For the longest time, the term expat seemed really odd to be. I don’t know why, but I imagined it to be a cheeseburger joint down the street. Hey Jimmy, want to go down to EXPAT, grab some burgers and beers? You know… ba-da-bing ba-da-boom? It’s probably because I’m crazy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an EXPAT burger chain started taking over the globe – all I ask is for a 1% stake. Please?

Joking aside, being an expat is an experience few people will know. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Karen and Jacob about their recent Facebook status change Hey everyone, we’re expats now! to understand what it’s like to leave everything behind and start anew in a land unknown. Let’s see if they plan on opening an EXPAT burger joint in Amsterdam.

When I lived in New York, I happily worked a lot of overtime and extra jobs if it meant having extra money for doing things that I wanted to do (like travel), even at the cost of not having much of a social life or doing work that didn’t engage me fully.

Up Up and a Bear: Please tell me a little bit about yourself, your background, where you are now and what you’re doing.

Jacob: I grew up in Eastern Kentucky, which isn’t very glamorous. I’ve always been very school-focused since I was determined to move somewhere else and get a good job. That was how everyone said you were supposed to do that. At some point I decided to go for academia. Along the way, I worked as a carpenter a few summers, interned as a civil engineer, and then picked up computer science before settling on math. I think I always just wanted to solve problems and I didn’t realize there was a career for just that.  I finished my Ph.D. last year and got a postdoc here at Amsterdam. Other than that, I really enjoy music (playing and listening), outdoor activities (hiking and rock climbing) and just traveling in general.

Karen: I am originally from New York City.  I’ve also worked a lot of odd jobs, including working as a barista at an Italian café.  I’ve found the social sciences quite fascinating, which lead me to graduate school in the social sciences. I finished my Masters degree and thought, what now!? Jacob had gotten the job offer in Amsterdam after less than a year of us dating, and I had to make a decision if I’d come with or move elsewhere. After carefully considering my options, I decided to come with.  Within a month, I found my current job in Marketing.

 

jordan

jacob and karen chilin’ like a villain in Jordan

 

Up Up and a Bear: Wow! The brainpower here is palpable. Jacob, I like how you just “picked up computer science” like it were some kind of toy. I understand that you’ve only recently become expats, moving to Amsterdam to begin your new life here. What was going through your mind when you first seriously considered doing this?

Jacob: What was going through my mind was “Oh my god, I got a job offer!” Location was a secondary consideration at that point. The market for postdocs in math is very competitive and I was overjoyed to have found not just a job, but at a good university with people I’d want to collaborate with. When I came for the interview in Amsterdam, Karen made me promise that I would take some time before deciding if they offered me a job. I totally failed on that promise. Then afterwards it hit me that I was moving to Amsterdam. And that was exciting.

Karen: I thought it was crazy. I was at a major crossroads towards the end of grad school while applying for jobs out West. I felt a bit lost as I was just trying to figure out a lot of HUGE questions: what kind of career will I enjoy, which specialty areas am I competitive in, what city should I move to, and which cities are more cat-friendly? I was getting quite nervous while Jacob applied for jobs every night all over the world, not knowing if our relationship could withstand us being in separate cities.  Around the time that he was going to the interviews, we had really hard discussions about whether I’d be willing to consider coming with him, which he didn’t expect. However, I did the research and I felt like there was a small possibility I could find a great job. I felt absolutely CRAZY committing to move with him six months ahead of the actual move, especially considering we were moving to Europe with a cat. I had NO guarantee of finding work, I didn’t speak fluent Dutch, and we’ve only dated a year at that point. Not surprisingly, my family wondered about how sound this decision was.

living/working abroad has taught me that you can travel and do incredible things while still working full-time

Up Up and a Bear: Karen, we have a cat too! And we love him dearly. I’m glad you considered him one of your HUGE questions. I can’t even imagine having those tough discussions about the possibility of splitting up because of the move. But I’m glad you guys had though conversations. Communication is so important for something like this. And I’m sure you were both excited and nervous. What was the final straw that broke the camel’s back and made you decide to move here?

Jacob: The job offer. The job hunt for postdocs begins in October and many people don’t hear back until March or April. It’s typical to send out over a hundred applications and then there are the follow up emails and networking. All of which is happening while you are writing a dissertation and the whole process is grueling. When I had an offer that I couldn’t refuse in December, I took it on the spot.

Karen: It was realizing that I was qualified for jobs that I’d be happy to have realizing how much Jacob would support me. I started applying for jobs in the Netherlands very early on with the hopes of securing something before we moved. As I boosted my skills, I kept getting interviews and I realized that I could move to the Netherlands with Jacob and find a job that would help me advance my career. Similarly, I went through something difficult that fall/summer and Jacob was there for me 1000%. I’m a type-A person who plans for EVERY bad alternative, so I ended up thinking a lot about the stability of our relationship, how much he would support me in the worst times, and a very long list of questions. I came to the conclusion that this relationship wasn’t worth losing over something as stupid as distance and it was an incredible opportunity to live abroad that I didn’t want to miss out on. I’m so happy that I took the risk although I know it looked terrible to everyone else who cared about me at the time.

 

central park, new york - this is where Karen used to hang

central park, new york – this is where Karen used to hang

 

Up Up and a Bear: Again, I think you guys did an amazing job communicating. Finding a job is an incredibly difficult task, but having your relationship tested is even tougher! Well, I’m glad you were able to come out of that and be stronger than before. What were your initial expectations of life as an expat in general, and specifically being an expat in Amsterdam?

Jacob: In 2014, I spent two months in Italy as a visiting scholar at an institution (which is when Karen and I started dating incidentally). From that experience, I realized that living abroad isn’t necessarily that hard to adjust to (if you’re moving to another Western country). I figured it was just a question of adapting a bit on the day-to-day stuff.

Karen: I didn’t have any experience being an expat as the only time I lived outside the US was studying abroad in college, which is so different. I expected expat life to be hard based on everything I read (after scouring the internet for any/everything), especially when it came to your social circle/family. I had few expectations about the Netherlands specifically when it came to being an expat although I researched the hell out of everything – because I felt like I knew nothing. I expected the housing market to be not easy, but not difficult. The one thing I did expect was for the job market here in Amsterdam to be especially difficult.

I feel some sort of forward momentum and looking back will turn me into a pillar of salt. I guess it’s the wanderlust buried deep under my skin

Up Up and a Bear: It seemed like you were at very different ends of the spectrum there. Now that you’ve been professional expats for some time, were your initial expectations correct? What, if anything, was not what you expected, blew your mind, or made you pleasantly surprised?

Jacob: Actually, getting used to living in Amsterdam was much easier than I expected. In Italy I bought my groceries at markets partially due to how great the markets are and how under-stocked the grocery stores seemed. I was very pleased that grocery stores in Amsterdam were more similar to the ones in the U.S. that I was used to. I was surprised at how boring the Dutch food is, especially as someone who is allergic to dairy. I see Dutch food as being mostly sandwiches or croquettes, which is a fancy word for “deep fried thing.” I find croquettes borderline disgusting.

things have gone in a way I could never have predicted (Amsterdam!?) and I’m honestly happier than I’ve been.

Then there are shocking traditions, like the infamous Zwarte Piet, a holiday character that is portrayed with black face. I was also surprised how much it rains. It rains all the time, and it seems to be impossible to predict when it’s coming. It’s so hard to predict, there is an app just for telling you if it will rain in the next five minutes or not.

The best part of being an expat here is how easy it is to travel all over the Netherlands and Europe. So many weekends, we can just catch a train to see a new city, rent a car to drive to a different country, or even fly to a new country. Traveling for three hours can land you in the middle of a different country and culture. In the U.S., those kind of abrupt changes don’t exist.

Karen: I thought it would be REALLY hard to live there and it wasn’t as hard as I expected; although, the first two months were especially difficult after my work permit kept coming back with Jacob’s photo on it. The housing market in Amsterdam is pretty brutal and if you don’t have two incomes, it’s near impossible to find an apartment anywhere close to the city. Even if you have an appointment for a 10am viewing of an apartment the next day, people will sign the papers without EVER seeing the apartment the night before (I wish I were joking). Similarly, I was surprised by how strict the housing rules were, especially in regard to income requirements. In the U.S., I just wrote down my income on a rental form and as long as it seemed like I could afford it, few questions were asked. Here, they will verify everything and if you can’t back it up with a contract, you’re not getting the apartment. In terms of the job market, I feel like I got quite lucky as I found a job within a month of moving here, which is not typical. Typically, I’ve heard that it takes 2-4 months to land a job, so it surprised me how quickly I found a job that seemed to fit my skills quite well.

I’m so happy that I took the risk although I know it looked terrible to everyone else who cared about me at the time

I was surprised by how NICE it is working in the Netherlands. I’ve only worked in the US so I was amazed by all the benefits my job afforded me here in the Netherlands. When I was offered my job, they asked me if I was content with almost a month of vacation a year, which is fairly standard for professional jobs here. I started kind of stumbling over my words at that point, which the HR person interpreted this as me not being content with it. I actually told her that I wasn’t sure that I could use up all the days. Similarly, the quality/price of Dutch healthcare surprised me. For around 90 euros per month, you can get a very comprehensive healthcare plan, equivalent to the most expensive healthcare plan I’ve had in the US, where going to a family doctor is always free and the out of pocket costs cover most things.  As we learned from Jacob’s horrific bike accident, the system worked miracles; a similar accident in the US would have put us in medical debt.

I feel some sort of forward momentum and looking back will turn me into a pillar of salt. I guess it’s the wanderlust buried deep under my skin

Lastly, I didn’t realize how cat-friendly the Netherlands was! A lot of bars/restaurants (especially in Amsterdam) have housecats to help with the mice and many apartments actually don’t have a no-pets clause.  Even if there were, people often make an exception for a cat, which has never been the case for me in the US.

 

kentucky, Jacob's old stomping ground

kentucky, Jacob’s old stomping ground

 

Up Up and a Bear: I’ve only been to the Amsterdam airport so can’t comment too much on anything else, but I find your analogy of the croquette hilarious! I’ve been told many times about the great benefits of living in Europe: vacation time, health care, and ease of access to other countries. Your experience seems to be aligned with those thoughts. That’s awesome to know! If you could go back in time to tell your former self about what you know now, what would that be?

Jacob: Just because bikes are everywhere and they have an incredibly bike-friendly infrastructure does not mean that they are not instruments of death. Get in the habit of always being careful while biking. Also, go ahead and buy an umbrella. A raincoat isn’t going to cut it.

Karen: I would tell myself to stop worrying so much about every terrible thing that could happen. Although I consider my stress thinking/researching a positive thing as that careful planning has saved us in numerous situations (including from starving over Christmas Day in Eastern Iceland where most stores were closed!). I’ve stressed so much about picking the right path for myself to ensure that things turn out as I want; however, things have gone in a way I could never have predicted (Amsterdam!?) and I’m honestly happier than I’ve been.

 

can i come to amsterdam too?

can i come to amsterdam too?

 

Up Up and a Bear: I’ve been in a horrible bicycle accident myself so I can totally relate! Bike versus car? Bike loses every time! And isn’t it crazy how things turn out? Having detailed plans is good, but being flexible and letting things come as they are is a good trait to have too. Now, I know that expat life has been romanticized so much, but there are some definite drawbacks – or maybe there aren’t any? What have you come to learn of these drawbacks? What are some not-so-great aspects of life as an expat?

Jacob: Being separated from my friends and family by an ocean. While the U.S. is huge and my friends and family are spread far apart, I would still regularly plan road trips and pack a lot of visiting in. That isn’t feasible any more. Some of my friends have managed to see me when they come to Europe, but often that is just luck. I haven’t seen my parents since we moved and I missed spending the holidays with them. It will probably be a year before I see them again.

The best part of being an expat here is how easy it is to travel all over the Netherlands and Europe.

Karen: The biggest drawback is not seeing my family/friends and NOT being able to be there with them. This has been especially hard on my parents, who really miss me. I’m missing a close friend’s wedding this summer due to high travel costs. Even if I could go, Jacob couldn’t come with me. Similarly, my uncle died last year, which put me in a very hard situation where I felt the need to come back to go to the funeral. However, I knew that if I went back, I would have very limited time with my family: I would only have enough time to attend the funeral… Additionally, I just miss being able to spend time with friends in person. It’s not the same Skyping or chatting over Google. It will be 11 months since I last saw my parents when we see them later this year; his has been especially hard on my mom.

Just because bikes are everywhere and they have an incredibly bike-friendly infrastructure does not mean that they are not instruments of death

Up Up and a Bear: Isn’t it crazy how something as simple as being to see someone in person can have such a profound effect on our lives? I think we take so many things in life for granted and it’s only these experiences that make us realize how lucky we’ve had it. What do you miss most about the life you left behind? What don’t you miss?

Jacob: What I miss most is definitely the people I left behind. I don’t miss the car though, which is just a money pit. I also really miss Mexican food. I love Mexican food and it is very hard to get any here. And when you can, it’ll cost you. I also miss stores being open really late. When we chose our apartment, having an avondwinkel (evening store) nearby was very important to me. So many times I find myself craving something at some strange hour and I miss always being able to get what I need on a whim.

Karen: I’m with Jacob about missing people. I miss my friends and family so much. We’ve made some great friends here, but making new friends is not a replacement for your close friends. I also horribly miss Mexican food, so we end up seeking it out in the strangest places like Aachen, Germany. I don’t miss how car-dependent the US is. I don’t drive and it’s so refreshing to have access to GOOD public transit without needing to take Greyhounds. I ride my bike every day to work and 90% of the time, we take public transit when we’re not biking.

 

Jacob and Karen's current place of residence - Amsterdam

Jacob and Karen’s current place of residence – Amsterdam

 

Up Up and a Bear: Man… It would be so incredibly amazing if our public transportation system in the US were as good that of Europe and Japan. I would abandon my car immediately! And I’m glad we have such a diverse selection of cuisines in the US – I can’t imagine not having any Mexican food close by. Now that you’ve had some time to absorb the expat life, how has this experience shaped or changed your thinking about life in general and your own life more specifically?

Jacob: I could have answered this with the last question, but it seems more appropriate here. I don’t miss America. I miss some people who happen to reside in America, but I don’t miss it as a place or the culture. I’ve begun to feel unanchored and I hope to keep living somewhere new without retracing my footsteps. The thought of even living in a state where I’ve previously lived seems unbearable. It’s like I feel some sort of forward momentum and looking back will turn me into a pillar of salt. I guess it’s the wanderlust buried deep under my skin, but it’s more than that. The past is a place of wonderful memories, but I really live for the future now. The leap to move abroad has turned my life into a barrel rolling forward, and that’s exciting! I’ve fully embraced this feeling.

Karen: Living abroad has definitely opened my eyes to the work/life balance. I never had that in the US. Here, it’s a priority. When I lived in New York, I happily worked a lot of overtime and extra jobs if it meant having extra money for doing things that I wanted to do (like travel), even at the cost of not having much of a social life or doing work that didn’t engage me fully. The work culture and challenge of my current job has opened my eyes to find that balance, which has never been a priority for me before this. However, I must say that having a partner definitely helps. Since I’ve started blogging, the balance is again tipping the other way but hopefully I can make it work.

More generally, living/working abroad has taught me that you can travel and do incredible things while still working full-time. I’ve been reading travel blogs for a while now and I always thought I had to quit it all OR do something specific to travel in order to travel, but that’s not true. I’ve been amazed how much we’ve seen in the first year of living in the Netherlands and I’m excited for the upcoming year for this exact reason!

 

bologna, italy - Jacob and Karen's first trip together

bologna, italy – Jacob and Karen’s first trip together

 

Up Up and a Bear: Thank you so much for the insight and wisdom! It has been educational to learn from your experiences. I didn’t get to ask you about starting an EXPAT burger joint, but from what you’ve been hinting at, an EXPAT Mexican restaurant seems more appropriate.

To learn more about the expat life and follow Jacob and Karen on their incredible journeys, visit them at Wanderlustingk and Talespinning.

 

PIN THIS!!!

TO EXPAT OR NOT TO EXPAT

Share:
Reading time: 19 min

As you know, I went on a date with Kyoto a few months back. It brings me much sadness to say that Kyoto has gone on many dates… with other people in front of my back. *Side note: is it possible to be in front of someone’s back? I don’t see why not… Though I guess the meaning would be changed to “doing something inappropriate in someone’s face?” I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, one such date was with Aga. Is it obvious that I’m trying to form a support group for those with ties to Kyoto? Aga and I got to talking and the following is Aga’s enlightening thoughts. Let’s dive into it, shall we?

 

look at Aga, so full of life and happiness, be like Aga

look at Aga, so full of life and happiness, be like Aga

 

Up Up and a Bear: Please tell us a little about yourself.

Aga: My name is Aga. I’m an entrepreneur, coffee lover, alpaca hugger and photographer. Check out A Matter of Taste where I share my food & travel adventures. In February of 2015, I went to Japan with my husband and liked it so much we went there again in July/August.

 

wait for it...

wait for it…

 

Up Up and a Bear: Being an alpaca hugger is much better than an alpaca MUGGER, am I right? Hahaha… I take the resounding silence as your support for my juvenile sense of humor. Let’s move on before this sake wears off. So, how did you prepare for this trip?

Aga: For the first one we went hardcore – 3 guidebooks marked with post-it notes and weeks spent on online research (YouTube, tripadvisor, blogs), which resulted in a detailed plan in a pdf file. The second one was easier, we knew where we want to go next, had our hotels booked, but all details & what we’re going to do the next day were set in Japan, during the trip, every night before we went to bed. This was a much less stressful approach and I would recommend doing it this way – just know the basics and focus on details later on.

I cried at the airport when my time in Japan came to an end

Up Up and a Bear: Great advice, Aga. I also prescribe to that philosophy: pack light, know a little bit about where you’re going but let the destination tell you what to do next. That has typically worked out very well for us. Before your trip to Japan, what were your thoughts on the country’s culture, food, people, and their way of life?

Aga: It was always kind of a mysterious country for me – on one hand there is that amazing culture, so different from anything I knew from living in Poland and Australia. On the other hand I didn’t know what I should think about with all the crazy stuff – the fashion, TV ads and some really weird music. I didn’t really know much about the food either – just the things I’ve tried in Australia like sushi rolls, okonomiyaki made at a farmers market, ramen, udon and maybe some sweets. Having tried those, even if not very authentic, I knew I was in for a treat!

 

i feel like i'm watching a movie right now...

i feel like i’m watching a movie right now…

 

Up Up and a Bear: I just finished eating some delicious porkwood but you’re making me hungry again mentioning those dishes! What’s porkwood you ask? It’s pork that’s so hard it’s like chopping wood with your teeth. So you knew you were in for a yummy treat, what else did you learn while you were there to change your original assumptions?

Aga: Culture vs weird stuff – they’re both there and it’s easy to experience both or none, depends on where you go and what you pick to see. Food – so much better than I expected. I could praise it for days (Japan turned me into a rice snob and now I moved from buying cheap rice at my local supermarket to $35/5kg rice imported from Japan).

 

there i am!

there i am!

 

Up Up and a Bear: I have not seen anyone describing herself as a rice snob before, so thank you! Now I’m going to use it left and right. Beside from the rice-love discovery, what were some other aspects of Japan that you found surprising or interesting?

Aga: I think it must be the people. Everyone we met there was friendly, helpful and lovely. Even when we couldn’t communicate with words – who knew waving hands at each other would be such a universal language. We were often stopped by people wanting to just exchange a few words in English, to get a real life English-speaking experience. We probably said “Hello!” a hundred times when we met a big group of school kids in a folk museum. The surprising thing for me was that many elderly people were much better with English than the young ones! Or maybe young people are shyer.

just know the basics and focus on details later on.

One tip à propos the language – don’t start a conversation with “Do you speak English?” 90% of the people will say “no.” Just go straight into the actual question and you’ll see they understand and will either reply or help you with whatever you need.

Awesome people made our trips unforgettable. We were given a bottle of cold green tea by a shop owner and his family on a very hot day in Nagoya and felt like we’re part of the family. A man on a bike we met at the beginning of a hike came to see us again 2 hours later just to ask if we liked the walk and what we thought about the waterfall. A band performing in Himeji spotted us in the crowd and made an effort to greet us and ask some questions in between the songs.

 

when i grow up...

when i grow up…

 

Up Up and a Bear: That’s awesome! My own experience was very pleasant as well. The Japanese people went out of their way to be courteous to us. It was refreshing. Could you see yourself living here? Did you get the sense that it’d be easy to fit in, to find work, to get around?

Aga: Yes, yes, yes! I would love to move to Tokyo for some time. I don’t think I would live there for more than 5 years because I really like Australia, but up to 5 years… why not? Getting around is easy; work – you can always find it if you’re willing to make some compromises. Would it be easy to fit in? I think so. As I said, people are so lovely there, I’m sure they would help with this.

 

hey, I've been here too!!!

hey, I’ve been here too!!!

 

Up Up and a Bear: Please send postcards when you move there! I would concur with you about living in Japan. I would love to live there for a few years. And to that, what did you find most enjoyable about Japan and what didn’t you find enjoyable?

Aga: I truly enjoyed EVERYTHING: the food, the people, the cities, the nature, and the amazing Japanese toilets. I was even amazed by the 8 AM rush hour at Shinjuku station. And I must confess I cried at the airport when my time in Japan came to an end and it was inevitable that I have to go home.

just the things I’ve tried in Australia like sushi rolls, okonomiyaki made at a farmers market, ramen, udon and maybe some sweets. Having tried those, even if not very authentic, I knew I was in for a treat!

Up Up and a Bear: I would agree with you on all your points there EXCEPT for the madness that is the subway stations. We were so lost the first day or two. It was frustrating but I think we got the hang of it by day 3. I guess it just takes some getting used to. Speaking of getting used to Japan, you’re coming back there later this year, do you feel comfortable this time around?

Aga: Of course. I can’t wait to get there, see some new places, have some new interesting experiences and keep exploring & discovering.

 

beautiful bamboo walk

beautiful bamboo walk

 

Up Up and a Bear: What would you say to someone who is thinking about going to Japan but is hesitating?

Aga: Stop hesitating! (haha, obviously) But seriously, there is nothing to be hesitant about. It’s the safest country I’ve been to, the food is great, people are amazing and everyone will find something interesting there, no matter if you’re into nature/cities/weird stuff/food/history. All I want to ask is – why aren’t you booking your ticket yet?!

Up Up and a Bear: Well said! Thank you Aga for sharing your thoughts on Japan and I hope to hear more of your stories soon!

To follow Aga’s grand adventures through Japan, join her at A Matter of Taste. DO YOU SEE THESE AMAZING PICTURES? Get more on Aga’s Instagram @aga_amatteroftaste. Aga also does some amazing videos on her YouTube channel (see below)

NOTE: All pictures in this post belong to the insanely talented Aga.

Want to meet more amazing people? Read Dare to Dream – the Inspiring Story of Two Traveling Sisters.

Wherever you are right now, and wherever you’re going, travel on my friends!


 

PIN THIS!!!

KYOTO

Share:
Reading time: 8 min

To be honest, blogging takes a lot of time and effort. And it can be exhausting and frustrating at times, but whenever I get a chance to talk to fellow travelers, I regain all that deflated motivation. This is especially true with Stephanie and Sabine whom I’ve had the pleasure of talking to. Their energy is truly amazing and they’re an inspiration to young people everywhere. Please join me in getting to know these inseparable sisters, then give them a shout on their blog at The Sisters’ Travels.

 

IMG_9901

Stephanie and Sabine have the world in the palms of their hands

 

Up Up and a Bear: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves (where you are now, what you’re doing, how you got there, etc.).

Stephanie and Sabine: Hi everyone! We are Stephanie and Sabine. Although we were born two years apart in Wausau, Wis., we are twins in every aspect but age. It is comical for us that some travelers immediately ask if we are twins while others staunchly declare that we could not possibly be related! Well, just to set the record straight, we ARE sisters. In fact, we are best friends who just so happen to also be family. And we LOVE to travel. In July of 2014, we quit our jobs, canceled our apartment lease and 24 hour fitness membership, said goodbye to family and friends and invested our life savings in our dream: to truly see and experience the world.

Since leaving home, we have visited 42 countries and have lived in Italy, Austria and now Australia. Thanks to our 1-year travel and work visa, we are able to coach tennis and swimming in the Sydney area. In addition to planning mini trips throughout Australia, we have booked flights to New Zealand and Vietnam. Feel free to share in our “budget-friendly” adventures and discover how two girls in their 20’s live out life in a suitcase.

 

making new friends is part of the great adventure

making new friends is part of the great adventure

 

Up Up and a Bear: That’s awesome to have a sister who moonlights as your best friend! I have 2 nieces who are just like that – they’re also fraternal twins. Congrats on making the move to travel full time! You’re an inspiration to those who are wondering if they should do the same. But I’m sure this travel bug must have been with you for a long time. I understand you took a yearlong adventure with your family in a trailer. What was that like? How did this come about? Where did you go? What did you love about it/hate about it? Sorry… so many questions, so little time.

Stephanie and Sabine: Great question! This early adventure certainly played a significant role in lighting the travel fire within us! Raised in a bilingual household with both German and American traditions, the four of us kids (we have two brothers) often visited our German grandparents in Freiburg. So already from a young age, travel was a part of us. Moreover, we were blessed with incredible parents who had seen much of the world and had lived abroad together for several years before settling in the Midwest (U.S.). It was only a matter of time before they decided to move our young family from the freezing temperatures of Wausau, Wis. Instead of choosing a new destination, our parents left only their favorite things in storage, sold everything else and introduced us to our new home: a 39-foot-long travel trailer.

 

epic childhood time

epic childhood time

 

For the next year and a half, our mother homeschooled us while we traveled from state to state. Sometimes we only stayed a few nights to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans; other times, we reserved a campground spot for several months so our dad could work in the area. We visited most of the 50 states and experienced numerous rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center in FL; lived on a Navajo reservation in AZ and had an Easter egg hunt amongst the cacti; we saw the Grand Canyon, Mount St. Helens, Disney World, attended school in Germany and visited family friends in Switzerland, France and of course, Germany.

…we were even more fortunate to have parents who knew the value of self-motivation and hard work.

Although we were young—nine, seven (Stephanie), five (Sabine) and three years old – we realized this was a special adventure and enjoyed every minute of our new lives. There was something exciting about waking up in a different state and completing your homework by a swimming pool or golf course. We often had educational trips that involved visiting an alligator farm or picking oranges at an orange orchard. Every day was different! And the best part was having both of our parents at home most days. We felt like the luckiest kids in the world!

 

the bond that shall never break

the bond that shall never break

Up Up and a Bear: I think we need to stop this interview immediately while I look up a producer to call. This should be made into a movie. And it would be epic! Unfortunately, I have no clout so we’re going to have to abandon the producer idea and continue with our interview. So after that amazing trip, you settled down in Portland. Who came up with the idea to let go of this “normal” life to go on the road once again? How did that come about?

Stephanie and Sabine: Fortunately, we are almost like twins and share many things, including a similar outlook in life. In 2014, we lived together in a quaint downtown Portland, Ore. apartment and spent our days working long hours and visiting our boyfriends. After a while, however, we both realized that our dreams had changed and instead of wanting comfort and security, we longed to live abroad.

Always one to have a plan, we researched many post-gradate schools all over the world and determined that we would simply break away from our “normal” lives once we had found the right program. Finally, we discovered Florence University of the Arts (FUA) in Florence, Italy and spent weeks emailing our incredible contact there, Valentina Monacò, until we were completely satisfied this was the new adventure for us.

Our hope is to make people smile, laugh and ultimately realize that “travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you richer.”

A close family friend, Gaby (director of International Programs at a highly respected university in Kentucky), also spoke highly of FUA and made us feel confident in our decision to pursue a degree in Hospitality and Event Management. After the decision had been made, all that was left was finding an apartment in Italy (thanks to Couchsurfing we were able to find a wonderful housemate who needed more people to move into the spacious apartment she was leasing) and…yes, physically walking away from our lives in Portland. Although it was heartbreaking to leave our family and boyfriends behind, we truly believed that studying abroad in Italy was the answer to the nagging feeling that had begun to haunt us. Later, we realized that this feeling was none other than: the travel bug.

 

DNA = travel

family is everything

 

Up Up and a Bear: Hahaha, I love that last line. It sounds like the travel bug is this mysterious and foreboding thing of nightmares – sounds like a great line for a movie. Sorry, I’m still harping on about that… I’m sure the hardest part of letting go was missing all the family outings, weddings, birthdays, etc. How are you able to make up for this? Do you talk regularly with your family over the phone? Skype? Other means?

Stephanie and Sabine: Yes, exactly! Missing family outings, wedding, birthdays, etc., is a challenge for us. However, we do our best to stay up-to-date with all news back home by Skyping our family and closest friends several times a month. In addition, we have a great travel plan for our phone and can text everyone back in the U.S. for free! So, when we are not using Whatsapp (another incredible blessing!), we are communicating with our family via regular text messages. And the best part by far is planning our visits back home!

 

family adventure time!

family adventure time!

 

Up Up and a Bear: That’s awesome! Isn’t technology great? Can’t imagine what it would be like if you were doing this in the 70’s – slow mail for the win? Anyway, it’s clear that your parents prepared you well for the world with your resilience and mental toughness. How would you describe that? What would it take for others like you to make the leap and see the world?

Stephanie and Sabine: We are incredibly lucky to have parents who have not only supported our dreams and shown us first-hand how to live abroad, but have also equipped us with the mental tools and self-confidence needed to make our travels possible. However, we were even more fortunate to have parents who knew the value of self-motivation and hard work. They encouraged us to pursue our dreams and watched as we made our own mistakes. Through our love for competitive tennis (we played between four and six hours every day and then received full-scholarships to play for our Oregon universities), we developed determination, perseverance, resilience, a strong work ethic and goal-setting techniques.

…we both realized that our dreams had changed and instead of wanting comfort and security, we longed to live abroad.

For those who do not like tennis, these skills can be acquired through other sports, school, music, community service and strong family bonds, etc. The important thing to remember is that one can continue to grow and develop these traits. So, never despair if you feel as though you have not fully achieved mental toughness—it is an ongoing process! All you need to make the leap and see the world is a little self-confidence and the realization that you may fall a few times before you can stand. No one has the right to judge you; just be true to yourself and follow your intuition—the rest will fall into place.

 

all grown up and ready to take on the world

all grown up and ready to take on the world

 

Up Up and a Bear: Okay, so where do I sign up to be your manager for when you decide to be motivational speakers? Seriously. So, I imagine that having your half with you on this journey has been a blessing. Do you think you would have done this solo? How have you grown together on the road?

Stephanie and Sabine: Although solo travel is wonderful and beneficial in a different way, we knew that it was only something we would want to do for a short time (several weeks or maybe even a few months). Thus, when we planned an open-ended move to Italy— that meant we could be traveling anywhere from one year to many years—we both knew without a doubt that we wanted our best friend there to share in the incredible journey. And traveling together really has been a blessing for a number of reasons: we have our best friend and part of our family with us wherever we go; in terms of budgeting, everything is made simple because one of us pays in full for the airline tickets or groceries and then we evenly split the costs later; when we plan a new trip, it is even more fun to discuss the options with each other and get excited together; we feel safer traveling as two; finally, because we have similar interests and passions, it is double-the-fun having a partner-in-crime who also prefers spending money on adrenaline activities and the local cuisine rather than clothes shopping.

Dare to dream; discover yourself; delight in life.

Although we have always been best friends and share many of the same interests, this journey has enabled us to bond even more (I know, I know, our family will not believe it is possible for us to become even closer than we already are!). We have learned to detect when the other is uncomfortable in a certain situation and how best to help ease the feeling. We still have brief arguments over the silliest things (i.e., after doing the laundry, we both think that the extra pair of socks is ours), but have learned how to avoid big arguments and how best to make it up to one another if we are at fault. In other words, our strong communication has only improved to make it so that, even though we are around each other 24/7, we are smiling and laughing almost every minute of that time. In fact, we love being around one another so much that we have solidified our plan to later have our own families live near one another.

 

IMG_2697

sisters who travel together, grow together

 

Up Up and a Bear: Love it! You guys remind me of Tia and Tamera from Sister, Sister. The incredible bond you have with each other is truly special. You travel together and grow together. You had told me earlier about traveling as a gateway to finding yourself. I’m a true believer in that notion so I applaud you wholeheartedly. What have you learned about yourself so far from this journey?

Stephanie and Sabine: Oh, well thank you! This statement resonates strongly with us because we have chosen a less-used path for our 20’s: travel rather than working hard to move up the corporate ladder. In fact, we have coined the phrase, “Dare to dream; discover yourself; delight in life.” And by following our own phrase, we have sought to discover ourselves.

Through this illuminating experience, we have uncovered a few things. For example, we have learned that we are mentally strong and can live almost anywhere  even if the country does not speak English. Moreover, we can endure less-than-mediocre situations where the walls have holes in them (Latvia) and cockroaches freely roam the kitchen cabinets, floors, bathroom, living room and even bedroom (Australia). In addition to being able to adapt, we have discovered that family truly is the most important thing, period. Thus, when we eventually find our soul mates and settle down, we want to live near our family so that our kids can all be friends and see their grandparents on a regular basis. At the end of the day, home is wherever our family is—and that equals happiness. Although our plans are currently unclear (we may settle back in the U.S. or possibly even Europe), we know that we can handle anything and enjoy bliss anywhere as long as our family is nearby.

 

money above everything... wait, family above everything

money above everything… wait, family above everything

 

Up Up and a Bear: Isn’t that amazing that often we go far to find that special something only to realize that the things most dear to us are already right in front of us? But without the journey we wouldn’t know that. I’m really glad you’ve embarked on this journey. So financially speaking, what temporary jobs have you taken on this journey? How do they compare to jobs here (attitude of workers, customers, etc)?

Stephanie and Sabine: So far, we have had three temporary jobs—working nine weeks at English 4 Fun camps in Austria (one of our best experiences yet!!) and teaching tennis and swimming in Sydney, Australia. As you have probably noticed, all three jobs revolve around kids. Yes, we love working with them! It is incredibly rewarding meeting kids from all over the world and getting paid to play sports with them, help them improve their English (German and Austrian kids) and hopefully make a positive impact in their lives—because they certainly have left a wonderful impression on us. Not only do we relish working with kids, we have enjoyed having co-workers from Ireland, England, Austria, Georgia, Malta and Australia. Many of these co-workers have become close friends who we stay in contact with via Whatsapp.

…we realized this was a special adventure and enjoyed every minute of our new lives.

In addition to making many life-long friends, we have noticed that the temporary jobs in both Austria and Australia were more laid-back than our 9-5 jobs in the U.S. Now of course this is partly due to the fact that these jobs abroad are part-time or summer jobs. However, with that point aside, we have noticed that our co-workers seem to balance their work and social lives extremely well. (This is not to say that Americans do not do this, too! We simply have noticed that the focus is much more career-orientated back home and less well-rounded. Again, this is not a bad thing, just an observation.)

In terms of the customers, both Austrians and Australians have been welcoming and accepting of us. In fact, being American has worked in our favor because Austrians still think the U.S. is “cool” (we had numerous kids between the ages of 9-16 years old asking us with wide eyes about NYC, LA, etc.) and, according to one of our current employers here in Australia, some Australians prefer to hire Americans because they believe that the economic struggles at home have caused Americans to develop a strong work ethic.

 

squeeze in!

squeeze in!

Up Up and a Bear: You guys are living the dream! You get to travel with each other, work jobs that are rewarding, AND experience life to the fullest. I can’t tell you how much I admire your willingness to jump into the fray and go for it. And you know what, America IS cool, but every city/country around the world is cool in its own way. Each place has something special to offer. Now, tell me about your blog and what you hope to accomplish and/or inspire others to do?

Stephanie and Sabine: Our blog is called The Sisters’ Travels. It serves as both a way to fossilize our travel experiences and provide what we hope are helpful tips. We have written about topics ranging from the best and cheapest airlines to our favorite smoothie place in Rio de Janeiro. Our hope is to make people smile, laugh and ultimately realize that “travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you richer.” (Quote by anonymous.)

Travel is much more than just seeing Copacabana Beach or Christ the Redeemer for the first time. It is about immersing oneself fully in a new culture (i.e., meeting locals, trying traditional food, learning the history and traditions and practicing a few phrases of the new language). And in order to do this, one must learn to step outside one’s comfort zone. When people become too comfortable, life suddenly turns stagnant and boring. And what was once an unquenchable thirst for life, transforms into a routine sip that no longer excites the mind or body. Thus, our message is threefold: inspire people to travel, help them remove themselves from their comfort zone and reignite the thirst for life (i.e, appreciating the small things like a sunset or a delicious, authentic Thai meal; helping a person realize a new passion or career track, etc.).

…being American has worked in our favor because Austrians still think the U.S. is “cool”

Now, every person’s comfort zone is different. For some, planning a trip within their own country is a great way to break the mundane mold and enable them to refocus their thoughts and goals on what they want to achieve from life. For others, the comfort zone is extensive and thus, the step must be something drastic such as moving to another country. However, regardless of what the step is, we want people to honestly look at themselves in the mirror and recognize their own needs. Do not be scared of your dreams! Life is beautiful but short so people should not waste even a single day doing something that they know in their heart is not what they want.

Once you have had an enlightening conversation with yourself and know what your second step must be, FOLLOW THROUGH with it! Please do not just sit back and think, “I will try this someday, but now is not the right time.” Do not make excuses for yourself. No day will be the “perfect” time! You simply have to create a checklist of what you need to do to set off on your adventure and then follow through until everything on that list is done! And if you would like to have a step-by-step guide on how to “cancel” everything back home, research your new adventure, pack, and ultimately, begin this new phase of your live, stay tuned for more blog posts on thesisterstravels.com.

Happy travels!

XOXO ~The Sisters~

if you ever fall, let me carry you

if you ever fall, let me carry you

 

Up Up and a Bear: Thank you Stephanie and Sabine! It’s been an amazing opportunity to talk to you. I’ve been blogging now for 3 months and at times it gets hard to even want to continue, but then I talk to people like you and suddenly I’m infused with all this energy. I truly admire what you’re doing and I’m rooting for you all the way. I wish I had done this in my 20’s and wish more young people would take this opportunity to see the world. The expectations of life are hard to break indeed – but you did, and I’m sure you’re going to be much wiser for it.

To keep up to date with Stephanie and Sabine’s adventures, check them out at The Sisters’ Travels. They’re also on Instagram @fuchsy101 and @sabzy101.

Want to meet more incredible travelers? Read Beautiful Sydney, traveling with kids, and more with @hapnthings.

Who’s your +1 in this life’s journey? Whoever that might be, I wish you the best of times. Cherish each other and travel on my friends!


Share:
Reading time: 18 min
Page 1 of 71234...Last »
Up Up and a Share...