So… you decided to go home for the Christmas break. Sounds great! You can spend this holiday period with people you love, with people you have been missing for so long! But wait, does that mean buying gifts for all? So many people to think of! So much stuff to take! What about the airline luggage limits?!
Common challenges that I’ve heard from people and that you might also experience:
- There is going to be so many family members on the Christmas dinner… Should I buy gifts for them all?
- I saw beautiful jewellery box that I would like to give to my mom, but it’s quite heavy and takes up a lot of space in the suitcase…
- There is this cool food/toy/tradition here, but it’s illegal to bring some of the items to my home country
- I will be meeting some old friends over a couple of days when I visit home. I’d like to give them something small at least, but not sure what it could be.
- I will finally be seeing my small nephews/nieces this Christmas and would like to give them something really cool! Saw this great Lego blocks set where I live and they don’t sell it back home, but the box is huge…
- I’d like to meet up with a couple of old work colleagues as well to keep in touch. It’s Christmas after all, would they expect me to bring them something from abroad as well?
- A couple of friends already asked me for a favour to buy some things for them and bring back when I’ll be travelling for Christmas – it’s hard for me to find time to fulfill those requests and space to fit it all in a suitcase!
These and many other questions might be on your mind in November and December time. I prepared 15 tips and ideas that will help you plan for all these Christmas expat challenges!
Extra costs and travel comfort
Tip 1: Talk with your family about the Christmas dinner set up – if there’s going to be a lot of you coming, maybe it’s worth having Christmas gifts slightly earlier or later just for the closest family and agree not to buy gifts for every single person?
Tip 2: Be open with your closest family members and friends – there’s only as much luggage as you can take with you on a plane. You do want to fulfil their requests and do them a favour to bring them something they really liked, but you also don’t necessarily want to travel with 3 suitcases and pay for the extra kilograms.
Tip 3: Ask others to cover cost of the extra suitcase – if four of your friends asked you to bring them stuff from abroad and it constitutes to an extra suitcase you would need to bring – that is fine. You can do it, but you can agree with all of them to cover one quarter of the check-in suitcase cost (and maybe ask for pick up from the airport? 😉 )
Tip 4: Propose new ways of doing Christmas – oooh, heresy! But really, you do things in different ways already anyway, so why not propose to try something that is a tradition where you live now? Especially if it’s just adults participating and you no longer need to tell the Santa stories. Taken from the UK for example, you could propose the Secret Santa or White Elephant games. Everyone buys only one gift, everyone gets a gift, and there’s lots of fun in the meantime!
Tip 5: Be reasonable – think about what is reasonable for you to take and what’s not, find out about the prices for extra luggage before deciding to buy a bulky gift for someone
Tip 6: Calculate well – if you are planning to buy this great bulky gift and take it with you on the plane, check if it wouldn’t be cheaper and easier to post it by courier! It might really be the case for packages sent within Europe.
Tip 7: Pack light – think through what you are packing. You will likely a) buy something for yourself at home and b) receive some gifts from your close ones. It’s worth leaving some extra space in the suitcase for these “unexpected” items or simply not take an excess of clothes for every occasion, but rather have a set prepared for each day or so.
Gifts for adults
Tip 8: Decide who to buy gifts for – maybe you can just bring some local sweets for everyone to share rather that think about a separate present for all the family members who will attend Christmas dinner?
Tip 9: Offer experiences rather than things – why not get someone a ticket to a concert, or theatre or a chocolate-making class? The ticket not only takes up no space in your luggage, but also offers people something they might not have necessarily bought for themselves.
Tip 10: Decide on the gifts budget per person – especially if you are meeting with a bigger group of friends or if you are currently living in various parts of the world, it’s worth setting up a budget for the gifts that you are going to bring, eg. 10 USD. This spares you the awkwardness of later receiving something big and personalised when you only brought a chocolate.
Gifts for children
Tip 11: Spoil them a little bit with the local sweets – it’s just one of the options, guys, I’m not saying that you should feed the kids with sweets all the time 😉 But especially if you live abroad and see the little munchkins only once a year or so I think you’re allowed to bring a little something special.
Tip 12: Buy the gifts back home – if what you’re planning for the kids is not something inaccessible back home, maybe it would be easier to buy it after you land, rather than try to pack in an already filled suitcase?
Tip 13: Offer them experiences – With kids it’s usually slightly more difficult if they don’t get a physical something under the tree, but with older ones, maybe it is a good idea to take them to a match, cinema or some super huge playground where they have never been and spend some time together? #TheGiftOfTime
Tip 14: Look for an alternative toy back home – so you have come up with this amazing gift idea for the child, but it is only accessible where you now live abroad and it is in a language that the child does not understand. See if there is a similar toy in your home country and buy there. See if it is absolutely crucial for the game to be fun only if you can read the foreign language – maybe the pictures are enough?
Tip 14: Don’t bring illegal things – as hard as it is to say, you just can’t transport some things via plane or cross the borders of some countries. Period. From the UK, for example, I wanted to bring the Christmas crackers back home one year to show my family what they are. Unfortunately they are not allowed on the planes so the only way they could experience it would be to come over for Christmas one time! It might be similar with some fruit or medicines in some places, so do check before you travel!
Tip 15: Have spare sweets or small local gifts prepared – be prepared for the unexpected visits. If you’re meeting with a group of friends and suddenly the two of them bring their partners to the meeting, if you have a spare chocolate or just bring a big box of local sweets to share among the group, you spare yourself the awkwardness. I always bring an extra box of Heroes chocolates with me from the UK and wrap it in smaller bags myself. Just in case 🙂
Many people will expect you to bring something local from where you live now. It’s completely understandable, they are interested to see what your life is like abroad. As much as you might like to bring gifts for every single person you are going to meet during the week or two that you’re at home, there are some limits – time, money, luggage. The fact itself that you managed to meet and spend a day together with your friends is already something to celebrate, it’s already a gift! A gift of time 🙂
Hope this Christmas season will be calm and stress-free for those of you who are celebrating!