I have an innate need to travel. I always have, but it hasn’t always been as straightforward as that. Despite a need to see the world, wanting to do big things and wanting to live like a nomad, I was also prone to intense homesickness.
For instance, in first grade (or thereabouts) I was very excited to go to a three-day camp with my best friend. I still remember packing my bag and feeling like such a “big girl” to be going away on my own. Then my mom and sister drove away and my best friend was sorted into a different group. I felt so small and lonely, and I quietly cried to myself every night.
Sure there were camp fires, crafts and fun, but what I remember is the scary plank bridge we’d cross to the cafeteria (in my mind it’s the size of the one in Indiana Jones Temple of Doom), my guide getting us stuck on the lake in our canoe, nasty algae sticking to my legs after swimming, losing my underwear on the way to the shower, and sleeping in a bed I had wet the night before, because I was too afraid to tell anyone. You would think after this experience, I would never have left home again.
However, the travel bug was still there. My parents filled the need with summer vacations out west (Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming). I also had the opportunity to spend a week in Washington D.C. as a junior in high school as part of a U.S. government course. Traveling alone again, I was hesitant, but I met wonderful people and had the time of my life. To this day, one of the people I met is one of my best and closest friends, despite having spent our lives in cities miles apart. So I had some good memories and confidence building to counter-balance my sleepaway camp nightmare.
Then I went away to college. Five hours from home. I wanted to flee the coup – staying home was never an option for me. Again, I was excited packing, preparing and feeling ready…until my parents drove away. The homesickness was intense. I cried nearly every day. I pined for my boyfriend. I had panic attacks, begged to come home, looked into transferring to a commuter university…But I was fortunate to have a mix of empathetic family support and some tough love, as well as a roommate who fast became a fantastically fun partner in crime. After that first winter break, I stayed at school and never looked back!
Then I met Mike. At the time he was itching to travel, and so we moved to Arizona mere weeks after our wedding. We were excited – particularly for the road trip west. However, the excitement quickly wore off and reality set in. It was probably the most challenging time of our marriage. We had no family support, little money to speak of and we were still trying to figure out how to be married. Again, we were lucky to meet some good people that helped us along the way. (One of which just provided some great dining options for us in Madrid! Her advice has proved invaluable on numerous occasions now!) And we did make the most of the adventure, traveling throughout the southwest and ultimately planning our move back home. It was certainly a passionate “honeymoon” period – passionate at both high and low levels.
Then we settled into life together – which also involved lots of travel (and moves) – and the pattern continued after the kids were born. We taught them early to be good road trippers and airplane travelers. I think they’ve each been to about half of the U.S. states now. We also learned early how to set goals, save and prioritize. So I guess you could say we’ve been preparing for this trip for quite a while.
So how has the adjustment been? And what of homesickness? Well, after a somewhat teary goodbye, first with the cats, then at the airport with my mom and dad, the four of us set out on our sabbatical adventure. It’s been two weeks now and we’re settling in nicely, which is not to say it’s been all roses. The first week or so we dealt with a lot of jet lag and bizzare sleeping schedules. The kids adapted more quickly than I did. They went to bed at a reasonable hour, but slept in until lunch time. I, on the other hand, was awake at all hours – day and night. Mike – well, he’s the master of naps – so he adjusts more easily than the rest of us. Still it even seemed to take him a little longer than normal this time – perhaps because there was no real rush.
The first week, as you know, we spent in Madrid. Having been before, it was a nice place to arrive and feel comfortable. We knew the streets, the sights, had our favorite restaurants and were eager to discover more. It was a good way to begin our adjustment. We spent our time visiting the Royal Palace, La Reina Sofia, the Thyssen, La Gran Via, Plaza Mayor, Buen Retiro – and of course eating. We hit many of our favorites tapas spots as well as discovered new. We slept in, did our excursions mid-day and tried to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
We established some routines early – journaling daily, quiet time alone (also daily), daily walks (at least 2-5 miles a day), and a minimum of one meal a day in our apartment. We also get to vote on things to see and do. Sometimes the kids get their say, sometimes Mike and I get ours, and other times there are things everyone wants to see or do. But we also make sure to have down time. A morning spent sight-seeing means an afternoon of rest (or in Miss A’s case – play).
As for homesickness, we’ve had some, but I think all the other moments, trials and successses (even scary sleepaway camp), have prepared me for this. I’m able to help the kids work through their fears, concerns and sadness – FaceTime makes a big difference – and I know how and when to deal with mine. Getting proper sleep is key for us all! It’s much easier to be rational with a rested brain. And frankly there’s enough to see and do to keep us enthralled. That said, we’ve all had our meltdowns (the kids after about a week of being away, me after arrival at a not so clean apartment, and Mike after a particularly stressful drive), but we’ve all also worked through them, figured out solutions and moved on ready for adventure. And we also know we’ll survive the next meltdowns too (because there will be more).
We also find it’s easier to live in the moment. I think it’s partly because everything is so foreign. We have to be alert – focus on listening intently to understand, read signs that aren’t familiar to us and just generally be aware in unfamiliar surroundings. It’s exhausting at times, but truly does make us appreciate every little moment. We’re not thinking about tomorrow, we’re thinking about right now. The kids too – they don’t worry about what’s next as we don’t really have to be anywhere. They’re content to play, read, email friends and even study (truly!).
At times it still feels like a vacation that is bound to end soon. Other times it feels overwhelming that we still have months before we see our family and friends. But mostly it feels humbling. We are so grateful for this experience. We’re stumbling along, having successes, making missteps, discovering new cultures, and truly experiencing life away from home – away from most things familiar in fact. It’s confusing, it’s overwhelming, it’s joyful, it’s aweinspiring and it’s downright thought-provoking (on so many levels).
We asked the kids (and ourselves) some questions the other day – for posterity’s sake. It will be interesting to look back on these in a few months. First we asked if they think this experience will change them. Mr. N said “no” right away – he doesn’t want to change. Miss A said and Mike said, “definitely.” I said, “I hope so.” Then we asked if they think what they see and learn on this trip will influence their beliefs, choices, thoughts, etc. Mr. N said “yes, certainly about food.” Miss A said, “yes, in general it will influence everything.” Mike and I agree with them both.
Finally, we asked the kids if it will be hard for them to go home and back to “the burbs.” (Keep in mind this was after recent boughts of homesickness.) Both, without hesitation said emphatically, “Yes!” Mike and I agree. It will certainly be interesting – and worth looking back at these thoughts/answers when we do, as well as putting the “why” into thoughts and words.
It’s interesting to think about where these next weeks will take us. Sometimes it’s scary, other times it’s exciting, but most of all, it’s hard to imagine ever leaving Spain! So far we haven’t seemed to have forgotten anything from home, and we don’t really miss much in the way of “things.” (Family and friends aside.) And while our luggage (barely) fit in the rental car, we likely brought too much. I think after our stay in southern Spain we’ll repack and assess – we need room for souvies (and wine) along the way afterall!
But so far so good. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s stressful. We are still a family afterall – that comes with its own brand of chaos regardless of where we live! But so far, it’s been rewarding. Spain stole our hearts back in 2014 and I have a feeling it’s a destination that we’ll continue to revisit time and time again.
So, that’s our not-so-brief-update on the state of our sabbatical thus far. We’ll be back in a few days with Mr. N’s perspective on Sevilla! Thank you all for joining us on this journey. As you know with our food reviews, we are nothing if not honest, so we’ll highlight both the good and the not so good of this adventure – in other words, reality. Because much like the roads throughout Spain, life is a series of roundabouts. Sometimes you go back, sometimes you go the wrong-way, sometimes you lose your underwear on the way to the shower, and many times you move forward taking with you all that came before.