We are home! After a harrowing 27 hours of traveling, we finally are back in our old familiar places, and it feels so, so, so good! The trip that originally was for 75 days ended after 43 days, but the journey was worth it for the lessons learned. So often, we want to avoid the hurt and pain that comes with learning new things, but there are some lessons that can only be comprehended by living through difficult experiences.
Psalm 119:71 states, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” There is nothing like experiencing something for yourself to really help you understand the lessons needed. I hope that in the writing of the lessons we learned that we can help someone else avoid some painful moments in their lives.
First Lesson: Visiting a country for a few days to two weeks is very different from residing there on a regular basis. You simply cannot in a few days or weeks fully understand all of the ramifications to moving to a new culture, or even come to appreciate the cultural differences that may influence your quality of living. You need to know the pedigree of a country, meaning its history and its background, before you attempt a permanent move there.
When we visited Portugal in 2017, we stayed for nine days, spending a lot of our time on the beach. We were there in the late spring, so we did not witness what it is like to live there in the other three seasons. Somehow, I pictured endless days of sun and fun, for that was my only vantage point. We knew nothing of its weather pedigree. We assumed it was sunshine all year long. We did not do our homework, which is so important. It did not help that the weather this year was an anomaly, with more rain and cold days in April and May than many of the people who live there had even seen for those months.
Then, we found that many of the homes were not equipped with the taken-for-granted amenities that a majority of Americans assume is their right, such as central air and heat. Having to change residences to find heat for my aching bones was a very good teacher, and that started us to re-evaluating our decision, for the second apartment also had no vents for heating but it did have two wonderful heaters that kept us warm and toasty on cold nights. Learning that finding an apartment with central heat would cost a pretty penny, maybe completely wiping out any savings of the move, was painful.
Second Lesson: Where your heart is matters. It did not take more than two weeks for me to know that I left my heart in America, with my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. As I thought of only seeing these wonderful gifts from God for only a month or two each year, my resolve to remain in Portugal and learn all of the lessons needed by trial and error dissolved. It did not help that my youngest daughter sent me a text pleading with us not to move so far away from family, for it would be hard for them to come and help take care of us if one or both were sick.
This is the child (She’s 50, but will always be a child to me!) that I talk to every Sunday, without fail. She and her siblings and Douglas’s children were concerned that Douglas and I would not have assistance in emergencies. But just as important for them were the birthdays, holidays, and moments that we would miss that could not be repeated. Their pleas touched my heart so deeply, and I learned that for parents, moving away impacts not just their lives but all of the lives connected to them.
I remember the time when my oldest daughter asked me why I was moving to another state now that my children were gone from home. I explained to her that having adopted them at age 21, I had not lived my dream of living outside the South. I said, “The first 50 years belonged to you all, but the second 50 years belong to me.” I was never more wrong!
As they became parents and, recently, grandparents, they still need my love, lessons, and laughter in their lives. I learned in Portugal that our lives, particularly as mothers, never truly fully belong to us. It is funny that nearly every woman that I talked to about my apprehension of moving permanently told me that their husbands would stay in Portugal forever, but as mothers, they were fine with staying a few weeks, but not for good. I wonder if gender doesn’t matters, too.
Third lesson: Test runs are costly, but necessary. We spent considerably more than we budgeted for the trip, so much so that Douglas has decided to return to work part-time. We had to cancel the last month of the trip, for we had run out of the money we brought with us and using the bank cards was expensive, due to the exchange rate, especially as the dollar was weaker against the euro. There was no way to know exactly what it costs to live day to day in a place without actually being there.
My husband is the most frugal of us, and even he saw that it is true that you get what you pay for. We originally chose an apartment that costs us $18.50 a day, and we were so excited about getting a great deal, but it was actually arriving and seeing what we had to spend extra to be comfortable that skewed the budget. So, be sure to ask what is all included and what is NOT included beforehand.
Fourth Lesson: Talk to others who have made the move BEFORE you make any decisions, because culture matters. Last year when we were in Quarteria, Douglas talked a lot to many Portuguese men whom he befriended, but we did not speak to many of the retirees and ex-pats, mostly from the United Kingdom, whom we met at church. The assumption was that residents would know more about the prices of renting and eating. But, that was the wrong way to go. This time, we talked to people and they told us their horror stories and their success stories. You have to listen to all sides of the story, not just the triumphs, to really understand how much knowing the culture of a place matters.
For example, a couple told us of their experiences trying to get work done. They found that people smile and make promises to come fix appliances or do the gardening, reassuring them, and then they would never come. So, they learned to pay cash “under the table” to get things done. On a limited budget, this would be a problem for us. As we listened to their stories, we realized that we needed to talk to many other people and see if their experiences were the same or different, and what were the most likely scenarios.
Maybe the most important lesson of all was the value of compromise and communication. Going to Portugal on a dry run for two months was a compromise. I was not comfortable with selling our home and moving away without some idea of how life would be there. After about two weeks, Douglas saw that I was struggling to make his dream of moving to Portugal a reality, no matter what the costs, and I noticed just how much he wanted this move to happen and did not want to disappoint him, so I tried suffering in silence. So, neither of us spoke up at first, but the day came when we looked at each other and was honest about our feelings.
I told him that home for me would always be wherever he is, and if that was in Portugal, then I could adjust over time. But, I really wanted to be in America where I knew the culture and the language and where family and friends were. He told me that while he appreciated my willingness to sacrifice, he realized that I needed to be near my children and grandchildren, especially now that grandchildren are becoming parents.
He offered a good compromise: We would save up every year for a three- to four-weeks vacation somewhere in the world. We would go and explore as much of the places we both want to see as much as we could in that time period and then return home. We will take turns deciding where to go. We will travel while his and my grandchildren are in school or on vacation with their families, so that we do not miss the valuable and special times that bring so much joy to all the generations.
So, it was a learning experience that I will never forget. There are some things the same wherever you go, like a smile and great conversations with strangers. But it is the differences that we need to research and learn about before we make life-changing decisions that impact our lives and the lives of those who love us.
If you had told me that I would be ready to come home after a month or so in an idyllic location, I would have said that you were sadly mistaken. Having never been on vacation for so long, I learned about a lot about myself on this trip, mainly that I am not a long-term traveler. This morning as we made the bed together, Douglas said how great it felt to be home in our old familiar bed, and that told me that everything is okay between us. We are both happy to be home!