Spending the Holidays Abroad Without Family

A tourist in Thailand.

I realize how lucky we are to be traveling and living abroad. But there are times when traveling gets hard, when you start to feel lonely. That, of course, is during the holidays. You’re meant to celebrate holidays with your family, but how do we cope when we’re living a life abroad?

The first true holiday that I spent alone was Thanksgiving of 2011 when I lived in Portland. I didn’t feel lonely at all. In fact, I felt so grown up knowing I had to fend for myself during the food-filled holiday. Since work colleagues knew I was on my own, they invited me to a Thanksgiving party. Ugh, party. The one word most shy introverts hate.

I had two options: Say yes and go spend the holiday with people I’ve known for a couple of months. Or say no, lie about having plans, but end up sitting alone at home.

I said I would think about it because I wanted to see what my roommate was doing (when really I wanted to mull over it). I weighed the pros and cons.

Pros: Free food. Won’t be alone.
Cons: Will have to be social with a bunch of people, whom the majority of I won’t know.

It was obvious that the pros outweighed the cons (by an iota). I figured that this would be good for me though. I believed when I left Florida, I left the Old-Shy-Jamie behind. The New-Not-As-Shy Jamie would enjoy social gatherings.

And so, I, the new Jamie, obliged to go.

Walking around Multnomah Falls in Portland, Oregon.

I’m glad I did go. There was plenty of food as expected, and I wasn’t alone. And moving to a new place where I didn’t know anyone actually turned out to be a great conversation starter. I gave the low-down each time I would meet someone new so many times, I had it memorized so well that I appeared to be an eloquent speaker.

Before leaving Florida, I never gave much thought about what I’d do for the holidays. That was the least of my worries. When I was in Portland, not being at home for Thanksgiving wasn’t a big deal. Being an introvert, I tend to be okay alone anyway.

Christmas came along, and I still didn’t go home. I wasn’t going to be all alone though. This would be the first Christmas that Daniel and I celebrated together. As a matter of fact, it was the first time we were meeting one another. (I know, I know. It was a bit of a risk to spend a holiday with someone you hadn’t met in person, but it’s safe to say all went well.) Christmas, New Year’s, and 2012 rolled around.

By the time we knew it, we were in Korea together.

Hagwon Teachers in South Korea.

For a majority of US holidays, I was fine with not being home: July 4th, my birthday, Easter. But then it was already November, and my third Thanksgiving away from Florida was approaching.

For some reason it felt especially hard. Likely because I was in a foreign country where that holiday wasn’t even celebrated. While all my friends were posting on social media what they were thankful for or uploading photos of their family getting together, I couldn’t help but feel a bit envious of them. For once, I wanted to be back in the place I once called home, the place I grew to loathe, to be back with my family.

But I was in Korea, and it was just a regular old Thursday: I got up to go to work for 9 hours to deal with annoying children. I was even a bit irked for no one at work knowing what day it was. Why weren’t they wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving?! Was that selfish of me?

When I celebrated in Portland, I was at least still able to talk to my mom, get the day off, and eat a proper Thanksgiving dinner, like everyone else. I didn’t feel so left out.

At least for Christmas and New Year’s in Korea, I had Daniel to commiserate with. But this was just a normal Thursday for him because he’s English and all. We came home after our long day of work, exhausted, and had curry take out.

That was how I spent my Thanksgiving in Korea.

An Englishman eating his first American Thanksgiving dinner.

This Thursday will be my fourth Thanksgiving away from Florida. My second time in a country where the holiday isn’t celebrated. It’ll be just another Thursday.

To be an expat or long-term traveler, you need to give up a few things in order to live a life abroad, holidays with your family (and flavored coffee creamer) included. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m so thankful to be where I am at.

And besides, I’m not completely alone. Daniel is my family now.

Have you ever spent the holidays alone? What do you do when you’re feeling lonely during the holidays?


  1. says

    The last line is so cute! I can definitely relate to this post (well, not the Thanksgiving part, but the rest!) at this time of year. I’m going away for a few days with my brother and some friends so looking forward to keeping busy and creating new traditions. :)

    • Jamie says

      It’s true though! I sometimes get asked if I miss my family since I’ve left. I just reply with: But I’m with my family. πŸ˜‰ And like you say, we are creating our own (and new) traditions.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

  2. says

    I’m living in Colombia this Thanksgiving and there is an expat get-together this Thursday! Would be cool if you could meet other Americans living abroad and celebrate together, if we weren’t doing it here I’d be totally alone too! Happy Thanksgiving from another lonely expat πŸ˜‰

    • Jamie says

      That’s a great idea! One couldn’t possibly feel lonely in a room full of Americans. I think there was actually a similar meet up when we were living in South Korea last year, but after a nine hour work day I couldn’t be bothered. Oh, well. It’s just one of the many things we must give up.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too. Eat plenty of turkey for me, please. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for reading and commenting!

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