In my last post, I shared a bit about the effect all of our travel (and the corresponding transitions) has had on our kids. These changes are not all sunshine and roses. It’s not easy to start a new life in a new place within a new culture.
But it’s completely worth it.
Why? Because the change in context provides the foundation for a new perspective.
We are now about 1.5 months into our 4th experience living abroad with our young children. Previously, we have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador (for three months in the winter two years in a row), and then this past winter/spring in San Ramón, Costa Rica. Now, here we are in beautiful Manizales, Colombia.
Our life here is simple. Our kids are attending a nice little school where they spend their days playing and learning entirely in Spanish. Michael and I continue to do much of the same “work” that we would otherwise be doing in the U.S. Consulting, writing, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.
But as we kind of wiggle our butts into this new cozy chair and start to get comfortable, I keep thinking about how different this life feels even though so much of it is really the same. Overarching life things like mental load, housing, and transportation are tackled so differently.
Simply because we’ve changed our context. And it’s changing our perspective.
It is so much easier to be here than it is to be at home! I just don’t have any of the weight on my shoulders that seems to sit there perpetually when I’m home. I’m convinced it’s because we aren’t in our own house. The result is the shelving of the never-ending to do list that goes along with it. We obviously have things “to do” here too, but it’s different.
Some of the thoughts from an average day home in Colorado.
-The car is so filthy, I should really wash it.
-Damn, those bushes are on their last legs and my neighbors probably hate us that they grow over the sidewalk.
-Why does our driveway have so many cracks?? I’m sure it’s the ants living under there. I probably should have done something about them when I saw them three years ago.
-Ugg, SO many scratches in the floors. We’ve done so much damage since we got this place!
-Those blinds are still broken. I should get those fixed.
-When am I going to go through those boxes under the stairs in the basement? I really need to get that done.
-I hate this carpet. Carpeting is so gross.
Once we leave our home, POOF… those thoughts just disappear! (Except, when I wrote that thing about the bushes above, I remembered that damn, I forgot to trim them before we left!)
I don’t mean to imply that slow travel is a worry-free form of living. Of course it’s not. It has it’s own priorities and to-do lists. But it’s almost like the white noise of being at home suddenly gets turned off and you think, “ahh, that’s so much better” even though you never even noticed the white noise was there before. You know… a humming furnace in a huge building goes silent. And your body relaxes and you think, “wow, it’s so quiet now.”
That’s sort of what it’s like in this new context of slow travel abroad. Ahhhhh.
I love our home in Colorado. But. It’s so big and has so much stuff in it. (Even though we have been mindfully purging more and more over the years).
Of the four apartments we’ve lived in while slow traveling, our largest was probably 1500 square feet (with much of that used up in an “atrium” that we never bothered to furnish or actually use).
Of course, we’ve lived in small homes in the States as well, but those still had all of our stuff tucked away in closets, drawers, and garages.
Here, we have the simple/sparse furniture and supplies (sheets, towels, kitchen utensils, etc.) provided by the rental, and three suitcases worth of stuff. And that’s it. There is no box of memorabilia sitting under the basement stairs waiting for me to sort through and organize. There are no bushes that I need to feel guilty about not having trimmed.
And I never think about carpeting. Except, I really miss having a vacuum. In my opinion, brooms are just an efficient way to drag hair and dirt across the floor and you can never count on them to really get the job done.
Every single time we’ve gone back to our 2800 square foot home after one of these slow travel abroad experiences, I have bemoaned the size and clutter of our house. While living abroad, we’ve happily lived in apartments that are 900 – 1500 square feet many times and have had all that we needed. (Except maybe my food processor and Vitamix… I really miss those).
I think about all of the families living all around us here in the apartment building where we currently reside. This is just normal.
Mode of Transportation
I have two friends back home in the US who ride their bikes with children aboard ALL over town. It’s just what they do. Even though I’ve dabbled in the practice with our crappy bike trailer over the past couple of years, I have just not been able to make it my lifestyle.
Generally, even though walking and biking are things that I genuinely enjoy doing, we still use our car pretty often. It’s there. It’s easy. And it feels like we’re always running late for wherever we’re going, so we just need to hop in the car and go.
But when we’re living in another country, we don’t have a car. We have to walk (or take a bus or a taxi). We walk everywhere, just like so many other people in this city. In this context, walking is just what you do.
In Cuenca, we lived on the 4th floor of a building in the historic center and walked about 1 mile each direction (up and down a serious staircase in addition to the four flights to our apartment) to take our kids to their school each day. So, we’d take them there, walk home, then return to the school to pick them up again later in the day. It meant we walked 4 miles every day, plus wherever else we went beyond our apartment. And in those days, we were often both carrying a child for at least part of the trek.
In San Ramón, we ended up in our unfurnished apartment in the city center simply because it was the only thing we could find that was walkable. Otherwise, we were beholden to a bus system that ran unreliably every 30 minutes or would have had to buy a car, which just wasn’t on the table for us.
Here in mountainous Manizales, we are in an apartment building at the top of a very steep hill. We are guaranteed to increase our heart rate on any walk home. And I walk a little over a half mile each weekday up a significantly steep hill to grab a bus down to the kids’ school. I sort of dread it before I leave the house, but feel badass each time I get to the top.
And as I’m walking these streets of Manizales I’m often thinking to myself, “why don’t I do this more at home???” If I were to drop the Manizales map and everywhere I walk here down on a map of my neighborhood back home, I bet I’d be shocked to see just how many places I would walk here that I just never do there.
Things that seem too far away there are probably even closer than places I walk to almost daily here.
This different context gives me the perspective that I need. If I can do it here, why in the world would I not do it there??
Here, I really miss some of the luxuries I have at home when it comes to preparing meals. We follow a mostly whole foods, plant-based diet, and there are certain ingredients that I’ve come to rely on. A few that come to mind (which Michael brought back for me in a suitcase after his trip to FinCon in the States last week) are organic natural peanut butter, whole raw cashews, and nutritional yeast.
Those things are not impossible to find here in Colombia, but they are very expensive for not very much. They’re actually all pretty pricey in the States too, but less so than here. We were able to get raw cashews at a Walmart-owned chain in Costa Rica, and fresh ground peanut butter was available in little plastic baggies in the market in Cuenca. I think I may have even seen small containers of nutritional yeast on the shelf at a small “natural” store in San Ramón.
I miss being able to just grab those things from the store as needed. Those things and other luxuries like flavored vinegars or tempeh.
But, that’s just the reality of this new context. It forces me to adhere even more closely to the whole foods standard I already strive for. There are lots of beans here, but I have to plan ahead because they’re all dry and I can’t fall back on a can of precooked beans in a pinch. I can get super cheap brown rice or barley, but so far no farro or hemp seeds.
But oh well, right? Because I also don’t have access to the slew of delicious but super unhealthy foods that are at my fingertips in the States. No “meatless tenders”, coconut-based ice cream, or soy yogurt. Those things are easy and tasty, but their absence from our lives is only an improvement on diet, not a detriment.
Pace of Life
The result of everything I’ve shared above results in a slowing of our pace of life.
If I know I have to walk to the grocery store, I allow myself at least a two hour window to get it done. In the States, I tell myself I can be to the store and back in 30 minutes. Which of course I never do and it ends up making me late for whatever is the next thing on the list.
I have to hang the laundry, and it’ll take at least a full day to dry (1.5 days if they’re jeans or towels). So laundry is no longer being “pushed through” with a gigantic pile to fold at the end of laundry day. I just do what I can when I can as the drying rack becomes available.
If I know I’ll be taking the bus somewhere, I figure it’ll take anywhere from 20 -40 minutes to walk to the stop, wait for one to show up, and then take me wherever it is that I’m going.
Weekends are no longer about yard work and to-do lists. They’re just about coming up with something fun to do as a family. Here in Manizales, that’s probably visiting one of the many free nearby parks, walking along the main boulevard Sunday morning to people watch (or more accurately, bask in the onslaught of compliments about our divine children), or seek out a cool place to explore within a couple hours of the city.
These days, just about the only thing I ever feel rushed about is making sure we don’t run out of soy milk for our coffee in the mornings.
So is the new context and resulting perspective worth all the trouble? Totally.
Isn’t it what so many of us crave? An opportunity to step outside our box (it helps when we’ve also managed to escape the rat race), and look back at ourselves and our lives from a new context and a new perspective.
That, at least, is one of the reasons why we’re here. Thank you, Manizales, for providing the backdrop for a refreshed look at our lives.