Last year I found myself alone and abroad for Christmas. It wasn’t my first time. About eight years earlier I was six weeks into my first solo travel adventure when Christmas rolled around. A friend invited me to spend the holidays with her and her family in Sweden, so I spent a week or two freezing my butt off, eating Swedish meatballs and trying not to feel like I was taking advantage of their hospitality.
Last year, however, things were different. I was on a short trip through Mexico and would be meeting a friend on Boxing Day, meaning I only had two or three days on my own. With a lot more travel experience under my belt I found myself happy to spent a few days on my own, even if they happened to coincide with Christmas. Here are some things I’ve learned about how to enjoy the holidays when you’re alone and abroad.
Check out the local traditions. In Mexico, that meant visiting a museum exhibit about poinsettias (in Taxco) and walking through a giant nativity scene (in Oaxaca).
Check out the new traditions. In the photo above you can see a huge skating rink set up in Mexico City’s Zocalo. Skating in the heart of Mexico City, in t-shirt weather… for free? Sign me up! (And thanks to Coca-Cola, who sponsored the event!)
Bring a gift! I like to bring a box of chocolates from my home country to give to the staff who are missing their own family time to work in my hostel or hotel. I also bring a few little souvenirs like stickers, balloons and temporary tattoos to give to children I encounter in the hotel, on long bus rides or helping their parents with a business that I patronize.
Make a makeshift family. In my opinion there is no better time to choose a hostel over a hotel than the holidays. Invite everyone in the hostel (yes, even that person) to cook a multicultural holiday dinner and share copious quantities of wine (or tequila, if you happen to be in Mexico). Take a plate of food down to the guy working at the front desk and any cleaners who happen to be around.
Phone your family. Buy a phone card, use Skype or just suck it up and pay for a long-distance phone call to your family back home and wish them a Merry Christmas. Make sure to tell them about the amazing things you’re doing so that they understand why you couldn’t be with them for the family celebrations.
Be prepared. On a more practical note, make sure you’ve got clothes that are appropriate for the weather in the place you’ll be visiting, and find out when the local stores will be closed so that you can buy any food, medicine or other necessities that you might need.