What I learnt from going away for a month in the summer with my children

Having always stayed in the UAE for the summer holidays, this year I decided to do the expat mum thing and head back to the UK

Gemma White with her three children, Indiana, Fox and Caspian, in Hampshire, one of the many parts of Britain they visited during their month-long stay. Photo: Gemma White
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Historically, on the first day of term after the summer holidays, I would meet up with parents (mostly mums) at the school gate who I hadn’t seen for months.

Naturally, talk would turn to what everyone did over the summer and nine times out of 10, the answer was: “Oh, we went back to [insert home country] with the kids. It was amazing.”


That word has stuck with me over the years of feeling like the only mother who stays in the UAE for the summer.

But this year would be different, I vowed. This summer I would go back to the UK for a whole month over July and August and experience some of that amazingness for myself.

So, what did I, a plucky first-time-summer-away-mum learn on my travails, sorry, travels?

1. Luggage slowly deteriorates into a ragtag collection of carrier bags

For someone who prides herself on her packing, managing to fit all three of my children’s stuff in one suitcase, I was forced to watch my meticulously organised bags turn into an unwieldy game of car boot Tetris.

Carrier bags containing laundry, food, raincoats, wellies and random things the children accumulated – shells, pine cones, an ear of corn that my youngest named “Maxie the Cornie”, plastic toys from those magazines that cost the same as a small house – until I was forced to accept there was no avoiding a car that looked like a hoarder was camped out in it.

Which leads me on to …

2. At which point do you unpack?

Our longest stretch was 10 days at my parents’ house. After that it was a series of single-digit-length stays which included seven days in Scotland, three in the Lake District, four in the New Forest and two in Windsor.

I unpacked for the 10 and seven-day stays, but the others? Not so much.

The idea of unloading everything (and the carrier bags!) just to repack a few days later meant that those stays were strictly out of the suitcase.

This lead me to wonder if there’s a hard and fast rule or scientific equation for the number of days you can justifiably not unpack, before that justification slides into laziness.

3. People give you things to 'take back'

I don't want to sound ungrateful, but why? Can’t they see the hire car is bursting at the seams? There is no more space and apparently strapping a child to the roof rack to free up some room is frowned upon.

Some things we were given to “take back” included bags of children’s clothes from family members who had “had a clear out”.

There was also the question of the three-foot-long wooden toy truck for my youngest, which took care of about 60 per cent of my allocated luggage weight allowance.

Not to mention birthday presents for the rest of the year. Very kind, but an Amazon voucher takes up a lot less space.

4. You don’t see friends as much as you think you will

We might be on a month-long holiday but that doesn’t mean everyone else is.

Friends and family are at work, cousins are at day camps and people have their own schedules, lives, appointments, meetings and holidays, making meeting up a challenge.

I managed to see two of my university friends for dinner, then another four for a child-friendly day in London and that was it for that group for the whole month – and even those required herding cats-level of organisation, negotiation and flexibility.

5. I realised I’m not missing out on anything

If like me, photos of get-togethers on the group chat make you wonder if you’re missing out by being here while they’re all there (wherever there is), I’m here to tell you that you’re not.

The idea that all my friends were meeting up every weekend and having tonnes of fun without me was quickly quashed when they told me they probably manage to see each other as a group about five or six times a year, mostly to celebrate birthdays.

6. We did too much

For this trip we visited five different parts of the UK. Five places in four weeks is perfectly doable, I hear you say. Well, yes and no.

When I planned the visit, I wanted to see as many people as possible, including extended family and friends who had left Dubai.

For our New Forest trip, we saw three different sets of friends on each day, all of which was lovely, but exhausting, driving up and down the country, checking in and out of hotels, preparing snacks, doing laundry, packing and unpacking the car, refereeing the children … the list was endless, leading me to lament that this holiday was not much of a holiday.

To conclude, it was a wonderful trip. My children had the best time enjoying experiences they don’t get here and I got to catch up with lots of people.

I also learnt plenty of lessons and if I ever do it again I'll be sure to stay in one place and invite people to come to me. No more driving the length and breadth of Britain.

As to the big question: was it “amazing”? Hmm, I'll get back to you on that after I've had a holiday to recover from this holiday.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 4:02 AM