Short holiday becomes major road trip

It’s all very well moving to the boondocks, to live in the sun. But when you want to stretch your wings and see a bit more of the world, being so remote here in Istria often makes travelling rather complicated. On top of that, unless you completely sever ties with your previous existence, the complexities of expat life often conspire to make any trip longer, more multi-layered and more complex than originally planned. There’s probably no better example than our recent trip to New York.


Statue of Liberty and New York skylineTo celebrate my recent 50th birthday, I wanted to do something different to the intense ‘must see everything’ expeditions our holidays often become. So, while neither N or I is really into cruising, I opted to indulge myself with some real relaxation and a spot of luxury, visiting New York for a few days, followed by a trip back across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2.


Let’s keep it simple…

Living in Croatia, with family and friends in Blighty (not to mention Germany and Belgium), most trips involve at least a few extra days with parents or friends, to make the most of the travel costs and our precious time. Strange as it may sound, part of this holiday’s luxury would be its brevity: fly into the UK, go on holiday and fly back – and no tacking on other visits or activities.

Of course, based in backwoods Istria, even a ‘simple’ trip like this is multi-staged. As well as the actual holiday, it would involve driving to Trieste (Italy), a flight to Stansted (UK) and coach on to Heathrow, and an overnight hotel. Then on the way back, a coach from Southampton to Stansted, flight back to Trieste and drive home.

At this point you’re probably asking, why add the hassle of travelling via the UK? Why not fly directly to New York from Zagreb (Croatia) or Venice (Italy)? The answer: cost, time and convenience. The UK is a major hub for air travel and for a long-haul holiday, even with the added expense of flights, transfers and hotels, it’s almost always cheaper and easier to fly out of the UK. In this case, there were practical considerations: the Queen Mary sails to and from Southampton and, with bookings handled out of the UK, this was the obvious route.


…but life doesn’t work that way

So a (relatively) simple, short holiday was planned … and then our complex, expat life reared its head. First thing was the car. For historical reasons, our car is Belgian-registered (we had a business there … one of many tales for another day) and we realised it needed its annual technical control by 7th November. That would be just a week after getting home, and so we’d barely have time to unpack before turning around and driving back to Belgium.

Route on map from Matulini to HethrowNeither of us wanted to do that. Instead, we quickly decided we would drive to the UK: then when we were back from New York, we could drive from the UK to Antwerp (Belgium), put the car through its check on Monday 31st October and drive home on Tuesday. Simple! This did rather dilute the ‘luxury holiday’ but, that aside, it was very convenient and all slotted together very neatly. So we booked a cross-channel ferry instead of flights to the UK, and an overnight hotel in Germany, and we had a new plan: holiday plus car. But we’d made that first step on the slippery slope and it wasn’t long before another typical ‘expat complexity’ arrived … keeping track of public holidays in multiple countries. 

We’d forgotten that November 1st (a Tuesday) is a bank holiday in Belgium, and of course the garage and MOT centre would be closed not only on that day, but the preceding Monday 31st as well. So we couldn’t sort out the car until Wednesday. Mmmm … what were we going to do with two extra days? “If we’re going to have to drive back, why not do the annual shopping as well?” I suggested. Normally we drive back to the UK at Christmas so, as well as visiting family and friends, we can fill the car with the essentials in life you can’t get here – like English books and DVDs, English and Belgian beer, cheese from everywhere – and clothes, which are much cheaper in the UK. So rather than have two major drives up through Europe within six weeks, we decided to do the shopping this trip and fly back at Christmas. It was now a holiday, shopping and car technical control trip.

We were really on a roll now. “As we have two extra days for shopping, we need to stay somewhere … so why not visit your parents for a couple of days,” said N. “It’s your 50th after all, and they’d love to see you near your birthday.” So it rapidly became a holiday, parental visit, shopping and car trip.

And then the final twist in my ‘simple holiday’ tale. We needed to sort out some things to do with our business in Belgium and had hoped that would be done before we went … but as the trip approached, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. We’d have to go to Antwerp sometime in November, and as we were going to be in Antwerp anyway for the car …

So that’s how a ‘simple’ ten-day holiday ended up a three-week holiday / parents / shopping / car / business trip. I wish I could say it was unusual, but in fact, it’s pretty typical … and simply one of the joys of an expat existence!

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