As an expat, the holiday experience is very different. A trip back to the UK is a wonderful time to catch up with family and friends, and enjoy all the things you really miss from home; decent fish and chips, the local pub, ambling walks or runs through damp forests, buildings that harness centuries of history.
You’re not there long enough for the age-old niggles to matter. It might be raining, but British rain can be so refreshing. It might be busy, but these are your people. Petrol might be nearly £1.40 a litre, but you don’t have a car.
One thing that is missing, however, from the expat’s holiday, is rest and relaxation. You are the returning traveller, and so it’s your responsibility to travel a little more to see people. The UK might be small, but with clogged roads, it’s sometimes quicker to take Route 66 across the USA that drive from Kent to Buckinghamshire. As an expat you took the decision to disengage, albeit temporarily, from your community and friendship groups, and so when you return to the Motherland for a couple of weeks, it is difficult to expect those dear to you to come flocking, flinging themselves at your feet like the returning Messiah.
And so it is for a couple of weeks a year I drag two tired toddlers around the country to stay in spare rooms and on floors of hospitable friends and family, drinking endless coffee and Rich Tea biscuits and musing: “how time’s flown” and “haven’t you grown”. (Parents will recognise the Julia Donaldson Snail on a Whale reference, read and reread to my children.)
Holiday travel is different though. We’ve taken trips to Ras al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ajman and Oman.
In contrast to our UK trips, on our travels we:
· watched Bourgonvillia tumbleweed and sand drifts. It looks so much like the dried leaves and snow of Chicago – directly equal and opposite sights, from cold to hot.
· drove through wide rocky wadis and marveled whether there was ever enough water to fill them. Apparently, even after a mere shower you can have a flash flood, but given there are few drains and those that exist are full of sand, it’s hardly surprising.
· looked quizzically at palm tree base stations and wondered whether anyone could be fooled by them.
· complained that like most trips, the children whinged and whined for six hours of a long, hot drive, then fell asleep just as we arrived.
I don’t want to go around looking for differences. But I do want to keep my eyes open and see how life develops. I suppose my only frame of reference is my personal experiences and this means comparing and constrasting everything I see.