On Travel

Chicago

What does travel mean to you? The word travel. What is it? I’ve been reflecting on it recently. Much like home, it’s kind of elusive to me. Or maybe not just elusive, more like… evolving.

See – A few months ago, I was getting myself excited for a move to Stockholm. So many new countries to explore up there. I had never been to Norway, Finland or Denmark. I craved the idea of a trip to Iceland. I was excited to drift through these Scandinavian countries; exploring beautiful landscapes, exposure to new cultures, meeting interesting people, eating all kinds of seafood (can you imagine?). Scandinavia. It sounds so mysterious. So cold cool. I would have continued to travel. To be uncomfortable (and okay with it). To be amazed. To be inspired. To be changed. From living abroad, that became my definition of travel. While not always glamorous, it was always thrilling.

Then, we slammed on the proverbial expat brakes (not intentionally) and moved back to the U.S.

“Travel” as I knew it will now be more difficult. We bought are buying a little house. Eventually, a little pup. Jaro’s job is a little more… local (read: not back and forth between Netherlands and Ukraine). Our life is a lot different. In a lot of ways, it’s simpler. And one of my first thoughts was, when am I going to travel again?

Gaining all this insight from my experiences over the past eighteen months and now faced with a “familiar” (what I previously would have called boring) life, I realize that I need to redefine travel. The word. It can’t be limited to the things I mentioned above. It longer means a visit to a foreign country. Or interacting with foreign people, foreign languages, foreign currency. It no longer means being uncomfortable… necessarily.

It means a lot more. Of course, it still means those things. But, it also means a day trip to Cannon Beach. Or a drive out to the Columbia River Gorge. Or a quick city getaway to Seattle or San Francisco (especially if that includes a day trip to Big Sur). It means getting out and seeing a new place, anywhere. And respecting it. And appreciating it. Even if it’s just a new part of Portland.

World, I’m ready.

xxx

P.S. My evolving thoughts on friendship.

{image from our flight to Chicago, our first glimpse of the States in 14 months}

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An Expatriate Guide: International House Hunting

Let me preface this by saying it is WAY overdue. I had started writing it back when we were apartment hunting in Stockholm and things… well… things changed and we didn’t end up there. I think it could still be useful, and so I’m sharing it anyway.

Amsterdam

In case you’re new here… hello. My husband and I went through the process of moving abroad once (almost twice) and it was a HUGE learning experience. If you are faced with the same opportunity to move abroad, God help you. Kidding, guys. I’ll help you! Moving to a new country, in the mix of all the excitement, can also be stressful. Having survived a major move from Chicago to Amsterdam just over a year ago (which I excitedly documented here and here), we were totally naive, but stumbled through the process and ended up with a great result. We want to share what we learned, so that maybe we can be helpful for someone else. Here be my tips:

  1. Understand your perspective. It is much different to visit a place as a tourist versus a soon-to-be resident. It’s important to distinguish the two. Don’t focus on being close to the tourist attractions necessarily, but rather areas with livability based on your lifestyle and interests. Sometimes that overlaps with touristy stuff and that’s okay too.
  2. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about different neighborhoods by reading through online expat guides, local blogs, etc. Know someone that has lived there? They are probably your biggest resource. Even if they don’t share your taste, it’s helpful to talk with someone who is living there and understands the area from a dweller’s perspective. Expat bloggers can be especially helpful, provided the writer is responsive.
  3. Get an “overall feel.” This is kind of vague, but walk around. Drive around, if walking is not practical. Go to as many distinct neighborhoods as you can, see if they match up to what you researched. Eat local food. Check out some shops. Grab a drink at a neighborhood pub. Turn down that residential street. Can you see yourself living here? What are you liking about it and also not liking? Hopefully, you can do this in a visit before the actual move, so you have time to reflect on what you experienced.
  4. House search all over the city. See as many as possible. Even though we initially preferred one specific area, we saw apartments all over the city. You know why? So we could say with confidence that we were focused on the right area for us. As much as cities are different, they are the same. Most cities have a touristy area, as well as a high rent district, a hipster-ville, a downtown, and just plain old undesirable areas. What did you like/not like about where you have lived previously? Is that still relevant to your current life stage? Living priorities might be different if you are young &/or single or older &/or have children. We happen to like “hipster-ville” so that’s where we ended up.
  5. Think about your surroundings. You know what they say in real estate: Location, location, location. As an expat trying to settle into a new country, this is especially important. You need to feel comfortable and safe. How important is it to you to be within easy walking distance of bars and restaurants? What about public transportation? Or the grocery store? The bank? Does that park on the corner look safe or full of drug addicts? Seriously. Imagine yourself walking home at night.
  6. Know what you need versus what you want. Say you find an area that seems to fit you & your lifestyle. You’re halfway there! With the homes in that area, be flexible on dropping amenities down the priority list. When we attempted to move to Stockholm (which ended up not happening after all), we thought we “needed” a dishwasher. Guess what. Many places in Europe, even those with brand-spanking-new kitchens, don’t have them. You know where I’m going with this. As we were house hunting in Stockholm, it quickly dropped down to a “want”. Besides, Jaro can be dishwasher (but seriously, how do people survive without a dishwasher?). Same for gas stoves, closets, large bathrooms, etc. Be open to living simply. You might even find it surprisingly refreshing. …Unless you are sacrificing A/C in a hot climate. In that case, I feel sorry for you.
  7. Be firm with your agents. Relocation rental agents, as we learned, have a job. It’s not to guess your preferences, it’s to get you settled as quickly as possible. Don’t cave in if you don’t feel good about it! When in Stockholm (again, a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get a place), we almost went with a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood that just wasn’t right, but caught ourselves and realized we’d regret it. I know this depends a lot on your situation and whether you have guaranteed temporary housing, but be honest and direct with the rental agents to keep them focused on your needs.

This method worked for us and we find ourselves following it as we attempt to buy our first home back in the U.S. After reading back through this list, it is not necessarily specific to moving abroad. Is this helpful? I’m curious, what are some other tips for helping others house hunt abroad?

xxx

{image of Amsterdam taken by me}

It’s moving day.

Happy Halloween, peeps! I hope everyone is celebrating safely and happily. We are having an unusual Halloween this year. We’re moving to Sweden today. Which means it’s our last day as residents of the Netherlands. As such, I’ve written up a little goodbye.

Amsterdam, it’s been real. You have been an incredible home to us for the past 14 months. You have opened our eyes to new experiences that we never could have imagined. Thank you. And thanks for all the amazing memories that we will cherish forever. It has truly been a pleasure. You will always have a special place in our hearts as our first home away from home.

Here is a little recap of the fun we had this year:

Yours truly,

J+J

Stockholm: 5 Second Impressions

You can see my first impressions here.

The movers are here! This time they have a permit to be parked in the street; we’re off to a good start. (When we first moved in, they didn’t, and had to park at the end of the street and carry all our stuff down the street by hand.) As they begin to pack up our things, I figured I should stay glued to the computer as long as possible share some impressions from our second visit to Stockholm, just two weeks ago. While our house hunt was a bust (and still is), we otherwise had a really great visit getting to know our new home.

  1. The dining scene is fantastic, as we expected from our initial culinary adventures. This second visit cemented it. The Swedes really care about food (like me) so this will be a good bonding point for us. With dinners at trendy AG and swanky Riche, we were impressed. We tried some local dishes and loved them! Skagen is basically a cold shellfish salad on toast, so good. We also had Isterband, which is a pork sausage with potatoes and beets. Reminded me of corned beef, also delicious. And Biff Rydberg, fried tenderloin chunks that comes with a raw egg yolk to mix up with potatoes and horseradish creme. Yum! We have heard that it’s more common to host dinner parties at home than eat at a restaurant, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing our fair share of both.
  2. The city as a whole feels huge. It’s roughly eight times bigger than Amsterdam, geographically. We’ll be getting to know that public transportation system real quick. Walking from our hotel, Nordic Sea, to Södermalm took me over 30 minutes. I can walk across the entire city of Amsterdam in that time.
  3. Despite this leap in size, each island/neighborhood feels small and cozy. After several more days of wandering around, we still love Södermalm the most. It feels the most “us”, as the Pijp did here in Amsterdam.
  4. It’s cold. I was not surprised by this as I do not live under a rock, but I was surprised by my body’s very averse reaction. …And it was just October. I have really got to develop a thicker skin for winter (either that or invest in some thermal tights). I’m from Chicago for goodness sake. You would think I can handle it. To make it worse, everyone has warned us that we are moving there at the darkest, coldest, wettest, ugliest time. Yay. Can’t wait. Really though, we’re okay with that. Because it will only get better… right?
  5. We found out about cool celebrations that are totally unique to Sweden. Midsummer in June with dancing under the midnight sun and crayfish parties in August where you better take gulps of schnapps are just the beginning. The Swedes live the good life.

Enough chatter. It was a quick trip and much of it was spent on the house hunt, so we didn’t have a lot of free time. Here are a few pics. Both visits, we noticed we haven’t taken the best pictures, so I apologize for that. These don’t really do Stockholm justice. It is a really beautiful city.

xxx

Monday Travel Memory: One Way Tickets

Moving AbroadThis is us at O’Hare Airport on our moving day just over a year ago. One-way tickets from Chicago to Amsterdam. We were starting a new adventure and receiving a new title: Expats. I remember being so excited I could barely sleep or eat. I remember laughing with Jaro’s brother and sister-in-law as they drove us to the airport. But, I also remember sitting in the lounge crying on the phone with my dad. The range of feelings I experienced that day was intense. Eager, nervous, giddy, sad, proud, anxious, happy… all of it. It was one of the most emotional days of my life. I spilled my champagne all over myself and my seat when we boarded the plane. I was a mess.

This week we have one-way tickets from Amsterdam to Stockholm, our second international move. Over the next three days, we are packing up our apartment and saying goodbye to Amsterdam. It’s not as difficult as our first move, but it is still a mix of sadness and excitement. I guess we should take a picture of ourselves at the airport again, huh?

Looking at this picture and thinking about that day, I can’t help but reflect on how different our lives are. Not just where we reside, but also how much we’ve changed.

It’s been a good year. Here’s to another.

xxx

P.S. My first travel memory (sort of).

One Year.

On this day, September 4th, exactly one year ago, we took the scariest, most exciting, thrilling and exhilarating leap of faith in our life. We moved to Europe. It’s been one whole year already. Looking back at my very first (very naive) post, I can’t believe that was only a year ago. “Only.” It feels world’s away.

This milestone day, surprisingly, has made my heart so heavy. I’m sad. All year I have tried really hard to be optimistic; to enjoy this experience as much as possible. (Duh.) And I really have enjoyed it. But I’ve also been doing everything I can to stay in touch with family and friends back home through a constant cycle of skyping and emailing; to stay relevant and present in their lives. It’s been a challenge. I haven’t stayed as close with some people as I would have liked to. Some have slipped. Others have surprised me and I feel closer to them now more than ever. Mostly, it has been a wonderful change. I’ve learned so much about the world and about myself. I’m thankful.

But I’m giving myself a break today. I’m homesick damn it. And we’re not going home for a visit until December. This day is a difficult reminder of some painful things. It’s been one year since I have given my sister a hug. It’s been one year since my brother has teasingly shoved me after one of his jokes. One year since I have seen many of our close friends & family. Today and many other days this year, that has made me cry. A lot. Knowing we’re missing out on impromptu dinners. Quick phone calls. Hugs. I think I can speak for both Jaro & myself when I say that is undoubtedly the hardest part about living abroad.

Obviously, this isn’t the first bout of homesickness I’ve experienced. It comes in waves. Today is a tidal wave. I’ve developed some remedies, however, that make it less painful. I can’t make this whole post a sob story, you know? I don’t roll like that.

Today, on the hardest day, this is what I’ll be doing to be happy:

Watching the picture montage our wedding photographer put together. I still cry when I watch this. At least it’s happy tears.

And just looking at all of our wedding pictures because they are amazzzzing.

Following that with some laughs by watching our wedding Smilebooth montage right after.

Skyping with friends… anyone around later?

Eating this. And drinking wine. Lots of wine.

Now a message to Jaro. My partner. I wrote something similar at our 6 month anniversary and I’d like to reiterate: We are getting through this together. We have each other. That is my greatest comfort. Our marriage has already been an incredible adventure; welcoming a transatlantic move, exploring 8 18 countries, and building a bond that gets stronger every day. I love you. And this extraordinary life that we get to share.

It may be “only” a year, but it’s a whole year. And it’s just the beginning.

xxx

If you’re still reading, thanks for letting me get that out. Need to vent today. This blog has been another source of cheerfulness knowing it keeps me connected to those who care. I love you all too.