I’ll be home for the holidays (but only in my dreams)

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays

It’s just over two weeks until Thanksgiving, the best holiday of all holidays that ever holiday-ed! You know that that means: everyone is already thinking about Christmas. The Christmas markets are being set up, stores are playing holiday music and even commercials are started to turn towards holiday-themed. It’s the best time of the year!

Even though we’ve been away for the holidays the last two years, this is the first time we won’t even have any friends to celebrate with. What on earth are we going to do??? I’m not entirely sure what our days are going to look like, but I can tell you that we won’t be sitting around, crying and playing that sad Charlie Brown song.

I’ve been brainstorming for weeks on how I can make the most of this holiday season. I know that our problem isn’t really a problem to some people; we’re in Europe, we’re happy and healthy. But it doesn’t stop the feelings of being left out and forgotten. It doesn’t stop the fact that we won’t be with our families. And family is what the holidays mean to me.

So what do I have up my sleeve? Well, thank you for asking!

Plan as many Skype/Google Video/text sessions with your friends and family as possible.

As I said above, the holidays mean family to me.  I want to talk to as many loved ones as possible, since we won’t be there to celebrate in person. I’ve gotten us on the schedule for a couple different Skype dates and phone calls on Thanksgiving (I can’t even think about Christmas yet), and I know I’ll be texting my cousin and close friends furiously. Y’all know I want some pictures of that turkey in all her glory. It’ll help us to stay connected.

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays
Pittsburgh’s Christmas tree, surrounded by ice skaters!

Dress up (or down!) for the occasion.

Holidays past I would go out and buy a pretty new sweater and some jewelry, maybe a skirt and some shoes. I didn’t dress up by everyone’s standards, but I dressed up according to mine.

But this year my nicest sweater actually has a hole in it and dressing up consists of brushing my hair and finding a pair of clean socks. Hey, we’ve been on the road for months and I’m tired, OK? So instead of getting dressed up we’re going to put on all of our favorite comfy clothes and lounge around all day. We might even go crazy and buy some new fuzzy socks. Actually, that’s a brilliant idea. We’re definitely doing that.

The point is we’re making it an event. Even if our day isn’t a super formal and fancy one, we’re still planning and putting effort into what we’re doing, which makes me feel really good about the holidays. 

Splurge a little on your lodging, if you can.

We have been picking the cheapest apartments we can find in almost every city we’ve visited. But when it comes time for the places we’re staying at on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, we allowed ourselves to have a bit of a splurge.

We booked an apartment with an oven.

I know, I know. We’ve reached baller status. I swear I won’t treat you all any differently.

I never knew how much a girl could miss an oven until we went two months without one. But I wanted to make sure we had really nice place to be. There’s nothing more depressing than being so far away from your families, alone and in a really gross apartment. Plus with an oven, we can do a few of our favorite holiday traditions.

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays
The gingerbread house exhibit, downtown Pittsburgh. A wonderful tradition!

If you have traditions that can be done, do them.

Every Christmas morning we have the most beautiful breaded wreath that Ryan bakes the night before. I love it even more than opening presents. So even if we have to buy every single ingredient and only use them once, we’re baking a wreath for Christmas morning.

I plan on playing as much Christmas music as we Ryan can possibly tolerate, and we might try to see if we can watch a movie or two online. Perhaps I’ll hang up a pair of socks like stockings, but probably not because that’s gross.  We will be swapping tiny gifts Christmas Eve. Heavy emphasis on tiny because they’ll have to fit in our bags until we go home in January.

We’re trying to keep up as many traditions alive this year. But there will definitely be some that we have to bench until 2017.

If your traditions don’t translate to your current location, work with what you have!

I know I’m not going to get an all-out Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll be dreaming of a table set with a feast. And the football and puppy bowl. And the desserts. Oh, the desserts.

But it might be good to not be home for Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll learn some portion control for next year.

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays
The table is all set for Thanksgiving!

Since we will be in Vienna for Thanksgiving and it’s obviously not celebrated there, I plan on finding any sort turkey and and some potatoes for the day. Even if it means a turkey sandwich and fries! I’ll also stock up on as many vegetables as we can find and eat. And of course we’ll have some sort of apple dessert.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all holidays, mostly because I get to wear leggings in public without getting the stink eye from people (just so you know, you’re horrible people). I know that this year might be small and less extravagant, but I also know that when I take that turkey out of the oven next year it’ll be even more special.

Embrace the traditions of your current location.

We’ll be in Germany for a couple weeks leading up to Christmas, and I’ll for sure be going to as many Christmas markets as I can. Even if it’s just to stand and take in the atmosphere! But we also plan on doing some in depth research into other Christmas traditions of Germany and other countries we’ve visited. I think it would be really great to incorporate them when we get back home in our own Christmas day feast, I’m all about honoring this adventure and everything we’ve learned.

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays
My first Seattle “Christmas tree”, when a real one just wasn’t possible.

Ask friends and acquaintances what they do around the holidays for inspiration!

I’ve been asking friends old and new for their favorite memories of the holidays. And I’ve gotten some really great ideas out of it!

Take the time to ask others what they’ll be doing for the holidays. You might hear about a wonderful tradition that you want to incorporate into your own day, and I think that’s great. Plus I find that when I take the time to talk about my favorite holidays, it puts me in such a cozy, cheerful mood. And we can all use cozy and cheerful during the winter!

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays
Christmas tree, 2015. It was a perfect tree, wasn’t it?

If all else fails, plan to have your holiday the next chance you can.

My mother has promised to keep the Christmas tree up until we get home. We’re having all of our presents sent to their house, and I fully plan on celebrating Christmas in January. We’re going to gather around the tree and exchange presents while eating party mix and cookies and pumpkin roll. What’ll be even more fun is the feast we’re preparing, where we make all the foods Ryan and I have been craving for the last seven months. Hello heartburn and indigestion!

We might be celebrating a bit late, but we’re still celebrating together. And really, what more do you need?

What to do when you won't be home for the holidays
Hello, Santa Claus!

So now I’d love to hear from you!

The point I’m trying to make is that we’re still going to get the chance to celebrate. It’ll be different, sure. But while we’re celebrating the holidays, we’re also celebrating our independence, our chance to see the world. And I know we’re not alone. There are plenty of people in the world out there who can’t get back to their families, for many reasons. Not all of them are because they’re gallivanting around Europe, which puts my struggle into serious perspective.

Please tell me all about your traditions, friend! I would love to hear how you celebrate the holidays, whatever and whenever they may be. What were your traditions growing up? What do you love to do now? What’s your favorite holiday? Have you ever been away from your family? How did you deal with it?

Wherever you may be, whatever you celebrate, I hope you’re all preparing to gather your loved ones close (in reality or virtually) and spread joy.


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What to do when you won't be home for the holidays

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  1. Wow, mut be hard to be away from your friends and family with the holidays. But I love your way of thinking. So positive! Skype/ texting etc can be great. A lovely way to still be close. Love all the suggestions.

  2. Really enjoyed your post. As an expatriate I had some Xmas away from my country and great part of my family. And one can follow something like your tips or get depressed. So, lets make the best of it!

  3. My family is pretty traditional when it comes to the holidays – turkey, filling, apple pie etc. after moving to Arizona by myself I started planning trips – last Christmas I went to Utah, I’m headed to Cali for thanksgiving. For that family feel – I bring my friends who are in similar situations with me!

  4. Spending holidays abroad can be challenging but also rewarding. I spent four years living in Dubai and celebrated Thanksgiving there every year. Just trying to acquire the food you want for the holiday can be a challenge, as you point out.

    1. I can imagine how special, yet difficult, celebrating Thanksgiving in Dubai for four entire years would have been! I am going to try to go shopping for some food on Monday so I know what I can and can’t have on the big day and mentally (and emotionally) prepare myself.

  5. The festive season always means family time and lots of food.I recall living away from home in the UK and missing all the special days. Would love to see the baked wreath. Someday I will make my own traditions.

    1. Family and lots of food sounds like a perfect celebration to me, Verushka! I hope you have the chance to make your own traditions soon, even if they’re small ones 🙂

  6. Thanks, so needed this post, This will be the second Christmas without my family and it kills me 🙁 Skye is a great idea and will have to have nieces and nephews set up for my parents! Wish I could be there and have feeling of missing my grandson grow up and share traditions 🙁

    1. We should start a support group for those of us who will be away. A place where we can be sad so we don’t show that to our families. I hope you can get Skype set up – I can’t Skype my parents so I have to settle for long phone calls on holidays, which is a bummer. But better than nothing!

  7. I love this! I was away from home 2 years ago at Christmas having just moved to Prague about a week before. Luckily, I had a friend come to visit Prague over Christmas, so we had a festive dinner at a Czech pub and made the most of it. Now I love sharing my traditions (read: thanksgiving) with my Czech friends 🙂

    1. That sounds like a great Christmas, Katie!! Having someone with you makes it 10x easier. I bet sharing Thanksgiving with your Czech friends is always an adventure!

  8. It’s been a while since I haven’t been home with my family and friends for the holidays but all your recommendations are great ways of coping! Hope you have a great time all the same 🙂

    1. Thanks for vising, Michela! I think if we didn’t have Skype and texting and all those easy ways to keep in touch travelling might lose some of it’s luster for us. I can’t imagine not being able to reach out anytime I want!

  9. I LOVE this time of year, it’s just the best! I set up my tree so early that people were just taking Halloween decorations down. Can’t wait for December!!!

    1. Being in Europe and seeing the Christmas markets being set up and all the decorations in the shops makes me feel good about setting up my decorations early at home. I can’t wait to have a space where I can do that again!

  10. I just bought a wall decoration that says; Home for the holidays. I thought it was cute since I am almost never home for it. Last Christmas, we travelled to Finland to see my family, and we almost always drive down to Southern California to visit my husbands family. Or we just travel somewhere. I remember total of one Christmas at our current home with doing our own things and our own traditions. Oh well, maybe someday, but travelling holidays have their own charm.

    1. When my husband and I first got together we would try to visit both of our families for every single holiday. They live about six hours apart (driving) which isn’t even remotely close to flying from CA to Finland. I remember being exhausted, so I can only imagine how tiring that would have been! But I also think it would have been so special.

  11. It is really depressing if you are stuck in a place far away from home and without friends, during the holiday season. However, as you suggest, it is no use simply brooding. on needs to enjoy with a positive frame of mind, wherever you are and however you can.

    1. I think that it will make future holidays more special. We can remember the times we were away and gather our family that much closer!

  12. I am not sure what I will be doing this year for Christmas as I am setting off on a world trip soon. However like you I will be using Skype to contact family and friends.
    I have only ever spent one Christmas abroad and I loved every second of being in the sun on Christmas day.
    Happy Holidays.

    1. Happy holidays to you too, Kathy! I wish you happy travels as you explore the world. I think it will be really fun to see how other countries and people celebrate the holidays, it’s one of the things I’m looking forward to!

  13. We have lots of holiday traditions…but on the east coast! That being said, we’ve realized that we cannot fly home for the holidays every year. Over our past three winters in our home on the West coast, we’ve spent it on our own, had family visit, and flown back home. This year we plan to stay put… hopefully, with friends. If not, a mini getaway.. hopefully, Leavenworth!

    Clearly, our West Coast holiday traditions have not made themselves clear to us yet, though with time, we’ll find our groove. We Bochans are usually spontaneous and like to mix things up a little.

    Well, hey, maybe that is our new tradition! Whaddya know!

    1. I have to say, when we were in Seattle for Christmas, my favorite Christmas was the one where we went to that spa in Bellingham. I think a wee getaway with just you and the family is pretty special! Travelling for the holidays, especially to and from the East Coast can be so exhausting and intimidating – the ice and snow and cold! UGH.

      I am excited to see how your family grows into your traditions 🙂 Maybe the McNultys and Bochans can create a tradition of visits and make our own holiday in like, April or something!!

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