Holidays and visits ‘home’ as an expat

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Trips back to your home country

How often do you travel back to your home country for holidays? Can you actually call them holidays?

Expats who move regularly are more likely to refer to their passport country as ‘home’ than people who emigrate permanently. However, both will probably have friends and family there, so how do you balance trips to your home country with trips in your new country and nearby locations?

A lot depends on how far the journey is, how much holiday you have available and how much money you can spend on these trips. When you have school age children, all their school holidays seem to get used up either by having people come to visit you, or by you visiting them, meaning you don’t get a ‘proper’ holiday. And of course, when you work, there are only a certain number of days you can have as vacation or leave. Using it all up to visit your home country can seem an awful waste, at times, especially when you live in a place close to amazing new holiday destinations.

‘Guilt trips’

Most expats don’t even consider those trips home as holidays. There can be a lot of expectation and pressure to trek around the country visiting each and every friend and relative, leaving you very little time for yourself.

Be aware, this is not a relaxing holiday; it’s a living out of a suitcase and staying with friends or relatives for a day or two here and there and spending a lot of time on the road. Be prepared for your trips back to be an exhausting schedule. For some reason, many people will expect you to visit them, rather than them come to wherever you are.

But you do have options; they may not suit all family set-ups but don’t feel you have to please everyone all the time.

Planning is vital

Before your visit, decide how much socialising you’re prepared to do and who you can reasonably meet up with and let them know your schedule.

Set up a base camp

One decision used by many seasoned expats is to base yourselves in one place and persuade everyone to come to you. Otherwise you’ll spend the entire time speeding from one visit to another which is exhausting.

Arrange family get-togethers where everyone travels to meet up in one place at the same time. This saves hours travelling around visiting people one-by-one and you get to have a great party as well. Choose a location and tell everyone where and when you’ll be there and let them come to you. You can set aside additional time to see anyone special.

Another option commonly used is to rent a house or caravan somewhere. You stay there and have a bit of a holiday while inviting your friends and family to visit your temporary abode. This works even better if it’s based near to them as it will be easier for you to visit them and you won’t have to live out of your suitcases and sleep in spare rooms.

Remember, relationships change

It’s worth recognising that when you live overseas, one of the consequences is that your children will have a different relationship with their grandparents and other relations. Not worse, just different. More distant relatives tend to become more distant. Relationships change. People you think would want to see you regularly may decide it’s too much bother to travel to you, which is hurtful of course, but it happens. Others who you wouldn’t expect to be able to visit manage pull out all the stops in order to do so.

And then of course, there are the distant friends who suddenly become your best mate as you can provide them with a cheap holiday in your new country…

Being an expat certainly does show you who your real friends and true family are!

Although trips home are expensive and hard work, meaning holidays elsewhere are fewer and shorter, it is good for your children to build relationships with their family and to understand where they’re from.

Ultimately, it comes down to doing what is best for you and your family.


Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here is my podcast episode about Planning a Trip to Your Home Country

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  1. I’m in the process of planning a longish trip to my country of origin and I go back constantly between excitedly looking forward to it and deeply dreading it…
    Even though I love my family members, I have grown up with a lot of ambivalence towards many of them. I’ve always been basically the only one in my immediate family who gets along with everyone else, but the distance has made things more complicated. I’ve been made to feel guilty over not planning to spend enough time with certain family members and I’ve even changed my plans to try and satisfy them. Once I’m there, I expect that the time I planned will still not suffice and I’ll get begged to not leave for the next section of my trip.
    Then there is my former best friend who I’ve so far visited each time I go back, even though it’s out of my way. Yet, this time I have to think harder about doing that again, since she makes rather little effort to stay in contact on her end. A bit sad if it involves a friendship that started in kindergarten…
    Some days I regret having planned this trip. But I’ll have to focus on the positive and enjoy it, as I’m investing a significant amount of time and money into it. I will see it as an opportunity to learn some things on this trip about myself and about handling these issues. And I’ll be sure to plan future solo trips to other locations after this 🙂
    Thank you for this article. Sometimes it helps just to know what we’re feeling isn’t that unusual.

    1. I feel stressed simply reading about your forthcoming trip! That all sounds really hard, but very familiar.
      Please make time for yourself, and please do some future trips that are just for you.
      Take a look at this article on Expat Guilt and see if it helps a little.

  2. Those sentences “you know your true friends……” really hurt. For “medium close” friends it is certainly easier to see someone go – and gone. If a CLOSE friend leaves (potentially for good), you feel a void, an emptiness within and you suffer. Being in the place you knew together reminds you of the person gone – every single day. Having them back for a visit is great and intense. You love and hate their exotic stories. And what can you tell them about your life they do not yet know?
    Having to wave goodbye hurts. And it hurts over and over again.

    It only gets better once you find a different and new kind of relationship – which both, the expat and the friend back home – can embrace. Where distance is defined in different terms. And where closeness is created through different means, too.

    Don’t sign off your closest friends. They might be in the middle of a deep crisis right now as they’ve just realized you’ll never come back and the old way of being friends just does not work any more.

  3. As the friend back home, I hate being squeezed into a perfectly planned schedule. My life and family have schedules, too. And needing to totally neglect our own plans just to be available on that one free day on their schedule, feels not good.

  4. I have lived in Canada for 69 years, since I was 19. I love Canada, but I have to say that England is where my heart is. However, I know I could never return to live in England. I haven’t contributed to a pension or medical plan. I still have lots of family there and every time I have gone back, I have been welcomed with open arms and treated like royalty and so have my children. Thanks family…….

  5. Yes, I can relate. I’m also living out of a suitcase & tired from the driving & visiting friends & family. It’s not a holiday and you’ll probably find you don’t somehow fit in anymore. Very sad but true.

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  7. Oh dear 🙁 I completely understand the lack of independence feeling and totally sympathise with you.
    Try to arrange a single get together with friends so you don’t have to keep repeating the conversations & try to get them to come to you so you’re not charging around all over the place.
    It’s different when you’ve moved back for good (so I’ve been told!) as you’ll be putting a different set of roots down – with your own transport!
    I hope your trip isn’t too stressful and that you achieve everything you want to achieve.

  8. I have just arrived home about an hour ago – flying visit for a wedding. I am hating it already! I am no longer independent, relying on my father to pick me up from the airport, having to stay as a guest at people’s places, not having my own a hectic schedule catching up with friends (don’t get me wrong, I adore them) means the same conversations over and over. Can I ever move back? I don’t know.

  9. My husband and I also decided to take a real vacation to Colorado this year instead of back “home” to France. Our trip to France are wonderful, but we spend the entire time visiting friends and family. We either have to sacrifice family or vacation. Tough decision!

    1. Good for you! We had to call a halt to all our visitors / visits home after the first year away. Because of the restrictions of school holidays, we were getting no holiday ourselves.

  10. My husband and I say we have never actually had a real holiday together yet, we always seem to go back to visit family and friends. This year we have promised ourselves we will have a proper holiday

    1. It’s hard, isn’t it? The guilt trips…! But good for you on deciding on a proper holiday, make sure you do actually book it and enjoy

      1. I am planning a 4 week trip to my native, South Africa, next year December. 1 week in Johannesburg, 2 weeks in Durban, 1 week in Knysna and 1 week in Cape Town. It will be my girlfriend’s first time in South Africa, trying to plan between sight seeing, visiting family and down time is tough. I have many relatives who expect me to visit them at their houses, they even expect me to cancel my sight seeing days just to visit. I already have a headache just thinking about the trip

      2. This is SUCH a common problem, Dave. I recommend sticking to your fabulous itinerary and persuade one or two family members to host a get together at their house so as many of your relatives can see you as possible. You have to stand firm on this trip otherwise this will be your future! I hope you and your girlfriend have a wonderful trip.

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