How To Throw A Despedida

by Cynthia Ord

Xela, also known as “the voluntourism Mecca of Central America,” hosts its fair share of medium- to long-term travelers.  It’s a good place to spend a few months learning Spanish and helping out at one of the many worthwhile NGOs in and around the city.  Consequently, the despedida (goodbye party) has become a local tradition.

If you’ve lived here for more than a few months, you can’t just leave without saying goodbye.  A despedida is in order.  It’s the best way to bid your collective “que te vaya bien.” Here are a few planning tips:

1) Choose a theme

Goodbyes can be heavy, and themes lighten the tone of a gathering.  In Xela, there are used clothes “pacas” on every other block, so costume items are abundant.  A few suggestions: a hat party, a moustache party, a wig party, a pajama party, an Adam and Eve party, an ABC (anything but clothing) party, an ugly sweater party, or a tacky tourist party.  Color theme parties always look good on camera.  

2) Make it a giveaway

Somehow, even living in a place for a short amount of time, people accumulate a lot of stuff.  Not all of it will not make the final suitcase cut.  Extra clothing, books you’ve finished, a nice umbrella, or whatever else isn’t quite worth its space in your bag could mean a lot to the people you’ve met here.  Bring your excess to your party for your friends to dig through.


If everyone brings their own drinks and snacks, then a despedida doesn’t have to be a big expense. Feel like cooking? Make it a potluck dinner. Or just tell everyone to meet at your favorite bar.

4) Plan it for the VERY last night

If you make your despedida too early, then there’s the risk of bumping into someone you’ve already said goodbye to, an awkward situation I like to call “the double goodbye.”  Avoid this by making the despedida as close to your departure date as possible.

5) Let yourself cry

A despedida is a time to celebrate and enjoy the company of people who you might not see again any time soon. Have fun and keep your composure, at least for the first few hours. Late into night of a despedida, some boozy reflection may set in.  This is an overwhelming moment for anybody — you’ve just added some experience abroad to your life.  You’ve been living in this heightened, extraordinary state, and that’s about to change. Laughter may turn into tears.  For ladies: be sure to go with the waterproof mascara.

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