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Your guide to spending the holidays away from home (or alone)

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 2 August 2021 • 4 min read

Due to the difficulty and risk of international travel during the Coronavirus pandemic, a lot of us are going to be spending the Christmas and New Year holidays away from home and away from family. 

Some of us are even facing the prospect of being completely alone. For the vast majority, it’ll be a first, and it can be a sad prospect. But being alone doesn't have to mean feeling lonely, and solitude doesn’t have to result in sadness. 

Spending the holidays alone and away from family can still be enjoyable. Take it from me—the last Christmas I spent back home with my beloved family was in 2012. That’s EIGHT years ago. Yet here I am, still alive, still happy, and still looking forward to Christmas this year. 

Throughout this time, I reckon I’ve gained some expertise on spending the holidays away from home. So if it’s your first time, and you’re dreading Christmas week, pay attention. A lot of these kinds of guides harp on about distractions—binging movies and reading books to ignore the fact that we’re on our own, but I don’t like this approach. Why not face up to our situation, accept it, and turn it in our favour? 

These tips to spending the Christmas holidays alone will hopefully help you not only survive the holidays alone, but down right enjoy them. 

 1. Tailor your expectations

First things first—Christmas won’t be the same. And that’s okay. For years, Christmas to me meant exchanging gifts at dawn, helping my folks prepare lunch, eating ourselves into a stupor, and then spending the rest of the day napping, listening to music and enjoying the down time together. I’ll not lie to you; I miss that. But every Christmas since leaving home, I just try to accept that things will be different. Not terrible, but different. It can sometimes be bittersweet, but even bittersweet has its beauty. 

It’s also a chance for new experiences. Now, I have a collection of Christmas memories of watching the sun rise, taking morning swims in the ocean, walking through snow-covered forests,  strolling through peaceful, empty city streets, and spending the day cooking with the other “Christmas Orphans”. None of this would have happened on a “normal” Christmas.

Which brings us to the next tip.    

2. Find your tribe

Recruit a replacement holiday family! You’ll likely not be the only one spending the holidays alone this year, so round up the crew and make some plans together (if you’re allowed of course—do make sure to follow your country’s regulations on gatherings). 

You could make a festive lunch, exchange gifts, and spread some joy around a little bit. “Misery loves company,” so the saying goes, but you know what? So does happiness. 

3. Pick up the phone

It’s 2020, guys. Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, or a good old fashioned telephone call are easy. Indeed, given that a lot of us have gone through some form of Coronavirus lockdown this year, we’re pretty well versed at hanging out digitally.  

If your circumstances dictate that you must spend the day completely on your own, remember that you're only a call away from the people who matter most to you. 

This year, I’ll be calling family and friends in Ireland, England, Vietnam, the US, and Australia for a good long catch up. In a strange way, I’ll be in contact with more people than I ever was when I spent the day back home with my family. You can be, too. 

4. Get outside and enjoy the quiet

No matter where you’re based in the western world—city, village, or countryside, there’s not a quieter day than Christmas day. If you’re in a city, take a long walk through the streets, appreciate the architecture, and enjoy the stillness and quiet. 

Notice that if you do pass anyone on the street, you’ll get a smile and a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holidays”. 

If you’re somewhere more rural, all the better. Put on your warm clothes and go get some fresh air. Find a nice view, sit still for a moment, and try to appreciate and understand why you’re spending the day like this, and what you have to be thankful for. Which brings us right to the next point...

5. Count your blessings & own your achievements

You might be spending the day away from home, but you still have so much to be grateful for. If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’re studying abroad. That in itself is something to be incredibly thankful for. 

You’ve travelled far from home at a young age to get a world class education. You’ve got family and friends who care deeply about you, and are no doubt proud of you. You’re becoming stronger for experiencing the holidays on your own. 

You’re blessed, and you’re brave. Give yourself a pat on the back for that. 

6. Spoil yourself

What’s Christmas without some over-indulgence? Just because you're away from home and family, you can still treat yourself. Fill your fridge up with guilty pleasures, take a long soak in a hot bath, listen to some great music, and nap all afternoon if you please. It’s your time, and you deserve to relax, self-indulge, and pamper yourself as much as you like. 

Basically, I’m saying to do whatever you like. These tips of mine are only guidelines after all. 

If you want to read and watch Netflix from dawn until dusk, only getting up to go to the kitchen in search of chocolate, go right ahead and do that. If you fancy pizza instead of turkey, no one’s going to stop you. And if you want to watch all eight Harry Potter movies in a row while wrapped in a blanket, well that’s how I spent Christmas 2017.  And I had a blast!

I hope that this little guide can go a long way to brightening up your holiday season. But if all else does fail and you still have a joyless time, remember that soon, the clouds will part and you’ll be back with the people who matter. You’ve got this. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and bring on 2021.

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