Christmas Away From Home: Unique Travel Experiences

I sigh as I drag my weary legs up the stairs to my third floor flat in West Hampstead, craving the silence that is waiting for me on the other side of the door.  I walk in and drop my shopping bags to the floor before I’ve even closed the door.  As I close the curtains to the darkness that is setting in, a glance at my watch tells me it is only 4pm.

It is winter in London and I have just survived Christmas shopping on Oxford Street.

Christmas is like vegemite: you either love it or hate it.

My attitude to Christmas has varied over the years.  As a small child I started each Christmas Day with a feeling of excitement and anticipation as I ran to open the presents that had miraculously appeared under the artificial tree.  I gazed in awe at the empty glass of milk and crumbs that remained on the plate we had left out for Santa.  And I looked forward to a day of fun and games with family and friends.

When I learned the traumatic truth about Santa Claus, I coped by throwing myself into school year-end festivities and the onset of summer holidays.  And as a young adult I enthusiastically embraced a new tradition of Christmas Eve parties and Boxing Day BBQs.

Then I entered my Scrooge years…

In more recent years however, my passion for travel has created unique experiences that have pacified my inner Scrooge and created a new attitude to the festive season.

2000 – Morocco: The Year I Ran Away From Christmas

My first Christmas away from Australia was during my Scrooge period and I consciously targeted a country that did not celebrate it: Morocco.

What made it unique?

This was a year where the end of Ramadan overlapped with the beginning of Christmas.  By running away from a festive season that had become too commercialised for my liking, I had walked into the annual tradition of a religion I had not been exposed to in my travels until now.  It was incredibly interesting, eye opening and intriguing.

What made it special?

My first Christmas away from home had the potential to be a lonely one.  Instead, I shared it with friendly strangers as I discovered a new culture, encountered century old traditions that were new to me, and enjoyed a sensory overload from the landscapes, markets, restaurants and squares.

 

2003:  My First English Christmas

The novelty of Europe being so close to my new home in London led me to spend my first few Christmas’ exploring new places.  But an invitation to spend the day with an English friend and her family was too good to pass up in 2003 and it was the first of a number of festive seasons I enjoyed in the country I was beginning to call home.

What made it unique?

Millions of people grow up celebrating Christmas in the cold Northern Hemisphere winter.  I was not one of them.  Growing up in Australia meant I dressed in short sleeves on Christmas Day, played back-yard cricket before dinner was served, and had my post-dinner nap outside in the sun.  An English Christmas was a little different!

What made it special?

My first English Christmas introduced me to new ingredients of the Christmas recipe.  Back-yard cricket was replaced with indoor scrabble, napping under a rug on the couch better suited the English weather than a snooze in the sun, and dinner was scheduled around the Christmas Day specials of Eastenders, Corrie and Dr Who.  A new tradition was created in a country that I was already calling home and would eventually become a citizen of.

 

2009 – Chicken and Mashed Potato in Cambodia

I expected Christmas in a Buddhist country to be a non-event and in most parts of Cambodia it probably was.  But I was in Siem Reap, where I had been living and volunteering for three months and this is a town that relies on tourism as its main source of income.  There was no escaping Christmas this year!

What made it unique?

As Santa hats appeared in local market stalls and hotels began decorating trees with tinsel, I felt conflicted.  I was initially torn between embracing the familiar signs of Christmas that were unexpectedly appearing around me, or shunning them in protest against Christmas commercialism creeping into a Buddhist country.  In the end, the opportunity to spend Christmas day eating roast chicken and mashed potato with both local and foreign friends in a traditional Cambodian house was too unique to pass up!

What made it special?

A basic Western meal of roast chicken and mashed potato was certainly a treat after three months of local food, but it was all about the people.  Sharing the day with a group of Western ex pats, foreign travellers and new Cambodian friends reminded me of one of my favourite travel quotes: “a journey is best measured in friends rather than miles” (Tim Cahill)

 

2010: Solitude in Myanmar

xmas

Towards the end of a three week visit to Myanmar, I approached Christmas Day with a form of amnesia.  I had been hypnotised by the unique, thought-provoking and magical experiences I was having in a beautiful country with some of the friendliest people I had ever met.  I completely forgot it was Christmas…

What made it unique?

My young nephew woke up to presents under the Christmas tree and my family ate lunch inside to escape the hot Adelaide summer.  My friends in London were recovering from the hectic December party season with a cosy day in front of a fire, sipping mulled wine.  I left my guesthouse at sunrise, nodded a friendly hello to the Burmese man who spoke no English and got into the small wooden boat that he would lead onto Inle Lake.  I spent the start of the day in complete silence as I observed local fisherman in their iconic stance, waved to passing boats crowded with locals heading to the market and watched the countryside come to life as the sun rose.  As I returned to my guesthouse at the end of the day, the owner greeted me with “Merry Christmas, it is a special day in your country, no?” It was only then that I remember it was 25th December!

What made it special?

Limited internet access, a slower pace of life and the absence of English-speaking television helped me disconnect from the outside world and completely embrace the moment.  I felt alive, energised and especially grateful for the hand life had dealt me.

 

2011 – Adelaide, Australia: There is No Place Like Home

I had experienced a decade of Christmas’ away from home, chasing alternative experiences with new cultures, sometimes running away from the season and one year forgetting about it completely.  My cynical stage was over and my inner Scrooge well and truly squashed.  An Aussie Christmas was calling me…

What made it unique?

An Australian Christmas is unique to everyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere.  And it even becomes unique to an Aussie who has spent the last ten Christmas Days outside of the country.

What made it special?

Sharing the day with family, friends and excited little nephews was the icing on the cake of a holiday period that included partying with old school friends, a road trip back to the outback town I grew up in and picking up where I left off with friends I’d recently been reunited with.  One of the best things about travel is its potential to help you appreciate what you have and where you are from.  There is no place like home.

 

2012?

This year has the potential to be my most unique Christmas yet.  I’ll start the season tomorrow night as I embrace modern technology and watch my family in Australia open the gifts I’ve sent them over Skype.  I’ll follow that with a train ride to Heathrow as I begin the long commute to Ushuaia, the southern-most tip of Argentina.  I’ll arrive there the morning of Christmas Eve to relax for a couple of days and on the afternoon of the 27th I’ll board a ship…destination Antarctica!

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

What has been your most unique Christmas away from home?  Leave me a comment if you’d like to share it…

 

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. I only spent one Christmas away. That was in Germany, I was visiting some friends there. The experience was very good, those Christmas markets in Germany are pretty neat.

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