Transit issues aside, the end of the year is a great time to get away from home: many people have time off work and you have the chance to experience different holiday celebrations in exotic destinations. However, being away from family and friends can be the trade-off for year-end travel.

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Although our parents would love us to come back to New Zealand for Christmas every year, we don’t always make it. On average, we’re there one year in two, which is pretty good considering how far away New Zealand is from the rest of the world!

For us, Christmas is a family celebration and New Year’s is for friends, and we always feel a little sad not to be celebrating with the people we love the most. However, over the years we’ve developed a few tricks for celebrating the holidays away from home.

To listen to the Christmas podcast, hit play below or find episode 313 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Escape completely

Perhaps you despise Christmas and all it stands for. In this case, now’s the time to travel somewhere where Christmas is not celebrated, or at least, not much. Last year, we spent Christmas Day in the Moroccan desert, and there was not a Christmas tree in sight or a carol to be heard. It was refreshing after the months of Christmas lead-up that we’ve experienced in many countries.

If you want to escape completely, let your friends and family know you won’t be contactable for a few days and turn off your phone. You can deal with any Christmas messages when it’s all over.

We spent Christmas Day on camelback.
We might look like the Three Wise Men, but it didn’t feel too Christmassy at the time.

2. Find local celebrations

If you are quite happy to celebrate but just happen to be away from home, find local celebrations to take part in. A few years ago, we were in Jerez, Spain, over the holidays, and jumped feet-first into the many, many events that take place there every year. Parades, zambomba concerts, nativity scene exhibitions — there was a lot going on, and it was awesome. When we celebrated Christmas in Germany and the Czech Republic we made sure to visit the Christmas markets, and in Perth we went to outdoor evening carol singing events.

Christmas parade in Jerez, Spain
Jerez was great for Christmas events.

3. Create traditions you can take with you

Many families have traditions that they follow during the holidays; why not create some of your own? You can invent them yourself or steal them from places you’ve visited. We’ve appropriated the tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and I often make Christmas cookies or date balls if I have access to a kitchen the week before Christmas. You could consider the Spanish tradition of wearing new red underwear on New Year’s, or make your own paper Christmas tree to decorate your hostel or hotel room.

Sometime during the last week of every year, Craig and I talk about what we’ve done during the year: where we’ve travelled, what we’ve acheived, the highlights and the lowlights of the past twelve months. This is one of my favourite traditions, and can be done alone, with a partner, or with whoever you happen to be with — if they’re willing!

Grapes for New Year Jerez Spain
Eating 12 grapes is an important part of our New Year!

4. Make friends

If you’re travelling solo or as a couple, it’s a good idea to spend time with friends over the holiday period. This could mean planning your travels around where your friends are, or just making friends on location. Sharing a bottle of wine with a Brazilian couple made our Moroccan Christmas more special, and we had a fantastic Christmas, New Year’s, and Three Kings with people we met through Couchsurfing in Jerez.

Three Kings celebration Jerez Spain
Spending time with friends (old or new) can make a big difference to your holiday experience.

Making friends on location isn’t as hard as it sounds: if you’re on a tour or in a hostel, just talk to people and you’re sure to find someone you’d like to spend time with. Otherwise, try Couchsurfing or a language exchange to find like-minded people in your destination. If you’re single, Tinder is an option too!

You could also convince people to come to you or go where your friends are. We spent our first Christmas away from home with our best friends Janine and Ange, who flew to Europe from New Zealand to celebrate with us in Prague, and we saw in the New Year with my Dad in Germany the year after that. We’ve travelled to be with people too: we celebrated our Perth Christmas with my aunt and uncle and an Adelaide one with my sister and her friends. And this year, we’re in San Miguel de Allende mostly because our friends Pete and Dalene were going to be here — we’re looking forward to a Christmas Day of games and tacos.

Christmas nativity scene Jerez Spain
Enjoy the local traditions (like nativity scenes), wherever you are.

5. Be in touch

If you can’t be with them, you can at least contact them! You might want to send presents or Christmas cards from wherever you are, or record a video to send like our friend Sherry does every year. We always call our family some time on Christmas Day and as many people as possible at midnight on New Year’s — since New Zealand is the first country to see in the New Year, it’s usually sometime in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve for us.

The holidays can be a difficult time to be away from friends and family, but it’s certainly possible to improve your experience of travelling at Christmas and New Year’s. To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

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