In more than five years away from home, I recall getting vaguely homesick just three times: when I had a toothache, at Christmas, and on my birthday. Being far away from friends and family on your one special day of the year can make even the hardiest traveler a little homesick, and that might just spoil what could be a really fun day.
I’ve got a few tips to show that with a little forethought and planning, your birthday abroad can be even happier than the ones back home.
Plan a Special Birthday Day Out
Look after yourself and don’t schedule an all-day bus trip on the day of your birthday. Especially if you’re traveling on a long-term basis, you have to take care of your mind as well as your body and not being kind to yourself on your birthday is not a good way to do it.
Instead, try to find something special you really think you’ll enjoy and plan that for your birthday. While I was living in Bratislava, my birthday fell on a day I had to teach a couple of classes, but in between I tried out a new (sadly short-lived) sushi restaurant and had dessert at my favourite hot chocolate cafe. In Japan, I let myself go all silly at Tokyo Disneyland. What are birthdays for if they’re not for having fun?
Have you ever spent time with someone on a certain day and then found out later it was their birthday? You feel guilty, right, even though it’s totally not your fault! That’s why I’m commanding you to mention your upcoming birthday to your fellow travelers. Not in the sense of “Hey, it’s my birthday tomorrow so please buy me a huge present,” but perhaps more along the lines of “I might need some extra cheering up tomorrow — it’s the first birthday I’ve spent away from home.” You don’t want to be hanging out with some new travel friends at an internet cafe and the first thing they see when they log on to Facebook is that they’ve just missed your birthday. And then they can be involved in your celebrations, too.
Yes, I said forget the budget. Well, within reason. Long term travelers often need to be pretty tight with their money to be able to keep traveling, and that’s certainly been the case with me — I’d rather save money and stay at the cheapest hostel so I can keep traveling for longer. But you can certainly get a bit tired of sharing a bedroom with other noisy travelers or eating bread and cheese for dinner for the tenth night in a row. On your birthday, upgrade yourself to a better room or nicer accommodation, eat out at a proper restaurant, buy yourself a special treat — and don’t feel guilty about spending a bit more money than usual. It’s your birthday!
Buy Yourself a Birthday Present
One of the downsides to spending our birthday on the road is that you probably won’t be getting any presents from your parents, siblings or rich Uncle Jack. (And in my experience, people don’t “save up” your presents for when you get home — they just continue life as though your birthday never happened. Fair enough!). So it’s up to you — you’ve got to buy yourself a birthday present.
My suggestion is to find something that’s specific to the place you’re traveling in — artwork, clothing, jewelry, books, whatever suits you best — and again, don’t feel guilty about buying yourself something. Don’t even feel bad about the cost of posting it home if it’s something you don’t want to carry around with you on the rest of your travels. Need I say it again? — it’s your birthday!
Before your birthday arrives, make the effort of emailing your family and close friends back home to set up a time to chat somehow on the day of your birthday — by phone, by Skype, however you think it’ll be easiest to communicate.
Too often, the mysteries of varying time zones mean that your family or friends can miss your birthday or not thinking of calling you until it’s too late. (Although my father did manage to call me at 3am my time on one of my birthdays abroad!) Don’t feel silly about doing it — it’s only natural to want to have a chat with the people you’re closest to when it’s your special day of the year. You might even find your family getting together back home for a marathon multi-person Skype session with you — a virtual party, so to speak.
Remember the Advantages of Being Away From Home
Before you start feeling too homesick on your birthday, remember there are advantages that go with it. For a start, you’d probably have to go to work back home if you were there for your birthday (remember, it’s the “real world”!). Instead, you can go out to some fascinating museum, go bungee jumping or whatever takes your fancy!
On top of that, there might be some obligatory birthday engagements if you were back home — cups of tea with relatives you only see once a year or a too-long meal with your parents (you can love everybody more when you’re thousands of miles away).
The way I look at it is that I can actually remember each of the birthdays I experienced while I was traveling, but the rest of them since have blurred into one long horror of getting older. I guess it’s time I planned another trip for my next birthday!
Your Most Memorable Birthday Abroad
I’d love to know about other memorable birthdays that you have spent on the road — so please share your experience in the comments below!