Handling Holidays Alone and Abroad

When embarking on a long trip, there’s a good chance you may be gone during a holiday you normally spend with loved ones, such as your birthday or Thanksgiving. Like most rewarding experiences, solo-travel comes with many emotional highs and lows.

Spending the holidays out of your comfort zone can be bewildering. This can also be especially tough when you’re somewhere where seemingly everything is closed on holidays or Sundays, since that makes it harder to stay busy. The following tips proved to be helpful for me, and I hope you find them useful as well!

Stay in a Hostel with Social Activities


If possible, try to coordinate your travel dates and accommodation plans so that you’ll be in a social hostel. During my gap year, I was forced to spend Thanksgiving alone in a hostel in Nuremberg after attending a Thanksgiving Gala for my internship. Since Germans don’t really “get” Thanksgiving, the gala took place in the morning. After the gala, I found myself alone that night with a bowl of pasta.

When I skyped with a friend that night who was staying in a hostel in Auckland that night, I was jealous to learn  that her hostel had hosted a fun Thanksgiving feast. Had I done a bit more research, I could have maybe enjoyed some turkey and good company instead of cheap pasta in front of my laptop.

If there’s nothing planned, don’t be afraid to invite fellow travelers to share a meal with you, or to partake in a tradition from your home country! I remember a lovely English girl in Bariloche who shared her Pancake Day tradition with us. Also, if it’s your birthday, don’t be shy about it!

Try to Snag an Invite From a Local

Out of all my travel experiences, none are as special to me as the ones spent with locals.

This might be a bit difficult to pull off, but try reaching out to couch surfers or any other locals you may meet. Obviously it’s not polite to invite yourself, but I have always been amazed by the generosity of others while traveling. 

Seek Out Local Events and Festivities

During my gap year in Germany, it wasn’t hard to find expat gatherings for American holidays, or other special occasions. Run a quick google search for expat groups and forums in your area, in any big city this shouldn’t be too hard to find! Couch Surfing is also an excellent resource for bringing strangers together.

In most larger cities there are always a plethora of Couch Surfing events going on, and people willing to share the holidays with travelers. Additionally, if you’re in a capital city or a city that hosts embassies or consulates, check out their websites and social media pages! I know from living in Washington, DC that many embassies open their doors to the public for special national holidays!

Get Out and Enjoy the Empty City

There’s nothing like having a city all to yourself! With everyone at home with family, the streets should be pretty empty. Pick a scenic route, visit a usually crowded destination, or just walk through the deserted city! Enjoy your surroundings, and get in tune to your thoughts with an unfamiliar city as your backdrop – just get out and don’t wallow!

Enjoy Your Solitude 

Remember all the holidays where your family drove your crazy? Sure, you may miss them, but at least now you don’t have to deal with questions about your love life and career plans.  Even if you find yourself completely alone in a hostel, it could always be worse! Relax, cook yourself a nice meal, and buy a cheap bottle of wine.

Watch a movie, read a great book, take a walk, or just soak up your surroundings! Enjoy your holidays alone, and think of all the great stories you’ll now have to share with your family at the next big holiday get-together.

Any more tips for making holidays away from loved ones easier? Please share, I’m curious!

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