Pack your bags!
Every year, you get the question: where are you going this year for your R&R? Every year, you come up with a grand plan, full of fun adventure and exotic locales, …. And then you wake up and book the plane tickets for your home town. You tell yourself: “This year, it’ll be different. This year, it’ll be fun.” And perhaps it will be. But … more often than not, R&R becomes another month in a family basement, or you and your family schlepping from one sofa to the next. We did that. For a number of years, we make the trek back home, only to realize the R&R wasn’t ending up to be very restful or relaxing, and there was not a lot of recuperation going on. So we changed things: we no longer go back home for R&R. We very literally go where the latest whim takes us.
Many of our friends have expressed surprise (and perhaps some envy) at our family plan of avoidance of the 'home stomping grounds' (which, in our case, is the USA). Rather, we head to some fun (to us) location where we explore, hang out and have some serious family bonding time. This works well for us. Oh sure, we go back state-side for Home Leave but the rest of the vacations we use to explore a corner of the world we haven't yet had the chance to visit yet.
There are some definite pros to this. And yes, admittedly, some cons.
A lot of (immediate) family time - this is probably the best part about taking trips like this. We constantly remind our boys that they should always remember that their brothers are their best friends. This message is a little harder to remember when other friends/peers are around. Generally at our house, Child A + friend + child B never ever = peaceful playtime. Take away the 'friend' part of the equation, though, and you're left with siblings or boredom so typically they manage to not only get along but also to play nicely.
Seeing new things and learning about new cultures - what's not to love about this? Isn't this why we joined the Foreign Service to begin with? I have to say, too, every trip we take with kids in tow, I grow a little more appreciative of how kids view the world. We adults, we are a jaded, predisposed group with fairly high expectations. Kids? Not so much. I find they are often the first to appreciate a situation, the best at reminding us of the adventure in it all, and the last to grow weary. All good qualities, especially when exploring.
Our own space - I know you know what I’m talking about when I whinge about lack of drawer and/or closet space. It's hard to host a family of however many for a given period of time. That's a lot of beds, pillows and gaping mouths. But it's also hard to relocate for weeks on end and then live out of a suitcase for the duration. So we don't. We get our own space, big enough for all of us, with enough bathrooms, beds and a kitchen to make breakfast, snacks and whatever else. Give us that, a coffee maker and washing machine and call us happy.
Less family drama - yeah, we love our families, but we all have THOSE relatives. And even without unpleasant moments with Aunt Mimi or spending an afternoon avoiding Uncle Steve to minimize the possibilities of another you-left-your-family-responsibilities lecture (sadly, a true story; that was a doozy, too).
I also find it a little off-putting when we haul ourselves, our kids, and entirely too many pieces of luggage over the ocean and from city to city, and then family and friends can't find the time to come see us. It's too much bother to drive an hour. I know we take uber long vacations; it’s not normal to take a month off work. And I know we come at bizarre times of the year when everyone is already over-planned with summer camps, swimming lessons and camping trips. But when we make such a huge effort to come, it’s because we want to see everyone. To be honest, it's not my irritation that truly bothers me; it's my kids' disappointment because they didn't get to see (insert name here) more than once. It's kind of heartbreaking, really.
There's not a lot we can do to reduce our family members propensity to nag, bitch, or heckle but we can do the easy (though admittedly childish) thing and just avoid them all together. In our defense, we do give people plenty of notice of our intended vacation plans and invite everyone to join. Like literally, every family member, and even offering to foot the bill for the then-necessary larger accommodations. To date, no one has ever taken us up on this offer.
Expensive - yeah, that 'our own space' I was referring to above? That does not come free, my friends. Sure, there are amazing options that run from studio apartments to chalet du jour, but all of it has to be prebooked and paid for by us. There are worse things to blow $5,000USD on than a family vacation in Fez, but it is important to remember that all this adventure comes with a price tag.
Deal with not seeing extended family – No doubt about it: the kids want to see Grandmas. Kids want to see Aunt and Uncles and friends. Yeah, I get that. They want to do familiar 'merca' things, and order their lunch in English. They want what's familiar and what they think of as 'home'. My kids have never had the chance to visit one Grandma's new house and pine for family gatherings at the other. It’s not that we don’t want to see our families. We do, very much. We definitely want our kids to know their extended families, too, and realize that these trips back to the States would offer a chance to do that. We don't make this decision lightly; great debate goes into it, each and every year.
Are we doing the kids a disservice by not making the schlepp back to the States every summer? Yeah, maybe. There is a lot of value in seeing the world, though, and we stand by our decision. Well, life is too short to fill a vacation with sniping, me thinks. So we don't. At least not the extended family version. At some point we may change our mind about this. For now, though, long breaks from school when we get to take our R&R, you’ll find us in a house on the top of a hill in Italy, hiking in Andalusia, or on a train to Cappadocia. And yes, you friend, are most definitely invited.