14 Ways to Make Furloughs Fun for Everyone

by Sara Simons

What if you could replace the dread of being gone for multiple months from the place you love, having to put on your most extroverted self, or feeling paralyzed by the thought of packing and re-packing with fond memories of being with people who love you in a context that was life-giving?

Although there is often an unending checklist of details to attend to, might I suggest starting with creating space to brainstorm and imagining what it would take to make this the furlough where you return with newfound energy and support, the way it was always intended?

What would it take to get there? And how can you be intentional towards this goal?

As you consider your plan and the destinations you will embark upon, here are a few creative thoughts, not just for families with kids, but for the tired overseas worker who wants to maximize and enjoy their furlough.

1. Create a furlough bucket list. As my kids used to say, “Our job was meetings,” so think outside the primary reason you’re there. Start by asking each individual (or yourself) what is one fun thing that he/she would like to do while you’re away. The sky’s the limit for now. This may take doing a little research of what there is to do in the areas you’re visiting, or it could be very simple things you already enjoy.

Brainstorm your list, narrow it down to three to five items, and then choose one solid and important selection per person. While not everyone may want to engage in this exercise or the chosen activity, some may feel inspired by sharing out loud the creative options of memories past or not yet formed – of wanting to go horseback riding, doing a park tour through each city, getting an autograph of every person you meet, or traveling through a beloved foreign city on the return trip.

One year when we were planning to be in nine cities in four states with our then two-year-old and six-year-old, we each chose one thing we wanted to do in those cities: try the ice cream, go for a walk, see the moon and constellations from the unique point of earth we were on. At that age the ideas were all free. You’ll be amazed at the ideas, not to mention the joy of conversing about the possibilities in preparation for your arrival.

2. Think creatively about setting. Where we meet people is not limited to a restaurant or cafe. We often suggest meeting at a park or beach or even a museum. A park is a much more casual and neutral space that requires less of everyone. For us as a family, this option allows us to play with our children and include them once again. Our kids have many positive memories of meeting people at the beach and parks, where otherwise they may have been bored out of their minds.

3. Engage in physical activities with friends and supporters. When we started planning our calendar with this in mind, the joy of furlough possibilities returned. We hated how we seemed to gain weight upon return. The idea of another sugar-laden coffee or heavy meal made my stomach hurt just thinking about it. However, the idea of a walk on the beach, a stroll through a new neighborhood, or a hike together with supporters felt much more energizing. Teach us to play paddle! It was so good for us, our children, and those we were meeting with. Walking and talking isn’t a new concept; sometimes it just takes a little more intentionality to consider time of day, ability to talk, and what is needed to maximize this time. This allowed for bonding and connection in a much more organic way as well.

4. Set up fun play dates with trusted family or friends when we can’t (or choose not to) bring our children to a meeting. People are always asking what we need, and this is a very practical way people can help – something they can offer on home assignment that they can’t give while we’re in our ministry context. Our kids remember the families that supported us with this quality time when their parents weren’t around. These elements of connection to our home country ignited delight in them for future returns, a gift we had hoped for.

5. Host a coffee shop “open house.” When we land in an area, we typically start with this as a priority. We will set up “office hours” for several hours at a local coffee shop and let everyone in the area know where we’ll be. We try to meet where people can drop in during a three- to four-hour window (late lunch hour is good at a self-serve cafe). This is a fun way to see lots of different people, as well have your worlds integrate a bit. This simultaneously takes some of the scheduling pressure off of you. As an introvert, this idea is much easier for me than packing a schedule back-to-back with individual meetings and once again getting in the car.

6. Think of creative games that can be played in a coffee shop, restaurant, bus, or airplane. When we are all together as a family, we try to avoid having both parents pulled into the same conversation so that one of us can solely attend to the children. One of our favorite games is “who can get the most waves.” Each player waves at strangers, trying to get waves (or smiles) in return, and then we tally the number of points. As an adult, this is one game you are certain to lose (although a suspiciously waving and smiling adult gets fun looks too – bonus points!). We have hilarious memories of sitting in the window of coffee shops around the world trying to make people laugh or smile or wave. It’s a day brightener for everyone, especially us.

7. Give your kids a list of things to find from their seat or window (scavenger hunt style). Let’s be honest, we sit way more than any of us benefit from, but we can still find a way to have fun, whether we’re in a restaurant, coffee shop, car, or airplane. Your scavenger list could include: person with glasses, child crying, strange hat, someone who looks like they’re having a good day, colored hair, best tattoo, and more. These can be made up on the spot by you or your children. Sure, this may only take 20-30 minutes in total, but it can also spur on interesting conversations about culture similarities and differences.

8. Enjoy the journey. Plan a side trip for wherever you end up. As global workers, one of the perks we’ve enjoyed as a family is the ability to make memories en route to our destination. A side trip is a trip within the greater trip, sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous. Needing to go on furlough has afforded us stop-overs that turned into stay-overs at unique and amazing destinations. For the cost of transportation out of the airport and possibly one- or two-night’s stay, you can make incredible memories in beautiful destinations around the globe. This is surely a gift of being globally mobile.

9. Get out in nature by yourself. There isn’t a country on earth that God did not bless with some incredible and unique landscape. It may look like desert, or it may look like marsh, but nonetheless, getting out into nature and engaging in the unique ecosystems of the world is an incredible way to declutter your thoughts and connect with your creative brain. We try to set aside one day a week for this necessary outlet as a family and also as individual adults to get alone time. We have managed to make this a priority by taking turns and limiting our morning commitments.

10. Purposefully try the local food. From Louisiana creole to Minnesota hotdish, not every meal needs to be pizza or hamburgers (thinking US-based here). If people invite you over, ask what their favorite local dish is, and offer to join them in preparing it or to teach them a fun recipe you miss. You could say something like, “I’ve heard there are really delicious ____here. By any chance do you know how to make them?” Learning a new recipe and eating new food is both a memorable way of engaging with people as well as the culture.

11. Reciprocate and bring the cuisine from your country of service and teach others how to make it. Just keep it simple and make sure it’s not too exhausting of a task for you to make or carry unique ingredients for.

12. Go on a special jetlag date when you’re awake at 5:30 in the morning and no one else is awake (minus some crazy-early morning Americans!). My kids have way fonder memories of jetlag than I do. This might be one of the reasons.

13. Make a smash journal. I despise clutter, and I struggle with the amazingly well-intentioned outpouring of gifts to my children by my lovely US-based family. Once we had the idea as a family to “collect” memories along the way through a smash journal. It became our intentional down time together as a family (though not every night). We made space regularly to create little memory books in the form of a journal with everything imaginable stuck inside. Tickets, receipts, napkins, and flyers instantly became more valuable than toys. This was a delightful way for each person to have something tangible from their trip, personalize their experience, and remember their “highs and lows” from the trip using their own unique way of expressing it. It also minimized the need for extra storage or travel space on our return.

14. Take a picture of every bed you have slept in or car you drove or person you met with. This might sound strange or bizarre, but it’s memorable. (Taking pictures of dogs is another option that my kids loved!) For us, this cataloging is another memory-building exercise. Sometimes the pictures validate the wonder of exhaustion or serve as an understanding of your reason for chiropractic care. And sometimes they act as a memory trigger of the beautiful space that was created on our behalf. We have incredible memories of people who loved us well in ways we never asked for.

Getting kids involved in planning from the beginning can give furlough an incredible boost instead of it being a bore. Be creative and think outside the box. You’re sure to make incredible memories that only other global workers truly understand. But don’t feel like this is a checklist. Make it your own, and then be flexible and spontaneous, present to whomever the Father wants to put before you. Truly pray for this time to be the gift it was intended for.

 

Originally published at The Way Between and revised for reprint at A Life Overseas.

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Sara Simons and her family recently relocated back to the US after 11 years living and working abroad. She and her husband Jeff create resources and provide coaching for ministry leaders in major life transition and on sabbatical. You can learn more at thewaybetween.org.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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