Three Months Abroad
Have you ever wanted something badly but didn’t know how to make it happen?
Then you should find inspiration in this post. My husband Bryan, I, and our three young boys recently returned from three months of travel in Spain.
How It All Began
My father had an unexpected medical emergency. He was having major kidney issues and sat in the hospital bed Friday, July 29, 2016. He didn’t look good and had two surgeries within the last two days. As he laid weak on the bed, my dad said: “Deb, you’ve been a good daughter.”
My only thoughts? He can’t die now. I planned his surprise 40th wedding anniversary celebration and 65th birthday party for months; several out-of-town family members were expected to attend the event in September.
I returned home that night and sobbed. I turned over my sorrow to God, praying for dad’s healing. I texted my “prayer warriors”, women in my church community with whom I formed a special bond during a retreat years earlier.
God answered our prayers. My dad awoke the next morning and started the recovery process. Yet I know that isn’t always the case. God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we expect.
Fast forward to January 2017. I created a blog post, “New Year = Fresh Start.” In writing that post, I briefly revisited the feelings from July 2016. Afterward, I started talking to my husband Bryan about this dream of taking our immediate family to Europe for seven months before our middle son started kindergarten in August 2018. Bryan’s first reaction wasn’t positive; it seemed like too much work.
Yet “work” doesn’t deter me from following my dreams. Researching and planning are my forte.
Sometimes, the riskier thing is inaction. Not making the decision or deciding to “keep things the same” isn’t necessarily safer.
In February 2017, my husband’s grandmother, the matriarch of a very large, close-knit family, unexpectedly passed away. Grandma Pat was the only grandparent Bryan knew on an intimate level. Something profoundly changed inside him, and my “big Europe trip” idea didn’t seem so crazy anymore.
Time for Change
Here are some of the reasons Bryan and I felt we both needed a change:
1. THE EMOTIONAL HEALTH OF OUR FAMILY WAS AT STAKE.
Our oldest son (then 7) was having a lot of difficulties both at home and school. Our middle son (age 4) constantly complained that preschool was too long and he wanted to stay home instead. We knew our youngest son (nearly 2) would be our last child, so we really wanted to make every moment count. Bryan suffered from tinnitus, a constant “ringing in the ears” (24/7), for the last two years. This medical condition was as much psychological as it was physical. And I was a giant ball of stress – worried about my family while trying to grow two businesses.
2. OUR LIFE WAS HURRIED.
Every minute of every day, we felt rushed. Running late became the norm. Eating dinner together as a family on weeknights was difficult. Bryan and I had to divide and conquer responsibilities on weeknights and weekends alike. We rarely rested! All these things that should be joyful (i.e. birthday parties, extended family gatherings, sports) felt like burdens. There wasn’t a moment of breathing room in our calendars.
3. WE LACKED INTIMACY AS A MARRIED COUPLE.
When you are newly married with no kids, you and your spouse have ample time to spend together. But as you have children, you and I both know that dedicated time is increasingly hard to find. You must be intentional. In our case, I was so overwhelmed managing our household and running two businesses that I started working nights and weekends. On a good night, Bryan and I would spend 30 minutes watching TV together in the family room – one of us in the reclining chair and the other on the couch on the opposite side of the room.
4. I FELL IN LOVE WITH SPAIN.
Several years earlier in 2001, I studied abroad in Madrid for four months. “No te preocupes” was the Spanish way of life (meaning “do not worry”). Spaniards took siestas, or small naps, daily. They frequently ate dinner together as a family. They worked hard but played hard. The culture, music, food, and natural beauty of Spain struck a chord in my heart. I vowed to return one day. Not for a week but hopefully several months. I felt the opportunity to return was imminent.
We became serious about planning the seven-month journey in March 2017. We even booked one-way flights to Barcelona for January 2018. Then, summer 2017 came. My mom, a normally healthy 65-year old woman, had even more severe medical issues than my dad. She spent several weeks in the hospital and had numerous medical procedures. Again, through God’s grace, my mother recovered.
Last fall, Bryan and I discussed at length whether to continue with our 2018 travel plans. We decided that three months abroad would be more manageable than seven months for many reasons:
We could use passports rather than apply for visas.
My local clients would be more understanding of meeting virtually for a shorter time span, and Bryan would have an easier time finding new employment if he was out of the workforce less.
It’s more affordable. The overseas flights are a sunk cost; accommodations, dining, and excursions in Europe add up if you’re there longer.
Our kids hadn’t traveled much, and our oldest son hated the idea of leaving his friends for any amount of time.
I continued to have concern for my mom’s health. A last-minute flight from Missouri to Florida is much more manageable than one from Spain to Florida.
We’d return in time for baseball season!
Our fate wasn’t officially sealed until Bryan gave notice to his employer, Airbnb rentals were booked, and return flights to the US were secured. We did all of this in December 2017 – one month prior to our departure.
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
In retrospect, we should have finalized our Spain plans earlier. We kept my dream private and didn’t tell family or a handful of friends until late December 2017. We knew people would react differently and did not want others’ opinions to impact our decision to travel.
But now having traveled, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It brought my family closer together and challenged us in ways I couldn’t imagine. Stepping outside your comfort zone isn’t easy, but it’s worthwhile.
So, what BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS GOAL (or dream) do you have? What’s preventing you from taking the next step to fulfill it? Please share in the comments below — and share this post on social media.