The longer we sat on the runway, the more my heart sank. Every minute wasted put me that much closer to spending Thanksgiving alone in a small airport outside of London, thousands of miles from home and a few hundred from my brother, who I’d planned to meet in Dublin that night. By the time we finally took off, there was no chance of making my connecting flight. I had no way of contacting my brother, either, so he’d just be stuck waiting for me at a hostel.
Nearing the end of a semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain, this was the first time I’d be seeing family in more than three months. I’d made a few friends in Salamanca, but not many – and this was when Facebook was in its infancy, Skype was new, FaceTime didn’t exist. There was no denying I was homesick, at least on this particular day. The weekend in Dublin was meant to cure that. Instead I landed at Stansted, too far from London for it to even be worth venturing into the city to find a hostel and too broke to afford the only airport hotel.
When I picked up the payphone to call home and say Happy Thanksgiving, my grandpa answered on the second ring. I started balling as soon as I heard his voice. My mom tried to calm me down, but she didn’t really know what to say. My dad kind of said we know it sucks but that’s life, kid – and hey, you’re wasting money the longer you stay on this call. My sister just wanted me to hang up so she could get back to the chocolate pudding pie. I swore I’d never be away for Thanksgiving again.
Fast forward a decade and this year I spent Thanksgiving in a beer hall in Ghent, Belgium. The homesick college kid is a distant memory. I planned this year’s trip because the dates coincided with two tennis tournaments I could cover for work, I didn’t have to take many days off because Thanksgiving and the day after were built-in holidays, and there was a friend I wanted to visit. It all added up, and I didn’t hesitate to book flights.
Maybe it’s technology that makes holidays away from home so much less intimidating now. Maybe it’s the difference between being 20 and being 30. Maybe it’s that foreign cities feel more like home than ever before. Whatever the reason, being away didn’t phase me. I FaceTimed with my sister in the morning and basically felt like I was in the kitchen with her as she put the finishing touches on turkey gravy. I called again that night and wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving. That night, the holiday became my excuse to go to a fancy restaurant that was way out of my normal travel budget.
I’ve found in recent years that I also love being away in the weeks leading up to Christmas. So many cities put their best foot forward throughout December. Copenhagen and Prague have divine Christmas markets, as I imagine is the case throughout Europe. All of Amsterdam shuts down for the arrival of Sinterklass. He comes by boat from Spain, with elves rappelling down buildings and handing out chocolates during the parade. Brussels puts together a living nativity in the main square, Spain offers the best Christmas pastries. In Colombia last week, Kyle and I just missed a massive candlelight vigil in the Plaza de Bolivar, but we were there in time to see the fluorescent decorations on Montserrat and the craft fairs throughout the city. In Cartagena, every house and square was covered in Christmas lights. There were two tight streets where the residents hung blankets of them between their homes, creating a tunnel. It was the most community-oriented Christmas celebration I’ve ever seen.
Kyle heads off to Panama to celebrate with his family this week. Zach is heading to Mexico. I’m on a flight back to New York, but there’s a part of me that’s already wondering where I might venture around this time next year. It might be hard to imagine spending Christmas away from family, but it’s also exciting to think about all that I’d get to experience if I ever make that decision.
How about you? Have you traveled for a holiday or had a travel mishap that stopped you from making it home for a holiday? Are you abroad this holiday season? Tell us in the comments, or on social media!