Postcards from Home(less) Leave 

Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) have Congressionally-mandated “home leave” between overseas diplomatic postings. We are required to take a minimum of 20 business days in the U.S. in order to reorient ourselves and keep our ties strong. We don’t actually have to spend our home leave days at our home of record (HOR); we can be anywhere in the U.S. and its territories. However, unless an FSO is independently wealthy (ha), has a vacant property to stay in, or willing family members with homes large enough to host an officer and his/her spouse, kids, pets, and stuff for weeks on end, home leave for many can end up feeling like “homeless” leave.

Although FSOs love and look forward to home leave in many ways, it can be a double-edged sword. Besides not necessarily having a place to stay, vacationing in the U.S. can be very expensive, especially after living low-cost in the developing world. Between flights, car rentals, gas, hotels, eating out, doctor appointments, kenneling pets, recuperation, gifts and treats, and catching up on shopping after two years away, expenses add up fast. It’s too much time to stay somewhere expensive, and usually too little time to really evict your rent-paying tenants, or buy and set up a household. 

Not to mention that you lose your hardship differential and cost of living allowances, if applicable, once you leave Post. And an officer may be the only breadwinner given a “trailing” spouse’s more transitory employment situation.

That fun cross-country road trip that you dreamed of from your far-flung overseas posting may seem less fun when your pants stop fitting, your mail is richocheting around three continents, and amongst your four exploding suitcases you can’t find that one thing. On top of that, expect your personal email to be overflowing with work-related emails from your onward assignment that require your attention and response. I have also known fellow FSOs who have difficult family situations, making home leave astronomically difficult both financially and emotionally. 

Isn’t this my time to rest and reacclimate before my next posting? an FSO may ask. The struggle is real.

A lot of FSOs complain about home leave. It’s not that we don’t appreciate time in the homeland, or having a buffer against the ongoing pressure to arrive at the onward post ASAP. Home leave and all the fun that goes with it is planned months in advance, and much anticipated. Certain aspects of it can just be a logistical and financial pain in the butt.

Specific to my own situation, I’m grateful for my home leave, and I loved it. And if it weren’t for my parents, we would have been on homeLESS leave for sure! 

After I finished training in DC in late June, we flew to California. I sat on the Dulles to San Francisco flight in some disbelief that it was finally happening! We spent time with my mom, who lives near Lake Tahoe, and my dad and stepmom, who live just outside Monterey. We also took some awesome and fun side trips – to Disneyland with my nieces; to Seattle, WA to see old Peace Corps and sorority friends; and to Reno, NV to hang out with my dad and play some video poker.

My home leave was a chance to see my family, attend a family reunion, eat everything I’d been missing, travel with my husband along the west coast, try on clothes in person (!), get sunburned at the river, and just generally enjoy and appreciate the hell out of life in America. Every time I got stressed or worried about anything, I looked around and started smiling again as I realized the precious and transitory nature of it all. You’ll be in Australia starting from the ground up again in no time, I told myself as I stood impatiently in line in the scorching sun at Disneyland. Enjoy it while you can! 

By the end of our home leave late last week, we had been living out of bags for almost two months. We’d packed, and repacked, and repacked again. Everything was finally ready for our imminent trip to Australia… more than 7,000 miles away! 

We’ve now made it down under, and will post an update soon.

Until then… “Wish you were here!” from home leave.

Grass Valley, CA
Penn Valley, CA
Kings Beach, CA-NV Stateline
Nevada City, CA
IMG_2397
Seattle, WA
Reno, NV
Monterey, CA
Disneyland, Anaheim, CA

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