Expat Life

Three Years In London: Our Europe Adventure Comes To An End

Three Years In London: Our Europe Adventure Comes To An End

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.

Three Years In London: Our Europe Adventure Comes To An End

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, clichΓ© 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.

Three Years In London: Our Europe Adventure Comes To An End

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. :)

I had 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

Adjusting To Life In The City
Six Months In London: The Things I Love & Miss
One Year In London
Two Years 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.

You Might Also Like...

  • I grew up in Singapore and since my parents live there, I go back regularly! It’s very different but still lots of fun, especially if you like good food as there’s lots of that. I actually just posted recently on my top 10 things to eat there so take a look if you fancy it.

    • That is so cool! I spent a few years in Singapore as a teenager, too! I LOVE food and that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to when we get there! :) I will check out your post right now!

  • Looking forward to seeing the next chapter in Singapore x

  • Can’t wait to read about your adventures in Asia :)

  • I can’t believe it’s been three years already! Wow!!! :)

  • I’ve only just started following your blog, but I already love it so much! I can’t wait to see what your next adventure in Singapore brings – we visited there for a few days on a stopover to Australia and it was one of my favourite cities! I can’t wait to go back (hopefully) some day to explore it all over again as so much has changed since 2007! I hope the move goes well and you get settled quickly!
    xo April

    • 2007 was the last time I visited, too! The Marina Bay Sands hotel hadn’t even been built yet when I was there. I am expecting lots of changes! Thank you so much for your well wishes! :)

  • This simultaneously makes me so happy, and so sad! Cheers to more adventures xx

  • I cannot believe it has been three years already! I still remember when you left your beautiful farm! I haven’t blogged about it yet but we have decided to move in the fall to the east coast and so much of what you shared in this post resonated with me. I cannot help but feel nostalgic where we currently live with the thought that we will have a baby soon and I will miss out on some of the freedom I have. But now on top of that there is the extra nostalgia of knowing we will be moving. My love for adventure has seemed to fade as I hold on to living up each day in the now. But your words reminded me that my sense of adventure will surely return once we get past this whole life changing event of having a baby! It is sometimes so hard to see past the sadness of leaving but I am hopeful we will both be embracing the joys of starting new soon. Thanks for sharing your heart on all of this. xo

  • Happy London anniversary! I think you’ve been the most wonderfully consistent, inspiring, interesting blogger and I’ve always loved visiting your blog. Taking some much-needed time off over the past year doesn’t change the fact that yours is one of the better travel and photography blogs out there. I expect you’ll be very busy over the next month but I’d love to meet up with you in Singapore one day!

  • rorybore

    It has been amazing watching your growth and travels while in London! I for one want to see all those hidden photos of course! LOL But I am so looking forward to your continued journey. Especially such an interesting place like Singapore that I don’t know much about — it will be like going to travel school each time I visit here – and I mean that in a GREAT way. :)

  • Beautiful photos and words to illustrate your time in London – bon voyage and best of luck in Singapore! You’ll love it there. I’m sad that you’re leaving, though!

  • Please don’t say that you’re not an interesting blogger! You may not trek through North Siberia solo or wrestle with polar bears, but I honestly don’t think that that makes you less interesting of a blogger! :) I, for my part, enjoy reading about the kind of travel experiences that actually seem feasible to achieve myself and as inspiring as some ‘I quit my job to travel the world forever’ stories are, they certainly are not the most relatable ones. Travel blogs in particular can have a way of all blending in together – and I think your focus on family travel and traveling while still having a regular life on the side feels a niche that would be too devoid otherwise! :) I wish you the very best for Singapore!

    • You’re too sweet, Melanie. Thank you! :) Haha…I definitely do not have any plans to wrestle polar bears anytime in the near future, so if that makes me boring, then so be it!

  • Beautiful post Sarah. I couldn’t agree more that living somewhere different changes you just as much as travel! Looking forward to following along on your next set of adventures :)

  • Jennifer @This Off Script Life

    So much of everything you’ve said about finding the familiar in a foreign country, making it your home, and learning more about yourself while living abroad rings true with me (and I’m sure with just about everyone else who has lived overseas). It’s so hard to put the experience into words, but you’ve done a beautiful job of it in this post. Good luck as your adventure continues!

    • Thank you so much, Jennifer! I believe living overseas has this effect on most people, at least the ones who are open to change anyway. :) It’s definitely a good thing!

  • Lindsey

    Love your blog!!! We are moving to the London area from the states (and my chickens and garden!) in a few months. Your blog has made me feel a bit better! Thanks for the great info and the beautiful photos :)

    • I’m so glad I’ve been able to help! I hope your transition is as easy as it can be! Enjoy London! :)

  • I love everything about this. It’s so exciting you are going to Singapore. Tim & I are now thinking we may travel down to Singapore and fly out of there back to Aus (did you know you can get flights with Scoot for like $190 to Australia!!?) Good luck with the move, Sarah! xxxx

    • When are you guys thinking you’ll be in Singapore? We won’t arrive until 6 July, but if we’re there at the same time we’ll have to get together and eat some hawker food! :) I def did not know that about flights to AUS! Awesome! We are def going to visit while we are in Singapore…it’s probably the closest we’ll ever be to Australia!

      BTW – I’m so excited about you and Tim’s new joint blog!!

      • We won’t be there until maybe late Aug/Sept/Oct – very vague as we still aren’t 100% on what we are doing. Yes! You will have to visit Aus for sure!

        Thank you! :) I haven’t updated my blog for sooo long and just lost heart for it. The new joint venture has given me a bit of drive again to write down our memories :)

  • great post!

  • It`s pretty sad, that after such a long time you should leave London. Hope you wouldn`t regret about it. This post is very emotional and excited!