(This is a guest post by Amy Alton of Out Chasing Stars. Amy has spent the last five years sailing around the world – over 40,000 nm and 35 countries! She grew up with a boating family and now she sails with her husband, David, on their catamaran Starry Horizons. They will finish their world circumnavigation in April. You can follow the adventure at Out Chasing Stars [outchasingstars.com] and on YouTube [YouTube.Com/outchasingstars]
This year is my sixth holiday season as a full-time traveler. In 2014, my husband and I set off on our sailboat to sail around the world, which means we’re constantly on the move, and often have a loose schedule.
Holidays can be tough to fit in, and we have only flown home for the holidays once in these six years.
Despite not always being able to fly home, we’ve always enjoyed having the holiday spirit aboard our boat.
There are two approaches you can take; lean into the holiday with maximum cheer, or steer sideways to go non-traditional.
We’ve been fortunate to have family visit us over the holidays twice in the past few years. Having friends or family meet up with you over the holidays is pretty ideal – they have time off from their work, and showing someone around your current place keeps you busy.
We’ve always found that showing a loved one around our current city allows us to do and see things we may not have done otherwise.
Plus, having guests aboard our boat is always refreshing, as we get to see our lifestyle through someone else’s eyes.
Host a Friendsgiving
An American-centric holiday like Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to make new friends. If you have a kitchen, it’s a great time to cook a feast for other Americans or introduce non-Americans to Thanksgiving traditions.
I’ve always found Thanksgiving to be a fun challenge in the galley (kitchen).
While Christmas has a variety of acceptable foods to serve, it’s not really Thanksgiving without a roast bird and cranberry sauce.
In many places I’ve been around the world, traditional Thanksgiving foods, like a whole turkey, cranberry sauce, or boxed stuffing are hard to find. It’s a great excuse to get creative! Roast a whole turkey, or just your favorite cuts of meat. Make stuffing or cranberry sauce from scratch. Use steamed and mashed pumpkin instead of the traditional cans.
Keep Your Traditions Going
My husband’s family has a tradition of cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast. We’ve continued that tradition through the years. We find a Cinnabon if we can, otherwise, I bake cinnamon rolls from scratch.
My grandmother took me to see the Houston Ballet’s Nutcracker every year for over 20 years. If the local ballet puts on The Nutcracker, I’ll be there!
Adopt Local Traditions
Three of our Christmases in the past six years have been spent in the Southern Hemisphere, and the rest have been in the tropics. There are no snowmen to build or sleigh rides to take, but the locals have their own traditions to celebrate.
In Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, a local resort celebrated with a water-skiing Santa that blazed past our boat.
In the southern hemisphere, in places like Australia or South Africa, locals fire up the grill (or barbie or braai) for their communal meals. The day might be spent with the family on the beach before being topped off with pavolova (a Kiwi or Aussie dessert).
This is also a great opportunity to explore the different ways different nations celebrate Christamas. For example, you can participate in Jólabókaflóð, the Icelandic tradition of giving a book on Christmas Eve, or Día de las Velitas, the Colombian tradition of lighting candles or paper lanterns all over the house.
Many bigger cities have holiday markets or theater performances of a holiday story.
Start New Traditions
Wherever you are in the world, you can create your own (possibly unorthodox) holiday traditions. Perhaps you want to watch a Christmas movie in bed, or go on a solo hike. Maybe you’d like the channel A Christmas Story and find a Chinese restaurant for Christmas Eve, or an Irish pub to share a pint with strangers.
Shop All Year Round
It may sound counter-intuitive but consider Christmas shopping all year long. Instead of waiting to send a gift to your friends or family, send it right when you buy it, and mark it “Do Not Open Till Christmas”.
Sending a package any time of year lets the person know that you weren’t just making the rounds and shopping for everyone in the December madness. You saw something, months before Christmas, and thought of them.
Plus, you can buy special gifts during your travels and not hold on to them for months.
Decorate for the Holidays
Since we have a pretty small house (about 550 square feet of space), I don’t like to store things we will only use for a few weeks out of the year. I also don’t want to buy a lot of plastic things I’m just going to throw away at the end of the season. Instead, I buy real decorations or make my own.
Several times I’ve been able to find a small, live Christmas tree to have on our boat. At the end of the season, I give it away or compost it.
This year, I baked salt dough ornaments which are just water, salt and flour. I won’t feel bad throwing them away after the holidays have passed. Paper mache, felt, or origami ornaments are other alternatives for plastic-free small decorations.
We don’t have a lot of space on the boat, so I don’t want tchotchkes cluttering things. Instead, consider giving a consumable gift – it might be a favorite body product or treat. One of my favorite gifts to get has always been gourmet chocolates, and they do not go to waste and are fully and exhaustively appreciated by me!
Or you could gift an experience. With global companies like AirBNB or Tinggly, you can give a gift certificate that will work for an experience all over the world.
Volunteer or Donate
No matter where you are in the world, there’s always someone in need. This is a great time of year to spend some time dedicated to others. Volunteer at a local food bank or animal shelter. It’s also a great time of year to clean your tiny home Marie-Kondo-style and donate the items that you are ready to part with.
You can also gift (or drop hints to others) a unique donation opportunity that’s relevant to your travel. For example, I would love to adopt a manta ray after swimming with them several times over the last few years (hint hint).
While we often miss our friends and family that are spread out around the globe, we always enjoy having our holiday traditions to celebrate, no matter where we are.
Celebrating the holidays gives us a way to further appreciate the people and places in our present, instead of dwelling on what we may be missing out.
How has traveling changed the way you celebrate the holidays?
Love sailing? Love living small?
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van in San Francisco. She worked in radio news for 15 years before a massive layoff in 2016. Kristin has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire, SF Gate and The Bold Italic, among others.