In the past 4 years, we have spent 4 Christmases in 4 different countries.
How did we manage to make it happen in a foreign country?
Did it still feel like a magical Christmas for our kids?
Did they like it as much?
We have been traveling for over 3 years now. This will be our 4th Christmas on the road. However, the winter before leaving for our world travels we decided to do a little trial trip to Belize. So technically we spent 5 Christmases in foreign countries. But how do we make this time of the year magical for us anywhere we go? Where exactly did we spend each Christmas?
First of all, I need to explain more about why Christmas is so special to me.
There are no holidays I enjoy as much as Christmas. It isn’t about the presents but more about that sense of togetherness that you feel in those days. That preparation for that big night when Santa will come. But also the excitement because you will have a chance, hopefully, to spend time with who you love.
Unfotunatly, growing up I did come to realize that Christmas is also very commercialized, but to tell you the truth I still believe in the magic of this holiday, which goes way beyond the gifts.
Once Mass and I had kids, I made it my goal to infuse their childhood with this Christmas magic as much as I could. I wanted them to feel excited about spending time together and making things together. I wanted them to simply be thrilled to be together as a family.
Every year we would start decorating the tree and the house on Thanksgiving morning. We were not the ones cooking for that holiday so why not take advantage of the time we had to get the house ready? In the US it is so easy to make it magical, you can buy so much stuff! A bigger tree, amazing lights, beautiful Christmas decor. The house becomes a big Christmas decoration. After all when you walk into a shop it is like going into a winter wonderland, so it is easy to transform your house as well! Was it real? Did I ever think that it might have been too much? Yes, at times I was afraid that we could all lose ourselves in this commercialization of Christmas. But I was doing my best to keep the magic alive for my kids!
Once we decided to sell our home to travel, Christmas became my biggest concern. How was I going to create that magical atmsophere if we were in a hotel with no decorations and no tree? How was I going to make them feel the coziness of our home during the holidays although we were not going to have one? How was I going to cook Christmas Eve dinner? What toys could I get them that would not take too much space in the suitcase?
I know it might sound like a silly and tiny problem. But when you are making a life-changing step like that, this problem becomes one of the fears you have about giving up your previous lifestyle. So it was inevitable for me to not keep all this into consideration.
Christmas in Belize
Since this was going to be our last Christmas in the US, the Italian grandparents joined us a few weeks earlier. We spent this time doing lots of things together in preparation for Christmas. However, a few months before their decision to come to see us in the US, we had decided to go somewhere for Christmas. Belize was on our bucket list and flights were really cheap if we left on Christmas morning. We thought, why not? It was going to be a great way to start testing out our new lifestyle. We were going to do all our celebrations the night before, and maybe Santa would be so kind to stop by the day before too! We had it all figured out!
The whole trip was an incredible. Our kids love traveling early in the morning. They love early rises because it feels more like an adventure. So here we were heading to the airport at 5 am on Christmas morninh. After a stopover in Miami, we were on our flight to Belize. We landed in a rainy and humid Belize City. The car I had booked for our time there wasn’t available. Apparently, they had rented it to someone else. Not a great start! However, they had a shiny red truck available. I think this was Santa’s Christmas present for Mass. In fact, he did everything he could to convince me that it was a great option. I was torn since we were in the rainy season and our stuff was going to be sitting outside, but how could I say no to his excitement? Plus they would give us bags to cover everything up!
As soon as we arrived in Belize we felt surrounded by kindness right from the start! As we entered our first hotel, they all welcomed 5 very tired travelers with open arms! I wrote a whole post about our time in San Ignacio in case you would like to go: Our adventures in San Ignacio, Belize. Let’s get back to Christmas though. We went to our room which was very basic but our kids loved the fact that we could climb up and see into the bathroom from the bedroom. It is hard to explain in words and unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of that. Just imagine 3 little monkeys climbing the wall and doing it for hours! It was humid outside so later on, we all went swimming. There were no real Christmas decorations in the room, just in the restaurant. But the people were so wonderful, the meal was lovely, that no one was desperate. Plus we were all extremely excited about the new adventure.
We spent two weeks exploring Belize and also crossed over to Guatemala for a night. It was a great test trip for our world travels! Once we returned home we were even more excited about the imminent departure!
Lesson from this “half” Christmas on the road? After all, it isn’t about the decorations and the toys but more about the people you have around you, that is what makes it magical: human kindness. So although we did still have a home and we had spent weeks leading to this holiday enjoying all kinds of Christmas celebrations, we still truly appreciated the simplicity of this moment. This Christmas on the road was a success!!!
Christmas in India
6 months into our travels our favorite holiday was approaching and I was not prepared for it! We were so busy exploring the time went by so fast!
Let me start from the beginning. Before leaving for our world travels, Emma asked how we were going to celebrate Christmas and if we were going to have a tree. That is when I came up with an idea! Why not buy a keychain in each country we visited so we could then add them to our tree? At the time I didn’t worry about the tree I was sure we could find them anywhere…when you live in one place you give for granted you will find all the same stuff everywhere else!
Fast-forward to the beginning of December when we were touring the north of India. Mass and I started thinking about Christmas.
Usually, in the US you start seeing Christmas decor in the stores around October. Here in India, we didn’t see anything anywhere. I went into panic mode. I had promised a great Christmas to my kids. But there was nothing to make it happen, other than the keychains from the few countries we had visited up to that point, but no tree to put them on!
I felt that this was going to be a particularly important Christmas because I had to show the kids that we could feel the magic anywhere we were. How were we going to make it happen?
As we were walking around Delhi, we went into a craft shop to buy some colors and I found some colored paper. This gave me an idea! I thought, if we didn’t have any decor, we could still make our very personalized one. It would be our new family tradition. Every day we would write on one paper one of the following things: something we loved about the year, something we were looking forward to the next year, something we learned from this year, something we are grateful for. We were going to write one each on the 12 days before Christmas. Then we would connect them together like a chain and read them on Christmas day.
We decided to book a very nice hotel in Mumbai for Christmas. We had been on the move nonstop and needed a break. I emailed asking if they had a little tree I could use for the Christmas tree. They replied suggesting I order anything I needed on Amazon India (the new Santa!) and have it delivered there, so I would find everything once I arrived! That was brilliant! Christmas was saved!
We arrived at our hotel on the 24th of December and immediately started decorating our little apartment. The kids were so excited about the tiny tree. To be honest, when I ordered it I didn’t realize it was going to be so tiny, but it was perfect since we still didn’t have many keychains. We had a lovely dinner at the hotel. The whole staff was very sweet with our kids. That night they went to bed happy and thrilled to see how Santa was going to get into our hotel room.
Cosimo and Emma woke up early the next day to record this very short video. When I saw it I knew that we had been successful in making the Christmas magic happen also in a country that doesn’t celebrate it as much.
Lesson from this first Christmas on the road? We make the magic, so as long as we are together it will be magical!
If you want to read more about this specific Christmas I wrote a post about it just a few days later: Christmas Spirit traveled around the world with us!
Christmas in the Philippines
After our first year, Mass and I felt confident that we could manage to make it perfect everywhere we went! Little did we know what lay ahead of us for our Philippines Christmas!
We decided to spend the holidays on an island. The plan was to book a house and take it slow for a week, so we could really soak in the Christmas spirit. When we arrived in the Philippines at the end of November we realized the Christmas was much more part of their lives compared to India. In Manila, everything was already decorated at the end of November! This gave us the chance to get all our gifts right before catching our plane to Puerta Princesa. We felt so proud of ourselves for being on top of this whole Christmas celebration! Little did we know what big surprise was in store for us.
We had booked the house on Airbnb. When we saw the photos it looked really nice and it came with a Christmas tree! It was perfect! It also had an oven, which you don’t find much in houses in the Philippines, so we were already planning a lot of Christmas baking! As we approached the house, we realized it was a bit more out of town than we thought. It was in a community with plenty more homes, however we would probably need to rent a car in order to get around. That seemed to be the only issue. Then we walked in.
The house did not look anything like the photos. There was extra big bulky furniture in the living room that should not have been there. The kitchen wasn’t at all like the one depicted in the photos. Worst of all there was no oven but just a gas top. Upstairs the rooms were messy and the bathroom looked like someone had just used it. The house had not even been cleaned! My Christmas magic dreams were completely shattered in a matter of minutes. I just wanted to cry. Mass and I looked at each other. We knew we could not stay there. But where would we find a decent place just 2 days before Christmas? I could not believe I had put everyone in this situation! I was devastated.
I took a deep breath, pulled out my computer, and started searching while contacting Airbnb to get my money back. There was no way we were staying here! The wifi wasn’t working in the apartment either! Luckily there was a fancy hotel one hour away that was happy to squeeze us in, especially after hearing my sob story on the phone! We jumped in the taxi, which luckily had waited to leave, and drove one hour up the island.
For this Christmas we did not have a tree, we used the structure around our beds to attach all our keychains. We made a big paper chain and put it all around the room. The staff was so kind to give us a plant to use for tree to put our gifts under.
It wasn’t the Christmas we had originally planned, but it was perfect anyway! It was different, but again we were lucky to find kind people who were willing to help to make it happen
Lesson from this Christmas on the road? Be flexible, embrace the moment and you will find a way of making everything work out perfectly.
Christmas in Croatia
Since we left the US Cosimo has been asking for a white Christmas. But for the first 2 years, we went to very warm places. So the original plan for 2020 was to spend the holidays in Bansko, Bulgaria. There was a Worldshooling meet-up planned. We thought it would be nice to be surrounded by other like-minded families and enjoy a white Christmas at the same time.
Unfortunately, Covid had other plans. As we were making our way along the coast, the first border closures started. We didn’t just want to drive from point A to point B but explore a bit too along the way. Since we were still in Croatia and we were enjoying some normality here, we decided to prolong our stay to avoid any lockdowns or difficult situations during the holiday season. Through this world pandemic, we have still tried to surround our kids with as much normality as possible in the last 2 years.
The next plan was to book a house. This time we were going to do it very carefully, after the previous year’s surprise! We decided to stay on Krk Island. Why? Compared to the many lovely islands in Croatia this one has a bridge that connects it to land, so it is almost impossible to get stuck there. Unless there are extremely strong winds. We like the island atmosphere but don’t want to be blocked on one for an extended period of time!
We were successful with the house! The owners lived close by and were extremely friendly, they also brought us some traditional sweets. The house came with a Christmas tree and there was so much space! It was perfect!
We took this time here to relax, enjoy each other and take a deep breath. This Christmas was probably the closest to the ones we did before traveling.
The best part of this Christmas was that also our hopes for making new connections happened anyway. In fact, a french family that was traveling around Europe saw our campervan parked in front of the house and messaged us. We didn’t get the white Christmas but we did spend time with like-minded people and had a blast!
Lesson from this Christmas on the road? Open yourself to the possibilities and there might be a great opportunity for you. We didn’t have a white Christmas but we did have a beautiful one anyway!
Christmas in Bulgaria
Here we are to the much wanted white Christmas!
It took a few years and many traveled miles but we finally made it happen! We are now sitting in an apartment in the little town of Bansko in Bulgaria. It is snowing outside and I’m surrounded by the magic of the Christmas lights. This year we are gifting our kids a white Christmas. They have been playing in the snow, walking in the snow, sledding, skiing ad ice skating. It is cold but we are happy.
I feel like we have gone in a circle trying to get to this big goal and after 5 years of Christmases around the world, we are finally making this dream come true.
The biggest lesson of them all: never give up on your dreams whether they are big or small, they count and if you believe they will happen, I promise you they will! Plus when you are surrounded by the people you love everything is possible!
After four years of creating this magic in the most impossible situations, I honestly don’t feel that preassure anymore to create it for me kids. I can see that they are prefectly comfortable in whatever situation we are in. They know that in one way or another we will make it happen. Also if it may not be the traditional way, we have our little family traditions that still make it extremely special to us. What counts is who you celebrate it with and not how your celebrate it!
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas from our little family to yours!
The De Santi family