In my last post, I shared a bit about the effect all of our travel (and the corresponding transitions) has had on our kids. These changes are not all sunshine and roses. It’s not easy to start a new life in a new place within a new culture.
But it’s completely worth it.
Why? Because the change in context provides the foundation for a new perspective.
We are now about 1.5 months into our 4th experience living abroad with our young children. Previously, we have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador (for three months in the winter two years in a row), and then this past winter/spring in San Ramón, Costa Rica. Now, here we are in beautiful Manizales, Colombia.
Our life here is simple. Our kids are attending a nice little school where they spend their days playing and learning entirely in Spanish. Michael and I continue to do much of the same “work” that we would otherwise be doing in the U.S. Consulting, writing, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.
But as we kind of wiggle our butts into this new cozy chair and start to get comfortable, I keep thinking about how different this life feels even though so much of it is really the same. Overarching life things like mental load, housing, and transportation are tackled so differently.
Simply because we’ve changed our context. And it’s changing our perspective.
It is so much easier to be here than it is to be at home! I just don’t have any of the weight on my shoulders that seems to sit there perpetually when I’m home. I’m convinced it’s because we aren’t in our own house. The result is the shelving of the never-ending to do list that goes along with it. We obviously have things “to do” here too, but it’s different.
Some of the thoughts from an average day home in Colorado.
-The car is so filthy, I should really wash it.
-Damn, those bushes are on their last legs and my neighbors probably hate us that they grow over the sidewalk.
-Why does our driveway have so many cracks?? I’m sure it’s the ants living under there. I probably should have done something about them when I saw them three years ago.
-Ugg, SO many scratches in the floors. We’ve done so much damage since we got this place!
-Those blinds are still broken. I should get those fixed.
-When am I going to go through those boxes under the stairs in the basement? I really need to get that done.
-I hate this carpet. Carpeting is so gross.
Once we leave our home, POOF… those thoughts just disappear! (Except, when I wrote that thing about the bushes above, I remembered that damn, I forgot to trim them before we left!)
I don’t mean to imply that slow travel is a worry-free form of living. Of course it’s not. It has it’s own priorities and to-do lists. But it’s almost like the white noise of being at home suddenly gets turned off and you think, “ahh, that’s so much better” even though you never even noticed the white noise was there before. You know… a humming furnace in a huge building goes silent. And your body relaxes and you think, “wow, it’s so quiet now.”
That’s sort of what it’s like in this new context of slow travel abroad. Ahhhhh.
I love our home in Colorado. But. It’s so big and has so much stuff in it. (Even though we have been mindfully purging more and more over the years).
Of the four apartments we’ve lived in while slow traveling, our largest was probably 1500 square feet (with much of that used up in an “atrium” that we never bothered to furnish or actually use).
Of course, we’ve lived in small homes in the States as well, but those still had all of our stuff tucked away in closets, drawers, and garages.
Here, we have the simple/sparse furniture and supplies (sheets, towels, kitchen utensils, etc.) provided by the rental, and three suitcases worth of stuff. And that’s it. There is no box of memorabilia sitting under the basement stairs waiting for me to sort through and organize. There are no bushes that I need to feel guilty about not having trimmed.
And I never think about carpeting. Except, I really miss having a vacuum. In my opinion, brooms are just an efficient way to drag hair and dirt across the floor and you can never count on them to really get the job done.
Every single time we’ve gone back to our 2800 square foot home after one of these slow travel abroad experiences, I have bemoaned the size and clutter of our house. While living abroad, we’ve happily lived in apartments that are 900 – 1500 square feet many times and have had all that we needed. (Except maybe my food processor and Vitamix… I really miss those).
I think about all of the families living all around us here in the apartment building where we currently reside. This is just normal.
Mode of Transportation
I have two friends back home in the US who ride their bikes with children aboard ALL over town. It’s just what they do. Even though I’ve dabbled in the practice with our crappy bike trailer over the past couple of years, I have just not been able to make it my lifestyle.
Generally, even though walking and biking are things that I genuinely enjoy doing, we still use our car pretty often. It’s there. It’s easy. And it feels like we’re always running late for wherever we’re going, so we just need to hop in the car and go.
But when we’re living in another country, we don’t have a car. We have to walk (or take a bus or a taxi). We walk everywhere, just like so many other people in this city. In this context, walking is just what you do.
In Cuenca, we lived on the 4th floor of a building in the historic center and walked about 1 mile each direction (up and down a serious staircase in addition to the four flights to our apartment) to take our kids to their school each day. So, we’d take them there, walk home, then return to the school to pick them up again later in the day. It meant we walked 4 miles every day, plus wherever else we went beyond our apartment. And in those days, we were often both carrying a child for at least part of the trek.
In San Ramón, we ended up in our unfurnished apartment in the city center simply because it was the only thing we could find that was walkable. Otherwise, we were beholden to a bus system that ran unreliably every 30 minutes or would have had to buy a car, which just wasn’t on the table for us.
Here in mountainous Manizales, we are in an apartment building at the top of a very steep hill. We are guaranteed to increase our heart rate on any walk home. And I walk a little over a half mile each weekday up a significantly steep hill to grab a bus down to the kids’ school. I sort of dread it before I leave the house, but feel badass each time I get to the top.
And as I’m walking these streets of Manizales I’m often thinking to myself, “why don’t I do this more at home???” If I were to drop the Manizales map and everywhere I walk here down on a map of my neighborhood back home, I bet I’d be shocked to see just how many places I would walk here that I just never do there.
Things that seem too far away there are probably even closer than places I walk to almost daily here.
This different context gives me the perspective that I need. If I can do it here, why in the world would I not do it there??
Here, I really miss some of the luxuries I have at home when it comes to preparing meals. We follow a mostly whole foods, plant-based diet, and there are certain ingredients that I’ve come to rely on. A few that come to mind (which Michael brought back for me in a suitcase after his trip to FinCon in the States last week) are organic natural peanut butter, whole raw cashews, and nutritional yeast.
Those things are not impossible to find here in Colombia, but they are very expensive for not very much. They’re actually all pretty pricey in the States too, but less so than here. We were able to get raw cashews at a Walmart-owned chain in Costa Rica, and fresh ground peanut butter was available in little plastic baggies in the market in Cuenca. I think I may have even seen small containers of nutritional yeast on the shelf at a small “natural” store in San Ramón.
I miss being able to just grab those things from the store as needed. Those things and other luxuries like flavored vinegars or tempeh.
But, that’s just the reality of this new context. It forces me to adhere even more closely to the whole foods standard I already strive for. There are lots of beans here, but I have to plan ahead because they’re all dry and I can’t fall back on a can of precooked beans in a pinch. I can get super cheap brown rice or barley, but so far no farro or hemp seeds.
But oh well, right? Because I also don’t have access to the slew of delicious but super unhealthy foods that are at my fingertips in the States. No “meatless tenders”, coconut-based ice cream, or soy yogurt. Those things are easy and tasty, but their absence from our lives is only an improvement on diet, not a detriment.
Pace of Life
The result of everything I’ve shared above results in a slowing of our pace of life.
If I know I have to walk to the grocery store, I allow myself at least a two hour window to get it done. In the States, I tell myself I can be to the store and back in 30 minutes. Which of course I never do and it ends up making me late for whatever is the next thing on the list.
I have to hang the laundry, and it’ll take at least a full day to dry (1.5 days if they’re jeans or towels). So laundry is no longer being “pushed through” with a gigantic pile to fold at the end of laundry day. I just do what I can when I can as the drying rack becomes available.
If I know I’ll be taking the bus somewhere, I figure it’ll take anywhere from 20 -40 minutes to walk to the stop, wait for one to show up, and then take me wherever it is that I’m going.
Weekends are no longer about yard work and to-do lists. They’re just about coming up with something fun to do as a family. Here in Manizales, that’s probably visiting one of the many free nearby parks, walking along the main boulevard Sunday morning to people watch (or more accurately, bask in the onslaught of compliments about our divine children), or seek out a cool place to explore within a couple hours of the city.
These days, just about the only thing I ever feel rushed about is making sure we don’t run out of soy milk for our coffee in the mornings.
So is the new context and resulting perspective worth all the trouble? Totally.
Isn’t it what so many of us crave? An opportunity to step outside our box (it helps when we’ve also managed to escape the rat race), and look back at ourselves and our lives from a new context and a new perspective.
That, at least, is one of the reasons why we’re here. Thank you, Manizales, for providing the backdrop for a refreshed look at our lives.
Cool blog! Reading your post i could even feel the ‘slowness’ of it; not a rushed post trying to cram a ton of details. Am i making sense?
Whatever it is, yours is a life i’m learning from and working towards! 😀
Found you through Afford Anything and I like what Im seeing (reading)! Thank you for sharing and for the inspiration!
Thanks for coming to check us out!
You’re such a good writer, Ellen! Thanks for this one. I couldn’t agree more about the wonderful pace of life when living abroad. When we returned to Cuenca this summer for 6 weeks, it was like we stepped right back into that pace (and away from the mental gymnastics that come from the long to-do lists at home).
Even though I’m a real estate investor, I’ve strongly debated not owning a residence and only owning investment properties. I do occasionally enjoy our yard and other things about the home, but more often there is the constant to-do list in my head. The main way I deal with it is ignore it (ha!), but it seems to stress Kari out a little more.
I hope your experiences abroad this year have been fantastic. Can’t wait to see you all soon!
Chad, thank you so much! I appreciate that we can relate to each other’s experiences. When it comes to whether or not to actually own our homes, I guess we could say the grass is always more nicely manicured on the other side of the fence. 🙂
It’s because in North America they have conditioned people that they need to drive a car everywhere
Great post, Ellen, as always! The reminder about perspective is sincerely appreciated.
A few random comments:
* I was at a FI/RE gathering recently and was talking to a parent who has international travel as a family on the post-FI/RE wish list. I had just read your post about the challenges your wee ones face in the transitions from one country/home to the next and suggested he read your post. While were at the gathering, he found and bookmarked your site to read. I loved the serendipity of it all and thought might too. 🙂
* I appreciate that both you and your hubby post on the same blog and I enjoy your different styles, content, etc. Seems like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup slogan: “Two great tastes that go great together!”
Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing your adventures and insights with us!
Damon, thank you for making my day and taking the time to share your thoughts!
I really enjoyed your post and it was timely as well. A good friend and I were texting back-and-forth about the pros and cons of homeownership. I love being able to walk into my backyard and harvest all sorts of goodies from the garden and fruit trees, but nearly every time I go back there for a moment of zen, I have at least 4-100 things I could add to my todo list. I’m getting much better at being okay with letting go of the little stuff, but I still see them!
This is what excites my wife and me most about our soon-to-be free life, is being able to spend time at home, in comfort and predictability(even with all the busy work that we manifest) but also time abroad, in someone else’s home, where I’m not going to be inclined to examine every fault and this-should-be-fixed item that we happen across.
Thanks for your comment, Chris! For us, the transition from life abroad back to the house also always seems to generate enthusiasm for tackling the to-do list that we didn’t have to think about while we were gone. Best wishes on your soon-to-be free life!
I think I met you guys at the last CampFI in FL? Anyway, curious, which of the 3 places you’ve lived in do you prefer the most and why?
Hi Marc! Michael was at both sessions of CampFI Southeast last January, and I was at one. If we met, I’m sure I’d remember with a little context. Our kids were with us, so between them and the mental load of being an introvert in a highly social setting had my brain a bit taxed that weekend.
So, as you can guess, there are many individual preferences that come into play in answering your question. But, between the three cities we’ve lived in, I’d say Manizales is my favorite. They all have their pros/cons, but I love the lush green mountains that encompass this place. There’s plenty to do in an around the city if you like to be outdoors, and it’s also the most child-friendly place we’ve been to (play areas abound). If you’re looking for more insights than this, feel free to send a message and I’ll be happy to give a more thorough response.
This was a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing!
Such a great post on perspective!! It reminds me of the constant struggle I have and I have rightfully equated my own comfort with laziness. For example, on a long distance hike I have no problem walking 25 miles in a day, day after day carrying everything I own on my back. It’s my way of life there and quickly becomes the norm. At home though, walking to the grocery store less than a mile away and carrying bags home seems like too much effort when I have the comfort and convenience of a car. It’s pure laziness. I have no where else to be but the convenience of having the car makes using it justifiable. At the same time, I know if my car died tomorrow, I’d be just fine walking to the store! It would just be what I did and I wouldn’t think twice about it. I think it’s a mix of human nature to take such things for granted and also keen awareness on our comfort level and ways we can push it.
I definitely can use a bit of pushing into the discomfort zone to build my inner and outer badass. Those hills and steps of yours are proof you have achieved that badass title!!
Ha, thanks! The hill I trek up every day makes the one that always intimidates me on my bike back home seem like no biggie. Maybe you could try one of those rolling carts for your groceries. It could be the tiny stretch to your comfort zone that would make the walk to and from the grocery store seem much more appealing. Or, get someone to slash your car tires for you… that could work too. 🙂