I talk a lot about travel. Like a lot. A lot.
Guys, traveling is the life blood to the expat experience. Everyone has their own reasons for living abroad: financial gain, being near family, fresh start, further education, individual freedom, etc. It varies drastically depending on the person. The choice to move could be temporary like spending a university semester abroad or an internship. However, it could also be open-ended or knowingly be more of a forever situation.
Our first international move was temporary, and we knew that. Hubby signed a two-year contract which moved us from the US to Singapore. Fun, right? Sound exciting? Living in Asia? Having Australia and New Zealand at your fingertips? From the outside looking in, sounds amazing...right?
Let me whisper the back-end of the scenario...
We had relocated from Austin back to Atlanta with a two month old in tow. Instead of returning to city life, hubby and I decided to plant roots in the suburbs. So, like most American couples...we bought a home and fully renovated it. I'm talking ripping out plumbing, refurbing the floors, encapsulating the crawl space, sanding popcorn ceilings, and painfully peeling decades old wallpaper from its cemented home. This was it! We were firmly planting roots, y'all. We were three hours driving distance to our families. I could lock down a fab teaching job with a good school district, and hubby had landed a phenomenal job in his dream industry.
Our 2,500 sq ft, two-story home on a gorgeous grassy lot was coming together. Not to mention it was situated on a perfect cul-de-sac. Everything was falling into place. We were living the American dream...or, so we thought.
Josh and I had always enjoyed traveling. Like truly traveling. I'm talking budget airlines and $20 plane tickets. Playing the game of how much can I stuff into a backpack for two weeks. Little beds, no AC, and zero internet connection. Breathing in the sunset and exhaling, "what in the world is that?!" in the same sentence- because THAT simply doesn't happen back home. It's having smack realizations about the life our ancestors lived, and how we might have possibly been born in the wrong country. Sampling bites of whatever that was and surprisingly craving more. Having extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. Bar tenders, taxi drivers, the lonely fisherman at the wharf, and the oma at the bakery becoming the most interesting people on the planet. When those golden arches become a gourmet meal. Bonding with other travelers over the strangest things and wind up at dinner with them. It's playing a weird game of charades or using Google translate with a shopkeeper, because you are dying to have that one item. It's all the things. The most interesting things about other places. How human beings can thrive in vastly different environments. Eyes being opened and hearts never being the same.
The persistent itch for those experiences became stronger and stronger. Each time we returned home, we found ourselves planning our next adventure. But why? We did all the right things a young adult should do in America...
*Obtained graduate degrees
*Bought the house
*Adopted a dog
*Had a baby
*Achieved careers which made us happy
*Clawed our way out of debt
*And traveled when we could
What else is there? We were 30 years old and had fulfilled what we thought was the American dream. But something kept bugging us. Giving us the itch for more. Not materialistic fluff- but culture, sights, challenges, beauty of this Earthly world.
We knew deep down there was more in store for us. We weren't hard-wired to live the cookie-cutter, suburban life. About six months into this newly settled life, hubby discovered an opportunity to move abroad. It was a long shot. Like a ridiculously long shot. But we thought, why not? He applied. And we waited. And waited some more. Step after step of the interview process pressed on. We were so unsure about various things during this stage of life, but ultimately decided that if he got accepted into this program affiliated with his company - then we would go.
Low and behold, he was offered a spot. It wasn't one of our top three choices, but a country we had yet to explore and knew not one inkling about. Singapore. This move would literally take us to the exact opposite side of the globe. 30 hours of flying. 12 time zones over. A straight AM to PM swing. This meant if I was dying to tell my momma something, I had to wait all.day.long to call. Like at least 7pm. Because it was 7am for her, and she was beginning to pry her retired eyes open. Little did I know how much this would alter my every single day.
Did I mention during this time, our baby turned one and I also found out I was pregnant again? I didn't?? Well, that was a fun surprise. We decided to roll with it. To have a baby in a foreign country. To stay true to ourselves and see what was waiting for us on the Equator in Asia.
With deep breaths and naive hearts, we sold our house in one day. Our beautiful, perfectly renovated home. Liquidated our belongings including two cars within three weeks, packed up what was left of the house, and jetted off for the complete opposite side of the world. We thought we knew, but we had no clue what was waiting for us. Something that kept us going - our wanderlust spirit.
A short, two-year stint abroad flowed into four. And here we are. When the contract was up in Singapore, we didn't feel right about going home. This journey didn't feel complete. Living abroad is no cake walk, but the wonderment of it all kept us going. We scouted various opportunities and landed in Germany two years ago this very month.
These four years have been such a tremendous whirlwind of emotions. Filled with bone-chilling, life-altering moments. The happiness, turmoil, and changes make my head spin. But it's all worth it!
From seeing ColdPlay in Bangkok and watching my kids swim with wild penguins in South Africa, to tossing a line in a remote fishing village in Vietnam and almost losing a child to the Arctic Ocean in Iceland (whew!)
I am beyond grateful for this wild ride! As a couple, we've traversed almost 40 countries and our young sons have tasted the air and felt the Earth of more than half of those in their young lives. They are 4&5 years old and have collected passport stamps from 26 borders on five continents. It is mind-boggling to me. For hundreds of years, my family raised generation after generation in the same rural mountain town. To see my bilingual kids have the experiences they do is awe-inspiring.
We went into this expat venture completely blind with little support or structure. Figuring out our day to day was a constant box of chocolates - never knowing what you're going to get. From morning to night, any normal situation could take me by surprise.
Thank goodness for travel though! Air Asia in Singapore and Ryan Air in Europe has afforded us numerous opportunities to make our hearts sing. Planning these ventures have been no easy feat. Some easier than others, but all new territory to us. Thankfully, Facebook groups have kept me afloat.
If you find yourself in an expat situation and feeling overwhelmed about the box of chocolates being thrown at you on the daily, hop on Facebook and join Girls LOVE Travel. This group is simply phenomenal. Haley Woods, a fellow southerner and wanderluster, founded it in 2015. She's also been featured in various major publications. Here is her latest feature in People magazine. If you are looking for inspiration in your life, give it a read! I would honestly be lost without the constant guidance of this group. As an overwhelmed momma who knew absolutely nothing about what she was doing on the other side of the world, I could always turn to this group for support. It's filled with other females who crave nothing more than those same rich experiences from life. They got me and we leaned on each other in those early days. We left the US in October, 2015 and Girls LOVE Travel was founded in December of that same year. It was no coincidence. This group, now over 1 million strong, has provided me with endless travel advice, tips, recommendations. And on days we weren't planning a trip, I would hop on solely to admire other women's stories and gorgeous photos from their travels. A lot of them being solo trips, which motivated me to prioritize independent travel of my own...even after becoming a momma. Also in the parenting frame of mind, I have taken high advantage of the "MOMs" subgroup- providing a plethora of info on all the child-friendly happenings around our wide wide world.
Speaking of- while it is a wide wide world, this group has made it much smaller. It makes new cities and countries feel not so foreign. Obtaining advice from a local in your same stage of life will hug your soul. It's incredibly comforting. There are good people in this world. You have to believe that, and know others are there to help you. They may even join you for dinner, provide a place to stay, or a playdate on the other side of the world.
This happened to me. I spit out the dates of our South Africa trip to the group and asked for all the things. I received a multitude of recommendations. But this one particular gal, also an American expat, offered to help me further organize the details of our two week, three city adventure. She married a South African and has traveled much of the massive continent with her family, so I trusted her knowledge full well. Upon arriving to Cape Town, we met up with her family and played on the beach with sundowners, smiles, and all the little boy giggles you can handle. It was a beautiful story come full circle. We still keep in touch, and I hope to welcome them to Germany one day.
It's an amazing world out there. Filled with generous people and raw beauty. Even if you never desire to live outside your home country, I encourage you to explore our insatiable planet and all it has to offer.
Find it challenging to make friends in your new city?
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Literally...chasing the sun is all we did!
When you live in Germany and don't see the big, golden, warm globe for a solid three months, you go after it. And after it we did. Hubs found 20 euro round trip tickets and pretty much booked it on the spot. YES. 20 EUROS! After spending one winter in Germany, you learn fast. We needed a break from the cold, grey suck that is winter in Bavaria. Same as usual, a fabulous AirBnB was spotted and the tickets were booked a few days later. A new country for all of us. Sunny and 65, in January? We are there!
Malta- I gotta hand it to you. We came for a long weekend, and you were quite surprising. A quick, sunny getaway was all we were hoping for to dry out and warm up our cold, damp bones. However...your rustic architecture, Mediterranean culture, azure blue water, and eye-gawking limestone cliffs made an imprint on my heart. There are only 500,000 of your people on the island, but man...were they warm and receiving of visitors.
A massive welcomed surprise was English being a main language. After living in a country where English is barely spoken nor appreciated, to hear a stranger approach you in your native tongue is music to your ears! I was also surprised to hear the mother language closely resemble Arabic instead of Italian. The cathedrals and temples peppered among the landscape hailed the Catholic and Muslim religions. We had exceptionally fresh seafood while we watched the little fishing boats bob up and down in the bay.
Another perk of traveling in the off-season is super cheap accommodation. Our modern and spacious AirBnB overlooked a gorgeous, rocky shore. The warm breeze in the morning was so refreshing and a glorious way to start the day.
But to be honest- even the most perfectly planned trip, can be completely turned upside down. I will ALWAYS be straight up with you guys...
We landed in Malta at 11pm. After tracking down the rental car three parking lots over and driving through cities we knew nothing about...with exhausted kiddos...after midnight...with little street-lighting...on a Friday night, left us a little antsy. Probably the worst roads we've ever driven on. So much so, our hubcaps were zip-tied to the tires. I kid you not!
The man at Avis laughed it off and said it was for good measure. No kidding, dude...no kidding.
We always shower before bed if we're flying. I just feel gross. So once settled inside our AirBnB, we shuttled the kids through the shower first. Little did I know, our hot water had a lifespan of around 8 minutes. And you guessed it, everyone got a proper shower but momma. I quickly hosed my body off with frigid water before crawling into bed around 2am...or so I thought.
We had individual room heaters, and ours shut off after an hour. Ughhhh. We've always divided the kids and slept with them. Have since we started traveling. So I got up and tried everything I could before waking up J to help. He finally got it running again around 3:30am. Sweet! Sleep!
Except, the kids coughed all.night.long. They aren't used to having any kind of air blow while they are sleeping. We don't have air conditioning back in Germany and our house has radiator heat. Plus, we use humidifiers in the winter. So, ohhh the coughing. Both of them were stuffed up the next day and continued coughing. We made the most of the day until just before dinner.
One of them was complaining of being cold. I mean, I was chilly because of the constant, cool, sea breeze. But this was more than that. He was shivering...and then felt hot. Ughhh again. He slept in my lap during dinner and didn't eat hardly anything. Got everyone back to the apartment and straight to bed.
No less than an hour later- coughing led to crying led to vomiting (everrrrywhere) led to super high fever led to sleeping on couch led to researching hospitals led to little sleep for mom and dad.
NUMBER ONE TRAVEL TIP:
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT ACTIVATED CHARCOAL!
I wholeheartedly believe the above saved us from a Saturday night ER visit in a foreign country. Crushed up a few tablets, mixed in yogurt, and stuffed it down our son. The rest of the fam took a tablet for precaution, and we all steered clear. Woot!
We only had two full days in the island country, and our second one was half jeopardized from stomach sickness. Come noon the next day, he felt pretty much back to 100%. Since we didn't want to spread any possible lingering junk, we spent the afternoon in the sun getting fresh air at a sparsely populated beach and driving to an archaeological wonder. 12 hours later, all smiles and full of rock-climbing energy.
Even with random mishaps- you can salvage a short getaway. Set low expectations when traveling to any new place and keep an incredibly open mind. It keeps stress low and makes the adventure run more smoothly.
We had originally discussed a trip to the aquarium, a drive to the north end of the island, and a possible ferry ride to Gozo. All of those got tossed out the window, and we had to play it by ear. Which is okay!
How to spend 2.5 days in Malta!
We stayed in Xghajra and only saw a small portion of the already small island nation, but here is what you definitely need to put on your list of MUSTS in that area!
1.) Peter's Pool-
I won't lie. It's a bit of a crazy, bumpy ride. Remember the roads leave little to be desired?? Ooof. But once you are there and hike down a bit, the cut out of this view is spectacular. Said to be a great swimming hole for the brave during summer. Worth all the potholes in the world to see!
I forgot to take a picture- hence the lovely stock photo. But I had to give you a glimpse of the beauty. We spent our last night here and had a fabulous seafood dinner at Roots. The sea bass J ordered was brought out of that display in front of the door and sizzled to his liking.
3.) Blue Grotto-
Guys...very few landscape pictures have literally taken my breath away. This was one of them. It's an easy park and walk 100 meters down. All paved and well-kept lookout. If you want to take a boat through the cave, drive around the bend and park atop the arch. There's a tiny cafe to grab a coffee while you wait. Seeing it from above was perfect for us though.
...and while taking it all in, my big boy picked some
weeds flowers for momma. Swoon ❤️
4.) Pretty Bay-
The boys knew we were on an island, and all they wanted to do was go to a sandy beach. Even though our water view was gorgeous rocky cliffs, there were sandcastle-building beaches everywhere. A quick Google found us at Pretty Bay. It doesn't have the best view, but was kind of comforting having previously lived in Singapore. The largest port in southeast Asia resides on the Singapore coast, so shipping containers didn't bother us a bit. Was ironic to see a fort from the 1500s directly across from the shipyard though. Plus, there is a massive playground and skate park behind us. Cute cafes, shops, and bars outline the surrounding area as well.
5.) Ferry to Valletta-
There is no lack of ferries to choose a day venture in Malta. I highly recommend the one to Valletta. It's super quick and a fabulous sight to absorb Pinto Wharf. Valletta is the capital city of Malta and will pleasantly remind you of old world communities with shiny cobblestone streets, cozy vertical homes adorned with slender doors, and fab European eateries.
6.) Upper Barrakka Gardens-
Some parts of Malta predate the Egyptian pyramids, which is absolutely fascinating to me. However, most of the country is dotted with forts, walls, and sites of military encampment. Upper Barrakka Gardens will give you the best views overlooking the famous "Three Cities." Fort St. Elmo can also be seen (from the boys' vantage point complete with cannons) and dates back to the Ottoman Empire. It is shaped like a star and looks out over the harbor of Valetta to protect it. However, the Siege of Malta took place on those hallowed grounds and was an insanely bloody period in history where over 1500 knights lost their lives in 1565.
Our weekend in the sun was nothing short of amazing. We were pleasantly surprised by everything around the corner- except the roads. Dear me. Be prepared if you go. My back still aches. Ay yi yi. But so many things left to do -- diving in Comino, admiring centuries old Cathedrals, exploring Temples in Gozo, or maybe hit up the annual MTV music festival in July. Maybe. Getting too old to run with the youngins'
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