The Holiday Travel Tug-O-War With Family


Over the weekend, my husband and I were at a holiday party with some other military families and we began talking about holiday travel. Everyone seemed to have a story (or five) about how difficult it’s been throughout the years always traveling to be with family. One of the wives said that once she had children, she put her foot down on holiday travel and that took care of the problem. They were no longer expected to navigate the planes, trains and automobiles maze. The other mothers agreed.

I don’t have kids. But, I do know something about how frustrating it is to always be the ones who travel to family, and what it’s like to never spend time in your own home during prime holiday season.

And year after year, I find myself conflicted over this very subject.

As I listened to the conversation unfold, I thought of our 20 years together. If my math is correct, we’ve traveled for all but four Thanksgivings. Two of the four Thanksgivings brought family to us, and the other two took us on vacation away from family. How many Christmases have we spent at home as a couple? One. And that’s only because my husband arrived home at midnight on Christmas Eve.

About three weeks ago, the push for information began. My family wanted to know when we’d be home and my husband’s family wanted to know when we’d be there. We haven’t developed a plan and neither side has received an answer. I’m not looking forward to giving one, either because I know what it’s going to entail. We live in between both families so in order to see them, we have to do a lot of traveling. That means spending a lot of money on travel during peak season, living out of suitcases for days, eating at someone else’s table, having no privacy and coming home just in time to take down the Christmas decorations.

As I said, I’m always conflicted this time of year because for all the headaches and expense of travel, we do love to spend time with our families. I’m fortunate to have in-laws and family who I really, truly love, so this isn’t about having to spend time with people I don’t like. Furthermore, I know when I’m on my death bed I’ll never regret one moment spent with the people I love. And it’s much easier for us to travel to them than for them to travel to us. But that doesn’t make me slightly resent the fact that we are always the ones doing the travel. I also resent the fact that because my family doesn’t look like most families (our kids are four-legged), it’s just naturally assumed that we should be on the roads and in the airports with zillions of our closest friends.

It’s a tough situation and it’s hard to write about it without sounding like I’m whining, but I think military families understand this as we’re so often geographically separated from extended family.

I’m sure we’d miss our families on Christmas if we didn’t see them. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that once, just once, I’d like to wake up, walk downstairs to our Christmas tree, open our gifts in our own living room and stay in my pajamas half the day. Or all day.

About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

  • So do it. Blame it on your recent PCS and just do it. :) I know it’s MUCH easier said than done, but it’s possible.

  • Clementiney

    You should absolutely do it. I pray and hope that I don’t pour on the guilt to my children when they are grown. My husband and I dream about quiet holidays together when we are old and grey. I just hope we don’t turn into one of those demanding parents that give a ton of guilt if we don’t get to spend a Christmas dinner with our adult children. Both my hubby and I have deceased parents. We live states away from other siblings. Although we miss them it is a relief that we don’t have to go through this holiday tango that so many families go through. We enjoy our Christmas mornings and our long Thanksgiving afternoons in the comfort of our home. I feel so badly for those people who need a vacation from their Christmas vacation! Enjoy each other and have a Christmas alone! And do not feel guilty about it!

  • Timely article for the holidays.

  • This is the first year that NONE of my siblings are *planning* to be home for Christmas. Only 2 were there for Thanksgiving. I’m feeling a bit conflicted about this. Christmas means visits with family to me…but my husband just got back from a year overseas, and I am READY to have a quiet season AT HOME with our kids. Since the in-laws are already planning to visit in January, and my parents (mother) refuse to visit us, using the fact that we know NOTHING yet from the new command that he has yet to report to is as good an excuse as any…..

  • Sarah

    We used to live 1000 miles from both families, in slightly different directions. We took a 9 month old on a 3-day car trip to my family, a day trip to my husband’s, back to mine, and then 1000 miles home again last Christmas. Also with a dog in the car. Holy cripes, no thank you. Glad we PCSed closer…

  • Petra

    We have his family ask all the time (mine live overseas and understand), but we also made the rule of when we’re all home, we stay home, but people are more than welcome to visit us. He is gone so much, he’s happy enough when he gets to stay in his house for a change. Then again, this duty station usually sees him working anyway, so it’s not been an issue. His parents are awesome about this and fully understand that we don’t wanna travel 1 day there n a day back to spend a day, maybe two, so they come to our house instead and we all have a great time :) If we ever manage to get stationed overseas again, I am sure we’ll have my parents come to visit with us for Christmas :)

  • MsCamo

    Trying to get home for the holidays from overseas should just be outlawed. I never did it and I was single at the time. If/when we get back overseas as a family, I will not be doing any return visits until we get PCS orders back. My in-laws may or may not come visit overseas, depending on the location my sister and her husband may or may not come visit overseas. But that is fine. I will not be spending my travel money for anything other than fun trips for us though and going home for the holidays has never really been fun, it’s too busy, too rushed, just not relaxed enough for me or my husband. And even my son is at the age he would rather just stay home too.

    This isn’t just about the holidays, it’s about the families “always” expecting you to travel, instead of them. If they were feeble and couldn’t get around that would be one thing. But I have lived in some pretty exciting, beautiful places and have been visited rarely. I was always doing the driving from one side of the country to the other. I don’t mind the driving, I actually enjoy it, and it was nice when my husband was away to just be able to pack up the kids and dogs and leave, but over the 20+ years I’ve been affiliated with the AF (active duty, then as a spouse) my younger siblings have never visited, my mom came to my house when my son was born to help (and bless her for doing so, but that was 15 years ago) and my twin made the trip 3 times to 3 different locations for about 2-3 days. Now I’m 4 hours away from my family and they have visited me not once, but are constantly calling me and expecting me to come down for so-and-so’s birthday, spring break, summer, shopping, holidays, to help paint the house, etc… My husband and I have gone down there (they live in Dallas) and not told them we were there and managed to make it home without them finding out :) I did it once by myself to shop and got caught, then had to answer the “well, why didn’t you say you were going to be down here in the first place”.

    I just resent everyone thinking that WE should be the ones to do the traveling. Hats off to my in-laws though, who have visited us at least once a year, always drove (including getting stuck in a snow storm in Wyoming and one in Texas) even when we lived in the back end of nowhere and there was nothing to do except sit around our house. If I were to ask them to come to us they probably would.

    I think if you don’t want to go and you want to spend Christmas or any other holiday at home, then do it. Make an excuse if you have to or just tell them straight up you want to spend Christmas in your own home and enjoy the effort you put into your decorations and maybe invite some single military over for dinner. But I think holidays are for enjoying yourself and your family, not pulling out your hair and being uncomfortable and tired.

  • Nefertiti

    I know how you feel. we’re visiting his family this year (as we did in July) and it’s all the way across the country. My mother, who is within driving distance, refuses to visit. Don’t get me wrong, I love em to death, but… We’ve been married a few months, and this year is VERY special to us. I’d LOVE to spend it with just the 2 of us…. Maybe next year… -_-

    Stay at home. Enjoy the time you have with you’re hubby boyfriend or whatever. You never know how long this person will be in you’re life, so cherish each moment.

  • Christina

    I can relate. I wish our families would make it easier on us. I got stationed in the middle of nowhere and my husbandf and I are scrambling to get a rental car, now ok how much does gas cost, what about gifts? etc. It makes my head wanna pop lol. HIS family visits us, mine doesn’t (they have no health issues and can afford top do so) :( we’re still young and have no children and my parents didnt really approve of us eloping so, maybe one day they’ll come to terms and be adults, until then rental car bill gas bill and hotel bill it is

  • kirsten

    Stockings. I’ve finally figured out that what I really don’t enjoy about going to my in-laws for Christmas (as I have done for every Christmas-since marriage- unless we lived OCONUS or my spouse was deployed) is the stockings.

    In my family of origin, we don’t really exchange gifts anymore, but we do stockings instead. All year long we pick up neat smallish things for the stockings. It’s much more fun for me than to find some larger gift.

    For the first decade of my marriage, I brought all the stocking stuffers for everyone’s stocking. In addition to large gifts for each of my in-laws. The first year I even provided stockings, but then they found the stockings that his aunt made when my spouse was a child. Still, no one else contributed. I was ok with that for a decade, after all, stockings are my thing, but after tasting one of *my* family’s Christmases during a deployment, I decided to stop doing all of the stockings for everyone else.

    Now I only do my spouse, my kids, and my nieces/nephews. My sister-in-law will add a couple of CVS stocking stuffers to the kid stockings, and I appreciate that. But it’s much more fun to be in our home on Christmas morning, do our stockings, and then some other day to a gift exchange with the in-laws. Less stress than having the kids ask questions about the differences in stockings, or having to change the way I want to provide gifts for my own kids because it may conflict with my in-laws.

    Still don’t know what we’re going to do this holiday, seeing that we’ve moved only 4 hrs away for the first time, but I’m pulling for waking up at home on Christmas morning and figuring it out after that.

  • Christy

    You absolutely should not feel guilty about not travelling! I moved away from my family to the opposite side of the country to live with my husband (then bf) when I finished college. We spent that first Christmas with his family, since he had been OCONUS for 3 years before that. The deal was that we would see my family the next year, then his the year after that…on and on while we were stationed in the US. Problem is, is hasn’t worked out that way. We’ve been at our current duty station for over 4 years and I have yet to spend a single Christmas with my family back home. Other events have come up throughout the years (a death in the family, weddings, etc) that have caused us to travel to see his family multiple times. I used to get upset about it, until one day when my husband reminded me that my family is free to come visit us anytime. He’s right. It’s sad that my mom is the only one who’s ever come to visit me. She’s been here twice in 4 years. Why should my husband and I have to do all the travelling for family that can’t be bothered to visit us at all?

  • Jenn

    my one and only time since being married that we were home during the holidays was because my MIL was dying and the military few us back from overseas. (his parents are divorced) my other mil had a hissy fit when we told her we were spending christmas day with my husbands mom. we were home to say goodbye, not much else. i told my husband never again, I will not be in different directions. we visit at non holiday times or they can come see us. follow your heart, your family is important, do what makes you feel happiest

  • Amanda K

    Since my husband came back to the military in 2001 we have had my sister & kids visit in the summer a couple times my nieces visit every year for the last 4 years for a month in the summer and his Mom and stepdad visit down once. We have been lucky enough to be stationed in SoCal the whole time. I understand my parents not coming down(money & health issues), so we have tried to go up to see them all often. They are not getting any younger and we want to have them in our lives more often. The result being that except for a day or 2 during visits to the family that we escape to our favorite hotel we realized we have never travelled on vacation just for us until this fall.(continued)

  • CoyoteSix

    My husband and I have never been stationed near our families. Before we had our son, and while he was a baby, we traveled every Christmas and Thanksgiving (except when we were in Alaska). We longed to be with our family on the holidays. Now that our son is four, we decided that it was best for him to wake up in his own house every Christmas morning from now on. Family is welcome to come and visit. My in-laws still want us to come and visit for a “Before Christmas Family Celebration.” The thing is, I am trying to eliminate the travel during the holidays. My husband is deployed, and I can’t deal with making the 7-hour trip with the dog and our son, who by the way has a host of neurological disorders that make him VERY difficult. Now, my sister-in-law is giving me the “cold shoulder” because we are not coming to see them at all during the holidays. They have not driven our way in over four years! We make the trip to them several times a year, so this hardly seems fair. I’m already feeling lonely, and now my SIL has cut off communication with me. I’ve got to move on, but it seems a pity to lose my friendship with her.

  • heidi

    It is a difficult, especially when you want to see family AND the family wants to see you. We want our kids (both two legged and four legged) to spend holidays with memories in our house, with us, with our own traditions and not always running between families (our families live within 50 miles of each other). It was honestly easier to travel when our kids were babies; now a days they want to hang out and play with their new gifts or simply chill at home. Fine by me! So we travel to see family as much as possible between holidays, even traveling the week leading up to Christmas, but then return home for the actual calendar date.

  • jmh

    To me Christmas is for families – no necessarily the day, but as close as possible. Obviously this isn’t what it means to everyone