(My last 6 Christmases abroad. – Originally posted Dec 2016 on my free WordPress site thebackpackingbubble.wordpress.com)
For the first time in 6 years I spent Christmas at home!
Can you believe it, after all the build up, all the money spent, all the excitement, Christmas day has come and gone! This was my first Christmas at home in 6 years and all week as I’ve walked to and from work, through the decorated streets, through the mass shoppers, the festive songs and the general feel that comes with Christmas it really hit me that I was home for Christmas. Normally Christmas is the only time of year I ever so slightly miss being home but this past week I’ve been thinking of my Christmases abroad. So I thought I’d let you all know how I’ve spent my last 6 Christmases.
2010 -Sydney – Australia
My first steps into my backpacking life and the first of my Christmases abroad – 23rd of December and not only was I as far away from home as I could possibly get but I had gone from being frozen in London to being the hottest I have ever felt in a space of 24 hours. I purposely chose to arrive over Christmas, I wanted to experience something new, a warmer climate to experience it on the other side of the world.
I hadn’t had the chance to acclimatize yet, I hadn’t made any real friends yet but I was buzzing, full of excitement and wonder. Arriving in Sydney over Christmas, I researched before hand how to spend it, I had booked into a party hostel (which became my home) I had booked tickets to the ‘sunburnt’ or ‘orphans Christmas’ event on the beach (an excuse for backpackers to party but it was in the pavilion and not on the beach) at the famous Bondi beach (Hey I was new an didn’t know any better, I had only seen on TV up to that point).
Summer for Christmas!
What blew me away and I wasn’t prepared for this, was just how hot it was, Christmas in 38 degrees are you kidding me? I’m from England, it never gets this hot in the few days of summer let alone for Christmas. I was used to December teasing us with snow but giving us rain, sleet and bitter winds! The heat in a way took away the Christmas feel – Don’t get me wrong, there were decorations all over Sydney, a huge Christmas tree in Martin place, Christmas songs bellowing out from every direction; everything to do with Christmas was here, there was even a sea of people in Santa hats covering the harbor for boat cruises around Sydney harbor but it just felt weird.
Apart from the whether blowing my mind, it was an amazing Christmas that blew my expectations out the water. I had always imagined and seen bits on TV of what Christmas in Australia might be like, you know images of ‘shrimps on the barby’ or BBQ’s lining the streets all the way to the beach but the reality was much better than I expected.
Christmas on bondi.
Christmas day I had a much better Christmas dinner at my new hostel, which was weird but better than I expected and hopped on the train to Bondi. I had a vision in my head a huge party on the beach, BBQ’s all over the place however it was only when I arrived that i found out the actual event was in a venue (in the pavilion just off the beach) I was slightly disappointed but off I went to the pavilion. With a few people from the Hostel I skipped from the beach to the pavilion for most of the day and early evening.
That whole day was so surreal, it didn’t matter how drunk I got. After bondi, I returned to the hostel thinking the night was over -Oh was I wrong! There was a reason this hostel had a reputation as being the biggest party hostel in the Kings Cross – the whole hostel was bouncing, every single person who was staying there at the time was there in the common area, the corridors, the reception, outside on the streets, not a single person chose to sleep that night- This was my first experience of my Christmas abroad as a backpacker and though it was so surreal I loved it.
2011 – Sydney – Australia
A year on from when I had arrived In Australia and by now Sydney was what I considered home, I knew what to expect from Christmas, I was prepared for the summer feel but it was different to the year before. I had just returned from doing my farm work to gain my second year visa, quite a few of my friends had moved out of the hostel we all lived in.
Some had moved out to Bondi, the house, which was also the resident party pad was to be home for my Christmas in 2011. A new bunch of backpackers had arrived for the Christmas lock-down in the hostel, most of them feeling just like I did the year before, so much anticipation, excitement mixed with that feeling of wonder.
The party doesn’t stop.
However for us that had seen it all the year before, we partied on Christmas eve into Christmas day, with only a few hours of sleep, we removed ourselves from the new crowd in the hostel and joined our friends at their house in Bondi. There was a problem though this year, even though my friends had put on an amazing Christmas spread I couldn’t stomach any food, infact I couldn’t face food until the 27th.
The day it self went by with a lot of drinking in the sun, half my friends scooting from the house to the party at Bondi beach (the same one I attended to the year before, I wasn’t fussed about it this year) To be fair I don’t remember too much more from that year – I do remember it was full of laughter, booze, great friends and kangaroo balls! Yes one of my friends had a bottle opener made from Kangaroo balls. The night didn’t end early, In fact it was rounded off with watching the sun rise on Bondi beach.
2012 – Sydney – Australia
I had travelled Australia and returned to Sydney for the last time. My time in Australia was coming to an end, this wasn’t just my 3rd and last Christmas in Australia but the last with the people who had become my family since I arrived. By now we had moved out of the hostel, we had our own apartment, five of my closest friends all sharing a place together, we were very much a family at this point.
Christmas in the apartment was full of drinking and lots of eating, although we didn’t have our own tree, we improvised and hung a green towel over the iron board with a red hat sitting proudly on top. We had an open door policy and many of our friends turned up on Christmas eve but unlike the last 2 years we didn’t get wasted, we only had a couple of drinks in the pub; yes, that is how it went down – maybe we matured in the time we had been here?…No of course we didn’t we just wanted to save it for Christmas day.
Where did the sun go?
I won’t forget my last Christmas day in Sydney because it rained like I was back in England; and not for just a few hours…It poured all day! Like the previous year, we spent Christmas day at our friends house in Bondi, I did eat Christmas dinner (I think) and the rest of the day was spent getting ridiculously drunk with all my friends and some strangers at ‘sunburnt’ at the Bondi Pavilion.
Unlike the first year, where I knew nobody and unlike the second year where I didn’t go, we all went and partied all night all the way through to watching a now routine sun rise on Bondi beach. This was the year along with wishing everybody a merry Christmas, I was also saying my goodbyes to the ones I wouldn’t see again. It was my saddest Christmas for sure.
2013 – Vietnam
Since I left Australia, I had lived in New Zealand, traveled through Thailand and Laos and through Vietnam fully aware that we would spend Christmas day here but had no idea what kind of day it would bring. We had got used to Christmas in Australia, now we had this new experience in front of us and we just didn’t know what to expect…As we traveled though Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi min, as well as the Vietnamese experience growing, so was the Christmas build up.
We didn’t expect the amount of Christmas trees, and festivities we encountered along the way, we didn’t expect Christmas carols sung outside shopping centers, promotional gifts handed out to locals from shop owners – Vietnam started to feel a lot like Christmas. I would go as far as saying it had a more Christmas feel here than in Sydney.
That Christmas feeling.
By the time we had reached Can Tho Christmas was in full swing, it was only a few days away. I was traveling with German who treated the 24th as Christmas day like many other Europeans do; I had spent my last Christmas in Sydney with her too so I knew what she was expecting.
We treated the day as her Christmas day, we even found the best sea food restaurant that served the tastiest grilled prawns I had up until that point. Christmas day it self we enjoyed taking in all the festivities around the town, stuffing our faces with a five course Christmas dinner and drinking in the bar watching a Christmas parade. Christmas in Vietnam was the most surprising of them all.
2014 – Gilli islands – Bali – Indonesia
What can I say about this apart from Christmas in Paradise! In 2014 I lived like a king in the Indonesian island of Bali. By the time Christmas had come around two of my closest friends I had met in Australia came out to join me and I took them over to the magical Gilli Islands. The Balinese are predominantly Hindu, so Christmas in Bali wasn’t as Christmassy or authentic as in Vietnam as it was more catered just for the tourists and expats.
Bali is of course a favorite holiday destination for Australians, and being the holiday season Bali tried it’s best to cater to the masses. The days leading up, we had spent lounging on beaches, drinking cocktails, exploring the small Island of Gilli Tirawangan.
The Gilli’s for Xmas.
Out of the three Gilli Islands Gilli T is the party island, and since we were here for Christmas we wanted to party and like everybody else on the Island that is exactly what we did for the few days we were there. On Christmas day itself, after a lot of back and forth from one menu to another; we had signed up to one of the sea front restaurants that advertised a traditional Christmas dinner.
What we got was not the worst, it wasn’t the best neither but it did the job; in saying that there is no way I could complain about it. I sat at a table which over looked a perfect blue sea, on a paradise island with two of my best friends constantly laughing the day away. By far the most relaxing Christmas I have ever had.
2015 – Bogota – Colombia
With Colombia and South America in general being quite religious, I was expecting Christmas to be just that, less of the party atmosphere, and more towards the religious aspect of Christmas but this was Colombia, and they like a good party for whatever reason. Christmas was an amazing time to be here, from the candle festival to Christmas day itself there was always something going on. Quite a few people I knew even attended Christmas mass just for the experience.
Having left Bogota to travel the rest of Colombia, I had returned for Christmas, I had some good friends there I wanted to celebrate the time with. However Christmas day didn’t quite work out the way we had planned.
It happened again.
Just like every year I went out on Christmas eve with the attention of not getting too drunk but of course I got wasted. most of Christmas day disappeared with me nursing a vile hangover in bed. By the time I had joined my friends, they had not had anything organised so of course we thought we could walk into town and find a restaurant but Bogota had turned into a ghost town.
There was not a living sole outside of their own homes, the only place that was open was a chicken shop. Christmas dinner was roast chicken sandwiches and a bottle of beer, on the rooftop of my friends tiny apartment, it was by far the least eventful and disappointing Christmas I had since I began traveling.
2016 – home – Loughborough – England
Being away for so long, I had almost forgot what being home on Christmas day would feel like but it was a welcome return. There’s not much that can beat waking up to homemade pancakes, opening presents with the family, lounging around all day, waiting for the smell of a homemade Christmas dinner hit my nostrils while while I nurse a hangover….
…Wait I didn’t have a hangover, I didn’t even go out on Christmas eve, for the first time since I 15; not even for one drink – Holy shit, am I getting old? That felt about as weird as being back home for Christmas itself.
However the day was as relaxed as they get and almost worth being home all these months. I had my pancakes, I opened my presents; a go pro camera (for my future life as professional blogger and vlogger) wireless headphones, cologne, socks of course, and a few other bits and bobs.
Having been on the road for so many years, presents have been at a minimal so this year they were all welcomed and especially as they will come in handy for my future travels. The rest of the day was spent simply eating, drinking, watching Christmas movies and eating until I just couldn’t stomach another mouthful. It was a good Christmas 😀
I have no idea where I’ll spend Christmas in 2017 and although I moan a lot about being stuck at home, next year’s Christmas will have to step up to beat this one.