Reflections on Being Abroad for the Holidays

For both Sam & I, this is the first year we’ve been abroad for Christmas. I’ve missed Thanksgiving before, but Christmas has always been spent with my family. This trip has brought up some unexpected and new reflections as I venture into the unknown of winter break travel.


To be honest, it feels a little surreal that today is Christmas. Something about being in 80 degree, sunny weather just doesn’t make it seem like Christmas. Maybe that’s the mid-western girl in me, correlating the holidays with snow and fireplaces.

Ultimately, we decided to this vacation for two main reasons:

1) To celebrate Sam’s graduation
2) Because it aligned well with time off for my job

All the other perks of traveling came along with the decision, such as reconnecting from over a year in a long distance relationship, relaxing after a busy year of big life transitions, soaking in some vitamin D, and enjoying the exploration of new cultures together.

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But as with all big decisions, there were tradeoffs. We both certainly miss the quality time with our families that comes with being away for the holidays. I have some FOMO over the annual hilariously fun white elephant exchange I’ll be missing. Sam is disappointed he wasn’t able to help more with his mom & brother’s move out to Colorado. I think we both miss the holiday spirit, snowy trees, and delicious food that comes with Christmas. We both feel a little distant, a little disconnected from our families.

At the same time, this feels like exactly where we are supposed to be — closing out a chaotic year on a high note with something a little bit different, a little bit special. Sam & I are both having an amazing vacation (numerous times a day we just look at each other and say “this is great, I’m so glad we’re here”). We are doing our best to stay present in the moments we are experiencing here, and soaking in what holiday culture is like abroad.

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Although it doesn’t feel like my idealized version of the holidays, it has been a fun learning experience to see how people in Central America celebrate a major holiday like Navidad. Christmas Eve is the big celebration night here. Last night, there was a near constant stream of fireworks and firecrackers into the wee hours of the night, with people singing, cheering and just general merriment. Hearing versions of our favorite Christmas songs in Spanish was a fun little game for Sam & I, trying to decipher odd words we didn’t know like “chestnuts” or “holly”.

One thing that has been especially uplifting though is the way that holidays unite people across all cultures. I genuinely believe that humans share a sense of togetherness regardless of your religion, culture or background. We are creatures of community, and Mexican & Belizean people spend time with their loved ones, just as we do back home. It has felt so wonderful to have people welcoming us in as visitors, inviting us to celebrate with them or cheers-ing us on the street.

This feeling of sharing is what I have always loved about the holidays, and I feel lucky and blessed to experience this abroad. To all of our loved ones and family back home, we miss you and are sending you holiday cheer from Central America. Although we wish we could celebrate with you today, we are also happy to be celebrating here with each other and our greater global community. Merry Christmas everyone!

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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