Expat life: an open letter from the other side of the world

Granny wanderlust on a red sand dune. Behind her the sky is bright blue. She has black trousers on and a blue jumper. Her hands are in her pockets and her right leg is bent, a pace up the dune. She has sunglasses on and her hair is windswept.

This is a bit of a different one today, Wanderlusters.

I’m handing the reins over to Granny Wanderlust who, it must be said, has been quite the part of my (and our family’s) travel and expat journey. Somehow, she’s managed to stay connected and bonded with our Things despite the distance, time differences and, now, travel restrictions. She has truly made it possible for us to live where we do without sacrificing the family connection that means so much to me.

She has visited us everywhere we have lived and met us halfway for some truly incredible trips. I love that she visits us everywhere we live. It means everything that she really knows the people and places that we talk about. Of course, for every hello, there’s a goodbye. She’s been the subject of many a post about goodbyes including The Goodbyes Never Get Any Easier and I Want To Say Goodbye.

Living abroad is one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life but I recognise that it comes at a cost to our friends and family. I understand that it isn’t just us who make the sacrifice to live away. I am forever grateful that we have people in our lives who support us in every decision we make and every international move that comes our way, regardless of the price they must pay, or whether or not they agree with us.

I’ve written before about the hardships of living away and how much we miss people. I can’t wait to see you all again… but most of all I can’t wait to see Granny Wanderlust.

Me and Granny wanderlust selfie. We are both wearing sunglasses. We have swimsuits on under our tops - mine is black and hers is red. Behind us are a few trees, some blue sky and a path.

Introducing Granny Wanderlust

So here I am, Granny Wanderlust, the somewhat reluctant mum of an expat.  

This post is about being the mother of an expat. I started writing it a while ago and put it away, but things have changed since then in a massive way. My daughter has written quite a lot about the highs and lows of living far away from home. I thought I would add to that by talking about the highs and lows of having a daughter/son-in-law and grandchildren who not only do not live near me, but are thousands of miles away. 

I miss them

Selfie in Cyprus! Me, then granny wanderlust behind me, Thing 1 in front of her, Thing 2 next to her and Mr Wanderlust. The adults are all wearing sunglasses and everyone except me is in a blue top! Behind us is some brown dry grass and some trees.

Contrary to popular belief, I did not set out to instil a love of travelling in my children.  It was not conscious role modelling, although I did, and still do believe, that experiencing different ways of living. Broadening horizons, understanding and compassion is very important.  However, travel does seem to have become an important part of my children’s lives.

I am not sure I ever really went through the Empty Nest thing.  I was so relieved that both my children had made it through secondary school in one piece and had some kind of direction, that I didn’t really stop to think about the implications of then leaving home. I had been a single parent for almost all of their lives. Essentially when they did leave, I was on my own, but I was embarking on a new direction as the headteacher of a small primary school, so I didn’t really have time to grieve!

However, I think I am making up for it now and I have a permanent dull ache of “missing them”.   Both are well set up in their own very busy lives.  They have wonderful spouses, who are very kind to me and don’t seem to mind how often I come to stay.  I am unbelievably proud and feel very lucky that they have really flown the nest and it is they who now support me in so many ways.  

But I miss them.

So far away

All of us in front of the Parthenon in Athens. Granny Wanderlust is in a flowery top and a blue skirt, I am wearing a white flowery top and blue shorts, carrying Thing 2 in a pink t-shirt. Next t one is Mr Wanderlust in a grey t-shirt and grey shots. Thing 1 is in front of us wearing a bright red t-shirt and blue shorts. The sky is bright blue and can be seen through the pillars of the Parthenon.

My trips have to be planned and the journey from Devon to Heathrow airport is tortuous in the extreme.  I am not getting any younger and it is tiring.  I miss being able to see “The Things” growing, watching the little things that they can do better. Each time I do get to see them, another phase has gone by.  

I miss being able to help and feel needed.

I’m dependant when I get there and visits are, by necessity, not frequent. I need to keep my life going at home, it is important that I do. One of the ways I cope is by having regular commitments and, consequently, I cannot be away for too long.

But I miss them.

Home visits

Granny wanderlust is sitting on a circle line train on teh London Underground with the Things. They are all staring out of the window behind them.

They cannot be a part of my life here.  They cannot visit me very often or for very long.  I can’t just have lunch, a cup of tea or spontaneous weekend.  If I am poorly, they are far away. If they themselves are unwell, or if they need help, I can’t just be there in a few hours.  

Skype and WhatsApp are brilliant, but it is not the same.

I miss them.

I watch with envy my friends who have children and grandchildren in the same town or not too far away. They go to school and club events or have impromptu picnics. They have visits to the theatre and go round for birthday tea. All things I just don’t get to do with my own children and grandchildren.

Staying grateful

Me and Granny wanderlust are standing in crystal clear water. It is so clear, it is the colour of the sand at the bottom. In the distance is gets blue. The sky is blue with some wispy clouds. She has her arm around me.

AND then I try to remember the positives. . . . 

Thankfully, I am retired. Between us, we can afford for me to travel to see them and, when I do, I can share in their lives because I HAVE to stay for a while.  So, I get to do the school run, watch after school clubs, go on playdates, help with bedtime and I even once shared my own childhood memories in their school. Doha also seems to be a hub of sporting excellence, so when they lived there, I was lucky enough to see Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray play tennis each year and, we watched Max Whitlock and Simone Biles at the world gymnastics championships!!! 

Me and granny wanderlust drinking tea at a cafe table right at teh edge of Lake Como. We are both wearing long sleeved grey tops and wearing sunglasses. Next to us, Thing 1 is eating a party adn not looking at the camera.

l have been able to join them for mini trips and met up with them to have proper holidays.  They have helped me tick off several bucket list destinations – Petra, the Dead Sea and Lake Como, to name a few.  I have been able to drink cups of tea with my daughter (our favourite occupation!) in some amazing places.

Life experiences

Granny Wanderlust, Thing 2, Me, Mr Wanderlust and Thing 1 all standing in teh amphitheatre in Amman, Jordan. The seats go far above our heads and the sun is high in the sky although it is quite cold.

I cannot imagine that I would ever have gone to Houston or Doha if Mr and Mrs Wanderlust had not lived there and what amazing life experiences they have been.  I’ve no doubt that I see this lovely family more (if you count the hours) than I would if they had lived in London. And I am extremely lucky that they do not seem to mind how often I go or how long I stay and that I get to have my own space in their home!!

BUT I do miss them.

And now they have moved even further away.  

Doha was somehow familiar and we have lots of the memories that being in familiar places evoke. Singapore is a much easier place to visit but it is a 13.5-hour flight.  Staying with other people even if they are close family can be a strain on everyone if the visit is too long – and visits have to be longer with flights of that length. 

The year everything changed

Ski selfie! We are all wearing ski and winter wear. It is me with goggles on my helmet, Granny wanderlust wearingg a cream coat and sunglasses, Thing 2 in a red ski suit, Mr Wanderlust squinting in a grey jacket and Thing one in a blue jacked and with blue goggles on his helmet (partially cut off). Behind us is snow and other skiers

I visited once and then COVID hit.  It is now almost a year since I saw them with no let up on the horizon. All the wonderful positives of having a family living far away have been wiped out. I worry that my Wanderlust family are living with no family nearby to help out, although I know that they are really good at making friends and have many wherever they go.  It is hard that they cannot meet the newest addition to our family – their newest nephew and cousin.

Sometimes being grateful that things are not any worse – we are all well and safe – just isn’t enough, the ache is bigger than ever.   The internet and power of Zoom, WattsApp and Skype have been fantastic but they’re not the same.

I need a hug and a cup of tea.


I miss them.

Me and Granny Wanderlust selfie in Singapore, We are both wearing sunglasses, My hair is tied back as usual. She is wearing a yellow and blue checked shirt and I am wearing a white tank top.
Emma Morrell
Emma Morrell

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