If you are like most expats around the world you haven’t been “back home” for at least 2 years, maybe more. But this year you can’t wait any longer. You’ve got your COVID immunisation, you’re donning your masks and heading over to visit old friends and family. It’s been too long.
Anytime our expectations are high and the pressure to have a good time and enjoy ourselves is on, things happen. Emotions spill over, the stress to please & see everyone, to get in all the things we’ve been missing AND have a vacation – it just all becomes too much and we end up trying to rescue the situation rather than enjoying it.
I recently polled a group of experts on this. Here is a list of their suggestions and mine for a trip home that doesn’t overwhelm and does build happy memories to sustain us until the next time.
Give yourself a few days to arrive
Transitions take time. Neither you nor your children have been here for a long time. Take a few days to adjust without commitments.
Allow yourselves a few days to adjust to the place you’re in before diving into meeting people. You could stay at a hotel or hide away at a close friend’s house. Just make it clear that you need a few days to get over jetlag and adjust.
Take familiar food
Children love routines and predictability. If you haven’t visited for a long time your “home” country may be very unfamiliar to them. Make the first few days easier by taking along some of their favourite snacks and comfort foods.
Then discover some new treats together.
Don’t be crazy about this but maintaining some sense of routine and consistency will help everyone (from the youngest to the oldest) keep their cool and be free to enjoy the pleasures of being on vacation. Try to stay in one place for a few days at a time and if possible stick to bedtime routines and rituals. This gives your smallest family members stability and will help them settle down so you can go back to catching up with your friends while they get a good nights’ sleep.
Know your limits and enforce them. Noone enjoys a meltdown (yours or the kids). You know yourself and your kids best so make sure you enforce your boundaries so you can all remember the time for the good, fun moments and not for the constant explosions.
Accept that you won't please everyone
No matter how hard you try you will not please everyone. You will miss seeing some people, others will want more time with you, some will be envious of what you did with others, etc.
You have traveled long and far to be here. You are doing your best and what is right for you and your family. You are not responsible for pleasing everyone.
Prepare your children
Schedule your vacation time
Don’t leave the entire time up to chance. Where possible schedule some meet-ups in advance and be sure to schedule non-negotiable family time, too. This is probably your summer holiday so be firm about that and make sure you come away rested. Best book a hotel or trip for you ahead of time so you actually get your break.
Plan trips and invite people along
Continuing with planning… schedule trips and excursions and invite friends and family to join you. This is a great way to make memories and have fun together. It can also be easier if you and your friend’s kids are of a wide age range or have vastly different interests. Going to a theme park is more fun than hanging out in someone’s back yard with kids you don’t really know or fit with age-wise, bugging your parents about leaving or spending all the time teasing your siblings.
You get the idea.
Rent your own space
Instead of sleeping in guest rooms and changing locations all the time rent your own “base”. You can maintain kids’ routines and invite people to visit you.
I love unpacking and taking over my own space rather than living out of a suitcase for weeks, sleeping on lumpy beds and trying to keep kids “on their best behaviour” while following different house rules wherever we go.
You’ve traveled around the world to be this close. They can come to you now.
Host an event
Give kids time with their grandparents
There’s a reason you can buy loads of merch that says
“What happens at Grandma’s house
stays at Grandma’s house.”
Give your kids and their grandparents (or other close family members) lots of unstructured time together. Let them play, watch TV, eat the candy, and be spoiled. They are making memories, growing closer and connecting (like I talked about in this post). They are building a sense of belonging and feeling rooted within their intergenerational family. And it does grandparents a world of good, too.
Take this time for yourself to relax, meet up with friends without your kids, go explore your old haunts, go on a date with your partner, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the trails or whatever fills your cup.
This is where the magic happens. For everyone.