‘Tis the season, so they say. We have had another first on this expat journey. We have made the trip back over the ocean, returning to our home by the sea for Christmas. With such a short visit and so many people to see and things to do I have written up a top 10 list to help anyone else who ever does their first trip home after being away.
So here is my advice for people on the expat journey, for the first trip home.
1. Wait until you feel okay to plan it. If you are really homesick it may unhinge you more. I really believe you need to stay focused on your present, especially when you are going through hard times. Keep moving forwards. Thinking about all you have left behind can be unsettling. It took over six months to be able to think about this trip clearly. That’s just me though. I am a sooky la-la.
2. Put yourselves first. Sometimes we try to be fair to everyone which can actually be unfair to others. Unfair to ourselves. Think through your key goals for the trip and build a plan around it. Do not make plans that mean you spend most of your time in a car getting from place to place. You lose precious time with people you love, when doing that. Find other options.
3. Give people enough notice to be able to make arrangements to see you. Even if you give them the day you are available, with plans yet to come. That way there will be less disappointment closer to the time, and less guilt felt from people who are just too overcommitted to get to you.
4. Remember that it isn’t that moment in time that really matters in your relationships. It is how you and your friends and family stay in touch throughout the year. That is more significant. So if people cannot get to you, don’t get too disappointed. Make the effort for special contact while you are away.
5. The Open House Concept. This is what we did to see as many people as possible and it was brilliant. We had the best day. Think through how it can work for you. I had suggestions of meeting in a park or an open space, which didn’t suit us. Being outside and summer, parents are just running after children, not relaxing and enjoying catching up and it is really hot. You don’t want to spend a whole day outside so the time frame you set becomes too short for people to make it. Having it in our apartment meant the children were contained, we were comfortable, we could have it go as long as we wanted and people could still meet other commitments and come and spend quality time with us. We provided refreshments throughout the day, activities for the children, and it was just wonderful.
6. Find space for just yourselves. It is a hard one I know. We had a morning when we first arrived to find our feet. It wasn’t long but it was really nice to just be relaxed. Then we took the children to a favourite beach down south one afternoon while staying at SB’s mother’s place. That seemed to rejig us a little. It was a very special few hours for us.
7. Despite how settled you are in your new home, expect to feel emotions bubble to the surface. Depending on your circumstances, will depend on how these will be. For me, the longer our stay, the more emotional I became. Visiting special places became more difficult.
8. You may get overzealous and want to squish as much sightseeing into your trip home as possible. Especially if you have children. You want to relive memories. I get that. You want to show small children who are that bit older now, the wonders of their home space. Yes, we did that. For the most part it worked well but everyone has their limits and when you are short on time, you need to be realistic. It is also fair to say that small children are not the same as you, an adult. Time moves differently, expectations are different. Hopes and desires are different. So try to avoid unnecessary conflicts and tantrums from both children and adults. Select a couple of really great places to go and create new memories. The rest can wait until next time.
9. Remember your children are emotional creatures too. At such a young age they don’t quite understand how to process their feelings. Be sensitive to this. Try to keep their night time routines as much as you can. Sleep deprivation builds up and children become less resilient. They also need to retain some certainty in the excitement. Overtired children will create challenging situations. Be your child’s advocate and expert.
10. Try to do things outside your new normal. Go back to old ways, it will refresh you.
So, good luck to everyone who has been, and is, traveling this season. May you be safe and may your memories be happy.