Happy Spring Forward to a Family Lifestyle Change

Ahhhh, Spring! We woke up to the first day of Spring in Lisbon, Portugal for the start of a family gap year. We left the U.S. to have a different lifestyle–one that is slower-paced and more family-oriented. And it’s easier to that in the land of the sun–Andalucia (southern Spain).

It was supposed to be for only a year without work. But time has ticked and tocked and ticked and tocked and. . . turned the year into the second, third and, now, fourth year and counting.

Late winter orange flower blooms, like this one, marks the arrival of early Spring in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

As you can imagine, it was not an easy decision to quit the job, clear out the house, move to another country and live your dreams (at least try to) especially with kids. And yet, it was all worth it!

Now, the kids speak Spanish without us paying a single cent to learn the language. How? We simply enrolled them in an excellent and highly dynamic public school that is more like a family or at least family-oriented atmosphere.

life begins at the end of your comfort zone by Neale Donald Walsch. family lifestyle change to spend more time together #freeelectrons.family
family lifestyle change to spend more time together

Within 3 months of moving the boys were fully integrated in the schools–the younger one had to first attend daycare. He was almost 2 years old at the time and after a year joined his older brother who went straight to public kindergarten with a wonderful, wonderful teacher for the final few weeks of the year just to try it out and get used to his classmates for the coming school year.

Of course, they had significant language barrier. So, I (dad/Tata) went to kindergarten too with him everyday so had a shared experience of not knowing what in the world they are talking about! And yet, it was fun being a kid again.

After a year of school, 5 hours a day of language and cultural immersion, both are fully integrated in the school and were participating in plays. We even learned How to Make a Short Film for a School Project in 5 days. . . We had no idea how but we the help of the school staff, the teachers, the parents and, of course the students, we all did it together.! CHECK OUT the SHORT FILM at the end of that post link.

A school project “corto” (short film): “Me Pongo en Tus Zapatos Te Pones en los Mios”

Of course they are probably gonna remember the times when they were anxious about going to school because we did not understand what anybody’s talking about. Heck, I still have the hibby-gibbies every time I think of my 3 weeks in kindergarten with my son. But, “Smile and wave boys! Smile and wave!”, as learned in the movie Madagascar, did wonders… Still do!

That’s how to give your kids a gift of a new language for FREE! Mission accomplished.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” as a saying goes. And so they have definitely lived and hopefully it will make them more adabtable and inclusive.

Rewind 4 years and 9 months in the summer.

But before all that. Before our big move from the U.S. to Spain when I came home from work one summer day and pitch her the idea of quitting the job and moving to Europe…. “Anywhere in Europe!”, I said.

My sweet-angel-of-a-wife knocked some sense into my hard head with something like, “Are you finally at the crap end of crazy!  What about the kids?  What are we gonna do about money?  What about the house?  What about your career and your high-paying job?  What about….” well, you get the idea… A thousand questions; all needed answers; all at once.

I simply had to convince her by addressing all the important questions that I immediately needed to answer before she could even entertain the idea of quitting the job, clearing out the house, and moving the family abroad… to anywhere cheap in Europe.

Are you thinking about doing similar lifestyle change? Save yourself some time and skinny-a*s-chewing and check out that link.

Plan it! Questions such as these and more (later) helped plan a successful move abroad with our family. Photo of the bay of Cadiz with shirtless Karol exploring the wild beach. #freeelectrons.family.
Plan it! Questions such as these and more (later) helped plan a successful move abroad with our family.

Armed with the words of an almighty president, “Yes, you can!” I burned the candles in the silence of the night, searching for the answers and the benefits up front that I can present to my wife. Yes, I can! And it took several months.

But then there’s more questions like: How much do we need for a family year-without-work abroad? What about health insurance? What about school for the kids? Check out this part 2 of What to ask yourself before your gap year with family abroad. Where will you go? Where do we go?

At this point, it’s good that she, my wife, my governess, was asking questions. That meant she was warming up to the idea.

But Where to get the money for this family gap year? Here are some ideas that were right under our noses.

Would you like to have more time with your family? What to ask yourself before moving your family to another country. Where will you go? #freeelectrons.family
Would you like to have more time with your family?

More months passed by. Trump won the election. Now, I was burning the midnight oil along with the cadles, trying to accelerate this decision process. Then more questions: What about my career? Can I take a sabbatical from work? What’s the plan for work when we get to our destination? What are we gonna do for money? I was almost there. Yes, we can! Check them out here: A family gap year without work. . . Thinking about taking a career break? Yes, we can!

Then there were more questions still, that I haven’t had a chance to write about yet. Things like “What to do with the car? How to ship it? Visas? Medical check ups? Rental Management?… Ufa!

In the end, by early December, a decision was made. The benefits up front worked!

And I got my paperwork in order for the Spanish visa and rushed my skinny little a$s to the Spanish embassy for a long-term visa application. Here’s How to stay in Spain for a year-without-work (for non-EU citizens). After a year, you can renew for 2 years with the same conditions and then another 2 years. I’ll get to writing about this renewal process at some point.

Then, over the holidays we started to sell the cars (except one), declutter the house and sell or give away as much as possible in the shortest amount of time and move the rest to a storage unit. We dubbed OPERATION SPEED-CLEANING: Downsizing to Make Money for a Family Gap Year Abroad.

We had 3 months to do this. So, in order for this process to be not so disruptive to our kids, we had to select things at night, stage them in a corner of the garage for selling or moving to a storage unit in the weekend. Everyday was moving us closer to FREEDOM!

After the holidays, I received my visa. Wife and kids do not need them as they have EU passports. Nice.

The boys at the Costa de la Luz, Andalucia in the first summer in Spain.

Then the moment of truth came on January 19 when I handed in my resignation effective March 20 or something like that. Plenty of time to train my replacement.

My quite cool boss realized I was serious. You see before the holidays there was talk of me getting more responsibilities come summer. As he was likely the best boss I had, I owed it to him, to tell him the truth that I didn’t plan on staying that long.

Later on my last day he said, “When I grow up I wanna be just like you.” Many people complain about their work. But how many people actually quit it? “It helps to have a little screw loose in my head, Boss!,” I replied as we said our farewells.

Drawing of a man in suit-and-tie with eyes closed, laying on a hammock. Text reads: Health does not always come from medicine...
Taking a career break; a year off work.

At this point we were clearing the house and packing our bags FAST. It was pedal-to-the-metal. We had a triage of what to bring with us immediately on the plane…. with the car that was to be shipped… and what to store for later retrieval…. This is our ZEN moment–the process of simplifying a family life.

During the last 3 months we had to arrange for the shipment of the car with household goods, sift through important documents and shred the rest, arrange for rental management and prep the house for rent, get medical and dental check ups done while we had a very good insurance… acupuncture and wisdom teeth removal for dad… booking temporary residence in Jerez de la Frontera upon arrival (during Holy Week, oooppps!) to manage the transition…. Visiting friends and family. . . We had no time to study Spanish… which was a serious mistake.

A painting of a nomadic, roaming family in a caravan with two horses on a country road to highlight a year (perhaps years) off work.
A semi-nomadic, roaming family.

FAST FORWARD: March 20,2017 we boarded a plane on a one-way ticket to Lisbon. (We have not had a chance to turn this Polish post into English. Until then, you can always use Google translate.)

Not a bad gamble in the end, some 4 years later and three 6-week-long family camping road trips in the summers across Europe, from Spain to Poland and back. This is our life in Spain that started off as a family gap year without work. Now, on the fourth year, my wife and I work as full-time parents with occasional side gigs. Now, that’s a lot of family time together! Not bad, eh?

Our first family camping road trip across Europe.

Later as we slowly settled in our new life in Spain, my then 6-year old son asked me, “Tata [dad in Polish], we are gypsies, right?” We were looking at a map, talking about his diverse friends in school, why we have moved from the “yellow house” to the “blue house” to the “white house” in the past two years, and our future plans to move elsewhere, maybe Kyrgystan or Tajikistan, certainly Poland.

Well, yes we are! We are in a way new gypsies or semi-roamers and nomads. . . not by blood but by choice of lifestyle. We roam albeit slowly; arrive at a place we like and absorb the good things that we like and need to absorb like language and unique aspects of a culture. And then move on! ROAM! 

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One-way ticket to Lisbon, Portugal–land of Fado.

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