Spending Christmas without family is one of the hardest things about travelling and living abroad. The build up in December, the big day itself and the strange & empty time in between Christmas and New Year is usually a time when you’re surrounded by your closest family and friends. How do you cope with moving abroad and spending the festive time in another country!?

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year! Christmas songs, Christmas jumpers, unlimited amount of food, no judgement for being drunk before 12pm…. I could go on and on …

Presents, silly games, Christmas crackers …


So yeah. I love Christmas.

We’ve lived abroad on and off for 7 years now, which means that we have often ended up spending Christmas without family. It can be really hard, but we have learnt to make the most of it when we can and truly embrace the holiday spirit wherever we are!

There are some incredible places in the world, and they all have their own fantastic festivals and celebrations. However, everyone knows that no-one does Christmas like your family does (even if that does mean snoring uncles, petty arguments and burnt dinners!).

people either side of santa claus in beijing China
we found Santa!

How To Cope With Living Abroad For Christmas

If you’re living abroad for Christmas, it can be really hard to know that you won’t be there on the day and everyone will be getting on without you. Not that they don’t miss you obviously, but something you realise when you leave is that people don’t stop their own lives just because you’ve gone!

Sometimes though, if you are spending Christmas without family, it might be hard to get into the festive spirit – missing them makes it difficult and you might even have to work! *cry cry cry*

There are so many fun things happening back home that it’s easy to feel like we’re missing out – Christmas in London is teeming with festivals and events that we’d love to experience. There’s nothing like drinking mulled wine surrounded by happy people excited for the season!

You might be abroad for Christmas on your own, or you might be lucky enough to be travel with your partner. Either way, we have some top ideas on ways for you to enjoy yourself even if you are spending Christmas without family this year. Here are five tips to get you through the festive season even if you are living abroad for Christmas!

1. Visit a Christmas market

This may or may not be possible, depending on where you are. However, a lot of big cities will hold some sort of Christmas/winter market, even if it just purely to exploit the gesture of goodwill! In China, people don’t celebrate Christmas but there are plenty of Christmas markets during November and December to cater for those who do (check out the German Christmas market last year!).

And if you’re in Europe, there is NO excuse to miss a market! There are some incredible traditional Christmas markets in Austria for example, as well as in France, Germany, the UK and even Spain!

A lady stood next to a christmas tree in Beijing
loving everything Christmas related

You don’t even have to buy anything either. Entrance to a Christmas market is often free, with plenty of decorated stalls and huts scattered around. You can just wander round and take in the smells and sights, as well as the excitable atmosphere!

However, Christmas markets are also a really good places to buy small gifts, like stocking fillers, and there is always amazing food on offer to! Try German sausage, British mince pies and of course grab a cup of toasty mulled wine to warm you right up!

2. Bring Christmas themed food with you

No, I’m not suggesting that you roast a turkey and ship it over to India (although hats off to you if you manage that). But if you’re desperate then you can be prepared! We LOVE  mince pies and I was not prepared to give up a 25 year run of eating them.

A lady eating some mince meat when she is supposed ot be putting the mince meat in the pastry cups
mince pies are life!

The first year we were in China, Kev’s family actually visited us so they brought a few boxes over. The next year, we bought a huge jar of mincemeat before we left for China and had a good long think about what clothes we could sacrifice in order to bring it … We just made the pastry ourselves and enjoyed the most Christmassy snack for the whole of December! And yes, we got through the whole jar.

Read More: 26 Thoughtful Gifts For Backpackers They Actually Need

Because Christmas is so popular around the world, the chances that you will be able to find some of your favourite festive snacks in a foreign country is actually quite high. We even managed to buy advent calendars in Beijing (thanks, IKEA!) so even if you can’t bring the food that you really want, have a good look round the import shops nearby. You could also consider buying things online to be delivered – Amazon has a great selection of festive food that you could stock up on!

3. Sort out a Christmas playlist

It’s more than likely that you already have this (we’ve been playing ours since October…) but make sure it’s full of the cheesiest Christmas music you can find. Learn the lyrics and embarrass impress your new friends with your knowledge. Nothing says Christmas like blaring out Mariah Carey at inappropriate times …

An image of a spotify christmas playlist
we listen to this pretty much from October

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Watch your favourite Christmas films and download the soundtracks. Share the songs with people who might not know them – have a karaoke night at your house and get everyone involved!

Pro Tip

Spotify often have deals where you can get free premium membership for two months which means that you can download your music and listen to it offline on your commute to work!

4. Teach others about your country’s traditions

Starting with the Christmas songs! Seriously though, whether you’re an English teacher or you work in an office, you’ll find at least one person who doesn’t know about that great thing your country does at Christmas.

A group of chinese students colouring in christmas trees in class
they might not celebrate Christmas but they loved the themed colouring!

We spoke to an American girl the other day who didn’t realise that British people eat turkey on Christmas Day. WHAT ELSE WOULD WE BE DOING!? Drinking tea, listening to the Queen and moaning about the weather? Okay … okay.. I see your point but still … Turkeys aren’t bred just for Thanksgiving, you know.

A lot of countries celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, which is something that had never occurred to me until I spoke to a German friend! It’s actually really interesting sharing stories about what people do at Christmas – every family does it differently even if you’re from the same country, so go and find out what your friends are doing! It might surprise you and even give you a few cool ideas to add to your own celebrations!

5. Do something different on Christmas Day

I know it’s tempting to try and recreate your family festivities but the chances are, if you’re living abroad for Christmas, then it just won’t be the same without a snoring grandparent in the corner. So, do something completely different and exciting.

2 people on a ski lift on christmas day in beijing
never thought I’d be skiing in Beijing on Christmas Day!

We went skiing for the day when we lived in China and it was fab. It made us forget that we didn’t have a turkey and we had so much fun. There might be a really good show you want to go and see, or if you’re lucky enough to live in a hot country you might want to cool down at a water park. Make it memorable so that you can look back and say you still enjoyed the day even though you were abroad for Christmas without family!

Read More: The Best Places To Visit In December

Pro Tip

You could also plan to have another Christmas Day when you’re back in the country. My family did this for us in July and it was such a great day! Kev and I may have gone a little overboard by actually bringing the Christmas tree down from the loft and decorating the house, but it made it feel like we hadn’t missed out at all and everyone got involved in the Christmas spirit. We ate outside and the neighbours must have thought we were bonkers but it is definitely a Christmas we won’t forget!

Yes, Christmas is all about family, and yes it can be hard being away from your home comforts but if you’re living abroad for Christmas, make the most of it and enjoy the day anyway!

Have you spent a Christmas abroad? What did you do on Christmas Day? Let us know in the comments below!

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