For many, the opportunity to live abroad is a dream come true. And really, who wouldn’t be excited about the chance to develop a deeper knowledge about a new culture, its people, traditions and foods. The possibility of exploration is one of the great draws for many expats — it was certainly one of the biggest attractions for me when I followed my husband as an accompanying partner many years ago. One of our first explorations as expats was a road trip to southern California. I remember being excited about everything from the exotic names on the road signs to the size of the freeways to the magnificence of the coastline. This was the life!
And we did take the opportunity to go exploring at the beginning of our expat stay, but, after a few years and three kids later, I learned that the expat lifestyle was not all adventure and exploration. As a matter of fact, there have been long periods of time where I felt like being an expat prevented me from exploring new places. I felt like I didn’t see much of anything new at all. Who would have thought that that would ever be the case?
Part of the problem for us was that whatever extended time off we had, we would go home to see family. It was important to us that the kids know their grandparents and cousins. So, we ended up mostly visiting familiar places and seeing familiar faces. Strangely though, as time passed, I started to feel like a visitor in my own home country – I was home but I was also a visitor and an outsider. It was an odd feeling.
As a matter of fact, even though I really wanted to go home, to whole proposition came to be a bit of a struggle. There was a lot of lugging suitcases around and fitting everyone into guest bedrooms of various sizes, sleeping on mattresses on the floor and never really staying long enough in one place to relax or feel at home, never staying long enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.
In addition, there was an economic aspect of the situation that we hadn’t really considered. Never had I imagined that we would end up spending most of our travel budget on going home. We were supposed to be exploring new places, eating exotic foods and meeting new people. Instead we were pretty much doing the exact opposite: going home, eating old favorites and seeing as many friends and family members as we could. It’s a bit ironic when you think about it.
There came a point when I got so burnt out by making the long trek home, three kids in tow, that I seriously considered moving back home. I didn’t want to have to ever take that 11-hour plane trip again – I felt like I would explode if I had to pack another suitcase, or think about any of the logistics you have to consider when traveling for any length of time with a large number of people (read kids).
We never did move back and as the kids got older, traveling became easier. Now the biggest challenge is to find a time when everyone can be at the same place at the same time – easier said than done. As for the bags – the kids pack their own!