3 Not-so-Traditional Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving

With COVID-19 restricting travel, and the presidential election making family conversations tense, maybe this isn’t the year for the usual get-together. We’ve got some other worthwhile ideas.


A man stands at the bottom of the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. Photo © Getty / LightvisionLLC

Spend time with your (extended) family

Thanksgiving is typically a time to gather the clan together for a feast. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, congregating around the table for a meal might not be so safe. Many of us may end up having Thanksgiving dinner over Zoom instead.

So, why not expand that virtual table even more, and connect with relatives from afar? Services like Ancestry.com or 23andMe mean it’s easier than ever to find out about your origins.

Did your DNA swab turn up ancestral roots in Italy? Were you amazed to learn you’re actually 1/16th Polynesian? Get in touch with your cultural heritage, and share a remote plate of pasta or poke with a long-lost cousin this Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect time to plan an in-person visit, once we’re able to travel internationally again.

Put the “give” in Thanksgiving

Obviously, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks – but it can also be about giving back. If you’re grateful for all you have and want to help people (or animals) who aren’t as fortunate, opportunities to make a difference abound.

One way is through World Nomads’ Footprints program. When travelers buy our insurance, they can choose to make a micro-donation to one of over 180 community development projects around the world. From upgrading an elementary school in Kenya to rehabilitating macaws in Costa Rica, these carefully selected projects help travelers have a positive impact on the destinations they care about.

Another way to give back is to join a voluntourism project and donate your time and talents directly – maybe to a community that’s been impacted by COVID-19, either directly or due to a lack of tourism income. Now is a good time to research a project to join in the upcoming months, once safe travel resumes.

Working with local communities in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo credit: Brian Rapsey

Here are some tips for making sure the project you choose is reputable, and that the help you’re giving is needed and productive: 

  • Avoid short-term volunteering projects – organizations can become dependent on the money they bring, which can lead to the manufacture of projects that address the wrong needs.
  • Make sure the volunteering project brings real benefit to the community and that the help being offered is in collaboration with local people rather being imposed on them.
  • Seek out projects that empower the community to take ownership of the project and manage it going forward for their own benefit.
  • Look for projects that have long-term goals for continued support, and only volunteer to do work you are skilled to do. Make sure the projects you work on aren’t taking jobs from local people.

Give thanks for America's natural wonders

The world is an extraordinary place, but you don’t need to travel beyond US borders to find astounding natural beauty. If you need something to look at besides your four walls and your news feed, the long Thanksgiving weekend is an opportunity to get outside and be grateful for river-carved canyons, snowy peaks, unspoiled valleys, and sandy shores.

Avoid holiday crowds by heading to lesser-known parks like Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado – November sees mild temperatures and an increase in wildlife. Or hike the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. In late fall and winter, the bare trees open up fantastic views of the bluffs.

By November, the Northern Lights have already begun their yearly show, and Alaska’s aurora belt is one of the world’s most active. At Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which features the largest array of glaciers and 16,000-foot-plus mountains in the US, you’ll get spectacular scenery day or night. (But be aware daylight hours will be few, and park services even fewer.)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Photo credit: National Park Service

If you’d rather escape the winter cold, head to these parks for water lovers. Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles (113km) west of Key West, is made up of seven small islands surrounded by coral reefs. The 200 shipwrecks strewn around its shoals mean it’s heaven for snorkelers and divers.

You’ll also be thankful to know that whether you’re hiking, kayaking, or diving, World Nomads travel insurance may cover you. (Restrictions and limitations apply – be sure to read your policy carefully.)

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