Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Cost of the Expat Summer Holiday

The air of excitement that we all felt while waiting at the airport to go home for the summer holidays was noticeable everywhere.  It was 11pm, 2 weeks into the summer holidays and yet the airport was still crowded with expats on their way home for the 2 - 3 month holiday period to destinations all over the world.

It is the strangest sensation, leaving your home behind.  Locking the doors and knowing that you will not be back in your own home for that period of time.

Before we became expats we would never have considered such a long holiday, that would have been insane.  Now after 3 years, it is normal.  We either ship the animals into a boarding home or get a house sitter, cover as much as we can to keep it clean while we are away, say goodbye to friends and neighbors, arrange to meet family and friends on the other side and off we go.

Those first two weeks are the best, catching up with family and old friends that have known you forever, that know your quirks, bad and good points.  Getting back into the groove of your home country, slang, driving and food, which takes approximately 1 minute.  Settling down to a good home cooked breakfast that you can only get and have cooked as you have always known it to be.

You book every doctor you can think of to ensure that all your routine medicals are completed before you go home.  These lead to more medicals and you spend another two weeks running from pillar to post ensuring everyone goes back to your host country healthy and happy.

You try and visit all the local historical sites, places of interest and fun parks to ensure that the kids are having fun and are being educated along the route.  You cram in as much time with Gran, Grandad, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and any other form of relative you can find so that the children can have the time in these 2 months with their family that they have missed out on over the last 10.  Old friends are gathered together for catch ups, school and uni friends of your own, school friends of your children, work mates, and friends that you have made over the years and in the rush you find the excitement exhilarating.  Shopping becomes fun as you hit all the old haunts and stock up on little delicacies you cannot find in your host country. In our case that would be pork and having a glass of wine at a side cafe.

That is usually our first port of call, to find a restaurant at the airport as we land and have a good old English Breakfast of Bacon, egg, bangers, tomato and toast.  Then as the weeks pass, there would be the obligatory spare ribs, bangers and mash, pork rashers and pork chops and last but not least a good pork roast.  Having said that these 2 months fill you up for the next 10.

Unfortunately during this time, your partner has to go back to work.  Most partners manage 3 or 4 weeks with the family, or do 2 weeks on and then go back and work and come back for another 2 weeks.  This is the period which I call the bachelor / ette time, where the host country sees a menagerie of single people floating around.  They seem lost and without focus and tend to gather around in groups, not quite knowing what they should be doing and where they should be going. Lost phone calls make their way to the home country, of days of missing family and spouses, of missing the constant noise in the house, of missing the mess and rushed breakfasts.  On the other hand, some partners love the time apart to chill, go out and have no responsibilities but for themselves. The spouse in the home country also misses the normality of home life, but is in essence still in the romantized dream of catch up.

It is not all roses though, unless you have a home in your own country, you are living with family and out of suitcases.  If you are traveling, you are living in hotel rooms. It is a long time to be away from home.

Then there is the time to come home.  To pack and say your goodbyes, knowing that you will not see everyone again for a long time.  It is an idolized lifestyle. You are the expat, the one with the exciting life, the one that has taken the initiative to embrace change.  This does not stop the tears though, each goodbye has its own lonely heartbreak, as you see your children hug their grandparents and cousins that they love so much.  As you cling on to your parents and siblings, knowing that you will only touch again in a very long time to come.  It is tough.  One of the tougher holidays to go home for, as it is longer and you settle back into your home country routine again, things are comfortable and familiar, you know the shops, the people, the roads, the customs.

You say your goodbyes and at the airport on the way home the kids start chatting about their rooms, their toys, their friends, their new school year and after school activities.  They talk about what they are going to do in the new school year and how much they are looking forward to the new challenges.  You think of your own challenges, your own room, your own new friends and you know that it is fun and that you are going to embrace the new school year with vigor and enthusiasm to match those of your children.

As an expat how was your holiday? Did you go home, travel the world? What did you do?

Denise is an Expat, Mom, Wife, writer and Marketing Manager at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn in a different location to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences. The complete cost of living rank for all 300 locations for all 13 baskets is available here.

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