Expat’s Survival Guide to Christmas Abroad

Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas!

Whether it’s your first year or 10th year living abroad, the holidays can be the hardest season to be away from family. Not everyone is able to fly during the holiday season, which is notorious for being a very high-stress time.

So, how do we — the bunch who chose to move away but still miss this special time of year — deal?

I suggest making the most of the lack of responsibilities while still being in touch!

Christmas Cards



Request Christmas cards from friends and family back home and make a nice display throughout December. They are usually quite beautiful and a great reminder of all the people who love you. I absolutely love when people write messages in them too…a little personalization is super sweet! But don’t forget to send some out as well. Set a date on your calendar to write and address your cards. Be sure to get all the addresses and stamps needed before starting. Then just breeze through and you get to put a smile on someone else’s face. Don’t you just LOVE that?! Warm fuzzies all over!


Decorate your home for the holidays



If your family went all out with Christmas decorations and that’s what will make you feel better about being away at Christmas, then deck those halls! Personally, I don’t like a lot of stuff to hold onto all year, but I do love to have our little 2-foot tall fake tree on the table with our ornaments given to us by family and those we’ve collected through our travels. It’s a reminder of how life used to be, and how we are living now. Decorate however makes you feel happy!


Find a Christmas market

Christmas Market


In Europe, Christmas markets like the one in Cologne, Germany pop up all over the place! Some are just for a weekend and some are open for the season and even feature ice skating rinks. These help me find my Christmas spirit and once you have a glass of glühwein or hot cider and walk around to admire the evergreens and twinkling lights, hopefully, you’ll be in the spirit too. These are the perfect places to find little gifts to send back home so your friends and family get a taste of how you spent the holidays.


Bake Christmas cookies



Grab the mixer, eggs, butter and sugar and get your place smelling like holiday Heaven. I am lucky enough to have a grandmother who loves to bake, so that is something that reminds me of the holidays. There were SO MANY cookies. I never complained though. It was fun…and I got to lick the beaters 😀 Baking at the holidays is perfect for lots of reasons: it’s fun, creates gifts for friends, makes your house smell delicious, and can be a reminder of what makes you happy!


Take a trip

Paris Ferris Wheel


Do something completely different! Take a holiday for the holidays. Traveling over the holidays can be fun but can also be a bit lonely. We’ve noticed that if we’re away for a while over Christmas, like when we spent Christmas in Prague, and make a whole vacation out of it, that it feels more fun and less like we are missing out. It feels right to try and celebrate in a way that we would have never done in the U.S. Not to mention, it’s an exciting adventure to see how Christmas will feel in a place you’ve never been.  Go somewhere super Christmas-y, or go somewhere sunny and warm. Pick somewhere super relaxing or a city you’ve always wanted to discover. This is all about new experiences!


A friends’ holiday


Friends are the family you choose, right? Some you’d do anything for and love like brothers or sisters. If they are around for the holidays too, why not do something together? For two years we met up with a fellow American who was also in Amsterdam and had lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Then we walked around the center with its pretty lights along the canals. It was a different kind of Christmas but made us happy all the same.


Video chat

If possible, call or video chat those you love back home. Between Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Hangouts, even Snapchat, there are so many free (or super cheap) ways to get in touch. Set a time so everyone is on the same page and has the appropriate tech handy and then enjoy celebrating Christmas together, even if only for a bit.

Not being home for the holidays can be sad, frustrating, and even confusing because we don’t know what to do during that time. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Hopefully, this has given you a few ideas on how to make the most of the season and truly enjoy the experience.

Jessica Cutrufello wearing a green floral dress, glasses and pink lipstick

Hi! I’m Jessica, an American who made Amsterdam her home in 2014. I share European gems through food and memorable experiences. Want to know more? Head to my about page or check out my YouTube channel.

Travel with us - Tuscany October 2022