How to Survive and Maybe Even Enjoy Solo Travel During the Holidays
December 20, 2017
Solo Travel During the Holidays: Insane or Totally Amazing?
I debated writing this post about solo travel during the holidays for a long time and OBVIOUSLY I decided to just go with it since well you’re reading this right now so OBVIOUSLY it’s been published. Plus, on this planet of over 7.422 billion people (just looked it up. Shout out to google) I’m sure that someone, somewhere feels just like me and actually enjoys solo traveling during the holidays, as weird and as totally crazy as that may be (Everyone always asks me who I’m visiting and I always just look at them and say, “Rome” or fill in the blank with some of my favorite cities to travel alone in).
Now, you may wonder why the hell I would ever travel during the holidays alone since it’s a time of year that you typically spend connecting with the people you love (I swear I have people in my life who love me. I’m not THAT socially awkward or antisocial. I could always buy a herd of cats though. Or a pet rock. Decisions, decisions). Well, I conformed to societal norms and stayed home in the past (mostly out of guilt), to spend time with my dad, brother, sister-in-law, and niece (I have other relatives but they are those of which we do not speak of. You know, family feuds and all). Sure, it was nice and all but somehow, it just felt all wrong. Like something was missing. It felt like there was a giant blackhole in the room that just sucked all the joy out of the holiday season, leaving us with nothing more than some forced laughs and some tepid smiles.
But that makes sense since our lives all irreversibly changed the day my mom took her last breath. On that day, we had to discover this new, foreign reality; a world that felt almost empty since our family would never again be all together, in the same house, celebrating the same holiday. Yup, my mom was the crazy glue (emphasis on crazy) that held our family together and without her, our family seemed to fall apart. I mean sure, we all love each other and give each other awkward hugs at a distance of about six inches (Don’t wanna get too close, personal space and all. Kind of like those awkward middle school dances where you can’t actually touch each other), but that one, unifying force is missing and no matter how hard we try, we’ll never get it back (talk about added stress during the holidays).
But I would suck it up and dutifully spend the holidays with my family. Every once in a while though, I would escape to the bathroom and sob over the absence of the one person who made the house feel like a home, the one person who truly made the holidays a time to rejoice, my mother (she made this kick ass chocolate chip pie that gave Tollhouse a run for its money).
However, at my advanced age in life (where’s my AARP membership)? I began to wonder why I needed to endure the holidays, rather than enjoy them? I mean, where in the rules did it say that I had to stay home and spend the holidays with my family (besides in like every holiday movie you ever see)? Sure, my family loves me and cares about me but I started ti think that maybe it wasn’t essential for me to be there every year.
Yet, going away, all alone still seemed a bit extreme. I mean, if I just packed my bags and high tailed it out of town, I would feel like a bad sister and daughter. Plus, could I really hack it? Would I actually have fun or just sit there and cry the whole time because I was alone during the holidays, with no one to love me (insert melodramatic violin music here)?
In spite of my fear of being sad during the holidays, I still began to flirt with the idea of traveling alone during the holidays. I would day dream about it and then quickly push the thought away and treat it as the frivolous idea of a silly girl; a mere fantasy that would turn me into a selfish and leave me feeling all alone, in a foreign country, at a time of year that is meant for families.
Then this funny thing happened (no, I didn’t get pooped on by a pigeon). I started to envision how my family would react if I went away and it suddenly hit me like a mack truck, they would be totally fine. Yeah they would miss my but the holidays wouldn’t cease to exist because the holidays aren’t all about me (who knew)? They might even, gasp, have a little fun (the horror). Plus, and this is the real kicker, they love me and want me to be happy and to do whatever puts a legit smile on my face, not one of those ones that you have to screw on your face so that no one feels uncomfortable because you’re not SUPER happy.
And that’s when I decided to just do it, and see if I liked. I mean, if I felt lonely during the holidays and totally hated it then I would never have to do it again. But alas, I am traveling alone through the holidays again, so clearly its kind of sort of awesome, like you, you snazzy reader you. So that’s why I wrote this post! I want to show you how you can actually enjoy solo travel during the holiday season and not just suffer through it because you feel like you have no other options. So let’s get this awkward holiday office party started! Who brought the fruit cake? Bueller? Bueller?
1. Carry On Family Traditions Even While You’re Away
I feel like one of the hardest parts of being alone for the holidays is missing out on all those iconic, family traditions that you look forward to every year. Whether it’s baking cookies, trimming the tree, or watching a special holiday movie, there are always special things that we do throughout this time of year to get us pumped up and rocketed into the spirit of the season. These traditions are like an instant hug, a cup of hot cocoa, and a roll of cookie dough all rolled into one, with a splash of glow in the dark Christmas onesie for some added fun. They make us feel all warm and fuzzy since we remember our families and begin to feel the joy and love of this beautiful season (less stress during the holidays would be great too).
But if you’re traveling alone, you can still carry on these traditions, even if your family isn’t there. So if your family always trimmed the tree, go see a Christmas tree or if you always baked cookies with your family, take up a baking class and decorate some local cookies du jour. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it brings joy to your heart and not an ugly cry to your face,
For me, I always download my favorite holiday movies and watch them just like my mom and I used to do (I always have to watch a Christmas Carol with Alister Simms because that was my mom’s favorite). So even though you’re alone, you can still continue your traditions and feel connected to your family even if you’re far away from them.
2. It’s Okay to Cry
Okay now this isn’t always true but generally speaking, if you’re traveling alone during the holidays then chances are that your family situation at home is not ideal. And I get it. The holidays for me have just felt kind of crap ever since my mom passed away. And I used to pressure myself into embracing the holiday spirit and feeling as happy as everyone else seemed to be. But guess what? Most people are stressed out because they have so much to do and so little time to do it in. Plus, they have to deal with all these relatives that they only see once a year and probably have resentments against. Therefore, no one out there is really having the perfect holiday. Rather, we are all just doing our best at trying to have a good time and bringing joy to those we love (Some more successful than others. My fave are the relatives that do something nice and then never let you forget about how nice they were. Like somehow you owe them something because they made you a cookie).
So if you wanna be a Grinch or a Scrooge and really aren’t feeling the holidays at all, that’s cool. I’ve had years like that and it’s okay. I mean, I didn’t wallow in it and look for a heaping dollop of self-pity around every bend, but I was honest about my feelings and did my best to move through it (Hello therapist? Can we talk? I’m having one of those “feelings” days). That’s why now I just watch my holiday movies and have a nice, long cry because guess what? It’s sad not to have your mom around during the holidays! Hell, it’s sad not to have your mom around period. So even though it’s been five years since she died, I remind myself that there is no shelf life on grieving.
Therefore, I just try to accept the fact that this is a tough time of year for me and that inevitably, I will get emotional. The only difference today is that I don’t ignore those feelings and hope they go away, because that never works. Inevitably, I’ll pretend I’m fine and then become a hermit in my room while eating a whole box of doughnuts. Yeah, not super a super healthy coping mechanism. That’s why today I just allow myself to cry and go through whatever emotions I feel. And you know what? I actually like the holidays now and look forward to them! Like who knew? Everyone else is all stressed out and I’m over here like, “Peace out cub scout.”
3. Look at the Positives!
I think so many times, when you travel alone for the holidays (or have solo travelers holidays in general), you always seem to focus on the negatives and totally ignore the positives. At least I did because I found myself thinking things like, “Oh my God, I’m all alone and have no one to love me. I don’t know anyone in this country and I won’t get any presents, etc.” And the list goes on and on. I would sit there bemoan the fact that I wouldn’t have a very merry Martha Stewart Christmas in New York. But then I remembered that Christmas at my house, while fun and festive, was never perfect. I mean, one year my grandma threw a Scrabble board across the room, insulted my dad’s manhood, and then stormed out of the house, calling us all cheaters. So yeah, it was never perfect, even when my mom was alive.
Plus, now that I go away, I don’t have all the stress that comes along with the awesomeness of the holidays. I mean, I’ll be abroad so I don’t have to get a tree, buy a ton of presents, and bake a million cookies while attending 50 different parties in the same day. Yup, I can give my family presents after the holiday, and take advantage of sales, since I won’t be home anyway. That and I get to do exactly what I want because I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s needs. I mean, I don’t have to serve turkey because Aunt Mira hates filet mignon. I don’t even have to cook. I can go out to dinner and order whatever I want and not stress about entertaining ten million people at my house. I can also avoid the long drive to and from relative’s houses, while dodging those backhanded compliments like, “Well, at least you have a pretty face.” Thanks guys, no need to remind me I put on 5 pounds or that I’m single and not dating anyone. Yup, I was well aware of my marital status, thanks. See, I’ve learned to embrace being alone and have realized that it can actually be nice, quiet, and totally stress free (Maybe I’m even saving money during the holidays? LoL, okay that’s just wishful thinking).
4. Remember that Travel during the Christmas Holidays was a Choice!
So when I first started traveling alone over the holidays, my mind kept playing tricks on me. It kept telling me that I was alone and that no one loved me. And I believed it!! But then I realized that this was total BS and that my depression was just being a jerk and playing tricks on me. Eventually, (it took awhile because I’m a slow learner) I began to see that in reality, I could spend the holidays with a few different people who loved and really cared about me. But I chose to forego that and travel instead. I mean, no one bought me a plane ticket and forced me out of the country. Nope, I chose to travel and need to remember that when I am feeling down or alone or both.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Sometimes celebrating the holidays with another family is better since not only do they go out of their way to treat you nicely since you’re the “honored guest,” but you also have no resentments against these people since they are super nice to you and don’t push your buttons like your family does. Yup, being a guest for the holidays can be a pretty sweet deal indeed.
5. Treat Yourself
Just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to treat yourself during the holidays. So if you’re solo traveling, don’t be scared to eat alone and have an awesome holiday dinner. Everyone is so involved in their own lives that no one will probably notice you or give you a second look because you’re alone.
Plus, you need to be extra gentle with yourself since you’re alone during a more family oriented time of year. So be kind to the awesome solo traveler that you are and splurge on some items that you wouldn’t ordinarily buy because you deserve to have an epic holiday that you’ll never forget. Don’t let the fear and awkwardness of being alone during the holidays prevent you from doing anything that you would really enjoy.
6. Sign up For a Group Activity
When I travel alone during the holiday season, I am more apt to feel lonely and a little depressed (the curse of being alone during the holidays). But rather than allowing this feeling to take me over, I try and sign up for group activities that will surround me with other, hopefully happy people. Typically, I’ll stay at a hostel and sign up for some group tours there. This way, I can meet other people and hang out with them if I feel a bit lonely. So just because you’re traveling alone, doesn’t mean you have to be alone for your entire vacation. Just listen to your gut and do what’s best for you (make sure you have some stuff to do during the holidays so that your mind doesn’t art to play tricks on you, like pull my finger. Kidding).
7. Remember that Many Places are Closed
This one is not just for solo travelers but for all holiday travelers. Sure, the holidays are a wonderful time to travel abroad, but keep in mind that if most of the country celebrates Christmas, then chances are that most of the major sites and restaurants are probably going to be closed on the 24th and the 25th of December (and in some cases, even the 26th of December).
Therefore, I suggest making restaurant reservations in advance since seats fill up fast on major holidays. Also give yourself plenty of time to explore the city or country you’re visiting since many major attractions will probably be closed for a few days. Also try and make the most of the holidays by researching local holiday activities or checking out attractions that remain open or that do not use ticketed admission at all, like monuments. Monuments and public spaces in general are my go to on big holidays.
***Stock up on groceries before the holidays just in case you can’t find anywhere to eat and all the grocery stores are closed.
8. Stay in Touch
In fairness, I don’t really practice this one because my family and I are not super close and it hasn’t been necessary, but if you miss your family and want to contact them, do it! There is no rule saying that you can’t contact your family when you’re away for the holidays. Psh, no way! If it makes you feel better, call them, beep them, instant message them, Skype them, WhatsApp them, etc. There are about 10,000 different technologies that you can use to help you feel more connected to the people you love. So even if you feel totally alone, you’re not, not ever thanks to the internet!
9. Say yes and Be Flexible
This one is key and can really alter the whole tone of your trip. When you’re alone, one of the benefits is that you don’t have to consider anyone else’s needs or preferences. Therefore, if someone suddenly asks you to their house for the holiday, you can do it without too much stress or hassle.
And honestly, some of these spontaneous invitations have led to some of my greatest and most memorable adventures. I mean just last year I went to Sweden for Christmas, met a girl on the train to Kiruna, and got invited to stay with her at the Ice Hotel in the area. Not only was it a once in a life time experience, but I made a great friend that I am still in contact with today. So yes, be safe when you travel alone but don’t let fear limit the endless possibilities that lay before you when you travel alone. Learn to love your independence and embrace it (you can even bring it in for a bear hug)
10. People are Nicer
Because the holidays are a time of joy, gratitude, and good will towards man (hopefully your end of year bonus reflects this as well), this is a great time to travel alone since people in general are just so much nicer (its cause Santa’s watching). Therefore, if your open and honest with people and tell them that you’re traveling alone during the holidays, you may just get an invitation to join them for their family celebrations. Seriously, it has happened to me and is super fun because you get to see and experiences the unique holiday traditions of other cultures.
But even if this doesn’t happen, chances are pretty high that the city or country that you’re visiting will have some public celebrations that you can attend. I know that in Stockholm, Sweden, Skansen folk village was open for the holidays and had some great holiday displays and musical events that made for an ultra festive atmosphere.
You are Now Leaving the Seventh Vortex of Hell, Traveling Solo During the Holidays
Okay, I really hope that you don’t feel that way after reading this because I honestly feel like solo travel throughout the holidays gets a totally bum rep. And I swear it can be a ton of fun, otherwise I’d stay home and get a root canal. Okay, I might not do that but you know what I mean. If I hated it, then I would stay home and save my money. So to finish this lack luster attempt at a conclusion, solo holiday travel may not be for everyone, but you may want to consider it if the thought of going home makes you want to barricade yourself in the basement and wait until the apocalypse is over. And by apocalypse I am referring to a family get together for the holidays. Yeah, if that’s how you feel then if you stay home, you’d need a vacation away from your staycation. So all that I’m saying in, is give solo travel a chance, or peace, or both. Whatever makes you happy.
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