Family of Six Builds a Skoolie!

Bus Build Ep-01

And so it would read if it were a headline:  "Family of Six Builds a Skoolie"

For some, this may sound totally zany and left-field-ish.  For us, it's the farthest from it.  It's the kind of thing we do.  When we've discovered something that piques our interest, we just, sort of, do it.

Four or five years ago we ran across the concept of a "tiny house".  I loved the idea.  Lyns thought it was cool but was uninterested with four kids still at home.  So the idea lay dormant.  We went on with normal life.  We lived in several apartments and eventually bought a 2300 square foot house.  We love the house.  It's huge!  Perfect for our family.

But something has always felt off about this normal life we're living.  The 9-5 suburban thing is actually quite lovely, but it's also sort of - no fun.  I mean, sure, you make your own fun - and boredom sets into a boring mind.  But man, we were really growing tired of 9-5 on a shoe-string.

So the tiny house concept came up again.

We were now both interested.  What if we could build a tiny house big enough to accommodate our family.  What if we could figure out a way to make it work with 6 of us?

Tiny houses come in three basic varieties: small structures, structures on trailers, and structure on vehicles.

Wheels appealed to both of us.  If we're gonna do tiny living, we want mobility!  Nomadic life calls to us for sure!  There's too much out there!  We're not the roots types.  We're more the wings types.  So a trailer seemed like our best option.  We could build exactly what we wanted that way and be mobile.

In looking at hundreds of photos on Google and Pinterest, we started to get a flavor of what we preferred.  We like clean lines, crisp contrast in colors, bright spaces, medium greying wood tones, a lot of glossy white, and tons of windows.

The budget was starting to emerge.  We like pricey stuff.  Drat!

The question shifted from could we do this to how we might afford the look we liked without having to borrow to get it.

The key for me was windows.  Lots and lots of windows!  But they're expensive.  How in the word would we be able to get a ton of windows and stay within a reasonable budget.  Then I stumbled across the idea of converting a school bus, something that had always seemed anathema to me.  Hippy, dippy, balgona.  Was I going to get beaded curtains and an orange hand-me-down couch of many colors?

Then we started Googling them and looking on Pinterest.  Boy did we find a whole new world.

One important feature kept revealing itself to me.  School buses have windows.  Lots of them.  In fact, there are no spaces in some school buses that are not windows.  Looking online at what others have done with school bus conversions started to give me hope, and lots and lots of ideas.

I floated the idea to Lyns, who, after the same hippy dippy gut response I'd had, hit the web and saw for herself what can be done.  We were converted.  It was an instant change of perspective.  If we ever do tiny life, we're gonna do a bus.

That was about a year ago.

Financially, there was no way we were doing this for another 3-5 years.

Buses come in two varieties: dog-nose ones, which have a hood and look like every other school bus you've ever seen; and rear-engine ones, or pushers, the ones with a flat front like a city bus.  We did a ton of research and came down to a rear engine layout to best suit our family.  They're as long as they make 'em, and they afford you the most interior space.

You see, that's what sold us on buses; interior space.  It's already there when you show up.

When you build a tiny house trailer, you have to build the floor, the walls, and the roof and then you have to weatherproof all of that.  That's a lot of money and time.  Buses come with all of that done for you.  And they come with a ton of windows.  And they're so sturdy that they can support their own weight upside down.  And, for years and years they have met strict safety standards intended to protect school districts from liability in the event that little children are in them when there is an accident.  They're metal bunkers on wheels... with lots of windows.

So, the idea was pretty well honed.  Someday, years from now, we'll save up and buy a bus.  We'll convert it into a tiny house on wheels, and we'll live in it when the kids are all grown.

Then we decided to move Korea.

Strange as it may sound, this relates.

A month ago, we decided to move to Korea.  I'm going to be an assistant principal at an international school south of Seoul, and Lyns is going to be a secondary ELA coach.  This means we decided to sell our awesome house.  The market is so hot in our area that it seemed wisest to sell immediately regardless of a timetable on a departure for Korea.  With Covid still a major, major factor in the US, we were pretty sure the housing rush would die sooner than later.  Hence, our decision to sell now.

I randomly got on a local auction sight and checked out bus availability.  It was not a thought to buy one, I just keep an eye on them.  The rear engine models usually go for around $8000.  I saw the strangest thing!  They were going for around $1800.  I flipped out, and a plan was hatched!  I'd missed the July buses, but more came in August.  A local school district was flooding the auction house with buses.  This, perhaps, combined with Covid meant that we were able to get a bus for $1850!

And that brings us up to date.

We went up as a family and drove the bus back from the auction house and parked it in a friend's yard.  She offered not only to let us park it there, but to build it there, and to live in it until we go to Korea.  A miracle of miracles!

Our plan is to build it, live in it, and then store it when we move overseas so that we can have a home on wheels for our yearly summer visits to the US in the coming years. 

Our four kids have been raised to be equal contributors on family projects.  They all have beyond basic skills with power tools and a familiarity with material sciences enough to be able to contribute as full partners.  With this dynamic at work, the bus build will take a fraction of the time that most bus builds take.

And so, the headline would read: "Family of Six Builds a Skoolie"!

 

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How to Move Overseas: Got Kids?

Welcome to a new series on the practicalities of moving overseas! 
We hope our experiences living in four countries
can help you navigate your own journey of discovery!

 

I Small

How to Move Overseas: Got Kids?

Do you have kids?  No?  Okay.  Then you can just move overseas.  Enjoy.

Hold on!

We’ve actually made six international moves in our years living as international nomads.  The first two we made with no kids.  They were super easy.  There are some no-kids moving tips we would share with you, though, so don’t skip ahead just yet.  And if you have kids, these count for you too.

Sacred Objects

When you’re packing your life up and getting ready to make the move, it’s important that you identify a handful of sacred objects in your lives that will travel with you no matter where your adventures take you.  Depending on your tax bracket, this may include some pretty substantial items.  Some people always bring their car, even if it’s got the steering wheel on the wrong side.  They just want the piece of mind that comes with knowing your own vehicle.

That’s far beyond our scope.

We brought a teddy bear, a frying pan, and a set of silverware for each of us – one fork, one knife each. 

That was our list.

But it can be that simple! 

When we first moved overseas, we’d been married all of two months and had been grown-ups all of about two months and one day.  We had no real mass of possessions or life experiences to draw from to select sacred items, but we looked at our situation and walked through the exercise anyway.

The exercise goes like this:

Imagine yourself having the worst day of your life.  Nothing has gone right.  You’re suffering from food poisoning.  You can’t read a single word on any sign or package in the entire country.  Neither your mom nor your best friend can bring you a shake or a smoothie.  In fact, there are no shakes or smoothies for 700 miles, and those are in an adjacent country.  You’re sweating bullets.  You hate everything.

Now, ask yourself, what items around you from your normal life would make this situation feel better?

It’s not intended to be a profound question, but it can be.

The simple answer for us was a teddy bear.  I’d given Lyns a little teddy bear when we were dating.  It was supper cute and we called it Scraggles.  It was the first thing we’d both “Awwwed” at together.  That phrase right there nailed it for us.  If we could both look at it every time and say, “Awwww!” than it was a sacred object for us.

This sacred object helped us to relieve stress simply by being in its presence and giving it a squeeze.  It would bring a smile, and that smile would be contagious.

Our second sacred object was a single set of silverware each.  This is a little more profound.

Sacredness can transcend levels of perception and experience.

A proper piece of silverware can fill the grip with pleasure.  It should be weighted and robust, but still delicate.  The finish should appeal to the user, in my case, highly polished stainless with clean lines and no perceptible sharp corners or edges on the handle.  Just using it becomes a wonderful part of having it.

Then there’s its purpose.  Delivering food to your palette.

Not only a pleasure to use in itself, quality silverware goes on to deliver sustenance, nourishment, the pleasure of a wonderful experience in dining even for as mundane a use as something simple like rice and chicken.  A good piece of silverware makes the meal itself a better experience.

Maybe you’re with me.  Maybe this means nothing to you.  But given pause to reflect, I realized that I’d better bring a set of silverware from the US that I knew I’d love.  The right silverware could class up any meal!

To add a third layer, we’d just been married!  Part of newlywed culture in the US at the time was a gift registry for your wedding where people could go to a specific store and buy exactly the items you had chosen from a list of items you’d scanned with a little digital scanner that shot your coveted items like a little laser pistol.  It was tons of fun to set up a registry!  And how romantic!

We had 448 people at our reception, and a mountain of gifts.  That set of his and hers silverware, however, was the only wedding gift we brought with us to Thailand.  It represented a year of wedding plans and a lifetime of friends and family who’d supported us and who’d stood by us on our wedding day to wish us well. All other gifts were stored in the US for two years, unwrapped, unused, untouched.

That silverware proved to be exactly the perfect choice.  At the time we lived there, all silverware to be found in our experience was stamped from aluminum or steel sheet metal and was cheaper than the cheapest quality ever sold in any dollar store in America.  Having ours was a welcome respite when I really needed the tactile experiences of home, family, a shared meal, friends and family, and the love of a community that had supported me for years throughout my childhood.

Silverware?

Yup.

Nailed it.

This sacred object helped to heal the effects of stress.  It transported us to another place in another time with another world filled with warmth and familiarity on so many levels.

We also brought a Teflon coated frying pan.

This one was strictly practical.  We figured, if we are in a country where there isn’t a single non-stick pan in existence, and we’re newlyweds who would be learning to ruin all manner of foods anyway, let alone the cooking-in-a-foreign-country angle, we’d probably not want to be contending with the dried burned bottom of an untreated frying pan.

This sacred object would help us avoid the stress in the first place.  And if we came home frustrated with everything we’d encountered in our every interaction at every step of the way for the entire day, we could at least count on the dang frying pan to work!

It was a third perfect choice.

For our first move, that was it.  We fit our lives in four suitcases and a cardboard box and moved to Thailand.  Scraggles, our silverware, and our frying pan were really all we needed to survive.

We did bring along some sheets from the US too, figuring it couldn’t hurt.  That was also a good idea, but they lasted only a few weeks until the harsh laundry conditions rendered them scratchy and tattered in no time.  Thankfully, we just kept thinking of them as American sheets and the trick worked.  They felt like American sheets.

The idea of sacred objects is transferrable…

Moving with Kids

Everyone has sacred objects, and everyone should get to bring their sacred objects with them – especially kids.

When we moved back overseas after our round-trip Thailand experience concluded, we moved to Hong Kong with a 7-month-old.  There were certain items that we knew would qualify for him.  Some of them were specific to his preference, and some to ours but on his behalf. 

We knew we’d need to bring his favorite onesies, his specific pacifier (and a few replacements just in case) and a handful of small stuffed toys that would travel easily.  To meet our needs, we’d bring his Pack’n’Play, a fold-and-go playpen/crib popular in the US at the time.  We’d also want to bring our baby bag.  (I’ll spend a moment on the baby bag in a bit.)  And most importantly, just in case they didn’t have it in Hong Kong, we brought a solid supply of A&D ointment, a diaper ointment which we swore by if needed.  We brought – and still have, to this day, in spite of the fact that our youngest is 12 years old – a Baby Bjorn front carrier.  The base model, denim version.  Hands down the best baby carrier ever made.  And lastly, we brought a small baby backpack which I’d modified with 1990’s era US Army A.L.I.C.E. rucksack shoulder straps to fit my preference. 

We did bring Scraggles, again, but that was it.

This was a move with a 7-month-old.  Our advice: bring a comfort toy or two but focus more on your needs as a parent at the time – basic baby needs.  We ended up buying an awesome stroller in Hong Kong as he got older, and an abundance of toys and books, and every other thing one thinks a baby needs.  You’ll settle in to baby culture wherever you are and be just fine as long as you have your list of top necessities that will make you feel in control of baby-ing in faraway land.

What about older kids?

Moving on a bit.  We had more kids.  And the kids got older.  And we moved back overseas again, this time back to the US.  And because our employer gave us a great shipping package, we shipped everything we owned back to the US. 

What would we have brought had that not been the case?  One item.

Our double stroller, front-to-back model.  A must have.  They’re super practical in an East Asian city and in a North American mall food court.  The double-wide ones are just idiotic, to us.  They are completely impractical.  We’ve watched a thousand women struggle over or through, or around, or between a myriad of obstacle with those – not to mention crowds, throngs of people – and always wondered what the appeal was.  Our opinion, though, take it or leave it.  The front-to-back stroller model is a must.

Honorable mention goes to the Watson’s cut-to-size bandage strips!

We’d never seen these in our lives!

Imagine a band aid.  The imagine a roll of that same exact band aid that you can cut to length!  If you need a one-inch wide band aid, you cut it one inch wide.  What if you have a huge cut, say three inches?  Cut a three-inch wide band aid.  What if you need to cover your son’s entire calf on both legs to stop him from scratching a host of mosquito bites that are cracked, bleeding, and getting infected?  You cut a 10 inch strip and apply accordingly!

Sadly, we only brought two rolls to the US.  We tried in vain to have a friend send us more.  Oh, if only we’d known!  I still wish I could get those in the US!

Moving back to the US, you see, we knew we’d be able to get whatever we would need.  But if this had been another country, we’d have packed the same few items with the addition of our stroller:  Bjorn, Baby Backpack (with rucksack straps), Pack’n’Play, Front-to-Back Stroller, and our baby bag (more on this at the end).

Moving on.  We had more kids.  And the kids got older.

When next we moved overseas, we moved with four kids, aged 2.97, 4, 6, and 7 years.  This move was the first move where sacred objects for kids became a real consideration.  Here’s how it went for us.  We went through the same drill as we’d done for ourselves on our first overseas move, but we did it on behalf of our kids. 

We got a modest shipping allowance of a thousand bucks.  We decided we’d bring the custom-made toy shelf with the locking-lid bins that I had made for them years earlier.  Every toy that could fit in one of the sixteen bins was allowed to come.  From there, we had a mental list of the ones which we’d never get rid of (Thomas the Tank Engine, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Barbie, My Little Ponies, and Matchbox Cars to name a few).  We let the kids, however, have a say as to what went along to the Cayman Islands. 

As you might imagine, they picked all of those we’d already earmarked, and then loaded up the rest of the bins with the rest of the toys which we’d have done too.  It turns out we all had shared value for what was a bare-bones keeper inventory and what was expendable.

The key, we would suggest, is making the kids feel like they chose the toys.  The finite space limits them to a certain volume.  From there, it’s over to their imagination to come up with a way to fit what they want to bring, or to cast it aside and move on.

The toy shelf became a sacred item.  It was glorious, and compact, and promised years of fun ahead!

By this point, you might have thought, stuffed animals had become a part of life too.  We limited stuffed animals to whatever they wanted to bring.  Our overall inventory wasn’t so big that had to force a major cut, but the kids naturally made the cut themselves.  They were in a groove.  They each brought one or two, but nothing too much.

On the parents’ side of kid things:

We brought every stitch of clothing we could lay our hands on, and pairs of shoes for each kid plus sandals.  Having done our research, we knew that Cayman was going to be nearly double the cost of living we were accustomed to.  Kids grow out of clothes so quickly!  What we didn’t know, however, was that hand-me-downs weren’t really a thing on island in our community.  We did have expat friends who did so, but it wasn’t an established part of Caymanian culture to share used stuff, so thank goodness we had expat friends we could share with!  Thankfully, we have a friend who owns a kids’ consignment shop and she let us go on a shopping spree in her unsold inventory room.  Perhaps you could ask around for the same sort of deal near you.

This oddly specific sort of preparation can only be prepared for if you do your research, as a parent.  Find out what specific things you’ll need by getting involved in online expat communities and forums long in advance of your move!

Moving on.  Our kids got older.  When next we moved internationally, we had 5, 6, 8 and 9 year old children.  Sadly, our toy shelf had to go.  We did not get a return shipping allowance.  We spread all the toys out throughout our luggage evenly distributed by weight and ditched the shelf.  The toys were sacred enough, shelf or no shelf.

The more we’ve moved, over the years, we’ve found, the fewer items our kids hold to be sacred.  Even now, as 12, 14, 15, and 17 year-olds, they still insist we keep the toy inventory.  They still get them out occasionally.  It’s cute.

Raising kids internationally, you’re likely to find, however, changes the landscape of family and individual values.  Internationally mobile kids value time and relationship more than they value stuff.  Everyone picks up the odd item here or there, and in our case, from different countries.  But rather than becoming laden with more and more stuff, we have become lighter and lighter and less and less burdened by things. 

Before moving on, there is one sacred item that we decided to bring to Hong Kong for ourselves – another honorable mention.  Our king-sized foam mattress.  With one baby and another on the way, we decided it was worth sending our super nice mattress to get us through sleepless nights for a period of who-knows-how-many years.  It was just wonderful.  Another perfect pick.  And of course, Scraggles.  He’s come everywhere with us, to this day.

The Baby Bag

And one last word on our baby bag.  Take it or leave it.  We learned in years and years of diaper changing in countries around the world that we needed four basic things:

L.L. Bean Back Pack – the one with two big pockets and two smaller ones.  Durable.  Comfortable.  Reliable.  Guaranteed for life.

Changing Pad – a stuffed vinyl pad, about 24x24-ish, which tri-folded into a convenient 6x9-ish package tucked inside a small pocket on the baby bag.

Wipes in a Hard-Side Container – we were a Huggies wipes family for the duration of our diaper years.  The containers are bulletproof and the wipes are mild and smell reasonably subtle.

A&D Diaper Cream – a must have.

That’s it.  The rest of the biggest pocket was stuffed with diapers to meet the demand for whatever time frame we were out.  One pocket held snacks.  One held a change of clothes for Mom, Dad, and Baby.  We always had burp cloths with us too.

Simpler is always better.

What About Schooling?

There are four basic options for schooling your kids overseas.

International Schools – International schools are institution which claim varying levels of prestige in varying contexts.  There are three basic tiers. 

Tier one schools are the schools staffed mainly by expats with mostly expat students.  They are usually vastly more expensive than any other option.  Diplomats and Military kids usually go to these as well as really wealthy local families.  Everything is done in English and curriculum is usually British, American, or International Baccalaureate.  Almost all kids are expected to fly the nest and change the world as adults.  These are truly world class schools.

Tier two schools are staffed largely by expats at upper levels and may be more 50/50 at the teacher levels, expats and locals.  Most kids are locals, but with a robust expat student body too, usually.  Everything is done in English, and the curriculum is usually patterned after something more local-ish with some American-ish organizational structures.  These are good schools which cater mostly to lower-income expats (a term relative to the uber-wealthy expats who can afford tier 1 schools) and upper middle class locals whose kids will likely stay put but at the higher levels of local society.  Expats from these schools will likely go back to their parents’ home country.  These schools offer a great world-experience to expat kids.

Tier three schools are run by locals, for locals.  There may be a heavy sampling of expats at the staff and student level, but usually not more than 10% or so.  Not everything is done in English.  Not every kid who comes is going to end up profiting in adult life from their association with Tier three schools.  They a great option for a local family, but for expats become more of a cultural experience than an educational one.  A lot of Tier three expat kids end up supplementing their education with a little extra online or at home.  These schools are the cheapest ones.

Private/Religious Schools – there are a handful of religious schools usually set up by missions organizations for the kids of missionaries.  These schools are usually pretty close-knit and mostly closed-community enrollment.  Not to say they wouldn’t welcome other expats – they usually do – but the vision is not world class education.  It’s school for missionary kids.  Some are really good institutions.  Others are good enough.  Others may need some supplementing at home or online.

Local Schools – usually meant as a cultural experience.  Most expats who send their kids local do so for the morning and then home school or virtual school them online in the afternoons.  This is a great social experience but can be almost without merit academically in regards to future institutional educational aspirations.

Home School/Un-School/Road School/ Whatever-Y-Wanna-Call-It School – this is the option many people go with if they favor independence or if budget or predictability are at issue.  These options require you to do your homework before leaving.  None of them are free, though some states have online virtual schools that are free – do your research! – and may be completely paid for by the state government.  I know Florida has FL Virtual School, FLVS.  Poke around to find out.

As with any other item involving your overseas move – get online and start asking people who already live there!

And a last option- if you go work at a school, your kids often go for free!  Not always free, but usually at least deeply discounted.

How do you pay otherwise?  Will your work cover it for you?  Will you be making enough to cover it yourself?

What About Insurance?

Medical and Life Insurance are available for expats!  Look ‘em up!  Some may be from your home country, others may be from travel companies, others may be found in your host country.  In three of the four countries we’ve lived in medical coverage was gloriously and conveniently provided by the government at little to no cost to the patient.  Guess which one did not provide for the welfare of its own people!  Thailand, China, The Cayman Islands, the United States.  Big shocker.  Of course, the US.

Kids with Special Needs?

Families with children who have special needs live in every country in the world!  If you’re worried about making the move with a family whose landscape includes this dynamic, you simply have to choose.  Are we going overseas or are we not?  If you’re in, get online and get hooked into the communities that are already in place!  Start asking every question that you need answered before you can feel good about the journey ahead.

Medical needs are often easily solved, if a bit frustrating.  Most countries will have what you need, but not always what you’re used to finding in terms of service or comfort.  Good news: it’ll likely be pennies compared to what you’re used to spending.  Wheelchair access in developing countries can be frustrating in major cities and completely absent in smaller cities and certainly in small towns and rural areas.  Be prepared with a solution of your own.  Ask around about employing a driver and a car for the years you’ll be there.  Sounds absurd but may be far more affordable than you could ever imagine.

Educational needs are often left unmet.  If you’re hoping to find special needs school resources that will be tailored to your child, you’re likely not going to find it internationally.  Look anyway, but be proactive and be prepared to find disappointment on this one.  Be prepared to solve the problem before going.  Online, homeschool, international co-op.  If the move is worth it to you, then solve the educational need yourself.  Be aware, though, trying to throw a student with special educational needs into a general population at an international school and hoping for the best can end in major embarrassment and frustration, expulsion, leading to disillusionment with the whole living overseas experience in general – even if that’s not specifically a reasonable connection to make.  If you know your child has special educational needs, be real with yourself and with your potential educational providers!

Bad Overseas Day

And so we come to our last point for moving with kids (or without kids).

You are going to have bad days.

You are going to have days when you hate your new host country.

You’re just going to hate everything about it.

You must stop now and give yourself permission to have a bad overseas day.

For us it started as a Bad Thailand Day.  Some days we just hated the place.  Everything.

Years later, our second country overseas, Hong Kong, we had Bad Hong Kong Days.  Now, they were fewer and way farther between because we were no longer brand new baby expats.  But we had Bad Hong Kong Days.

And then, country number three, Bad Cayman Days.  Ugh.  Some days we hated it.  but, here’s the thing.  This rarely happened.  We were old pros!  But they happened.  And it was okay.  And we knew it was ok.  And we gave ourselves permission to swim in it.  Till our fingers got all pruney.

But here’s the second trick.  Yes, give yourself permission to have Bad Overseas Days, but then, remember, as you recover front hem, that you had bad days at home too.  Days when you just couldn’t win.  Don’t compare you worst overseas days to the good ones back home.  Anything would look bad compared to those.  Bad Overseas Days are just part of a landscape of days that you’re living and they happen to be overseas, so some stuff is heightened.

Don’t lose heart!

And when your kids have Bad Overseas Days, teach them to label them as just that.  A Bad Thailand Day, for example.  Thailand takes the blame on those days!  Your kid gets a free pass!  Let them learn how to seek refuge in a free pass.  Be loving and forgiving and encouraging when they need it – young and old.  Kids are people too!  And help them transition back to the world of the everyday when they are ready.


How to Move Overseas: It's a GO

Welcome to a new series on the practicalities of moving overseas! 
We hope our experiences living in four countries
can help you navigate your own journey of discovery!

Suitcase

 

It’s a GO

There is a moment when you make the final choice.  It’s a GO.

Prior to that, the posture related to the decision is more of a dance.  Some things draw you toward it, others push you away.

Once you’ve made up your mind, though, from there on out, everything about the move becomes a step toward it.  For me, this is when the fun begins.

I love moving.  It clarifies for me what about my life is important.

I grew up on a small horse farm in Pennsylvania, with an idyllic childhood.  I had great parents, good relationships with siblings, and a supportive community of family, friends, and neighbors.  It was the kind of childhood a person might never want to leave.  For me, though, it was a wonderful foundation – for a launchpad!

I left home at 17 to join the army and have traveled the world ever since.

But what does that sort of decision mean you’re leaving behind.

In my case, everything I had ever known.

I knew I wanted to be a soldier since I was a little kid.  The spark had carried me through my childhood and had prepared me for that moment when it was a GO.

In the military world there are two designations that are used on evaluations, GO and NO GO.  It’s that simple.  I have internalized that over the years.  It has helped to remove an untold volume of stress in my life.  If something is a GO, then I’m all in.  If it’s a NO GO, then the stress is off until it’s a GO.  It’s a binary state.

That mindset has helped me in the years since I served in the military.

Go to college while I’m in the military to save time and money? It’s a GO.  After that, it’s just a matter of going through the checklist until you’re done.  I finished my AA a few months before leaving the military.

Get a four year degree?  It’s a GO.  Another checklist.  Another degree.

I am fortunate to have married a woman who is right at home with this mindset.  It has made our marriage a thing of beauty.  We don’t stress about things.  It’s a GO/NO GO evaluation.

When we first moved overseas to Thailand, the decision was pretty quick.  It was an in-the-moment kind of thing, and it set us on the course that our life has taken ever since.  We eventually moved back to the US for a time, had our first son, and then came up with another opportunity overseas.  This one involved interviewing on site in Hong Kong.  They wanted us to come immediately.  We spent a few days there and it was obvious to us that we'd fit.  It was a GO.  Three months later we were signing a lease for an apartment in Discovery Bay, an outlying island in Hong Kong.

“What about your kids?” some people asked.

This is the part where you might start to think, "You moved overseas with kids?"

Simple answer.  Yup!

We look at it this way: People have children in every country around the world.

It sounds stupid to say it that way, but sometimes the simplest things go un-considered.

People in Hong Kong have children.  Surely you can get baby shampoo, diapers, and toys there too!

We got some pushback from family members again.  This was another example of people not saying what they're really thinking.  "Is it really good for kids to move around during their childhood?" really means, "I'm going to miss seeing my grandchildren grow up."

Is it really bad for kids to move around during their childhood?  I guess the argument could go either way, like anything else.  But for us, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.  Specific to our story, we worked with youth and families in Thailand.  Our job was literally to organize events for young people to participate in for fun and community building.  Right away we got the very best impression of kids who are being raised overseas! 

Kids who grow up internationally mobile are called Third Culture Kids (TCKs).  The term comes from the dynamics of living between their home culture, culture number one, and their host culture, culture number two.  They live in their own mix of internationally mobile young people, the third culture.

As newlyweds, after only a month or two of working with TCKs, we had a conversation that went something like this:

"TCKs are so cool!  I want to raise our own kids as TCKs."

"Me too!"

And that was it.

It was a GO.

We ended up doing just that and have never regretted the decision.

We'll cover moving overseas with kids more in-depth later, but , yes, we moved overseas with kids.

A Checklist

Once you decide that moving overseas was a GO, it’s all a matter of completing a checklist.

Where do you get one of those?

You have to make it yourself.  Maybe we can help.

There are dozens of tasks that you have to accomplish before you get on an airplane and settle into a bag of peanuts at 30,000 feet.

Neither of us were to-do list people.  We loved writing a list, but we never really got a kick out of checking stuff off a list.  That has changed over the years.

Once you’ve decided it’s a go, you will have to write a list of things to accomplish.  Just start writing stuff on a piece of paper.  We’ve always use a composition book or a spiral bound notebook – whichever happens to be laying nearest to the conversation.  Then it becomes the official book of whatever that decision is until we are done with that experience.  I can imagine an animated movie about notebooks lying around hoping to be chosen to be the to-do list notebook.

Start with whatever big items come to mind.  Write those down, and then as sub-points emerge, write those down too and connect them in some way to the main points.  Re-write the list as it starts to get out of control.  Eventually you may want to put the items in a digital format, maybe a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet.  This way you can add items without having to re-write them again and again.

This checklist will begin to drive your conversations and your actions.

The checklist to move overseas starts out pretty simply:

Leave normal life in home country

Start new life in new country

From there, you start to build the personalized list which fits your situation. 

In many cases, the first move is actually out of a current house and into another house in order to make the overseas move happen.  This staging area is often parents’ house.  Because this is a whole move and not just a half-way move – even though it may seem like it - this move comes with a thousand items on its checklist. 

The three basic items are these:

Pack up and store everything you’re keeping

Get rid of everything you’re not keeping

Pack up everything you’re bringing with you

Boy is there a world of difference between those three distinctions!  Over the years, our family has made six international moves.  Each one has been very different, and each one has contributed to a painting of the perfect spectrum from keep everything to get rid of everything.  Even moving overseas – if you do it enough times – becomes a journey in itself and you grow and change over time doing it.  There are several different paradigms.

Store Everything

Our first move overseas we kept everything we owned.  We didn’t get rid of a single thing.  We had a distinguished older lady in our church offer us her entire basement to store our belongings.  She confessed to us the day we moved in that she had a nightmare that we piled all our junk in a huge stack in one corner and bugged out of town leaving her basement looking like a war zone.

Far from it.

We had steel shelving which we set up in four rows.  We filled these steel shelves with 18 gallon blue Rubbermaid bins all inventoried and organized by bin number.  In between the steel shelving we slid mattresses and larger furniture items.  The entire cube of belongings was roughly 15x15x7 feet high and was covered with a massive tarp for good measure.  It looked like a perfect cube of library shelves.  She was relieved and impressed! 

We then moved to Thailand in four suitcases.

Ship Everything

When we moved back from Thailand two years later to retrieve our belongings, we made a similar move but in the converse.  Instead of storing everything we’d accumulated over the years living there, we shipped everything we owned back to the United States, effectively adding another 50% to our inventory.

We sold some furniture because it didn’t fit in our budget to crate those larger items, but we crammed three huge crates full of all manner of other belongings including knickknacks, bikes, and a guitar.  The only reason this shipment was a possibility is that our employer offered a generous separation allowance as we transitioned out of the community.

This felt lovely and was a luxury we never expected.

Store Some, Ship Some

A year and a half later, we found ourselves moving back to East Asia, where we made ourselves at home in Hong Kong.  This time we stored some and shipped some.  Our employer told us we could have a non-specific shipping allowance to bring what we wanted.  “Be wise” was our only instruction.  We picked through our belongings and chose a certain few items – including an excellent memory foam mattress – which we thought would really make our house feel like a home.

We boxed up our shipment lovingly and prepared to store the rest.  In this case we kept just about else everything we’d accumulated over the years.  This time another close friend offered us half a two-car garage to keep our belongings.

We spent two years in Hong Kong making a pretty decent living and built a lovely home around host of matching furniture and decorations.  When returning two years later, we shipped it all home again.  All of it.  Even half used toilet paper.  This added to our inventory again, effectively doubling our original complement from our newlywed years.

Things were starting to get cumbersome.

We did the same thing when we moved overseas again, this time to the Cayman Islands.  We stored most of our belongings and packed twelve foot lockers with some luxury items from home: pots and pans, blankets and sheets, towel and clothing, kids favorite toys, etc. – to ship to Cayman.

Sell it All, Ship Nothing

We lived a comfortable but spartan life there, accumulating very little.  Houses come furnished there, mostly, so we accumulated no furnishings.  After living there two years, however, we could afford to ship nothing home at all.  When the time came, we sold everything we’d shipped, including two sacred items: our beautiful pots and pans from our wedding gift registry, and a beautiful and highly functional toy shelf with latching toy bins.  The toys we distributed evenly throughout our luggage, but the beautiful shelf had to stay.

Coming home this time we had a light load.

So, which is our favorite?

Of course, we can’t tell you what to do with your life’s inventory, but for our money, we’ve come full circle on a journey that has delivered us firmly in the get rid of everything camp.  Moving around the world mostly in suitcases has been freeing.  Each time we returned to the US we brought more stuff with us in some measure except for the last time.  And that last time was the most wonderful of all.

We have since learned that the stuff we own, the stuff we surround ourselves with can begin to own us, can begin to surround us.  We have begun to travel light.  We moved around the US a bunch of times in between our overseas years, and each time we shed a massive fraction of our belongings.  The first major shedding was a full 60-70%, just before gong to Cayman.  After that we did another 50% between three houses in the coming years. 

We recently embraced downsizing as a way of life.  It just made sense to do so.

If we had 200% of our original inventory at our height, we probably now only have 25% of that same amount of stuff.  We now keep an inventory of only those things which are highly practical, and relatively worthless to us – couches and chairs of little value, ready for Goodwill if we leave again – and a complement of some sacred items we’d pay to store – an antique secretary, a hand made hutch, and old family photos.  The rest is destined for the thrift store at some point; just a matter of time.

While we’re certainly not experts on downsizing – Marie Kondo is, if you want to look her up! – we embrace the principles of simple living now in a way which has freed us of our very human obsession with possession.

How to Pack

This brings us to the nuts and bolts of packing.  We’ll look at the shipping/storing paradigms and offer hints.

Storing at Home:  boxes, tape, sharpies, labels, packing paper and 18 gallon Rubbermaid bins

Buy a hundred of the same size boxes.  We used the medium boxes at Home Depot.  Buy 12 rolls of clear packing tape.  Make everything you own fit in these boxes.  Use half-sheet labels and sharpies to clearly mark the general gist of what’s in each box.  If it’s too tall to fit in a box, nest them inside one another and tape them around their perimeter before closing and taping the top flaps of the tallest section.  Buy huge rolls of brown packing paper found at Home Depot to firmly pack everything in its box.  We usually get at least two of these.

The trick here is uniformity.  When you store things in a storage unit or a garage, or wherever, the boxes will all stack perfectly because of the uniform dimensions.  Those boxes which end up being several boxes tall will fit right in a stack with the other singles without any noticeable deviation from the uniform shape and size of their neighbors.

A major benefit to using medium boxes is that you can’t overload them with books and make them too heavy to move, or so heavy they crush one another in a pile.

Another item we’ve used over the years is the 18 gallon blue Rubbermaid bins.  We have about fifty of these.  They never break and they keep everything protected against moisture, or flooding as once happened to us.  We lost everything we owned to a burst pipe that wasn’t in a Rubbermaid bin.  Pack and label these just like a box.

You can number your bins and boxes if you’re really into organization.  This will allow you to inventory your household goods and access them from overseas with the help of a friend if needed, as was the case when we asked a friend to ship us all of my rock climbing gear to Thailand.  He simply went in our storage area, found the correct bin number, and shipped our stuff.

One significant adaptation you can add to your cardboard boxes is a liner of huge clear trash bags.  Buy a few boxes of 50 gallon clear trash bags and line each box with it before loading it full of items and packing paper.  This will waterproof your belongings.

Shipping Stuff – add clear garbage bags!

Shipping stuff is done the exact same way as storing stuff.  You can do it yourself, or you can pay a company to do it.  We would recommend one significant difference, however.  If you’re shipping stuff in cardboard boxes it is essential to add clear trash bags as mentioned above.  Before loading each box, put a clear 50 gallon trash bag in it like it is a trash can.  Then load your goods as you normally would.  When you’re done, get all the air out and tie the bag before you tape the box and label it.

This will protect your goods from seawater, something which intrudes on your containing in unfortunate circumstances.  This happened to us in two of our six international moves.  We learned from our first time and never had anything ruined again. 

That first time we sent M Bags filled with books to Thailand.  They’re just huge white canvas bags that the mail service will give you.  We just filled them with books and returned them to the post office.  Oyaboya.  One arrived in perfect conditioned.  One arrived filled with hundreds of pounds of waterlogged books.  We came up with a strategy to fix that too.

Books were a large part of our job, back in the day.  We traveled with a pretty extensive library.

If you’re shipping books, you can buy milk crates from a dairy.  We got forty or fifty of them for a buck a piece.  We lined these with clear garbage bags, filled them, tied the knot in the bag, and then slid the whole crate in boxes we’d purchased online that were exactly big enough to fit a milk crate.  It was flawless.  We never had another book ruined again.

We also began packing our dishes in the same manner so that they’d be protected from breakage.  Brilliant!  Never broken a dish since.

Baggage Only Moving

If you’re moving overseas in suitcases only, there’s a trick.

Go to Walmart and buy the black plastic foot lockers in the automotive section.  These measure exactly one inch less than the maximum allowable luggage dimensions for air travel.  They’re hard sided and come with latches which you can lock with zip strips or fasten shut with a cheap carabiner.

Load these foot lockers the same as suggested above, using clear trash bags as waterproofing inside.  These are big enough you can use a few different clear trash bags inside so that you can section your items off.

If you buy two per air traveler, you can pack as much as you want in them within the weight limit.  We have six travelers, so 12 lockers.  We ran out of stuff to put in them because we had so much space!  When you arrive overseas, they stack easily in the open position, nested inside one another, to be kept for later.  Or, as we did in the Cayman Islands, they make perfect foundations for kid’s beds if you throw a mattress on top of a few of them lined up next to each other.

An alternative to footlockers is the traditional luggage many people have.  There’s one genius trick here too, aside from clear trash bags.  When you are loaded up and ready to go, you can chain all your suitcases together – in our case 12 of them – by using the handbag clip found on the top handle.

Most suitcases have a small strap with a fastex clip for hanging your purse off the bag.  You can extend the handle on a second suitcase and clip it in the first suitcase purse carrier.  Lay them down together until the lean on one another at a 45-degree angle.  Then you can just keep adding more bags.  If your bags don’t have clips, use heavy duty string. 

We did this for years.  I would string two sets of six together, and then I could pull one luggage train and Lyns could pull the other. 

What about escalators?  Believe it or not, you can walk right on them, crazy as it seems!

Carry-on Only

And honorable mention goes to carry-on only travel.  This isn’t for moving but is a great trick for travelling for shorter trips, and worth mentioning here.  Whittle down your travel inventory to fit in a single carry-on.  In our case, we fit six people’s worth of travel items in four carry-ons.

Let’s be real, Lyns gets her own.  As any woman should.

I then carry family toiletries and my own stuff, if it’s domestic car travel, and no toiletries at all if it’s air travel.  We just buy toiletries wherever we arrive.

The kids then share half a carry-on with a sibling.  The biggest and littlest share, and the mediums share.  This way there’s enough physical space.  Big clothes and little clothes together, and all medium clothes together.

Everyone wears one pair of shoes only.

Et voila!  Travelling made stress free!  No baggage to check, and so little to carry that it becomes a pleasure to move through a foreign transport system without a care in the world for stuff.

Now What?

So now you’ve packed, stored, and shipped what you need.

There's one more question, though.  How do you know what you'll need when you get there?

A simple answer.  You have to ask around.  Get involved with your employer or with Facebook groups or online communities that live in your specific destination and start asking some embarrassing and intimate questions.

Perfect examples:

Do they have feminine products like you're used to using?  We brought a two years' supply to Thailand.  At that time, they did not sell what westerners are accustomed to.

Favorite deodorant or toothpaste?  Ask!

Silverware like you're accustomed to?  Ask.

Teflon coated frying pans? Ask!  This one is very important if you're accustomed to using Teflon.

Kitchen spices?  Ask!

Underwear in western sizes? Ask!  You may need to bring a two year's supply.

Jackets and hats in your size?  Ask!  Will you even need winter clothes?  Ask!

There are a hundred items you may want to consider.

Once you're all packed and stored and shipped, what’s next?


How to Move Overseas: The Decision

Welcome to a new series on the practicalities of moving overseas! 
We hope our experiences living in four countries
can help you navigate your own journey of discovery!

 

HK

The Decision

Now it’s time for the decision.  What will push you over the edge?

Lyns and I are pretty decisive people.  We often look at each other, in much the same way we did 20 years ago when we first moved overseas, and just decide to do something - like, right then.  Then we just knock it out.

But what will your decision-making process look like?  Not everyone can just decide on the spot.

There are a few keys to making a big decision like this, some questions to ask yourself.

Do you want to do this?

Sounds pretty basic, but it’s important.

Why are you considering this?

A career move?  Adventure?

These are two very different things.

What about this decision really stokes the flame for you?  If the things about this move that make you excited are worth the disruption to your normal life, then you’re probably on the right track.  Upward mobility or a gold star on your resume – are they worth it?

If you’re in a relationship, is your partner on board?

Are you both in?

Are you both being honest?

We've seen hundreds of couples who love what they do, love living overseas, and love all the ups and downs that come with it.

But, we’ve seen a lot of people make the move, slog it out for some time, and then end up separated or divorced as a result because they came to find out along the way that one of them was never really on board.

Honesty and communication are key to couples making the move.

What's the worst that can happen?

We have thing we do that helps in this moment: Worst Case Scenario.  We'll ask ourselves, what's the worst that could happen?  Then we answer it, out loud to each other.  We go back and forth trying to out-worst-case-scenario each other.  Doing this is a light-hearted way to get the fears out there - just name them.  Like a lot of things, once they've been spoken they're not so scary.

We joke about crazy stuff, and then we back it down to realistic worst-case scenarios.

Realistically, the worst case scenario in an overseas move is that you end up having to come back to the US.  You may have spent a ton of money making the move and end up right back where you started.  And what have you lost?  Money, and maybe a lot of money.  You may feel embarrassed for things not panning out.  You may feel a sense of failure for not making it a success.  These are the same risks that you face doing anything new in any context, and they are very real, but remind yourself: if you could experience these same scenarios in your house right now, then they're not all that tied to an overseas move after all.

And, for us, the most important question…

What if we don't do it?

We've started to think of things differently over the years.

For us, the biggest risk in making big decisions or big changes is what happens if we don't do it?

What if we don't take the plunge?

What if we go on with life as normal and always wonder what might have been?

Once we started asking these questions, and genuinely started feeling the answers outweighed the risks involved, we started to look at big risky moves in a completely different light.

People often ask, where do you see yourself in five years?  For us, the question began to take on a different flavor.  Where will we be in five years if we don't make this huge move?  And once we started having kids, we began asking, what kind of life will our kids look back on if we don't do this.  Will we be robbing them of something profound?  As you might imagine, we always side with the risk of doing the huge thing.  Missing out is too great a cost for us.

Pros and Cons

If there's still a cloudiness around the decision, we’ve actually sat down, at points, and done Pros and Cons lists.  It sounds like a pretty basic strategy, but it helps to clarify what’s out there.  It may not be a simple scale where you weigh the two against one other - "8 of these and 7 of those, the theses win it!" - but doing a pros and cons list does help to crystallize what about the move you consider positive and what you consider negative.

Be honest with a pros and cons list.  There are going to be a lot of cons.  Put them on there and think through them.

If you're a couple, the Pros and Cons list may bring to light very different perspectives.  Packing up a house to move, for example, is something I love to do!  I know now, after all these years doing so, that it's one of my favorite parts.  I love transitions!  I love packing!  Lyns hates it.

We sort of picked up on it and worked through it for our first move, but once we sat down at some point and put the words on a list, we realized we were total opposites.

That's okay.

The list helped to crystallize that for us.  I am now the exit transition liaison for our family.  On the arrival end, though, Lyns lights up.  Setting up a new space and getting into the rhythms are her thing.  It works out nicely.  I spend my entry transition getting to know the new country's geography and topography so that we don't get lost.  Lyns settles us in to our new home.

Another benefit of a Pros and Cons list is that it helps you to explore things that are truly going to be negative.  It's a virtual disaster, meaning it's a disaster which is experienced in virtual terms - in practice terms.  You get to think through each negative part of your experience before it gets there.  Of course, there will be a host of things you can't foresee (more on these later), but the ones that you can foresee will be thoroughly thought through. 

You know you will miss your friends and family, for example.  So, you can come up with strategies that will help you navigate that portion of the experience.  You will lose your entire support network.  Your air conditioning guy, your mechanic, your insurance, even your bank account.  All that stays behind, and you'll have to reconnect with all of those supports in a new place.  That's going to get frustrating but knowing that ahead of time helps you to be prepared for it.  (More on these later.)

A Pros and Cons list really helps you shine a light in the corners to see what lies in wait.  As you list them, you think of more of them.  We always have fun with this part - like our Worst Case Scenario conversations.  We can dismiss or take seriously any of the points as we see fit.

So…

You’ve decided to go.

Now what?


How to Move Overseas: The Spark

Welcome to a new series on the practicalities of moving overseas! 
We hope our experiences living in four countries
can help you navigate your own journey of discovery!

Thailand

The Spark

Greetings, and welcome to a new phase in your life.

You’ve clicked on a blog about moving overseas.  This means, at some level, you’re in.

You may be considering the craziest thing you’ve ever done – or you may just be on to the next thing, and it happens to be overseas.  Whichever way you see this part of your journey, welcome.

Moving overseas has provided the most rewarding of experiences for us.  My wife, Lynsey, and I first moved overseas twenty years ago, three months after we got married.  We were 23 years old, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and ready to serve where we felt called.

This brings us to our first consideration, the spark.

Something sparked the idea for you.

For us, it was a sense of calling we felt to work with teenagers alongside churches to provide programming that helped to bring youth and families together.  We were sailing along just fine like any other normal couple, working regular jobs, when one day, not long before our wedding, we received a marketing flyer in the mail from the organization we were working with.  It was strange.  It was intended to sell the idea of working overseas to people who were already employed with the organization.

It simply said “International Schools” on the top and then had a poem written on it.  The poem was written by a teenager who had grown up overseas as part of an internationally mobile family.  In it, the writer described what it felt like to never feel at home anywhere as a result of an internationally mobile childhood.

Intrigued, we called our area director and asked what the flyer was about.

He responded passionately with, “Oh, international schools are our biggest need!”

He went on to explain that 5% of the world’s teenagers were living in the US being served by 95% of the world’s youth workers.  Without even sharing an actual conversation, we looked at each other and responded, “Sign us up.”

That strange little flyer shifted the course of our lives forever.

Because we were already doing something that we felt had intrinsic value to the community of people we were serving, we had no existential struggle over whether or not it might be a good move.  We simply jumped in. 

Your spark might not be as simple.  You may struggle with recognizing that spark and you may question its validity.

Once you’ve had that spark, though, it’s tough to let it go.  If it’s the real thing, it will stick with you.  We’ve met hundreds of people over the years who have made the same choice to move overseas and each story has been unique, but each story has had that initial spark.  We’ve met wealthy oil execs who made the move because it promised to put a gold star on their resumes.  We’ve met college kids who were simply back-packing their way around the world for a gap year and got hooked on a country and never left.  We’ve met school teachers who wanted to see the world, and embassy families who sought out their career path specifically for the international lifestyle it would offer.  The list is endless because literally every expatriate (expat) had a reason to move overseas at some point.

The trick for all of them was, after making the choice to go, they were in.

Recognizing the Spark

There is a catch at this point, and you may have already thought of this.  Not everyone will recognize your spark.  Some people will just think you’re crazy.

By now, you've recognized the spark in your life.  It's there, and it's become obvious to you.

For whatever reason – I can’t imagine why – not everyone thinks of moving to another country as something that’s a good idea.  You’ll need to be prepared to hear lots of criticism.  Close family will usually be the most brutally honest, in our experience.  We’ve heard some pretty heartless things over the years that people have shared.

Generally, people tend go for safety related concerns. “You’re gonna be murdered for your gold fillings” kind of stuff.  We’ve found that this really betrays two things, and neither are really safety related.

People can often not fathom the kind of thinking that would draw a person to leave their country permanently.  This is an indicator of an ethnocentric worldview that most people aren’t even aware they possess.  People know what they know, and usually don’t tend to assimilate new cultural understanding unless if bumps into their space.  The Pakistani grocer who took over the old market, or the Guatemalan guys who now work in the local pizza place, replacing the Italian owners as the new immigrants in town - both of these things were the case in my home town.

People are okay with this, generally, because it’s minimally disruptive.

But moving to Asia?  Moving to Central or South America?  No way!

When you’ve had the spark, you have to be patient with this kind of thinking.  You’re likely to encounter it somewhere along your journey - maybe even in the majority of interactions.  Don’t let it get you down.  It’s part of the landscape.  Maybe more importantly, don’t let it lower your opinion of the people who are speaking this perspective.  The reason why is actually the second dynamic at work.

People are telling you that they are going to miss you.

Most people are not equipped to say, “Oh, man.  That sounds fun.  But I am really going to miss having you as part of my everyday life.” But that’s what they’re trying say.

Sadly, there are other reasons.  In our case, there was some genuine discrimination that people expressed.  It was always couched in a positive statement, like “Well, I see why you guys are going, but…” and then an expression of raw feelings about ethnic groups other than their own.

Oyaboya.

You’ve got to be prepared for that kind of response.  For us, it didn’t destroy relationships – expect for one – but it did cast a different shadow on the perception we held of the people who spoke that way.  It adds texture, let’s say, to a friendship that wasn’t there before.  In only one case, we simply closed the chapter on a friendship, because it was an older family friend who really had a connection with our parents and not with us directly.  Everyone else came around, over the years, for the most part.  But that one friendship still bums me out.  Was I likely ever to even see that person again? No.  But I wish we could have ended on a more positive note.

Sharing the Spark

Once you’ve broken the ice with people, you’re pretty certain to encounter a certain hostility, often veiled, but very real.  Don’t be alarmed!  People naturally protect themselves and their resources, like an evolutionary adaptation to protect the pack or the tribe. 

It’s going to hurt to see you go, and many people will start to withdraw from that inevitable moment early to avoid the worst of it.  For some folks, this is alright to let unfold.  You can address it verbally, but not everyone is receptive and those with whom you’re ok closing a chapter in your friendship for a time are probably fine to just let the distance grow.

Close friends and family, though, are worth having the conversation.  Don’t start by saying, “I notice you’re pulling away.”  That might be a bad idea.  Instead, you might say, “You know, I’ve been thinking about our friendship and how important it is.  It’ll definitely be a bummer to be so far apart and to go on living our lives apart from one another.”

Can you imagine how affirming that would be if someone said that to you?

This is where you can get to the guts and share the spark.  Get the conversation open, tell them what draws you overseas.  Tell them how it will add value to your life.  And remember to make no apologies for the spark.  It’s yours.  They will come around, or at very least, see it as your thing and work through what it means in their life from there.

Nurturing the Spark

The thing that’s so great about sharing your spark is that, soon, you will start to recognize other peoples’ spark as well.  In no time at all, you will have friends and family pouring out their own dreams in conversations that will help to bridge the gap between going and staying.  This will help both of you and will form the foundation for long-distance conversation over social media and video phone applications in the years to come as you move forward with your journey.

Soon, too, you will discover others in your orbit who already have lived overseas, or are planning a move, or who know someone they can hook you up with who can give you advice.  It’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see that model everywhere.  You’re in tune with the overseas life and people around you start to channel that same energy your way.

Some see it as a spiritual connection.  Prayer.  Sending vibes into the universe.  Thinking positive thoughts.  Whatever it is, it’s real.  You’ll start to feel like you’re connected to a network of expats before you even make the move.

Get out there on the internet.  Hit Youtube.  Read blogs.  Listen to podcasts.  Just start connecting with your direction of momentum.  You’ll learn so much about the processes and experiences long before you ever pack a single box or suitcase.

You’ll soon find that whatever it is that is the genesis of your spark is actually a common point of inspiration for countless expats around the world.  You’ll share the same spark as people everywhere!

As you do these things, you’ll find that you won’t want to stop talking about moving overseas.

So don’t!

But a word of caution.  About five people in your whole existence will actually care!  It’s a bummer; a bit of a downer.  People who are not excited will shut you down right away, as we mentioned.  People who see value in it for you, but not for them, will become resistant to the idea in conversation after the first or second time you bring it up.  Then there’s your type of people who will resonate on some level and look you in the eye when you talk about it.  There’s your tribe!  Welcome that connection and verbalize it. 

“You get it, don’t you?” you can ask them.  If they do, you can flat out ask them, “Can I share my journey with you?  I need a core group of people who can stand to hear me talking about this, and I feel you’re safe.”

If they say yes – which they are likely to do – touch base with them anytime you want to blab on about moving overseas.  They’ll help you preserve other relationships by giving you an outlet.  You’ll find, too, that as you disappear from the space you occupy in your current life, your tribe will care enough to keep up with you by taking the initiative to reach out to you, not just sit around waiting for you to reach out to them.

And there it is.  You’ve recognized the spark that has put you on this path, you’re sharing with a key group of people who will be your tribe, and you’re nurturing spark by seeking out the expertise and experiences of those who have gone before you.  You’re soon ready to start taking action!

What’s next?

______________________________

 

Check out our series of books about living overseas at
https://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=1035027
or
https://www.amazon.com/Rick-Granger/e/B00JAIZCWO?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1580102944&sr=8-1

 


Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Home!

We LOVED being in Washington!  We had so much fun with Laura and then with the Potters!  Our two day visit with them turned into 5 because we were having so much fun catching up!  Being with the Potters is like coming home!  20170628_091829

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(Photo credit: Zab Potter)

Yellowstone & Mt. Rushmore:

We left our friends near Spokane and started our drive east towards Yellowstone.  We were back into camping mode and had found a few spots near enough to Yellowstone to make a go of a night with just the tent (remember, our camper died in Seattle!)  As we drove, we were checking directions and also weather reports. 

The weather for our campsite was to be 33F, with an 80% chance of rain/sleet/hail all through the night.  Nope.  Not happening…many reasons led to our quick decision to book a hotel for the night.  As I said previously, finding a hotel that will take 6 people is a challenge.  We happened into a GREAT deal on Orbitz and ended up at a great hotel with an indoor pool and hot tub and of course breakfast.  The room had two queen beds and a pull out couch, so everyone had a bed. 

The next morning, we got up and ate. We packed up the room and headed to Yellowstone.  We drove in the West Entrance and found our way to Old Faithful.  We just missed the 3:23 “show” so we hung out at the Old Faithful area for 90 minutes until the next one.

We learned that a few years ago there was a major earthquake in Mexico that shifted the fault lines straight up to Yellowstone and instead of Old Faithful shooting off every 57 minutes like clockwork, the time shifted to about every 90 minutes (give or take 10 on each side).   We gathered at Old Faithful and literally 100’s of people were there!  

We had imagined that when the geyser started it would be loud and HUGE.  It was neither of these things.  It was a wonder to see, but a little underwhelming.   We knew that we’d be seeing a lot of the park as we drove through it to exit the east side (on our way to S. Dakota to Mt. Rushmore).  The drive through the park was lovely! 

We rounded Yellowstone lake, we saw a mama bear with her two cubs.  We saw a full rainbow.  We saw moose with babies grazing.  We saw a lot of people fishing (brrrr).  We stopped at various spots to look around and snap a few pictures.  

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Wyoming is AMAZINGLY beautiful!!  We loved the wide open spaces, the land, the animals…all of it  Here we saw the ONLY bison of the trip (Just walkin’ down the road!!) 

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We continued heading east, and decided to make a push for Mt. Rushmore.  Since it was our last official National park stop we were getting eager to start the trek home.  We slept in the car and pulled into Rushmore around 10am.  This was the ONLY park we had to pay to get into!!!!   

We made our way to the viewing area.  We sat and looked at the mountain for a while.  It was a marvel for sure, but I couldn’t help reflecting on what I learned about the Native Americans and that area in the Black hills.   We visited our last gift shop (finally had squash penny again, the west coast parks did not have this!!) and we started our trek HOME!   

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We had to cross the whole of S. Dakatoa!  S. Dakota is HUGE by the way!  It took about 8 hours to get to Souix Falls where we again found a hotel.  We knew that we wanted to just keep driving South once we hit the road.  A good night’s sleep was in order.  Rick found a Days Inn… it was the shadiest hotel we’ve ever been to with the nicest room for all of us!!!  It had a King bed, and a pull out couch.  Two kids slept on the floor with camping mats.  The pool was TINY (only 4ft deep all around).  But we had a relaxing night and woke up well rested. 

Push for Home:

Our first day headed south we went from S. Dakota to about 60 miles outside Memphis TN!!!!!  We played with different routes for the ride home, and we wanted to avoid mountain driving as much as we could.  We knew that headed to eastern TN would put us driving through the Smokies, so we opted for the route that was 1hour and 39 minutes longer (according to the gps).  Rick pulled over at 3:30am to sleep.  I woke up around 7:45am and took over driving for a bit.  We found breakfast and then just kept going!  We stopped for a quick drive through lunch at Wendy’s and finally hit Atlanta around 4pm. 

We are currently (this moment) 348 miles from our house!  We will make it tonight and will have been on the road for exactly 30 days!   Here are some interesting facts from our trip:

States driving in or through: 27

National Parks Visited: 14

Number of Parks paid to enter: 1 (Mt. Rushmore)

Miles driven: 11,000

Highest average speed: 80 mph

Lowest average speed: 55mph (thanks to CA’s trailer law…arrggg)

Average miles per gallon: 18.2

Nights we paid to camp: 1 (Richardson State Park in CA)

Nights in a hotel: 4

Nights with friends or family: 5

Nights sleeping in the car: 4

Nights free camping; 16

Number of trailers: 2

Number of flat tires: 1

Miles Off Road: 70 (equaling the death of our camper)

Accidents: 0

Number of super awesome road trip kids: 4

Number of happy parents: 2

Epic trip of a lifetime: 1

This trip has been amazing.  We were continually amazed at the kids who complained NOT once about anything!  We camped out, we pooped in a bucket, we slept in the car, we drove for hours and hours at a time, we didn’t shower regularly (until we got to WA). They didn’t complain one bit.   We loved it too. 

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(all the magnets we will add to our collection!)

Free camping is the way to go!  Rick already as some designs in mind for our next rig (we are also debating to get a full size van and converting that for our sleeping needs).  We saw lots of advantages of being in a self-contained vehicle.

One thing we did learn is that this is worth doing again!  We have plans for an East Coast trip next summer… we would like to see Acadia National Park and then camp our way home visiting friends along the way (Ellen and Mike, Helena and Pat, Susan and Bob, Lyndsay and Mike, and anyone else who would like to see us!)

Thanks for traveling with us!  We are looking forward to our own beds and waking up in our own home!  Our summer was parsed with a month on the road and month at home before we head back to school (Aug. 3). 

It's been a GRAND Adventure!

Lynsey and Rick and of course the G4orces!

 

 

 

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Washington State

We made it to Seattle and Laura!  We had such a wonderful time with her!  Her hospitality was amazing…letting all six of us invade her house for two days.  Showers were had, laundry was done, food was eaten.  Fun times were had by all! 

We arrived past midnight on Thursday morning.  We got the kids settled in the living room and we crashed on the most comfortable futon in the world.  We awoke to the sounds of laughter as Laura was out hanging with the kids.  She took Thursday off from work to spend it with us! 

We went to the store and bought some breakfast food and had a nice brunch of pancakes, eggs, bacon and fruit.   Rick ventured out to do some maintenance on our trailer and as he opened the back drawer ALL the welds failed.  This meant the end of our camper trailer.  There was no way to fix it at this point.  Rick, being the MacGyver man he is, always counted on something like this happening.  So a Plan B was always in place.  He found a cargo trailer and we cross loaded all of our stuff…took the tent off the camper and we are all set.  Our journey can continue, just minus the camper trailer.   The upside to this is that we have more storage room in the new trailer.  So our van is a bit more spacious, less bits floating around and more leg room!  

Laura treated us to some REAL NY Pizza for lunch!  What a treat!

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We spent the rest of Thursday riding a ferry across Puget Sound!  It was beautiful!  We wander the ship, and explored all the decks.  There is something to be said about watching 200 cars load on and off a ferry boat. 

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We got home and had a late dinner (despite the sunlight) at around 10pm. We grilled then had s’mores (Laura’s first campfire of the season too!)  We surprised the kids with a few new movies for the trip and they stayed up late watching one of them. 

We got up and packed up and are now headed to Yakima to catch up with our friends the Potters.  For you Harry Potter fans, yes, the Grangers and the Potters are friends!    We will head out on Monday for Yellowstone and then Mt. Rushmore.  We are in the home stretch of our journey. 

We looked at taking a Ferryboat to Alaska, but that was not in the cards for this trip!  We are planning our route home and figuring Rick and I will take shifts driving through the mid-west and make a major PUSH for home as fast as we can!   While there is no hurry, we are pretty sure we will all be ready for home the minute we pull out of S. Dakota!   


First Day of Summer

The Majesty of Redwoods:

We began driving north after our stop in Santa Rosa. We were excited to find Chateau Montelena (of the movie Bottle Shock with Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman and Chris Pine) We stopped in for a visit. It is a beautiful estate I wanted to do a wine tasting, but it was too pricy, but I did get a free splash of a nice chardonnay! The connection to the movie was fun for us and it has been a highlight of California!

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(Napa)

We haven’t been too impressed with California for camping or with the people. Of all the places we’ve been, we were SURE CA would have the BEST free camping and the nicest people. NOPE. Someday we’ll be able to share more openly about our experiences with human feces and our family…(in the “extra features” of our book perhaps)

 Coming into the area of Redwood, we were headed for Humbolt (AVE. of the Giants area) but found a state park just before Humbolt (Richardson State Park) We were happy to pay the fee to camp in and among the Red woods! It was a beautiful site!   We had our first campfire here; complete with S’mores!

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(Camp site at Richarson State Park, CA)

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The next day we made our push to travel the rest of the way through the redwoods and get closer to Crater Lake. Along the way and up the coast we stopped to play in the Pacific Ocean! It was FREEZING, but a lot of fun! Hard to believe we started in St. Augustine (Atlantic) and were now playing in the Pacific!

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(in the Pacific Ocean!)

 

 

First Day of Summer: SNOW

Funny story… well, it would have been really funny if it hadn’t been 10pm in the dark on a mountain road (well, really the side of a volcano..but more on that in a minute..) As we left Redwood, our next stop was Crater Lake (Oregon, b/c there is also one in Colorado according to our gps…) We knew it was going to be a long haul and we’d need a place to camp somewhere in Oregon before we went to the Lake.

Unlike California, there were several places near Crater Lake to free camp. We found one next to a pond/lake that used to be owned by a logging company and when they sold the property they had a clause in the contract that the area around the pond always been kept free and open to the public for camping and fishing.  

The GPS was set, we had 4G service.. we were on track! Then we saw a VOLCANO!! Not an active one… but a HUGE cone shaped volcano. There was a scramble to look up what volcano we were looking at.. Rick decided to use the voice feature on his phone and said “OK google…” I had discovered that it was Mt. McLaughlin… “Ok google..what is Mt. McLaughlin?” The google voice let us to a few internet sites and that was that..

Until an hour later when we should have been pulling into our camp site and we were on the side of a mountain…looking at the GPS the destination said “Mt. McLaughin” WHAT?????? We had followed the road/trail up to the point where there was a gate across saying “No entry” with impromptu campsites on the side of the road.  When Rick had done the voice search, the GPS thought we wanted to go there and changed our route! UGGGG! So… an hour later we were finally at our site….we set up in the dark, got changed (the low was 49 last night). We were all thankful to not be sleeping in the car!

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(Our site after our detour to Mt. McLaughin)

We set out at 7am to head to the Lake… which didn’t open until 10am…. The site we had found was actually NOT right off the road we needed but 70 miles away from the park. Free camping is a blessing, but sometimes these sites are really out of the way!

We found a gas station and grabbed some snacks and of course gas. We splurged a bit on snacks…this was also breakfast!

Needless to say Crater Lake was shockingly beautiful! Most of the park’s roads are still socked in with snow…they had 48 FEET of snow this year (just above the average of 44ft!). The east rim road has drifts that are 15ft high. The north rim road is closed for construction. We could go up to the Rim Lodge with great views of the lake.   On the way up to the lake, we stopped to refill the cooler with SNOW! We are curious to see if this lasts longer than a bag of ice.

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On the way into the park, we pulled over for stop and a play in the snow!! Once in the park, the kids found drifts to sled down…getting soaked but having tons of fun.. they honestly could have cared less about the amazing lake.. they just wanted to play in the snow. The vote was unanimous...we should move to Oregon!  

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(Picture taken with my phone! The Lake is just that amazing!)

On a whim, I contacted a friend (I was a Youth Ministry intern in FL when Amber was in 10/11th grade) who moved to Portland a few years ago. She was able to meet us for dinner with her husband Luke and sweet baby girl Caroline! It was a lot of fun to catch up. She is as sweet as ever and great to catch up!

We now are headed NORTH to Seattle to spend a day and two nights with Laura (Rick’s cousin). Laura is awesome! The last time we saw her on “her” side of the country was 17 years ago…we had just finished Young Life Training in Portland OR and she came…picked us up in Portland and took us home to Seattle for a few days before we then bused to LAX to fly out to Thailand. She was the LAST family we saw stateside for two years! We’ve seen her since then, but it’s always fun to visit her in WA! We are excited to catch up with her!

Then we will get to see the Potter’s! Friends from Thailand, who when we met them had just had their first child (who is now 17!!). We became fast friends and have remained close. They welcomed us to live with them for four months in-between seminary and finding our job in Texas. They have four girls and are just an amazing family! We have seen them a few times over the years, but this is the first time we’ve seen them since they moved west a few years ago.  

After these visits with family and friends we begin our eastward journey to Yellowstone and then Mt. Rushmore! The kids are holding up well as we basically live in the car! Some of these days are really long (like today..some 9 hours driving).  Today we had our first flat tire (on the trailer), Rick did a quick four minute change and we were back on the road! Thankfully, he planned ahead and we had all the tools needed to change the tire quickly and safely!

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A Good Night's Sleep Goes A Long Way!

California gave us no joy as far as finding free camp sites. ALL the ones we checked out on the website were no good. We kept plugging forward to our next stop (first Sequoia then Yosemite) but just couldn’t find any place to set up camp.

Finally….coming into Yosemite we found a site that was absolutely PERFECT. Goat Mountain Snow Play area had it all. Plenty of flat spots (even a huge parking area in case a spot in the woods didn’t work. We were “home”. We got camp set up…made some lunch (make your own burritos) and Rick and I promptly took a nap. Sleeping upright for two nights made us all stiff and sore.

Once we were up we decided to go explore Yosemite in the evening. We went to two sites that were close to our camp. The river is raging here.. two people have been lost this season already, the Ranger said “Don’t even go to feel how cold it is, it could sweep you away!” Our first site was a swinging bridge that crosses said raging river! The kids took turns crossing it (I went across with Toby).   Then we went in search of a set of falls. 20170617_150312

(Campsite at Goat Mt. Snow Play Area: Perfect spot just outside Yosemite!)

We found a small shop, right outside the park, and got a treat (a cold drink and candy bar). Sleeping was pleasant, the temps were in the 60’s. Keighley and Isaac slept in the little tent for fun. I was the first one up, and we got packed up and I made pancakes. We left the packed camper at our site and went to explore the park.

There are two things that surprised me about Yosemite. The first, was how many people LIVE in the park. We saw 7-10 housing/residential areas that had 20-30 homes or apartments or cabins. There was one whole camp called “Housekeeping Camp”. We even passed an elementary school. The park is HUGE. We also saw park police, road crews, and of course shop keepers and other personnel to make this place run.   Perhaps in my younger days it would have been a lot of fun to live and work in a National Park. In fact, in college I applied to be a park Chaplin one summer. I got accepted to go to Acadia national park, but turned it down for an internship in Florida instead.

The second thing that surprised me, was this was the first park we’ve been to this summer that felt like a tourist trap. I can understand why Yosemite is one of the more popular parks, it is amazingly beautiful. There were so.many.people. Every where we went there was traffic, lines and lots and lots of people. At times, we felt Claustrophobic.   Even to get to the visitor’s center, they closed a parking lot b/c it was full and we parked along the road and took a trail up to the center.  

We did manage to see the things we wanted to see. We hiked to Bridal Veil Falls (amazing!), we drove through Yosemite Valley and saw El Capitan and Half Dome. We did not do any climbing 😊.   The park was beautiful.

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(Yosemite Valley: my tribute to Ansel Adams)

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(Bridalveil Falls: Ansel Adams Tribute)

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(El Capitan: Ansel Adams Tribute)

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(the G-Fources Taking a break)

We headed back (45 miles) to pick up our trailer, made a quick hotdog lunch and headed to Redwood. We decided since we needed to do laundry we’d surprise the kids with a Hotel stop. This meant real beds, hot showers and a pool!!! We found a Best Western IN Santa Rosa CA that would take a family of six (Orbitz by the way deals with large family rooms… all the other sites say you have to get two rooms with more than four people…we didn’t want to be separated from the kids. We paid a bit more for a two room suite, but it was lovely and the pool was right outside our room!)

The night was wonderful! They even had a hottub which we ALL enjoyed! Laundry got done, showers and sleep were had. We even checked out at the last possible time (10 til noon!) We made a stop at a Trader Joe’s (boy have the prices gone up since TJ’s became trendy!)  

Up next post: Redwoods and Crater Lake!