"You’ll have to memorize the metric system and exchange rate to US dollars."
"Don’t forget to buy converters for your American plugs and voltage charges."
"Don’t take pants. It never gets cold. No really, it never cools off."
"Public transportation will be your friend; get use to it."
"Give your loved ones a proper squeeze, because you might not see them again for another year. "
"It will be difficult to follow US sports or watch your favorite shows. "
"You are moving 12 time zones away, and it is a force to be reckoned with. "
"Do your research on food brands and where to buy the cheapest products, because EVERYTHING is silly exxx- pensive over there!"
"Take loads of your favorite products with you, because you might not find them in Asia."
Hmm...these phrases were just the tip of the iceberg that people spat at us while we were furiously packing and preparing for our first international relocation. Moving abroad is one of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences you will ever undertake. You can’t fully grasp the enormity of how much your life will change until you actually say yes and do it. However, what "those" people did not warn us about was the emotional whirlwind ahead.
What they don't tell you about becoming an expat...
Remember being in college, surrounded by your best friends, having the most extraordinary experiences, and wishing the fun would never end? That description is on point to explain our expat endeavor. If you jump in feet first and say "yes" to every opportunity and invitation, a two-year stint in another country can be one of the most incredible journeys of your life. However, rewind back to those college days for a minute...imagine in the midst of your spectacular memory making...your friends drop a bomb.
They will be graduating early, leaving you behind. You are overcome with awash of emotions. Thrilled for the opportunities which lie ahead for them, yet incredibly sad to lose such wonderful people from your every day.
That is precisely what this past week has felt like. We have an amazing group of 10 or so couples in our condo complex whom we adore. We go on dates, have cookouts, birthday parties and vacations together, our babies have playdates and some even go to school together. I was also fortunate to have this supportive group around when our littlest was born. I could go on and on about each of them. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And this past week, our little group lost a big piece to our puzzle; our first family moved away from Singapore for a promising future in the United States.
This week has smacked me square in the face for a multitude of reasons. We have seven months of our two years left. Seven months. Some days, it seems like a long time. But I know the truth. The past year and a half has FLOWN by, and Wednesday was the end date for some of our closest friends. The amazing couple down front moved to Singapore from London (where their sons were born), and previously challenged a long distance relationship planted between Panama and Chicago.
Like many expat families, they had never lived together in either of their homelands nor close to family, and now they have the opportunity to do both. They had ridden the expat gambit for nine years and finally decided it was time to settle. Time to move to one of their home countries and have the comfort of family nearby.
However, selfishly, I realized...what flat out sucks about them moving away was the sudden thought this will happen again. Many many times...again. Three more families will be finishing up their contracts in Singapore during June/July. One family going to New Zealand, one to the UK, and one returning to NYC. Our time is up in October, along with another family we’ve grown close to. More friends are leaving in November and then January. And these are just friends from our condo. Toss in families we’ve befriended in other areas of the island...and guess what??
There are true Singaporeans and other friends who originally came over on expat packages that have decided to plant roots and call the Little Red Dot home. But those people are rare in a major international hub. Staying is such a tough decision and hard on the heart. Because those who choose to stay will constantly fight the notion of having dear friends come and go, in and out of their lives. The revolving door is heart-wrenching.
Don’t get me wrong, the expat lifestyle has its perks, especially the proximity and affordability of international travel within southeast Asia. But it certainly has its pain points, too. Plain and simple.
Read also: 6 Questions to Ask Before Becoming an Expat
At first, it’s incredibly lonely. Those first few months are rough. You slowly meet people and then jump in feet first. Your initial thoughts are to be cautious, because hey- I’m only going to be here for two years. Why allow yourself to grow close and develop deep friendships, since it’s only temporary? Quite the contrary!
Living far from home, you find yourself QUICKLY leeching onto people. These insta friends become family overnight. They are living the same season of life with you, raising kids, going to work, and traversing a foreign land with no creature comforts of your homeland. You lean on each other like gold and treasure those friendships even more. You fall in love with people on a much deeper level. You know it’s only for a short time. You hang out as much as possible; laugh and live it up every day. You treasure each date night, playdate, beach day, and vacations even more.
And to the women who have truly become family...you helped me navigate a new venture into birthing babies abroad and expat motherhood with grace. And you knew how to build me up when I thought juggling two boys in a foreign country would be the end of me.
Singapore is much like any other global city: Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong...where temporary expats are common. If we decided to stay, the revolving door of friends would be constant.
Then it suddenly sinks in...oh the pit in my stomach.
The first lady I ever met in Singapore warned me how quickly this would happen...and then how fast it would slip away. It’s sad. Very very sad. You have these momentous occasions with people from all over the world. And just like that. They are gone. It’s to be expected. And honestly, it’s part of every conversation. "Where are you from? What do you do? How long are you guys here?"
You instantly know how long you have to make memories with these amazing people you just met. The upside to the negative is how much you treasure every single day.
you know it's coming to an end. As that time stamp gets closer and closer, you make the absolute most of it. We are out exploring as much of Singapore as we can squeeze in before our hourglass runs out. The countless memories created is what makes the bittersweet feeling so intense. Ugh...my heart hurts, and it will continue to whine each time we have a farewell party.
Even though my heart wants to hide, my soul will tell you living abroad is the best decision you will ever make. Your life will be richer than you can imagine. These experiences...the eye-opening, breathtaking moments will not happen staying in your home country. The lifelong relationships created will be filled with some of the most adventurous yet laid-back people on the planet. Living in an international land with a different language, culture, school curriculum, approaches to lifestyle and even motherhood will humbly change you in the best way possible. If you get the opportunity,
My motto has been: "you can always go home." Even though, most extend their time or keep riding the expat wave to another country on a different continent. Once you dip your toes into this adventure, it's terribly hard to take them out. It becomes a way of life. And with friends in all pockets of the globe, you begin to think like a global citizen.
Read also: 5 Easy Resources to Making Friends Abroad
Even if returning to your previous house after a short assignment, you will never be the same. You have seen how others have lived. You have tasted the air and felt the Earth of other countries. You've made sense of why others do the things they do. And you constantly find yourself questioning
The winds of change will continue to blow, but don't let it stop you from living in the moment. Take the leap! Move to a place wildly different from anything you have ever known. Bask in the uncertainty. Learn to slow down and thrive in the moment. Because as that moment passes you by, the people in front of you will be moving on before you know it.
Unlike many articles, there isn't a specific call to action or solution to a major problem. Only this-
Are you toying with the idea of moving to another country? Does the promise of travel, economic opportunities, adventure, or starting fresh excite you? Then, stick with me! People move abroad for a variety of reasons. For some it is to study. For others, it could mean a lucrative job offer or chance to reunite with a loved one. Some want to travel, experience a new culture, or simply learn a new language. Others might be escaping a terrible situation in hopes of a more promising future. Before jumping ship from your homeland, be sure to have a look at these 6 Questions to Ask Before Becoming an Expat.
Due to a growing cultural acceptance and more resources for expats, the number of people living abroad has exploded in recent decades. An estimated 9 million Americans currently live on foreign soil, and roughly 232 million people around the world have relocated outside of their home country of citizenship. In the 1960s, that number barely touched 73 million.
New endeavors are bursting with emotions. It's an exciting time for a plethora of new everything to come into your life, yet deciding to leave your loved ones and creature comforts behind isn't the easiest.
We've been through this swirl of emotional questions twice to live in very different countries and environments. Our first landing spot was the Little Red Dot of Singapore.
Second and current is Deutschland aka Germany.
These photos were taken mere months apart- departure from Singapore and welcome to Germany .
Without further adieu, here are 6 questions you need to sit with before packing your bags:
1.) Why do you want to move abroad?
This seems like a fairly easy question, right? Sometimes it's not as easy as one might think and can be quite vague. The reason you want to skip the country needs to be a positive and powerful one. Moving, in general, is a hefty order; moving abroad is an entirely different ballgame. You are essentially starting over on foreign soil- creating a new life for yourself. New job. New house. New circle of friends. New culture. And in some instances, a new language.
The memory making which lies ahead is indescribable, but be sure to flesh out exactly WHY you are moving first. When times get tough, you'll need those positive reminders of why you passionately wanted this experience. They will encourage you to keep pushing instead of packing up and heading back "home."
2.) How much do you REALLY love (insert favorite places)?
I've lived in four states around the United States, and each one held very different places which I didn't think I could possibly live without. Certain restaurants, shopping centers, bakeries, even grocery stores. Oh how I miss the ease of Trader Joe's and the super fresh selection of HEB. Cooking is totally my thing; I would much rather be food shopping than clothes shopping any day of the week, and I sorely miss those grocery stores.
How about you? Could you separate yourself from your favorite take out or local pub? It sounds silly, but we get attached to places of comfort equally as much as relationships.
3.) FRIENDS! Do you enjoy making them? Keeping up with old ones?
A sensitive and emotionally charged topic for many, but it's something to examine. Are you good at making new friends? This takes effort...a lot of effort and being vulnerable. How about old friendships? Chances are, you've lived in more than one place in your life. Think back to those days. Was it easy to stay in touch with friends in your previous town? Childhood friends? College buddies? Bonds you created with your first co-workers?
Do you go the extra mile to nurture those friendships? It's crucial to have familiar folks to lean on when moving. In the early days after arrival in a new land, the honeymoon phase is glorious. But on the days of overwhelm, it's comforting to have a dear friend at the ready.
Making new friends takes time and sometimes a strategy. For instance, finding the closest yoga class (if that's your thing) to hopefully connect with other yogis. Making adult friendships is much like dating-- finding commonalities and seeing who you mesh well with. And if not, move along. Wasting time on those who don't put in equal effort? Nope.
It's exhausting, but worth it to find your tribe!
4.) Do you have a healthy savings?
Even if your company is footing the bill for relocation, there will still be unexpected expenses and deposits. The last thing you want once leaving all your creature comforts behind is not having enough funds to get settled. Something as simple as restocking your pantry, fridge, and pharmacy cabinet with essentials will add up. Simple window treatments, new decor, and fresh linens might be added to the list as well.
Don't forget lingering costs back home. Some choose to keep valuable, bulky, or heirloom items in a storage facility which needs to be included- as well as anything else with existing fees such as cars, homes, and pets rehomed to a loved one.
5.) Checklists? Paperwork? Multiple steps? Do these excite you?
If not, then get ready. I thank the good Lord for my Type-A husband. We
might would be in a pickle if I had to keep up with the plethora of admin stuff for our family. Document after document will be searched for, filled out, copied, possibly notarized, and mailed off to now only sit on your laurels and wait for months. Yes, months. Visas, resident permits, driving license, and sometimes a birth abroad certificate are a few items that may keep you waiting for months. And prior to mailing them off, getting everything collected and filled out can be a searing pain. Oh, and don't forget translations. This wasn't required when moving to Singapore, but was a must when relocating to Germany. All of our documents: birth certificates, marriages license, diplomas, etc had to be translated prior to submitting them for approval.
Some documents take weeks to complete before finalizing.
Obtaining a local driving license is easily at the top of my list of most nerve-wracking expat experiences in Germany. It took me how long to pass the test?!
What about once you are settled in your new country? Fully research how taxes and insurance is processed. It's different in every country. And if you are from the States, double and triple check how much you still owe Uncle Sam every year being abroad. Yep, that's right! You still pay taxes in the homeland.
These can be harsh things to think about, but they are valid and quite pertinent. Each country works at varying speeds to process things. You don't want to be surprised by the time limitations.
6.) Is returning home the ultimate goal?
This is a general rule of thumb for most expats when they initially set sail. Some people relocate for a few years with plans to move back home. But you will hear more times than not, "yeah, our original plan was 3-5 years, but here we are 10 years later!" It's pretty common, because making a home in a foreign country takes A LOT of everything: time, money, effort, not to mention sacrifices. But once settled and accustomed to new cultural and language integrations, it's tough to imagine going back or living anywhere else. It's also tough to walk away from a life you've voraciously fought to make for yourself.
Have a family? It's even more challenging to pack up and move again. Your partner has also made a life for themself, as well as your kids. They are ingrained in their community with athletics and activities, not to mention friendships. Returning home might not happen.
"Cool! Got it. I'm ready to go!!"
Not so fast.
Don't forget the longterm effects of living in a foreign country. After addressing a few questions you should ask before becoming an expat, I highly recommend diving into what life will look like in a couple of years. Hubby and I lightly discussed a few of these topics before leaving the US five years ago, but oh how I wish we would have fully laid it all out first.
It's much more than missing a friend's wedding or the birth of your nephew. It can also mean stunting your career and how many children you might have. We have run into every talking point, and each one deserves attention before becoming official expats: Long Term Effects of Living Abroad and What To Do
Whew! All that being said, living in a foreign country can be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will undoubtedly forever change you. Your heart. Your mind. The way you view everything will be different- for the better. If you are skimming this article, I applaud you! Being curious and seeing what else is out there is exciting. Do your research and get out there. It's a BIG beautiful world, and I encourage you to explore it!
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Some may think the spring lockdown never quite ended- only lessened. However, I feel like the summer gave us a huge and much needed break in Germany. Sports were back in session, stores loosened their restrictions, restaurants opened back up for indoor dining, and country borders were released! Wahoo! The possibility of surviving Bavarian lockdown 2.0 never crossed my mind.
This meant traveling, sanity, and seeing friends.
Read further to see how we have navigated life in Germany during 2020, and how we are currently handling our déjà vu lockdown 2.0
Let's rewind, shall we?
The first weekend Germany opened its borders in June, we took off for a long weekend in the Czech Republic.
And the last full week in June, we headed down to Switzerland and truly felt like we DID Switzerland!
Being able to get out and travel was such a breath of fresh air!
That's who we are and the number one reason we moved abroad...and also relocated to another continent after a few years. Traveling is the life blood of an expat - at least for us.
However, all good things must come to an end. And an end did come. September ushered in tighter restrictions, and October clamped down even more. Over 6,000 employees of hubby's office were sent packing and set up for official home office. The boys' athletics and after school activities were also put on hold along with restaurants returning to spring protocol: offering take-out only. We were only allowed to hangout with one other family where everyone in the group equaled a number less than ten. The gyms, churches, theaters, etc closed their doors once again. If you were not a grocery store, pharmacy, doctor's office, bank, or post office, then you unfortunately must close up shop. No shopping, renovating, or DIY buying. Must be essential business. The newest regulations began yesterday. Déjà vu! Although, I keep wondering if and when we can exchange items bought for Christmas...hmm.
What did we do over Christmas break if we couldn't travel?
A few months ago, we booked tickets to Dubai in the UAE. After you've lived through one German winter, you learn to schedule a sunny holiday in January if possible. Ahem (the reason for the trip to South Africa I recently scripted out). You learn quickly the sun does exist in other places on Earth and does set after 3:30pm in January. I digress...
We were supposed to be in Dubai over New Year's this year. But alas, our flights were cancelled. And even though our typical holiday cheer found around Europe at the Christmas markets was also cancelled, we had a momentous amount of fun staying at home. We baked, we cooked, we painted, played games, suited up for frigid games of basketball in the driveway, went rollerblading, biking, scootering, running around the playgrounds, rebuilt all of the LEGO sets (there are many!), went sledding, made snowmen, and walked downtown more than I can count. Meandering around streets with medieval buildings is enough to keep one entertained for hours- even with small people in tow.
This lockdown blessed our friendships tremendously-
Per "one family" rules, we stuck to that and invited others over for dinner. The kids ate it up, because they got to play with their friends, and we also enjoyed adult conversation with other people outside our home. We mainly stuck to rotating dinner dates with three families. I know it sounds corny- but since our normal meet up spots were shut down, it forced us to foster these authentic relationships in our own home. Deleting social media was also a driving force in seeing other people in person as well. We cooked together, made drinks/desserts, and watched movies. We even played a few rounds of Twister with one family. Good 'ol fashioned fun!
We also joined up with others on snowy hikes or strolls through the forrest.
Mainly to let our boys burn their miles and miles of energy, but I can't get enough of the winter air in Bavaria. It's so crisp and refreshing - delicious, really! SO great for the entire family.
It was all a perfect concoction of goodness up until now.
Now, we hunker down. Now, we hibernate and have one friend over at a time. No more playdates. And since we now have a 9pm curfew, bff sleepovers
might have become a thing. They aren't only for kids. Sanity savers for moms and dads who can't go to dinner with friends or meet up for a drink after work.
My one saving grace until now? Germany kept the schools open!
Children above age six were required to wear a mask starting in the spring when moving about the building and playground. It eventually tightened down to an all day accessory, except for when they were eating. This made learning a bit challenging for my eldest - simply because German isn't his first language. He's fluent in Deutsch for a six year old (due to enrollment of public preschool), but it's still tricky with new vocabulary. And although I'm currently taking German courses, I'm nowhere good enough to assist with his homework without the help of Google Translate. Ahhh!
Fast forward to today-
Yesterday, began our journey with distance learning. Momma Merkel (among others) decided to keep schools closed after the winter break. We went to the school on Saturday to pick up what our son needed for the next three weeks...the time span in which they will be home. I personally believe it will be stretched longer. But for now, I can live with three weeks. Many of my friends and family back in the States have been navigating home learning since March.
Nevertheless, we have joined forces with the rest of the world in distance learning. It's not necessarily full-on virtual learning like some schools, but two WebEx calls a day is enough. And with momma not fully understanding all the teacher communication on the call, it is a lot of pressure on my son.
Homeschooling him in a foreign language never crossed my mind when we registered for school.
My First Grader's Schedule-
- Virtual Call 8:15am-9:00am
- Work Block 9:00am-10:30am
- seven German assignments, two math pages completed, and four pages read in a specified book
- Virtual Call 10:30am-11:15am
- Wednesdays Only- Deutsch Plus Virtual Call 11:15am-12:30pm
Keep in mind, children don't start formal education until first grade in Germany. This is age six, and some parents make the conscious choice to hold their kids back until age seven. Through the early years, there is a huge emphasis on learning through play in the German culture. Learning letters at the beginning of first grade to full scale comprehending a book by Christmas happens somehow. Same with adding and subtracting by the holidays. It blows my mind how quickly they learn things, and how much is taught during that short time. It shouldn't surprise me though, because the German mindset is very structured.
I often get questioned about the school being let out by 11am. What are they learning in that short time? I will tell you...all work and very little play. Kids are allowed to walk home after 11am, or they can stay for lunch, recess, and after school help with homework. All depends on what works best for each family.
...back to the school work. It absolutely amazes me what they expect the kids to complete within one hour and fifteen minutes of distance learning. Yesterday, we did everything but reading. Today, we crushed it!
It's difficult keeping one child focused on school work while little brother is going rogue. Keeping him occupied for three hours is quite challenging.
*Some have told me to turn on the TV.
*Some have told me to give him an iPad in another room.
*Some have told me to give him an activity book.
While all of these are great suggestions, none of them hold the attention span for more than 15-20 minutes in our house. Our fellas are busy busy busy. Luckily, my little guy is obsessed with LEGOs. But the attention span for that only lasts for so long as well. Anyways, we are only a few days in. I know we will get into a rhythm, but I also know it takes time. Are you in the same boat?? Open to suggestions and what has worked best for you in the comments!
The spring lockdown taught me : STRUCTURE IS KEY.
Even though neither of my kids were in traditional schooling back in March, it helped tremendously to have a schedule for most of the day. They knew what to look forward to and what to expect most of the time.
We will continue giving it our best every day.
And we will be digging DEEP for the proverbial patience each child deserves. Overall, I'm very thankful for our situation. We only have one child in home learning. We are fortunate to live on one income, so I can focus my attention on serving my kids during this season. My husband doesn't have an essential job, so him working from home is a blessing if I need him in a bind. We are safe. We are healthy. We have people in the homeland who love and support us from afar, and we have friends close by whom we can count on. This is a difficult chapter in life to be thousands of miles from "home," but I'm thankful for technology and the growing anticipation to go back this summer.
This season is one of perseverance, hope, flexibility, and resilience.
I pray you can look within and readjust the "I have to's" to "I get to's." It's not easy and won't be a smooth affirmation every day. But I pray each of us realizes we are here on Earth right now for a reason. It is a gift!
Y'all, God has given each of us a unique set of tools and equipped us to flourish with what we are being dealt right now. This is where I would tell you...YOU CAN DO IT! But I mainly feel I'm pep-talking myself. Ha!
What is your inspiration for 2021?? Let me know in the comments below! A girl has to diversify.
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We were excited to find family friendly wineries in Stellenbosch! When it came time for our amazing safari experience to end, we hopped a plane back to the Western Cape and continued on with our South African adventure. These top 2 wineries to visit in Stellenbosch with kids are ones not to miss!
After we saw all the sights in Cape Town and enjoyed all the wild animals in the bush, we were ready to relax a little before heading back to Germany.
And what better place than the winelands just outside of Cape Town! Think the Margaret River region in Australia or Sonoma, California...only with these gorgeous mountain tops as our background.
There are various wineries which are kid-friendly and a few even have a play center to drop off the littles while you sample all the vino until your heart is content. The ones with play centers are generally an all-around more expensive experience, though.
We decided to see the kids with us and go with the wineries which had lots of outdoor space or a playground attached. One specific winery had a water feature the kids fell in love with. More on that in a bit...
Deciding to have small children accompany you to one of these delightful places is an entirely different experience than making it an adult's only venture. If you are in the market for a tour or day trip around the winelands sans children, then I highly recommend checking out Trip Advisor's list.
As I mentioned earlier- we did our research on the best wineries to visit in Stellenbosch with kids, and we were not disappointed with the two options we chose. They featured playgrounds, kid-friendly picnic options, and lots of green space.
Spier Wines was our first winery visit -
R310 Baden Powell Road, Stellenbosch
We chose to book a picnic for our family and purchased a bottle of this deliciousness to enjoy while there.
The kids mainly relished the freedom of no longer being boxed up in the car.
I mean, who truly needs a playground when you have nature to climb?
For The Kids: If you make a visit to the Spier wine farm, children get three grape juices to taste and a coloring activity sheet about insects in the vineyard. This should keep them entertained for a bit while sampling their two sparkling grape juices and one still. Your children will enjoy being included in the "wine tastings."
If you are looking for a hearty meal after a light picnic in Stellies (Stellenbosch to the locals), be sure to make a stop at Tiger's Milk. They have several locations around the Cape, but we put this on our list while out and about in the wineland region. It's a great spot to visit in Stellenbosch with kids! Fab selection of burgers, pizza, and other grilled bites. Their tagline says it all "Dude Food Made Real Good." The outside seating is a plus for the kids, not to mention enjoying a refreshing pint on the porch as well.
Warwick Wine Estate was our second winery visit -
On the R44 between Stellenbosch and Klapmuts
GPS Co-ordinates - 33 50 27 S - 18 51 54 E
This was our favorite discovery! We booked a picnic here as well, but the kids had their own unique boxes filled with yummy eats and treats, like homemade marshmallows and popsicles.
Side Note: if you notice the architecture atop the main buildings, it is reminiscent of Dutch design. As a former history teacher, I find it fascinating to see Dutch influence even in the historic construction of the vineyard buildings. A few vineyards in Australia are the same way- plus the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. Fun facts, but I digress...
The cushy lawn pillows under the umbrella were my favorite. Perfect for lounging with a chilled glass.
There was a playground, splash pad, and fountain which the staff encouraged the littles to enjoy. We didn't bring swimsuits, but this is where it comes in handy to always have a change of clothes in the car...or a simple pair of athletic shorts, because it was summertime in South Africa after all!
And if I'm being completely transparent, we wanted to check out Leopards Leap because we read it was super kid-friendly and had two massive jungle gyms. Well, we went in and they clearly did not want our business. The tasting room was sparsely full and no one was on the grounds outside. Still unsure why they refused our business, but a heads up if looking into Leopards Leap. The area of Franschhoek where the winery is located is breathtaking, but our short experience was embarrassing and disheartening. Nevertheless...onwards!
Much more to see, taste, and experience in the wineland region of South Africa.
Travel to Franschhoek on the R45.
This place caught our attention from the road, and it was calling our name for dinner. So glad we made the decision to pump our brakes! The incredible dinner view from the porch and sunset stroll through the vineyard afterwards made it worth the stop.
Bonus: It's no secret we are full-on lovers of AirBnB's for SO many reasons. But this one took the cake when traveling with little kids. It had a massive play room open to a beautiful deck, safety gated swimming pool with a large variety of floats and toys, plus a tree house complete with swing and slide. A sandbox and assortment of lawn toys could be found underneath.
Let me know if you are interested, and I'll happily pass along the info! It was a gem, and the owners were top-notch as well. Hubby and I were happy to come back here every evening to fully relax. The early mornings were amazing as well. We didn't have to worry about them escaping, drowning, or hurting themselves. Win! Win! Win!
If you find yourself planning a trip to South Africa, definitely don't miss out on the winelands or think you need to skip it because you have babes in tow. I hope you enjoyed my review of the Top 2 Wineries to Visit in Stellenbosch with Kids. Let me know if you have questions about planning, and be sure to save this post for later!
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Going on a safari can be a once in a lifetime experience, and one you don't have to put off until your kids are older. Living abroad gave us the opportunity to make it a reality, and we weren't going to skip it simply because our boys were 2 & 3 years old.
Planning the excursion can be stressful, but I hope my tips from the ultimate guide to African safari with toddlers will be beneficial in your packing and prepping.
Honestly, I highly recommend taking small kids on safari! The innocence and amazement of their experience is priceless. They aren't wrapped up in devices, taking selfies for social media accounts, constantly texting the entire time, or thinking the whole trip is boring. I would do this trip again in a hot minute, and here's why...
Planning a Safari with Toddlers? Here are Nine Crucial Tips to Help You Thrive in the Bush:
- Book a lodge with a kids camp, child care facility- This will allow you the opportunity to go on a game drive sans children, if you so desire. It's not necessary, but a nice option to have just in case. The place we chose had a unique Junior Rangers Program for the kids, and it was golden. They were to look for special things to check off while we were out. It was neat to watch them get excited and be proud of their little accomplishment.
DOING YOUR RESEARCH? I highly recommend, Khashana to assist. Friendliest, most knowledgable couple on the planet!
- Don't schedule every single safari offered- It's tempting to go on every scheduled drive, but it's difficult for little ones to keep up. And in reality, it's exhausting for mom and dad, too. It's typical to have two safaris included for the day. One at sunrise and one at sunset. Both are difficult on the tiny bodies. My eldest has always been up with (or before) the sun. But my youngest will sleep until 9/9:30 if I let him, so he had zero interest in getting up before the crack of dawn. Although, he was stoked once we were out in the bush!
- I stayed in the lodge with my youngest a couple of mornings, and likewise for the evening tour. The game drives can last 3-4 hours long, and sometimes it's too much for them to do two in one day. He and I ended up missing a couple of the tours, but I was okay with it. I knew we would all be better off for it. He got to rest, and it gave me a break. Yay for a moment of peace and quiet. Hubby and my eldest boy had a blast on a few of the safari tours alone. It's also amazing for them to have that special one on one time.
- Also vital to provide them ample time + a safe space to run around and get their energy out. Being in those game drive vehicles for hours on end with the expectation of silence and stillness is tough on little balls of energy. Build in time for them to let loose and be a kid.
- Make sure the car has blankets- They will come in handy for multiple reasons. Even in the summer months, it can be quite chilly during those early morning and late evening drives. Most of them start at 6am and 4pm.
It sounds scary, but blankets can also be great protection if you spot an aggressive animal. Naturally, one should be as quiet as possible. But a sudden movement could also startle the animal into pouncing towards the vehicle. Therefore, it's optimal to have the blankets for protection.
- Our ranger told us if the kids made a sudden movement and the lions spotted them, to throw the blanket over them immediately. It would deter their focus on where the movement was coming from.
- It's also a must to put them on the middle seats when you knowingly might run across aggressive animals.
My initial momma instinct freaked out. I mean, wouldn't you?! But everyone behaved - even the animals, so all was okay in the end. Whew!
I kept my wits about me, though, and all went smoothly. I explained to the boys they had to be very very still and quiet. Which, in my head I'm thinking, no way this is going to work. I explained how if I startled them, then they would get scared or cry, and how we wouldn't want to do that to the animals. They liked quiet and could hurt us badly if they felt scared.
- Prep the kids for what they might see- it's not uncommon to see a lion ripping apart and feasting on a wildebeest or the mood striking during mating season. Also discuss decaying carcasses and bones. Various things to consider when on safari.
Remember: Nature doesn't have a filter.
One of our most endearing experiences was crossing paths with Thandi a few times. This sweet rhino was the sole survivor of a poaching incident in 2012. Her horn may be gone, but her spirit and offspring are alive and well!
THANDI'S STORY: Commemorating 8 Years Since Rhino Poaching
- Always have sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, jackets, and bug spray- The safari themed clothing and accessories aren't just for fun photoshoots. They are used in real life. Take the wide-brimmed hat, wind breaker type jacket, and slather on all the sunscreen. Like I mentioned before, the open plains can be very windy tricking you to think the sun isn't so strong. But holy cow! Your skin will be scorched come evening. I didn't find the bugs to be too bad while out on the game drives (mostly because the winds helped move them right along), but it's still good to have some spray on hand. Most likely your ranger will stop every now and then (especially if you aren't having much luck finding any animals) and the repellent will become your bff near stagnant water.
- Pack snacks and water- This is always a good rule of thumb when traveling with littles. BUT (and this is a big BUT) only bring them out when the ranger tells you it's okay. If you are anywhere close to an animal sighting, all food and beverage needs to be well hidden. Your ranger might even question your belongings prior to climbing inside. They are usually very kind and understanding individuals, and grasp the need to have snacks on hand for the kiddos. However, the ranger in charge might hold it for you while on the drive and place it in a safely locked cooler underneath the vehicle.
- Take photos & videos- This seems like a no-brainer. But while you're taking pictures of these amazing animals, don't completely forget about your littles. They can make sudden movements & noises to get your attention, which is not good for the animals you are trying to capture on film. It increases the chances for them to get scared or pounce closer to your vehicle out of curiosity in what has made that movement or noise. So keep a side-eye on them, whisper to them, touch their head or body once in a while to let them know you are with them.
- Hand over the reigns- did you bring binoculars? Give them to the kids, so they can see up-close as well. Let them take photos or videos, too! This is wildly fun for them and great to do if non-aggressive animals are around or none at all. Spot a giraffe? Let them film for a bit. The goofy smile that spreads across their face is worth it. Kids thrive on independence, and this slice of creative freedom will make them beam.
- ENJOY THE MOMENT- savor this precious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with your children! In some instances...put your camera down, snuggle your little one, and talk about what you are experiencing together. We saw giraffes, hippos, rhinos, wildebeest (we affectionately referred to them as Timon and Pumbaa), gazelles, lions, zebras, and even a monkey with a blue booty! The elephant families were my favorite. At a watering hole, we counted almost 30 of them grazing around together. The teeniest babies were the cutest and never left their momma's side. Special types of deer, fox, ostrich, and an array of wildly gorgeous birds.
WHERE WE STAYED: After much research, we chose Kariega Game Reserve for our safari experience as a family. It ticked all of our boxes, and we are incredibly grateful to the staff and our ranger, Craig, for the careful attention they took to our young kids.
Taking a safari is magical. To see these wondrous creatures up close in their natural habitat and not behind a gate or glass at a zoo is so so special. To share these moments with your family and make lasting memories is priceless! You may feel the need to not take a single moment for granted, but be smart about the journey. Rest when you or the littles are needing it, and you'll enjoy the quality of game drives over the quantity of them.
Everyone has their own reasoning for taking kids on safari at specific ages. It can be challenging at times, but we throughly enjoy experiencing the world through the eyes of our boys. They get excited about the littlest things and notice details we would normally glaze over. Young children have an innocence about them before cell phones, social media, hobbies, friends, and love interests take over. Mom and dad are their best friends, and they want to seize every opportunity with you! It's heartwarming to reminisce those moments.
Giraffes Can't Dance is one of the kids favorite books. While prepping our trip, they both repeatedly exclaimed how excited they were to see "Gerald." Once on safari, they would burst with joy about all the Geralds they saw... not giraffes- but Geralds. Cutest thing ever! The excitement captured in those videos would not be possible on the open plains in 10-15 years with teenagers.
Take advantage, friends! Plan those trips and take them now!
I hope my tips from The Ultimate Guide to African Safari with Toddlers was helpful for you!
Have you been on a safari tour? If so, where did you go? How long did you stay? There are other African countries I would love to venture through on safari, and I value your opinion. Let me know in the comments below!
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Do not listen to the naysayers. You can (and should!) go to South Africa with young kids in tow. Don't wait until they are older to do safari. They will love the excitement of a big city. Promise! And they will even enjoy the gorgeous winelands.
I will walk you through each situation. But first, let's get started below with eight unforgettable things to do with kids in Cape Town.
Living through German winters can be incredibly depressing without seeing the sun, especially after living on the equator in Singapore. We decided to take matters into our own hands and strategically plan time in a sunny environment after Christmas to get a healthy dose of Vitamin D and beat the depressing 3:30pm sunsets.
Last year, we found uber cheap tickets sending us to Chase the Sun in Malta! And two years ago, we spent time adventuring around South Africa with our two and four year old boys starting in Cape Town. After a few days in the Mother City, we chased the Big Five through safari and spent the last few days back on the western coast in Stellenbosch. More on that in a bit.
Here are a few things we enjoyed as a family in Cape Town!
1.) Table Mountain Cable car- a few things to note! Check the weather first thing. A total waste of time, money, and effort if a clear day is not in the forecast. As soon as you spot a clearing during your visit, book your tickets asap. Even with a reserved piece of paper, the line is crazy crazy long on a beautiful day. With that being said, pack some water and snacks for the wait time. Ours was well over an hour. Standing for that long in the hot sun is torture to little kids without food.
2.) Bo-Kaap- the most colorful area in the city! You can join organized tour groups to see the street more in-depth, but I usually suggest shying away from them when having littles in tow. However, I would recommend taking your kids to Harvest Cafe & Deli, a mighty tasty spot with an impeccable rooftop view of Table Mountain.
3.) The Cape of Good Hope in Table Mountain National Park- so many disclaimers for this one. The entry is expensive, and you will pay per individual in the car. Due to the road getting there, the line to get inside the park will be quite long. Umm there are also aggressive wild baboons...
And since it is the tip of an entire continent, the wind is unbelievably strong. Eeep!
But, is it worth it? Absolutely!
And if you have littles who are obsessed with Paw Patrol like mine were at the time. The lighthouse tower looks exactly like The Lookout...or at least my kids thought so!
If driving down from Cape Town, be sure to plan your day for adequate time in the park. It's a chunk of change and a long way to drive for a hurried couple of hours.
4.) Boulders Beach- on your way back to Cape Town, be sure to stop at this incredible spot! It's amazing to watch the little cuties waddle around and duck up and down in the water. But if you have kids with you, it's PURE magic! Definitely one of my favorite memories from this trip.
We met up with strangers for sundowners while the boys played on the beach. Well...kinda. I met Brandy on the internet and immediately fell in love with her story and family. Want more details of our family meet up and sons jumping waves together for the first time? Click below!
5.) GOLD Opulent African Cuisine- hands down, #1 place to eat in the Cape! It's a live, 14-dish, dinner show that fully immerses you in authentic African culture. Five stars all around; you will not be disappointed! Massive hit with the kids, too.
They were highly entertained and tried unique Ghanaian, Ethiopian, Tunisian, Mozambiquan, Zanzanian, and Malawian cuisines.
6.) The Castle of Good Hope- this prestigious fort was originally constructed in the 17th century and is known as the most well-preserved fort of it's time in all of the world. The Castle of Good Hope was founded in Table Bay to give ships a rest break en-route to Asia from Europe. Visitors can pay for a guided tour or take a self-guided one like we chose. Again, I'm not really a fan of group tours with littles. Be sure to research the exhibitions online prior to your visit.
7.) Blue Train Park- if you find yourself in the city with kids and need a break to let them run wild, check out the Blue Train Park. There is an actual blue train they can ride, lots of green space to run wild + playground equipment...and what parent wouldn't love the relaxing backdrop of the seaside? And if you're lucky, sit back and watch the paragliders run off Signal Hill while you're kiddos swing their hearts out!
8.) V&A Waterfront Marina- Feeling mentally and physically kaput from sight-seeing? Then make your next stop the V&A Waterfront Marina. You will find everything you need and more! Shopping, dining, entertainment, and tours. An array of large chain places to boutique artisans are around every corner. Boredom will not strike you as you meander the main tourist spot in CT. The kids were amused watching the fancy yachts ferry in and out. But you will also find playgrounds and a train going about the crowds for the kiddos to ride and enjoy.
My favorites at the V&A Waterfront Marina?
- Ferrymans Tavern- so much goodness to say about this place! Friends of ours recommended it, because we could sit outside yet it was covered and had a playground for the boys. Live music paired with delish food and beer can't be beat!
- The V&A Waterfront Food Market- an eclectic indoor market with an array of street food vendors sure to please everyone in the family.
- The Watershed- want to support local artisans and take home a unique souvenir? 1,000% put this shopping mecca on your list. I picked up a beaded mask of an idigenious tribe (it cruelly stares at me every night from my dresser) and a necklace made from ostrich eggs. Super cool spot!
- Ginja- amazing cuisine, incredible sunset view of the harbor, and best service we had in Kapstadt!
- The Cape Wheel- a no-brainer if you have kids! Although if you are riding solo or with a partner, the 360 view of the city and coastline from the clouds is breathtaking. Check it out!
The Mother City was a hit with everyone in our family. It has an immense cultural diversity of various ethnicities, religions, and languages which can be experienced throughout the city. It's full of playgrounds and attractions for kids. And if all else fails, let them play along the gorgeous seaside!
All in all, don't be afraid of taking your young family to Cape Town! It can be daunting like any big city, but the cultural experiences, unique cuisines, and warm sunshine during winter can't be beat! Also helps to pour your expectations down the drain when traveling with kids. Ha! This was the boys 25th country, so trust me on this. Cape Town is also a fabulous jumping off point to the rest of gorgeous South Africa...and that is exactly what we did. Next stop is Port Elizabeth and a few days on safari. Stay tuned!
Have questions about our trip? Leave a comment below!
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Guys- I know I mentioned feeling incredibly lost without social media on day one...but unfortunately, it's not really gone anywhere.
When you have a fixation with something and it's been actively removed, your entire world is shook top to bottom. I feel it would be very similar to being told you would never walk again and then taking teenie tiny baby steps each day telling yourself- YES, I will! Rewiring your brain and retraining your physical habits is tough stuff.
I'm telling ya...every aspect of my life has been affected. The simplest everyday happenings like the way I cook, shop, shower, sleep, play with my kids, and even putting on make-up, to more thought out processes of reselling outgrown toys and used home goods, interacting with friends, planning get togethers, checking on family, and scheduling my days. Every little thing has been affected.
Here's a quick list of eye-opening moments from the week:
- When I put on a TV show for my kids, I actively watched it with them. We laughed together and discussed the plot of what would happen next. I was engaging with my kids instead of seeing it as an opportunity to scroll social.
- When we've had friends over for dinner, I have actively interacted with them instead of taking pictures to post on social.
- When taking a shower, I spent time praying and reflecting on the day instead of wondering who commented on my recent post.
- When cooking dinner, I typed in the recipe I needed through the search bar instead of searching through saved recipes on a social platform to find the particular one I needed.
- When going for a bike ride, hike, or playground adventure with my family, I embodied living in the moment instead of constantly keeping my eyes peeled for those perfect moments to capture in an Instagram story.
- When my husband found something funny he wanted to share with me, he physically showed me his phone and we shared the moment together instead of seeing it pop up in my DMs and laughing alone.
- When doing the bedtime gamut; shower, brushing teeth, reading books, and prayers/songs, I have found myself enjoying the process instead of rushing through so I could
relaxsit on the couch and pretend to watch a show while scrolling social media. Veteran parents will achingly plead with you - they are only little once. And this week, I've felt it more than ever.
- When wondering how someone was doing, I whipped out my phone to call/text them, instead of looking them up in "stories" to mentally check the box.
- and by doing the above, I noticed one of my sister-in-laws had beautiful new hair extensions, and my other sister-in-law had a gorgeous new do! Although, a bit embarrassing because these new hair habits occurred months ago for both of them; I've just been too distracted to notice. (FACE PALM)
- The biggest kicker has been how I've spent this Christmas holiday. All the above embodied every single moment of how I experienced this Christmas in a different way. I have truly savored the crafts with my kids, cooking heirloom dishes, baking tasty treats, having undistracted conversations with my husband, laughed until I cried with friends, and seen way more people over FaceTime than I have in a few months combined, instead of relying on a social media platform to do it all for me.
- My husband and I even had a tif over how something happened on Christmas morning. He asked me if I was going to take a picture of it, and I said, "no, not if I'm not going to post it."
Looking back, I cannot even believe those words came out of my mouth. I know that hurt his heart a little, because it was evident how the vast effects of "posting" had taken control of me. He was surprised I didn't want a picture of the moment for our family memories.
Deep down, I did.
But that wasn't my initial response, nor what I verbally admitted to.
The Happiness of Others
DISCLAIMER: These are 100% my opinions and my own personal experience. I am not judging nor will I shame you for staying on any social media platform. How, where, and when you choose to share your life with the world is your business - not mine. I'm simply sharing my story.
I received a lot of well intentioned push back from loads of people about disconnecting. Friends and family loved us, and it was an easy way to "see" our life abroad. They could experience life through our eyes and see how our beautiful boys were growing up: in local schools, speaking a foreign language, and adapting to a childhood they knew absolutely nothing about. I did feel sad taking that away, but I also realized I was making my everyday, life mission to keep others appeased by knitting together our family story for them.
I ran across this graphic a few days ago, and it was a pretty hard pill to swallow. I had heard this quote pretty much my whole life, but it never became crystal clear until two weeks ago. Seeing it paired with the background image was a smack in the face. I felt relief, guilt, and sheer happiness all rolled up into one. It may seem selfish. But can I tell you how much happier I have become since then? It's been a slow unveiling, but I feel LOADS lighter.
When it came down to it, I wasn't doing any of this for myself.
Sure- I enjoyed the creative outlet it gave me, but I could create and publish content about anything. I still feel a bit of the guilt, but I've also come to terms with fostering authentic relationships. Those who truly want to "see" us and know how we are doing will reach out in a personal way. And they have!!
Like I mentioned above, I have talked to more people over the phone and seen more people in real life than I have in the past month. And if I'm being completely honest, it's damning to admit.
On the other hand, there are folks whom I had grown to adore and loved to follow on Instagram. Free-spirited backpackers, travel bloggers, fellow expat mommas around the world, chefs dolling out brand new mouth-watering recipes, a few celebrities, and of course all my beloved friends and family.
It's tough to shut that out as well. I thoroughly enjoyed getting new tips and advice from individuals who were veterans in areas we shared in common. But you know what else I realized, I can look up this info on the great world wide web! Haha - it's funny but true. Umm, hello? Think of how we existed and did life 15-20 years ago! All of these individuals I admired had websites, blogs, published articles, and email lists I could join.
There are other ways of keeping up with people besides social media.
This is a big one! I do not have medically diagnosed depression or anxiety, but I do know that I struggle with it here and there like every one else. We are all human (and even if not diagnosed), we all have our ups and downs.
Social media will not lessen your anxiety nor relieve depression. If anything, it will make it 10x worse. Again, this is my experience and 100% my opinion. But...
The bitterness which festers in seeing a group of people out doing something you are missing out on is horrible.
The anger that bubbles up inside when you see a friend doing something they promised you they would never do.
The sadness and frustration that encapsulates your whole body when you can't take that trip, buy that car, decorate that house, or have that family. The constant feeling that you're not good enough. What you are doing is not "right," because you are choosing to do things differently.
If you put your device down and look around, you'll realize you have a pretty epic life!
The anxiety that comes with scrolling-
I need to do this.
I want to have that.
I must go there.
I'm doing that next!
The depressive state that follows-
I have no way of going there.
I don't have the money for that.
I'm too busy to plan that.
I just can't...therefore, my life sucks!
Peppered throughout past years, I've had several people explain the above to me. I, however, thought I was immune. I had a great life, and I loved being connected. Why would I be jealous of others?? I was happy everyone was doing well in different ways. But deep down I was jealous. Remember, real living breathing human being over here? Even scrolling over the littlest things would put a damper on my day. Living abroad can magnify those feelings even more. You see family hanging out together, and you're instantly sad because you are missing out. You see a friend eating your favorite food from back home, and the bitterness sets in. Or how about a group of your old pals going out for some spontaneous fun? Oh, hello there sadness and frustration.
It's terrible. And I know these feelings don't only come with a one way ticket to another country. We've only been abroad for five years, and I logged onto social media a solid ten years before we left the States.
My friend sent me this article, The Great Conjunction Is Upon Us, when she linked my rash decision to the timing of winter solstice + lining of the planets to form the Christmas star. Gave me goosebumps. An interesting read for sure, especially if you are a spiritually celestial person.
If I'm being completely transparent, a few fellow bloggers/Instagram friends turned me on to the new terms and conditions being rolled out on December 20th. One friend took it upon herself to comb through and read them line by line. Who in their right mind does that?? Umm, where can I click "I understand" so I can get back to my scrolling and posting? It also takes forever. Literal hours can be sucked from your life. Who has time for that?? Well... after she peeked my interest, I wanted to see how much was fear mongering and how much was truth. You guys, I didn't like what I was reading one bit. The algorithms, artificial intelligence, what can be seen&heard from your devices was all a bit too much for me to swallow. It's too much to keep up with, worry about, and causing a hella amount of unnecessary stress for me.
Social media IS fun, keeps you connected, and the endorphin rushes are wildly addictive. But when it comes down to it, this momma couldn't stomach it anymore. Obviously, it is a massive distraction from my kids and husband. But the more the world knew about me and passed info, pictures, location, and contacts along to others was simply off-putting to me.
Remember, 100% personal opinion and no judgement from me about how you choose to handle social media platforms. Just being transparent with y'all. Without going into heavy details, it's all there for you in black and white under "settings" should you find yourself curious and wide awake in the 3am hour like I did.
Although, what feels like curiosity and a bit of judgement from others is also a tough pill to swallow. Going against the grain. Not running with the popular crowd. Keeping your hands down when everyone else is raising theirs. It's tough. I had a few friends, when we first joined Facebook back in college, who decided not to do it. And since then, I've had friends who decided to delete their accounts for various reasons.
I never in a million years thought I would be one of those people.
But, here I am! Beginning week two of zero social media. It's odd. It's weird. I feel like an outcast. But I will say, there is more good that has come out of the past week than bad.
It's refreshing. I feel lighter. Happier. My life feels like it has a clearer purpose now. The trap of the comparison game is kaput. I enjoy my kids more. I have found myself actually wanting to be around them. My husband and I aren't as snippy with one another. I've been reading an actual book - one that you get to flip real pages. I savored moments, many many moments. I've even vacuumed more than normal. Yay for a cleaner house! LOL
To wrap up this week, it's been good. It's been weird. It's been utterly eye-opening. Overall- I'm thankful I'm doing it, and I'm even more thankful you are here for the journey. I'm learning loads about myself and curious to see how this continues to play out in my life, especially as an expat.
Curious about how it all initially went down? It's not pretty, but here it is. My First Day Without Social Media - What Happened?
If you want weekly updates on our life abroad, click below. Email it is, because (duh) no social anymore.
Living in Europe has many perks. One of the best happens in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
The pure magic of Christmas markets begin to blossom at the end of November. Decorations begin going up as streets are lined with twinkly lights. Tall pine trees are strategically placed in village squares. Stages are built for church choirs and children's classes to sing a multitude of joy each night throughout the Advent season.
As the markets open for business, the sights, smells, and sounds ring clear from street the street. Glüwein, the world-renowned beverage of choice, is being mulled together with warm red wine, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed, orange slices, vanilla pods, and a dash of sugar. The smell of freshly roasted chestnuts, savory sausages, and sweet crepes also fill the air.
Orchestrated bands are known to ribbon themselves throughout the crowds playing folklore sounds and handing out candy to kids.
The littles enjoy kinderpunsch (a non-alcoholic version of glüwein) while riding trains, carousels, playing games, and sometimes petting animals from a live nativity scene.
The artisanal crafts sold down the streets of Christmas markets also hold timeless value to the moment. They are local and handmade. Soaps, ornaments, figurines, decorations, oils, spices, candles, purses, and many winter accessories such as scarfs and gloves. Last year, I purchased a wonderfully woven hat to keep me toasty while walking the boys to school during the frigid, German winter.
Even outside of Germany are some spectacular Christmas markets. Our family favorite was Strasbourg and Colmar, France. Around every corner, I expected to see Belle whisking through with her basket wishing everyone in the town a good morning...and of course, the Beast not far behind. It's that magical.
I mean, where else can you view life-size Christmas bears strapped to the side of a building for decoration? Don't you want to grab one and take it home? I did! The French bakery below made it feel all the more like a real life fairytale.
Want to feel the magic of Christmas markets again? Yeah, me too. I'm utterly gutted they closed down this season. I know why, but it still stings. As someone who lives thousands of miles from home and will not see family for Christmas, I need these magical, spontaneous moments in my life.
They were a wonderful distraction from the homesickness that crept in around the holidays. Not only to distract from my own empty emotions, but to also create whimsical memories for my sons' childhood memory bank.
This is the main street in our village. Sigh. An overall blah empty feeling.
As much as I wish we were creating new memories dashing about the European Christmas markets, I've had fun reminiscing with you. There is so much joy in this season, even if we aren't able to continue on with certain traditions.
The thrill of hope remains!
A new year is on the horizon. Enjoy this time with family and those around you. Make a new tradition. Get creative with what you have on hand. And if you have kids under roof, I promise they don't care about the fluff. All they want is a cuddle from you.
Turn off the TV. Put your phone down. Curl up with a blanket and something warm to drink, and watch the twinkly lights on your tree. Get lost in the mesmerizing moment for awhile.
It really is a magical season and monumental way to end 2020. I pray you all have a restful and memorable Christmas.
All too soon, it will be gone again. Only to be replaced with New Year's resolutions, planning, and goal-setting. This wonder will be replaced with the hustle and bustle of reality. For now...soak up those last moments of the year.
If you never grabbed the Advent Calendar, click to savor the last few days of inspiration. Consider it my gift to you!
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This is going down in history as one of the most interesting days of my life. Not the worst, not the best, but definitely one of the most interesting.
I can't even believe I'm writing this...
In short, I felt lost. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. My nerves were shot. I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t eat anything all day except for a few bites at dinner, which I had to choke down. …and then, I felt nauseous.
Guys, we are talking about social media. Not a real person. A house. Or pet. We are talking about a website. But can I just tell you, I felt like I had broken up with someone. I felt like I had thrown away a scrap book of my adult life. I was an original OG. I joined Facebook my spring semester junior year at Clemson University. My first post was a night time pool party at our apartment clubhouse. Man, I was skinny. Haha- don’t we all think that looking back 15 years ago. ...and had spiky hair! Wait, what??
Social media truly is a virtual scrapbook. Graduations, engagements, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, baby announcements…heck, being able to document and watch other people’s children grow up. I mean, how cool! …and creepy, at the same time. It’s wild if you really think about it. WILD.
So, about the day- the first few hours, I spent the majority of the time reassuring people I was okay. Seriously. That my husband and I were fine. I wasn’t leaving him. He wasn’t leaving me. He hadn’t lost his job. We weren’t being kicked out of Germany. Nor, were we moving back to the States. These were only a few of the things I was asked. Mainly people thought I had gone off my rocker. Honestly. And for good reason, I (mostly) understand. Like, what normal sane person would get rid of social media??
love loved social media! I am a super extroverted person who enjoys being connected and staying in the know. I’m not as active on Facebook as I once was, but I was posting daily on Instagram via my Expat Actually account…and 8-12 stories a day. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative outlet it gave me. And in retrospect, I appreciated the positive attention I received. Even though we’ve been abroad for five years, I would get new questions almost daily about random things. I loved helping people. And as a former educator, it thrilled me to shoot a video, document a process, or capture a gorgeous photo for someone who had previously asked about it. “Friends” would regularly tell me how much they loved living vicariously through me. Of course, it was a mighty confidence booster, but it was beating me down at the same time.
You’ll often hear of the pressures of social media. Pressure to look a certain way, dress or act a certain way. Even if you aren’t the one posting, watch out, because someone else may capture you, your home, or kids in a certain unfavorable angle. And then, BAM, you wake up to it plastered on a social media platform accompanied by random comments or What’s App messages about the happenings from the night before.
Y’all…that wasn’t even my biggest concern. I’ll get into my reasons for leaving social media next week. It’s all over the board. Some I’m sure have crossed your mind, and some I’m sure you’ve never thought of.
For the rest of the day, that original “lost” feeling never went away. It only strengthened and deepened. In the following hours of my first day without social media, this happened…
- My husband and I were talking about a friend from back home but couldn’t remember where they went to college. I thought, “hmmm…I’ll look him up on Facebook real quick.” Nope. Wasn’t available.
- I was cooking dinner later and wanted to revert back to a recipe I saved on Instagram. Nope. Wasn’t available.
- My family was decorating Christmas cookies, and I thought what a CUTE photo op for a story! Nope. Wasn’t available.
- We went for a walk after dinner, and wouldn’t you know there were TONS of amazing moments I wanted to share with my Expat Actually community. It’s all about showing the outside world about our life in a foreign country, right? My eldest son is learning to read and had stopped to sound out road signs of nearby cities. It was an amazing momma moment, but also expat moment as he had flipped from the southern English dialect to the Bavarian dialect of German. It’s still amazing to me, and I so desperately wanted to share it with my Instagram community. Ahhhh! But alas, nope. Wasn’t available.
- Since my phone is usually in my pocket, I will undress in the bathroom and place it in the same spot while I’m showering. Only this particular evening, it hit me that I wouldn’t have any missed likes, comments, or messages. By deleting social media, I made the conscious choice of plugging in my phone to charge in a separate room. When I got out of the shower, I didn’t run to see if I had missed anything. And while normally washing my hair, I’m planning content in my head. But that day? Nope. Wasn’t available. I actually took a second to think about what I would be doing with my kids the next day.
- The month of December, I created an Advent Calendar and had committed to sharing these unique, inspirational graphics with my Expat Actually community on Instagram. Each one had a specific Bible verse for the day and mini-devotional. As I sat down to craft the post (like I had each night after the kids were in bed), it hit me. Nope. Wasn’t available.
It came crashing down on me like a truckload of bricks… I couldn’t fulfill this activity which brought me so much joy any longer. But did it really? I was staying up until 1am or later- figuring out the right words to compile in the caption, researching the best hashtags to reach the right audience, etc. And then, I also had a daily, Christmas market themed series of posts going on as well. These contained the same metrics but also taking time to choose the right photo, edit in Lightroom, resave and structure in Instagram before posting. I enjoyed it, but it.was.a.lot.
Thinking of flying right now? Read this first! Q&As for Flying During A Pandemic
But you know what I was able to do? Sit next to my husband and enjoy one of our favorite shows. In fact, we watched a couple of episodes together. We even went to bed at the same time. This NEVER happens!
- And when I did decide to go upstairs around 11pm (instead of 1am), I settled under the covers to habitually scroll Facebook, watch Instagram stories, and generally see what everyone had been up to for the day. Nope. Wasn’t available.
I clearly remember thinking, “what else is there to look at on my phone??” I checked the weather for tomorrow. Read the daily verse in my Bible app, checked email, and then put it down all in a matter of ten minutes. I leaned over the side of the bed and picked up an actual book to read. The mornings usually start fresh with my devotional book, so I chose a book I’ve been putting off finishing. And instead of staying awake diving deeper into the black hole of social media for a solid hour (generally around 2am), I read a few pages of my book and could not hold my eyes open for the life of me. I was hard asleep before midnight. What?!
This never EVER happens. You know why? Because I had been engrossed in social media. Designing stories, crafting engaging copy for posts, finding the best editing tools, while also commenting on my “friends” content as well.
- And when I went to sleep, the social media attachment wasn’t over… if I got up in the middle of the night, I would typically lie back down phone in hand to see what I had missed from the few hours I was asleep. Not from people here, but from loved ones back home. You know, time difference? Folks back “home” were eating dinner when I decided to close my eyes for the night. I could have missed six hours of “stuff.” WHAT?! Do you realize how ridiculous this all sounds?? But nope. Wasn’t available.
- Needless to say, the same vicious cycle would start over again in the morning. Reach for the phone, open social media, see what everyone else was doing…FACE PALM. Nope. Wasn’t available.
Guys, this was only the first day. I’m intrigued (and also terrified, if I’m being 100% honest) to see what the coming days and weeks will look like. I haven’t decided when or if I’ll ever get back on social media. But I will tell you this, after I decided I was deleting all my social channels… a wave of relief washed over me in an instant. I deleted (not deactivated but deleted) Facebook first. And when I opened Instagram to do the same, I felt dirty. Seriously. This odd grimy feeling took hold of me when I started clicking stories of friends. I was excited to see what they had been doing the whole 12 hours I had been away from Instagram (🙄), yet I felt yucky on the inside. I immediately closed the app, and I thought to myself I need a minute to come back and properly shut it down as well.
I know all this sounds utterly silly, but I wanted to share it with you. This is real. Real raw human emotion. And I know I’m not alone. This was one day. One 24 hour-ish period without social media. I’m sure I’m missing a few moments, but it’s easy to see my rollercoaster of emotions. It’s a struggle for sure, but one I’m determined to power through.
I will share next week why I decided to shut it off. To kiss all social platforms goodbye for good. Cold turkey. No deleting apps off my phone and only using my computer. No deactiving my accounts, but hardcore wiping them clean. It was an easy, yet very very difficult decision as well.
Watch this space next week to see how it unfolds…or reply below to make sure I haven’t completely gone off my rocker 🤪 as I know this will get much harder before it becomes easier.
See ya back on the 29th!
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You’ve finally decided to solidify the move and make the jump abroad. Congrats! Now to clear the lump in your throat and cross off the next hurdle (if you have kids) ...where to enroll them in school. Should you go the private route or localize them into a public school? There are private institutions in most countries which speak the local language. But for the purpose of this article, I'm speaking of private international schooling. And unless someone has made the decision for you, it’s a tough one. Here are seven tips to hopefully make the choice a little easier. Private or Public School? How to Choose When Moving Abroad?
First things first...
Research country parameters. Truly, this should be one of the things you look into prior to moving. I say this because in some countries, foreigners don't have a choice. There can be varying reasons: safety, religion, or not solidifying permanent residency are a few factors that would hold you back from choosing local education. If you have the ability to explore further, then check out the seven factors below!
1.) Age of the Kids
The age of the children makes all the difference in the world. If they are in the younger elementary age range, it’s easier to transition into a local school. Kids are resilient at any age- but the younger they are, the easier it is for them to integrate.
2.) Length of Work Contract
If a relocation to a foreign country is two years or less, you might want to think about enrolling kids into an international school. The curriculum, culture, and language will be similar to what they are accustomed to. Although, I’m scripting this from an American viewpoint where choosing an international school would be most aligned with what a parent would experience in US schools- whether public or private.
Placing your kid into a local school with weird-to-them customs and a language they can't comprehend doesn't exactly set them up for success. But if you think you'll be in your new home country for more than a couple of years, you might lean into giving it a shot. Not only does it fully integrate the children, but it gives them the opportunity to make friends in their specific community. I've seen this make a significant impact on children feeling more comfortable and settled in their neighborhoods.
3.) Who is Picking Up the Tab?
To some, this can be controversial. But honestly, it’s probably the biggest factor in the decision making process. Some employers will write it into the employees’ contract. It sweetens the deal. Others, it can be a blatant deal breaker.
It can come down to several thousand out of pocket or none at all. A lot of people cannot afford to fit that into their monthly budget. My biggest piece of advice on this subject would be double and triple checking your contract. If it is a non-negotiable for you, then rework those finances to make it happen.
Note: Every company is different. Some will only cover tuition costs for one child and no siblings. Others have calendar limits - even if you don’t have a local contract. For example: the employer picking up the educational fees for only three years, even if the employee decided to stay for ten years. At the end of those three years, you will be faced with this decision all over again. Do you pony up the funds out of pocket or make the switch to local schools. Lots to consider.
4.) Language Barrier
This one is huge and kind of goes hand in hand with age. The mind of a child is a complete sponge. The younger they are, the easier it is to adapt to a brand new culture. From my experience, we put our boys in local play schools at the ages of 2.5 and 4 years old. The younger one was in more of a baby/toddler class where they weren't expected to speak much. However, he absorbed everything the teachers were saying. My eldest was placed into a pre-K type of class where he was expected to speak back and hold conversation. No doubt, it was more stressful for my eldest. The first six months were rough. It was difficult for him to make friends and challenging to express himself to the teachers. It was terribly hard on my momma heart, because he is my outgoing child who LOVES being around others. It wasn't long after that, though, that he was inviting friends over after school and they were communicating strictly in Deutsch. Simply amazing to observe! I feel like because my youngest was exposed to a new language at such a young age, he sometimes now prefers to speak in German over English. Utterly dumbfounds me with happiness for him.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THIS: How are YOUR language skills? Are you taking a class to learn the local language? If integrating your child is important to you, also think about the effect it will have on you as a parent and your home life. Could you communicate properly if volunteering at the school? What about talking to athletic coaches or mentors for after school activities? Can you actively help your child with homework in a foreign language?
5.) Wait List
If you are leaning hard towards a private institution, check the enrollment deadlines. If a company is sponsoring your move, they *might* work magic to get your brood enrolled. It's not always the case though. And it can be especially tricky if you are doing it all on your own. Public schools are much easier to gain enrollment, especially in your zoned area of housing.
If you are affiliated with a certain type of religion, this could alter your choice of schooling. While there are plenty of faith-based private schools out there, the public school system in Germany is very much so centered around religion. This took me a minute to wrap my head around, because separation of church and state happened decades ago in America. If we desired a faith-filled schooling option for our children back home, then we would have 100% chosen a private school. Here in Germany, it's a bit different. There isn't so much of a division between church and state. I was surprised when enrolling my eldest that he had a religion class, and we had the choice of Protestant or Catholicism teachings. Ethics class is also offered in place of religion. But I was still shocked a religious class was an option in public school, especially in the primary years.
7.) Transfer of Credits
Important for all but mainly teenagers. Double and triple check how the credits are recognized globally and how they could transfer back to your home country in case of repatriating. The curriculums do not always align. If it's a possibility to send your high schooler back "home" for university, then I would spend some time researching how current grades/credits will be accepted. For example, the global curriculum and testing scores of International Baccalaureate (IB) schools are generally acknowledged anywhere in the world.
Leaning more towards the international route? Check out this article from expat magazine, Yay For Today. Make an informed decision on these beneficial talking points. Questions to Ask When Choosing an International School
All in all, deciding how to educate your child in a foreign country can be a heavy decision. Just as every child is different, one school might not be the best option for all in your family. While one might thrive better in a local school, another child might be better suited for a private institution.
Lots of options to weigh, but I hope this quick list helps with the process!
*note- I am not against homeschooling. In fact, I was previously an English/History teacher for the middle school years prior to moving abroad. I love all things about education, but it is illegal in Germany. The sole content of this article is to discuss weighing the important factors when choosing private versus public schooling when moving abroad.