31 Dec

Monday Moment: Rickshaw Traffic Jam

Delhi Traffic

Tomorrow my friends Kim, Sarah, and Hannah set off on what-sounds-like one crazy, fun, amazing, bizarre, fun, outrageous, and unbelievable journey from Jasailmer in the north of India, to Cochin in the south.

In a rickshaw!!

They will have to find their own way, drive the rickshaw themselves, and repair it if (make that when) it breaks down. Crazy, right?

I’m so jealous!!

Good luck Team Namaste Outta My Way! I can’t wait to read all about it!

What a great way to start the New Year. What are your plans to ring in 2013?

28 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Sherry From Ottsworld


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

One of the most usual sites I’ve witnessed in my travels was experiencing Christmas in Asia. I had been living in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam for 3 months when December 25th rolled around. In this country with no real religion, and no westernized consumerism (yet), Vietnam surprised me with their Christmas spirit.

Christmas in the western world seems to be more economic consumption than religion these days, so why should that be any different in Vietnam? The strange thing is that in Vietnam it seems to be about neither. There’s very little reference to anything religious about Christmas and there is really no one out shopping for gifts except for expats. So why do the Vietnamese care about Christmas? I don’t really know, but my first guess is that they like any reason to drive their motorbikes around the city and get out of their homes! I may never understand the Vietnamese fascination with Christmas, but in the meantime, here’s what I was able to observe.

Merry Merry Christmas
Vietnamese refer to Christmas as “Merry Christmas”. For example, I frequently get asked, “Teacher, what are you going to do for Merry Christmas?” I find it kind of charming; it always reminds me that it is a merry holiday. And no matter how depressed I may be about being on my own for Christmas, at least I can be doubly reminded that I should be merry.

Decking the Halls
On December 23rd I walked by a crew working at constructing yet another Christmas light display in District 1. In the US, the decorations start going up on November 1st, here they go up on December 21st! As I see the people frantically working to put their fake snowmen together and the reindeer carefully placed near the door, I wonder if they are going to all of this work to simply take it down again in a week. I’m assuming not. Why would anyone go to 2 weeks of work to set something up to simply tear it down again right away? Then again, nothing surprises me in Asia.

When you think of Christmas, you think of Heineken
In the center of HCMC near the market exists the pinnacle of all of Christmas displays; I call it the Heineken Snow Globe. No, it’s not an actual snow globe, just a large light display shaped like a dome. I pass this monument to holiday beer (oops, I mean holiday cheer), every day on my way to work. I’ve watched it go up piece by piece over the last 3 weeks. Men dangling from the scaffolding, a giant disco ball being erected, and carefully placed ‘snow drifts’. Then I finally saw it – the familiar green and white logo – a Heineken sign on the Christmas tree. There are Christmas light displays like this all over the city and many of them are sponsored by Heineken for some reason. I even saw a Christmas tree made of Heineken beer cans!

The Festive Smell of Pollution
I think that the Heineken snow globe is rather impressive…or tacky….I can’t quite decide. This probably means that I’ve been in Asia too long. However, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s impressive, the other 7, 999,999 residents of HCMC also think it’s impressive. I believe this because the viewing of the snow globe is a family affair. Instead of hopping in the minivan, the Vietnamese put their family of 4 on a motorbike and take off to go view the holiday lights in District 1. There are lights hanging everywhere in the main part of the city. Displays of elves, reindeer, snowmen, Santa, and even a Winnie the Poo Santa litter the sidewalks. I supposed these lavish displays are in the same vein as window displays in NYC, but no one has a store front that big to put their Holiday light extravaganza in so it spills out into the streets; like most of life in HCMC.

The traffic is unbelievable. I’ve never seen such a massive sea of motorbikes. They just slowly circle around and around looking at the light displays. I walked through the heart of Heineken Christmas Village to capture the absolute chaos and culture of this holiday. After an hour of walking around taking pictures of the traffic, families, kids dressed in Santa suits, and the street vendors; I realized that I couldn’t take it any longer. The pollution from the motorbikes was literally going to kill me.

Eat Papa, Eat!
At the snow globe, there weren’t only lights strung from all of the trees, and vendors selling little Santa, lollipops, and devil horns (not sure that those have to do with Christmas…but it is an interesting take on it!), but there was also St. Nick himself. Actually, there were about seven St. Nicks. They were all dressed up in their Santa outfits, shaking the kids hands and taking pictures with them. Of course in true Asian style there was no queue, that would be silly; there were just masses of people pushing and shoving to get to jolly old St. Nick.

My ChristmAsia was eye opening, just as every day is living in HCMC. Merry Merry Christmas to all, and let the lights and Heineken shine on!

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Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go!, a website and national event offering career break or sabbatical travel inspiration and advice. She also runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat experiences at Ottsworld .

27 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Leigh From Hike Bike Travel


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

The buffet table looked exactly as you would expect it to look in North America – turkey, stuffing, vegetables, gravy and even festive lights. But appearances can be deceiving. The inky black of the night, the sound of scuttling bugs, and unfamiliar noises emanating from the depths of the jungle lay to rest any thoughts we had that we were near civilization…of any sort.

Christmas Eve Dinner

Our family of four had flown with friends deep into the Amazon jungle a few days before Christmas. A two hour motorized boat ride on the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon, followed by a 1½ hour paddle in a dugout canoe finally put us on the doorstep of the Napo Wildlife Center.

Paddling Up The Napo River Tributary

Napo Wildlife Center

Considering our location the lodge was amazing.

And so were the experiences we were to have over the next few days.

Christmas Eve in particular was fun but it certainly wasn’t the highlight of our trip. Looking back what stands out most to John and I were the insects. John addressed the grasshopper in our room by the term SIR – as it was the size of an Austin Mini and the sound wave from its chirp caused one to jump. And on one hike at dusk our guide found a beetle the natives covet – as its eyes are like giant LED’s and literally act as flashlights.

It wasn’t just the insects either. My friend Jo observed while eating breakfast in the outdoor dining hall that her white china plate was moving…only it turned out to be the world’s smallest centipede or millipede or whatever…and not a fine crack in the plate. Later that day on a FIVE hour hike in the jungle she saw his larger six inch cousin in the tree.

Giant Trees

On another day Jo and my daughter Kristen were sitting by the caiman-filled lagoon enjoying the afternoon sun. Jo took the opportunity to clip her nails and being cognizant of not leaving a footprint so to speak she piled her clippings into a nice neat pile…to which the leaf-cutter ants quickly stole one by one. Nothing goes to waste in the jungle.

Looking Above The Trees In The Jungle

I think we all came away feeling lucky to have experienced the Amazon once and it was certainly the most unforgettable Christmas we had …but none of us are in any rush to return. It’s a very hostile environment but the most biodiverse one in the world. Yasuni National Park has over 900 species of trees in a single five acre plot. No one could ever count the number and kinds of insects. In our bedroom and bathroom alone I saw dozens of species I’d never laid eyes on before.

The “look before you touch” rule applies in the jungle. If you’re out walking it’s worth looking up for constrictors, six inch spiders and gigantic lizards. Look straight ahead and sideways for anaconda and centipedes of all sizes and ants that kill you. Don’t freak out if there is a rodent the size of a small dog in the shower or a massive toad on the path to the dining hall. And make it a habit to tip over and shake your rubber boots before putting them on.

My daughter Kristen had this to say – the jungle was heavily infested with mosquitoes resulting in a zillion bites for me. I did see the most exotic looking spider ever, enjoyed the monkeys climbing on me even though they tried to steal from my backpack.

Would you like to venture into the jungle?

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Leigh, a travel blogger based in Calgary can be found at HikeBikeTravel where she aims to inspire you to get outdoors. You can also find her on Twitteror Facebook.   Her next big project is a book – 100 Quintessential Canadian Outdoor Adventures.

 

26 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Dustin From Skinny Backpacker


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

I’m not much of a person for celebrations, and I’m not religious, so the idea of spending the holiday season away from the typical western “Christmas” was one I was really looking forward to before I started traveling.  The idea that we would all spend all of this time and money to buy things for people just because you had to never really seemed right with me.  The feeling had only gotten stronger over time.  This is what xmas was to me, but finally I think I’ve found out what it really means.

When I left Canada to start traveling a little over 3 years ago, things were bound to be different, and they were.  Because of my travel lifestyle, the last 4 years have seen me experiencing xmas on four different continents, and with different people each time.  I wrote about the experience last year in the aptly titled “4 Xmas – 4 Continents

In 2008, it was back in Canada, with my Mom and family.  Think cold, snow, and an xmas tree, almost the stereotype you saw when you grew up watching cartoons and movies set in the season.  In 2009, it was hiking mountain ridges with a pair of friends I had been traveling with for a month in New Zealand.  There was some snow up on the mountain, and we even threw a couple of snowballs even though it was summer in the southern hemisphere.  In 2010, it was in the far south of Argentina, hiking with my Dad, and in 2011, it was in Chiang Mai, Thailand sharing the day with a girlfriend.

This year, I find myself back in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and with 10 days before xmas, no solid plans for what to do or where to spend it.  You see, it could be about spending the time on a new continent, a way to keep the streak alive for the predictable and easy “5 Xmas – 5 Continents” post.  It could also be about spending it in another national park, as the last three have been experienced like that.  It could even be about spending it in another country, as yet another checkbox in the never-ending column of “things I’ve done.”

What makes things different this year is that I don’t have a good friend or family member close by to share it with.  Whether you are into the religion or not, the holiday season is really about spending time with your loved ones.  Maybe it’s just taken me this long to realize it.  One of the trickier aspects of travel, and one that has creeped up on me this year.

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Travelling around the world for the past 3 years, Dustin has stepped foot on every continent, photographing the journey along the way.  He shares his images and stories from his adventures on the aptly titled “Skinny Backpacker” when he’s not devouring and critiquing ice cream.

When not directly feeding his insatiable travel / ice cream habits, you can probably find him writing about the technology of travel to help you get more from your experience over at Too Many Adapters.

25 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Merry Christmas From Me


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

Christmas Dinner at Koh Pha-Ngan

Christmas Dinner In Thailand

Although neither Jason nor I live in our hometowns any more and we often don’t get ‘home’ for Christmas every year, the year we were travelling was the first year that we also weren’t in our home country for Christmas.

We were in Thailand; just about as far away from the North Pole you can get. And I loved it.

No freezing temperatures, no snow, no Jingle Bells in the middle of November, no harried shopping in overstuffed malls. Just some simple lights and braided palm fronds as decorations, barbecued seafood for dinner, and the hotel staff wearing Santa hats with huge smiles on their faces reminding me that Christmas is about relaxing and having fun no matter where in the world you are.

A Christmas distilled down to its essential elements; love, peace, and joy.

That is what I wish for each of you this Christmas Day. The company of those who you love most, the knowledge that if you can’t be with them that they miss you as much as you miss them, and the simple joys of the season.

Merry Christmas!

24 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Hannah and Chris From LovePlayWork


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

As the UK evenings draw in and the drizzle sets in for the long-haul we pack up our office and head for the sun, spending a big chunk of every winter overseas. Of course this also means we miss out on the typical definition of Christmas.
Work by the pool

Tropical Christmases- The Good, The Bad and The Sickly

Christmas overseas can be idyllic; we’ve hired a private long tail boat for a day of snorkelling round the reefs and playing cards in the sand on a tiny island in Thailand and finished the evening off with a delicious curry in a garden restaurant. We’ve played lengthy scrabble tournaments and sipped cocktails in the shade of a cabana in a luxury hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Christmas in ThailandThere have also been some disasters, like being struck with a debilitating stomach bug in Guatemala which meant on the day we were too weak to do much more than feel sorry for ourselves, try to rehydrate and feebly barbeque a corn on the cob to share. Or feeling homesick on a dismal rainy Christmas day a few miles up the coast from Sydney.

Incongruous Christmas

This is the second in three years that we have spent Christmas in Australia, and as much as I adore body swerving all that tedious shopping and sparing my brain the advertising propaganda which begins as summer ends, Christmas down-under doesn’t really feel quite right to a European gal.

It seems funny that Christmas traditions are still so dominated by the northern hemisphere definition. In 40 degree heat revellers are still sweating into woolly Santa hats; flashing north pole reindeers scale palm fringed roofs; Christmas cards depict bitterly cold landscapes for which the only possible reference point is if you linger too long in the beer fridge. What’s the point of having a blow up frosty the snowman on your lawn when it is in mortal danger from sparks from the barbeque?Building Your Own Traditions

We’ve found the eerie email silence for the last 2 weeks of December perfect for cracking on with a new project or making progress on a long neglected idea. Old habits do die hard so we have been known to put on our Santa hats and play festive jingles on You-Tube for a couple of hours on Christmas morning. We have developed a couple of our own traditions- the Christmas Eve lobster is a firm favourite, and we are making progress on the festive barbeque.

Finding People To Celebrate With

This year we are going to make more effort to get involved locally. We’ve already been invited to the neighbourhood Christmas Eve get-together and are going to a Travel Massive meetup Christmas party in Brisbane. Presents still won’t make much of an appearance (it certainly curtails rampant consumerism when you have to fit all those gifts into your rucksack!) but thoughtful treats still count (when we can get some time away from one another to arrange them!)

Two Big Bonuses of Christmas Overseas

Apart from the intrinsic joy of travelling and finding new homes and friends all across the globe, there are a couple of other benefits of being away at Christmas. Firstly, the slump come January 2nd is not nearly so painful; there are no January blues when the sun is shining and the waves are beckoning. Australia Beach

The other is an advantage we experienced ourselves last year. When you have been away from your family and traditional celebrations for several years, when you go back you find its magic all over again.


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Hannah and Chris run their e-commerce, coaching and consultancy businesses from their laptops from all over the world and can help you learn how to do the same at www.loveplaywork.com
They also have an exclusive offer for One Giant Step readers; click here for your free ‘Guide to Flexible Working and Holidaying for Free’ 

23 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Andy From Grounded Traveler


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

Holidays can be quite difficult as an expat. For family based holidays like Thanksgiving and especially Christmas the distance can be a big factor. Family and friends back home are far away. Local friends often go off to their own families. This can lead to a bit more isolation than normal. Sometimes holidays aren’t even celebrated in your host country. Even if they are, the customs and such surrounding them can be very different. None of this is necessarily bad, but at times when you crave some sort of comforting normalcy extra differences are not what you are looking for. Despite which holidays in a new country can be a good way to connect with the culture.

Family, Friends and Isolation

Christmas is one of those holidays that is often rooted in family. Families come together and kids have off school. As an expat in Germany I am learning that my friends are part of my new family. Although my local German friends often have their own families and traditions to go back to in other cities, I have definitely spent some good Christmas days with other expats.

Being an expat often gives you something in common with other expats. We all understand that being an expat away from family is a struggle sometimes. This understanding means you can help each other through these times. Inviting others for holidays and doing stuff together.

My family is small and spread out. I love them, but I am not really a big family sort of person. Too many people all at once overwhelms me. So at some level it is nice here to have the time off to be quiet and reflect on the year and regain energy in the middle of the dark German winter. It can be a good experience if you go into it with that idea.

A Time to Travel…

If you really don’t want to be alone in your expat town and don’t have a family to spend time with, head out. A few years ago I had just bought an apartment in Germany and the sense of settling down was a bit overwhelming. So I booked a trip to London and Scotland for Christmas and New Years. I had planned to spend Christmas in a hostel, but was invited to spend it with a childhood friend of mine who happened to have resettled in London. It was a neat experience to spend time with others.

Customs : Dealing with a German Christmas

Germans definitely celebrate Christmas. They are serious about it too. The season begins in late November with the Christmas markets which last through December. December 6 is St Nicolas Day when children get a small gift from the familiar red coated figure. Christmas gifts are usually opened on the 24th and yet there are days of Christmas. Both the 25th and 26 (and half the 24th) are official holidays, at least here in Baden. Oh and even then it isn’t over, January 6 is Three Kings day and also off. It is a nice bracketing of the season to ease back into the new year with a holiday so soon after new years.

All of this sounds really similar to the US. And while that is true, there are enough differences to highlight that I am somewhere else. I really like the Christmas Markets as a place to go hang out and stroll through the bright lights on a cold snowy evening with friends. St. Nicolas day is neat, especially the chocolate on my desk at work, but I don’t have the childhood nostalgia to help me get into it any more than that. Though to look at the kids at the office rendition of Nickolaus’s coming, they most certainly will.

Stores and Gifts

Yes, the stores are still a madness. Sales abound and shoppers are insane. The multi-story drug store in town has little Santa’s climbing up the outside. So from many outward appearances, it is just as materialistic and buy-heavy as the US. Though as an expat I feel it a lot less.

I don’t watch broadcast TV or listen to the radio. Given the foreign language, it just isn’t as relaxing as in the US. Since starting a blog and getting into the travel blogging community online, I have gotten even less into stuff. The idea of spending extra money on something other than travel is hard. Getting married hasn’t changed this as Ali feels the same way, perhaps even stronger than I do in some respects.

So what is it really like?

In so many ways, it is not much different than living away from family in the US. Trade packed parking lots for packed public transport and add more public drinking. The decorations are up everywhere, though thankfully in late November instead of late(or even mid) October. I have even heard the standard English Christmas songs being played in stores. The grocery stores are filled with cookies and chocolates.

And yet when you look close, the details are not what the mind might expect. The cookies are different shapes and flavors than home. Occasionally a German carol comes on to remind you where you are. Even going back to the US in June was overwhelming. I don’t know how well I could manage at Christmas time with the insanity. The German sense of order helps keep the chaos in check in its own way. Expat life for me is being ever between two cultures and two places. I just feel this more at holiday time. The wonderment of being in a different place as well as the pull to the familiar at home.

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Andrew is a 5 year American expat in Germany. He works on juggling way too many projects including several blogs (Grounded Traveler and Ctrl-Alt-Travel), a day job as a web developer, one finished book on learning web technology and is starting a novel as well. This all keeps him busy between trips to the far ends of the earth with his wife, Ali.

22 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Erica From Over Yonderlust


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

Christmas is a bit different in Colombia.

Gingerbread men, glass ornaments, tinsel, soft light, hot cocoa or egg nog, and Bing Crosby softly crooning from your living room – THIS is what I think about when I think of a traditional Christmas back home with my family.

You can imagine my surprise and delight when things went a bit differently when we celebrated with our Couchsurfing friends in Medellin, Colombia.

Let me get one thing straight. These guys don’t celebrate reverently… they party and celebrate like its 1999/the end of the world/New Years Eve. Prepare yourself. A Christmas in Colombia is not for the faint hearted.

A few things to look forward to:

Chivas: Imagine a hollowed out Bluebird school bus painted in crazy colors, decked out with strobe lights, a stripper pole, and a sound system that can vibrate your head right off your body. Got it? Now pack 40-60 young, attractive Colombians into the bus in a drunken haze and speed off into the night to look at Christmas lights. Paired with foam spraying everywhere and boxes of Aguardiente and Medellin Rum and you have one heck of a mobile Christmas party.

Christmas LightsProbably some of the most impressive lights I have ever seen, Medellin puts up an impressive display of lights that easily goes for a mile. Each year is a bit different with them selling the leftovers to foreign countries to fund the next season’s light display.

Christmas Eve Parties: Normally the most quiet of the evenings for my family, this is when the entire neighborhood gets together for a block party outside. Massive amounts of beer and booze kick off the night as you are dancing into the morning light while kids are running around everywhere trying to find the hidden presents that Baby Jesus left them. This is a wild and crazy night.

Lanterns: Sure they are technically illegal but that doesn’t stop Colombians from participating in an age old tradition. We got to make 5 6 footers and 1 15 foot tall lantern to launch into the night.

Christmas Day:  A rather toned down experience, all the parents nurse their hangovers with their family members over a bowl of homemade sancocho (a hearty stew of yuca, corn, chicken and secret ingredients from family recipes).

Think you can handle it? This was by far my favorite holiday experience abroad and if you think you can make it through the holiday celebrations, we implore you to check it out. There is nothing more heartwarming and amazing than the Colombian people and their traditions.

Good luck!

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Erica is half of the team at Over Yonderlust.Join this tattooed adventure travel couple across the world as they photograph their adventures! You can find them on Facebook and Twitter providing daily content.

 

21 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Kim From So Many Places


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

It’s the middle of December and we are in Buenos Aires. It is incredibly hot and the sun beats down on the city relentlessly. My northern-hemisphere brain can’t believe that Christmas is in two weeks. It feels like the dog-days of July.

In Buenos Aires you have to work hard to spot a Christmas tree. There aren’t holiday decorations scattered about, no lights strung on houses, no ice skating rinks or hot chocolate peddling or even storefront Christmas displays. Christmas carols aren’t blasting from anybody’s speakers. Christmas does happen here, but it certainly isn’t the over-the-top-beat-you-about-the-head show of consumerism that it is back in the U.S.

Because I love all things Christmas, this makes me incredibly sad.

My husband and I have been traveling for seven months now. It’s been seven months since we’ve seen our families, our dogs, and our friends. We’re homesick, plain and simple. We wish more than anything that we could be home for Christmas. We really feel like we need it this year.

But a Christmas at home is not in the cards for us. Instead, we are headed to India. Yes, chaotic, populated, beautiful India is our next stop and I plan to drive a motorized rickshaw down the whole continent, but that’s another story. If Buenos Aires is to Christmas what m&ms are to world-class chocolate than India is to Christmas what Andy Kaufman is to a 15th-century monastery (and now I’ve just confirmed that I will never write problems for standardized tests).

In other words, if there is any place less-Christmasy than Buenos Aires it is most definitely India.

But here is how the stars aligned to make our Christmas special.

Our flight to India was to leave Rio de Janeiro on Christmas Eve. We’d fly to Frankfurt, endure a 9-hour layover on Christmas Day, and then head on to India.

But a few weeks ago we received an email from the airline. Our flight to Germany had been cancelled and rescheduled two days earlier than our original flight. Would we accept this change? Suddenly we were facing two days of cold and snow and Christmas markets in Germany. HELL YES!

Then I got an email from our friend Ali who lives in Freiburg. Would we like to catch a train from Frankfurt out to their place to spend the holidays with them? Now we would have a cold, snowy, Christmas-market-y Christmas filled with warm food and wine and friends. DOUBLE HELL YES!

So this is how we have come to spend our first Christmas abroad in Germany. It isn’t home, but it’s a pretty good alternative, and it will most definitely be a memorable Christmas.

We may even write home about it.

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In May 2012, Kim and her husband sold their stuff, left their jobs, and set out on a trip around the world. Kim tells the stories from their travels on her blog: www.so-many-places.com.

Follow along:

Website: www.so-many-places.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SoManyPlacesTravelBlog

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RTWsomanyplaces

20 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Tom From Active Backpacker


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

In three years, Trudy and I will have three completely different Christmas experiences. Let me elaborate.

The First Christmas

Christmas? That’s in summer, right?

Well, that’s what I’m used to anyway.

Christmas in Australia is normally HOT. It means sun, sand and a barbecue. Since living in Europe, I’ve come to realise this is not quite normal, and dare I say it, even a bit weird!

We still have Santa Claus (and he dresses the same), there are still Christmas Trees, snow decorations and light shows – it’s just not cold and we spend the day outside. Oh, and don’t forget the smorgasbord of seafood, tasty (cold) salads and fresh white bread rolls. There’s normally cool beverages with sausages and onions having a sizzle on a nearby BBQ.

For example, these were taken on Christmas day back in Australia. We were at the beach, of course.

Christmas Kites

As a kid you tend to around half naked with your new toys. A cricket game with the neighbours is a common plan for the afternoon. By the evening everyone is exhausted from overeating combined with a mild case of heatstroke.

What’s weird is this hybrid of “Christmas” that Australia has come up with. We’re proud of our summer Christmas but at the same time we try to convince ourselves we’re in sub-zero temperatures. We play Christmas songs themed around winter and snow and being warm inside. Our Santa still sweats it out in those hot looking red pants, a heavy jacket and a huge hat (poor guy).

The Second Christmas

Last Christmas we happened to be with my family in The Netherlands. Christmas in Holland really begins about 3 weeks before the 5th of December when Sinterklaas arrives from Spain (yes, you heard that correctly). He shows up with his helpers known as Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) and begins to travel the country.

On the night of the 5th of December, if you’ve been nice (and not naughty) Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piets will distribute the presents. If you’ve been naughty, you run the risk that Zwarte Piet will put you in his sack and whisk you back to Spain (sounds good to me).

Sinterklaas Arriving

Trudy and Zwarte Piet

Christmas time in The Netherlands means Pepernoten (soft aniseed flavoured treats) and Kruidnoten (cinnamon flavoured biscuits), chocolate letters (weirdly common) and a warm evening family meal of some kind, either traditionally Dutch or not.

The Third Christmas

This year we are going to celebrate Christmas in Canada. I hear it’s going to be cold there. Like -20 degrees celsius cold. Umm, that’s not cold that’s REALLY cold. It’s almost guaranteed snow though, and that’s what Christmas is all about (sometimes in Australia we put out “fake” snow, that’s almost as good, right?).

To me, that’s exciting. It’s like what Christmas is supposed to be with a Turkey and roasted vegetables, warmth emanating through the house (maybe I’m asking too much, but perhaps a crackling fire too?) and good conversation. We happen to be celebrating it with my girlfriend’s mother and her new Canadian husband. The best part is, the family all speak French! That will certainly be a fresh Christmas experience for us!

It’s certainly fun to be travelling and in new places to try out how other people “do” Christmas. So wherever you may be, I wish you a merry Christmas and a fantastic start to the New Year!

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Tom and Trudy of Active Backpacker love backpacking through Europe and Asia. Having lived and travelled in Europe, they feel comfortable offering tips, guides and advice about that area especially. Please follow along on Facebook and Twitter: @activebackpackr for more stories & adventures.

 

19 Dec

A Travellers Christmas: Ali From Travel Made Simple


Some travellers love Christmas
 and lament that they can’t be home. Others enjoy the escape from the consumerism and endless carolling (put me in that camp!) and some look for the quirky that happens when other cultures interpret Christmas in their own land. I asked some traveller friends to share how they see and spend Christmas on the road; it’s like a peek into Christmas Around The World.

You can see all the ‘A Travellers Christmas’ posts here.

For the past 10 years, Christmas with my parents hasn’t really been what most would call traditional. My brother and the rest of our relatives don’t live nearby, so we didn’t have the huge gathering and big dinners. Instead my parents and I went down to Ft. Lauderdale, borrowed my uncle’s beach house, and sat in the back watching boats sail up and down the intercoastal waterway. We read books, relaxed in the warm weather, and waited for 5PM to roll around so we could make ourselves some drinks.

Florida Christmas

The first Christmas my husband and I spent together was while we were traveling in New Zealand. A few months after our wedding, I left for a round the world trip, I dream I had for years. Unfortunately Andy couldn’t join me, but we did plan two weeks together in New Zealand at Christmas and New Year’s. I’ll always remember that particular Christmas for two reasons: a lack of alcohol and earthquakes in Christchurch.

Searching for Drinks

On Christmas Eve, we checked into our hostel for a couple of nights, and the guy at the front desk told us they were hosting a Christmas barbeque at the lake the next evening. With no other plans for our Christmas feast, we decided to be social and join them. What the hostel staff failed to mention was that stores can’t sell alcohol on Christmas Day. Not that we needed to get drunk, but a few drinks to celebrate would’ve been nice.

We later found out most bars and restaurants were closed as well on Christmas Day, and the one pizza place that was open had its own challenges. They sold us a couple drinks along with some fries, but when we went for a third round, we were denied. It turns out there’s some strange rule that says you have to have a full meal in order to be served alcohol. I can only assume this is specific to Christmas. So after two drinks we probably should not have been served, we were cut off and instead wandered back to the lake to watch the sunset.

Queenstown Christmas sunset

Changing Plans

On Christmas morning, we woke up to news of strong earthquakes in Christchurch. Our original plan had us arriving in Christchurch on New Year’s Eve by way of a scenic train that Andy was really looking forward to. Deciding that visiting Christchurch in the midst of more earthquakes was probably not wise, we set about rearranging flights, bus transfers, and hostels.

This was when we really saw how well we can work together, plan things out and problem solve. We looked at our options and discussed were we might go instead. After working out the details, we split up tasks and got to work. What we ended up with was Dunedin instead of Christchurch, and cutting out the scenic train and a visit to the glaciers. But we also ended up with a little more confidence in our ability to work together.

View of Queenstown

Before getting married, our relationship was long distance, with Andy living as an expat in Germany and me living in Atlanta, so we were apart for the first Christmas we actually knew each other. We both love to travel, but before this trip to New Zealand we hadn’t taken many trips together that didn’t involve family or other friends. This was the first time we were traveling alone together for more than three days, a chance to see how we each really deal with being on the road.

Spending the holiday in Queenstown meant almost no alcohol, as opposed to easy access to our own stash of drinks at the house in Florida. It also meant making decisions and doing some major planning for the rest of our trip. The biggest decision my parents and I ever had to deal with in Florida was choosing a restaurant for dinner. But it was definitely an important Christmas for me and Andy, not only because it was our first together, but because it was the first major trip we took together.

I’m not sure Christmas will ever be a traditional sort of thing for us. But we’ll just keep making our own traditions and traveling along the way.

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Ali Garland encourages people to travel, shows them how to plan trips, and helps them overcome their travel-related fears on her site Travel Made Simple. She has been traveling for almost 20 years and made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She and her husband are expats in Germany. You can also follow her on Facebook, and Twitter. Ali writes about her personal travels at Ali’s Adventures.