Why going 'home' is not always a holiday

9 Jul 2015

As expats and as a mixed couple, visiting family involves 3 different countries. Christmas is always tough and there is always someone unhappy. For a couple of years, we did Christmas in a different country than the one we lived in and New Year in a third one. But this was exhausting, expensive and quickly became untenable with young kids. Whether it is Christmas or any other holiday/vacation time, the choices are always difficult.

Going home* (i.e. going to our birth countries) is important to us to reconnect with our families and friends and for our children to get to know them, learn about the places their parents come from and learn the languages. Yet, going home is not a holiday. It is not a vacation. It is not like sitting on a beach in Florida or like visiting Barcelona for a weekend.

You drive for 9 hours, hop on a ferry or a plane, cross oceans and then you get there, exhausted but happy to have arrived. You have to adapt to your family's schedule which may be very different to yours. It can mean dinner at 10pm everyday and bedtime past midnight for a 2-year-old who normally goes to bed at 8pm. Now, this is a cultural aspect of travelling and can be experienced when on vacation too. It is easier to avoid on your own though. Any parent will realise that messing up young children's routines will make for cranky travellers. 

There are, more often than not, people to visit. Who hasn't visited Aunt Bertha for the first time in 3 years just because she has heard you were in town? Everyone wants a piece of you as you are there for only a limited amount of time. You have dates for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Kids have to sit down and eat meals after meals with people they hardly know, sometimes in restaurants that are not family-friendly because grandma has forgotten what it is like to have kids. You sit at a table full of relatives and all they talk about is politics or the latest TV show you have no idea about. They ask you one or two questions to be polite like: "So how is Merkel?" or "How is the food in England?"

There are also often some small administrative things to take care of which ends up taking a lot longer and being a lot more complicated that you thought. 

I am sounding terrible and ungrateful, right? I know.

The truth is we save our hard-earned cash to travel. Travelling is discovering new places, new people and relaxing. I, personally, prefer to spend our funds and time off work on exploring the world, relaxing and showing the world to my kids. And spending all our funds on those trips means little to nothing leftover for other destinations.
We go home to see our parents and siblings. We rarely go for the nostalgia or the place. Spending 2 weeks in my hometown is really not my idea of a holiday. If my family was not there, I would not go.
When we are there we would also like family to realise that this IS meant to be a holiday. So staying home all day waiting for the next dinner is not fun. We would like to entertain the kids and ourselves once in a while too.
I am this close to calling it a chore.... I would be offending someone, I know. But it feels like it sometimes.

Quote from The European Mama

Any solutions you might ask? Well, I have thought about it for years and apart from spacing out the visits, I can't really see any other options. Maybe having our own space and planning those trips as a holiday (getting a separate place to stay, etc) would make them even more enjoyable. Yet it would defeat the point of spending more money. I wish our family could meet us elsewhere else in the world every time. That would be a much better plan.

*I am defining home as the places my husband and I grew up in. I am not entirely sure we should call it home anymore but for the sake of this article, it will be easier. So, home for him is Lisbon, Portugal and for me, it is a small village in Normandy, France.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Hard that someone is always offended we couldn't fit them in. I used to pack in our breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-betweens making the rounds and people would still be offended not to get the whole day with us. Now, as in most things revolving around motherhood, I am a professional disappointer, I make flakey: 'we'll play it by ear' commitments, and have to just care for my family above my long lost friends, most of whom have no kids and no idea why your toddlers are melting down: "is that what they are talking about by 'l'enfant prince américain?' they ask" and you have to smile and hope they will understand one day. Those who are willing to drive to our French home are always and always welcome to visit with us.

    1. hhahaha, i love the term "professional disappointer" yup, that I am! and once that was established, i stopped giving any crap !

  2. It IS hard to make everybody happy all the time. We have only been expats for a short time and we recently made our first trip home. We are fortunate that we still have a home in the States so have a base to work from. Before we went home I sent an email with our schedule. The very first thing on the schedule was that because of Jet lag the first week we really just wanted to keep to immediate family. (we have 2 college age children that still live in the states) We went in 100 different directions while we were there for the month. I was exhausted and so was my littlest child. We have already told everyone when we come home for the winter holidays we will be staying put and if they want to see us they can come there. I feel grumpy, but need have to do what is best for our kids.

  3. Fortunately, my husband is perfectly content to make regular Sunday phone calls with a weekend or two out of the year the extent of his family time. I say "fortunate" not because I don't LOVE his family. Who doesn't love having their mother-in-law monologue about what every other member of the family is doing wrong? No, it's fortunate because my parents are divorced and remarried so when we have 3 family branches we have to make time for. When we go back to Atlanta for Christmas some intense pre-departure diplomacy is done to make sure our visit is divided between my parents in a way pleasing to all. This is all to say...yeah, I totally get what you're saying.

  4. Oh I hear you! So hard!! I've been doing it for five years now and in hindsight, had I known we would be away this long, I think it would've been sensible to buy a small place near family. At least to have our own space and not be so tied into family's plans, that like you say, often are plans you haven't made. We always try to go with the flow but it can be exhausting. More so when my girl was a baby, phew that was tough after a 9 hour overnight flight. But I guess it's all part and parcel of expat life and hard for anyone to understand who's not in it. :)

  5. This is a great post!! It most certainly is not a holiday going "home" we have our parents in the same country but still can't get our heads around disappointing someone at Christmas so we think we will just forever avoid it!! We did our first trip "home" last summer and it was very surreal, nice to see everyone of course, but there certainly are obligations and guilt trips aplenty thrown in all over the place, not intentionally of course. Well, perhaps there wasn't even these things and it was pressure I put on myself but I still felt it nevertheless!
    Thanks for linking with #myexpatfamily I'm sure every expat reading this nodded their heads all the way through!!

  6. This is so so my post!! as both our families are in Europe, we have found that we can meet somewhere in between dictated holidays that is way more fun. Skiing we'll do it this year for the first time in Austria very likely and I brought my son (couldn't bring my daughter at the same time) to a couple of conferences where my parents could join by either driving there or with a short flight (Spain and Belgium). We were staying in hotels and it was great, my son got to spend time with his beloved grandparents, I got to enjoy dinners and adult conversations without feeling guilty for not being at home and have dinner with my parents!

  7. This is so true - we learnt quickly that using our holiday time from when my husband and I both worked only to go back and see family and friends in England soon made us a little resentful year after year - the world is such a big place. Once we had to factor three children in too then all bets were off going from one place to another....... We came up with a few ways of coping better: http://www.passionateparenting.nl/6-ways-to-make-sure-your-summer-holiday-really-is-a-holiday-when-youre-an-expat/

  8. It's been a year and a half since we left and haven't been back. We'll fly back at the two year mark. It's funny how friends and family don't go to Europe because of the cost, but don't really understand why you don't fly back. And can we talk about when they come to visit you? Nobody has yet (planes fly both ways!) but I don't think people understand that when they visit, it takes away from the exploring you want to do and is a big reason you moved somewhere new! I don't want to take a week or more off work to stay in my town or go to the cities I go to frequently. And if you haven't seen someone in 2 years, I'm not sure it's a great idea to spend a whole week together, you know? Of course I want to see family and friends, but I actually have anxiety over going back. It's bad, I know.

  9. Great post!! Yes, I feel the same way at this point. Even though it's fun to see family & friends - it makes for a busy "people" filled holiday. I know we are juggling that this summer. We are planning a month back in the States - I know initially it sounded like heaven to my mother who was excited to see us for that amount of time. But in reality, because my girls want to go to NYC and we have other friends and family to see - our time in the mountains with my mother will be limited to 2 weeks. But that's life - that's how it works when one travels.....(The good thing for my mother is that she comes to visit us here so we do see her once a year anyway...but YES - it's hard to balance everyone's feelings!!). Of course we want to see everyone - but it's definitely a vacation of running here and there...so is it really a vacation? Thanks for sharing this post - glad to see others struggle with the same thing. Jennifer

  10. So much of this rings true for me. Every trip 'home' is filled with visits to friends and family and we try to make sure that we fit everyone in. We try, whenever possible, to arrange to meet my family in various far flung parts of the world so we can explore it together or for them to come and spend time with us in our host country. It makes more sense that way as it maximises our fun and our holiday savings.


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