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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Recommended Read: Knocked Up Abroad

Knocked up Abroad - Lisa Ferland

Mother’s Day is just a quick three months away and here just in time is Knocked Up Abroad—an anthology of 23 stories, each giving you a glimpse of all stages of gestation from the viewpoint of parents all over the world. The one thing tying them all together? Each story is from a family navigating pregnancy and birth outside their home culture.

Knocked up Abroad isn’t just for pregnant expats, it’s a book for anyone wading through life in a foreign country, with an intercultural marriage, or who loves travel. There is a thread of universal truth to be found in each of these personal stories.

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Dealing with Distance

sd to bog map

I’m practically through our second summer as expats and am wondering if this season will ever be easy for me.  I’ve mentioned to Cody several times recently how much I miss the heat and sun of San Diego—it still feels strange to look at the calendar and know that it’s August, but to be wearing sweaters, pants, and closed-toe shoes.  In the sixteen weeks between May and August, we’ve had eight three day weekends due to various holidays.  It doesn’t matter, I am still jealous anytime I see someone post a photo in a tank top.  I feel like a real turd saying that, because on the other hand this has been such an incredible experience and I am so appreciative of our life and the positive changes it’s brought us.

Apparently, there is just really something about the California summer that has it’s hooks in me…it just seems like there are fewer responsibilities, everyone is warm and relaxed, and where in a few months there will be pressure to see everyone and find the money for flights and gifts, there are only casual get togethers where the whole point is simply enjoying each other’s company.  I genuinely believe that physical proximity isn’t a requirement to love people and have close relationships, but there is something about this season especially when I feel the physical distance pressing on me.  It doesn’t stem from a fear of missing out, but more of wanting the familiar summertime routine and to share it with people who are important to me.

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Summer…otherwise known as the expat exodus 

Last night I went to a little farewell dinner for a gal to whom I’ve become quite attached.  When I met her and we clicked, I felt this ray of hope that I’d found a friend in Bogotá.  But then I found out she’d be moving in less than a year, which was just enough time for me to really get to know and like her!  For some reason I thought saying goodbye to our family and friends as we left San Diego would be it…but I’m getting the feeling that the expat life is one of continual goodbyes.

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Recommended Read: A Moveable Marriage

moveable marriage

We get so caught up in the logistics of moving that we either take for granted or simply ignore the fact that after all of those boxes are unpacked and you’ve figured out how to get to the grocery store, you will be living in a new country with your support system gone and identity in limbo.  And remember that your marriage (already hard without the added stress of an international move) is coming along for the ride…

I did a post all about researching prior to an expat assignment, so it should come as no surprise that I looked high and low for a book about expat marriages and the impact of international relocation. There were books about marriage in general and how to take your job abroad. I found books about moving your kids and how to take care of them. But, there was nothing dedicated to both relocation and marriage.

Once we’d been in Bogotá for several months I finally happened upon a book about expat marriages and had it waiting for me on my next visit to the U.S.

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Villa de Leyva: A great weekend away

Charlie in Villa de Leyva’s main square

While Cody’s parents were visiting us for a couple of weeks (and coincidentally over Easter) we thought it was a the perfect time to visit this sweet little town that we’d heard so much about.   Villa de Leyva was named a national monument in 1954 and its whitewashed colonial buildings and cobble stone streets have been practically perfectly preserved.  Apparently, the nice weather and lovely surroundings have always been a draw since it was founded as a retreat for military officers, clergy and nobility in the late 16th century.  There are so many things to do in Villa de Leyva that it warrants a return trip or two—I can totally understand why it’s such a popular weekend getaway for people living in Bogotá.  However, we chose to go the way of Villa de Leyva’s former settlers, wandering around the charming streets and enjoying the warm weather.

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A bit about hosting (or being!) an international guest


My love for etiquette shouldn’t come as a surprise. Anyone who knows me knows that I love rules and lists. I mean, I basically got a master’s degree in systems of organization!

And though the word has all the allure of a sepia toned photograph featuring an unsmiling woman in a stiff collar, etiquette can provide a map to staying inside the lines of social interactions. Whether you are a guest or a traveler, being aware of your environment and trying to accommodate the other party will work wonders for your visit.

I have to say that the past few weeks we spent having visitors went exceptionally smoothly and we really enjoyed every moment. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always the case. International assignments can bring a whole different type of visit—most likely of the longer variety. And depending on the location of your assignment, you may find yourself with more visitors than you were expecting.

Below are a few thoughts to keep everyone happy.

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