Would you spend over ten thousand dollars on a car and then crash it into a tree? Of course you wouldn’t. Then why do we take our vacations and run them into a wall?
We spend weeks preparing, thousands of dollars (or Euro, Francs, or millions of Lao Kip) and stress out at work before and after just to fit the vacation in. We deprive our children of sleep, cram them into small tubes with wings and make them sit there for 18 hours and eat soggy chicken. Somehow between landing at our destination and returning home, we do something that makes us feel like we need a vacation after our vacation.
I speak from personal experience, as recent as January in Thailand in fact. After feeling dissatisfied and anything but energetic, I thought to myself there has to be a better way. That is why I´m sharing with you my own learnings as well as those from my fellow experienced expats – so you don´t have to make the same mistakes.
This is the second of a two-part series on Expat Vacation Dos and Don´ts. In part one, I shared the Dos and Don´ts of before you go on your vacation. In this contribution I will focus on how to make sure your good intentions are not derailed once you get there, including a quick video where I dive into how to get back on track when you notice things are “off.”
So we´re all on the same page, let me remind you of what I think many of us do wrong on vacation. We focus on only 3 of 4 important elements of taking a vacation abroad: planning, preparing, and packing.
I´m all about adding a 4th “P” to this “vacation equation” – and that´s people. That is YOU. The Dos and Don´ts below focus on making sure you don’t forget to pack the right mindset in your suitcase.
You actually know what I´m going to say already. We all do it, and we know we shouldn’t. Here is a much needed reminder for all of us, and a few new strategies to help you on your way.
I´ve been there, and it´s not pretty my friend. I know you want to see all of your friends and family but it leads to a host of problems so don’t go there!
DO plan in the “must see” people first. Let them know your travel dates and location well in advance so you can rest assured you´ll be able to spend time together. If it´s a region you want to see, then keep your wish list short to make sure you can really enjoy what you are seeing.
DON’T travel 200 kilometers per day to squeeze in your friends. I am serious. I know you´ve done it. In fact, when I recently had friends over, two couples shared separate gut-wrenchingly funny stories about how they had unintentionally gone on a “car vacation.” I´ve personally done the Swiss version of this, including trams, trains, buses and maybe even a ship or two.
DO have people come to you as much as possible, to avoid this dreadful kilometer collecting scenario (or miles if you´re into that). Plan a big BBQ, an outdoor picnic or why not a pub-crawl after you get over jetlag.
DON’T be afraid to tell your loved ones exactly why you need to stay put. If they´ve never, say, lived in a developing country or travelled across 3 continents with 2 kids in one go, they may not realize just how much you need some rest.
If your vacation involves visiting friends and family, DO plan extended overnights for your older children to reconnect and create special memories with their friends. (This piece of advice comes straight from a very tearful ride home when I failed to schedule enough time for my son with his best buddy.)
Once you have these “big chunks” scheduled, you´ll feel great knowing that you can see the people who mean so much to you. The bonus is that you´re left a sufficient number of unscheduled days, so you can do what you want the most. Relax.
DO Rest & Rejuvenate!
Isn´t this one of the main points of a vacation?
This is so important for a variety of reasons. First, the obvious is the toll jetlag takes on your body. I´m also guessing that most of you leave for a vacation thoroughly stressed from the workload you had to take on to get time off as well as the regular last-minute vacation preparation.
This exhaustion is likely compounded if you live in a high-stress environment abroad or in a fragile political context. The reality is that you need to prioritize recuperation in ways that other vacationers may not.
That is why planning this in is so vital.
DO make sure your calendar is fairly empty the first few days you get there to get over jetlag.
DO make exercise a priority. It´s wise to communicate just how important this is in advance if you´re traveling with a partner. If you´re traveling alone with kids (buckets of empathy to you), then check out your options. (Can you swap with other moms? Ask G&G? Hire a babysitting service?)
DO plan in extra help for the last week of the vacation so you can keep your sanity, rest before the flight, or try to capture that feeling of “vacation” just a little more.
Are you curious about how things are going for me in Minnesota? I am so excited to report that it is one of the calmest, most playful vacations we´ve had yet. All of clarity created in advance has really paid off. Here is a glimpse of what it has looked and felt like:
DO Make Sure You Get What You Came For
DON´T lose sight of what this vacation is all about for you, your partner or family. Check out the video and learn:
- The most essential element in the vacation equation that most of us overlook
- How you can get back on track even when things feel off
- Why it is so important for you to make the most of your vacation
Recapping the Essential Factors in the Vacation Equation
Making the most out of your international vacation includes these steps:
- Creating clarity
- Setting boundaries
- Checking in
- Making micro-realignments
- Taking notes on what is NOT working so you can avoid it next time.
If you´re an expat or live an international life, ups and downs during a vacation are to be expected. The good news is that now you have strategies to make the most of it.
Take This Vacation Challenge
Set a reminder in your calendar about one-fourth into your vacation. Ask yourself, “At this rate, am I going to need a vacation after my vacation?” If the answer is yes – it is time to apply what you learned in the video!
Now it´s your turn. In the comments below, share the one thing you´ll try to do differently on your next international vacation.
Can´t wait to hear from you!
P.S. Don’t miss the next video, where I will focus on the ups and downs of going home (wherever that is!). And wish me luck! I’ll be flying back for my 20th high school reunion in the USA and then reuniting with old friends in my second home of Switzerland. It´s certain to be an adventure.
P.P.S. You can also click here to subscribe or share with your friends to invite them to this video series before it is over!
Brenda Lou Meier Kimaro says
Sundae this is so timely as I prepare for a month back in the States. I’m traveling with just our two youngest–four-year-old twins who haven’t been to the States since they were two. On that trip we did a lot more running around and going TO the people we wanted to see. This time, we’re mostly stationing ourselves at my mom’s house (to be sure the kids get a lot of Grandma time) and letting people COME to us. We’re doing the hard part by flying half-way around the world–I think it’s okay to ask family and friends to drive and hour or so to see us where we are. In fact, several of my fellow twin moms who are part of a Facebook group with me are traveling 6 or 8 or even 12 hours in the car with their 4-year-old twins to meet up with me and my twins in Omaha.
Doing it this way also gives us a lot of time in my hometown where I grew up so that my kids can experience some of the fun things I did as a kid there–going swimming at the community pool (my niece is going to give them swimming lessons), visiting the library, playing at the city park and elementary school playgrounds. That’s probably the part I’m looking forward to the most! (Especially since I grew up on a farm outside of town so I only got to do those things occasionally and now that my mom lives in town we’ll get to do them every. single. day.)
I’m also doing a lot of thinking about what I want to get out of this trip FOR ME. I planned a SOLO trip to Baltimore for just a couple of days to visit friends there while family back in Nebraska take care of the twins. It’s just a little bit past the half-way mark of our trip so by then I’ll be ready for a break from 24-7 parenting.
Brenda – so great to see you getting clarity before you go, and setting boundaries so you can get more of what you want for yourself, Grandma, and your kids. I had to learn the hard way to proactively schedule in a break when I had 24/7 responsibility for my boys while abroad for a month. Let me know how it goes and whether you found other strategies useful to keep the vacation – a vacation for all. Have a GREAT trip!