As a kid I always pretended to be the capable damsel in distress. I would climb up the wooden swing set at my house and fling myself down the slide while singing show tunes as I deftly escaped the dragon or witch or bad guy.
Living in Germany I felt like I got a small taste of that everyday. Especially towards the end of our time there, I'd look wistfully up at the sandstone castle and feel like a princess. My only distress in this scenario was making my flight on time and avoiding the grocery store at all costs.
After a nearly two week journey home and finally unpacking our lives, I've had time to sit and reflect. I've moved from Heidelberg – a tiny town in Germany, back to my roots in Dallas, Texas – a city that is bigger than many countries. Some things have changed. Some things, thankfully, haven't shifted at all.
I wanted to write down, before I forget, and tell you what's transpired over the last three weeks. It's crazy how in less than a month life can flip upside down, even when it's by your own choosing.
Three years ago in my parent's driveway, leaving for Europe, and now, in my parent's driveway coming home.
I’ve been asked again and again why I would leave, what looked like, a picture perfect life in Europe to return home in Dallas, Texas. The truth is pretty simple: we wanted to. My family, friends, home, and conveniences reside there. We always decided on three years abroad and wanted to come back.
So now, after packing up our four suitcases, three backpacks, two sleds, and two dogs, we’re home. Back in the house we bought before we moved.
In case you're new here's an extremely brief run-down:
My husband Michael and I moved from Dallas to Nashville for a year to test out living away from our family and friends. During that time we picked where to live and chose Heidelberg, Germany. I was working full-time on the blog and Michael left his and eventually joined the business. We moved over with 4 suitcases and our two dogs to a country we'd never been to before.
We secured freelance visas working as bloggers and decided to stay for three years and see as much of Europe as possible.
Last month, that three years came to a close. I was shocked at how sentimental I was to leave. Life abroad was beautiful, certainly, but pictures don't often showcase the struggles we encountered. But our life abroad was rewarding and Heidelberg was a magical place to live. We traveled nearly 80% of the time, espeically our last year abroad.
Here's a timeline if you're interested.
Our Journey Home
To ease back in to our lives in Dallas we decided to go home by boat. Specifically, we took the only cruise that allows dogs. The Cunard Queen Mary 2. Then, we'd take 5 days to drive from New York to Dallas, stopping along the way.
Our journey started August 9th. I took a train from Heidelberg and crossed the border to Strasbourg, France to pick up a rental car. We rented a car in France since rates sky-rocket if you rented a car in one country (Germany) and dropped it off in a different one (France to take the Chunnel to England). Chaos ensued because I could tell this car was a little small to fit all our belongings plus four living bodies. But the flippant French customer service agent told me, “No, this is all. This is big.”
So, we made do.
After taking four separate trips to the bank to do, what we thought, was a simple address change, Michael loaded up the unbearably heavy, and about to bust, suitcases we got from the scratch-and-dent section on eBay. He maneuvered them into the too small car and wedged things precariously on top of one another.
We woke up around 4:45am the next morning and took the dogs for a final stroll, the looming castle gleaming from the warm spotights. Then, it was time to drive.
We made the six and a half hour drive to Calais, France where we'd hop on the Euro tunnel to England. We dropped off our rental car then loaded everything into our “pet taxi.” This was the best option for crossing the border into England with the dogs, as one way rentals from mainland Europe to the UK are insanely expensive if not impossible.
Our driver was kind and extremely chatty, and told about his much different and very difficult life in Afghanistan before coming to Europe.
After a quick 45-minute ride under the sea from France to England, he dropped us off at the car rental place in Dover, England.
Michael and I sort of forgot we'd have to switch from driving on the left to the right in one fell swoop.
If we thought the rental car in France was small, this one was even smaller. We stood around for a good 30 minutes as Michael tetris-ed our four suitcases, three backpacks, two sleds, two dogs, and two humans into a car.
I sat in the passenger seat with two sleds on my lap and hoped we wouldn't get into any accidents.
We got to South Hampton, Michael unloaded the car, and we ate bowls of Pho before crashing into bed.
The next morning, we couldn't resist but explore a bit of this city in England before setting sail. We did a quick tour of this historic city – the same one the Titanic, the pilgrims, and now us, sailed out of taking the same voyage.
That Sunday we nervously waited in line at the cruise terminal to hand off our dogs to the cruise pet staff. All my fears dissipated when I met the two kindest people on earth who would be taking care of my dogs.
I relaxed and was able to fully enjoy the beautiful and ornate ship.
For seven days we ate, drank, explored, learned, and were entertained. I'll talk more about our experience in a complete review since I had so many questions about the ship.
On Sunday, August 18th, we sashayed into New York's harbor. It was my first time to this city and, despite the heavy fog, I woke up early to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline.
We had a whirlwind 24-hours in New York: walking through Times Square with the dogs, then venturing on to Central Park, seeing Mean Girls the Musical, going to the World Trade Center Museum, and seeing as many sights as we could along the way.
What I noticed the most about landing in America was the American flags flapping in the wind. In Germany, they don't really have a lot of flags displayed and we're quite the opposite. I thought it was nice to see them everywhere.
The next day we took the subway to New Jersey to get our rental car to start the drive home.
We stopped in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I got stung by a horrible bee, then headed to Cincinnati, Ohio where my Dad teaches at the University, then headed to Nashville, Tennessee to see our friends and their dogs, lastly in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
We arrived back in Dallas, Texas on Friday, August 23rd and were engulfed by the heat and kindness of our friends and family. We spent a few days at my parent's house before heading to Michael's dad's place to get the rest of our belongings.
Four countries, eight states, along with a train, car, chunnel, and boat ride, we finally made it back home. We moved back in to our house we bought some seven years ago, that we hadn't lived in in four years.
After getting in the house our next order of business was getting two cars. It's funny because in Heidelberg we didn't have even one for six months. But living in Dallas having two is a priority. We found great deals from family friends and are attempting to get the essentials for our home.
So, what's next?
For the next few months we're going to attempt to do as little travel as possible. Although I actually have a trip scheduled to come back to Europe for a week in October. But other than that, we're staying put.
I want to get caught up on work and write a fiction novel.
Michael and I are also going to start scouting for travel trailers so that in about 6 months we can start traveling North America.
As far as work goes, Michael and I have decided to continue working together. When we started working together while living in Germany we weren't sure it would work. In fact, it wasn't our plan at all because we thought it'd for sure impact our relationship. But it's been wonderful to have a business partner I can trust and that will work just as hard as me.
At the present moment we're trying to get our home in order. When we moved abroad we sold nearly everything except things with sentimental value and some kitchen items that were wedding gifts. We kept these at our parents' houses.
Okay, and we're also consuming Mexican food because we didn't have any while living in Germany. And, in case you're wondering, we only visited home once in three years! So it was at the top of our list of things to eat. That, and Chick-fil-a.
As far as what we brought back from abroad, we only took some clothes, souvenirs, and our sleds. People scratch their heads when they hear that but we just explain that we will use them when we travel up north. Plus I'm done with skiing for life after tearing my ACL last March in Austria.
For now, we're getting hand-me-down furniture and items off of Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to fill our home. Eventually, I'd like to really decorate and make this house look like a home. I've never been good at decorating but I'm excited to try.
What the future holds
I mentioned that we plan to travel North America, and many people have asked me if we have locations mapped out. We don't. Basically, much like Europe, we'd like to see it all.
We plan to spend far less time traveling so that we can also enjoy being home and being with friends. We also decided on a travel trailer so that we can bring along the dogs and unhook it so that we can go on some off-roading adventures as well. This will also offer more office equipment so we can work more efficiently. I have to have two screens, y'all.
After that, who knows. I do think travel will always play a role in our future. I'm not sure if we'll move abroad again. We've already talked about spending extended time in places like the UK, but we just don't have it mapped out.
Michael is exceptional at planning things out and dreaming about the future. He's good at keeping my often wandering mind on task.
How I feel to be home/culture shock
So many people told me I'd have “culture shock” when I arrived back. I'm not sure if that's how I'd describe it, but I definitely can appreciate and notice some of the incredible things about America, as well as the wonderful things about Europe. People are extremely friendly, stores stay open late, and customer service is top notch. Europe is exceptionally lovely and there's history in every corner. There is bad and good and interesting to every place.
I know that I'll miss the Christmas season especially in Germany. I was looking through some photos for this post and I had to stop because it made me tear up. It's such a magical place at Christmas time with the markets and cool temperatures and snowy landscapes nearby.
When I write posts, I often look at older posts of mine to make sure I haven't said the same thing before or find links that would help illustrate my story further. I found my post on “why we chose to move to Germany.” In it, I cite much of the research that I did. One of the most compelling articles I found during that research process was one from Business Insider, sharing that Germany was one of the best places to live in the world. Now, three years and one month later, the same magazine featured an article on me. It's interesting how things come full circle.
I know the newness of being home will wear off. I know there will be days when I question the decision to come back. But I also know that I questioned myself before we moved abroad. We took a risk and it was worth it. Almost everything in life is worth the risk.