The visit home

I’m an American expat living in the Netherlands for two years now. In the span of two years, I’ve visited my home in Florida four times. Each time, as my colleagues and friends bid me farewell saying, “have a nice holiday!” I’ve responded with “it’s not a holiday.”

Why isn’t it a holiday?

I’m leaving the 10-degree (50 degrees Fahrenheit) weather for sunshine, coast-to-coast beaches, and good company. Northern Europeans think it’s no Bali but otherwise would jump at the chance, but for me it’s endless planning and culture shocks.

If you’ve moved away – particularly, abroad – from the place you’ve called “home”, the return visit can fill you with stress and anxiety; so much so that it’s almost healthier to eat churros, cinnamon buns, and buttery croissants all in one sitting. After all, there are about 5,684 people to visit; 424 places that have the ‘best’ burger, the ‘best’ coffee, and the ‘best’ trivia nights; 175 shops that are reminding you that you really need cheaper rain boots; and 67 reasons why you left to begin with.

The question becomes, how do you transform your visit into a holiday instead of an obligation to yourself?

So as you get ready to step off the runway, approach your visit home as a new experience and try to keep it as relaxing and simple as possible. After all, this is YOUR HOLIDAY.

1Find a “home base”

The place I formerly called home is Orlando, Florida or rather, Central Florida. Central Florida covers 18 counties and in 2010, the population was over 8 million. To put it in perspective, the Netherlands – a country – has an estimated population of 16.8 million (thanks Wikipedia!). To visit everyone I’d want to visit – family included – it can easily take 15 hours of driving in one week. If I wanted to drive that much, I’d head to Monaco, a mere 14-hour drive from Amsterdam.

Every time I’ve visited, I’ve stayed in different parts of Central Florida in order to see everyone and avoid the travel time. But sleeping in a new bed each night is not good for my sleep cycle, nor my sanity as each night’s stay needs to be meticulously planned.

I realize Florida is bigger than most states but the challenge of maximizing time and managing to visit everyone is something all expats experience.

So, to make it a bit easier, find a place (hotel, Air BnB, couch, etc.) you want to stay at and just stay there. Unpack your bag, kick up your feet, and most importantly, let go of the obligation to stay with different family and friends. Do what YOU want to do; after all, this is YOUR vacation.

2Don’t announce to the world you’re visiting

"I love the Magic Kingdom! #expatvisit #orlando #visitinghome #traveling

Once you pick your home base, try to keep your visit low-key and only see the people you really have to see. That means no posting on Facebook or Instagram your every move (#visitinghome) or beware the barrage of messages of “YOU’RE IN TOWN?!!” and then the subsequent awakwardness. On a personal note, I am a Millennial and totally guilty of this.

If you feel like you must see everyone, then do a mass email invite to friends and family and invite them to dinner near your home base. By not trying to schedule in everyone, you make more time for those you really want to see and more importantly, more time for yourself. You also reduce the hassle of trying to schedule everything one month before you even arrive.

3Remember you’re no longer a resident

Flying on an airplane to get there means you're technically a visitor

My first time coming Stateside was a real eye-opener. I had just touched down and I found myself without a working phone, working bankcard, and no access to transportation. I felt like an ill-prepared tourist, and guess what? I was.

My advice is (assuming your phone is unlocked) to buy a SIM card from a local wireless service company like T-Mobile or AT&T. These companies offer month to month plans, which you can cancel once you leave the states and then for a few extra bucks, you sign up for a “pay as you go” plan to keep the SIM card and phone number active for whenever you visit next.

The other advice is to not rent a car. When you aren’t insured in the States but don’t have a foreign driver’s license, renting a car can be 7x as much and within one week, you’ve spent $800 excluding gas and tolls. Utilize public transport to the best of your abilities, carpooling with friends, and Uber. I am a real advocate of Uber as it saved me $600 during my last visit.

Lastly, make sure your US bank account or card is still active. It’s best to contact the bank or company beforehand to let them know you’ll be traveling. There’s nothing worse than having neither cash nor card when you touch down in a foreign country.

4Pay in cash

Paying in cash means you're constantly aware of how much you're spending. Find free and local things to do, such as hanging out in a backyard with home-brewed beer

Which leads me to my next topic – budgeting. Visiting your former hangouts, eating out, or buying souvenirs can easily be an extremely expensive “vacation.” In my case, the Euro is still doing better than the Dollar, but visiting America is not as cheap as going to Thailand.

Never buy souvenirs. You do not want to set that standard.

To ensure you have enough money for your next vacation, put yourself on a tight budget and pay in cash. Knowing exactly how much is in your wallet is a great way to trick your brain into thinking you don’t have enough cash to try out the new gastro pub or attend two fancy brunches. It also encourages you to get creative with finding new and less expensive activities or places to eat. Discovering new locales even in your hometown gives you the sense of a real holiday.

5Let go of your perceptions

Approach the trip as you would any other trip to a new culture. Even when it's your own culture, it can feel a bit foreign

There are a number of reasons why I always wanted to live abroad, one of them being that I felt like I was outgrowing my birth country. Once I did make the move, it wasn’t easy and just as it has taken a while to get used to the Dutch culture; similarly, it has taken time for me to get used to the American culture even if I was born into it.

Living abroad has broadened my horizons and no longer do I not only live in an insular bubble, but I also don’t belong to one specific culture. This transition between cultures makes it difficult to visit because my perceptions of my birth country have changed, which is accentuated in this contentious and cringe-worthy political season.

If you’re like me and are straddling two different worlds, approach the visit home as you would entering a new country and culture. Keep an open mind and try to understand the cultural behavior as much as possible and accept it. It’s perfectly natural and wonderful to question cultural motivations, but it can be tiring and rude to try and challenge it.