Everyday life, away from home for a year, with teens
I have to admit, it has been tough to establish a daily routine, which works equally well for the 4 of us. All the planning in the world, ahead of time, will not prepare you for what it is really like to be away from home. All the previous family vacations, do not equate to a long-term travel experience. I think you barely know your own mind, let alone someone else. There have been a lot of variables to content with!
Planning travel versus life on the road
By starting our journey in Canada, hanging out for the summer, staying with family, I planned for us to ease into our travel year. We enjoyed so many wonderful, warm days, with the people we love the most. Other than being guests everywhere we stayed, our routines and habits were much the same as if we spent the summer back home. We had familiar surroundings, along with family and friends we knew, loved and trusted.
The only glitch was that for our teens, this was not what we had promised. It was a turn in the road, they had not expected. Way back when we had first sold them on the idea of a year away, we thought that we would spend the whole summer at home, living in our house, enjoying our boat and our cat Lynch. Instead, we found a perfect tenant for our house, who needed to move in earlier, shortening our summer at home by a month. There was a cascade of changes that fell from that one decision. Nothing insurmountable or devastating, but I think, in hindsight, we had a shaky start.
On the other hand, our first big stop of Barcelona has given more than we had planned for:
- A political situation, which is one for the history books is unfolding on our doorstep. Our teens will look back, in years to come and explain, “I was there for that!” Catalonia’s battle for independence from Spain, is about as foreign to us as the language.
- We get to live in Southern Europe, on the Mediterranean during late summer and early fall. It is a unique experience to live somewhere, rather than just visit.
- Due to the wonderful world of social media, my son has been on dates with girls, my husband organized a presentation to a group of students learning English and my daughter went on a city tour with a young American teacher.
As we look ahead to some of our next stops, we are becoming better adapted to life on the road. Facebook expat groups are a fantastic wealth of information, if you put yourself out there. My husband has taken on the role of seeking guidance from people who are on the ground and know the ropes.
A typical day, living on the road
I equated this experience to camping. Everything is different, but the same. We need to cook, clean and eat. We need to do stuff, go places. We need to find and create forms of entertainment. None of these activities are different here, compared to back home. Yet, the way we do these things is different, sometimes very much so. At times, it is pure joy to experience the pleasures this new lifestyle affords and other times, I wish I was home.
What is better than what we could have imagined:
- Warm sunny days – I cannot get enough of these lovely days spent, just a short walk away from the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, we are probably the same distance away from the Pacific Ocean, back home, but our water temperature, clarity and the number of warm days, do not compare.
- Dining el fresco – seriously, life is spent outdoors here, at this time of year. Love it!
- The richness of the city – architecture, both historical and modern along with street performers at every turn and all hours of the day
- Culture – the museums, parks and markets as well as tours on the water, so much to choose from
- Access to everything – whatever we need or want can be had by walking or taking a train or bus
- Excellent public transit – compared to our little town in the suburbs
- Fresh, local, food & wine – oh my goodness, it is wonderful
Some things we need to adapt to
Laundry. It is not common to have a dryer to go along with the washing machine. While it may seem charming for tourists to see the laundry hanging from windowsills drying in the breeze, I don’t like this part of life here. The main reason is, in this crowded part of Barrio Gótico de Barcelona, laundry does not come back into the house smelling fresh. There is smoke, car exhaust, cooking smells, etc. which can make clothes smell worse than before they were washed. Therefore, I have brought the drying rack from our tiny balcony inside our apartment and have to monitor the air coming in from the door and keep a fan going. This system works fairly well, for small loads. Which means every other day I am moving around clothes through the drying system. We could use a laundromat, but it is fairly expensive. We did all 4 beds worth of sheets in one day and it cost about 20 Euros. Which is over $30 CAD and not in the budget.
Grocery shopping gets real pretty quickly when you have to carry everything for 1km. All those fruits and vegetables are full of water! I have never given a second thought to the weight of food before. I wheel it all to my SUV and drive it home by the bag full! No second thoughts, ever. When we shop here, it takes more planning and thought than I am used to. Which is just as well, because we don’t have a huge fridge and fresh food seems to spoil quickly. So we shop more frequently.
Costs are higher than I budgeted. This effects groceries and eating out, mainly. We are tempted to eat out more frequently than we do at home because there are so many interesting foods and restaurants we want to try out! As well, some common, inexpensive grocery items back home are crazy expensive here and vice versa. So we have to adapt. Under pinning it all is the relative weakness of the CAD to the EUR. Who could have predicted that? We are under spending on entertainment, so it all evens out.
Cooking is more difficult than I planned for and this kitchen is not as equipped as I am used to. The biggest problem, which we can’t change is – no oven! I didn’t fully register how much we bake and roast things. On the upside of this, we are keeping it simple. One pot meals are becoming a staple. They are easy to do, take less time and once it is assembled, I walk away and let it cook. I think this is a common type of meal here because in the grocery store, mise en place of onion, celery and carrots is chopped and packaged together. That is really convenient.
Privacy was a topic we had discussed as a family. But, you cannot really prepare for what having less of it, will be like. Since our living quarters are smaller than before, we are spending more time in close proximity to each other. In some ways I love this because I get to see and hear things that I would not have the opportunity for otherwise. I am part of my teenagers life in a way that is just not “done” back home. As well, they don’t have a social engagement for every moment they are not away at school, so even our schedule keeps us together more than our normal life. I’ve always maintained this was going to be a precious and special time, maybe not in every moment as it happens, but probably embedded in our memories of this adventure.
Just as we get used to everything new, it all will change again
As we get into the swing of things here in Barcelona, everything will be new again in a couple of weeks. South East Asia will be so different from anything we have ever experienced, just getting over the shock of it all, will be the first challenge. That is one of the reasons why we started here in Barcelona. As well, and more importantly, my husband needed to be close to Norway for these first months. Then he can turn his attention toward his business in China, as we get settled down there.
Along with the massive change in culture, some parts of life will become far easier due to the relative cost of living. We will be spending more time in hotels with breakfast included. Hounding my teens to get after their chores will go away for a while, whew! Everything will be cleaner and tidied in our living situations as we gain more space and in many cases have daily maid service.
Not everything will be easier. We will have 2 big problems to contend with. Drinking water and mosquitos. These are more than a nuisance, they can be life threatening. We have had our vaccinations and will get one more in Bangkok, as well as malaria pills, but we still can’t drink or eat anything and everything, like we can here in Barcelona. We have to be vigilant with bug spray and sun screen. But, with less time spent on cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping, I think we can manage!
Final note – if you have been following this blog and our journey, you will notice that it has been awhile since I last posted here. We’ve had a couple of losses recently. Firstly, our cat Lynch went missing from my husband’s parents house. He seemed to have settled in very nicely and then one morning he went out his cat door and did not return. He was a really nice cat. Probably the nicest one I have ever met. We will miss him.
Then we got news that my 91-year-old grandfather had taken a fall, due to low blood pressure. The injuries landed him in the hospital. The testing he underwent showed that his heart was just about kaput. After some days it was decided to move him to hospice where he eventually passed away. It was a peaceful transition and his whole family, except us + his grandson, (who is staying with us), got to give him hugs and kisses, goodbye.
It was a strange experience to be so far away and wonder about a family member who has been moved into hospice. I found myself thinking about my grandfather and our time together, over the years, a lot. And at odd times of the day. That also got me to thinking of others who have passed and still others, like his wife, my grandmother who I never got to meet.
I think it will be nice to be here in Barcelona for Dia de los Muertos, (Day of the Dead) on November 1, 2017. This also happens to be the chosen day for the service back home. While I will miss this ceremony, I will be sure to incorporate this day of honouring and remembering my departed family, into my yearly routine forever more. While I won’t be able to cook all of Grandpa’s favourite dishes this year, I will when I return home. Being in my kitchen making pirogies and cabbage rolls, frying white fish, these are the things that bring me close to him.
As we continue on our journey, I am grateful for so many things. Mainly, I am happy to be with my husband, my son and my daughter – enjoying their company, their laughter and stories, experiencing the world with them. If I knew my time was limited, (ironically it is), I would choose to do this very thing we are doing, together.
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