Musings from a reformed reluctant traveler

not like travel

I’ve done a decent bit of travel and have lived outside the U.S. for more than three years. Even so, I have a confession to make: I’ve never really loved traveling.

First, let me say that there’s a difference between vacation and travel. Vacation is the white sandy beach, a drink with an umbrella, and letting your skin take on the color and texture of a grape fruit roll-up. It’s a passive thing. Traveling, on the other hand, is going somewhere to see and do. It’s active. Along with this usually comes $7 hostel beds and lots of adventures that happen while getting lost and figuring things out.

People talk about traveling like it’s the only way to learn about the world and your innermost self. Listen, traveling isn’t when you do your deep soul searching. Although I suppose you have lots of time to think about what’s important when you’re curled in a sweaty ball, praying for an end to your food poisoning. And I agree that travel has big benefits—it does broaden your world view and teach you a lot about yourself. But C’mon, it’s not the only way to do that.

Still, I’m married to a traveler and have always been happy to go away. I’ve just never loved it like he does. Until now.

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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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Three reasons to reconsider a return visit

revisit or travel somewhere new

I want to do China next. I did London last year.

Living in a touristy city and traveling to other touristy cities, I hear things like this quite a bit.

It bothers me. A lot.

In fact, my biggest pet peeve is the way some travelers use the word “do” when referring to visiting a place. My concern with the word “do” is how talking about a place in this way turns a city or country or culture into a tick box. As if, by spending a long weekend zipping through a list of can’t-miss-it attractions, all that is to encounter and experience has been taken in.

Just because you visited the best museums, saw the most significant sights, and ate in the highest rated restaurant does not mean that a place is “done.” The world isn’t static. Been there, done that does not exist.

Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to visit every country in the world. And I know that there are all kinds of things to consider when planning a trip, time and money being the biggest factors. The new, however, already gets enough attention.

Today, I’m here to make a case for going back.

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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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An American’s guide to yoga in Madrid

yoga in madrid

I’m not exaggerating when I say you can’t throw a rock in San Diego without hitting three yoga studios. I thought that because I knew some poses and had some Spanish under my belt, I could just pop into a yoga class like it was no big deal.

Um, not so much.

Depending on how seriously you “practice,” you could be in for a whole different experience.

If you’re an American interested in yoga in Madrid, keep reading for a few pointers on what to expect when you om in your new home.

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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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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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