It is February, which for many of us still feels like the middle of winter. Everyone is longing for sunshine and springtime and dreaming of the summer vacation. This month is the ideal time to start planning ahead and grab some good deals for your next holiday. A friend of mine asked me recently whether I could recommend somewhere to go as a young family. I remembered the resort we booked ourselves two years in a row on Tenerife and for good reason. As a mum of two active small boys I know what it’s like to be in need of a well deserved break, and this place ticked a lot of boxes. It has an outdoor soft play….and a spa!
We never ever thought we would enjoy an all-inclusive holiday, travel snobs as we are, but when we caved in one year, we booked again the next. And to the same resort, what were we like! Be Live Family Costa Los Gigantes, on Tenerife. The first time we went, we had a toddler and a baby in tow and we were quite frankly, exhausted! If you have ever traveled with small children, you know that you often wonder why on earth you even make the effort. To just stay in one place and not having to think about logistics, money, meals and laundry for a week was amazing.
It’s a big resort, with hundreds of rooms. The room we booked was a large family room with a lounge (sofa bed) and separate bedroom. The buffets were very good quality, and all fresh, despite having to serve hundreds of people and such a large hotel. It had something for everyone and enough choice for picky eater too. In between the mealtimes you were able to get snacks and drinks from the poolside bars as well as small meals, fruit and yogurts for hungry kids.
Other things it has are free wifi, a laundry service, a few shops and theatre (with some cheesy shows, but hey, the kids loved it). As in many resorts, there are also many daily activities, such as yoga, tennis and other fitness classes. And a high rope and zip wire for the older children.
eat, play, swim, nap, repeat
The swimming pools were great for all ages, including a nice bit for babies and the resort was big enough to go for a wander around. The main pool was a a bit lively at times with music and entertainers doing their bit, but there were plenty of other spots you could spend the day. There is a quiet pool on the other end for those wanting to enjoy a bit of zen.
At the resort, we just ended up doing the same boring round each day: breakfast, then down to the outdoor soft play area (where we often met other nice parents from various places around Europe – all in the same phase of life). Then we’d have a splash in the pool, go for lunch, have more pool time or just a nap, and then if we made it, dinner. It may sound like a nightmare for people with no kids, but for it was exactly what we needed!
I used to be a backpacking adventurer and we probably will be in the future, but in this phase of our life it was just bliss to be looked after and have a proper rest. I would recommend this place for any of you with children, and especially young children.
Do you want to lower your energy bill too? I live in Spain so you would think that all energy comes straight from the sun, but no. Unfortunately the big energy companies still have a monopoly on supplying everybody with electricity through fossil fuels, which means the monthly bill is not as low as we’d like it to be, never mind the impact on the environment. Only about 14% of energy in Spain comes from different renewable energy sources. Sun, we have so much sun here, imagine how much energy we could generate! Anyway, while I am waiting for a renewables revolution and the tides to turn (excuse the pun), here are some ways to lower your energy bill right now.
Turn off the standby button
I am terrible at this, leaving my laptop on standby, leaving mobile phone chargers dangling from sockets and keeping the coffee machine on all morning. Do you also leave your laptop or TV on standby when you’re done with it? Switch off all electricity. Always. A lot of power is lost by devices that are not being used, but are secretly still on.
Use a multi-point extension lead to lower your energy bill
Use a multi point extension lead for several devices at the same time. Devices with an adapter or transformer also consume a lot of energy when they are off or in standby mode. If you have them in an extension box, then you can operate multiple devices at the same time with one button and you will noticeably combat sneaky energy consumption.
Air your home: good for health and wallet
Opening windows and airing your rooms: not only good for your health, but also for your wallet so you can lower your energy bill. Ventilate your apartment or house well: fresh, dry air is easier to heat than moist air.
Turn the heating down a notch
Turn your heating down one notch. Or two. Does that really matter? It certainly does! Every notch means a reduction of 7% on your final bill. Always feeling cold? Buy a nice warm cardigan for at home, some matching furry slippers. The lower energy bill at the end of the month will make you glow inside.
Fill your fridge to lower your energy bill
Another thing that you probably didn’t know yet: a full fridge costs less energy to cool than an empty one. Make sure the fridge is full in order to lower your energy bill. If necessary, place empty bottles filled with water to fill the refrigerator. Handy to have spare bottles of cool water in summer and your refrigerator will use less energy.
Remove the ice layer in the freezer
In so many homes, the freezer doesn’t get cleaned regularly and soon a thick layer of ice appears around the drawers and the edges. Better be careful! For every 2 mm ice layer, the energy consumption of the freezer increases by 10%. It is worth defrosting it every once in a while.
Swap all your old light bulbs for energy saving ones
Most of you have probably done this already over the years, but you may find some old fashioned energy gobbling bulb sitting in a bedside table lamp. It may be an investment, but it is worth exchanging all bulbs in the long run. Energy-saving lamps require 6 times less electricity and last 10 times as long.
If you really want to lower your energy bill, maybe it is time to review your supplier. You can make the biggest financial savings by choosing the right energy company. Therefore, check whether you have a contract that suits you, your house and your usage. Make sure that you get a well-arranged bill, so that you have a better insight into what most of your energy is spent on.
Minimalist was never your thing anyway? Go for a Boho Chic Christmas this year! Choose bold colours, crazy patterns, folklore, floral and gypsy touches and your home will certainly look unique this festive season. Today I am sharing some inspiring boho chic and folklore Christmas decorations that are to awake your inner hippie, even if you haven’t tried such ideas before.
Boho Chic Christmas Tree Décor
Let’s start with a wonderfully colourful Christmas tree. It can be decorated with vintage and folklore styled ornaments, colourful pompoms and garlands and bold lights. No space for a tree? Try hanging a stick Christmas tree on the wall and decorate it with colourful ornaments. Use a crocheted, patchwork or woven round rug as a tree skirt. The more colours and bohemian patterns you add into the mix, the more fun you’ll have. No minimalist less is more here. Go bold!
Christmas Ornaments, boho style
Choose colourful folklore and boho chic ornaments and make some unique ones yourself. You can crochet them, make mini dream catchers with feathers, use crystal pendants or make an ornament garland or wreath. Find some vintage ornaments and make a hanging using an embroidery hoop and bold ribbon. You don’t even need a tree to display ornaments: just hang them on a string or on the window, along your stair banister or pin them on the wall. You can also put them on the mantel or put ornaments into a jar to add to your festive boho chic atmosphere.
Boho Chic Christmas Wreaths
No Christmas is complete without a wreath on your door! Make this year’s wreath keeping the bold boho style in mind: make an evergreen wreath with plenty of colourful decorations, a floral piece wreath interwoven with lights or a wreath in dream catcher style. Macramé and crochet are welcome, colourful pompoms will make also make fabulous and unique Christmas wreaths. You can also make a wreath of sticks and some greenery for a natural feel.
Boho Chic Christmas Stockings
If you use stockings as part of your Christmas décor, you can really push out the boat whenit comes to the boho chic and folklore theme. Adhorn your stocking with vintage fabrics, small crocheted squares or patchwork, beads, buttons, ribbons and bits of lace for a bold and colourful effect. They will spruce up any mantel.
Need some ideas for no plastic gift ideas for children? I’m with you. Birthday parties, Christmas presents, gifts brought by visiting relatives, children get a lot of stuff. And if you have young children like me, this stuff amounts to a lot over the months and years. Boxes full of toy cars, action figures and dolls and a whole lot of plastic you’d rather not have in your house. It’s messy and half of it the kids don’t even play with. I bet most parents would agree. Still, a child’s birthday or Christmas requires a gift as you don’t want to see sad faces. How about not adding to the heap of expensive commercial plastic toys, but bringing something imaginative instead? Here are some suggestions I love.
A Craft & bead box for creative little hands
Got a cute vintage tin or a wooden box with a lid? Or how about pimping up an old shoe box? A lot of children around the age of 5-8 or older love to make things like bracelets or necklaces, so create a beautiful treasure box for them! Fill a box with old beads, ribbons, buttons, scrap fabric and string and let their imagination do the rest. I know I would have loved to receive a box full of things like that.
A wooden tree compatible with Lego
I love it when companies make their stuff compatible with other brands. Smallable, which has a fantastic range of wooden toys for children, sells this plywood tree for a very reasonable £16 that is compatible with Lego bricks. There is also a castle and a space ship in the same series, making perfect no plastic gift ideas. Check out their other beautiful wooden toys here.
Board games and other family fun
I must admit, I’ve never really been one for games, but being a parent I kind of had to get into it. Snakes and ladders, Ludo, Memory, Uno, you name it, my kids love it. I don’t know whether it’s the game itself or the fact that you are playing it with them and they can beat you, but I sure score some brownie points when I get on the floor or around the table for a board game. We were given a great wooden Snakes and Ladders/Ludo combo board a few years back and it gets used every week. Definitely not something that will end up in the forgotten toys corner any time soon. Charity and second-hand shops usually have games in stock, so worth checking. If you rather invest in something high quality and new as a gift for the family to enjoy together for years to come, then John Lewis is a good bet.
DIY Frame lacers for fine motor skills
Frame Lacers are a colorful DIY toy that doubles up as a great fine motor skills activity for kids. Got a tiny child in your life? Make them one of these!
An invention box or ‘robot box’ for explorers
Do you have a child in your life who loves taking things apart or figure out how stuff fits together? Gift them an ‘invention box’ or ‘robot box’! Create a robot box for the toddler in your life using outdated technology. Find old CDs, floppy disks, cables & cords to create a fun bin for toddlers to imagine with. For the older child, fill a large box with more fiddly things they can put together. Nothing better for their creativity than open ended learning and discovery. Check out Research Parent for ideas on what to include in the box.
We emigrated at the start of 2018 from Scotland to Spain. A big transition in many ways. The climate, the language, the settling in, the school searching, the paperwork. It is a lot to tackle when you first set foot in your new foreign country. An eternal holiday? Yeah right. Someone mentioned to me the other day: the first year of moving here? Forget it, it’s a write off, don’t try and get anything done for yourself. I wish I had heard this when we first landed. Being energetic but impatient and keen to get everything and everyone organised within 5 minutes, I was exhausted by the end of year one. A learning curve.
Moving house is always stressful, especially when you have young children who have to adjust and settle into their new environment and potentially a new school. It takes time for everyone to be happy and calm. Moving to Valencia, Spain is of course a whole different ball game. Not only do you leave friends and family behind, you are dealing with a completely new culture. The sunshine made us happy, but the language barrier was huge when we arrived and we felt very unsettled – and still often do after now 20 months of living here. For the children this was no different.
A bumpy ride on the Spanish school roller coaster
The school search in Valencia was stressful. After we had made our decision on one school, it turned out it was full. We had already moved into the right postcode area, but alas – in the end there were no spaces. We were handed two spots in a local Catholic ‘concertado’ (semi-private) school nearby and we just had to accept. I remember feeling very anxious about it at the time, making last minute visits to highly expensive private schools because I wanted the best for my children and thought I was ruining their lives. In the end, after being put off by monthly fees, the traditional school atmosphere and too many Porsches parked outside, my husband and I opted for the local concertado and hoped for the best.
Our youngest went to the 4-year old infantil class (Spanish nursery has three stages – for 3, 4 and 5 year olds) and our 6-year old to 1st year of Spanish primary school. They enrolled in March and while the little one adjusted fairly quickly after a few weeks of tears and meltdowns, the big boy cried till summer. The school wasn’t bad, the teachers were lovely and trying their best, it was just too overwhelming for him. Nobody spoke any English. Imagine needing to go to the bathroom and being unable to ask for directions. Exactly. He was lost, lonely and scared. And Spanish school days are long: from 9am to 5pm. Being the only foreign child, he was also a celebrity and he soon got annoyed with all the unwanted attention. He sat timidly next to the teacher at every break time, overlooking the gigantic typical Spanish concrete playground, where the boys play football and the girls stand on the sideline. The classroom was chaotic, as not only my son was new, his teacher was a maternity cover and didn’t have a clue either. It is fair to say, my son picked up some Spanish and worked a lot on his life skills, but did not do any school work between March and the end of June. Followed by 2.5 months of summer vacation.
I thought I had left the rat race
Our eldest got a space in our school of choice in September last year and thank god, he liked it. His little brother joined him the following school year after we had been tackling two different schools for a full school year, about 2 kilometres away from each other, but with similar drop off and pickup times. Every morning and afternoon we were stuck in rush hour, trying to deliver and collect them on time, at two different locations and nowhere to park. It was like being in the rat race all over again.
Fast forward, Autumn 2019. My now 7-year old is repeating the second year of primary – a careful decision made by us after advice from his teacher – and I am so grateful we have done this. Sure, I felt it was all our fault when we had to consider it, because we ‘dragged’ him to Spain and ‘dumped’ him into the Spanish education system with zero Spanish. But it wasn’t just because of the language, being the youngest pupil in his class he was always going to be more immature and potentially behind in Spanish, but also in other subjects. He is much happier now.
From anxiety ticks to the dust settling
Up to then he was demonstrating signs of anxiety (constant need for reassurance, strange OCD type ticks, being annoyed about his clothes, labels, and having a persistant cough), which were clearly caused by stress, as during the summer holidays they disappeared. My youngest, having been fully immersed in Spanish from the start, is taking like a fish to water in his new school. He is learning to read and write just like his Spanish classmates. The dust has settled. At last.
I was so impatient that first year after moving to Valencia. I always want to have everything sorted in no time, rather than breathe and observe. Roll up the sleeves and get going. I suppose it was somehow due to the irrational feeling of being judged from afar by friends and family. “Will they make it? What will they be doing? Have they found work yet?” This pressure, whether true or just in my head, forced me to do too many things in a short amount of time. I set myself up as self employed, frantically looked for work, networked like mad, was anxious about building a social life from scratch and I even joined a new band so I could continue singing. God forbid I would take a break. I had to create the perfect life and prove I could do it all. But seeing the kids struggle, my husband trying to find his feet (he hated me for putting so much pressure on myself and the family), having to deal with stuff in a foreign language, it was no wonder that just before we reached our one year milestone of living in Valencia – I collapsed.
When words fail and you fall to pieces
I have been a singer in a band for more than twenty years and never have I walked off stage during a gig. It was December, ten months after we moved, when I had a panic attack in the middle of a concert. Both my parents, my sister, husband and children were visiting Valencia, and were watching me. The people who mean most to me in life and love me unconditionally. I lost my lines, blood rushed to my head, I felt I was going to faint, I wanted to dig a hole and disappear. I walked off stage and cried in the bathroom of the venue, comforted by my sister. The mean machine had finally broken down. Smoke coming from the bonnet. I managed to pull myself together and finish the performance, but hell, was it awful. I do remember singing my autobiographic song ‘Nothing’s gonna bring her down‘ from the bottom of my heart with tears in my eyes that night, but feeling so loved by all of my family right there supporting me.
The first year of living in Spain with children is a write off. It is true. Forget about continuing life as you knew it. In our case, having a young family and no 9-to-5 jobs to go to, we literally jumped in the deep end. You need time to figure it all out. To be with your children, to guard their only safe place they know right now: the family. We were totally out of balance. I ran myself to the ground, carrying it all, and expecting my family to run at the same pace, and “just get on with it”. I couldn’t see straight, it was all a blur. But while I pretended I had it all under control, I was slowly losing grip. I guess sometimes you need to fall on your face to finally see what’s going on. I didn’t come to Valencia to feel stressed out, but then I did.
I reached out to a psychologist for the first time in my life at the start of this year and it was so good to talk. To release. To be heard. I went on an all women yoga retreat, which was pure bliss. I promised myself not to be so hard on myself, to practice self-care. I kept a journal, set intentions. Things shifted. Positive things happened since this Summer, including the school changes. We also moved into a different house which we all love. Most of all, I have accepted that I don’t have to do a million things at once and I don’t have to please anyone. I am getting better at setting boundaries for myself and expressing my own needs, something very hard for a person who has always taken pride in being strong. It is OK to be vulnerable. Creating more time and space in my weekly schedule allows me to breathe and observe. Something I should have done much earlier. But hey, nobody is perfect. Onwards and upwards. Little, by little. Poco a poco.
Moving abroad means meeting people from all over the world, all with different backgrounds and customs. You chat to them about life, family traditions and “what are you doing for Christmas?” and soon discover that people have all been brought up with different things. It is very educational to say the least, and wonderful to learn about what everyone celebrates from October to December. Here are some of the known and lesser known traditions you can find around the world this season. Some rather scary ones too.
Halloween. No, it is not an American invention
An American lady here in my hometown of Valencia posted in a Facebook expat group how she was keen to “organise the typical American experience of trick or treating” in Valencia and invited us all to take part. I don’t think she saw what was coming next, namely a whole host of Scots and Irish expats telling her that she “didn’t have to show them, thank you very much, as halloween is a holiday of Gaelic origin – not American.” I guess that was her told – ouch.
Halloween, or the ancient Samhain, is considered the time of year when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. Samhain (pronounced sah-van or sow-in) is the traditional Gaelic festival marking the change of seasons and the approach of winter. Dead and departed relatives played a central role in the tradition, as the connection between the living and dead was believed stronger at Samhain, and there was a chance to communicate. The idea that souls return home on a certain day of the year is repeated across many cultures around the world, including the Day of the Dead in Mexico around the same date. During Samhain or Halloween eventually, mumming and guising (going door-to-door in disguise and performing in exchange for food), or pranks, were a way of confounding evil spirits. Pranks at Samhain date as far back as 1736 in Scotland and Ireland, and this led to Samhain being dubbed “Mischief Night”. The original lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were carved from turnips, not pumpkins.
As a Dutchie who didn’t grow up with Halloween, I went around my local Spanish neighbourhood with an Irish friend this year, as well as a group of Spanish parents and a Swedish mum, who also felt a bit out of place. It was a laugh, and kind of odd trick or treating in a T-shirt in still 24 degrees at night. For the Spanish this halloween thing really is a novelty. Hilarious and entertaining to see everyone learning from each other and adapting to new customs.
All Saints Day in Spain
The day after Halloween the Spanish celebrate All Saints’ day, or Día de todos los Santos, where they remember their dearly departed and bring flowers to the graves of their deceased loved ones. Of course nothing goes without eating in Spain and there are a few traditional sweets that the Spanish eat on All Saints’ Day. The most common are the so-called huesos de santo (literally, “saint’s bones”), which are made of marzipan and sweetened egg yolk. Another treat you’ll find are buñuelos de viento, puffy fried balls of dough filled with pastry cream, whipped cream, or chocolate. Yum!
Day of the Dead, more than just a costume
Day of the Dead, taking place in Mexico the first few days of November, is currently a bit of a fashionable theme for people choosing their halloween costumes, but is actually an ancient celebration that is way more than a bit of makeup and a lot of flower displays. Some of the earliest origins of the tradition can be traced as far back to 2,000-3000 year-old rituals honouring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Celebrating the lives of deceased family members and friends, people believe that during this part of the year, loved ones can return from the Chicunamictlán – the land of the dead – because the border between the real and spiritual world melts away.
When Spanish colonisers came to the region, they carried the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated on the first two days of November. Day of the Dead was moved to correspond closer to these days. In 2008, UNESCO added the country’s “indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead” to its list of so-called Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
St Martin and the paper lanterns
In the Netherlands, at least the north where I grew up, as well as parts of Germany, we celebrate Saint Martins Day on the 11th of November. The day is named after St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church for being a kind man who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm – although as a child I never knew this part of the story. All I remember is that we went around the streets after dark with paper lanterns knocking on people’s doors, sang songs about St Martin and received sweets and oranges in return. It often rains that time of year, so you can imagine the sight: soggy lanterns and frozen children.
Saint Nicholas or ‘Sinterklaas’ in the Netherlands
Staying in the Netherlands, we are also the first to kick off the festive season with our Saint Nicholas on the evening of 5th of December, or 6th of December in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northern France. This saint is a legendary figure based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas (270–343), a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey and the patron saint of children. Saint Nicolas, who is believed to also be the predecessor of good old Santa Claus, introduced to the United States of America by Dutch immigrants, who, just like myself, couldn’t shake off some of their old customs. Some people refuse to believe this, but Santa Claus actually received his jolly, cuddly image from Coca Cola, who felt the old bishop needed a non-religious makeover.
In the Netherlands however, we have kept the St Nicholas tradition alive and well. It is also the cause of wide eyes and disbelief among the international community when I try and explain what in my mind has always been a very innocent tradition. St Nicholas is depicted as an elderly, stately and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape over a traditional white bishop’s alb, dons a red mitre and ruby ring, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top. For some reason the old man with the beard no longer comes from Turkey, but he now arrives every year on a boat from Spain. Until recently our St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, was assisted by a large number of Zwarte Pieten (“Black Petes”), curious helpers dressed in Moorish attire and in blackface, who would take naughty kids back to Spain in a sack. Wowzers. As a child I know for certain we thought nothing of it: they were just the Saint’s helpers, not a racist imitation of people with a black or brown skin colour. Their black colour was because they climbed through the chimney, obviously. And somehow they ended up wearing gold earrings and curly black wigs with it. Cue: gasping audience. You will be glad to hear that Zwarte Piet has left the scene and was in recent years replaced by Rainbow Pete…
Did Black Pete made you cringe? Meet Krampus, his evil Austrian brother
A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones – nope, this isn’t Halloween, but St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus. Just like in the Netherlands, in Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards good little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening the living daylight out of kids with clattering chains and bells. Holy shoot. Give me back rainbow Pete any time.
Hide your broom in Norway
Perhaps one of the most unique Christmas Eve traditions can be found in Norway, where people hide their brooms. Yes, that’s right. Nevermind the manic last minute gift wrapping or preparing the Turkey for Christmas dinner. Get that broom safely in the cupboard. It’s a tradition that dates back centuries to when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. To this day, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.
You want to live abroad? What is the secret of settling in and being happy in your new country? In a nutshell: being open-minded and proactive. Oh, and cycling. I started as a tour guide on a bicycle this year and I love it. It never crossed my mind to be a tour guide in the past, but somehow it came on my path and it suits me. Tour guiding is social, it is outdoors and it keeps me fit. It is the perfect job alongside my other job: writing.
Two questions I get asked on a daily basis by my Dutch tour guide clients: how did I end up in Valencia en what is life like here? Everyone on holiday always secretly wants to figure out if they could move here too and what it would take to make it happen. “You are so lucky to live here”. Let me tell you.
1. Only sunshine is free
Living in Spain has nothing to do with “being lucky”. It takes a long time and many headaches to make the decision to emigrate, to plan the move, to make it happen. It takes a lot of effort to settle in, to navigate around your new country and all the new rules and systems, to try and speak a new language. And of course, to start earning money. There are a lot of hurdles along the way. If I tell people that the average wages here are around €1,000 net per month full time, a little bit of the glamour soon disappears. Living abroad can be amazing, especially when there are 300 days of sunshine year, but you still got to pay the bills.
2. Reinvent yourself
To live abroad and be happy means you have to be flexible and proactive. The alternative is to be stuck indoors waiting for something to happen.You’ll soon end up being pretty lonely. And broke. You also have to put set ideas a side about who you are and what you do. You have to reinvent yourself a little bit. My career has always been in arts marketing, but when you move to Valencia, you’re simply not going to be able to find a similar job. Speaking Spanish is one thing, but Valenciano, the lingo of the public sector, is another. And then there is the high unemployment rate down here, which basically means saying goodbye to your previous line of work.
3. Be realistic and flexible when you live abroad
This is the second time in my life I have emigrated. Age 26 I moved from the Netherlands to Scotland, to be with my now husband. Not too big a deal when it came to cultural differences, but it still took a while to feel at home. In the Netherlands I had left a pretty decent job in the cultural sector. Expecting to “just continue my career abroad”, ended up being an illusion. I applied for a few jobs that were in my field and at my level, but my English was not fluent yet in terms of professional jargon and I made a complete fool of myself at one interview. I can still recall the shame, frustration and sadness I felt afterwards.
Now I could have done two things: go home and give up, or get back up for round two. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? I however chose to be realistic and go for something a bit less ambitious that would at least get my foot in the door. I soon got hired as an admin assistant at an arts centre, and a year later I got promoted to their marketing manager. Learning the language however is often the only way to get anywhere in a foreign country. If you don’t, then that law degree or masters in business administration is not going to get you very far. You just got to start somewhere. If that is in a coffee shop as a waitress for a year (nothing wrong with doing that forever either by the way), then enjoy it and pick up the language while you work.
4. Transfer your skills and find your niche
What skills do you have that are transferable? What are you good at? Other than that as a Dutchie I was born on a bike, I have always been a communicator. I am good at writing, am creative by nature and I like helping others. I’m a practical ‘tick those boxes’ kind of girl. Those skills are useful in all kinds of jobs, you just have to recognise them and put them to good use. With high unemployment here in Spain and not speaking Spanish much yet, I decided to set myself up as a freelancer, or autonóma, in marketing for expats.
In a city like Valencia however, there are many other expats doing similar things and the competition is high. Time to zoom in and stand out from the crowd. Yes, I can design a WordPress site, a flyer and I can keep a facebook page alive, but my strength lies in writing. And I am bilingual: I speak and write fluent English and Dutch. Although I focused on English speaking clients at first, soon I received more requests for web content in Dutch. I unexpectedly realised that is my niche. Writing web content in Dutch. Who would have thought.
5. Look for local clients…or go online
If you live abroad and are looking for clients s a freelancer – whether you are a writer, designer or even an English teacher (another job usually available for foreigners), you can do two things. You can advertise your skills locally and try and find clients nearby. The other thing, which I found is what most other expats do over here, is go online – and work remotely. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr and others enable you to attract clients from all over the world. This means you can also do your job anywhere in the world. The digital nomad is born! Even better is to bring existing clients with you. If you set yourself up as a freelancer abroad, then you can offer your clients back home prices VAT free, as countries have a tax agreement for these kinds of payments. And offering things without the added VAT is of course attractive.
6. Talk to lots of people: be visible
Unless you have all your clients online, it pays to show face. Go to network events, especially those with other expats. Talking to people might bring opportunities. If others know you are looking for work, friends, things to get involved with, sooner or later something will come up. For the introverts this is not always an easy thing to do, but it is pretty much essential if you want to get out of the house and integrate.
Even ‘showing face’ in local Facebook groups can help you become more visible. It’s been vital for me, especially in Valencia, to get to know people, look for work, make connections and feel a bit more part of the community. Social media has its flaws, but it has also made it so much easier to find like-minded people in a new environment. If you are self-employed being visible on social media is very important. Advertise your services to other expats or locals and before you know it, you have your first little contract – which, if you’ve done a good job, may lead to more.
7. Learn the language when you live abroad
First it was English and the local Scottish dialect Doric, now it is Spanish – and even Valenciano – it is a constant adaptation process. If you want to live abroad and just be in your own little bubble, not learning the local language will keep you there for sure. And no, it isn’t easy, but what in life is? Lucky to live here? No, hard work, baby. You feel like a right idiot a lot of the times and you sometimes feel you’ll never ever going to be able to hold a conversation…but you just have to keep going, mistakes and all. Tranquila.
Anyone who has ever moved abroad has had to learn a foreign language at some point, if the locals didn’t speak yours. The other day I heard a great phrase that applies to all of us migrants:”A foreign accent is a sign of bravery.” I’ll take that. Bit by bit. Poco a poco.
Whether you have just moved house, staying somewhere temporarily or you are a digital nomad traveling the globe, it is pleasant to feel at home somewhere straight away. Especially if you are on your own. What are items to make you feel right at home? Things that are comforting and add a sense of familiarity? Here are four items you could try for yourself while on the move, or to welcome your guests while staying at your home.
Home fragrances and natural candles
I don’t know about you, but I like a room to smell nice. So candles or room fragrances can really help with that. If you have guests arriving, it can be very welcoming to have a fragranced candle flickering in the bathroom for example to add a bit of a ‘spa’ feel. Or how about a candle that smells of freshly ground coffee filling the space?
You could pop your favourite candle in your hold luggage too if you travel somewhere, to make your hotel room smell beautiful. (Be careful putting it in hand luggage or it may get taken at security, you never know what is seen as a potential ‘liquid’!)
Adding softness and comfort to your interior is another important factor to make you feel more at home. Drape some chunky knitted throws over your sofa and add plenty of cosy layers to your bed. No space will feel cold and unfriendly when dressed up with beautiful blankets. Not got much space in your suitcase while traveling? Invest in a super soft cashmere throw which could double up as a cosy blanket on a long haul flight.
Familiar photos or prints on the wall
When you move into a new house or flat, the space can feel very alien for a while. Everything is unfamiliar. One of the first things you could do to make your home feel like yours, is to put up some pictures. Create a gallery wall full of family photos or hang your favourite artwork in a prominent place. Add a few large plants and look how you have already transformed the place. If you are traveling or living somewhere for a short period of time, carrying picture frames around with you is probably not an option. Try using other items, such as postcards or smaller pictures, which you could hang with pegs on a piece of string pinned onto the wall.
Your favourite coffee mug to make you feel at home
Nothing beats the feeling of being at ‘home’, or at ease, like a hot cup of tea or coffee in your own special mug. Sitting back, enjoying the view out of your new window and taking it all in. I know it was one of the first things I unpacked after moving last year. If you can pack your favourite mug and bring it with you when away from home for along period of time, it sure soothes any homesick feelings you may have. Choose something sturdy that won’t break easily in transit. Good old Denby mugs are a good bet when it comes to resilience. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your favourite tea either. Enjoy your cuppa!
I turned 40 at the start of the year and I decided to celebrate this milestone by going on a yoga retreat in Valencia. Or more precisely, in the beautiful hills of Favara, just 45 minutes south of the city. Bliss! I had seen yoga teacher Jennison Grigsby‘s yoga events advertised before and a friend had become a bit of an retreat addict, so I decided to join her on the trip to see what it was all about. It turned out to be much more than just a ‘fun weekend’ without the kids. It was a mind opener and a perfect kickstart of the year ahead.
Jennison has been organising English-speaking yoga classes in Valenciafor a few years now. originally from California, Jennison teaches a dynamic Vinyasa Flowas well as slower-paced yin yoga, often outdoors in the park or on the beach. What mostly makes her stand out from any other yoga in Valencia are her yoga experiences, such as a pure relaxation session combining yoga and reiki, a beautiful yoga & piano combo, full moon yoga classes….and of course her weekend retreats, which she organises in Spain and also Italy.
We are all in the same boat
The January yoga weekend was packed with great yoga sessions, yes, but it was so much more than that. It was also a weekend of bonding with women from different countries and different backgrounds who at first sight looked worlds apart but turned out to have so much in common. We are really all in the same boat. Some on rougher seas than others, but all trying to stay afloat, as mothers, busy worker bees or figuring out what to next in life. Sharing a weekend like this with other women is very powerful. We all carry so much, we all doubt ourselves too often and to feel connected like this, helps.
Nothing more healing than belly laughs and a walk in the hills. Plus what’s better than having all your food prepared for you three times a day? Not needing to do any dishes? The talented sisters of catering business Hinojo. prepared delicious vegan and vegetarian food. Then there was the stunning location. Picture a midcentury modern villa set in the mountains, with views to die for, a swimming pool (too cold to dive into but hey, there is always one…) and clear starry nights. It all felt utterly indulgent, but so good for my tired soul.
Intention setting and manifesting your dreams
One of the things during the weekend that really helped focus the mind, was intention setting. Rather than setting yourself goals, an intention allows you to free yourself from the limits of strict outcomes. It creates space for growth, expansion, and change, resulting in less pressure and unnecessary expectations. Setting intentions helps you to create big lifestyle changes rather than focusing on one specific goal.
So what did we do? You take a journal and jot down everything you want in life, no matter how crazy it may sound at the time! Want a villa in the mountains? Find your soulmate? Become debt free? Seeing it written down is step one. Then the next step, how are you going to set the wheels in motion and help the universe to do the rest? (“I intend to…”)
Most of my wishes were to do with my family life and how I wanted things to go a bit more smoothly and with more patience and compassion. Being a mum of two, a wife and self employed all in one – plus the fact that we recently emigrated to Spain, has not been an easy ride. Trying to look after everyone and everything is exhausting and you just keep putting yourself and your well-being at the bottom of the list. I have always felt a lot of resistance to expressing my own needs (being needy is weak, right?), so to write down what I wanted felt alien and selfish. But even doing that was so needed.
And then we all had to pull a card out of a stack of cards with different phrases and meanings, to see what was relevant to you at that very moment. Guess what I pulled? Spooky.
Express your own needs and feel unapologetic about it
One of the more materialistic things I wrote down was that I wanted to earn more money. Well, what am I going to do to set the wheels in motion? Up my prices, ask for what I am worth and feel unapologetic about it! For years I always thought I was “still learning”, “others are much better at this sort of thing” etc, which resulted with me pricing my work too low. Writing down that I wanted to change this and that I was going to feel confident about it, was very liberating. (And you know what? On Monday I emailed two of my long term clients with the news that I was upping my prices….and they were fine with it! Because they replied :”I provide quality work for them and they value this”. It was clearly time I started valuing myself in the same way!)
I would book myself on one of these weekend retreats again without any hesitation. As you get travel, accommodation, activities and all food and drinks included, they are the price of a short holiday. But if you can treat yourself to it, or have a milestone to celebrate like I did, I thoroughly recommend it. It may just change your view on life, yourself and the future.
yoga with jennison videos
In the meantime, if anyone would like to enjoy some of Jennison’s yoga, please head over to her 21-day yoga challenge on Youtube, which I have just completed myself.
Have a great week! Or as the retreat slogan says: “Namaste all day”
Are you dreaming about your next holiday? Or maybe you’ve already booked it? Going on an exotic trip around the world? Whatever you are going to do, it’s always handy to download the right apps on your mobile or tablet, so you’re well prepared on the go. Here are ten handy free apps for traveling.
Rome2rio: best free travel app for itineraries
This is seriously one of the most amazing free app for traveling. Download Rome2rio for finding transport links, even in the most remote places. Type in where you are and where you are going and you get a list of options for bus, train, flight and self-driving.
Prey: free app to track your devices when stolen
With Prey you can secure your smartphone, tablet or laptop. This allows you to track multiple devices if they are stolen or lost. GPS and camera images can be used to restore a lost device. You can even erase your devices remotely.
Google Drive: back up your holiday photos
Speaking of data security, make sure you back up your files. No more excuses that you have lost all your photos. One of the most essential free apps for traveling. Make sure you set up your phone to sync with Apple iCloud or with Google Drive (or with a competitive service such as Dropbox or Microsoft Onedrive). You get 15 GB for free with Google Drive.
Google Translate: your pocket translator
This translation app has been my go-to app since moving to Spain. Perfect for helping you out in a foreign language when words fail. You can not only translate text by entering it manually, the app can also translate a conversation or display a translated text from a text in an image. Google recently switched to translations based on machine learning, making the results much better, especially for difficult translations like Japanese to English. Do not forget to download the dictionaries for languages that you need during your trip, for offline use!
XE Currency: handy free app for traveling
The best way to avoid paying too much abroad (or just making expensive mistakes) is to always have the latest exchange rates at hand. XE Currency works without connecting to the internet to work.
Hostelworld: find the best budget hostels
Hostelworld is the largest hostel booking site, so if you are a budget traveler, chances are you will use this app a lot. One of the must have free apps for traveling if you are backpacking around the world or looking for a cheap place for the night.
Duolingo: learn a foreign language while traveling
What is a better time to learn a language than when you are completely submerged in that language during a trip? Duolingo is one of the travel apps that makes language learning fun by adding game-like scores and progression systems. It is free and it is excellent for learning the basics.
Anti Mosquito: handy free app for traveling
Nobody likes mosquitoes, right? They can make your life miserable at home and on holiday and some of the more exotic ones are also quite dangerous (think malaria and dengue fever). With Anti Mosquito you supposedly chase away mosquitoes by transmitting sound frequencies of 19 kHz and higher. Whether it works perfectly? I can’t tell yet, I’ll get back to you on that! In any case, it is one of the more unusual apps for traveling to try out. I do recommend you keep using your usual sprays too though!
Split Bill: no more arguments over money
Anyone who has ever traveled with a group of friends knows that splitting the bill can cause a bit of a headache. Fiddling with notes and coins and quibbles between the one who only had soft drinks and the one who ordered six gin and tonics. To avoid that in the future, the Split Bill app is a great free app for traveling. Discussions, paying too much or too little: it’s all a thing of the past. Everyone happy!
MAPS.me: best free travel app for offline maps
MAPS.me is another one of those great free apps for traveling. This mobile app allows you to download map data for a country or region, so you can also use it if you do not have 4G or Wi-Fi.