Expat advice: When you’re not home for the holidays

expat holidays away from home

I’m not gonna lie. In some respects, living abroad during the holidays is great. Here in Madrid, lights and trees and decorations are already up all over the city. Thanks to Amazon Prime, my U.S. gift shopping stress doesn’t even register. I may not get to spend all the special days with my besties or family, but if needed, I can distract myself with a 35€ flight to Toulouse or quick train to Sevilla.

But then, I start thinking about this Thursday. It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. but just a regular day here in Spain. Regular to the point that I’ll be getting a cavity filled at 10:50 am. Regular to the point that I’ll be smooshed in the metro with the other regular-day commuters, thinking of all the roasting turkeys and toasts happening in the U.S.

When you live abroad, there’s a good chance you’ll celebrate solo a time or two. It’s not always possible or practical to get home. But celebrating holidays away from family can wear on even the steadiest heart. There’s a unique loneliness that slinks in no matter how accustomed you are to being away from home. So, what’s an expat to do?

Since we’re looking the holiday season in the face, I say it’s time to get proactive. I’m a girl that loves a plan. I swear, seven out of ten things that plague my inner being can be solved with a decent list. If you know you won’t be with family this year and already feel the tickle of bleak desolation on the fringes of your heart, it’s time to get going! Don’t wait until you’re in the depths of despair with a bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve.

Keep reading for five ways I avoid the lonely that can creep in around the holiday season.
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Three tips to get the most out of long term visits

how to deal with long term visitors

Given enough time, a feast or famine pattern will develop in an expat’s life.

For instance, while outside of the U.S. I dream about my favorite sushi restaurant. And without fail, as soon as I set foot on San Diego soil I promptly gorge myself on enough spicy tuna rolls and ahi poke to get at least a mild level of mercury poisoning. Maybe you can’t keep out of Target or miss your favorite TV show or love to drive on big, open highways where people use signals and respect lanes. Whatever it is, as soon as it’s available you try to soak up as much as possible.

With the holidays upon us, chances are you’ll be soaking up a lot of family moments too. But how is it that you long for your parents and siblings and Grannie Fran all year long, only to feel like you’re going crazy after two days? No matter how much you love someone, I think it’s pretty likely that if you spend a couple of weeks with them you’re bound to have at least a tickle of the grumps.

While out there combing through the copious articles, blogs, and advice about extended family visits, I found some very good suggestions about how to make sure you maximize your family ‘feasting’ this holiday season.

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How to party like a Colombian? Chiva!

chiva front

One needn’t go far to find a good time in Colombia, but there is one thing that has become synonymous with a party in this country: the chiva bus.

A couple of things every gringo should know about the chiva experience:

  1. Don’t wear nice shoes, because as you bump over and around the ubiquitous potholes that mark the roads of Bogotá, you’ll be sprinkled with more sloshing beer and spilled aguardiente than you’d like.
  2. You won’t think you’re drinking a lot, but you are. Even though the 100 tiny plastic cups of aguardiente passed around are only half full, they’ll quickly add up…
  3. I’m sorry if you’re tall. Chiva ceilings are about 5’7″, meaning that even if you’re lucky and don’t knock your noggin on one of the steel roof supports, you’ll still spend the night dancing with your neck at a comfortable forty-five-degree angle.

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Don’t miss in December: Expoartesanías and Día de las Velitas

The holidays can be a bittersweet time for expats. On the one hand, it’s hard to celebrate away from family and your normal traditions; on the other, it’s an amazing opportunity to adopt some new ones! This being our second holiday season in Bogotá, I’m feeling a little like sophomore year—you know, you’re still relatively inexperienced but have lost a bit of that deer-in-headlights look of total bewilderment. Now that I have my holiday sea-legs, I was readily anticipating two December happenings, both of which are unique to Colombia: a visit to Expoartesanías and lighting candles with my fellow Bogatanos on Día de las Velitas.

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Expat advice: A few tips on that first visit ‘home’

expat visit home

When I wrote about culture shock and how to settle into your new home, I mentioned not going back too quickly after your move. After the shock of the initial visit, I opted out of joining Cody when he went back to San Diego for business until I really felt settled.  We are hoping to do this whole expat thing for a couple more years, so it was important to me that I took my time and didn’t rush through this huge life change.

When it came to how I was feeling, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t look back on this experience and realize that I spent most of my time just ‘getting through’ to the next visit.

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Ciclovía: Holiday Edition

night ciclovia 10

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were really excited to take part in a special night time ciclovía. Each Sunday and national holiday, from 8am-2pm, the city of Bogotá close 121 km of roads to vehicular traffic so that pedestrians, cyclists, and rollerbladers can get out and enjoy the city.  Not only that but the entrepreneurial spirit of the city is in full swing as folks come out to sell fresh juice and snacks.

This past Thursday there was a special ciclovía nocturna, lasting from 6:00 pm to midnight, to fully enjoy Bogotá’s Christmas lights and decorations.

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