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5 Tips for Spending the Holidays Abroad

Follow these smart strategies to navigate common challenges when traveling overseas.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Tips for Spending the Holidays Abroad

Shot of a young woman holding a map while touring abroad

Combat culture shock and homesickness by staying connected with friends and family and embracing new holiday traditions.(iStockphoto)

In the United States, the holiday season kicks off in November, with Thanksgiving recipes showcased in every magazine and sparkling Christmas lights decorating every boutique window. However, for many, the allure of spending the holidays on the pristine beaches of Thailand, the winter wonderlands of Norway or along the cobblestone streets of Stockholm is too hard to ignore. As exciting as traveling for the holidays can be, it also brings unique challenges you might not have thought of before booking your trip. From homesickness to loneliness and culture shock, here are a few common challenges that arise when spending the holidays abroad and smart tips to help you navigate the change.

Embrace New Traditions  

Even if you're traveling with family members, a spouse or friends, you should expect your holiday celebration to be different overseas, especially if you're staying in a far-flung, exotic destination. Instead of focusing on the traditions of the past, spend time making your own traditions – even if they are only for that year. If you're traveling during Thanksgiving but can't find a turkey, enjoy a meal with local ingredients instead. Soak up the culture of the place you're in and modify your own holiday festivities to match the destination you're visiting to heighten your global perspective.

Spend Time with Local Families

Traveling around the holidays can be lonely, no matter how many people you have by your side. Instead of spending Christmas Eve in your hotel room, why not spend it with a local family? Vacation rental sites like, and allow you to stay with locals, giving you a unique glimpse and elevated understanding of the people and way of life of the place you're visiting. This is especially important during family-centric winter holidays. Not only will doing so help foster cultural connectivity, it can also offer a one-of-a-kind look into the customs and traditions of the people around you.

Soak Up the Culture

Instead of worrying about what you're missing at home, spend time immersing yourself in the culture and sights around you. In Sweden, locals celebrate St. Lucia's Day on Dec. 13 with rich pastries made with saffron and elaborate gowns; in France, locals honor Père Noël (Father Christmas) with shoes left out on Christmas Eve for Christmas Day presents; and in Ireland, kids sing door to door to celebrate St. Stephen's Day on Dec. 26. Give yourself the time to celebrate seasonal traditions and create new memories.

Handle Your Homesickness

It's no surprise that the winter holidays are one of the most meaningful times of year. You get to reconnect with loved ones around great food, share your love with heartfelt gifts and catch up on memories from the years past. When you're spending your holidays abroad, away from the normalcy and traditions of home, it can be overwhelming, sad and even lonely. So, around the holidays, ease any pangs of homesickness by catching up with friends and family. Use FaceTime or Skype to make a video call while you're preparing a Thanksgiving turkey or opening holiday presents. And after you've connected with loved ones, keep doldrums at bay by challenging yourself to explore somewhere unfamiliar to create new meaningful travel experiences.

Research Expat Communities

Even if you're just spending a few days in a new city, getting to know the expat community is a smart idea, especially around the holidays. Before you head to your destination, do some research on the local expat communities in the area. Find out where the expats go out to eat, where they shop and where they celebrate. Also keep in mind that many expat boards have roommate listings, so you can connect with locals on a more personal level. In addition, you can also find holiday parties for expats, meals and even celebrations that will make you feel just a little closer to home.

Tags: travel

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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