3 Not-so-Traditional Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Roast turkey feasts, food comas, and football marathons are all perfectly fine traditions. But if you’re looking for something different this year, we’ve got some ideas.


Photo © Christopher Burns

Spend Time With Your (Extended) Family

Thanksgiving is typically a time to gather the clan together for a feast. But now that it’s easier than ever to find out about your heritage through services like Ancestry.com, maybe it’s time to expand the table even more.

Did your DNA swab turn up ancestral roots in Italy? Were you amazed to learn you’re actually 1/16th Polynesian? This year, why not travel to the lands of your cultural heritage and share some pasta or poke with a long-lost cousin?

The winner of World Nomads’ Relative Distance contest, Hannah Murray, will soon be heading to South Korea to trace her family history. “My father met my mother while doing a homestay with her family in South Korea,” Hannah told us. “They separated when I was two and I was raised by my incredibly loving father. I know nothing of the culture, language, or land that my mother came from. I'd love to explore the lifestyle and terrain that nurtured her.

Since I’m an only child and my father passed away last year, I'm having to rethink what the word ‘family’ means. In order to have it have relevance to me, I'm going to have to change it and make it broader than it was before.”

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, volunteer opportunities abound.

One way to make a difference 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. World Nomads’ new Insiders’ Guide to Your Ultimate Gap Year has tips for making sure the project you choose is reputable and worthwhile. For example:

  • Look at values of the project to ensure the organization is responsible (for example, they hire local staff, consult with the community on the project, and avoid giving volunteers jobs that community members could do instead).
  • Find a project that matches your skillset or provides the necessary training to do the work (a good rule of thumb: if you couldn’t do the job at home, you aren’t qualified to do it abroad).
  • Don’t have the skills yet? Don’t despair – many reputable projects provide training to volunteers, either pre-departure or onsite, to help their volunteers be effective.
  • Find out where the money goes. The more transparent the organization is about their finances, the better.
  • Talk to former volunteers. A brief chat can quickly give you a sense of the project, how valuable the organization’s work is, and whether you can truly make a difference by volunteering with them.
Working with local communities in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo credit: Brian Rapsey

Give Thanks for Natural Wonders

The world is an extraordinary place, but you don’t need to travel beyond US borders to find astounding natural beauty. Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to slow down your pace and be grateful for river-carved canyons, snowy peaks, unspoiled valleys, and sandy shores.

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.)

If you’re more about barrelling down mountains than gazing up at them, Thanksgiving marks the opening of ski season for many US resorts. Here’s a list of some of the best snow playgrounds in the States.

If you’d rather scuba dive than snowboard, head to these parks for water lovers. One more reason to be grateful: Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida is now open again after suffering the impacts of Hurricane Irma. This park, about 70 miles 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.

Photo credit: National Park Service

You’ll also be gratified to know that whether you’re trekking, climbing, kayaking, or diving, World Nomads travel insurance can cover you.

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