Why I Left Everything Behind to Move Abroad
Moving abroad is hard. It's time consuming. It's brain taxing. Some things aren't translated in your native tongue. It teaches you a lot. And it throws your through a loop. And it's awesome. And here's why I did it.
I have always been a homebody. I can remember as a child that I begged my parents if we could stay home for Christmas, rather than making the three hour drive to Shreveport, Louisiana to spend it with relatives. I just wanted to be home. Despite the fact that many claim I'm “adventurous” I don't really see myself that way at all.
Sure, I grew up very fortunately tagging along with my parents on trips to London for 6 weeks in the Summer. It was a blissful time of English accents, rides on the tube, Mamma Mia shows, and short jaunts to the countryside and Ireland or Scotland. It was very picturesque and very easy. My parents planned it all and my responsibilities meant walking my 7 years younger twin sisters from our flat to the University while we ate ice cream and sang *Nsync songs.
Flash forward to senior year of high school. I fell hard and fast for Michael. A guy I would end up marrying (weird, I know, you can read our whole love story here… I wrote it in 7 parts because… I'm a blogger) who I took with me on a London journey. Where he too, fell in love with travel and Europe (and maybe even me a little bit more?!). While I love London, and it's my first “travel love”, two very difficult and poignant things happened there. First, when I brought Michael that Summer in 2005, the terrorist bombing of the tube station and bus happened. We missed it by mere minutes. Meaning, we were on the exact line that got hit. We missed it by maybe 10 minutes. My Mom missed it by about 27 seconds.
Second, a few years later, I would study abroad in London as a Senior in college. THIS would be the trip that I ventured out on my own. I would travel to some places without my family. Something I had really never done. But that trip was cut short when my little sister was diagnosed with severe cancer and we all went home immediately. In case you're wondering, she's now a very beautiful, partying senior at LSU (and she's even written for this blog right here.)
After college, a two year engagement, and a lot of late nights at a bar called “Corner” where I danced feverishly on broken glass, Michael and I got married. Nothing else changed – in a good way. He and I did move in together (we waited until marriage to move in) and we got a dog (so, a family member) and a house and felt really good about life. That same year we went to Europe with one of our best friends. This trip changed my life.
I never went on a trip like this before. Sure, I'd been to New Orleans with the girls a few dozen times or the occasional beach trip, but nothing this far away with just myself and two boys, no real “adults” to help us. The plan was to go to Belgium for the music festival “Tomorrowland” (warning, very very old post), then to Amsterdam, then to Paris. Despite a very unfortunate passport situation where I forgot to change my maiden name to my married name and almost couldn't get home, it was incredible. A magical music festival with the best fireworks display with people who traveled from more than 200 countries. I rode a bike around the canal and picked up tulip bulbs for our new house. They'd later be taken from me at customs by a large security guard who assured me that “Amsterdam sure as hell doesn't have Whataburger.” I watched the Eiffel Tower light up and we bought wine for 1 euro from the sellers after we haggled them down from 15. I cried when we left Paris because I didn't want to leave.
Look! Michael without a mustache. And me without as much fat.
As soon as I left I knew one thing: I needed to recreate this feeling again and again.
But working in the corporate world meant exactly 10 days of vacation, so this included once-a-year excursions for a week and a half in Europe. I looked forward to them every year. On trip number three Michael and I decided we should move abroad. We knew it would be very hard, but we wanted to see all of Europe, and in a way where we could actually sleep. We averaged around 4.5 hours of sleep on these trips because we wanted to see it all.
Here was the problem: we seemed to be working to travel. Instead of traveling to live. I wanted travel to be part of my life.
We spent the next couple years planning. If that sounds like a long time, it's because it is. Michael (and I, but mostly him) likes to have all his ducks in a row. Which meant: saving lots of money, having flexible jobs, living somewhere else for a year, and making sure family was okay. Before seriously moving abroad both my Dad and his Mom got very serious cancer. When that happened, we put plans on the back burner, twice. I also broke my ankle. Which means the birth of this blog, Helene in Between. Even though I thought this was a fun, creative outlet for me, I quickly realized this blog was a passion I wanted to make a full time gig.
In 2014, things seemed to be okay with everyone health-wise, so it was time to move. The living somewhere else for a year part came in the form of us moving to Nashville. It was a wonderful decision. The main reason behind this is because I have never lived anywhere else besides my home of Dallas, Texas. The thought of packing my bags and moving abroad seemed like an awfully big step. So Nashville it was.
Most free nights, if I wasn't working on this blog, we spent it researching where to live in Europe. Speaking of ducks in a row, I have never seen anyone so organized. Really, Michael should help people move abroad, he's so laser focused about how to research what will work for you. I quit my full time job that year, which meant I was location independent, and we felt this was a big step in the process of moving abroad. Despite what anyone might say, owning your own business is scary and a lot of pressure. If it fails, it's 100% my fault. But it's also very liberating and means if I work really hard, I can make it work.
Every Thursday with a glass of wine and our two Macbooks, I'd sit on the bed, Michael at his computer, and we'd discuss places to live. I remember sitting on the purple striped guest bed that once we made the decision, the hard part was over. Oh, how wrong I was. We decided fairly quickly on Germany. Then the idyllic little city with the ancient castle on the Neckar river, Heidelberg, became front and center.
Once we decided on a where and when (the plan was for August of 2016), I started to worry. This was a huge move. It meant sacrificing a lot. Missing friend's weddings, babies being born, Christmas parties, saying goodbye to most of my belongings, and relinquishing control over lots.
Despite writing over 1,200 words above, I still haven't told you why I moved. So now, I will. I read an article the other day that someone moved abroad to immerse herself in culture. While that is interesting and true, it's not at all why I moved. Here's the truth. That feeling I got in 2012 was something that I always get when I'm traveling. And especially in Europe. You might say this is silly, but I feel like it's magical here. The castles, cobblestones, history, mountains, churches, kings, queens,… I could go on, leave me always guessing. Every time I go somewhere new I'm floored with joy. I always find something that I didn't know existed. That's not to say I couldn't find that in America. But in Europe it just seems to be around every corner.
All those years back, when I was in London, I plugged in my ear buds and listened to Lily Allen's “Littlest Things” and imagined myself living abroad. It's been a dream of mine for so long, it's almost like it's become part of me. And luckily, that same thing happened for Michael too (minus Lily Allen). We just had to do it.
I am not sure I am going to have kids. But I was sure I'd live abroad. Maybe those two things don't seem related, but to me they are everything. We are told the dream is to have great love, own something you love, and start a life you love. Those categories are different for us all, we all check them off differently. And for me, this is it. I want to get lost, eat cheese, see the sights, find hidden gems, meet characters, and people from around the world, and see as much of it as I can. Starting with Europe.
Full disclosure: despite being here for 6 months and LOVING it, I'm already feeling panicked. I want to see it ALL. All of it, and then some. And I'm worried I won't. I have a knack for thinking that things should go a certain way and if I don't I get antsy. I'm working on that.
I don't have a clue where I'll be in 10 years or even 1 year. But I do know I am where I need to be right now.