What a difference a week can make! The sun is shining a bit today, we have groceries in the cupboard, I got our bus passes, we found a play group, and we even found a church. Doug has made friends with our smack-talking butchers.
Today I want to start answering your questions about the choices we made and how we got here, in case you were considering making a similar move.
Assuming that you’d want to go to a different country, of course. Wondering how to flush the toilet and riding around the city on a bus because you can’t remember the name of your bus stop isn’t automatically everyone’s idea of fun.
And it’s not like one day I just said, “Hey Doug, how about you quit your job?” and then, “Let’s go live in Italy!”
Well, actually, that is kind of what happened, but we had two factors that helped us to make this decision in both a spontaneous and responsible way, not like in the movies how “a bird pooped on me, so I bought a Tuscan fixer-upper.”
This wasn’t the first time we tried to stay in Florence. A few years ago, early in our marriage, we found a small fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the Oltrarno we could rent for six weeks. (It’s the yellow one on the roof in the next picture.) We had recently paid off all our debt, and we were working on building our savings. We didn’t feel comfortable enough however for both of us to take a six-weeks leave from work, and the combination of paying the expenses on our current apartment and to stay in Italy felt like more than we could afford.
We decided not to go, we stayed home and added to our savings, a couple of years later we had kids, and I forgot all about it.
I forgot about it until the year that Doug turned forty years old. On his birthday I realized that he had worked for twenty-five years, and I thought it would be a good idea for Doug to take a year off from working sixty-hour weeks, spend some time with the family, and think about what he will work on for the next twenty-five years. This could be a sabbatical year, and with no job constraints, we could live anywhere.
This time we had two factors working in our favor: good timing and position. By timing I mean the circumstances and situations that we don’t have any control over. By position I’m talking about the choices and decisions that we have made so far. Also, even though the trip seems random, I’m seeing how God is unfolding a purpose to our being here in an exciting way.
I feel like it’s important to mention that I had no worries about Doug leaving his job. In his previous line of work he regularly received job offers, and even if he didn’t work for someone else, we often thought up new business ideas he could do on his own. His job also wasn’t our only source of income. He directs our stock trades and investments, so we have some money coming in from investments, and I also make a little side income from freelance writing. (In case you’re curious, he already has a job possibility lined up for when our trip here is over.)
When I share ideas at Small Notebook for having a simplified and organized home, one of my personal motivations is having the freedom in flexibility. Even without plans to go overseas, I liked being flexible enough to go somewhere if the opportunity ever arose.
To make a trip like this, I saw that we had good timing and position, and so I grabbed the opportunity while I could.
For good timing:
- Our family is all in good health.
- Our extended family is in good health.
- Our apartment lease ended, so we could move without obligations and put our stuff in storage.
- My parents let us live with them for a month while we transitioned from our old apartment before we came here, which was immensely helpful.
- Our kids are not school-age yet, which helps to make things simpler.
For good position:
- We are debt free with savings (additional savings than what we set aside for a house and retirement).
- Because we have lived in rented apartments, we don’t own a lot of furniture and stuff.
- Since we paid cash for both cars, we don’t have a car payment. We sold one car that we had racked up the miles on and stored the other.
- We don’t have pets to take care of.
- We have some income apart from full-time employment.
To take care of the first questions that came to mind, here is how we managed to find an apartment, arranged for passports and looked into visas, and obtained health insurance:
1. Renting an apartment overseas:
We searched for furnished rentals on sites like Craigslist, Home Away, VRBO, IHA, and Sabbatical Homes. Though the listed rates for weekly rentals are usually high, we contacted owners directly and asked what their discounted rates would be for a long-term stay. Since we are making this trip during the spring instead of the summer, prices are less and there are more choices. We didn’t need to move any household goods, so we transferred our stuff to a storage unit.
2. Passports and visas:
We needed our passports renewed and new ones for the kids. Visas are complicated, and I spent an entire day just learning about the process. With our US passports we could travel in Italy (and any other country in the Schengen agreement) for up to 90 days without a visa, but we would need one for a longer trip. Because of Doug’s new job offer, we decided to limit our trip to 89 days and avoid visas.
3. Health insurance:
After our employer group health coverage ended, I bought short-term health insurance for while we lived in the states and international health insurance for our time overseas. Both are coverage for accidents and illness. They have deductibles, exclusions, and no preventive care, so they cost less than the full coverage we had before. Before our full coverage ended I made sure to catch us up on doctor appointments, and I got new glasses. That’s good advice for anyone who is going on a long-term trip or not: stay current on your health care; don’t assume you will always have your good health insurance available.
Tying up loose ends took much more time than I expected. I dealt with a lot of paperwork. We also spent a lot of time shopping before the trip, buying things like shoes for the kids and other things we anticipated needing in the following months, while we had the selection I wanted and the currency exchange rate was in our favor.
Over the next few months I’m looking forward to enjoying the fruits of the work that we did in advance, and I’m also practicing my Italian.
Because right now it sounds like “Ciao, y’all.”