What is it Like to Spend the Holidays Abroad?

Maya Mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand decorated for Christmas

When I started traveling, I had no idea that I would be spending so much time overseas, especially during the holidays. People ask me what it is like to be in another country during the holidays? Growing up in the midwest, the holidays meant family get-togethers, delicious food, tons of laughter, and occasionally snow. The surprising thing is I haven’t missed out on anything while I have been traveling over the holidays. Don’t get me wrong; I do miss my family. But, I have created a different sort of family while traveling. And this has allowed me to enjoy the holidays to the fullest. Here is a snapshot of what it is like to spend the holidays abroad.

Maya Mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand decorated for Christmas

ThanksgivingEat, Drink, & Be Thankful Thanksgiving Dinner

For the last two years, I have been traveling over Thanksgiving. Last year I was on a safari in Tanzania, and this year was spent in Thailand. Thanksgiving to me has always been eating dinner with my family. These past couple of years, I have been fortunate to be able to spend this special day with some fantastic people that I consider great friends now. Although it feels a bit strange celebrating a holiday tradition in countries that don’t put as much emphasis on it as we do in America. But, it is lovely to try and make the day mean something while you are away from home.

Serengeti, TanzaniaThanksgiving Dinner Menu in Tanzania

It was a special treat being given a celebratory Thanksgiving Dinner in the Serengeti on our safari trip. The camp and the group that I was traveling with knew how much Thanksgiving meant to all of us. And with us being away from our families, they made it extra special for us that night. The camp set up a fantastic Thanksgiving menu that had all of our favorites from home with a little gourmet twist added. Being with a group on a tour, let them know that you are traveling over a special holiday and they might make some special arrangements for you. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Thanksgiving Dinner in Serengeti, Tanzania

Chiang Mai, ThailandThanksgiving Turkey at Duke's in Chiang Mai - Holidays Abroad

Thailand is another country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving the way Americans do (football games and parades on TV). But, if you look hard enough, you can find restaurants that cater to Westerners and will make you a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. A group of new friends, expats in Chiang Mai, organized a girls’ night out at Duke’s restaurant on Thanksgiving. With a few phone calls to the owner, the organizer was able to get us a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. She even managed to have them stay open later for us. We were treated to turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the other sides, including cranberry sauce. The only miss was that they ran out of apple and pumpkin pie earlier, so we had the pick of their dessert cart instead.

ChristmasMaya Mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand decorated for Christmas


Christmas season is my favorite time of year. And although I’m traveling in countries without snow, I’m still enjoying the festiveness of the holidays. If you are traveling in warmer countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, you can get your fill of the Christmas spirit. You can’t step in a mall, restaurant, or hotel that isn’t over the top decorated for Christmas or continuously playing Christmas music 24 hours a day. I do miss the snowflakes and the hot apple cider at the Christmas markets, but you can get some excellent Christmas shopping done here dirt cheap.

DecorationsDecorations in Chiang Mai - Holidays Abroad

One thing I’ve noticed is that each restaurant or hotel tries to outdo the next. It makes for some amazing photo opportunities. You can spend hours walking around looking at all the displays during the day and then returning to see them lit up at night.Holiday Decorations in the La Residencia Lobby in Hoi An, Vietnam

Christmas Trees

White Christmas Tree in Vietnam

Christmas trees are the iconic symbols of the holiday season. And seeing them all decorated and lit up makes spending the holidays abroad a little easier. Some of the trees look professionally done. Still, others look like the trees my sisters and I decorated over the years when we were younger (tinsel is haphazardly thrown around it and ornaments clustered together). I love walking into a hotel lobby and seeing the tree decorated, and it brings a bit of home to wherever you are traveling. Christmas Tree in La Residencia in Hoi An, Vietnam - Holidays Abroad


Scheduling a group tour or getting together with a group of local friends, you can make the most of your holidays abroad with a little planning. By locating a restaurant to make a delicious home-cooked meal or walking around and exploring all the Christmas decorations, you can bring a bit of that back home feeling to you while you are on the road. Always make the most of your time in other countries, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little of your home traditions as well, especially during the holiday season. Happy Holidays everyone wherever you may be!

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Further Reading

If you are planning an overseas trip, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

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