In the last three months, I’ve been in seven countries on three continents. I’ll bet your summer, if you’re visiting family and friends during a trip to your home country, is the same: living out of suitcases, catching up over late dinners, taking a moment to remember which country you’re in when you wake up in the morning…
It’s supposed to be fun, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I get tired of explaining everything about the country I live in, or of trying to condense a year’s worth of sharing and socializing into a few days or hours. It can be hard not to feel wistful at the distance between me and my friends and family, sad that we only get a few days or weeks over an entire year.
The time we have with the people we love is precious and we would do well to squeeze every bit of enjoyment and connection out of it. At the same time, we want a fun, relaxing holiday from the country we live in, and probably need to do quite a bit of shopping. It’s not easy to balance these competing needs.
Here are seven ways to get the most out of our summer visits.
1. Manage your commitments.
Summer visits put us under a tremendous amount of pressure to squeeze a year’s worth of socializing into a period of days or weeks. Once friends in one city or region know you’re visiting, they’re likely going to want to see you and will be willing to travel long distances to do so.
Scheduling private time with a handful of different friends can be complicated and stressful, so be clear about who you’ll make time to see and who you’ll maybe catch the next time around. You can’t make everyone happy, and there are likely going to be people who want to see you that don’t make it to the top of your list. That’s okay.
Emphasize quality over quantity, and be clear about when you’re available and when you’re not. Don’t try to see–or please–everyone, because it’s just not possible.
2. Prioritize and communicate your needs.
Put yourself first. You’re likely a houseguest during much of your summer travels, spending only a handful of days or weeks in each place and beholden to your hosts’ schedules and plans, so this is a hard one.
The more you prioritize your own self-care, the happier and more present you’ll be able to be for your friends and family. For me, this means doing yoga every day, making sure there are fruits and vegetables in the house, and getting enough sleep.
Include your friends and family as you meet these needs. Take them to the farmers’ market to buy ingredients for a meal you cook together, or look up a nearby yoga class and take a group.
3. Enjoy the people you love.
Be present and patient, because you’re not going to be perfect and neither are they. Relax, try to minimize expectations, and if you find your temper getting short, take a step away or a breather in the bathroom. We have so little time with our friends and family, when we live abroad, that it’s easy to invest our expectations and a high degree of intensity in our interactions.
Remember that they love you and you love them. Easy does it.
4. Breathe through transitions.
A lot of grace to be found as we move between places. I like to treat travel as an extended meditation in the present moment. I notice the feeling of movement, the changing scenery, and take deep breaths and let my body experience the transitions.
Allow yourself time to walk, breathe and feel. Notice how fast things are moving, acknowledge how transient the present is, and stay in your body, breathing in and out as the scenery around you changes. Giving yourself time to breathe quite literally creates more space around you, in your attitude and in your body.
5. Stock up on what you need.
Trips home often equal massive shopping sprees to the pharmacy to buy a year’s worth of sunscreen or all the work clothes you’ll need for your next stint abroad. Make this easy on yourself and start making lists as far in advance as you can. Ordering things online also tends to cut down the shopping times considerably.
6. Decide how much you want to share with people.
I’ve gotten better, in the last few years, about deciding what to share and what not to share about my expat aid worker lifestyle. I like to share. Sharing is great. But I’ve noticed that sometimes my need to tell people where I live or what I do for a living is more about wanting to impress them and show them how different and exotic I am, and not actually about sharing from the heart.
7. Build and invest in relationships you care about.
This is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Making time for the people you love is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Surround yourself with community where you are heard, nurtured and celebrated. Reconnect. And enjoy it.
The “Guide to Moving,” the second issue of the Expat Backup emagazine, comes out on August 15. And it’s free! I’ve been working hard exploring the challenges that come with an international move, and I really hope you like it.
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