A warning for live-aboard boaties – returning ‘home’ for the holidays can be bittersweet and this is why…
Before I recount the experiences that my husband, daughter and I recently encountered during our return ‘home’ for the holidays, let me first start off with my top seven tips.
My advice for those living in live-aboard boat communities planning a trip home for the holidays
1. Be prepared to experience a lifestyle conflict. After living on a boat for quite a bit of time it might be hard to adjust to life on land.
2. If possible, arrange a gathering in a central location where you can invite everyone to come to you rather than trying to make the rounds to all of your family and friends.
3. If you’re going to buy presents, buy them online before you arrive and have them shipped to a friend/family member so you don’t have to fall prey to the pre-Christmas shopping rush. (I gave everyone one of my sexy sailing t-shirts that I sell at my online shop!)
4. Schedule in time for yourself – every few days make sure you have a rest day or a few hours to just read a book or veg out. If you don’t schedule it in, the time will be taken up. Hubby and I booked a spa day/night at a hotel to make sure we took time out for ourselves.
5. Don’t feel bad if friends and family can’t relate to you and your lifestyle – that’s normal.
6. Realize that each visit might be more about simply spending time with friends/family rather than gaining a close connecting. It’s a time of stress, deadlines and endless preparations. Many people that you meet with will be more anxious and stressed than usual.
7. Be easy on yourself. Don’t get upset if you can’t see everyone and/or make everyone happy. Do the best you can and give yourself credit for making the massive effort to get home in the first place.
Let me tell you our story about leaving our live aboard boat community to go home to England for the holidays…
Should we stay on the boat or go home for the holidays?
During the lead up to December, hubby and I couldn’t decide whether we wanted to fly ‘home’** to England for Christmas or not. Initially, we wanted to fly my father-in-law down to Marina di Ragusa so that he could join us on the boat, or at a nearby holiday apartment, for the festive period.
**We sold our house in England to buy our boat so when I write about ‘home’ I’m talking more about the country/family/friends rather than a physical house.
We wouldn’t allow my father-in-law to be alone on Christmas
Unfortunately my father-in-law’s health restricted him from flying. Furthermore, I was invited to attend a party with some of my best business friends. And, of course, several of our friends wanted to see us and I was missing them.
Needless to say, the idea of leaving our sailboat, Britican, felt uncomfortable
We didn’t want to leave the sunny, moderate weather. Nor did we want to leave our friends or the amazing planned festivities at the marina. We felt so comfortable and the thought of flying felt as if we were leaving a vacation rather than leaving our now ‘normal’ live-aboard life.
In the end, we decided to fly to England for three weeks over the Christmas period. Hubby and I couldn’t bare to think of my father-in-law being home alone.
Originally coming from America you’d think that I’d remember the impact of returning ‘home’ after an extended duration
Heck, for the past 16 years, I’ve been flying from London to New York to visit my friends and family experiencing a variety of feelings.
Returning home often presents a bombardment to the senses, an awareness of nostalgia, and memories of why you left mixed with the love for those you left. It usually takes me a few days to balance out as I go a bit crazy eating foods I’ve missed and mixing with loved one’s in familiar places.
While taking notes about how I felt, I realized that there’s yet another interesting benefit to selling up and sailing away…
When you come ‘home’ you appreciate it so much more than ever before (at least for the first few days)
Travelling isn’t for everyone but those of us that venture away from home have a massive opportunity to not only see new things and experience new experiences but we also discover just how amazing our home was to begin with. As I always say, you don’t know what you don’t know. If you never get out of where you are, you’ll never realize how good you have it.
Let me name some of the things I’ve missed about living in England:
- Toilets have seats on them (In Italy it’s rare to find a café, bar or restaurant with a toilet seat!)
- You can flush your toilet paper down the toilet (on the boat and most places in the Med, you need to put your toilet paper in a wastepaper basket)
- You can shower without turning the water on and off to conserve water.
- There is a massive variety of FOOD! Curry, Chinese, Thai, Sushi, roast dinners, parsnips, and big coffees.
- It’s great to go into a shop and have the ability to read packages in English – it doesn’t take all day to figure out what I’m buying!
- Being able to use my phone and not worrying how expensive the call is going to be is so relaxing.
- Unlimited Internet that is actually unlimited and works is a breathe of fresh air.
- Being able to find things that you want easily allows me to walk around chilled out rather than always having my radar on. In the Med I always have a list of things I need in my head and I’m always looking out for a shop that might have them!
- Not having to figure out what language you need to speak for pleasantries (please, thank you, hello, good bye) makes going out that much more relaxing.
- Seeing the British countryside – there’s nothing as beautiful as England when the sun comes out!
On the flip side, however, after the bombardment to the senses is over, there is for some of us, a recognition of why we left in the first place. And interestingly, all the things I listed above become ‘normal’ very quickly. At first it feels amazing to flush toilet paper down the toilet buy by day three it’s as if you’ve never had it any other way.
After the three-day normalization period is over, something else happens…
If you’ve ever moved from one location to another you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s as if your circle of awareness expands and the thought of going back to where you were before sends a chill up your spine. The same can happen while thinking back on a previous job or perhaps a previous partner. You’ve moved on. The thought of going back means going backwards.
My circle of awareness started in Rochester, New York. It then expanded to San Francisco, California. Thereafter, it expanded to Aylesbury, England and now it’s grown to not only include several countries around the Mediterranean but it also encompasses an alternative lifestyle of living on a sailboat.
Our new lifestyle is so different now…going home felt a bit painful
I left England ‘to live my dream,’ because I was fed up with a lack of meaningful connection with others, unhealthy food, negative media, and broken systems (health service, banking, education, etc). To me, the world seemed broken and I wanted to find a new world – one that is less filled with fear, negativity and systems that didn’t make any sense.
Within the sailing community, I’ve certainly found a different world
I’ve discovered people that are similar to me and perhaps running away from the modern world of commercialism, fear, stress, broken systems. I’m not sure that ‘running away’ is the right wording? Let me rephrase that and say that perhaps we’re all running towards something more authentic and fulfilling.
For the most part, sailors aren’t living in a world based on fear and broken systems; they’re instead living in flow. They naturally generate a community of kindness, friendship, support and authenticity.
Most sailors I’ve met don’t watch the news and aren’t influenced by the barrage of negativity emitting from the TV, radio or Internet media outlets. Conversations amongst sailors tend to reflect on the weather, sailing stories, interesting things to do in the area, tips on future locations, food, our past lives (on land) and anything troubling us.
When you’re living on a boat, there’s always an issue – how do you get stains off the hull? What’s the best way to clean the curtains? Where can you get gas for the oven tank? And so on. The issues are not emotional or heavy – often they’re the next thing to do and learn so they’re treated in a positive manner.
While in the UK, I caught the flu and watched a bit of TV to try and take my mind off feeling like crap. In the course of four hours, I cried six times – every charity commercial made my heart break and the news made me feel unwell. After nine months of not watching TV I felt as if I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelmingly strong messages used to get viewers attention.
The sad thing is that if I lived on land and saw the charity commercials often I probably wouldn’t bat an eye at them – I would just ‘turn off’ my ability to feel as it’s the only way to protect oneself from all the negative messaging out there.
Having a break from TV made me realize just how hard the modern world has to work at getting our attention now days.
Going nowhere fast – are we?
Most cruising sailors don’t try to get anywhere fast and it’s reflected on land just as much as on sea. We all know that our best-laid plans often won’t pan out – either the weather or the wind will hamper our efforts. Furthermore, getting anywhere by sailboat takes quite a long time. Over the nine months, I’ve slowed way down. I move slower. I walk slower. And I even talk slower. I’m truly going with the flow rather than trying to force anything.
I didn’t realize how much I slowed down until I spent a couple days in London
Contrast my slow pace with my workaholic city girl past and you’d see a massive change in me! I use to speed walk everywhere I went. In London, I’d race up and down the escalators in The Tube. I was always rushing and it wasn’t because I was late. It was simply because I always felt as if there wasn’t enough time in the day. Even when I forced myself to slow down I could feel my blood race through my veins yelling, ‘hurry up’!
Now… I’ve realized that rushing (or slowing down) is a lifestyle choice
You can choose to rush or you can choose to go a speed that says, ‘I have all the time in the world.’ In the end you get the same results but the slower journey is much more relaxing and far more beneficial to one’s health.
During our stay in London, hubby and I enjoyed the sights of London with our daughter. Watching all the people speed by made my head spin. Everyone was on super drive whereas we were all dawdling around absorbing the views. As our time in London progressed I felt myself start to speed up.
When you’re in an environment where everyone is racing around it seems impossible not to join the race too. I don’t want to race. I could feel the blood in my veins start to yell, ‘hurry up Kim, you don’t have time to waste!’ By the time we left London I thought, ‘I can’t wait to get back to the boat…I can feel my whole mind and body start to speed up and I don’t want that anymore!’
Being in England has caused me to also miss the sense of community in the boating world
On a boat whether you’re at a marina, in a bay or passing another boat you almost always exchange pleasantries, start up a chat and more often than not make a new friend.
At the marina we’re at currently, I must say ‘hi’ to at least 20 people during the day while coming and going to and from the boat. Everyone I see, I smile and at the very least exchange a ‘good morning’ or a ‘how’s it going?’
In England, my sense of community consists of my friends spread throughout the country. I feel very close to my friends and it’s lovely to see them but in between, when I’m walking along the High Street or doing some shopping I feel a lack of connection.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to feel ‘connected’ when there are so many people around?
Perhaps connection only happens in small villages and little communities? Or, perhaps it’s a mindset similar to rushing versus going your own pace? All I can report on is how I feel. It’s absolutely wonderful to see all my friends but I dearly miss the community feeling while living on our boat.
Seeing my friends and feeling ‘community’ happens only when I’m with my friends however when living on the boat I feel a sense of community all the time – I hope that makes sense?
And the broken systems that we left…
Fortunately for us, a three-week stay in the UK allowed for very casual conversation so we didn’t get into discussions with friends over what’s working and what’s not working.
How about my daughter…how did she get on?
What about my daughters, Sienna’s (almost 5 years old), transition back to England? How did she handle our ‘vacation’?
When we landed in England we spent the first weekend visiting Sienna’s friends. Upon seeing her various groups of friends she’d immediately went up and hugged them. There was no shyness or an uncomfortable first few minutes.
She met up with her boyfriends, Ethan and Mason (My Godsons pictured above), her pre-school friends, Harry and Sophie, and her girlfriends, Annalisa and Kayleigh. She also enjoyed seeing her ‘big-sister’ friends Megan and Morgan – both age 12. Each reunion was a great one filled with hugs, kisses and lots of playing.
All the children acted just as they did before we left as if no time passed
As a whole, Sienna seemed to just go with the flow and she was happy when she was with her friends, happy when it was just her and Granddad watching, ‘Antique Roadshow,’ and even happy helping my dear friend, Ene, rake the leaves in the back garden. She didn’t seem any happier than when she’s with her friends in the sailing community. I was pleased to see how stable she seemed.
Not once did she freak out when we had to leave a friend either
The one remarkable difference I noticed, however, was her ambivalence to Christmas – especially in regards to presents. When I asked her what she wanted from Santa she couldn’t really give me an answer. After a couple days she told me that she wanted a toy truck.
Contrast that to last year where she gave me a list of every toy she wanted and the list was not short!
Due to the fact that she hasn’t seen a commercial in over nine months she didn’t know what she wanted. I really don’t think she cared too much about the presents she recieved. Sienna seemed grateful and she wasn’t focused solely on ‘what presents am I going to get’!
And hopefully my constant repetition about family and friends being ‘all I want for Christmas’ will reinforce the values I want her to hold.
Two days before we returned to the marina from our three-week holiday, granddad asked Sienna, ‘Would you rather live in England or on the boat?’ Sienna responded with, ‘I want to live on the boat.’
I was very surprised to hear her answer
She’s been playing with all her good friends, getting presents from everyone and basically getting anything she wants for three weeks yet she’s perhaps eager to get back to the boat too?
It’s difficult to understand how Sienna might feel
Every day she’s up for whatever we present her with yet maybe she’s feeling a bit tired or overwhelmed like I am? Or perhaps she knows where her bread is buttered?!
Hubby, uncharacteristically became a bit stressed and anxious
The second we left the boat, my husband, Simon, admitted that he didn’t want to leave. He said he had a knot in his stomach. Throughout our time in England he was ‘okay.’ Looking at him I could see that he enjoyed his time with friends and family but overall the trip was very stressful.
Simone was definitely happy to see his friends and spend time with them but otherwise; I think he wanted time to go fast. Aside from getting roast parsnips and enjoying a curry I don’t think he misses much of England.
I asked Simon if he could ever live in England again now that we’ve left and changed our lifestyle. His answer was a ‘yes’ but definitely not in the close future.
Our circle of awareness has expanded and for now our home is on our boat and the lifestyle that comes with it. Perhaps we can just become better at convincing our friends and family to come out and visit us?!
So, I think that next year we’ll stay on the boat for the holidays
Our plan is to be in St Lucia as we’re crossing the ocean with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in November. I have a year to convince some family and friends to meet up with us in the Caribbean…I’m sure I’ll get some takers.
Overall, our journey home for the holidays was bittersweet
The stress of getting things done, seeing everyone and travelling took its toll. On the flip side it was so wonderful to enjoy time with all those that we love.