How to become a “carry-on only” traveler

carry on travel packing tips

One of the things that struck me on my first trip abroad—as I hoisted my bag up the minuscule staircase of our Italian hotel—was that all the Europeans had small suitcases. I mean tiny. I didn’t think I could even fit my lunch in one of those things. How did they do that? It must be something they’re born with, like a French woman’s je ne sais quoi or the way Colombians make salsa dancing look effortless.

Well, that’s partly true. Your culture definitely plays a part in how you pack. As an American, I’m used to the idea of having a ton of choices. And when it comes to suitcases, bigger is better, right? But there’s something to be said for giving the other side a whirl.

Because once I traveled with only a carry-on, I realized that packing light is LIBERATING.

With only a carry-on you won’t break out in a nervous sweat waiting for your bag to plop onto the carousel—you’ll be breezing through the customs line. You won’t pull a muscle lugging your behemoth suitcase up and down metro station stairs. I feel safer having my things with me at all times. Checked bag fees? Nope! And probably best of all, you’ll discover that a few well-chosen items are better than sifting through a heap of ‘meh.’

I have a little bit of personal experience when it comes to doing “carry-on only,” but don’t worry because I’ll point you toward the pros. Keep reading for tips from me as well as two experts on packing light for your next trip.
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A few things to know before moving to Madrid

NoLongerNative is a kind of chronicle of expat life blunders. But I’m noticing that instead of learning from my mistakes, I usually go make them all over again. You know how it goes, once you get far enough away from those embarrassing stumbles you kind of forget it all.

That said, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear me say I arrived in Madrid with a suitcase full of assumptions and expectations carrying over from my first ‘life’ abroad, the two years I lived in Bogotá. I had a certain mental timeline of how quickly things should move. I thought that if something took two weeks in Colombia, it’ll probably be twice as fast here!

And so, settling in for the second go-around is coming with a new set of lessons.

I mentioned the first a couple of weeks ago, that I was surprised my Spanish vocabulary needed a tune-up. Even if you didn’t learn in Colombia, the Spanish you learned in high school is not the Spanish spoken in Spain. While it isn’t necessary to speak Spanish and visit Spain, some proficiency is necessary to visit government offices and do all the paperwork things that go along with being a foreigner.

Keep reading for a few more of the surprises I’ve had these past few weeks as I’ve been settling down in my new city.

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Spanish lessons from a former Bogotana

common expressions used in spain

I arrived in Colombia with only a handful of Spanish phrases at my disposal. While I knew it would take me a long time to be able to speak and comprehend fluidly, I received some very good advice about where to focus my energy: learn how to speak like the locals.

But, a language is a living thing. Even among countries that speak the same language accents and dialects are wildly different. It’s like an American saying they’re wearing pants to a Brit. The British person probably gets their meaning, but they’ll also be holding in a chuckle. That said, after a few sideways looks in Madrid I realized I had some linguistic housecleaning to do.

Keep reading for the words I had to leave behind in Bogotá and what to swap in to sound more like Spain.

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Keeping an open heart

keeping an open heart

A couple of weeks ago I watched one of my friend’s daughters on a playground. She bent her knees to her chest and swung across the monkey bars like it was no big deal. It made me wonder when I stopped being able to move around like that.

When you’re little, your bones are still busy fusing together and your ligaments are elastic. But soon, when sedentary moments start to outweigh the active ones, things tighten and settle into place.

Can’t the same be said about our hearts? When we’re young everyone is a potential friend. It’s easy to marvel and fresh starts are effortless. But little by little, we stop flexing those muscles and settle into our established communities and routines and work. And just like that, our malleable hearts become calcified boxes.

Expat life is a crash course in keeping your heart muscles limber. Being outside of your comfort zone, pulling up your roots every couple of years, and popping in and out of multiple lives will make sure of that.

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Three reasons you need other expats

reasons you need other expats
Sometimes, you just need a friend with similar taste in footwear.

Last summer I wrote about how important it is to not get trapped inside the expat bubble. In our first months in Bogotá, I resisted getting too involved with other expats. I thought that making American friends meant I would not “experience” Colombia. Oh, the naiveté.

There is truth in that sentiment. You will short-change yourself if you spend all your time in Starbucks, never venturing past the main streets filled with familiar shops to try the mom-and-pop cafe. On the other hand, there are gaps that only someone on the “outside” can fill. Keep reading for three reasons every expat needs other expats.
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Four reasons to visit Europe in winter

They say the best time to visit Europe is May through September, which are the exact months we lived in Spain this year. In the past, we’ve always found ourselves on European vacations in those quiet weeks between Christmas and March, so I was thrilled at the chance to sightsee in gorgeous weather.

It’s hard to beat long days and the sunshine, but we quickly realized the best time to go somewhere also means the busiest. Everywhere we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with a million other tourists, waiting in lines and being charged premium prices.

If you’re not heading to a specifically summertime-only destination, consider bumping your itinerary to the off-season. Along with cheaper prices and smaller crowds, here are a few things that I think make winter the best bet for your European getaway.

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Three tips to get the most out of long term visits

how to deal with long term visitors

Given enough time, a feast or famine pattern will develop in an expat’s life.

For instance, while outside of the U.S. I dream about my favorite sushi restaurant. And without fail, as soon as I set foot on San Diego soil I promptly gorge myself on enough spicy tuna rolls and ahi poke to get at least a mild level of mercury poisoning. Maybe you can’t keep out of Target or miss your favorite TV show or love to drive on big, open highways where people use signals and respect lanes. Whatever it is, as soon as it’s available you try to soak up as much as possible.

With the holidays upon us, chances are you’ll be soaking up a lot of family moments too. But how is it that you long for your parents and siblings and Grannie Fran all year long, only to feel like you’re going crazy after two days? No matter how much you love someone, I think it’s pretty likely that if you spend a couple of weeks with them you’re bound to have at least a tickle of the grumps.

While out there combing through the copious articles, blogs, and advice about extended family visits, I found some very good suggestions about how to make sure you maximize your family ‘feasting’ this holiday season.

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Recommended Read: The Curated Closet

The Curated Closet
Your life isn’t static, and neither is your personal style.    —Anuschka Rees, The Curated Closet

Living in the shadow of a weight limit on your shipped goods gives you a natural aversion to accumulating, which is how I’ve found myself incorporating principles of the whole minimalist philosophy into my life.

The Curated Closet will help you apply the “less is more” idea to your wardrobe, but it also speaks to struggles unique to us trailing spouses.

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