Bee and Nick
Bee Says: When booking a big trip, there are so many factors that go into deciding on the dates and you soon realise there will never be a perfect time to take the plunge; you’ll always be missing someone´s wedding, birthday or arriving somewhere mere days after a huge fiesta or the moment whale-watching season finishes. We are travelling for 6 months in South & Central America, and our dates were mostly selected in order to hit the countries in low season but not in rainy season. A tricky conundrum in order to stay tanned and on a shoestring budget! The big thing that we are missing? Christmas! I have never spent a Christmas away from home, and was quite gloomy about the prospect. I’m from a big family, and Christmas is often the only time we all descend on our family home and it is always a chaotic rabble of presents, walks in the woods, a day-long port haze and queues for the toastie maker (just the thought of turkey and stuffing toasties just made my poor festive-food deprived belly do an audible groan!). I will be honest; Christmas on the road will never feel like it does at home… but here are a few tips to make it full of a different type of festive cheer.
1. Book in Advance
We barely ever book hostels in advance, usually just rocking up and choosing a place we like the feel (and price) of. At Christmas and New Year though, you have to book in advance, as it will be high season for locals and tourists alike; places are busy busy. We booked back in October for peace of mind, as we were keen to avoid a scenario such as resorting to staying in someone´s shed, which actually happened to us on the Galapagos. (The weirdest part was that despite it being a shed, there was an en suite bathroom but every item such as the mirror, sink and toothbrush holder was CELLOTAPED to the wall. Oh and there were two hellhound guard dogs that took an instant dislike to us and terrorised us everytime we attempted to leave or arrive… Merry Christmas!)
2. Do Your Research
Depending on what you want from your Christmas away, make sure you research your options and pick something nice that will cater for your festive fancies. We opted for more of a “party” hostel than usual, as we wanted to ensure there would be festive goings on and plenty of people to meet and celebrate with.
3. Arrive Early
It’s worth hitting your Christmas destination a couple of days before the big day, to scope out what is going on in the local area, how you can join in the events and what will actually be open. It also gives you time to sweet talk your hostel owner into buying everyone crackers, like we just have!
4. Make sure you have good Wifi!
Skype is a wonderful thing. To make sure you can phone you nearest and dearest over Christmas (always being sure to do it from a hammock/with a coconut in your hand … who needs spouts and the Eastenders special?!) so make sure you call ahead and check that the Wifi will be good enough to get you in touch with the world. Then you have the unenviable task of wrangling time zones and working out how to phone everyone without interrupting their roast.
As Christmas approaches, I can’t say that I am feeling as festive as usual. I haven’t heard “Kevin… You’re such a disease” for a start! It is also slightly surreal to be wearing flip-flops and looking at baubles/tinsel on palm trees. Saying that, the amazingness of travel in general out weighs any Christmas envy and it will just be another great experience to add to the list. Although, I am also slightly insomniac with worry over whether Santa will find me given that I am in Colombia and not Yorkshire? This hostel doesn’t even have a chimney…
Nick Says: This will be my second Christmas away from home. The first time, waaaaay back in 2006, I woke on Christmas morning in the upstairs of a dive shop, of which the exact location I’m still not sure about but was somewhere on the southern tip of Victoria, Australia. Despite having to heave a wet-suit off me, that Christmas Day actually turned out to be one of my best. Me and my travel buddy had befriended an Australian girl who kindly adopted us for the holiday season and invited us to her parents for a traditional Christmas barbeque. Yep, 30 degrees will never feel festive!
But while Christmas at home is a time for family, and coming back together, Christmas on the road by its very nature puts you in unusual situations, and with people who you may not have know the day before, but now count as one of your very best friends. It’s a potent mixture of the achingly familiar and the spell-bindingly new, and that will create some brilliant memories. However, it’s also a kicker for even the hardiest of backpackers – being away from home when everyone’s tearing into their presents apart from you is tough. While the Skype call (or phone call if wifi is not your friend) can be a salve, it can also be terribly tough. I remember sitting in a sad, stunned silence on my hostel dorm bunk after speaking to my family back in 2006. This time will probably be no different.
But putting the tug of home aside, spending Christmas away is also undeniably exciting. This year we’ll be in Colombia and seeing how the locals live it up. We’ve been promised a roast with all the trimmings, and then an evening of partying to salsa and reggaeton in Cartagena, which should prove an amazing rum fuelled end to our time in this country. While seeing snow scenes in baking heat will never not be weird, spending Christmas out of the country seeing how everyone else celebrates it is an experience not to be missed.
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