Let me set a scene for you: stormy drives along winding roads, dramatic peaks and valleys of lush greenery, sandy beaches, fog-shrouded deserted towns, new friendships, sleepless nights in noisy hostels, lakes that look like mirrors, mountains that look like stock photos, free drinks, cheeks red from the wind, a glacial hike, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner, a new place everyday, t-shirts and sea spray.
That was the first half of December 2016; the end of a solo travelling adventure that culminated with a bus trip around New Zealand.
Now, fast forward to this winter, or rewind to any festive season previous to last year’s, and a totally different picture is created: frosty walks in the woods, decorating the house, cosy evenings watching TV shows under blankets, playing board games with the family, hot chocolates and jumpers and baking with so much cinnamon the kitchen smells like the interior of a gingerbread house. Pretty much the only similarity between these two images of December is the countless amounts of dinners containing pasta, although I’m not quite so
bad limited at home…
So, what’s it really like to spend a time normally so characterised by traditions and centred around family, away from everything and everyone you know?
The first thing that became clear very quickly to me is that I struggled to feel festive in any way. I had a bit of a down day near the beginning of the month when I realised I wasn’t going to get that warm Christmas feeling that usually tingles through me like mulled wine on December 1st. Instead of fighting this lack of feeling, and trying to emulate my usual festive spirit, I decided to let that slight negativity wash over me and focus on the fact that I was getting to experience so many other things. That would be my key piece of advice, acknowledge the fact that the festive season won’t be what you’re used to and celebrate the differences you’re experiencing.
If you’re in a country that also celebrates Christmas, like I was, then make sure to take advantage of the festive cheer. I noticed that the closer it got to Christmas, the general happiness of the people around me, travellers and hostel staff alike, went up. Glittering christmas trees sprung up all over the place, popular festive tunes began playing in all of the hostels and a lot more smiles were thrown around. Make sure to notice the similarities with your home-oriented Christmases, as well as embracing the changes. This will make you feel less like an outsider and more included in the local festivities.
These Christmas-celebrating countries are likely to hold seasonal events, so do a bit of research and find something fun to attend. It will take your mind off home and give you a little boost to get you in the fairy-lights-and-tinsel spirit.
If loneliness decides to step up and be the controlling feeling in your body, share festive stories with other travellers. Being in a new hostel nearly everyday during my New Zealand trip, I was faced with the daunting task of being part of different groups of people all of the time. Christmas is a great conversation starter – swapping experiences of Christmas abroad, learning about the different celebrations other countries have, talking about family traditions… It provides endless topics without much effort!
As a backpacker on a budget, you may find that there are Christmas deals in shops and food outlets that you can take advantage of. So even if you are a bit of a Scrooge, maybe you’re that one person complaining to the hostel receptionist that ‘it’s a bit early for Christmas music, isn’t it?’, there’s still something you can look forward to during the festive build up.
As with most things, there are pros and cons to backpacking during the festive season. Yes, you are more likely to miss people and draw parallels with your hometown that have the potential to give you homesickness, but the flip side to that is that you gain a greater appreciation for the familiar people, places and traditions in your life, as well as for the unknown adventures out there for you to experience.
Do you have experience travelling at Christmas? Let me know in the comments below!
Want to read more Blogmas posts? Scroll to the bottom of Day One for the full list.