Don’t get me wrong, going home for Christmas is great, especially when your home is much warmer and sunnier in December. All the food (that you don’t always have to cook for yourself), spending time with family, holiday cheer and catching up with old friends.
However sometimes the curse of January exams dwindles on you and a few painful decisions and sacrifices have to be made. I learnt this the hard way after returning from an unproductive break in my first year and nearly failing to cope with all the last minute pressure. Luckily I still survived and managed to scrape the grades I was aiming for but I promised myself (and my health and wellbeing) that I wouldn’t allow it to happen again. If you’re someone like me, whose productivity drops to minus infinity whilst at home, then you may have considered this sacrifice too. It’s either you cut your holiday short and return early to prepare for the exams or in my case, when home is just too far away and costs an arm and a leg to only leave for a few days – you opt to remain behind and try make the most of it.
Making the most of my Christmas away from home
As an International student, travelling locally or within Europe (if you come from other parts of the world) is usually a much cheaper alternative than going home for a few days every Christmas. A quick trip or getaway can be the perfect remedy to cure any signs of homesickness or ‘FOMO’, as you’re more vulnerable when campus turns into a ghost town and most of your mates are away and flooding your newsfeed with their pets, friends and family reunions.
I managed to plan a trip to Athens and Paphos with a friend and we had an amazing time! I’m sure the pictures below speak for themselves. However one thing I can definitely say is if you ever get the chance to spend Christmas in a foreign country – go for it! Exploring during the festive season is a fantastic way to learn about a new culture, try all kinds of dishes and attend annual events as there is usually a lot going on during this period.
Some of my best highlights were visiting the historical sites in Greece, having homemade moussaka and souvlaki then spending Christmas day basking in the sun at the beach in Cyprus. You can check out my video diary along with this written piece to see more of what I was up to and all the places I visited.
Tips for travelling in December
As I mentioned, I went to Greece and Cyprus which are more popular destinations in the summer. However winters are mild and on good days temperatures can range between 16 – 24 degrees which beats Manchester’s winters any day. If you’re a sunshine baby like myself and aren’t a big fan of white winters, I highly recommend visiting some of these warmer winter spots. Early planning will also land you some incredible discounts. If you’re up for the cold and some snow, you could catch the Northern lights in places like Iceland or visit the Christmas markets in Germany. Nearby there’s Scotland or even a trip down to Winter Wonderland and a few other festive activities in London. Literally spoilt for choice.
Most importantly always carry your student card. STUDENT DISCOUNTS ARE LIFE! Make us much use of that piece of plastic whilst it’s still valid. Nearly all the museums and sites I visited in Athens were completely free. Public transport tickets also had discounts for students so make sure you carry your student card and don’t be afraid to ask if they have any specials. It may not be marked so obviously or could be written in another language so just ask.
Squeezing in some revision time
This may be a lot harder or require more discipline for others but in terms of distractions, I found it easier to revise during my getaway and upon returning than I would have at home. Realistically I didn’t carry all my books because I knew I wouldn’t use them. If you decide to go away for a few days and still wish to be productive, carrying a set of revision notes or material on the topics you wish to go over is a better shout. I found myself doing a few hours of revision in the mornings before heading out to explore and treating myself to a nice meal or activity during the day. Coming back to a quiet Airbnb without the hustle and bustle of siblings/relatives also meant I could squeeze in some work in the evenings on days I didn’t get much done in the mornings. Either way, I was back in Manchester with two more weeks to go before my first exam and I was feeling refreshed and ready to hop into intensive mode without having to drown myself in Red bulls this time round.
Moral of the story is – I survived my first Christmas away from home, got more work done than I would’ve and ticked two more countries off my travel bucket list.