As I use up my last 16 hours of annual leave for my son’s school break, I am reminded of one of the big perks of being in the Foreign Service: that we get paid vacation time between overseas posts called “home leave.”
The official purpose is to re-familiarize yourself with all things American, and the minimum required is 20 business days with a maximum of 45. Most people spend their home leaves visiting friends and family and sightseeing in the US.
When we first joined, the idea of having to find and pay for a place to stay and transportation for a month really annoyed me. I was in a hurry to get from Belize to London and eventually to Iceland, and renting a place for one month is much more expensive than your usual rent under something like a 12-month lease (unless you live somewhere like DC!).
The nice thing is that you can go anywhere in the US. So I tried to find reasonable places with fairly low costs of living. Our first home leave was in 2013, and we spent it in Orlando, Florida, which was fantastic. It was comparatively cheap, close to Disney World, had a pool in the backyard, and I knew my way around from living there in the ‘90s. Super relaxing and convenient.
Our second home leave was in 2015, and we spent it close to my mom in Tucson, Arizona. It was crazy hot, but the A/C worked, and the complex had a pool. Plus we were able to spend priceless time with my mom before she unexpectedly passed away six months later.
When we left Iceland, we were technically on medevac status, and then we were curtailed, so I had to scramble and find a position in DC, which started in April after a January departure. So we didn’t end up taking any kind of home leave at all, which was a total bummer. We tried to see a lot of things in the area before I started working, but we couldn’t go very far afield.
When you transfer from DC to overseas, you don’t qualify for home leave because, obviously, you’ve been in the States for your entire tour. That means that our next home leave will be in four years after we finish our three-year posting in Switzerland…in 2023.
So by the time we get our third home leave, I will have been in the Foreign Service for 12 years, and it will have been eight years since our last one. When we first joined I had time, but I didn’t have money. Now I find that the opposite is true.
We’ll have spent two years in the States when we leave next summer, but I have hardly any vacation time by comparison. We’ve been able to travel a bit, but not nearly as much as I would’ve liked. The nice thing is that I will have a whole lot of home leave saved up by then. So I guess we will have to save The Great American Road Trip for another time. But think of how much fun we will have!!