When is the Right Time to Quit Traveling?

Every time we move abroad, it raises a question. How long will we stay? When will we come back? A pro/con list won’t work because it’s not an either/or question. It’s a when question. Is this the year to move back? After the next school year? By Christmas? 

For us, travel comes in seasons. But that change in season doesn’t align with the calendar. Every time, there is a decision process. How long do we stay away? When is the right time to unpack and drop anchor for awhile?

If a formula exists for this type of decision, I don’t have it. Instead, I’ll point out factors you’ll want to consider.

Milestones and Important Family Events

“Traditions are our roots and a profile of who we are as individuals and who we are as a family. They are our roots, which give us stability and a sense of belonging — they ground us. “ — Lidia Bastianich

mMake memories outdoors with your kids and extended family or friends. Photo by Adam Sherez on Unsplash.

Big family events have a role in connecting us to our roots, our extended family, and the stories of where we come from. These things matter. When possible, we time our return to catch any big event of that year.

Our move home from South Korea was timed so we’d catch Christmas celebrations and a 65th wedding anniversary. We left Argentina on time for a May wedding, then stayed through the summer. 

One year, we returned from Argentina when I was six months pregnant. We had decided to have the baby in Canada and needed to fly before I was too far along. (If all goes well, you can usually fly up to 36 weeks, but that’s pushing it for a ten-hour flight. Check your airline’s policy.)

Summer Days 

“Build traditions of family vacations and trips and outings. These memories will never be forgotten by your children. — Ezra Taft Benson

We are usually in Canada for the summer. Kids go to summer camp and to the cottage with cousins. We pick strawberries at a U-Pick. We reconnect with family.

This is where our kids have their roots, even when we live elsewhere most of the year.

We have a few seasonal traditions we protect when we are in the country: the sugar shack, with maple syrup on snow, in March, strawberry picking in June, apple picking in October.

The kids say, “We always go apple picking in the fall” even though we’ve actually been away three of the past six years. They will remember it as a thing our family does.

Strawberry picking is one of our annual family traditions. It’s more about the tradition than the strawberries. Photo by Farsai Chaikulngamdee on Unsplash.

School Calendars

“We’re friends with the people we do things with… We don’t seek out friends, in other words. We associate with the people who occupy the same small, physical spaces that we do.” — Malcolm Gladwell, quoting a study from University of Utah

School puts kids in a shared physical space for long enough that they can find friends. They might connect over a joke, a group project, even torturous boredom or a bad mark can prompt connection.

Summer offers fewer such venues. It’s hard to meet the neighbors if they are at the cottage all summer. 

It’s easier to make friends at a long term child care arrangement than attending a different day camp every week.

Consider the start dates of high school, middle school, or primary. Special programs — like French Immersion, Spanish, enrichment programs, or extra help — might be more difficult to join mid-year.


“Beginning in itself has no value, it is an end which makes beginning meaningful, we must end what we begun.” ― Amit Kalantri

Our overseas assignments have been work-related, so we want to see a project through to a certain point. We would not consider leaving prior to that point except for an emergency

Pray About It

Since you [God] are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. — Psalms 31:3

God will help you decide, and give you peace about your decision, if you ask. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

This is part of the process for us. And God has been faithful.

We ask God to guide us while considering the factors above. We pick a date that seems to make sense. And we pray something like, “Lord, if this is not a good time to go, please don’t give us peace about it.”

It’s less dramatic than asking God to highlight a date on our your calendar, but he’s answered. Twice, at least, the date we chose months earlier proved to be uncanny timing.

One year when we flew home in June, I was six months pregnant. The kids and I stayed in Canada for the summer, with baby due early September. 

My husband returned to continue working in Argentina for six more weeks. He’d booked his flight for early August and tendered his resignation from the project for the same date. 

A contractual disagreement led the company to send all the Canadians home. On short notice. One Wednesday night they were told not to return to work and to book flights home instead. My husband’s last day was to be that Friday. 

Had I still been there, it would have been too late for me to take an international flight. We would have been stuck in a foreign country waiting for Baby to come.

Choose Flights

Once you’ve narrowed it down within a week or two, the date may be determined by your choice of flight. Price is only one of the considerations when choosing your family’s flights. Others include daytime vs. nighttime, length of the flight, the number of connections, etc. I wrote about that in more detail here.

Planning with Intention

Consider your known factors — school, family events, traditions, work, flight schedules. Pray about the unknown ones. And pick a date. Now you can move on to saying your Goodbyes well and debriefing as you prepare to readjust to life at home.

Colleen’s four kids learned to walk on three different continents. She knows transitions can be overwhelming and writes to help others enjoy the journey and engage in community. Wherever they call home. Visit Colleen at ColleenHiggs.com.
Colleen’s four kids learned to walk on three different continents. She knows transitions can be overwhelming and writes to help others enjoy the journey and engage in community. Wherever they call home. Visit Colleen at ColleenHiggs.com.

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