We’ve really dropped the ball on wrapping up our time abroad! We hit the ground running when we returned home with a slew of trips to reconnect with friends and family, remodeling our house, and the small task of growing a tiny human (….watch out for #chasingbabydavis coming soon!…he’s actually due TODAY!). So…before we add any more chaos to our lives, here’s our best attempt at wrapping up nearly three incredible years abroad!
It feels like ages ago that Matt came home from work and asked “what would you think about moving to Israel for a year?”! I doubt either of us would have put Israel at the top of our life abroad objectives but WHY NOT?! Run ragged by the hustle and bustle of Bay Area life, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to explore the world and not completely abandon our adult responsibilities. Little did we know it would be the start of a three year adventure of life in Israel, Ghana, Ireland, and dozens of countries in between.
It already feels like we left Israel decades ago – it felt like another lifetime given what a different pace and way of life we lived. It was a bit easier to leave Israel than it was Ireland, not because we did not like it but the pace of life wasn’t quite compatible with our lifestyle – we don’t exactly ooooz “city life vibes”. But we do miss the youthful vibe of Tel Aviv with its laidback attitude, beautiful beaches, amazing food, and seemingly infinite sunshine that bakes the terrain (and our skin). We miss the fresh food markets and knowing we didn’t have to pack for every possible weather option on any given day (I’m looking at you, Ireland). We made great friends but always felt a tinge of outsiderness not knowing much Hebrew. However, we will be on an eternal hunt for falafel, humus, and pita that is anything close to what we had in Israel!
Following our year of sun, beaches, and mind blowing food – it only seemed reasonable to move somewhere that gets an average of 225 days of rain, occasional sun (sometimes warm), and a diet of meat and potatoes. Those perks aside (<– sarcasm), we found Ireland to be one of the most welcoming and heartwarming countries around. Occasionally having to struggle through the thick Irish accent (pretty much everyday till the end…), we were much happier living somewhere we could communicate with folks and confidently buy food in the grocery store without relying on Google Translate. We were blessed with some of the most incredible friendships – most notably Matt’s fantastic co-workers and the two amazing families I had the pleasure of babysitting for and warmly being welcomed into their homes on countless special occasions for holidays, celebrations, and important Rugby matches!
Aside from the fantastic people, we feel like we saw nearly every nook and cranny of Ireland. We enjoyed countless “hillwalks”, soaked up incredible coastal views along sea cliffs and secret sandy beaches, drank our weight in Guinness several times over….and then several times over that….followed by a similar volume of delicious fish and chips, safely navigated the often hair-raising roads, and sustained countless rainstorms including surviving the Beast from the East snowstorm that shut down the COUNTRY….as well as the even more surprising Hurricane Ophelia….which also shut down the country! Never a dull day in Ireland!
Not surprisingly, we also welcomed a long list of fantastic visitors while we were abroad. Having visitors certainly made the distance and time away from home much easier and we loved getting to provide a semi-local’s spin on the average international vacation!
Living in Israel and Ireland allowed us to becoming incredibly familiar with places the average visitor only gets to enjoy for a day or two. For example, in Israel we visited Jerusalem dozens of times and each time learned a bit more, understood the winding alleyways a little better, and felt a little more connected to the whole dynamic history of the land. In Ireland, we enjoyed the unique opportunities to watch Galway and Ireland teams compete in major sports matches, spend a day at “The Races” (the Kentucky Derby of Ireland), and felt like locals at the various parades and celebrations came through town…although we were never quite cool enough to get invited to an Irish wedding, we did manage a First Communion and a Karate grading 🙂
Wrapped up in our life abroad were dozens of side trips to neighboring countries in the EU and Middle East….and three months in Ghana. All said and done, we visited nearly 30 countries (full list at the end). Thanks to the cheap, no-frills, flights on Ryan Air, we had the opportunity to see some of the most incredible places in Europe at a fraction of the cost of heading over from the US. Our decent backs, strong legs, and frugal minds also afforded us the ability to sleep in hostels and huts, explore all day on foot, and understand the value of eating a good deal of meals on a shoestring budget while saving the occasional splurge for a really special spot. We also explored some of the smaller countries we may not have otherwise made a point to visit if we weren’t so close. We (usually….depending on hunger level) loved the excitement of landing in a new place and exercising our ever growing skills and comfort for navigating public transportation, finding food, overcoming language barriers, and figuring out where to sleep. We learned A LOT about communicating our needs and working together….in the end we are happy to say we still love each other very much….. although I did institute a short term travel ban upon returning home….. I really love my own bed and not living partially packed in a duffle bag 🙂
We learned you should usually bring less than you think. Most of our trips involved packing a 30 L backpack…mostly full of camera equipment (can’t sacrifice on that)…and opting for function over fashion on most occasions (as if we could ever claim to be fashionable in normal life either!). We have lived out of 4 duffle bags for the last 3 years and in general we have not longed for anything packed away in boxes. Although, returning home to some of our favorite kitchen gadgets has been a real treat (I’m looking at you Kitchen Aid and Vitamix!….and a full sized fridge….#feedingmattdavis)!
A few more quick takeaway notes we compiled……
- Travel with friends! Some of our best times were traveling with friends
- Routine is good… long term travel is likely not for us.
- Food is fun and it can’t hurt to try anything once (as long as you see the locals eating it too!)
- Be curious and open minded… doing something different doesn’t make it better or worse….sometimes its just different and thats just fine!
- Ethnocentric… everyone abroad knows so much about what is happening in the US and we are often less informed about our own country let alone the rest of the world. America is great….but is not the only great place…and we all have our flaws.
- Everyone likes to complain about their government, health care, immigration, etc.
- Traveling, like life, can be stressful but this stress is typically self-imposed. We have missed plenty of trains, been ripped off, eaten over-priced crappy food, waited too long to say we were hungry, forgotten to pee when the opportunity was right, booked less than satisfying accommodations, forgot to double check the weather (just because Tel Aviv is hot in October doesn’t mean Croatia is….)….
- Be thankful! Be thankful for all of those things you take for granted: reliable electricity, being able to communicate, clean drinking water, a safe and warm home, clothes and shoes that fit, free and open access to information, infinite choices at your grocery store (AMAZON!), education, transportation, your next meal, nature, pets, close friends, loving family, and being alive!
At the end of the day, we are over-joyed to be home and setting down roots. We feel beyond lucky to have had such an opportunity at a time in our lives that allowed us to enjoy every minute and appreciate the experience. We are very thankful we managed to bring our incredible cat, Franklin, along for the journey – although he is equally as happy to be home! We look forward to sharing this incredible world with our children and look forward to exploring the endless list of fantastic places we have in our own American backyard (hello National Parks road trip!?). A huge THANK YOU to everyone who supported us, visited us, read the blogs, shared our excitement, figured out the time differences to call us when we were awake, sent us snail-mail letters and cards, and most of all welcomed us home with open arms! We have the most incredible friends and family around 🙂 We love you!
And finally….the Countries…..
Total countries: 27
Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Northern Ireland
So there it is…..what an experience!
OR just the beginning…..Cheers!