As any expat will express, our emotions yo-yo between happy to be here and can't wait to get out of here. But the recent global pandemic has drastically changed my views on living in Germany.
Under normal circumstances, we would be moisturizing our freshly sun-kissed skin from Greece and prepping for our annual trip home to the States next week.
However, Germany began to close its borders and the US halted all unnecessary travel from Europe a few weeks ago. Even though we can easily prove our citizenship, catching a flight home suddenly isn't so fluid anymore. Our local airport is currently shut down to passengers. Only freight is allowed through.
Cancelling our plans to celebrate the long weekend in Greece for my birthday was a downer, but facing the reality of not hugging loved ones back in the US that I hadn't seen in over a year was heart-wrenching.
I've wallowed in ALL the what-ifs while simultaneously trying to figure out how to entertain (yet keep quiet) my 4&5 year old boys, so hubby can work. Nowadays, my glazed over facial expressions might often read traumatized more so than at peace.
My love/hate relationship with living in Germany has stared me in the face in recent weeks, and it's developed into more of a thankfulness than anything. While mulling over the multitude of what-ifs, I've come to realize how truly fortunate we are to be where we are in this moment.
Five Reasons Why Living in Germany is a Gift RIGHT NOW:
1.) Sick Leave
If I were to become ill and unable to care for our kids, hubs has six weeks of paid leave + 10 extra days allotted per child that he could use to care for our family. The best part...if he becomes sick beyond his paid leave, he would still receive some level of paid sick leave for up to two years if need be. Very generous from all aspects.
A benefit to paying higher taxes is having faith in the government that they will take care of you. Not only in times of crisis, but in the general everyday times. Kindergeld is one way the German government looks after the welfare of it's citizens and even immigrants. Think of it as Social Security for kids. Every month, we receive a few hundred bucks from the government to assist in costs of raising children. This is huge in times of uncertainty. Knowing you will have money to help feed your children if ish hits the fan is priceless. Those funds do not discriminate either. Everyone is equal. Every household receives the same amount for each child every month. You do receive a tad more for each additional child after the first two, though.
We are not German citizens nor permanent residents- only common tax payers and fulfilling our legal obligation of living in Deutschland.
Want the full scoop on Kindergeld? Child Benefits in Germany
3.) German Works Council
This organization was founded to protect workers in Germany. If your role is diminished, then you immediately become a priority for any available position. They will work with you to get you re-hired as soon as possible. In the US- most companies will walk you out that same day, or graciously give you a two weeks heads up. I've experienced both back home, and neither are fun. Here in Germany- you have several months notice, and the employer will still help you as much as possible.
"The GWC is also the organization responsible for making it illegal to work more than 40 hours in a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Hello, quality of life!"
My heart aches for those losing work back in the States though. The lucky ones receiving a week or so notice. Others, being told that same day their job no longer exists and they have to go elsewhere for work. Our situation would undoubtedly look vastly different work wise if we were currently in the US.
4.) Our Personal Situation- let me paint a picture for you...two pictures in fact:
- In the States, I would be teaching, our eldest would be in kindergarten, our youngest would be in Pre-K, and hubby would more than likely have a long commute and even longer (expected) work days. The reality over that situation in quarantine looks like this...I would be stressing over the kindergartner’s e-Learning, formatting digital lesson plans for my (130) 7th graders, while simultaneously figuring out how to entertain my four year old quietly, because hubby would be working from home all day. Madness. Pure madness. I have teacher friends back home who are living this, and it is utter chaos. Stressssss!
- In Germany, I am a SAHM. The boys are in public preschool every day. The youngest goes half day, and the eldest goes full day to prep him for real school in September. And the boys' school is essentially free through various government programs. Much the opposite back home! In Germany, it's incredibly common to be a SAHM with kids attending the preschool. It's amazing, really. I can take care of all housing tasks, run errands, manage doctor appointments, etc and still have free time to intentionally be with my kids in the afternoon and spend quality time with my husband in the evening instead of doing laundry. The quality of family life in this culture is sacred.
- Mandatory schooling starts much later here than back home, so no distance learning lessons for our eldest right now. I do a few educational activities here and there. But for the most part, we play all day!
5.) House Doctor- this is ridiculously huge at the moment, but it wasn't invented due to our current global crisis. This unique service is provided and built into our healthcare system for everyday use. It's brilliant, really, and I actually used it last year. In fact when I used this service, grateful couldn't possibly touch how thankful I was for her. The call was made at 11pm, and she was at our house examining me at midnight. She wrote me a prescription to be filled for the next day and gave me a shot in the bum for instant pain relief so I could get some rest.
Right now, if one of us is feeling sick, it is recommended to call the house doctor instead of making an appointment with your regular doctor. If indeed anyone is confirmed with Covid-19, it limits exposure and increasing spread of the virus by the doctor making house calls. Thankfully, we haven't had to call the House Doctor while we've been home, but I bet they've been busy! What a blessing that service is - not only during this time but year-round as well.
We have our ups and downs with German living much like we did while living in Singapore. However, our current life and times have given me a fresh perspective on my unique reality.
I have safety. Job security. Incredible health care. A government force which cares for her people. Precious family time without unnecessary additional stress. Access to the outdoors and nature. Simplistic freedoms which I will never take for granted again.
"Thinking about moving abroad? Be sure to check out this life-changing post below!"
And even after our curve is beginning to flatten, the government is extending lockdown restrictions a while longer. Honestly, I don't mind the additional measures and extra precaution. Germans are known for their efficiency, and this pandemic has solidified their cultural norms even more.
Unfortunately, it took something as heavy as a pandemic to straighten up my thankfulness... but it did. And I'm grateful for my kick to the face attitude adjustment. It rubs off on my kids, my marriage, and breathes new life into my every day.
Need more proof? Here's How Germany Ranked "Second Safest Country" During Corona Virus Pandemic
How has this situation changed your perspective on where you live?
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Are you living abroad and stuck in quarantine? Whether self-prescribed or government mandated, it can make you looney after awhile...especially with kids in the house. The current situation around the globe has kept us at home, here in Germany.
It goes deeper for us, though, because we've had to make the unfortunate decision to cancel our annual trip back to the States. Yes...annual trip. This means, once a year I get to see my family and childhood friends. My heart is broken.
Living abroad is tough enough when you miss out on birthdays, weddings, weekend getaways, Christmas, and special family gatherings. Going home takes on a drastically different meaning when you only get those warm hugs and traditional meals once a year.
My eldest was going to wake up celebrating his sixth birthday surrounded by grandparents and be cherished on his special day. Now, that won't happen. I've had to cancel and reschedule various dinners and get-togethers for that same trip. Although, I know many others are in worse off situations than myself.
Forget cancelling vacations and work meetings...
One girl can't make it back to Australia for her father's funeral, because they've closed borders. Another has to postpone her wedding in Cali, because her family in Greece is banned from entering the US. Another friend had her mom flying in for the birth of her baby, but now her mom's flight is canceled because of border closures within the EU.
Corona Virus (COVID-19) has impacted everyone around the globe in some form or fashion. But if you are living abroad and quarantined with your children, I've listed a few creative ways to pass time. Umm hello...our schools in Bavaria have locked their doors for three weeks + the two weeks following for Easter break. Therefore, our kiddos will be home for five weeks! We will be doing all.the.things.
8 Creative Ways to Entertain Your Kids Abroad
1. Make a paper chain garland - If this quarantine has forced you to alter possibilities of seeing loved ones, then make a paper, chain garland to count down the days until they see: nana, grandpa, fav cousin, witty aunt, fun uncle, whoever your kids are whining to see.
2. Teach them to read/write in your native langauge- If you have kindergarten aged kiddos, this is perfect. If you and your partner grew up in different countries and you are raising your kids in another, this is a future gift for them.
Ex.) Mom grew up in France. Dad was born in Germany. Kids are being raised in China. If they are going to international school, English will also be tossed in there. But giving them the gift to communicate with grandparents is priceless! Show them their French and German roots. I've seen too many times where kids can't talk to their elderly relatives, and it's so sad.
3. Watch movies/cartoons or listen to music in that specific language- While you have your kids' attention, broaden their minds and expose them to more media outlets. It will make learning new language phrases more fun than textbook lessons.
4. Order books about their current country- ...and read, read, read. If they are older, teach them about the history and significance of where they are living. If your child is into fashion, go that route. Music? Sports? Dig up info on those topics. It's an amazing experience for them to live abroad; most kids aren't giving the opportunity. Plant the seed of appreciation now. Younger kids would enjoy learning about local wildlife through picture books.
5. Research native cuisine- Look at options online together. Have them choose a dish. Make a list of ingredients and go shopping together. Chances are, it's ingredients you might not already have in your pantry, and it would be fascinating to discover new words, products, and produce together. Get home and cook it as a team.
6. Write letters to friends in previous countries- If your kids have grown up in more than one country- chances are, they miss their old pals more than you know. Look at old pictures together, tell stories, even set up FaceTime chats. But sit down and write an old-fashioned letter. If they are itty bitty- have them draw a picture, go crazy with stickers, trace their little hands, cover it in stamps, and send it off with love. Their mommas and daddies will appreciate the thought during this time as well.
7. Hike around famous landmarks - When you are supposed to be practicing social distancing, hiking in the fresh air is one of the safest yet most wonderful activities to do. Exercise, sunshine, and cleaning out the lungs? Oh yes! Sneak in a little education unbeknownst to them, and...huge win for you.
8. If all else fails... FaceTime for the WIN! Anyone and everyone you've been meaning to catch up with...now is the time 🙂
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Everyone has their reasons for crossing a border for a few years, but there are permanent long-term effects a short-lived stay will have on you.
We've made two international moves in the past four years, and I'm here to tell you...make sure you have deep discussions covering these topics before you jet off.
How These SIX Talking Points Will Alter Your Future
- Having A Large Family- this is a tricky one. I know a few people who have quite sizable families and still manage the expat life beautifully. However, if you are accustomed to having family or close friends around to help out in times of sickness, working late, date nights, etc then this will be a mighty tough adjustment for you. Sure you will make new mom friends, but that takes time. Developing a deep bond and trust for a stranger to care for your babies can be nerve-racking. Also the cost. Some countries are more family-friendly than others; providing ways to affordably raise children. The cost of healthcare, childcare, owning a car (or two), food, schooling, and housing are mind-blowing in a few spots and greatly weigh on the size of your future family. If you are not financially and emotionally prepared, it can be a huge adjustment.
- Growing up, I always dreamt of having four kids. However, we had our first baby in one state and soon after moved cross country. Found out we were due with number two shortly before moving to Asia. And now we are living in Europe. If we were still living in our hometown surrounded with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, then having more children might have made more sense. But I can't wrap my head around the thought of settling into a new country with four kiddos in tow. Deciding whether to move abroad or not will have long-term effects on the size of your family.
- Stunting Your Career- this is a big deal to a lot of people out there. Ever heard the coined term, "Trailing Spouse?" It's a real thing! Most of the time, international relocations occur because one person in the relationship has been presented an incredible opportunity. After mulling over the pros and cons, one individual will likely give up or put their careers on hold while abroad. If you are this person, the trailing spouse, this will take a mental and emotional toll on you. It might sounds nice to some. Move to a foreign country? Take a break from work for a few years? Have a leisure lifestyle? Yeah...not so fast with all that. If you have small children, they will be home with you all.day.every.day. If you are not currently a stay at home parent, this will be a massive change to your day-to-day. You will go from being accountable for tasks, having a boss, a checklist to sign off, and (a big one) being paid for your efforts at the end of the day to... wiping butts, kissing boo boos, refereeing fights, and making snacks, allll the snacks...and not getting paid a single dime for your thankless job.
- If you don't think the mental shift will take a toll on you- what about a gap in employment? Some companies frown upon time holes in careers. Look into the future. If you return to your home country, will it be difficult to obtain work again? This idea of having a vacation from work for a few years could have a massive impact on your overall career.
- My undergrad is in journalism, and I also hold a masters degree in education. A gap in my employment as an editor/publisher/news reporter would for sure punch a hit to my future resume in terms of gained expertise in the field. This would make me less desirable to potential employers. Although, a big one for public educators is how we are paid on a tiered salary level. Each year, teachers are given a minimal pay bump. If you are a trailing spouse for five years, then that's five years of pay increases you are consciously tossing in the garbage. Retirement is also a big one for teachers. You would be sacrificing those five years of living abroad and adding them on to the end of your career upon returning home.
- Forced To Learn a New Language- guys, this is a big one. I will speak from personal experience first. Our initial move abroad was Singapore. They have a few main languages on the island; one of them being English. Therefore, our move and settling-in phase was much smoother. And there was no pressure on learning a new way of communicating to survive. Our current situation in Germany looks much different. While there are a few, friendly, English speaking spots in Bavaria, they much prefer you speak their language...and rightfully so. However, that leisure life you are dreaming of will be hard to come by without being able to communicate with the locals. There are various ways to obtain a new language: one-on-one tutoring, online training, and registering for in person classes. Although, the physical classes in my area are no joke. Five days a week for four hours a day. Now, let that sink in. Are you willing to spend that time and money learning a language you will only use for a few years? Think of returning to your home country. You will put in all that effort and stress for little to no return in your future.
- Missing Out on Milestone Events- Let me paint a picture... You recently found out your sister is pregnant, but you just moved 12,000 miles from home. Your precious nephew will be graduating in the spring. Your bff finally got engaged and planning a June wedding. Your college girlfriends are planning a reunion trip in August, and you are invited. Your parents will be having their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in October. All of these things will be taking place over the course of the following calendar year. How do you choose? How do you consciously prioritize who is more important than the other? Because if you go home for one and not the others, that is what you are doing. People see that. And unless they have lived this lifestyle, they will not understand in the least. Feelings will be hurt, and relationships will be put to the test. It's time zone changes, time off work, lining up childcare or lugging your offspring with you, not to mention the heaping loads of cash to fund travel expenses. This is a tough one to balance, but not as heart-wrenching as the next...
- Challenging to Return Home For Funerals- You recently catch wind someone you dearly cherish is not doing well. It's not as simple as driving down the road or a few hours to spend precious time with them. You've lined up all the essentials for this: money, time off from work, childcare covered if it's a few days away and doesn't make sense to take them with you. Now, the life-altering decision. Do you go now? Get a warm hug and tell the best stories of time's past? Or, do you wait for the inevitable and honor them in the most respected way? We've lived through this twice. I'm here to tell you it is not fun, but it is life. And life will still spin whether you are in the next town over or across the mighty Pacific.
- You Might Think You Are Only Leaving for a Couple of Years- this one happens more than you know!
- Hubby signed a contract. A lucrative one at that. You've made up your mind and have a plan. You are taking a hiatus from work, diving into a hobby you've put on hold, and will be seizing this amazing opportunity to travel and spend time creating magical moments with your family. It's been an amazing whirlwind couple of years, but you are ready to return home. Back to work. Back to your family and friends. Fall back into a previous life you had put on hold... That is until, hubby walks through the door one afternoon with words you never thought you'd entertain. -EXTENDING THE CONTRACT-
- You are two months from going home. Returning to the comforts of your old neighborhood, favorite shops, that one dish you've been craving from THAT restaurant...you know. Now all of a sudden, this two year "vacation" has the potential to be so much more. That career you put on hold could have a much larger employment gap. More milestones you are missing out on. Family occasions slipping through your fingers. But...your kids are getting settled. You are finally making strong connections. Getting to know the area more. Being comfortable living abroad. Growing accustomed to the weird money, recycling systems, strange culture, interesting food, and weather patterns. I promise... that one simple phrase will rock your boat and have lasting, long-term effects on your future.
If you've not taken the time to seriously think about these six issues, then now is the time. Go the old fashioned route and break out the pencil and paper. What long-term effects will these topics have on your future? Make a pros and cons list. Pour a glass of wine and have the hard discussions with your significant other. Dive into all the ifs, ands, buts, and whys. Remember, moving abroad is a team effort. If you are both not onboard...completely onboard... it won't be pretty.
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As I've said before, traveling is the lifeblood of living abroad. No matter what continent you have been plopped on, it's absolutely worth it to save the funds to get out there and explore! No brainer, you guys...no brainer.
Some folks who live abroad are blessed with an exceptional "expat package" making travel easier on the wallet. Those who aren't, have to make sacrifices just as they normally would back in their home country. Either way, there are super simple ways to save cash for travel funds.
Here's a quick list to tick off RIGHT NOW:
- cancel subscriptions- gym, magazine, cable
- free ways to work-out: Hello, YouTube!
- say NO to impulse buys
- make a list and stick to it
- buy groceries in bulk when on sale (freeze extra)
- use country specific Amazon to save boat loads on shipping
- ex. If living in Germany, I wouldn't order something on Amazon.de and have it shipped to the States. I would create an account on Amazon.com and have it shipped from that website.
- be your own stylist
- hair, nails, brows, facials
- in-source services
- house cleaning, gardener, lawn maintenance
- babysitter swap
- exchange your time with a friend to watch their kids while they go out and vice versa
- buy recycled or used items
- FB Marketplace, Craigslist, thrift stores, various community groups all sell good quality items with lots of life left in them
- free family activities at your finger tips
- replace museums, movie theaters, and play centers with parks, hiking trails, playground, and bike rides
- make your own coffee
- nix the fancy five dollar cups
- weekly meal plan and eat at home
- ask your kids what they want and get them to help you shop
- make a monthly budget (see my last tip at the bottom)
- and stick to it!
Have you made notes? Created a plan to implement a few of the bullet points? Trust me. You will save boat loads by cutting the unnecessary crap. You'll be surprised at how quickly it adds up!
- reassess your living situation
- is it a good time to sell your home? downsize? negotiate a lower payment with your landlord?
- sell a car...or two
- the monthly payment, gas, insurance, general maintenance all.adds.up
- sign up for a credit card with travel perks
- Put standing bills on there and pay it off every.single.month
- (in the US, highly recommend Chase - amazing rewards - double points for travel-related purchases and sign on bonus)
- Put standing bills on there and pay it off every.single.month
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- out with the lights/off with the water
- it sounds trivial, but making sure they are shut off really adds up
- open a travel savings account
- commit to putting $20, $50, or even $100 in every month
- two words - DAVE RAMSEY
- this guy knows his stuff and put us on the straight and narrow during the first six months of our marriage
Reframing your mindset and aligning your priorities will drastically change the way you live your everyday life. This is our life. We follow this list. I make a grocery list and shop at Aldi. I love to cook and don't feel like I'm sacrificing quality either, even on the organic selection. It's tricky at times, but we have one car in our family. We have credit cards that provide us with sweet travel-related rewards.
I don't get my hair highlighted and usually get it cut once a year or so. 80% of the boys' clothes are hand-me-downs or from second-hand shops, even shoes and jackets. My clothes too! The puffy vest I wore to church yesterday was from the local thrift store, and the shirt underneath was easily ten years old. Almost all of our furniture has been previously loved, not purchased from a store. I also buy generic make-up and beauty products. Living in Germany is heavenly when it comes to exploring forests, parks, and mind-blowing playgrounds. Creating memories outside is free and fun!
I won't lie though...we are human. Once in a while that chocolate bar at the check out is more than tempting. I might splurge on that ice cream cone for the kiddos or the occasional family outing to the movies...or restaurant. Because, who doesn't like a break from the kitchen every now and then?
You don't have to completely deprive yourself of a colorful day-to-day life, but rid the excess. Be smart about the choices you make. Make a budget, stick to it, and save.
Lastly, make traveling a priority. If you don't put your eye on the prize and believe you can see the world on a budget, then the opportunity might pass you by.
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Ever heard of "Bali Belly?"
I have. And would like to personally never experience it. We've had wonderful experiences in Indonesia without any stomach issues. All hail the miracle product!
In fact, I have a good friend who had a 12-hour return flight home from Bali. Within 30 minutes of being in the air, she started to feel dizzy and then came the nasty sweats. Before she knew it, she was profusely vomiting. In the aisleway. In the galley. In the tiny excuse for an airplane bathroom. Everywhere. And then the worst part came.
She blacked out. Passed out. The flight attendants tried everything they could, but her temperature kept climbing while she was unconscious. Luckily her husband was onboard with her. He was suffering from his own sour stomach, though, so not a ton of assistance came from him.
Thankfully, they landed safely. Rushed her to the hospital where she was admitted and given lots of fluids. I wasn't present, so I can't say for sure what was administered to get rid of the yuck. But I have been told by friends who work in the emergency room, a simple over the counter product is given in HEAVY doses. This simple little product is:
No matter the country you come from or will be traveling to, it is available everywhere. It's affordable. It comes in capsule form for adults to safely swallow, but also plenty made in tablet form for kiddos. You better believe I've crushed up a tablet or two and swirled it around in yogurt or mashed banana for my kids during the toddler era. I now dissolve it in water or juice and have them suck it down. They know what it is now, and they are well aware of how quickly it helps them.
We were recently in Malta, and my eldest came down with something very very fast. 104F fever, chills, sweats, vomiting. He begged me for charcoal. Within a few hours, his fever came down and the vomiting disappeared.
I'm telling ya.
The activated charcoal will soak up any nasty bacteria that can upset your tummy and will make you so very sick.
We took our boys to Thailand when they were 2 months and 22 months. The water at our accommodation would make you sick if consumed.
TMI coming your way! It helps with diarrhea as well as vomiting. Whatever is ailing your sensitive GI track, this stuff will soak it up and eventually work it's way out. It may look like sticky black tar. But hey, I'd rather see that than ten more rounds of throw up or spend the night on the toilet in tears.
So, do yourself a favor and pick up some today! Keep it in your luggage or already-prepped travel bag. You can write me a thank you note later!
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The above information is provided as preventative measures for acute illness while traveling abroad. If you are not feeling well and experience extreme health issues, please seek out emergency services.
This is wild to step back in time. It was our second international trip after moving to Singapore. The first was exploring Bali in Indonesia, but with only one babe in tow- plus an 8 month pregnant me.
I vividly remember looking at Josh like he was crazy. Flights to Thailand were cheap in the spring, and it was only a 1.5 hr flight. It all sounded good in theory. But we had a one year old, and I had just brought a new human into this world. My husband had officially lost his gourd, y'all. He thought we could do it. Had full faith in the two of us traipsing a toddler and barely there two month old around Thailand. But we did, and looking back...I'm so very glad we did.
If anyone ever says in passing, "wow, you take so many vacations! So nice to be able to relax in paradise." Can I tell you this could not be further from the truth if you have kids. Traveling with babies (and especially toddlers) is the exact opposite of a vacation. It is a trip, and I mother just the same there as I would at home. If I'm being 100% honest, it's loads more difficult than staying home. There are things to plan and buy and organize. And heaven forbid, you have a hawk-eye on your children the whole time for things they will put in their mouth. Foreign nasty things. Ughhh. Relaxing and enjoyable are the last words that come to mind. Hah!
But like each country cemented into my memory, the stressful times become a laughing matter, and the good times stick with you. Really stick with you. During the mass chaos, you will find yourself saying "no way I'm ever doing this again!" But then, you return home. Flipping through photos. Reminiscing about tiny details. You can't wait to do it all over again. I mean, how cute is it our eldest said "boat" for the first time while gazing at an authentic, long-tail bobbing up and down anchored to shore. Is it cute to have him dash through the airport throwing caution to the wind? NO. Absolutely not. But there is nothing like seeing your one year old burst through at full-speed fully exclaiming "ah pane! ah pane!" when he realizes he's getting on that airplane. It's a priceless memory.
We've been to Thailand a few times, but this one was extra special. It was Evan's first flight and our first trip as a family of four. SO many things we had to figure out for that "first" adventure, and we thought staying at a resort-type place would make things easier. While that is somewhat true, you can't experience the true cultural of a country without getting off the resort grounds.
BOOKING TIP while in DEVELOPING COUNTRIES:
We've traveled around many third world countries, and checking the cleanliness of the water supply is gravely important, especially when little ones are in tow. Always double check if the tap water is safe to consume where you are staying. Unfortunately, the water at this resort was not and I'm so very glad we asked again upon checking in. You can stay at nice places all you want, but that doesn't negate the fact you are in a developing or third world country where clean water is a luxury. At places like this, you need to take extra precaution when showering/bathing little ones to prevent them from splashing water into their mouths. They can get very very sick if not properly watched. As adults, we know to use bottled water to brush teeth and not sing in the shower. Children don't know any different, and it's an extra step we need to take in keeping them safe. Looks can be deceiving...always ask! This gorgeously updated, modern hotel did NOT have clean drinking water from the tap.
You will forever have individuals give you the speech, "The kids are too young for this. Why does it matter now? Stay at the resort and relax." And to that I laugh, because one does not simply relax at the beach or lounge around the pool with a baby and toddler. So why not get out and share the experiences? If we had decided to hole up and stay at the resort for five days, we would have missed out on these SIX fun things!
(We never booked a tour guide or driver. The following explorations were made completely on our own behalf)
1.) THE BOYS' FIRST RIDE IN A TRADITIONAL TUK-TUK:
Experiencing our first, family ride in a tuk-tuk (a motorized bike with benches attached) to a place recommended by a co-worker of Josh’s, way off the beaten path. Sure, we could’ve taken a taxi, but why not do as the Thai people?
Keeping with the spirit of living like a local...we hitched a ride back to our place in a neon tuk tuk. With the music and obnoxious lights, this thing made me think I should’ve been at Myrtle Beach during senior week. Hah! Jack was telling us to "shhh" since Evan was sleeping. Good thing the baby can sleep anywhere. You could hear this thing from a mile away!
...when in Rome, as they always say!
2.) EVAN'S EXPRESSION WHEN I ORDERED AN ENTIRE FRIED FISH:
Don't mind the shiny face. It really is that hot all.the.time.
3.) FEEDING AN ELEPHANT OUTSIDE OF A ZOO:
Elephants are such gentle loving creatures. I never knew their true noises, but it sounds a lot like a deep- voiced donkey- EEEEE AHHH. It was super cool to pet and feed them outside of a zoo.
And to see the conditions where the caretakers lived was a humbling experience to say the least: no real walls, floors, running water, or sanitation. Most of them had chickens living with them. Not outside, because remember... no walls - but WITH them.
4.) UNIQUE EXPERIENCES ON A PUBLIC BEACH:
We had a beautifully gated and guarded beach at our resort. But can I tell you about the intriguing people we met on a nearby public beach? Humorous and fascinating. Stray dogs we saw playing? Jack loved that. And sat on the stairs watching the local fishermen come in from their day's work? Incredible. We meandered along Ao Nang beach to watch the sunset and peruse the local shops of Krabi before heading back to tuck in for the night.
5.) DEVOURING TRULY AUTHENTIC LOCAL CUISINE:
Sure I could have ordered pad Thai at the restaurant in the lobby, but to have it served out of a food cart is generally more delicious and always cheaper than the resort. Yes, this was from a street-side stand!
And hello? Three words. Mango sticky rice. I still have dreams about it. If you've never had a fresh thai mango, ohhh you are missing out. It's heaven on Earth. It literally melts in your mouth and tastes like honey. Oh my my.
6.) SAVING MONEY ON SPA TREATMENTS:
If you ever stay at a beach resort in a foreign country, don’t go to the resort spa. I’ll say it again, DON’T go to the resort spa. You might as well throw money straight into the ocean. An hour massage at the hotel was $80. Not bad, but the hut on the beach next door was $10 for an HOUR AND A HALF! Plus, it’s outside...in the shade...with a breeze. And while the ocean soundtracks in the spa are a nice feature, nothing beats hearing the real thing. Sigh. You can usually find these places right beside resorts, too, so you don’t have to walk far. We did the same thing in Mexico, and it was ah-mazing! Take turns with the kiddos, and head out for a cheap and uber-relaxing moment.
Southeast Asia is known for their massages, especially Thailand. Oh man, a genuine Thai massage is heavenly if you have tight muscles. Once the massage is complete, they will bend, pull and stretch your body. You will definitely leave feeling all loosey goose. I have an absolutely terrible back, and it's THE best. Not a bad view in exchange for a massage and a 10 dollar bill!
After my session, I had this guy whack open a coconut for me to enjoy on the stroll back 🙂
It's taking in what Thai culture is like. How the people of Krabi live their lives. Strike up a conversation with a local in their village- the bartender at the hotel doesn't count. Ask them questions. See things from their perspective. Enjoying the random thoughts foreigners have about America and seeing our country through their eyes is fascinating.
After we dug into the world around us, we did spend a few moments poolside and walking the beach where we were staying. We took it all in. Goofing off, taking pictures, swimming with the boys, and slurping up all the tropical goodness in the Land of Smiles.
While vacationing (especially flying internationally) with a toddler and a baby can be challenging, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It takes patience and a tremendous amount of teamwork, but I would highly encourage any couple to do it. The kids won’t remember it, but we will. And these memories... oh so unforgettable.
It's never easy, but always worth it!
Want More Reasons to Travel?
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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Five Easy Resources to Making Lifelong Friends Abroad
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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Truth! You cannot do this alone. Who do I turn to? People barely speak English and look at me funny. I also have two littles in tow. What do I do with them? Where can I take them? The first couple of months are dealing with one connundrum after another. But now, the internet is hooked up. Our new mailing system is sorted. And I even purchased a washer and dryer in a weird game of charades and broken English with my crazy, tiny shadows in tow. I may also have a Post-It plastered to each machine so I know what the settings are, but...nevertheless, I did it!
Now, who can I hang out with? How do I find these people? I know they exist. I know other expats lurk in our town. I just know it!
Pictures are hung, clothes are washing, kids have a favorite playground, and I'm slowly acclimating to living without AC. Now what? I recharge through alone time, but I am my happiest surrounded by people. But how do I meet the people? People I can relate to, can commiserate with over the crazy recycling system. I need these commonalities. I know these people exist. But WHERE to start??
Here are the TOP FIVE resources you must tap into-
Even if you are a self-proclaimed introvert, you need people! Expat life is severely lonely without people to share it with. Human beings weren't created to live life solo...in a cave. Or desert island. Remember, Tom Hanks on Castaway? Because that's what moving to a new country where you don't speak the language feels like. Don't be like Tom Hanks. Get out and share this experience with others. One of the most beautiful things about life abroad is the friendships made. Sure- you'll have life-long buddies from back home and supportive family, but you NEED people who understand your current chaos.
Without further adieu, here is what WILL work for you!
1.) Previous Life Interests-
First, did you used to hit up a Tuesday evening yoga session? Women's group at your local church? Volunteer at an animal shelter? Cool. Awesome. Amazing! Get back to it. Get on ye 'ol Google, find these spots, and jump in! I know it sounds scary, but I promise there will be other expats. Other people in your same boat looking to commiserate and experience this new life with. If by slim chance there isn't, at least you will meet locals you can jive with- that will perk your ears and spread a smile across your face. Tickling your spirit with something that made you come alive from your previous life will make your soul sigh a DEEP relief.
I know. I know. I can feel the eye rolls. But can I tell you something? Pretty much every city has an expat group for the locals, especially the women. Because hello... most of us females love to connect, and social media is a great place to start in a new city. Singapore was our first international move, and I would have been incredibly bumfuzzled without the expat groups there. From finding a great aircon repairman, to "do I need a car?", or where is the best place to buy...? These Facebook groups SAVED me. Truthfully. When you move somewhere with no friends and have zero idea where to start...lean into the Internet and those who have blazed the trail before you.
Second, if you have a FB account, go to the search bar at the top and type in the name of your new city and "expat." I guarantee something will pop up. Even if you don't feel brazen enough to ask questions, then search through the group for answers to your concern. I also guarantee someone in the group has already bubbled up a few options to squash your worries. It's THE best! Now, you can also look into global expat groups to source emotional comfort - such as "Two Fat Expats" and "Grumpy Expats."
To dig deeper, join the local expat groups for book club, wine night, day hikes, mommy meet-ups, etc. Such a fun way to meet other people walking in your shoes. And remember, they are just as vulnerable and intimidated as you are going into this. Remember when your momma said the spider is just as afraid of you as you are of it?? Expats are the same way, and that's A-OKAY. Lean into it!
3.) Be Mister Rodgers- Get out and meet your neighbors!
This may make your anxiety soar, but I promise comfort is on the way if you follow through. We lived in a condo complex in Singapore, similar to an all-inclusive resort... minus a poolside bartender serving up little umbrella cocktails. That being said, it was difficult to go door-to-door. So I made myself available and well-known at the playground and pools inside our complex.
Third, If you have kids, use them! They are a game changer. Notice your kid playing with another kid. Casually ask the parent where they are from. This small gesture of effort will open Pandora's box to a plethora of other Q&As. This is also how I found my very best friends while living in Singapore. About 8-10 women in my complex created a WhatsApp group, and they ultimately became my refuge for everything. I would turn to them for advice instead of the online expat groups. We had playdates, dinners, vacations, and even birthed babies a few weeks apart. Our husbands even started a regular poker night. It was nothing short of amazing.
Living in Germany has been a completely different story. We now live in a tiny village instead of a tropical resort complex with an array of amenities for entertainment. A full 180 from the big city life. It's laughable. Once we moved into our house on a cul-de-sac, I took a massive breath and knocked on doors. Taking a baked goodie will lighten the mood but not necessary - just the southerner in me 🙂 There are six houses on our street, and I would soon find out we were the only outliers. Everyone else was born, raised, and deeply rooted in our community. But those brief introductions made insta-friends for my kids. And it's always nice to see a smile or friendly hello when rolling your trashcan to the curb. Also nice to know who is nearby in case of emergency. With them being local, they can also point you in the right direction of many many things.
Next, remember my example of how I met my good pals in Singapore? Well, similar here except it's more physical effort. We have to drive, walk, or bike to the closest ones. The good/bad? You are meeting people in your community. They might not conveniently live next door, but it will quicken your settling phase. Getting to know others who live a street over or across town will create a deeper sense of peace and belonging to your new area.
5.) Partner's Work-
Lastly... if all else fails, express your concern to your significant other. See if they have stirred up decent friendships at work, and if they would be interested in a meet up. This has the potential for a slew of possibilities. Family park date, hire a babysitter for a proper double date, or heck...invite them over to your house for a Saturday afternoon cookout.
And that picture at the top? It means the absolute world to me. A couple more valuable faces were peppered into the bunch later on, but these ladies helped me survive my first international move. We blended New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Panama, Belgium, France, and myself from the US. This treasured picture was taken two months into our move. We maneuvered it all and learned to accept each others' cultures, accents, challenges, and families. Only two remain in Singapore, as the expat life swirls on!
BONUS: Once you start making a few connections and have an invite here and there...always say YES! Some folks have an extremely tight circle, and others love to mix and mingle. We've made some of our very best friends by last minute saying, "sure, we'll pop by." You never knew who will be there. Their story. Family lives. Career paths. Your world can align with someone in the right time and place, and it can be life-changing. You will meet people and find friends in some of the most unexpected places. If you don't drink and get invited to happy hour, still make an effort to stop by. Have a ginger ale and share a story. Shake a hand. You never know where you'll meet that person. The one who will save you from yourself and this expat life.