Three years ago today we boarded a Delta Airlines flight in Atlanta, Georgia and woke up eight hours later with a whole new life. I don’t know what I can say about what it has meant to me to have this opportunity to live overseas that I haven’t already said a hundred times before, but above all else I am thankful. From the bottom of my heart thankful. Despite what you may hear about how “easy” it is to quit your job and travel the world for years, that kind of scenario just doesn’t work for some people, us included. Like most regular folks, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that travel for us would likely mean 1-2 stateside trips a year, and maybe once a decade we’d actually cross an ocean if we were lucky. Being offered a chance to move to London with Cory’s job was our ticket to the life we’d always dreamed about but never thought we’d actually have, and not one time over the past three years have I forgotten to be grateful for that.
Properly summing up the past three years of travel into a single paragraph of words would be an impossible task, so I’m going to do it in numbers instead. Cory will be so proud! Since we arrived on UK soil in mid-2013, we have taken 29 trips, seen 17 new countries and visited over 40 cities, ridden on 43 airplanes, spent 82 nights in hotels, taken 30 trains (not counting subways – that would be an astronomical figure), 18 long-distance buses, and rented 8 cars for road trips and day trips. Whew. Interesting as it is to see our travels laid out so neatly, these are just numbers, and as anyone who has traveled knows, the actual experience of traveling is something that simply can’t be quantified. As Mary Anne Radmacher so eloquently sums it up, I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
Equally as difficult to write about in short form is what it’s been like to spend the last three years in London, first as an outsider, then slowly edging into resident territory. It’s been a heck of a journey, I can tell you that. Everyone experiences it differently, but for me, it took quite a while for London to feel like home, despite how easy the transition was. The entire first year I felt more like I was on holiday than actually living here, which sounds like a good thing until you start craving that settled feeling, which in our case arrived sometime into our second year. And now, as we prepare to leave a month from tomorrow, cliché as it sounds, I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart behind, because this place, particularly our “practically perfect in every way” area of Chiswick, has truly become home.
Just like travel changes you, so does living outside of your home country for any extended period of time. It can make you rethink everything you thought you knew about yourself and how the world works like nothing else can. It certainly had that effect on me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a completely different person than I was when I left Nashville three years ago in my cowgirl boots
with chicken feathers tucked into my back pocket, but some pretty significant changes have occurred (mostly unrelated to clothing choices).
Perhaps these changes would have occurred anyway, as the passage of three years of time tends to do that to everyone with an open enough mind, but certainly it is your experiences that shape you more than anything else and I have had those in spades over the past few years. I won’t go into detail, because what does anyone care about someone else’s personal metamorphosis? But I will say I am a far more sympathetic, empathetic, less self-absorbed but more sure of myself person than I was before. Not that I wasn’t a good person before – I would hope that if you’d asked someone to describe me three years ago, the first thing they would have said is ‘kind’ (followed closely by ‘funny’, but that’s probably stretching my luck a bit) – but whatever I was before, I consider myself now to be a slightly less new, yet much improved version of that, thanks at least in part to our European expat adventure. I still rock those cowgirl boots, though.
As far as what our last year in London has been like, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not taking advantage of it like I should have. At least not until recently, anyway. Finding out early on that we’d be moving on to greener pastures (literally, minus the pastures part) was both a blessing and a curse. Having plenty of time to plan ahead for an impending move is great, in theory. Except it also means that you have plenty of time to plan ahead. I have a hard enough time living in the present as it is, but knowing we had something big coming up made it really difficult for me during the first few months of this year to focus on where we are versus where we’re going to be. That all changed a month or so back when I counted up how many weekends we had left in London and compared it to my list of things I wanted to do before we left and discovered the only way we’d get it all done is if we didn’t sleep Friday through Sunday for the next 10 weekends. I felt discouraged until I remembered that no one ever “finishes” London. It’s an impossible task. One does not run out of things to do in London, one runs out of years to do them in.
And so we’ve done our best to prioritize the most important and let go of the idea that tackling the whole list is achievable, and it’s been a blast. It’s like our first year in London all over again. I feel a renewed sense of love for this city and genuine nostalgia for a place I haven’t even left yet. A year ago I was so ready to go, and now I’m already thinking about how we can come back a few years down the road and do this all again. (Highly unlikely, but a girl can dream!) Besides running all over the place doing all the things, I’ve tried to be more aware even in the most mundane of tasks – grocery shopping, catching the tube, walking to the chemist, everything really. Compared with the excitement of London’s tourist/food/social scene, these might seem like unimportant things not worthy of remembering, but they are what make up our actual life here, and I don’t want to forget a single bit of that. If I could bottle up all these memories for recollection later, I would. Unfortunately all I’ve got is my unreliable brain to rely on. :)
extremely unrealistic high hopes of posting twice a week during the months of May and June to try to catch up on everything we’ve been doing in London, but clearly that hasn’t panned out. I haven’t even made time to post on Instagram, which is pretty terrible seeing as that takes all of twelve seconds to do. I think a little bit of that has to do with the fact that I’d like to keep these moments to myself for now, not put out there for their importance to be determined by how many red hearts they collect. But because of that, I’ve got over a hundred Instagram-worthy photos on my hard drive that will probably never see themselves turned into square form on my feed. (Why I feel like I am doing them some sort of disservice by not sharing them is a subject for another day…or possibly a therapist.)
What an incredible three years it has been. There have certainly been some downs mixed in with all the ups, but I know with absolute certainty those won’t be the things I remember when I look back on this chapter of our lives. There’s so much I’m going to miss, not the least of all the incredible friendships I’ve made with other Londoners, expats, and bloggers. But also the staggering amount of history, the charming streets that have always made me feel like I’m living in some kind of movie set, the way seeing famous places in the city never gets old, and, of course, the incredible ease with which we’ve been able to explore a huge portion of Europe. Singapore has some very big shoes to fill!
PAST REFLECTIONS ON LIVING IN LONDON
I want to thank everyone who continues to read what I have to say here. I am not the most consistent blogger, or the most interesting, so it always surprises me when someone tells me in person or through various other channels how much they enjoy reading my blog. Thank you for that, and I hope you’ll enjoy our Singapore stories as much as the London ones.