Making Furloughs Fun for Everyone: Think outside the Meeting Box

Are you dreading the idea of being gone for multiple months from your current context? The thought of packing and re-packing can be such a daunting endeavor that it keeps us from the enjoyment and gift that furloughs (or home assignment) can be. Although there are often an unending checklist of details to attend to, might I suggest starting with the positive?

What if instead of the dread, the feelings were replaced with anticipation over what could come? Imagine your kids at the end of the time saying “I love being on furlough” and you not feeling exhausted. What would it take to get there?

Here are a few creative thoughts for making furlough fun & less exhausting for everyone, especially for kids. 

1.    Think outside the primary reason you’re there - meetings! Create a furlough bucket-list! Start by asking each individual (or yourself) what one fun thing is that he/she would like to do while you’re away. This may take doing a little research of what there is to do in the area or could be very basic. Start by brainstorming a list, then narrow it down to 3-5 and then 1. Others may feel inspired by sharing out loud the creative options of wanting to go horse-back riding, doing a park tour through each city, getting an autograph of every person met. One year when we were planning to be in 4 states and 9 cities, with a two-year old and six year-old we each chose one thing we wanted to do in the city: Try the ice cream, go for a walk, see the moon from the unique point of earth we were on! You’ll be amazed at the ideas not to mention the joy of conversing about the possibilities.

2.    Think creatively about setting. Where we are meeting people is not limited to a restaurant or cafe. We often suggest meeting at a park or beach. Inviting people to a park is a much more casual and neutral space that requires less of everyone. For us as a family, this option allows us to play with our children and include them once again. Our kids have many positive memories of meeting people at the beach and parks where otherwise they may have been bored or not attend at all.

3.    Engage in physical activities as you meet with people. When we started planning our calendar with this in mind, the joy returned. The idea of another coffee or meal made my stomach hurt just thinking about it. However the idea of a walk on the beach, a stroll through a new neighborhood or a hike together as a family felt much more energizing. It was so good for us, our children and those who we were meeting with. Meeting and walking isn’t a new concept, sometimes it just takes a little more intentionality. 

4.    There just are times when we can’t (or choose not to) bring our children to a meeting. Set up fun play dates with local kids and families. This is a tremendous support gift and practical way that people can help. As well our kids remember the families that support us through the children they enjoy. This ignites anticipation for the next time we will see them.

5.   Speaking of no children…Host a coffee shop “open house”. When we land in an area we typically start with this as a priority. We will set up “office hours” for several hours at a local coffee shop and let everyone in the area know where we’ll be. We try to meet where people can drop in during a 3-4 hour window (late lunch hour is good). This is a fun way to see lots of different people, as well have your worlds integrate a bit. Simultaneously, this takes some of the scheduling pressure off of you. And as an introvert this idea is much easier for me than packing a schedule back-to-back with individual meetings.

6. When we are all together we try to not both be pulled in to a conversation. If one of us can solely attend to the children we try to think of creative games we can do in a coffee shop or restaurant. One of our favorites is the “who can get the most waves” game. You know it! Every person playing waves at strangers trying to get waves (or smiles) in return. Talley the points. As an adult, this is one game you are CERTAIN to lose (waving adults get fun looks though!) We have hilarious memories sitting in the window of coffee shops around the world trying to make people laugh or smile or wave. It’s a day brightener for everyone!

7.    Give your kids a scavenger hunt of things to find from their seat – whether a restaurant, coffee shop or car. (Person with glasses, child crying, strange hat, someone who looks like they’re having a good day, etc.) These can be made up on the spot by you or children. Sure this may only take 20-30 minutes in total, but it can be really fun.

8.    Enjoy the Journey. Plan a side trip wherever you may end up. As global workers one of the perks we’ve enjoyed as a family is the ability to make memories en-route to our destination. SIDE TRIP! Needing to go on furlough has afforded us stop-overs that turned into stay-overs at unique and amazing destinations. For the cost of transportation out of the airport and possibly one night’s stay, you can make incredible memories in beautiful destinations around the globe.

9.    Get out in nature by yourself. There isn’t a country on earth that God did not bless with some incredible & unique landscape. It may look like desert or it may look like marsh, but nonetheless, getting out into nature and engaging in the unique eco-systems of the world is an incredible way to declutter your thoughts and connect with your creative brain. We try to set aside one day a week for this necessary outlet as a family and 3 times a week of solo time to exercise or just reflect. We do this through taking turns and limiting our morning commitments.

10.    Be intent to try the local food. From Louisiana creole to Minnesota hotdish, not every meal needs to be pizza or hamburgers (thinking US-based here.) If people invite you over, ask what their favorite local dish is and offer to join them in preparing it. Or suggest something like, “I’ve heard there are really memorable ____here. By any chance do you know how to make them?” Learning a new recipe and eating new food is both a memorable way of engaging with people as well as the culture. 

11.  As well, you can reciprocate and bring the cuisine from your serving country and teach others how to make it. (Lesson learned: just keep it simple and make sure it’s not too exhausting of a task for you to make or carry unique ingredients for).

12.  Make a smash journal. I despise clutter, and struggle with the amazingly well-intentioned outpouring of gifts to my children. Once we had the idea as a family to “collect” memories along the way through a journal. We made space to “create” these little memory books in the form of a journal with everything imaginable stuck inside. Tickets, receipts, napkins and flyers instantly became more valuable than toys. This was a delightful way for each person to have something tangible from their trip, personalize their experience and remember their “highs and lows” from the trip using their own unique way of expressing it. As well minimized the need for extra storage space.

13.  Take a picture of every bed you have slept in! This might sound strange or bizarre, but it’s memorable. (Dogs is another option!) However, for us, it’s another memory-building exercise. Sometimes the pictures validate the wonder of exhaustion. And sometimes it acts as a memory trigger of the beautiful space that was created on our behalf. Still other times a understanding of your reason for chiropractor care! Top tip: The pictures look better if you take it before you sleep in it!

Getting kids involved from the beginning with the planning can be an incredible boost instead of a bore. Be creative and think outside the box. You’re sure to make incredible memories that only other global workers truly understand.

What other ideas have you thought of? What has worked and not worked?