Find yourself away from home for the holidays? Learn my 5 favorite ways of celebrating American holidays abroad!
5 Unique Ways of Celebrating American Holidays Abroad
#1: Ignore it
OK, this one’s kind of lame. I’m putting it first because holidays always slip my mind when I’m planning a trip. (I once planned a trip over an important event and had to spend $500 worth of points to reroute my flights!)
That being said, ignoring it isn’t a terrible idea. Travel is an opportunity to expose ourselves to different cultures and their way of life! I’ve had over 2 decades of July 4’s spent with BBQ, fireworks, and boozy red-white-and-blue themed drinks. I can skip one year of celebrating American holidays abroad, and celebrate being abroad instead!
#2: Make New Traditions
This year, Jake and I are together in Costa Rica, where there is a huge expat culture. We could go out to a bar and try to find Americans to hang out with, but somehow that seems lamer than #1. Since our celebration isn’t tied to when other people are celebrating, our “July 4th Weekend” doesn’t have to even fall on the 4th! We’re planning to rent a car later this week and drive down the coast somewhere to surf and hike.
#2.5: Try Different Traditions
You may also find that there’s a different holiday going on at the same time as an American one. (Think Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, which usually fall on the last day of October/first day of November). Many countries also have their own Independence Days (psst… like ours, they’re mostly from the UK). Some countries share holidays (like Valentine’s Day) with the U.S., but may celebrate it differently, and sometimes on different days.
Jake and I once planned a trip to Tamarindo in March not realizing it was Easter (neither of us is very religious). In Costa Rica, Easter is Semana Santa, and most people head to the beach for both weekends of the holiday. We watched this quiet beach town explode with cars, brands, and partygoers almost overnight. A little different from the Easter back home of dyed eggs, giant bunnies, and pastel everything!
#3: Get Weird
Back in 2013, I got to Amsterdam around Thanksgiving after 3 weeks of backpacking with a nasty cold. I forced myself to leave the hostel dorm and dine on corn chowder, a veggie burger, and pumpkin pie under Nancy Sinatra’s boots (the kind made for walking) at the Hard Rock Cafe.
A waitress I had met the day before invited me to what she described as a small get-together with a few American expat friends at her home that afternoon after her shift ended. I agreed at first, but then slipped away without getting her address.
I was touched by the invitation, but just felt too guilty bringing my germs among her friends. It was enough just to be asked. As I later wrote in my Yelp review, “Some of the employees here are expats who understand the baffling loneliness of letting Thanksgiving go unacknowledged.”
“Some of the employees here are expats who understand the baffling loneliness of letting Thanksgiving go unacknowledged.”
I ended up buying a sketchbook and a charcoal pencil, and spent the afternoon sitting at the edge of a canal drawing animals I saw. (I’m not even joking—see horrible swan drawing.) It wasn’t characteristic of me at all, and so I never forgot that holiday. Do something you normally wouldn’t, and you make the day extra memorable!
#4: Turn Back Time
Last year, I got on a plane around midnight at the beginning of July 4th. I flew from Barcelona to Moscow, stopped for a 4-hour layover, then got on a 10-hour flight home to New York. In total, it was an 18+ hour journey that ended back in NYC at noon, which mean I gained 6 extra hours to my holiday. I spent almost an entire day traveling, and still got home in time for grilled veggies, Portobello mushrooms caps, and corn on the cob with my family.
#5: Have An Expat Holiday
If you’re dead set on a real American holiday, you’re in luck. With millions of expats around the world, you’re almost guaranteed to find people celebrating American holidays abroad. There are expat-run events for the Fourth of July in Budapest, Paris, Denmark, and even Shanghai. If you’re looking to meet up with expats, try:
- Staying in backpacker hostels
- Sports bars—Traveling with Jake, we visit a lot of sports bars for soccer games. Visit a bar during an important game for your country, and you’re almost guaranteed to meet other expats or tourists.
- Joining a Meetup group in your area
- Look for expat communities online (Facebook groups, Couchsurfing.org, etc.)
Not sure how to approach strangers? Read our guide to making friends while traveling alone!
How are you spending your Fourth of July? Let us know in the comment section!