Expat’s Survival Guide to Christmas Abroad

Expat’s Survival Guide to Christmas Abroad

Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas!

Whether it’s your first year or 10th year living abroad, the holidays can be the hardest season to be away from family. Not everyone is able to fly during the holiday season, which is notorious for being a very high-stress time.

So, how do we — the bunch who chose to move away but still miss this special time of year — deal?

I suggest making the most of the lack of responsibilites while still being in touch!

Christmas Cards


Request Christmas cards from friends and family back home and make a nice display throughout December. They are usually quite beautiful and a great reminder of all the people who love you. I absolutely love when people write messages in them too…a little personalization is super sweet! But don’t forget to send some out as well. Set a date in your calendar to write and address your cards. Be sure to get all the addresses and stamps needed before starting. Then just breeze through and you get to put a smile on someone else’s face. Don’t you just LOVE that?! Warm fuzzies all over!




If your family went all out with Christmas decorations and that’s what will make you feel better about being away at Christmas, then deck those halls! Personally, I don’t like a lot of stuff to hold onto all year, but I do love to have our little 2 foot fake tree on the table with both our ornaments given to us by family and those we’ve collected through our travels. It’s a reminder of how life used to be, and how we are living now. Decorate however makes you feel happy!


Find a Christmas market

Christmas Market

In Europe, Christmas markets like the one in Cologne, Germany pop up all over the place! Some are just for a weekend and some are open for the season and even feature ice skating rinks. These help me find my Christmas spirit and once you have a glass of glühwein or hot cider and walk around to admire the evergreens and twinkling lights, hopefully you’ll be in the spirit too. These are the perfect places to find little gifts to send back home so your friends and family get a taste of how you spent the holidays.




Grab the mixer, eggs, butter and sugar and get your place smelling like holiday Heaven. I am lucky enough to have a grandmother who loves to bake, so that is something that reminds me of the holidays. There were SO MANY cookies. I never complained though. It was fun…and I got to lick the beaters 😀 Baking at the holidays is perfect for lots of reasons: it’s fun, creates gifts for friends, makes your house smell delicious, and can be a reminder of what makes you happy!


Take a trip

Paris Ferris Wheel

Do something completely different! Take a holiday for the holidays. We’re traveling at Christmas for the first time this year so I’ll have to update you on that later! But it feels right to try and celebrate in a way that we would have never done in the U.S. Not to mention, it’s an exciting adventure to see how Christmas will feel in a place you’ve never been.  Go somewhere super Christmas-y, or go somewhere sunny and warm. Pick somewhere super relaxing or a city you’ve always wanted to discover. This is all about new experiences!


A friends’ holiday


Friends are the family you choose, right? Some you’d do anything for and love like brothers or sisters. If they are around for the holidays too, why not do something together? For two years we met up with a fellow American who was also in Amsterdam and had lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Then we walked around the center with its pretty lights along the canals. It was a different kind of Christmas, but made us happy all the same.


Video chat

If possible, call or video chat those you love back home. Between Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Hangouts, even Snapchat, there are so many free (or super cheap) ways to get in touch. Set a time so everyone is on the same page and has the appropriate tech handy and then enjoy celebrating Christmas together, even if only for a bit




Not being home for the holidays can be sad, frustrating, and even confusing because we don’t know what to do during that time. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Hopefully this has given you a few ideas on how to make the most of the season and truly enjoy the experience.

Making the Best of European Budget Airlines

Making the Best of European Budget Airlines

If you want to fly, Budget or Discount airlines are definitely the best way to get around Europe. They allow so many people, like us, to travel more frequently and to more places than we’d be able to get to otherwise.

Because they are priced lower (sometimes MUCH lower) than traditional airlines, you can guess that you may not have all the comforts or services you expect from full-price airlines.  This post is all about managing your expectations on budget airlines in Europe to make the best of them!

Play their game and you can win!


eBags with Jess


Luggage really is the biggest elephant in the room. As a frequent traveler in Europe, I’m getting to know the budget airlines quite well. For example, I know that EasyJet gives you one bag to take as a carry-on…and they will stop you at the ticket check if you have more.  Transavia has the option for the tradition personal bag + one piece of carry-on luggage. BUT that luggage is not guaranteed to stay in the cabin! If there’s no more room, under the plane it goes! (This is one of the few planes I really want to be first in!)

Honestly, just reading through the airline’s website helps a lot but there’s also this super helpful post from Travel Made Simple with a carry-on size chart for over 150 airlines! Check the luggage restrictions and measure that bag. I’ve checked my rolling bag (eBags 21” Mother Lode Mini) in the smallest of carry-on brackets in the airport (when nobody was looking…just in case 😉 ) so I can confidently know it will fit. If there’s ever a doubt, I also have a 19” eBags convertible backpack that I’ll use.  If you’re looking for some good luggage, I’m happy to share why I love our bags.

Check-in online

If you’re flying carry-on only — which you totally should be doing if you’re flying within Europe — bypass that check-in counter and save yourself one less frustration. Just check-in ahead of time and put that boarding pass on your phone, or print it out for peace of mind (some airlines still require a printed boarding pass — check ahead!).


easyjet mobile boarding passes

Screenshot from the easyJet website (Dec 4, 2016)


So far, I’ve never had a problem with the service of European budget airlines, but I’m sure the day will come, and it’s good to be prepared. Follow all your regular airlines on Twitter now, and if you need them, reach out right away.

Once I went to the airport with my boarding pass which said  “Boarding time 08:45”. But when I got to the airport, the board said that was the departure time. Luckily, I was there well ahead of time, but the experience taught me not only to look at my ticket, but to also stay up-to-date using Google flights as well (which told me the gate number).

Actually, I had to ask someone for confirmation at the airport information desk because I just didn’t see my flight on the board…now that’s a scary thing.

Don’t ever hesitate to ask for help! Gates change, flights are delayed, connections are short, and sometimes things just get really messed up. If you need to get where you are going and you’re not sure, just ask someone what you need to know.


airplane window seat

Seat assignments

Some will care about this more than others. When traveling with someone you may want to sit together, so it might be worth the money to snatch up two seats wherever you want on the plane. Or maybe you’re a tall person and REALLY need the legroom. Or maybe you just have to “go” a lot and need an aisle seat. For whatever reason, grabbing your seat ahead of time can be a nice luxury …even on a 2 hour flight.


Really on any flight these are a must-have for frequent travelers. That plane sound…OMG. It can make me so angry! Add to that people who talk to loud, who are on the phone, or really any other audio annoyance and it’s nice to block it all out with some noise-cancelling headphones. You may not even use them to listen to anything except for the thoughts in your head.


mobile phone with headphones

Tablet or phone

Personally I love my tablet to watch videos or write when I’m on the plane. Put on headphones and some good music and it’s almost like you’re not squished in a tin can. Get your productivity on, or chill out with a movie. Your choice!

Battery pack

Do not expect outlets on a budget airline. I’ve been on a few flights that do have them…but never count on it! If it’s just your phone, then a lipstick charger is probably fine. But if you have rechargeable headphones, phone, tablet, etc, then get a good powerful one. I have an in-between one that’s solar-powered from Tespack and I love it. 


This is pretty self-explanatory I think. Bring snacks you know you’ll like that don’t cost an arm and a leg like they would on the plane. I usually go with granola bar type snacks, but grab those chips or gummies or whatever makes you happy. Because let’s be real…hangry is a real thing. Regardless if my computer is telling me that’s not a word.


You know to stay hydrated on the plane, right? Please do. Either bring a water bottle from home that you can fill after security or just buy a bottle of water when you’re near your gate. Besides, you’ll need it to wash down your snacks!



Jacket / Big scarf

To stay comfortable on a chilly plane, this is a must. I love to travel with my fleece jacket if it’s a warmer season, or I use my scarf if it’s cold outside and I don’t want to wear my winter jacket in the seat. But seriously, who doesn’t love a good, versatile scarf?

Is it going to feel like first class? Sadly, no. But at least you can be a bit more comfortable than if you didn’t plan ahead.

Get cheap flights. See amazing places. Make the most of life in Europe.

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Making the Best of European Budget Airlines


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The Inevitable Bike Butt of a New Amsterdam Expat

The Inevitable Bike Butt of a New Amsterdam Expat

Part of traveling or becoming an expat is getting out of your comfort zone. That literally means being uncomfortable. It’s all part of the experience!

When you’re moving to Amsterdam (or any bike-loving city), and you are moving from a place where you rarely rode a bike, you may experience something I call “Bike Butt”.

I am so curious what your first impression of the term Bike Butt is…what do you think it could be? Remember that and then let me know in the comments what the first thing that popped into your head was!


bikes in Amsterdam


Bike Butt: n. Meaning the bruise-like feeling you get on your butt after riding a bike that only happens when you haven’t ridden in a long time.

Let me explain this a bit better…

I’ve spoken with expats in Amsterdam that won’t ride bikes because they say their bums just don’t want to be on the seat anymore. And it does hurt. Trust me.

The thing is, this goes away! Time heals all.

It’s beyond my understanding, and the Dutch don’t seem to know about it since they’ve probably been riding bikes since they were in diapers, but it’s most common of those who aren’t used to riding bikes. I guess their butts just aren’t used to a bike seat.

Of course I went through this as well upon buying my bike. I was so frustrated and a bit angry. I started biking short distances but no more than that because after 10 minutes, my butt would hurt. Seriously, it was like it was telling me to never ride again! Then, the next day, I would hop on my bike, it felt like a bruise…way on the bottom part of my bottom. If you pushed on that spot, it felt like a bruise.

A bruise on the bottom of your butt…



work bike in Amsterdam


This is soooo annoying for someone who will be commuting on a bike! I could not bear the thought of this pain every.single.day.

Obviously this turns people off of biking. I mean, who wants to do something that constantly causes pain?! But when the alternatives are inconvenient, and I know it’s how I should be getting around, I stuck to it.


It stopped! About a week to a week and a half, it stopped hurting. I’ve gone about 3 weeks without biking and I got back on and it hurt a little. Now that I know it goes away, it’s much easier to get back on that saddle. *pun intended*

But I’m here to tell you, don’t stop riding! It gets better!!

bike on wall in Amsterdam

My friends told me I should write about this as people may be able to relate…so if you can relate, please share with a friend of yours that may need to read up on this phenomenon.

The inevitable bike butt of an Amsterdam expat

How to Move Abroad: The Basics

How to Move Abroad: The Basics

Moving to another country is a big deal. I mean, like a REALLY big deal. It’s not easy. Between emotions, red tape, practicalities, and making friends, it’s just plain hard and you have to be a little crazy to do it.

That being said, I don’t regret it one bit. We’ve already told our story about why we chose expat life, but you need to find your “why”. Just as importantly, you need to know your “how”.

While we live in a sometimes seemingly small global world, you can’t just pick up and move without a visa or passport that allows you to do so.  This post is meant to get you thinking about your motivations, your options, and your feelings about moving away from your home to start life anew as an expat. If you have anything to add, I hope you comment below so we can all help each other!


How to Move Abroad

Know your “why?”

I’ll try not to get too deep and mushy on you! But it’s a good question, right? Your “why” in everything you do is important, including this major life change.

Just a tip, you can’t move away from your problems. They will catch up to you and are probably harder to deal with if you’re away.  But if you are looking to enrich your life, try a new lifestyle, or even just to see what it’s like to live where wine is cheap and good, then go for it!

We wanted to experience life in Europe and be able to travel frequently and fairly cheaply. We did, and we love it. Best decision ever. But we knew our “why”.  


How to Move Abroad

Find a way to move legally

It’s easy enough to leave a country, but it’s not super easy to stay in one that isn’t your home country. I really think people forget the basics of this. You can’t go anywhere you want at anytime without preparation. And you certainly can’t just claim your residency without lots of paperwork and justification. Make sure you are legal!

The big question is then “how do I know where I can move?”

Do your research! This is not something I can answer for you…mainly because there are so many different ways you can move.

  • Can your company transfer you to an international office?
  • Would you like to join the Peace Corps?
  • Are you qualified to be part of Doctors without Borders or a traveling nurse?
  • Volunteer through many organizations that you can find if you Google “Volunteer Abroad”.
  • There are working holiday visas through countries like Australia and New Zealand. Not every country has this kind of visa available though, but here’s a list of those that do and who it is offered to.
  • If you enjoy being around children and have the experience and maybe even the education for it, becoming an au pair could be a great option.
  • Native English speakers are always wanted as teachers in many Asian countries.
  • Have your own business? The Netherlands has a Dutch-American Friendship Treaty that you can apply for to be able to live here for a few years. (Obviously, if you are American)
  • Some countries have a program for freelance visas as well (usually you need to prove guaranteed income).
  • There’s always the option of being a digital nomad and just going through tourist visa after tourist visa and not really settling anywhere as long as you can work from your computer.
  • Research your family history to see if you have a right to citizenship in another country. That’s what Sean did and it really paid off for us!


How to Move Abroad

Know yourself

It’s easy to say “I want to be free!” and travel far away to start a new life. Be real with yourself. Can you do it? Are you self-sufficient now? Are you a self sufficient adult? Do you pay your own bills? Basically, can you be independent?

I was pretty independent when I went to college. My parents were amazing enough to help pay for my college fees and all that went along with it. But other than that, I grew up fast in college and once I graduated, I got a car loan, rental apartment, and steady job on my own. My finances were all on me and I was responsible for my own life.

This is so important and I can’t stress it enough! You have to be able to take care of yourself, because these applications, fees, working on finding housing and jobs, is all on you.


How to Move Abroad

Be open to changes in friendships

Making friends doesn’t come easy for some people. We’ve figured out that we’re probably not the only ones, because our post about how to make friends as an expat is one of our most read! It’s not just about making friends, but leaving your current ones behind.

The internet is an amazing thing and can keep you in touch easily through Snapchat, Facebook, Skype, and all the other websites and apps that let you connect. People change, time zones are annoying, and life gets busy. While you don’t have to be okay with losing touch with people (that’s on you), you do have to be okay with their lives and yours going in separate directions.

Once you make new friends, it’s amazing how many more people you’ll meet…from all over the world! As long as you are open to new experiences and new people, your life will burst with enrichment and possibilities.


How to Move Abroad

Save that money!

Unless your company is moving you or someone is taking care of everything for you, then savings is a must! Depending on how you get into the country, you may have to prove how much you have so that you will not fall back on their social welfare system.

We planned savings for about 3 months of living before we moved (probably should have planned for 6 months, if we’re honest). Always save more than you think you need. The first month may feel like a vacation, but try not to blow all your money during that period. This is definitely a “learn from our mistake” situation. Use that time to feel out your new city.


How to Move Abroad


We shipped only a couple of boxes and took everything else in suitcases. There are services to ship your entire house full of stuff if you need it, but less is more in this case. Remember, many places don’t typically live in homes as big as they are in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve known many people that had to sell their stuff once they got to Europe because all their belongings wouldn’t fit!

If you have little furry family members (pets), you will likely need documents before the pet is allowed to enter the country. While you’re at it, see what kind of medical and dental records you can grab before you leave as well. Better to have them than not!

Know how you and your stuff will arrive. Have a place lined up to stay…even if temporary. Buy that ticket and know any limitations on weight or luggage allowance of your airline. The actual move might be the most stressful part, but you WILL get through it!


These are the basics and this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. But I hope this helps get your started in your journey to try a life abroad wherever that may be. I can promise you that it’s an experience that will enrich your life and force you to grow as a person. You may even learn things about yourself you never knew.

Best of luck and let us know how it goes!!

Picture Perfect Amsterdam in Autumn

Picture Perfect Amsterdam in Autumn

The air is becoming crisp, the leaves are starting to change, and the heavy jackets are emerging once again. It must be autumn in Amsterdam!


The city of canals and stunning canal houses has a gift for those who visit after the high season and a treat for those who live here and have to live through the winter. The Elm trees that line the canals in the center of the city start turning the recognizable shades of red, orange, and yellow that you expect to see in autumn.

Though the Elm tree is the most common along the main canals in Amsterdam, there are many more varieties of trees all around the city. It’s a very green place in the spring and summer!

Amsterdam is my favorite city for so many reasons. It’s a major European capital that only has about 800,000 residents and feels like a village. And then autumn comes…

Stunning. Inspiring. Calming. Instagram-worthy.

So many more words could describe Amsterdam in autumn. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s get to the good stuff.

For your viewing pleasure, I hope these make you yearn to visit my city!


Amsterdam bridge in Autumn

Amsterdam in Autumn

Beautiful Amsterdam autumn tree

Pin to share the autumn beauty!

Amsterdam in Autumn Pin

My Solo Trip to Paris

My Solo Trip to Paris

This may be controversial to say, but solo travel is not for everyone. I’m not a huge fan of it myself. I’ve read all the articles about how it can help with anxiety, build self-esteem, and how freeing it can be. But, I just really don’t know what to do with myself.


Solo trip to Paris


Yeah, I can wander around whenever and wherever I want. That part I like quite a bit. There is nobody to slow you down or wait around for. There’s also nobody to eat with, share a great sunrise with, or just figure out what to do next. It’s all on you.


Solo trip to Paris


I get bored and really just don’t know what to do next. I did learn that quick-to-eat food is what I prefer when I’m alone. Even just sitting and eating noodles was easy and quick with little time for waiting. A street-side crepe is really the way to go though. Quick, cheap, and super easy to eat on the go!


Solo trip to Paris


So, what did I get up to? I walked. A lot. Like 12 miles in 3 days. I ate noodles and bread and macarons (I did not eat healthy on this trip!). And I hung out with Edna who practically lives in Paris. Having a local with you is pretty much the best thing ever. Although, having some girl time might just trump the “local” part.


Solo trip to Paris


Girl friends can be amazing or they can be catty. I make a sincere effort to surround myself with people who are supportive, friendly, and genuine. But some girl time with the right person who can chat AND listen is so important to be able to let anything and everything out. Add some good French wine and the evening is made.


Solo trip to Paris


It was so funny. I planned on going to Paris solo and then I found out six other people from Amsterdam were going too! I wasn’t able to meet up with any of them, but probably for the best. I can see them anytime in Amsterdam, but Paris is a different world with a different vibe. I think a mini chill and girl time was what I needed.


Solo trip to Paris


After 3 days in Paris, hanging out with a fun person, going to places I’ve never been, eating my way through a food tour, and wandering around on my own, I still know that solo travel itself in not something I will actively plan or strive for. However, meeting up or traveling with others can be fun!

Final verdict: I had a great time. With no set schedule and a handful of metro tickets, I felt free as a bird! But I really enjoyed spending time with someone else, and I think that is just who I am…a social introvert.


Solo trip to Paris

Anyone else really not love to travel by yourself? Who is your favorite travel partner?

For practical Paris information, a guidebook can be super handy! The Rick Steves’ Pocket Paris book is a great companion to blogs and is a great read in paperback or Kindle (my preference) on the trip into Paris!

Learning to Shop for Food like a Parisian

Learning to Shop for Food like a Parisian

Recently I shared my secret life goal of adopted 3 European cities. It felt silly at first, but once I wrote it all down, it felt so true. And Paris, of course, is on that list!

Paris Food Tour Sacre Coeur


I don’t just want to adopt the city. I want to walk, talk, eat, and shop like a Parisian. Totally wish I had the fashion sense that would make me fit right in too. Who wouldn’t?!

To start the adoption process, I reached out to Secret Food Tours Paris and scheduled a tour in the Montmartre neighborhood–that area right by Sacre Coeur. The best thing about food tours is that you never know exactly what you’ll get. But what I did know I was going to get a lesson in how to be Parisian!


Paris Food Tour Montmartre

Visitor Tip: Ideally, you should take a food tour when you arrive to a new city.


A Different Kind of Food Tour

This Montmartre food tour from Secret Food Tours was much different than the tours I’ve taken in Berlin, Barcelona, and London. They were all different companies, but that’s not what I mean. Typically, I’ve been taken to various restaurants to have a bite and learn a little bit about the restaurant and the area, then you walk a few minutes until you get to the next one.

I like this “normal” way. The food is well spaced out and we get time to chat amongst ourselves which is always fun since we’re all travelers!


Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Parisian street


On this Paris food tour, it was more about how to shop for yourself when you venture out on your own. While I was first quite confused as to what was going on, it soon became obvious…

Our guide, P.J., was really showing us how to shop like a Parisian!

One of the last things we did was to sit in a cafe to relax and inspect all the delicious bites (and drinks) we collected along the way. And then devour them.


Learning to Shop

On the tour itself, we visited a popular cheese shop so P.J. could explain how you can pick out a great cheese for yourself and why the French can’t get enough of certain kinds of cheese. Learning about cheese in this way was really helpful! Our guide made it feel like a class (in the best kind of way) because he gave information that would actually help you. All while we’re drooling over the different varieties and smells. Ohhhh the cheese smells! My stomach started growling at this stop.


Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Cheese shop


The history was fascinating, too! Did you know that the metro lines 2 & 6 lie directly behind where the old city wall was for Paris? Or that Paris all started on the island that Notre Dame sits on? Yeah…neither did I! These random facts are so interesting and the perfect tidbits to show off with at parties 😉

We hit up a Boulangerie (bakery) for some beautiful and fragrant baguettes. The French take baking bread so seriously that if you call yourself a Boulangerie and you don’t bake the bread on site, you can lose your business! We confirmed it was the real deal when we saw the many ovens churning out various types of bread. There’s really nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread…one of life’s great pleasures. Am I right?!


Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Bakery


Would it be a food tour in France if we did not go to a wine shop? Nah, not to me at least! Wine is really a funny thing. Regions matter, and specific farms and terra matters. That’s why some wines are so expensive. We were given a lot of great information on how to choose a good wine, but I’m probably going to still ask the people that run the wine shops because I didn’t get THAT good.


Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Wine


Going to a butcher isn’t for everyone, I realize that. But fresh meat is amazing in my world. P.J. picked us up lots of things to try…and some weren’t my cup of tea. But I tried them because I’m trying to push my comfort zone a bit. I’m getting so much better with trying foods since I moved to Europe. Maybe already being outside of my comfort zone helps. I don’t know. But I encourage you to try everything too! If I can do, you can too.


Paris Food Tour Montmartre |Butcher


*pats self on back* I even tried a grasshopper once! Here’s the video…and yes, I am proud of it.


The Group Comes Together for the Tasting

Paris Food Tour Montmartre | Final Tasting


Just around the time we were all enjoying the tour but tired of the teasing of all the good food we’ve seen, we hopped into a cafe with a bunch of seats waiting for us with wine glasses at the ready. P.J. wasted no time in supplying us with bread and wine while he, um, cut sliced the cheese up for us.

Every time I thought the tasting was over, there was more coming! We tasted so many kinds of cheeses. I was shocked he grabbed so much from the cheese shop. It really felt like we were getting a tasting platter of France. Amazing!


Paris Food Tour Montmartre


The meats went from mild (as in, you may have had it before and nothing “weird”) to me staring at it trying to figure out if I’m actually going to take a bite. That scary piece of meat was head cheese. Click the link to look it up. It’s not something I would normally eat, much less consider trying.

But here’s the evidence that I tried it:

I didn’t eat all of it and I still wouldn’t order it for myself, but I’m glad I tried it! I even convinced the woman next to me to try it. She immediately said “no!” when she heard what it was. I’m such a good food influence now apparently 😛 Would you try it?

Once all the bites from the shops had been eaten, there was still MORE! We were given crêpes before we left our seats and then went to a chocolate and macaron shop. But I was so stuffed that I kept those little treats for the train ride back to Amsterdam.


Final Thoughts

The tour seems to have a different agenda than most I take. It teaches you to shop in the small locally owned shops rather than taste food at various restaurants. Which is pretty awesome if you’ll spend time in France where you can use the knowledge. Maybe you can even impress a certain someone? 😉

The food was great, the wine was excellent and the tour guide was super informative. My main critique is that it would have been nice to have more socializing time with the group itself. It was almost so full of information that it was overwhelming! I would often get sucked into what he was saying and not take notes. But I also really love getting to know the others in the group, and there wasn’t too much time for that. It was a PACKED and delicious few hours.


What do you think of this format? Have 4-5 stops before you get to taste anything…but then you get to chow down for an hour or so? There are pros and cons to everything, for sure!

Big thanks to Secret Food Tours Paris for hosting me with this complimentary tour! Of course all views and opinions are my own.

Life Goal: To Adopt 3 European Cities

Life Goal: To Adopt 3 European Cities

I have a dream to be a citizen of the world. That sounds as vague as it does pompous, I know. I’ve only been on two continents, and right now I only focus my travel on one…Europe.

So, I’ve examined that dream and figured out that I really want to travel the world, but feel like a local in some key places. I want to feel like I really know cities where the tourists flock, where I can help direct someone to the metro, where I can feel like I know where I’m going. This was somewhat inspired by Edna, of Expat Edna, and how she travels and lives her life. She has quite a few spots around the world she could easily settle into because she knows them so well. Such a cool way to live!




Amsterdam is my home now. I love it. I even love the tourists that take over the city in the summer. Though, I love them much more when they aren’t on bikes. I can help direct them, I can teach them how to use the transportation system, and I can tell them where to get the best pancakes (Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs — which I learned about from Jessica Lipowski).

I want to be able to do that for Paris and London too. I’ve been to Paris 4 times now. Places sound familiar, I kind of have the geography down, and I know how to use the metro. But I don’t have my breakfast place, my bar, or my favorite spot yet. I do know that every time I visit, I see more, and find a new appreciation for the city. Falling in love with Paris is easy. It can seem like a fairytale. The thing is…I’m falling for the real Paris too. Not just the postcard perfect version.


Paris Bridge


London is big and interesting and has so many kinds of neighborhoods. There are double-decker buses, unmistakable bridges, and a culture that enjoys some afternoon tea. To ride a double-decker and feel like it’s no big thing or cross an internationally recognized bridge and not blink an eye might just make me feel like a local.

I want to be in central London and instantly recognize where I am and how to get to point B from point A. And I want to know exactly where the best fish and chips shop is and frequent it. I freaking love fish and chips!


London Fence


The dream is to not feel lost, but to be part of the city. To fit in and not need my GPS. Bonus points if I can be recognized at my favorite spot (that I haven’t found yet).

What I don’t want is to become jaded. I still appreciate the beauty of Amsterdam and I don’t want that to ever fade. While I don’t want to gawk at the Eiffel Tower every time I see it, I still want to appreciate how French it is and join in on the festivals that happen around it.


Eiffel Tower Paris


While these other cities will probably never feel like home, I want them to feel normal and a comfortable place to be in. Travel is an amazing thing to experience and to fall in love with cities is one of the best feelings. Can’t wait to adopt Paris and London and find spots that are my own!

Have you ever felt so comfortable somewhere that isn’t your home? Where is that place?

Pin it if you share that goal!

Life Goal: To Adopt 3 European Cities



How to Survive Your First Trip Home as an Expat

How to Survive Your First Trip Home as an Expat

Planning your first trip home to visit after a year or two can be so many things! For me, it was exciting, stressful, scary, calming, familiar, and so much more that I couldn’t possibly explain, though I did try! I’m used to my new home, the customs, the food, the people, and I didn’t know how I would fit in back home or what the experience would be like.

Uncertainty is very normal. But I can assure you of two things: you will easily be able to adapt back to your home culture with your favorite foods and people, and it won’t be nearly as bad as you might think. Everyday habits and relationships you had might feel the exact same as when you left.

So, based on my experience on going home to visit about 2 years later, I give you my best advice on how to make it as awesome as possible!

Planning ahead is key


Euro Change



If you still have an bank account at home, move some money into it so you can easily access ATMs and use a local debit card with no worries. We use Transferwise which is amazing! After using it for 2 years, I can say it only gets better! Just be sure you have a current debit card and know your PIN number.


plane wing

Travel Insurance

If you wouldn’t normally have access to health insurance, then I highly recommend getting some travel insurance. Not only will it cover things like lost luggage, but the right one can cover accidents or illness that happen to you! I almost used it in the United States…the land of absurdly high healthcare costs. But I got over-the-counter medicines instead. I did email them to ask if I would be covered in my case, and that assured me that I was, that I just needed to keep the receipts. That piece of mind was well worth (what I consider) a cheap price! World Nomads seems to have great reviews and is who we used for our coverage.


Cell Phone

Cell phone plan

After failing so miserably at this, I hope you learn from my mistakes! Figure out your phone situation before you leave. Are you okay with going WiFi only or will you need a SIM card with the ability to call and text while having data? The AT&T and Verizon options were so not helpful in the U.S. so I would look elsewhere to find the right plan for you. Personal hot spots are pretty popular, and I know The Planet D loves KnowRoaming, so everything is worth looking into what fits you best.


ebags luggage


We left some things in storage when we left the United States because we didn’t know what kind of space we would have in our new place. So, we used the bag-in-a-bag trick! Pack a smaller bag in a bigger bag, then you have two suitcases to bring stuff back in. We also did some shopping for ourselves, and grabbed some food favorites as well. Those bags were certainly PACKED when we came back to Amsterdam.


Friendship Shot

Planning your time

This might be the hardest part and also the part that upsets people the most. Determine where you will be, and for how long and plan your visits around that. Just don’t overdo it!! You need time to yourself, and time to not be “on”. Honestly, it’s exhausting going from place to place and seeing almost everyone in your life within a week or two.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s an amazing thing to see so many people in a short time, it just takes a lot of energy. One way that helped us was to have a cookout at a local park and invited everyone to bring a side dish while we made hot dogs. It was a great way to see so many people, have a great event outside, and to see all the new babies! And since it was in the one town we spend most of our time, many people knew each other, so it was a great catch-up for them too. Win-win!

Of course family lunches and dinner are awesome, too. Seeing family and eating the home-cooked food you’ve probably been craving for as long as you’ve been gone is pretty much heaven! Don’t forget to add snuggle time for any pets that have missed you while you’ve been gone.

Tip: Don’t forget to take photos when you visit home!

Eggs and Grits

Do you need to prepare for culture shock?


I’ve asked around about this, and for us, after living in Europe, we did not experience culture shock. Quite the opposite actually! It was like we went on a month-long vacation and came back. EVERYTHING was normal.

I mean everything. From driving, to ordering my usual meal from Chick-Fil-A. Navigating the roads I grew up on and spend my adult life on took zero effort.

Many things were simply automatic…like muscle memory. Unconsciously when driving to where we were staying, I ended up making a wrong turn because I was going back to our old apartment. That’s how normal it all was.

As Sean said “The weirdest part is that nothing is weird!

However, I’ve had friends from the same area who spend a year in Asia and came back and experienced quite a bit of culture shock. It seems that when the culture is that different, then you may need to have some time to adjust. But it also depends on the person as well.


Friendships from home

What to talk about

So…you’re back! You’re excited to share your many adventures! But don’t spill everything all the time. I mean, you want to know what they’ve been up to as well, right? Take a breath and let your friends and family talk. I’m sure they will have plenty of specific questions for you!

I can almost guarantee one of those will be “Are you fluent yet?” You might also get “When are you moving home?” Yep, things can get heavy pretty quickly.

The best thing to do if you’re not sure, is just to say it! Being so far away is a big deal for the people who love you. Be honest. I’m not sure when or if I’ll move back. I mean, I’m happy now, and I have so much more traveling to do. That’s one of the reasons I moved, so that’s what I’m doing!

Don’t bug your friends and family to visit you. Of course you can mention it, but don’t pressure! Not everyone has the means or time to take a long or far trip. It might be a good idea to let people know if you can host them. We had a bit of a misunderstanding at some point, because we are currently not able to host in our tiny place, so just be clear about it!

Ask about them! Have they been on a trip recently? Have kids been born since you left? Marriages? New jobs? Have they moved homes? There is so much to ask them! See if you can find out 3 new things about them, and really listen.



Photo courtesy of TravelShoot

Prepare for the guilt

Do your best to not feel guilty for living the life you live.

This is so hard!

Yes, you are away from friends and family who love you and you love them. But I believe they want us to be happy. At least I hope so! This makes us happy. It’s a pain in the butt sometimes, but for the most part, I am the happiest I’ve ever been. If they know that, hopefully they will be happy for you.

Do your best to not feel guilty for living the life you live. Click To Tweet

How to Survive Your First Trip Home as an Expat

Have you already been back to visit? I’d love to know how it went for you on your first trip. Was it easy or did it feel weird?

5 Easy Day Trips from Amsterdam

5 Easy Day Trips from Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a pretty loveable city. When you visit the Netherlands, you should definitely spend time in this city, I’ve even created an entire city guide for you! While you’re based in Amsterdam, there are a few possible day trips that you shouldn’t overlook if you want a varied and enjoyable experience.

In the Netherlands as in the rest of Europe, it’s easy to hop from city to city and have an amazing trip. While there’s a bunch of things to do in Amsterdam when visiting, if you want to have a little more Dutch culture in your life, there are plenty of day trips to take. From the beautiful canals and houses of tiny Geithoorn, to the center of Dutch politics in The Hague, there are so many different varieties of day trip to choose from!



House in Giethoorn


This town makes everyone fall head-over-heels. Make time when you visit Amsterdam to visit Giethoorn, especially in the spring or summer. It’s a little farther away from the city, but I promise it’s worth it! From every angle you could easily create a postcard…it really is that pretty! It’s the village with no roads, and in this part of the town, it’s all about the footpaths and canals. Take your time. It’s not very big!

Tip: If you’re an early bird, catch a train as early as you can. But if you’re a night owl, stay as late at you can. Tourists are mainly around between 10 am and 6 pm.

Related: Day Trip to Giethoorn



Alkmaar Day Trip


This small town in North Holland is only about 35 minutes north of Amsterdam by train (which really is the best way to travel in the Netherlands). There are so many cute, adorable corners if you make your way from the central Cheese Market that makes Alkmaar so famous.

Tip: Take the canal cruise, just be aware of the super low bridges. We had to get on the bottom of the boat because the boat barely fit under some of the bridges!

Related: Alkmaar: Cheese Market in North Holland

Alkmaar: Canal Cruising in Low Places



Haarlem Houses on a Canal


I’ve heard Haarlem called the little sister to Amsterdam, but it really has it’s own personality. It’s beautiful, has a few of its own water ways, and a great market on the weekend. Haarlem is much quieter than Amsterdam, and there’s just something about it that exudes an incredible amount of charm. With a train trip that’s only 15-20 minutes, you can hop over to explore for an afternoon.


Tip: Haarlem has a beautiful Christmas market that is a must-visit if you’re in the area during the Christmas Season.

Related: Historic Haarlem


Utrecht Day Trip


If you adore canal-side drinking or dining, then you will love Utrecht! There is a lively area by the water with shopping and restaurants. Head down toward the water for a wonderful ambiance for a meal. For a different adventure, head up the 465 steps in the Dom Tower for an amazing view of the city!

Tip: For a unique experience, head to Belgisch Bier Café Olivier for a drink. It’s a bar that was converted from a church.

Related: Outside the Limits: Utrecht

The Hague

The Hague - De Passage


Seems like a lot of people overlook The Hague. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t seem like a place for tourists, but instead a place for politics. That couldn’t be further from the truth! There are beautiful quaint roads, awesome and unique shopping areas, great restaurants, and the nearby Scheveningen with its beach and The Pier.

Tip: Visit The Rough Kitchen in The Pier for amazing BBQ (American style)

Related: A Day in The Hague: Without The Politics


Rotterdam Day Trip


This port town has some personality! Stunning bridges, eclectic buildings, split-level outdoor shopping areas, and fun food halls make Rotterdam a very interesting place to visit. You’ll find mostly modern buildings due to the destruction during World War II. This is definitely a place to walk a bit, take a tram or metro, then walk some more. Just take it all in!

Tip: Take a waterbus…it’s fun!

Related: YouTube – Exploring Rotterdam // Girls’ Day! 

Those are just 5 possible day trips from Amsterdam, and there are many more cool spots to visit in the Netherlands! Amsterdam is a great city to explore for a few days, and with so many day trips, you could easily spend a week or more in Holland. What are you waiting for?

5 Day Trips from Amsterdam Pin