5 Things to Do on Thanksgiving When You Can’t Go Home

things to do on thanksgiving

Moving into the college dorms may be the best way to truly experience university life, but when Thanksgiving break comes around it can get awfully lonely on campus when you can’t go home for the holiday.

Even when airfare is cheap, some students on a tight budget might be unable to afford the travel costs, or skip the trip because they’re swamped with studying for midterms and exams.

Whatever the reason, it can get even the least-homesick student down when you can’t share a traditional home-cooked meal with your family and loved ones.

If you’ll be spending the day without your family, there are still plenty of budget-friendly things to do on Thanksgiving, without missing out on any of the festivities or Turkey Day spirit.

What to do on Thanksgiving on campus

1. Host your own “Friendsgiving” meal

This is the perfect chance to invite over your roommates, floormates, and friends for a DIY Thanksgiving dinner. You likely have a small kitchen in your dorm or apartment, so don’t talk yourself into preparing anything too elaborate.

Similarly, don’t squeeze your budget buying expensive ingredients. Chances are, you’ll only need to buy a few turkey breasts (even chicken will do). Add in easy-to-make items like boxed stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and premade biscuits, and you’ve got a pretty complete T-Day dinner.

Keep things simple and don’t worry if the pumpkin pies are store-bought or the vegetables were frozen. You can find some easy, simple Thanksgiving recipe ideas here and here.

Better yet, encourage friends to bring a dish, dessert, or beverage, potluck style. It’ll cut down on the cost of grocery shopping, diversify the menu, and give you and your friends a chance to share and be thankful to celebrate together.

Aim for the same if you’ve been invited to someone’s house to join in and celebrate over dinner.

2. Eat out or order in

For those less culinary-inclined, you and your friends always have the option to eat out for dinner. Plenty of local restaurants offer special Thanksgiving menus with all the same dishes you can make at home.

Another alternative is to go the unconventional route and simply order a pizza, Chinese food, or some other comfort food. It’s not mandatory to have a turkey and all the fixings on Thanksgiving, so have fun with your food choices. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a new Thanksgiving tradition in the process.

3. Organize Thanksgiving Day activities

Meal or no meal, dining in or eating out, spending time with roommates and friends is about doing something fun together.

Organize a friendly football game (or plan to watch one together). You never know who might join in — that’s a chance to make new friends on a day you thought you’d spend alone.

Not the sporting type? Planning a trip to the movies or hosting your own Netflix marathon are perfect things to do on Thanksgiving Day.

If you’re certain you’ll be spending the day alone, aim to make it less solitary by planning something special for yourself. Go for a hike, catch a matinee, or visit a museum solo.

If you’re cooking for one, don’t feel sorry that your holiday is being spent alone. Instead, be grateful and thankful for the time to yourself and recharge your batteries from the hectic pace that college can bring.

4. Volunteer

Dinner or no dinner, volunteering your time on this day of thanks is a fulfilling way to spend Thanksgiving. Look on your campus bulletin board or online for volunteer opportunities within the surrounding neighborhoods. Consider donating your time at one of these places:

  • Churches
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Soup kitchens
  • Homeless/domestic violence shelters
  • Veterans administrations
  • Hospitals and clinics

Charitable groups are always seeking student volunteers — not only during the holidays but year-round. It’s a chance to meet, connect, bond, and eat with other friendly people in your community.

5. Stay connected with family and friends

If money or time constraints prevent you from going home for Thanksgiving, you don’t need to be absent from the lives of your loved ones.

Send out holiday messages and Thanksgiving wishes on social media. Mail greeting cards or early Christmas gifts to family. Arrange a video chat with family members over Thanksgiving dinner.

No matter your method of communicating, your parents, siblings, and relatives will be happy to have you involved in the holiday, even from afar.

Spending Thanksgiving away from home doesn’t have to be solitary if you don’t want it to be. When looking for things to do on Thanksgiving, think about what would be most enjoyable for you.

Taking the time to share a meal, give back to others, connect with friends and family, and devote some “me” time to yourself can make it one of the most memorable holidays to look back upon.

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