Select Page
Is Lack of Sun Making you Sick?

Is Lack of Sun Making you Sick?

This feels quite a personal post to write because it relates to a difficult period in my life when I struggled with an autoimmune condition.  It was something that seriously effected my everyday life.  I had some level of pain constantly.  The level varied from day to day but it was always there.

Like many other autoimmune diseases it wasn’t something that conventional medicine knew how to deal with successfully.  After a quick scan of the internet message boards relating to my condition I could see that the people who were using conventional treatments were suffering a whole host of horrible side effects without any real improvement in the symptoms of the condition itself.  It didn’t make reassuring reading.

The other rather depressing thing when I started to look into diet and other holistic treatments was that most practitioners warned me that this was going to be a long haul with no guarantee of feeling 100 percent better.

I can remember deciding that I didn’t want to hear words like remission or managed or controlled.  I was prepared for a long haul but I was determined to get to a point in time where I could say, “I used to have Interstitial Cystitis……”

So I saw a holistic practitioner who specialised in my condition and made some very drastic dietary changes.  I popped more probiotics than Kate Moss has popped much more interesting things and gradually started to feel better.

After a year or two of living like a nun I still had days when I felt rubbish and although they were less frequent I still hadn’t reached that point where I felt I could say, “I used to have……”

If you have ever come through an illness that seriously impacted your quality of life or maybe you have had to deal with an illness that has left you questioning the length of time you have on this planet you will probably have reassessed the things that really matter to you.

And sometimes it takes something like this to put things in perspective and to make big life changes without giving a stuff about what other people might think about you.

Going to the gym 4 times a week isn’t going to cut it when your body and soul are shouting at you that what they really want to be doing for physical exercise is walking in a beautiful mountain range in the winter sunshine somewhere in Southern Spain.

There has been so much research to show that the connection between our happiness and our health is huge.  It is also an indisputable fact that most of us living an office based life in northern latitudes are lacking in vitamin D – which is known to keep all sorts of serious health conditions at bay.

All the time I was feeling ill I craved sunshine.

I was desperate to move to Southern Europe. – When I went on holiday there I REALLY didn’t want to come back.  I loved to go there in the winter and just sit and soak up the sun like a lizard.

I can’t tell you exactly which part of this relates to listening to my body and which part relates to listening to my dreams.  I can tell you that at the end of the day the two things overlap and you have to listen to both of them.

We took the leap and took out a six month rental on a house in the most beautiful mountain village you could imagine in S W Spain.

I took morning walks in the sun through ancient paths, I sat and soaked up winter sun outside our house, I lived simply and ate well and I healed. 

And our life has never been the same since.  I could finally say those words I dreamed of saying, “I used to have IC.”  And now I wake up every morning in the sunshine (well nearly every morning) looking forward to a day of new adventures and experiences.

You can call me nosy if you like – I prefer to describe myself as interested – the thing is I love to chat to people who have made big and brave life choices to follow their heart.  It is surprising how often people are spurred on to take the leap after going through a scary illness or suffering the loss of someone close to them at too young an age.

You don’t come through any of life’s challenges without gaining a new sense of perspective, without becoming more resourseful and often without becoming more open minded.

Inventing a new life for yourself and overcoming the barriers it takes to get there is no different.  You will need to gain a sense of perspective about what is possible, you will have to be resourceful if you want to make it work and it helps a lot if you can remain pretty damn open minded.

I love sharing my insights into what is possible.   I can give you insider info about how much it really costs to live in many beautiful unspoilt parts of Europe and I love throwing ideas around about different ways to up your standard of living while freeing up your time.

If you have any questions or thoughts on this subject I’d love to hear from you – please let me know in the comments below.


When Your Partner Feels the Fear about Moving Abroad

When Your Partner Feels the Fear about Moving Abroad

Throwing an idea at your partner that is going to involve: HUGE amounts of upheaval. Is likely to involve a certain amount of cost… and has by its very nature a large amount of unknowns is probably going to be met, in the beginning at least, with varying degrees of resistance. And I can tell you that if your partner is feeling a lot of resistance to the idea of moving country, his first line of defence is likely to be finances. You have to remember that your partner/husband has probably spent his childhood watching his father take the role of going out out to work and providing for the family very seriously indeed. It is the way men have defined themselves for generations.  It is something that is ingrained in so many men across all sectors of society.  It doesn’t matter whether your husband watched his dad going to work in a car factory or heading off to the office in a suit.  Your husband’s father and grandfather probably took pride and satisfaction in bringing home the cash to put food on the table and buy the shiny new school shoes for their children. The idea of taking time out where he is not going to be able to rely on his usual income or where he feels providing for his family could be more difficult is quite likely to feel pretty worrying. And putting aside the typical gender differences around this subject; we ALL have very different feelings and emotions around the subjects of travel, big life changes and uncertainty as well as financial security. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female these are all issues that trigger strong emotions.  Emotions that your partner may well not even want to think about let alone deal with when you first raise the subject. I look at different ways of earning and supporting your life abroad in another post – click here. However it is important that you read the rest of this first, because unless you look at the bigger picture and deal with the concerns you both have around this you will never be able to move forward on planning this together. Here is an example to make you think about your own values around financial security. One of my favourite good life abroad authors, is Chris Stewart author of Driving Over Lemons.  I love his passion for his adopted country, his self depreciating humour and the way he is able to recount all those quirky and bazaar experiences to be had from diving head first into another culture. I know that Chris came from a comfortable, upper middle class background and was educated at one of the most expensive private schools in the UK.  However if you read his books you will learn that he has been happy to live his life searching out experiences that were all about adventure and quality of life with no thought for financial security at all. He and his wife, Ana spent every last penny they owned on buying a remote small farm in Spain and moved with no clear idea how would finance their existence.  I love their story and their experiences but would I have been comfortable or able to do this myself? Absolutely no way. I shared a lot of the same goals: To find an idyllic rural paradise somewhere in the hills in Southern Spain or Portugal and take time to live a simpler life in a culture I had fallen in love with. But to try to do this with the level of financial uncertainty that Chris and Ana did would have made the experience so stressful for me that it would have taken away any possible enjoyment. Taking some time to plan,to  save, to set up some a way of earning that doesn’t rely on you having to be in your home country the whole time is, for most people, a very good idea. One of the issues couples can face when they look at this subject together is that one partner may have values around financial uncertainty that are close to that of Chris and Ana and the other partner may feel they need the backup of property investment in their home country plus a couple of other secure income streams to make sure that they can continue to live with high levels of material comfort. Your vision of life when you move abroad may conflict – one of you may be happy to live a very simple life with low costs of living – whereas the other partner may still have plans for a large and comfortable car and the opportunity to spend on world travel. They may want to feel that they would be able to pay for private school fees to put their children in international school if necessary etc. Or maybe you own a house in a highly developed economy such as the UK or the US and you feel happy to cash this in to fund life in your new country.  You have been spending too many nights surfing the internet to look at the cost of buying or renting in your dream location!  And you have worked out that you could sell, pay off your existing mortgage and with the money left over buy an 8 bedroom property with land. Your partner however feels that selling up would amount to burning all your bridges. You would put yourselves in a position where, if your new life didn’t work out, you would find yourselves a lot worse off when you tried to move back and this would feel too much of a risk. Or maybe you are struggling to get on the property ladder in your home country and one of you has realised that you could buy a property outright with no mortgage for less than the amount you would need for a deposit for a one bedroom apartment in the South East of the UK.  The other partner is saying it’s time to get realistic.  It’s all very well buying a cute Finca in the mountains but you can’t live on love and you can’t live on a view. It might be that even the suggestion of a 6 month sabbatical gives your partner the collywobbles.  Giving up the career he has worked in for over a decade and the financial security it brings to all your lives is something he doesn’t want to face. Having an open discussion about where your values lie on the issue of financial security is an important first step.  It may be that you aren’t even really clear on where your own boundaries are around this issue. The other really important discussion to be had is what your dream life would look like and what your partner’s dream life looks like.  Getting your finances organised to be able to set off for a life of travel and adventure takes work and commitment. If your partner feels that he would be happier or equally as happy remaining where you are this isn’t a shared goal.  The work and commitment involved in getting there is likely to be a lonely journey because the momentum will need to be generated by you alone. If this is the case it is important that you don’t let your own dreams get sidelined and brushed under the carpet.  He needs to understands that taking some time out to at least experience life in the country of your dreams is one of your most important life ambitions. You need to get focused on the task of making that 6 month sabbatical or even a 4 month sabbatical turn into a reality.  Once you both have this time and distance from your current existence you stand much more chance of finding dreams you can share for the long term.
Travel, Children and Education

Travel, Children and Education

Unless you are already homeschooling, the chances are, when you think about moving abroad with children one of your biggest questions is going to be what you are going to do about their education.

For me this was probably the most worrying part of this huge life change. If living in the country of your dreams doesn’t work out for every single member of your family, none of you are going to be happy. It is impossible as a mother to have a happy day if you have dragged a tearful child to school that morning, whether you are living in your home country or a different one. If you are anything like me, a big part of the motive for this experience is to enrich the lives of your children, to give them positive experiences they could never have imagined having. When it comes down to it there are 4 main options that you have when looking at how to educate your child in your new country or while you are on your big tour of the world. 1 Home Education A lot of families – including those whose children are currently in full time education decide to home educate when they take a sabbatical to live in a different country or to go on a grand world tour. There are plenty of benefits to this option – one of the things you may well want to do with your new found freedom is to say, “This morning we are going to jump in the car and drive to Barcelona and see the sights for a few days,” or, “Why don’t we drive to Madrid and then catch a train to Rome.” or maybe, “We’ll set off for a few days skiing in Andorra.” If you child is in school this is only really possible on weekends, bank holidays and school holidays. If this is a total life change for you – and one of the things you don’t like about your current life is the fact that you are working long hours and you don’t see enough of your children – then the opportunity to take a year, or 6 months, or however much time you have, re-bonding as a family can be a gift for all of you. One downside to home ed is that you can be missing an opportunity for your children to really immerse in the culture and the language (and opportunities for making friends for life, in a remote rural village school, could be missed!) Another thing to consider is that home ed can be either illegal or a bit of a grey area legally in a number of countries in Southern Europe – not that I would let this hold you back, as I have said somewhere before I have a real problem with any government trying to tell me how to live my life or educate my children. (Huge legal disclaimer here!!!!) The downside to this though is that tracking down home ed groups can be hard because they aren’t always keen to make their existence too public. (I do have a contact for a home ed association in Spain and I received an email last year about a summer camp for Spanish home edders – I will try and track this contact down and find out more for any of you who may be interested – it could be a great opportunity for fun, friendships and language learning. We went down the home ed route when we had 2 or 3 months to spend travelling last year. I tracked down a School of Robotics – (which is actually an out of school activity open every weekday afternoon and on Saturday mornings) in a city in a remote part of Western Spain. Our two went there several times a week during our stay and we did some other activities with them outside of this. It was a life changer for our son – I knew he was into robots, ICT etc before he went, which is why I chose this experience, but he now knows that Robotics is what he wants to do with his life. Depending on the situation it can take longer for children to form friendships when they are still learning a language and haven’t reached fluency.  If they are only spending a few hours a week with the children in an out of school activity it may take a long time to really get to know the other children in the group. 2 Attending a standard state school in the region of your choice. My last comment in the previous paragraph leads me on nicely to our experiences of this option. Nearly 3 years ago we got our life and business to a place where we felt we could take the plunge and book our first sabbatical. With huge excitement we took out a 6 month rental in the most beautiful mountain village in Spain that you can imagine. (I will write another post about how we found and chose this place and the surprisingly low cost of living in remote rural areas). We had looked around the tiny village school a few months earlier and so of course everyone knew who we were as soon as we arrived!! It didn’t take long until the friendly gregarious children in the village came to our door to invite our children to play in the Plaza. Sometimes, if they were playing football nearby, then our house would become media tiempo casa (half time house) and they would all come in for a drink of water at half time. The village also has a huge 100 year old spring fed swimming pool and during the summer months the village children play together there until the sun goes down. Traveling with ChildrenThe village were thrilled to have a new family with young children in the community, they were so pleased to have more children in the school. I think it would have been very hard to live in the village and not use the school. I know they were threatened with losing funding for a teacher during our time there and I sensed that there was concern that one day the school may have to close if numbers fell lower. The families we met there, and the teachers, were without exception warm and lovely people. The friendships made and the cultural experiences were incredible – more about that for another time. The whole experience felt a lot like going back in time, about a hundred years, to a time where people lived a simpler, slower life in a Garden of Eden paradise. The downside to this on an educational level is that the school system was also like that experienced by our grandparents (without the strict discipline). My 7 year old (who is dyslexic) spent a lot of his days doing line after line of loopy handwriting practice, (my daughter then aged 11 and also dyslexic) learned all her subjects from standard text books. I feel guilty criticising the teaching in the school that made my children so welcome. This is not a criticism of any individual but rather the general education system in many European countries. I have to be honest and say that long term I don’t think the school would have been a fit for my 2 creative dyslexics and the remoteness of the location made it hard to add in many extracurricular activities. The village, and the people there, will always have a piece of my heart and I feel quite emotional as I write this. As an EU citizen – enrolling your child in school anywhere in Europe is totally straightforward – I don’t know how this works if you are from another part of the world such as the US and have a visa to live in Europe for a while. If you do want to homeschool while living in a welcoming village community like this you may have an opportunity to opt out of the system while still enjoying the other benefits because your child or children wouldn’t be eligible for state education funding anyway. I would be interested to hear from you if this is something you explore. Both my children are currently attending the local state schools in Portugal at the moment – I have negotiated a situation where my daughter who is now 13 can go into school for a cultural and language learning experience but is going to sit her exams in the English system. Local schools can be a great way to get under the skin of the place, immerse in the language, make friends etc even if you don’t think they are going to be an educational fit for your children in the longer term.   The experiences my children have had here in Portugal have been SO different to anything they could have experienced in the UK and there are parts of education here that have a ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ quality about them. I will write soon in more detail about this.  All I will say at this point is that if my goal in educating my children were to broaden their minds then I could consider this a resounding success!!!! 3 Private Education / Alternative Education I have put private education into two distinct groups here. We haven’t tried standard private education but my general understanding is that here in Portugal, in Spain and also in France and Italy standard private schools tend to run along similar lines to the old fashioned state education but with more pressure. I am sure there are some good and some bad like anywhere else. If you don’t receive funding to put your children in school in the EU and you want them to have a total language immersion experience in their education maybe this is something you could explore. The area of private education that I have looked into mot in both Spain and Portugal is the Alternative Education Sector including Steiner Schools, Montessori, and other alternative independent schools that run with a philosophy of child led learning and fun. There is an independent alternative school, nicknamed The Hippy School about half an hour or forty minutes from where we lived in Spain. When we looked into living in the area I contacted the school but they had no spare places….. and this seems to be the story you will get from most alternative schools in Spain, they are very popular.  They don’t publicise their existence too widely – you may need a qualification in detective work to find out about  some of them.  I found out about The Hippy School through a friend of a friend. Steiner schools are fairly easy to track down with a quick google search – but I must have contacted nearly every Steiner school in Spain before one of our trips and no joy. If you are already in the Steiner system or you have contacts I suspect it may be easier. This feels somehow wrong for an education system with an inclusive philosophy. There is only one Steiner primary school in Portugal and if there are other alternative schools hidden away here I don’t know about them.  That is the problem when you have a system where non standard education is a legal grey area. I would also add that I didn’t allow much time to find an alternative school  – we set off with only fairly short notice the year I contacted the Steiner schools –  if you plan well ahead you may have more success.  I think this could be a fantastic option and experience so definitely worth putting some effort in to find. 4 International Schools I’m only going to touch briefly on these because we all know what they do.  I know they can be a life saver for families who are trying to make their lives in another country when the local education system isn’t working.  Part of my mission is to try and encourage you to have really vibrant cultural experiences in off the beaten track places. We tend to love living in the countryside but for those of you who prefer urban life there are plenty of cities in Europe which rarely see more than a handful on international visitors at any one time. The thing is – these are the kind of places where you are unlikely to find an international school! That said, we haven’t discounted the international school option for our children. Our children’s happiness is the most important thing and keeping an open mind and staying flexible is the only way to make international life work for everyone. My inclination would be to look for international schools in capitals or regional capitals to get a truly international experience from this type of school. I would love to hear your thoughts and any questions around travelling with children. This is a huge subject and it can be tricky to find information to plan your travels around your children without inside knowledge. So please share and ask away!!!
Travelling With Pets

Travelling With Pets

You’ve finally convinced your partner that the world is not going to stop turning the moment he hands in his notice….

And with the income your business can continue to generate, plus the back up of some savings, just in case, you are in a position to take the leap and spend the next 6 months or a year following your travel dreams You’ve cleared out most of your belongings and the few remaining ones can easily go into storage Have you really thought through what it will mean if you plan to take your pet or pets along on your travel adventure? The kind of limitations your pets impose on your time and the way you travel depend very much, of course, on the type of pet you have.  I’m pretty sure that the most common pet people take along with them is their dog. I have 2 experiences of traveling with pets across the continent, both on a very different scale – one budgie and one pony! If you want to know what your day will bring when you get up in the morning then stay in your home country and fill your day with work. If you want adventure and unexpected experiences, make time in your life for them to happen and go out and find them.  Just bear in mind when you throw a pet into the mix you may get a few more unexpected experiences than you bargained for. Brian the budgie came with us all the way down Europe. We took our time, taking over a week’s holiday on the way to our new home.  Our car was crammed with our possessions and there was little room for Brian and his travelling cage. Because the weather became hotter and hotter as we travelled south we couldn’t leave Brian in the car even for 30 seconds.  We had to take him into hotel rooms, into every restaurant we ate at, into the water park, which didn’t really allow pets, but they felt sorry for us and made an exception. He was a pretty grumpy budgie but as the trip wore on he also became increasingly lively.  He worked out that if he dived into the water container of his travelling cage and applied pressure he could pop the lid, where you filled the water, and escape. This led to some interesting incidents in restaurants and hotels which I am still doing my best to forget. travelling with petsAs you will know if you have ever filled your car to capacity, and then unpacked it during the journey, things never go back into place in the same way and by the second or third reorganisation you wonder how you ever got it all in there to begin with. And so for the final leg of the journey through Spain, Brian no longer fitted on the seat between our 2 children in the back of the car.  I usually drive and so Jeremy had to hold the cage on his knee for the final 500 kilometres. I don’t know who was the most grumpy by this point, Brian or Jeremy, but Brian became very skilled at pecking Jeremy’s fingers every time he had to steady the cage as we went around a bend or I applied the brakes. You may have guessed by now that this story is not going to end well, or maybe it did depending on perspective. We finally arrived in our beautiful village home for the next 6 months. We took Brian out of the car and placed him in the shade outside our house, while the owner showed us round.  In the excitement of arriving at our new house we had forgotten to position the cage tightly against the wall with the strategically placed water bottle that prevented Brian’s escape. We like to think that Brian had set his heart on a happier life of freedom in the sunshine and finally achieved his goal. A few months after his escape we noticed that a lady at the bottom of our street had a collection of budgies and we could see a bright blue one that looked a lot like Brian. I didn’t ask!!! The thought of recovering Brian shortly before we were due to make the return leg of the journey was less than appealing and I knew that Brian really didn’t want to return to a dull British winter. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I think Brian and I may have been soulmates. Both of us with our hearts set on sunshine and freedom. The second time we chose to transport a pet from the UK to the south of Europe was only about 5 months ago.   This was an animal which on the face of it would seem much harder to lose.  We didn’t even choose to transport her ourselves – we hired a professional firm of horse transporters to do that. I’m not going to go into all the details – we seem to have a talent for choosing pets with an attitude problem and May the pony – while great once the children are actually on her back – is one of the moodiest creatures anyone can own.  The stress of the journey caused her normal sour disposition to turn into something that the driver of the lorry decided could only mean she was ill.  We got a phone call – they couldn’t risk taking her any further on the lorry and were going to have to leave her in the south of France. So May enjoyed an extended holiday in Bordeaux while I frantically tried to track down another firm of horse transporters who would pick her up and bring her the rest of the way to Portugal. The story became still more complicated after that but I won’t make you suffer all the painful details.  Suffice to say she is with us now safe and sound and moody as ever! Is there a moral to this story?  Yes I think there is.  If you love your pet, you don’t have someone who will look after them, or you really want them with you, be prepared for the unexpected.  Do your research in advance about the legalities of taking your pet to the places or countries where you plan to visit or live.  Be prepared to have to change your plans to accommodate the needs of your pet and most of all keep your sense of humour. If you have travelled with your pet, or you decided to leave your pet behind in the care of someone else, please share your experiences – I know if you have travelled with a pet you will have some funny stories to tell!  And if you enjoyed hearing our story please click the button to share.