When TCK’s Grow Up: Planning is Hard

Hawaii. China. Australia. When we lived in Japan, the traveling never stopped whether we were crossing the ocean or traveling within the borders of Nihon (Hokkaido, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Tokyo Disneyland, the list goes on…).

My parents are saints. Not only did they change my life by lugging my brother and I around the world and throwing us into unthinkable situations (“By the way, we enrolled you in Japanese kindergarten since you’re already literate in English and might as well start learning another language”), but they also placed a myriad of effort into planning our trips.

These trips might have seemed like “luxurious vacations” at the time, but in reality they were laborious lesson plans that my parents (ok, let’s be real, my veteran-elementary-teacher-librarian-mother did most of the work while my dad cheered her on – team effort!) crafted to give my younger brother and I life changing experiences and perspectives.

Tours of the Great Wall and The Forbidden City, sweet and sour frog leg dinners, boat rides complete with snake skin drinks and floating merchants, jade and mosaic-making factories… My mom even persuaded me to write a “travel book” on China for kids upon returning (of which she just found buried in my childhood bedroom and is now trying to turn into an e-book  – my mom is also the best cheerleader!).

Animal conservatories, snake-petting sessions, and night-time walking safaris in Australia (in which I received my first tick ordeal – this was obviously pre-Minnesota) were regular vacation experiences for us. I thought this was normal at the time. Why would you go to Australia and ONLY relax on the beach?

Now that I have lived in international communities, I am continuously watching expat families with young children whisk away to African safaris, Nile River Cruises, tours of Petra, Thai excursions, moves to locales such as Venezuela and Brazil, not to mention exotic culinary experiences. I am watching this younger generation of TCK’s and I wish I could communicate to them how they should hug their parents’ necks every time they walk by. In reality I know these kids likely won’t understand the impact this lifestyle is having on them until they are in the situation I am in now….

And what situation is that? We’ve already established that I am a global nomad, a wandering soul who needs to quench her travel thirsts on a regular basis. But I am also at the point where I am discovering the amount of energy it must have taken to be an adult living overseas, not to mention with developing minds in tow.

Less than a month ago I sat at my computer, desperately trying to finalize plans for a trip to Iceland. Panic set in. How does one even begin to plan for this? How do I ensure we get the full Icelandic “real” experience without feeling too much like a tourist while knowing that we will never be able to avoid being a tourist?

Tonight, I sit here in a classy Jordaan apartment. Yes, I said Jordaan. No, that’s not in Iceland. Think more bikes, more canals, (a bit) more sun.

Can't beat the calm canals of Amsterdam

Can’t beat the calm canals of Amsterdam

Confused? Yeah, me too.

It became clear less than a week before the departure date to Iceland that my fellow traveler and I weren’t ready. We wanted the full experience, but hadn’t put in the full amount of time and energy this trip would require. This fact is no one’s fault, rather simply a result of a stressful spring time. We needed to focus on ourselves this spring and planning a trip to Iceland seemed superfluous.

So here I am in Amsterdam, enjoying the vacation rather than travel adventure. I am not required to plan ahead if I don’t want to, yet am in a comfortable and familiar place where we don’t mind making plans. On this vacation no one has to rent a car, we can walk everywhere. On this vacation no one has to pack up a suitcase every day, but rather can lounge in an upscale apartment and chill by the front yard canal.

Iceland will still happen. When it’s time.

To my parents, and all other expat parents out there – we salute you. We’re still not sure how you do it.