Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. As someone who has lived outside of the US for the last six years, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a wide variety of Christmas traditions throughout Europe– from marveling at the sprawling nativity scene inside a Spanish cathedral, to sipping hot wine in a Parisian market just beneath the Eiffel Tower.
But as trite as it may sound… there’s no place like home for the holidays. Each time I’m fortunate enough to make the trip home for Christmas with my family, I eagerly begin preparing the moment the last bite of Thanksgiving leftovers disappears. In addition to packing, there are also the tasks of shopping for Christmas gifts, arranging for someone to care for my two kitties, and prepping the house for my time away (subtext: time for a much-needed cleaning!).
This is around the same time that my family starts asking the question, “What do you want for Christmas?”
For expats, this is not always an easy answer. It’s important to consider the size and weight of gifts that we’ll be able to fit in a suitcase, which items can be brought through customs, and what’s useful for someone who travels… a lot. It’s also a great idea to think about what items might be difficult to obtain outside the US, which can often make an awesome gift!
I’ve compiled a list of practical, gender-neutral choices. These holiday gifts for expats include a range of useful presents that will be appreciated for years to come.
- Insulated Travel Mug – There are a ton of things I love about living in Spain, but one thing that I really miss? Having a reliable, leak-proof thermos to bring a hot cuppa with me on the bus, to work, or to enjoy a chilly hike in the mountains. Insulated travel mugs are surprisingly difficult to find where I live, so one of these might be the perfect option for your loved ones living abroad.
- Carry-On Approved Travel Backpack – This one is critical. A good backpack is the Holy Grail for travelers because it can make life infinitely easier. The best kind of bag offers a specific compartment for each travel essential – clothes, shoes, toiletries, a laptop pocket for those digital nomads – while optimizing storage space to pack in everything necessary for multi-day trips.
- Comfortable Walking Shoes – Wherever you go in the world, chances are you’ll have to do some walking to get there. Gifting a travel-lover a comfy, durable pair of shoes can make them feel at home with every footstep.
- Action Camera or Water-Proof Phone Protector – For more adventurous expats, a camera that’s as ready for action as its owner can help to capture unforgettable moments during the wildest of experiences. A GoPro is a great option for those who enjoy extreme sports, but for less intense experiences (such as rainy hikes and swimming in lakes or rivers) I recommend a waterproof phone case. I love knowing that I can enjoy a swim out in nature and use my phone camera safely to record beautiful underwater scenes and curious creatures I might come across!
- Climate-Appropriate Outerwear – Depending on where your expat lives or travels, this one might be a little tricky. For this reason, I recommend an adaptable jacket with a zip-out lining. This means that the wearer can choose how much extra warmth is necessary for various climates. It will be like receiving a warm hug from you each time they put it on.
Practical, useful, and thoughtful, this holiday season, choose a gift your expat will love (and maybe an airline ticket for yourself, as well!).
Rose McNeill is a freelance writer, artist, and ESL teacher. Born in Delaware, she grew weary of being asked “Is that in New Jersey?” and decided to move to Spain, where she now must answer the question “Eso es en Nueva Jersey?” – but at least she can drink sangria while doing it. In addition to writing and teaching, Rose enjoys cooking, painting, traveling, and sitting on floors with cats. Find her artwork online at her Etsy shop Sonder&Serendipity or give your brand some verve by hiring Rose to write for you on UpWork.
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