Summer vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times.
Interminable plane trips, boring hotel rooms, exhausting hours together in the car, funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain — family vacations can be difficult enough for adults, but for children they can be down right awful!
On the other hand, exploring new places together, sharing time and goofing off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives — family vacations can be the best thing since summer was invented.
How to have more of the best of times and less of the worst?
First of all, watch out for high expectations.
Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, letters, share them all. Make checklists, too, with responsibilities for everyone. This applies especially to the Expat family. We often build in too many expectations since our time with family or “home” is so short. Often the places we are dragging our kids to is not even a place they connect to as “home” and yet as parents, we keep saying “home.”
Allow plenty of time.
Don’t jam-pack days or crowd too much into the trip. If you’re traveling with young children or toddlers, take short jumps instead of long leaps. If you’re driving, often stop, get out and stretch, move around. Consider picnics instead of restaurant meals.
Expats need to allow time to debrief when you move from one family to another. Often going from one grandparent’s expectations or rules to the other side of the family and different rules can be very stressful for the kids. Sometimes parents might also act differently when they are around the various groups in an extended family. Stress levels will be different for the expat parent depending on the location.
Keep it simple.
Don’t schedule so many activities that there’s no time for just hanging out. Build in rest-time, too. Tempers have a tendency to flare when everyone’s packed together day and night for extended stretches of time. Create alone time, for you and the children. Everyone needs to recharge. Remember, both boredom and over-stimulation can result in acting out. Strive for balance. Don’t forget parents also have to deal with their boredom.
Be sure and allow a day or two for re-entry before you go back to work and the children return to their summer routine or start of a new school year. Coming home can be as stressful as leaving. Make homecoming part of the vacation, too.
Great books to take along for the trip!
The Worst Years of My Life, by James Patterson (Little, Brown)
Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade
How to Survive Anything by Rachel Buchholz, illustrated by Chris Philpot (National Geographic)
Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein (HarperCollins)
Third Grade to Fourth Grade
Sidekicks by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Squish #1: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)
Kindergarten to Second Grade
Bailey by Harry Bliss (Scholastic)
Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster)
If you are lucky enough to be traveling with several adults or teen kids, perhaps an excellent read aloud book for everyone to enjoy at the same time will break up some of those long drives. So have everyone entertain themselves for 30 minutes, then you have 20 minutes of a common story time. Then everyone back to their own thing. Keep some rotation going with the read aloud book! It is good for the brain and also an excellent way to kill time.
If you have read “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child,“ it would be a very good time to start getting some of those oral stories down, so you don’t forget them. Use the books easy step by step approach on which emotions to target in your stories. Slide in your unique summer trip and you will end up with a special family emotion story that will last forever. Many parents put these stories out digitally, others in a photo type journal and other let their kids choose what they want to do. It is great to build an oral story first and then try to capture it in some form.
Amazon Review: I grew up as a child who both moved a lot and spent a considerable amount of time in foreign countries due to my father’s work. While I was told that I was lucky, and I believe that I was, I didn’t realize the particular toll that this lifestyle took on me until later in life. Now, as someone who gets to interact with children who are expats, I have found author Julia Simens’ book to incredibly useful on several fronts. First, it has given me a lot of insight into the things that I went through as a child and didn’t know how to express. Secondly, this wonderful book is also helping me to relate so much better to the expat children that I am blessed to be associated with now. What a wonderful read that has so much to offer. Highly recommended.
I’d love to hear one of your stories! Please share them here.