Holiday survival guide: 7 tips for spending Christmas abroad

Are you stressed about spending Christmas overseas? Relax– if you keep an open mind, celebrating the holiday abroad can be a welcome change. Get the most out of your vacation with our survival tips.

#7 – Enjoy the local entertainment

Fire dancer in Koh Lanta, Thailand

Christmas activities in Koh Lanta, Thailand include fire dancing.

During our round the world trip, Jake and I spent both Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Thailand. Instead of watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, binging on fatty foods and fighting our way through hordes of NYC tourists, we relaxed on the beaches of Koh Lanta.

There were no Christmas carolers on the island, but we enjoyed the local entertainment. A Che Guevara-obsessed beach bum (pictured) put on a fire show.  We were overcome with the Christmas spirit as we watched him twirl fire sticks and dance to a techno beat.

It wasn’t a typical Christmas event, but it was entertaining– and free!

#6 – Savor regional cuisine

Thai food prepared in Koh Lanta, Thailand

You won't have Christmas ham but you'll savor local dishes.

You probably won’t find the classic Christmas dishes overseas unless you go to a luxury hotel. But aren’t you tired of sweet potatoes with marshmallows anyway?

Break from tradition by dining at local restaurants. Our Christmas meal in Thailand consisted of a vegetable stir fry and curry dishes.  They cost a few dollars each and were a lot healthier than American holiday foods.

Don’t forget the biggest perk of all: When you spend Christmas on an overseas vacation, you won’t have to cook the holiday meal!

#5 – Buy gifts at street markets

Cheap t-shirts purchased in Thailand.

Inexpensive t-shirts make great Christmas presents!

Christmas shopping can be a nightmare. Crowded malls, pushy people and out of stock merchandise are enough to send a sane person over the edge. Being overseas is a great excuse to avoid stressful shopping.  Your friends and family will understand why you aren’t giving them a traditional gift this year.

Simply send your loved ones a card with a thoughtful message, then head to the street market and go on a shopping spree. I found these $1 shirts on sale at a Thai bus station and snatched up a half dozen. They made great gifts and were easy to carry in my backpack.

A fashionable outfit created from $1 hat, shirt and shorts in Thailand.

The writer models the latest Thai beach fashion, created from $1 items purchased at street markets.

It’s amazing what you can get for $1- $5 at a street market.  Hats, t-shirts, board shorts and flip flops are just a few options.

One word of caution: Don’t go overboard.  That Minnie Mouse t-shirt you pick up in Bangkok might not be so cool when you get back home!

#4 – Find a Christmas tree

A Christmas tree in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

An unusual Christmas tree in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

It’s OK to seek out the comforts of home.  You can find Christmas trees or other holiday symbols across the world, even in countries that do not celebrate the holiday.

Charlie Brown and Christmas tree from the TV specialPhoto:

We were excited to find a Christmas tree on a Koh Lanta beach– even though it resembled the twiggy tree on the classic TV special,  A Charlie Brown Christmas.

#3 – Get active

Boats in Koh lanta, Thailand

Spending Christmas on the beach is a nice change for residents of the Northern Hemisphere.

Get outside and explore your surroundings this Christmas. You never know what adventures await!

Christmas is normally spent in a food coma. The night’s events are a blur, since you’ve eaten so much rich food you can barely keep your eyes open. Without mom’s home cooking on your overseas trip, it’s easy to have an active holiday.

We snorkeled, swam, hiked and rode mopeds in Thailand. We didn’t have a “white Christmas,” but the beach weather more than made up for it.

#2 – Adopt the local customs

Celebrating New Years at a beachside restaurant in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

Celebrating New Years at a beachside restaurant in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

You’ll miss out on hanging stockings this year, but there are plenty of local customs to adopt.

I blended in with the Swedish tourists (if not the locals) in Koh Lanta when I wore this silly New Year’s Eve party hat. It was festive and looked great with my $1 t-shirt!

#1- Don’t worry. Santa will find you!

Santa finds travelers anywhere!

Santa finds travelers anywhere!

This year, you won’t get to tear open your presents under the Christmas tree. In fact, you may not receive any presents at all.

Take heart in knowing that Santa Claus will always find you. He’s a seasoned world traveler and enjoys spreading Christmas joy to remote corners of the earth.

Even if you don’t get a shiny new toy this Christmas, you already have the best gift of all: Travel.


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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.