (Dreamstime)

Cooking a family Christmas dinner at home is stressful enough. In a foreign country, in a kitchen you don’t know and with ingredients you’ve never used before, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Even the best-equipped Airbnb kitchen is unlikely to have a dish big enough to baste a Christmas turkey.

If you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort, chances are your meal on Christmas Day will be festive-themed. But anywhere else, your best bet is to book a table at a local restaurant. Most will offer a Christmas menu of sorts, probably with a local twist.

Just remember to book ahead. Even in places where Christmas is not officially celebrated, it is still one of the busiest times of the year.

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Try the local Christmas traditions

Prawns on the barbie. A Down Under Christmas treat (Dreamstime)

Prawns on the barbie. A Down Under Christmas treat (Dreamstime)

Christmas has become such a universal holiday that is celebrated in some form or other in most places in the world. Usually, a local twist has been added that makes celebrating Christmas abroad a truly memorable experience for you and your family.

In Australia, locals often celebrate with a BBQ on the beach, grilling large, fresh prawns while the nippers have a paddle in the waves. In Japan, it is traditional to pop into KFC on Christmas Day. Even in traditional Christmas destinations like Germany and Austria, there are any number of seasonal treats, like bretzels, for your family to try.

In Latin America, Christmas is celebrated with colourful street parades. In Chang Mai, they hold a Christmas half marathon. Ask around and see what’s planned in your chosen destination.

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Make time for a Christmas Day video call

Skyping home for Christmas (Dreamstime)

Skyping home for Christmas (Dreamstime)

Chances are that Grannie and Grandpa will not be too pleased that you’re spending Christmas away, so make sure you negotiate a time to have a Facetime or Skype catchup. The novelty of seeing you by the pool or on the slopes will distract them from the fact you are not there.

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Let them entertain you

Christmas sandman on the beach (Dreamstime)

Christmas sandman on the beach (Dreamstime)

No matter where you are in the world, a lot of places will be closed on Christmas day. And, unlike back home, your kids won’t have cousins or Christmas TV to keep them entertained.

You didn’t travel half way around the world just to stay in your room. Take advantage of what your destination has to offer. Go sledging or skiing in colder destinations. Organise a treasure hunt or build a ‘sandman’ on the beach in warmer climes. 

Or, if you’re on an all inclusive, maybe let the kids spend the day in the pool. It will certainly make the teacher jealous when they ask your kids what they got up to for Christmas.

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Main image: Family enjoying Christmas on a tropical beach (Dreamstime)