Christmas abroad often means missing friends and family. But it also means sunshine, adventure, parties, beaches and weird local customs. Here's the ultimate guide to surviving and thriving on your overseas Christmas...
Longtail boats in Thailand's Trang islands (Graeme Green)
People at home always love to see what a good time their friends or loved ones are having overseas. There’s almost nothing your friends and family will like more, as they’re killing time before the Queen’s speech in a turkey-and-stuffing-and-alcohol stupor, than seeing photos of you having the time of your life surfing on a Balinese beach, scuba diving in Australia or kicking back with a cocktail in the Caribbean.
It doesn’t matter that they’re toughing it out in wintry weather – they can join you 'in spirit' and share the happiness of your sun-baked Christmas adventure.
Be generous with your photos. Send emails. Post pictures across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The likelihood that everyone you know will unfriend or unfollow you, or simply tell you to “b***er off”, is a small price to pay for the satisfaction that sharing brings.
Fish amok (Cambodia)
When travelling in countries with their own often distinctive and fantastic cuisines, what’s the point of hunting down an inferior version of a traditional Christmas dinner, with all the approximately correct ingredients (turkey, potatoes, stuffing…), but a world away from how it’s done at home? A Nepalese turkey dinner probably isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, try national dishes like fish amok (Cambodia) or Massaman curry (Thailand), tuck into world class sushi and sashimi in Japan, or wash down a fine steak with a glass of Malbec in Argentina. Now we’re talking.
Chinese lanterns (Dreamstime)
Being with family is hard to beat. But it softens the blow of their absense if you’re drinking ‘buckets’ of cocktails in a Thai beach bar, surrounded by fire dancers, swimming in a sparkling bioluminesce-filled ocean, and watching Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.
Who cares if you wake up face down in the sand, waves gently lapping at your feet, your arm burning with the pain from a fresh tattoo? You’re on holiday. You can just brush yourself off and do it all over again. Except, perhaps, the tattoo.
Catching rays on a tree branch (Dreamstime)
Shorts, vests, bikinis, swimming shorts and sandals are the order of the day (unless, obviously, you’re watching the Northern Lights in the Arctic). Leave the (strangely fashionable) ironic Christmas jumper at home.
Tandem parachute jump (Dreamstime)
Days can sometimes blur together when you’re travelling. Make a plan to do something a bit different on Christmas Day.
Climb the highest peak of the country you're in to watch the sunrise. Swim with whale sharks. Do a parachute jump. Arrange a special dinner under the stars.
A one-off travel experience will help you look back in years to come and vividly remember: “In Christmas 2016, I was…”
Gavle goat in Sweden (Dreamstime)
Travel is all about discovering something new. There’s no reason why that should stop at Christmas.
Around the world, local people have very different, and often strange, customs and traditions, whether that’s making their way to midnight mass on roller skates in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, or hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree, as the Germans do.
Bolivians fire off firecrackers. Bavarians gear up in lederhosen and set off mortars. Slovenians throw sticky pudding at the ceiling. And in Sweden, the local tradition of building a straw goat ends with an equally traditional act of vandalism: burning it down.
Find out how they celebrate Christmas where you are and get involved.
Couple on the beach (Dreamstime)
Christmas may not be quite the same without a house full of relatives and whippersnappers. But if you can’t be with the ones you love…
Even if you're a solo travel, don't spend the day alone (unless you really want to). Make sure you celebrate the day with your travel buddies or new friends. Youth hostels and backpacker hotels, for example, often arrange special events to bring everyone together.
Orangutan in Sarawak (Graeme Green)
It is, famously, better to give than to receive. Your stocking is likely to be on the empty side if you’re not celebrating at home, but the ‘giving’ part is more than possible when you're travelling.
Look into volunteering and helping out at a local project, whether that’s giving your time at a local orphanage or school, or taking part in a conservation project with animals, like orangutans or elephants.
But research any projects carefully to make sure, as happens sometimes, that you’re not making a bad situation worse or doing less good than you think.
Santa kicking back on a beach (Dreamstime)
Has it been a good year? As one year ends and another begins, it’s a good time to reminisce, recuperate and mull over the past year.
Travelling far away from home is a good opportunity to get perspective on home life (work, relationships…), whether that's thinking about things that need changing or improving, or just being thankful for what you have. At Christmas time, that’s doubly the case.
This is the time to get your batteries charged and your head straight for the year ahead. You could even start planning a few new travel adventures for 2017.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi (Dreamstime)
Not everyone celebrates Christmas. If you’re in a place with a predominantly non-Christian culture, or conservative places where boozy travellers are frowned upon, consider keeping celebrations low key or discreet.
Or you could uproot and travel to somewhere there’s more of a festive party vibe, with local and international folks to party with. There are no shortage of these kinds of places around the world, from big cities like London and New York to beach parties from Brazil to Thailand.
Skype conversation (Dreamstime)
As E.T. knew too well, sometimes you just want to phone (or Skype, or Facetime…) home. Even if you’re 5000 miles away, try get a message home or, better still, make a call.
If you can find a way to get connected, familiar voices go down well on Christmas Day and give a warm fuzzy feeling of home, increasing the likelihood that next year you’ll hopefully all be together again, even if that means watching the Queen awkwardly 'smiling' her way through another annus horribilis speech. Unless, that is, something like a Thai beach, a Brazilian rainforest or an Icelandic mountain starts calling out to you again…