Many travellers planning a long gap year worry about spending Christmas away from home – it’s not unusual to fly back for a few days of mince pies and family arguments before resuming the adventure.
We spoke to some of our regular Gapyear.com contributors about their experiences of spending the holidays away from home, and where they’re going to be for Christmas this year.
Where Will You Be for Christmas?
This year I’ll be spending Christmas in Australia. My sister has been living in Sydney for the past 4 years and I decided to use the Australian working holiday visa to spend a bit of time with her and explore the country. Our parents are coming out too, which is great!
It will be my first hot Christmas and we plan to have an Aussie-style meal with seafood instead of turkey, followed by a swim at Bondi Beach. After Christmas we are heading to the Hunter Valley for some wine tasting and I’ll be seeing in the New Year in Woolloomooloo, watching the fireworks over Sydney Harbour. It will be a totally different experience to my usual Christmas, but I’m very much looking forward to it!
Pete Churchill & Antonia Robinson
We are planning to be in Cusco, Peru for Christmas, shortly after we will have done the Inca Trail trek. It was, more or less, a deliberate decision as that timed nicely with our route through South America and the fact that we had to book the Inca Trail miles in advance.
We’ve also heard that Cusco is a good place to spend it as there’s plenty going on and quite a big community of travellers who will be doing the same sort of thing, around the same time. We have, in fact, already met at least one other couple who we know will be there.
We’re also hoping to experience Christmas from a different perspective, both slightly warmer than we’re used to and also to see the enthusiasm with which Peru, as a Catholic country, celebrates Christmas. Evidently Christmas Eve (Noche Buena – Good Night) is also a big deal in Peru, so we’re keen to experience that as well.
It’ll be my (Pete) first Christmas away from home, so that’ll be a strange, new experience for me, not least because I love a cold Christmas! Antonia is used to it though, as she has spent two hot Christmases abroad in Thailand and Australia.
This will be my first Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah spent away from home. On the morning of each of these holidays, I will wake up not in my bed at my mom’s house, and I will not go downstairs to join my family. Instead I’ll wake up in my bunk bed in the hostel I work and live at in Barcelona, Spain.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah definitely aren’t a thing over here, and Christmas is, but most of the festivities revolve around religion, so I probably won’t end up celebrating any of the holidays I’m used to participating in towards the end of the year, every year.
While I’m obviously sad about not spending the holidays with my family this year, I’m 100 percent aware that this is probably one of the last times in my life I can just take off and move to a different country for an indefinite period of time.
In six or eight or 10 years, I might be the mom putting on Native American flute music and hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree while my toddler whines and smashes latkes into the carpet, and I’ll fondly reminisce about the time I moved across the world to a faraway city I loved just because I could.
I’ll be spending Christmas in England for the first time in five years. Christmas and the New Year can be a very different experience abroad: shoulder-height snow and log-based decor in the Canadian Rockies, and beers on beaches in Australia. I’ll be flying out from Hanoi shortly after midnight on Christmas Eve. The novelty of being in the same night sky that millions of children will be scanning in hopes of a glimpse of Saint Nick is an added bonus. I fly into London Heathrow on Christmas morning, a la Love Actually, and I’ll spend the rest of the day enjoying the nostalgic comforts of home. Cinnamon candles in the house I grew up in, an overcast 9-degree-celsius walk around my village, and a hearty drink with old friends in our local.
This year Christopher wrote about an incredible road trip in Norway and a guide to ensuring your friendships survive while you travel. Find out on his website and follow him on Twitter.
Exploring the world and discovering other cultures brings about a sense of authenticity, especially around festive times of the year. Depending on which country you are in or by which religion you are surrounded, it is always likely that there will be some sort of festivities being celebrated. Christmas may be the most significant celebration that you can relate to and being away can be exciting but also a little strange.
For the past five years I have been away for Christmas and each year I have been somewhere different and new. First was Indonesia, where I spent Christmas Day in the rice fields of Bali. Second was Australia where I was on the beach. Third was Belize where I celebrated on an island, dancing with the community to local reggae music. Fourth was Guatemala where I lived in an indigenous village with the Maya people. Fifth will be in India, where I will be with an Indian family on their farm caring for their cattle.
When Christmas comes around I find little pieces of home to share with whoever I am with. I learn about how the people celebrate and I show them how I celebrate in return. Each Christmas has been as exciting and interesting as the previous. Whilst it is likely to be odd not to be at home with family at Christmas it remains a time that communities come together to become one and strangers become friends. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world as long as you have the festivities in you.