Being apart from family is one of the hardest things about being an expat.
Everytime you miss a birthday, a family event, a funeral, or simply when you know your family needs you by their side, you get this ache in your heart and wish you could teleport over to them. Sadly, flying home frequently is not an option due to cost, distance, and visa issues.
In recent years, COVID has made it even harder to see your family and, as a result, there is an increase in the number of expats returning home for good because they want to be with family during this pandemic.
In this article, I will offer some suggestions for how to cope with missing your family when overseas, though I acknowledge that some of the suggestions would work better post-COVID.
Missing important family events and celebrations
You can try to be present despite being physically absent by using technology to bridge the gap. We are very lucky that now we have technology at our disposal. There are many video call applications that we can utilise such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, Telegram, and Google Meet. Make it a point to call your family members weekly and join in the celebrations via video call.
I remember the time when I started venturing overseas more than a decade ago; calling my family would involve going to the internet cafe or using expensive international calling cards that burn money by the minute. Thankfully, that is a bygone era.
Fly home when possible
Of course, nothing matches being physically home with your family if you have the opportunity. Flying home should be a happy feeling but, unfortunately, I know all too well the divided and guilty feeling you get when you are home and suddenly everybody wants time with you. You start to wish that there were more than 24 hours in a day or that your trip was a little longer.
When you are home, friends will want to catch up with you. It is definitely tough to have to tell your friends that you have no time to meet them. I have learnt over the years to ask myself the main objective of flying home. If it is because of family, then family takes priority. If it is a trip back to see both family and friends, then making a schedule before you arrive home would ensure that you get to spend as much time as possible with both groups.
If you are only back for a short trip, you will need to prioritise whom you will meet. You will need to categorise your friends as close friends and just normal friends. Sometimes, you have to say “no” because your time at home is precious and you want to spend it with those who matter. I had to schedule a meeting with my close friend between 11pm to 6am a number of times because that was the only available slot I had!
At times, I don’t post my return on social media when my trip back is short and I want to focus on my time with my family. I also acknowledge the fact that over the decade of being an expat, as a result of prioritising my family when I visit, I’ve lost a few friends over the years. I feel it is a worthy sacrifice as family is the most important to me.
Book flights in advance to get discounts
Keep a lookout for discounts on flight tickets. Many flight companies offer cheaper flights if you book in advance. When returning home over a festive period, it is important to book much earlier, not only to keep costs low but also because flights get booked out. A few times when I wanted to fly home over Lebaran (Eid al-Fitr’) and the Chinese New Year period, flights were double and sometimes even triple the normal price.
Host your family
Invite your family over to visit you in the country you are working in. Sometimes, our working schedule may not permit us to fly home but if you have the means, you can fly your family over to spend time with you. However, do plan to take time off from work when your family is visiting or at least plan that they visit over the weekend or during a less busy period at work. It would be sad if your family ended up flying over but you were too busy to host them.
My suggestion, if you are working and cannot take time off, would be to engage a tour agency to bring your family on day trips to visit interesting places in your city. At least your family can have fun while you are at work and you can have dinner together so that they can tell you about the fun day trip they had.
Plan a holiday with the family to another country
Being away from home and free from work or school obligations will make everyone in the family more relaxed and you can have a fun family holiday together.
Many countries are making travel easier if you have the necessary COVID vaccinations. Generally, you just need to test negative with a PCR or antigen test before you fly but of course, the regulations in each country differ and you will need to research this before booking your family holiday. However, do take note that due to the ever-changing situation, travel restrictions and regulations may change overnight and this can lead to flight cancellations.
If you feel that planning a family holiday together during this pandemic is too risky, you can shelf this suggestion for another time in the future when it is much safer.
Life with COVID-19
Sadly, some of the suggestions in this article may not be possible due to the pandemic, travel restrictions, and the health safety of family members. Hopefully, post-COVID, when the day finally dawns upon us, we can be with our families again.