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How To Survive A Lonely Christmas Abroad As An Expat

Spending Christmas without family is one of the hardest things about travelling and living abroad. The build-up in December, the big day itself and the strange and empty time in between Christmas and New Year is usually a time when you are surrounded by your closest family and friends.

How do you cope with moving abroad and spending festive time in another country? We look at the best ways to combat these feelings if you’re facing a lonely Christmas abroad.

William Russell Blog - How to Survive Lonely Christmas Abroad as an Expat - Christmas in the woods
For some expats, it will be their first Christmas back in their home towns with their families for a while, thanks to the pandemic / GETTY IMAGES

How to survive a lonely Christmas abroad as an expat

Whether it’s your first Christmas away from home or you have been doing it for years, the holiday period can be an especially tough time for expats. Being away from friends and family, often in a completely different culture that celebrates the festive season in an entirely different way, or not at all, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out.

As we approach Christmas time, many of us who celebrate will be experiencing a very different festive season than we usually enjoy. Whilst this can still be a time of joy and happiness, it can also magnify any underlying feelings of loneliness for those that are separated from loved ones. International travel may not be an option for some expats, making it impossible to see their extended families and friends.

Why is lonely Christmas abroad especially hard for expats?

Christmas, by tradition for many people, is a time for all family members to get together. It’s a ‘standard’ school holiday in most countries, meaning we have the opportunity to all travel home and spend some quality time with our families.

If you’re living abroad for Christmas, it can be really hard to know that you won’t be there on the day and everyone will be getting on without you. Not that they don’t miss you obviously, but something you realise when you leave is that people don’t stop their own lives just because you’ve gone! This annual trip home gives us a chance to assuage any guilt we may feel at choosing to live overseas.

As expats, the Christmas holiday season is often the main time of year that we do all get together. All-in-all, our data show that expatriates are more at risk of experiencing mental health disorders than people living in their home countries.

You might feel that you’re making up for lost time and missed opportunities; those times that you haven’t been able to be with your family and friends – to meet new babies, for important birthdays, for weddings, or sadly for funerals. And, in a way, this annual trip home gives us a chance to assuage any guilt we may feel at choosing to live overseas.

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William Russell Blog - How to Survive Lonely Christmas Abroad as an Expat - Winter Hike At The Frozen Waterfall
Winter hike at the frozen waterfall in Slovenia / GETTY IMAGES

Top tips on managing a lonely Christmas abroad as an expat

How Christmas works out for you is all about spirit and attitude. Too many people put far too much pressure on themselves for Christmas. It could be that until now, you’ve been organising a Christmas that doesn’t fit in with your life, particularly based on your current reality of living overseas in a global pandemic. This could be your chance to rip up the rule book and do something completely different. Here are out top tips.

1/ To avoid feeling lonely, embrace the local culture as an expat

One great way to prevent homesickness is to get stuck into local cultural experiences and take advantage of the different ways people celebrate the holiday period while also sharing with new friends how you would celebrate back home. It will also help you with your culture shock.

Whether they simply celebrate in a different way or don’t celebrate Christmas at all, take it all as a learning opportunity and a chance to experience new traditions! Check out what events might be going on around you and get stuck in.

2/ Spend the day with other expats to feel better

If you’re an expat there will no doubt be many other expatriates around you who may also be feeling a little lonely at the prospect of spending Christmas day alone, so why not organise to spend it together!

This is a great way to keep busy on the day and even make new friends if you ask your friends to invite other expats they know to come along to join the fun.

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Beautiful couple of young expats visiting an alpine lake at Braies, Italy / GETTY IMAGES

3/ Do things to remind you of home abroad as an expat

While it’s always a good idea to immerse yourself in local culture, there is nothing wrong with continuing your Christmas traditions in a new country.

Whether it’s going on a Christmas day walk or cooking Christmas dinner, continue your celebrations to make you feel more at home. Be flexible though and don’t assume you will simply be able to pop out and get everything you want.

And don’t forget to call or video call with your friends and family on the big day, it will help you feel more connected with what’s going on at home.

4/ Buy yourself a gift this Christmas

Treat yourself to a nice gift – it is Christmas after all! Maybe get yourself something you can do on the day and give yourself the time to relax and enjoy the day. Why not even wrap it up and open with your family on facetime so you don’t feel as though you are missing out!

5/ Volunteer this Christmas abroad to feel more connected

Volunteering at a local homeless shelter, care home or even animal shelter can be a great way to keep busy while giving back to your new community. Check out what’s in your local area and if any groups need help.

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How to beat digital nomad loneliness this Christmas

If you are spending Christmas alone abroad as a digital nomad, you’re likely to face a unique set of challenges that could make the festive period just as difficult as if you were an expat.

While becoming a digital nomad can be an amazing and enriching experience, it is not without its challenges. One of these is looking after your mental health when you find yourself alone in foreign countries. A survey by Solo Traveller World found that around 1 in 3 solo travellers experience loneliness.

Most of our tips about spending Christmas alone as an expat still apply for digital nomads. But here are five more bits of advice to help you stay positive when spending Christmas alone as a digital nomad.

1/ Take some time off to recharge

As a digital nomad, you may find yourself working over the Christmas period. Many digital nomads are self-employed, which makes it harder for them to take time off, even at Christmas.

But be mindful that, while it may seem like a good distraction, working over Christmas can actually increase feelings of loneliness. Studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that the number of workers who reported feeling lonely when working from home increased by about 50%.

Therefore, you should try to designate a few days during the Christmas period when you commit to switching off and getting away from your laptop. Organise your schedule sooner rather than later, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to work that doesn’t fit your schedule.

That way, you can avoid feeling anxious on your days off. Your employer or clients will understand – they’ll probably be taking time off at Christmas too.

2/ Try and stay settled for the Christmas period

Part of the thrill of becoming a digital nomad is the opportunity to hop from country to country. And who could blame you, when there are dozens of countries that are great for digital nomads! Many airlines also offer cheaper fares around Christmas, making it very tempting to continue your journey over Christmas. However, to help you avoid feelings of loneliness when spending Christmas alone abroad, you may find it easier to settle in one place for the festive period.

Having a feeling of ‘homeliness’ can help you enjoy a relaxing Christmas abroad. Instead of having to adapt to a new place and new people, you can rely on some of the friends you’ve made in your local community.

3/ Reach out to other digital nomads

If you are feeling lonely as a digital nomad, you may want to reach out to groups and communities of other digital nomads in your area. Social media websites like Meetup are excellent for meeting friends. Many people post events such as language exchanges, food and drink evenings, and even digital nomad Christmas parties. If you can’t find something you like, why not try hosting an event of your own?

You may also want to look around in the real world for digital nomad meet-ups. Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular in major cities, and tend to be full of digital nomads just like you. These spaces often host events where you can meet people.

You may even want to check into a hostel over Christmas – here you will meet other travellers and digital nomads, including people who are also spending Christmas alone abroad.

4/ Stock up on home comforts

One of the things that can make you feel lonely as a digital nomad is missing out on the familiar parts of your home culture. Culture shock can affect even the most intrepid explorers, and Christmas traditions in foreign countries can seem especially strange and overwhelming. Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever to indulge in some familiar food, drink and entertainment from your home country. There’s no harm in spending the day embracing your own traditions.

To make life easier, many companies exist to provide boxes full of food, drinks and entertainment products from other countries, especially for expats and digital nomads. For British digital nomads, British Candy Box offers a great choice of sweets and chocolates, and British Gift Box offers more substantial foods – including Christmas puddings!

5/ Take the opportunity to explore

As a digital nomad, you’ve probably spent most of the year working hard. Christmas is a great time to unwind and explore your new home. Sure, it may be a bit quieter than usual, but that gives you the opportunity to get out in nature or venture to parts of the city you’ve never been to before.

Why not consider hiring a bicycle or a car over the Christmas period if you want to explore further afield? Just because you’re spending time alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely.

Young man working on his laptop outside by a lake

Expats and mental health this Christmas

All-in-all, our data show that expatriates are more at risk of experiencing mental health disorders than people living in their home countries. Another reason expats seek mental health support is as a consequence of other episodes as a result of other medical conditions.

Fortunately, many international health insurance policies, including ours, feature mental health cover. While it may not be compulsory, we recommend checking your policy to see if it includes coverage for mental health services.

Getting familiar with a country’s healthcare system and health culture is one of the biggest challenges that expats face when relocating overseas. Whether you are moving abroad for the first time or you have experience being an expat in many different locations, it’s beneficial to understand the key healthcare factors when deciding to live and work abroad.

Not only this, the pandemic caused additional challenges that you need to be aware of when researching the healthcare system of your potential new home.

Expats mental health

Naturally then, prioritising your health, including mental health needs to be top of your agenda as moving abroad, like any big change can present challenges:

  1. It’s a really good idea to make sure all your medical history and appointments are up-to-date before you go, and that you have sufficient medication should you require it.
  2. Next, ensure you have investigated the healthcare system in the new country. Medical processes and practices can vary massively from nation to nation for factors such as cost, number of available health professionals, waiting times and what cover is available to expats.
  3. Do your research and find out what the systems look like in the country you are moving to. In most locations, if you are paying taxes you should qualify for some healthcare cover, but this varies and you should still expect there to be additional health care costs no matter where you relocate to.

As a William Russell member, your plan includes many other opportunities to call on mental health support, especially at critical life moments. For instance, we provide additional counselling consultations for expats who have received cancer treatment (where pre-authorised).

We take our members’ mental health seriously. So when you purchase international health insurance with us, we give you lifetime cover up to US$100,000 on the Gold plan. Whether you need admission to a mental health unit or consultations with a psychiatrist, your health plan gives you the cover you need, including*:

  • Consultations with mental health professionals, such as therapy, counselling or referrals
  • In-patient or out-patient treatment for mental health conditions

*not available on SilverLite plan.

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How to survive a lonely Christmas abroad as an expat

Christmas is all about tradition and spending time with friends and family, so for expats living overseas the festive period can be a very difficult time. Often in a completely different culture, who may not celebrate the holiday at all, Christmas can be an unusual and sometimes lonely experience for expats. Most expats feel pangs of loneliness at times, but the Christmas holidays abroad can be the worst, especially if you’re in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is all about family, and yes it can be hard being away from your home comforts but if you are living abroad for Christmas, make the most of it and enjoy the day anyway.

Wherever you move, go with total peace of mind

No matter where you go, you can take one thing off your mind. William Russell offers international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays. We can even offer medical evacuation to patients who require treatment in other countries.

At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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