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When Kevin and I left Seattle in April 2014, we had no idea how long we would be living and traveling abroad. We had so many questions about what would happen. Would we love it and never want to move back to Seattle? Would we hate it and have to move in with our parents after just a few months? Would one of us end up strangling the other because we spend 24 hours of every day together in a tiny apartment?
We’ve been abroad for 9 full months now, and while we wouldn’t trade this year abroad for anything, we are both ready to head back home to Seattle. We are booked on a flight to Seattle on May 6th – the end is near!
To see where we’ve been so far, check out the map in the top of this post. Just in case you want to squeeze in a quick visit while we’re still in Europe, here are our whereabouts until we get back to the U.S. of A.:
- Until March 27: Split, Croatia
- March 27 – 29: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
- March 29 – 31: Zagreb, Croatia
- March 31 – April 28: Budapest, Hungary
- April 28 – May 1: Vienna, Austria
- May 1 – May 5: Prague, Czech Republic
- May 5 – May 6: Frankfurt, Germany
- May 6: Seattle!
- (We’re also planning a trip to Kansas June 2 – 9 for my Dad’s milestone birthday!)
So, why did we decide to end our travels after just one year?
Warning: This post is about our personal experience traveling abroad, and results for others may vary!
“Seeing the World” Is Best Done in Bite-Sized Pieces
Traveling for a very lengthy period of time sort of turns you into an asshole. Churches start to blend together, castles all start to look the same, and you start to get a little jaded. There was a time when walking into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome would’ve brought tears to my eyes because of its sheer awesomeness. Now, I see St. Peter’s and think, “huh, reminds me a little of Sevilla’s Cathedral”. We have this new you’re-going-to-have-to-try-pretty-hard-to-impress-us attitude. In Kevin’s words, we’ve seen a lot of “old-ass Roman shit”.
It takes continuous effort to keep appreciating your travels if you’re abroad for a year. Living out of a duffel bag starts to wear you down, little cultural differences that used to be cute/interesting start to get under your skin, and travel fatigue sets in and causes you to skip some sights you’d otherwise be super excited about. We essentially skipped the entire country of Myanmar because we knew we just wouldn’t appreciate it as much as we should. (We hope to visit someday, when we’re jonesing for some more time in SE Asia.)
The thing that makes travels to foreign places so special is the contrast you experience from the way things are back home. In my ideal world, I’d work 11 months out of the year and spend 1 month living in a city somewhere else in the world. In a month, you can sift through many of a city’s restaurants, really get a handle on a local culture, and maybe even make some new local friends. A month lets you really take things slowly and at a relaxed pace, you get tons of time to sleep and unwind, and finding a month-long place to stay is often the same price or less than just 2 weeks in a hotel! Plus if you choose wisely and stay at a rail hub, you can take a bunch of day trips.
Ok, I’ve figured out my ideal world. Now, I need to figure out how to change America’s culture so we all get a month of vacation. I’ll get right on that, folks.
Seattle Is the Best Place in the World (at Least to Us!)
There’s no denying it, Seattle is our Paradise. I know that a lot of Seattleites like to perpetuate the rumor that it’s always rainy and gray in our City (Heaven forbid too many people crowd into our wonderful town!), but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: that’s not really true. The truth is, our Summers are long gorgeous stretches of blue-sky days with perfect high-70’s temperatures. The Pacific Northwest is filled with gazillions of perfect campgrounds, tons of backpacking options, and an infinite number of stunning day hikes. Even our winters are awesome – you can leave our house and be on the ski slopes in less than an hour. Heck, it rarely gets below 40 in the Winter in our fine city, which means I get to run outside year-round without having to wear a Snow Parka. I am convinced Seattle’s climate was tailored specifically for me – there is rarely any swamp ass to be had here (most homes don’t even have aircon!), my hair hardly ever gets wind blown, and I rarely need more than a light jacket. I love it!
I don’t think I’ve made a single blog post without a food reference, so why stop now?! We’ve traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Croatia, so I feel confident declaring that many of our wonderfully diverse cities in the United States have food cultures that are unmatched anywhere else in the world. We’ve traveled around and tried the local cuisines of so many countries, but what’s really missing is the huge variety of international options we have in the US. Sure, there’s tons of Thai food in Thailand (obviously), but the Indian food options are not good, and you’d be hard pressed to find any legit Mexican food, much less any sushi I’d bet my life on. In Seattle, we have fabulous foods from all different cultures: Vietnamese, Chinese, South Pacific, Italian, French, Thai, Indian, Caribbean, Japanese, Mexican, even Ethiopian. And don’t even get me started on Seattle’s coffee scene. In Europe, it is damn near impossible to buy grocery store coffee beans that aren’t pre-ground, and I STILL haven’t had a decent cup of coffee at a cafe here.
There are other little things about Seattle we miss, too. In Seattle, green spaces and parks are everywhere; in Europe most public spaces are brick or cement plazas. I miss being able to use a public bathroom without having to shell out a Euro. I miss having the right-of-way as a pedestrian. I miss the bulk bin section of our neighborhood grocery store, and my Dutch Oven and Crock Pot. And I think I especially miss having an American-style laundry setup! (I’m SO excited to have a dryer again.) Kevin misses our grill, and his beer brewing equipment. He has been reading Homebrewing articles every day, and has his first dozen or so brews all planned out. We need to be home!
Living Abroad Can Be Lonely
I didn’t realize how isolating and lonely it can be to live abroad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s so nice to have a partner to travel with, but when you spend your whole day together, the usual “How was your day?” question is sort of a dead end. Luckily, we both read a lot so we can talk about our books, but that is WAY less interesting than the stories I used to come home and tell about my quirky/wonderful coworkers at Boeing.
Things weren’t quite as lonely in Chiang Mai, where the coffee shop culture was perfectly suited for digital nomads. (The coffee was good and cheap, the internet was fast, and it was definitely considered acceptable to sit for a couple hours and work! It is NOT like that in Europe.) Since we were there for 8 months, we were able to form some relationships with both expats and locals. It was fun to be regulars at our favorite coffee shops where we’d chat with the baristas and they’d put in our order without us having to even say anything.
Traveling more quickly is more isolating, though. Since arriving in Europe, we haven’t been in one place for more than 30 days. When you don’t speak the local language, it’s hard to build any sort of relationships, especially when you’re just passing through. To be honest, we haven’t felt a whole lot of warmth radiating from people we’ve met so far in Europe. That is, until our recent arrival here in Split, Croatia.
I think our entry to Croatia came at just the right time. In spite of all the hardships they’ve gone through in the last 20 years, people here are just so darn NICE, and everyone seems to speak perfect English. It helps that we’re renting an Airbnb apartment in a big 6-unit building that is filled by several generations of the same family. They have a cousin in Seattle, so everyone knows who we are and they’re all excited to chat with us about home. We’ve met a lot of friendly locals, too. Just the other day, a farmer at the fresh market struck up a conversation with us, busted out a photo album of his farm and his family, and ended our chat with a very enthusiastic “I love America! America, Yes!”
I love America, too, sir.