Expat advice: When you’re not home for the holidays

expat holidays away from home

I’m not gonna lie. In some respects, living abroad during the holidays is great. Here in Madrid, lights and trees and decorations are already up all over the city. Thanks to Amazon Prime, my U.S. gift shopping stress doesn’t even register. I may not get to spend all the special days with my besties or family, but if needed, I can distract myself with a 35€ flight to Toulouse or quick train to Sevilla.

But then, I start thinking about this Thursday. It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. but just a regular day here in Spain. Regular to the point that I’ll be getting a cavity filled at 10:50 am. Regular to the point that I’ll be smooshed in the metro with the other regular-day commuters, thinking of all the roasting turkeys and toasts happening in the U.S.

When you live abroad, there’s a good chance you’ll celebrate solo a time or two. It’s not always possible or practical to get home. But celebrating holidays away from family can wear on even the steadiest heart. There’s a unique loneliness that slinks in no matter how accustomed you are to being away from home. So, what’s an expat to do?

Since we’re looking the holiday season in the face, I say it’s time to get proactive. I’m a girl that loves a plan. I swear, seven out of ten things that plague my inner being can be solved with a decent list. If you know you won’t be with family this year and already feel the tickle of bleak desolation on the fringes of your heart, it’s time to get going! Don’t wait until you’re in the depths of despair with a bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve.

Keep reading for five ways I avoid the lonely that can creep in around the holiday season.
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An insider’s guide for long distance BFFs

long distance BFFs

When I was growing up my step-dad always told me that when I was all old and grey and looking back on my life, I’d be able to count my true friends on one hand. When I was younger I took this a quantity thing. Now that I’m older—and see he’s right—I realize that he was talking about quality. Many friendships have a natural ebb and flow. However, when the stars align and give you that person who practically shares your DNA, you hold on for dear life.

During my last visit to San Diego, I was talking with one of my two besties about how similar lifelong friendships are to a marriage. Like marriage, friendships require forgiveness and compassion. Like marriage, over time you learn both the beautiful and not-so-beautiful parts of someone’s heart. And like with any close relationship, distance makes things hard.

But just because you’re living on the other side of the globe as your BFF doesn’t mean you’ll lose that closeness. It takes more work, sure, but there’s also a special pride that comes from persevering against the difficulties of distance. Keep reading for a few ways to work around the struggles unique to expats and their long distance BFFs.

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Keep your glass half full: Why expats should be cultivating positivity

expat positivity

Positivity gets a bad rap, but isn’t it kind of justified? Because I don’t think I’m alone when I say that unrealistic optimism isn’t exactly useful. When you’re stressed out of your mind or down in the dumps, the words “cheer up” are about as helpful as telling someone without a coat to keep warm. Unfortunately, a positive attitude is easily the irritating Pollyanna goody-two-shoes of the emotional crew.

While do I favor the black heart emoji and think pessimism sets us up for pleasant surprises, I found an article that made me rethink all the eye-rolling I do at positive attitudes. Especially when it comes to expat life, it looks like positivity is the arrow you want in your quiver.

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The importance of being a good traveler and 5 ways to do it

importance good traveler

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of being a good traveler. It’s been hard to miss the news about the plague of over tourism striking Europe this year, to the point that several cities (Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik) staged protests against the number of visitors they received this summer.

Governments have been scrambling during the past couple of years to cope with the influx of travelers during peak seasons. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Budget airlines are so cheap, even more so if you’re already living in Europe. Technology makes it so easy to navigate and communicate that booking a trip is less intimidating than ever. Social media is doing its job by inspiring wanderlust galore. Of course, tourism isn’t going anywhere. It’s a necessary evil for many cities.

Of course, local governments have a role to play. So do the visitors. Just because a place needs your tourist dollars doesn’t give you license to have a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” type attitude. If travelers want to keep visiting the most beautiful places in the world, we need to adopt a “leave it better than you found it” travel philosophy.

Here are five ways to do it.

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Having confidence in your changing expat identity

expat identity

What do you do? has become the question I dread most when meeting people abroad. Because work and roles are, for the most part, how we first identify ourselves to others.

Unfortunately, we “trailing spouses” are all too familiar with the way that every aspect of our identities are put into a cup and shaken like Yahtzee dice with each move abroad. Everything settles down again but most likely things don’t go back together the same way. And whether by choice or by circumstance, work is often times a piece that no longer has a place.

I haven’t “worked” since I followed my husband to Colombia in 2014. While I may not have had the traditional 9 to 5, I did learn a second language, start blogging and freelance writing, and work with several NGOs on incredible projects. Finding a job isn’t the issue—I like things this way. But still, I can’t seem to let go of the money part.

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Expat advice: Keep those rose-colored glasses handy

happy expats

If you read blogs from other expats or belong to any of their million forums and Facebook groups, then you will inevitably find a rant followed by a string of comments praising the author for “pulling back the curtain” and giving the rest of us a taste of what the culture/service/whatever is really like in their host country.

This week I read a post on another expat blog about the dismal state of customer service in Colombia. It started off that way at least, then quickly deteriorated into a diatribe concluding that the average Colombian-owned business will leave a person lied to and cheated. The comments that followed were as expected, meaning there was lots of applause for the author for chucking those rose-colored glasses out the window.

Venting seems harmless and maybe even a positive thing. It feels so good to get your frustrations out and be validated by your peers. But not so fast. I’m here today to tell you why this is such a slippery slope for expats.

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Four questions to ask before moving your pets abroad

moving abroad pets
Yep. I’m pretty sure this is how we all feel after fifteen hours of traveling.

For lots of people, pets are considered part of the family. It’s just assumed that they’re coming with you on your international adventure.

Not so fast.

No one wants to leave a four-legged family member behind, but moving to a new country is a bit different than loading boxes into the back of a U-Haul. From your pet’s breed to how he handles stress, there are lots of factors to consider.

Keep reading for a list of questions to mull over when you’re deciding whether or not to move abroad with your pets.

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Bad expat behavior: Three things to stop doing to start adjusting

Last week I mentioned a personal grievance I have with the word “do” in relation to travel because it turns places into things that are either done or not done. This got me thinking about how our thoughts have the power to completely change the way we see things.

This is a big deal for all the expats out there.

Because when you’re adjusting to a new culture and life gets hard, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t like or is different. This seems like an innocent way to vent, but those brick-like judgments will quickly stack into tidy little rows between you and your new neighbors.

Some degree of assimilation—i.e. adapting to your new environment—is necessary to really be happy and settled in your new home. That said, here are three “bad expat behaviors” you should stop asap to keep moving forward.

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Moving past the “settled-in” slump

trailing spouse syndrome

In my previous post, I wanted to acknowledge the emptiness and loss of focus that comes with rebuilding your life every few years. Experts call this lull trailing spouse syndrome and it usually comes to kick you in the shins around the time you’re patting yourself on the back for another successful move.

Yes, you must pause and let yourself feel those feelings. At the same time, it’s important not to linger here. Unfortunately, any trailing spouse will tell you that it’s also far too easy to lose your momentum and somehow end up simply existing in this place.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon this New York Times article with a statistic that stopped me in my tracks.

Yvonne McNulty, a Singapore-based consultant who studies mobility issues, said the biggest issue for spouses was loss of identity. “What I found in my research is that almost all spouses face an identity crisis but only about 10 to 15 percent did something about it, by becoming authors, getting an M.B.A. or starting businesses,” she said. Most “felt they were victims, with no control.”

Uplifting stuff, huh? It’s disheartening to hear how many of us get stuck here and feel powerless as to how to find our way back. Only making it harder to find your way is that there’s no single path to steadying your shaken identity.

But these words above also hold the answer—the ones who got back on their feet were the ones who did something about it.

The lesson I’ve learned repeatedly the past three years is that this momentum starts in my mind. Like psyching yourself up before a big event, here’s what I do to keep myself moving towards getting my feet on the ground again.
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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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