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4 Tips for Surviving the Holidays as an Expat

Countries of the world. (photo by iamagenious)

Countries of the world. (photo by iamagenious)

[I]t's that surreal time of year again – the one where the sun starts shining hotter and hotter in Australia while my Facebook feed is filled with photos of fuzzy sweaters, fall colors, and winter holidays.

As an expat, I would say the hardest time to be abroad would be from the months of October to January when it's a string of some of my favorites: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

From what I've deduced, others in my situation find the holiday season abroad to be equally difficult to manage, whether that be because they miss their family and friends back home, or because they miss the ways in which their favorites are actually celebrated.

I wouldn't say I'm the best at coping with this time of year abroad, but I manage. Here are some tips that might help you, too.

1. Invite Family to Visit

If it is family you miss most, invite them over to visit during the holidays in your new home country.

As much as I'm sure they would be happy for you to come home for the holidays, seeing family will hopefully be a two-way street.

Plus, it will help to bring that at-home holiday spirit to your new place of residence, which could carry over into following years.

2. Plan Ahead

If you're the type that gets extremely homesick at this time of year, plan ahead and book a flight home well in advance.

I had a friend that booked a flight from Sydney to the US at the spur of the moment (she felt very homesick) for the Christmas season and ended up spending over $3k roundtrip.

Planning ahead and shopping for flights well in advance could have saved her anywhere up to $1,000. Plus, she had a bit of trouble paying her upcoming rent because of such a huge unexpected expenditure hitting her bank account.

3. Incorporate Your Traditions

If you're celebrating abroad with new friends and loved ones, chances are they will be celebrating the holidays in their traditional way.

As nice and interesting as that may be, if it is not the same as you grew up with, you will most likely start missing how you think it should be… if not the first year, perhaps the next.

Trust me. Christmas has not felt like Christmas in Australia, with all of its hot weather and hit-the-beach activity.

For that reason, it is important to incorporate a bit of your own traditions into the mix. My boyfriend, for example, has never really celebrated Halloween in Australia, but I miss that fun immensely. This year, I forced him to watch heaps of scary movies, including the classics, and indulge in a pumpkin beer or two with me.

It's the little things!

4. Celebrate With Other Expats

The biggest method of support while being abroad for the holidays has been to find other expats in similar situations… and then to celebrate with them!

My experience in Sydney for American Independence Day has been nothing but enjoyable; several establishments offer American-focused food and décor for this day.

And even when it's not the holidays, my group of local American friends just know what I'm going through and can always be counted on to get me through the tough times of being an expat in general.

A few good places for meeting other expats include:

  • Meetups: There are expat meetup groups in 250 cities around the world.
  • Twitter: I've met my best expat friends through Twitter.
  • Expat forums and Facebook groups: Plenty of sites have forums to connect and ask questions, and Facebook groups offer the same.

How do you cope with being an expat during the holidays? I'd love to hear your tips in the comments.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Anita MacKinnon

Friday 23rd of November 2012

Bottle of wine, BBQ chicken and friends on the beach! That was my equation for ex-pat Christmas in Australia! That was after an early morning bike ride of course - traffic Christmas morning is always soooo quiet! Think I could go for an Aussie Christmas right about now!

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