September has always been a month of renewal. A new school year, a large, life-altering event, or a move abroad. I'm always curious to see what September will bring. This one feels a bit different. It's my last September abroad.
I sat writing this in a hotel room bathroom at 5 am in the morning in Croatia. Michael is still sleeping but I got the urge to get up and write. Something not uncommon, though the Croatian hotel might be odd.
But I've found that is my new normal. I'm in a different place nearly every week, sometimes multiple times a week. But it didn't start out like that.
Two years ago we packed up our stuff and moved from Dallas, Texas to Heidelberg, Germany with dreams of seeing more in Europe and on our own terms.
I remember when we first moved I felt like I had stepped right into a fairytale. The polished cobblestone streets flooded with people, the abundant flowers teaming the open spaces, the fashionable men and women sporting their slick haircuts, black tennis shoes, and speaking German. We moved to Heidelberg, Germany, having never stepped foot in the country before. And we did it with the purpose of seeing more of the world. Did we accomplish this goal? I hope to answer that question in this blog post.
The move was fun and exciting and stressful as hell.
For five weeks we lived with two dogs in a tiny hotel room while we searched for a place to live.
But let me back up a bit.
We didn't move abroad for a job or a whim. It was a carefully calculated plan that took us years to prepare for. Working full-time as a blogger and combining that with my love of travel (especially Europe), Michael and I knew we wanted to move abroad.
And while moving abroad is incredible and full of excitement and joy, the truth is that it was also enveloped in both happiness and sadness. We lost Michael's mom to cancer just days before we were supposed to move abroad. We were denied visas the first time we applied. We struggled to find a place to live. I tore my ACL and had a rather rough hospital experience.
But it also brought about things I might never have experienced in my life. I have friends from all over the world. I've traveled to places in Europe that I'd never go to if I didn't live here. I've fallen madly in love with small towns, big cities, and entire countries. I'm convinced that Europe is the most beautiful place on earth.
Here's a timeline of what went down the past two years:
June 2013: After getting married (April 2011) and buying our home (February 2012) we spent all our free vacation days traveling to Europe. We thought the best way to actually see more of it was to move there.
September 2014: We make a plan on when we would like to make the move abroad and what we could do for work. At the time I was working in social media and marketing (while also blogging) and we thought I could maybe do that job overseas as well.
January 2015: We save up as much money as possible, at the time it was $45,000 so that we can move abroad with a solid fall-back plan.
July 2015: Moved to Nashville, Tennessee. This was our “trial” before moving to Europe to make sure I could hack it.
September 2015: I quit my job to blog full time!
December 2015: The first few months in Nashville we are not thinking too much about the move, just that we know we want it to happen.
January 2016: We start researching hard where to move in Europe. After months of research (and spreadsheets) we decide on Heidelberg, Germany.
February 2016: We start the very tedious and, much harder than we thought, visa process.
June 2016: Sell all of our stuff and bring our keepsakes and wedding gifts to our parent's houses for safe keeping.
July 2016: Move back to Dallas and move in with my parents for a month before moving abroad.
August 2016: We don't move abroad as planned after Michael's Mom's cancer comes back and it's clear she will not make it. Michael plans the funeral and we stay in Dallas to help with her estate.
September 2016: Moved to Heidelberg, Germany and into a hotel room with all of our belongings and two dogs.
November 2016: Finally move into our lovely apartment in Heidelberg.
January 2017- Now: Travel and see as much of Europe as humanly possible. This year alone I've had more than 25 flights and I've traveled to 3 continents, and 17 countries in 2018 so far. I'm tired but also can't stop. The FOMO is real.
One of the questions I receive is how did Michael and I decide to do move abroad and establish a time frame. The truth is we've somehow always ended on the same page. As soon as we stepped foot in Germany, we were walking on the 17th century stone streets, we looked at each other and said, “We're going to have to make it 3 years.”
We knew we wanted to spend at least a couple years traveling Europe, but as soon as we started, our bucket list kept getting longer.
Now that I'm looking back at my time abroad so far, it feels as though I've been here for 10 seconds, and at the same time like I've lived a lifetime in Europe. My perspective on certain things has changed drastically. My views on politics, the world, and how I want my life to look has taken on a new form. Maybe that's in part to growing older, but I think some of that comes from living overseas.
I feel like I have a stronger grasp of history and events that have transpired to shape the countries we live in and travel to today. But I also feel like I'm losing hold of my life at home, back in Dallas. That's why I think it was important, for us, to stay abroad a few years instead of permanently.
I'm often questioned on why I want to move back and I always am jolted. I am a homebody. A homebody that loves travel. So I always knew I'd go back.
What I've learned, maybe more than anything else, is the importance of soaking up the moment. Life is so fleeting. Michael's Mom knew the exact date of her retirement down to the days. I remember that when she died she left behind those dreams of seeing more of the world and spending time on her own. That's not to say she didn't lead a fulfilling life, she did. But I think we often forget when we are younger to take a hard look at what we want out of life.
I teach an Instagram class and also have a blogging group and the frustrations always seem to be the same: I'm not growing. But what I'm thinking is: why do you want to grow? What can we do that makes us happy? I don't think we spend enough time examining that. Instead, we see happiness through an Instagram screen. But first we have to define our own happiness.
That's something I'm still working on for myself.
I'm not exactly sure how I want my life to look in the next 3 or 10 years, but I do have a clearer frame of reference on what makes me happy. And isn't that the point of life anyway?
I’ve always dreamed about traveling and seeing the world. And I do feel like I’ve fulfilled that dream to an extent. I'm an extremely nostalgic person and I am already catching myself saying this is “the last time I'll do this”. This is my last September living in Europe, at least for a while. I'm sad, but I'm so happy, too.
Whether you're reading this post to feel inspired, as a friend, or it just peaked your interest, I hope the message you receive is to find out what makes life worth living. We are very lucky to live in a time where travel is more accessible. It's incredible that I'm able to live and work abroad. That wouldn't be possible even 15 years ago. The world is changing. So what makes you happy? And how can you lead a life surrounding that? I think we don't spend enough time figuring out our dreams. May this post give you that explicit permission.
Life is so strange. When I got into blogging I did it when I couldn’t move. Now I feel like I’m in a constant state of motion. When I first started my blog, now six years ago, I had just broken my ankle and leg. I couldn’t walk, so my outlet was writing. I still dream of lazy days spent at home typing away. Even though we only have one year left abroad I know that I'll have much to look forward to.
I still think our decision to move abroad was a wild one. But it's helped shape me as a person in ways I'd never anticipated. Can't wait to see what this next year has in store.
You might like reading:
Want to Move Abroad? These 15 Surprising Things Will Happen
You Can Sleep When You're Dead
How I'm Traveling the World Without Quitting My Job