Europe, General Tips, Poland, Travel Tips

Spending Christmas Away From Home

This past Christmas was different from previous Christmases for me in a lot of ways. Mainly because I spent the holiday season traveling, on the road in Poland! But after spending three out of the last four Christmases away from Minnesota, my home (wow that sounds bad, sorry everyone I’ll be there next year!), I wanted to talk about this topic on the blog. And in general, Christmas can be replaced with any sort of major, family-oriented holiday! But my experiences over the past few years and advice are focused on Christmas.

In 2013, I spent Christmas in England with my parents and sister, who came to visit me during my study abroad. Two years ago, I was at home in Minnesota for Christmas during my last year of college. Last Christmas was spent (again) in England, with Adam’s family. And this most recent Christmas (2016) was in Poland, and specifically in Warsaw!

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have always been tricky ones when traveling, just because where I’ve been more or less shuts down completely for the holiday. Everything is closed: stores, restaurants, museums, attractions, anything.

I spent this Christmas Eve on a free walking tour of Warsaw, having plenty of downtime, a Catholic midnight Mass service at a beautiful church, and a big family-style meal of delicious Polish food (and beer) with new friends at the hostel. The whole meal was cooked by hostel staff and was completely free! It was such a great way to spend time with other people who were also away from home over the holidays. Christmas Day was more or less just walking around Warsaw again, seeing sites and monuments from the outside, strolling through Łazienki Park, having a delicious kebab for my Christmas meal, and hanging out and talking to my family and watching movies back at the hostel.

Every person’s experience on the road over Christmas will be different, and I was lucky to be traveling with my partner, so I wasn’t going solo over the holidays. But if you are traveling over Christmas and nervous about it, here are 5 tips for you to deal with some homesickness and make the most of your experience away!

1. Make plans to Skype your fam

Yes, it will probably make you more homesick. But being able to see and talk to your family (even if it’s just one person) for any length of time (even if it’s just for 10 minutes) will at least give you a chance to say “I love you” and “I miss you.” And your family will most likely really appreciate the effort, especially if you’re in a different time zone.

2. Find ways to be with other people

This is easiest when staying in hostels, but over your holiday, find ways to interact with others and try to make new friends. Walking tour? Sign up. Hostel Christmas meal? Sign up. Christmas pub crawl? Sign up. You will feel less weird and less lonely if you’re surrounded by other people (who are also away from their families!) and doing something, even if it’s not for a long time.

3. But don’t feel bad for having alone time

While I think it’s important to be around other people on Christmas, don’t feel guilty for wanting to be alone—whether that’s Skyping your family, watching a movie, or just hanging out by yourself and having quiet time. In the end, you’re not obligated to do anything you don’t feel up for.

4. Keep up your Christmas traditions if you can

Every person will have different traditions they and their family do over the holidays. If there are particular movies you watch, foods you eat, or anything you do—try to do it when you’re abroad! For me, this means always (always always) watching the Queen’s Christmas Message in the afternoon on Christmas Day.

5. Check opening times for everything

Every place will be different, but no matter where you are in the world, check and see what things will be open over Christmas. While this might be nice to plan any sightseeing, it is also practical: if all shops and restaurants are closed, you might not have any food to eat. So ask around and find out the scoop on what will be opening, and when in doubt—stock up!

My Christmases away from home have been both great and hard in a lot of different ways. While it’s always exciting to travel and see new places, it has also been difficult not spending the holiday with my own immediate family. I hope this helps anyone planning to be away over Christmas! Next Christmas I plan on being home in Minnesota!

Have you ever spent Christmas away from home? What tips do you have for holidays away?

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