Life As An Expat: The Return Trip

The idea of home is a funny thing.

We all think we know what 'home' is – a place in our hearts, minds, and memories where we feel comfortable, warm, and closest to the truest, most original version of ourselves.

But as the people and places that formed our individual manifestation of home grow and change, that idea of home and what it means is bound to change along with it. It can become something, or somewhere, else, or turn into an abstract idea that presents itself in multiple people and places rather than one singular address. It can become something too big for a single house, city, town, or even country.

Being back in the U.K. for the holidays brought this all forward.

It was the first time we'd returned after moving to the States last summer and I was taken at how natural I felt in London, a city I lived in for a solid three years, and spent half my time in for the last six years. Despite spending so much of my time there, our long, expensive, and generally awful green card process had left me feeling frustrated, ready to move back home, and almost (almost) wishing I'd never moved abroad in the first place. It's funny how we can take our inner angers, frustrations, and insecurities and pin them on the people and places that surround us. During our never-ending, "should be moving soon!" phase, I felt trapped outside of my home country, and stuck in the grey chill of London. 

But one quick and very mundane stop in the grocery store on the way back from the airport and my feelings changed. Upon landing, I felt the damp air that always left me feeling chilly, and saw the countless neat and tidy homes and gardens. The familiar grey, my favorite instant coffee, brands, labels, and ordinary, everyday items that were comfortable and close. They all felt familiar, and kind of like home.

necklace by favor jewelry; available at fine life co

All this is to say that over the last year, the idea of home has become malleable to me. I've learned that for some of us, where we come from is a part of who we are, of course, but it may not be all that we are. 

Just like friends can become family, new lands, countries, places, languages, and local haunts can become versions of home. An extended home, if you will, just like an extended family. And just like people surprise us, places can have the same effect – they can show up at your doorstep and feel so familiar, close, and gentle that you wonder why you were even angry with them to start with.

And for me, now, that's what home is now – it's represented by people in one regard, and by a collection of cities in another. It's not clean, perfect, or easy to sum up over cocktail chatter but then again, what that's true and honest and important really is?

That home, that heart, that untouchable and indescribable feeling of familiarity and comfort. It's where the heart is, as it goes, and in this case, my heart is split over a few places.

That's just the way I like it.


How To Use AirBnB Like A Pro

In the past five months, we've stayed at six AirBnB apartments. Sometimes for beach weekends, sometimes for Euro city breaks, sometimes to live.

Add that to our annual balance, and we've stayed in an AirBnB for what would work out to be the equivalent of one a month for the past twelve months. 

You could say we're fans of the service.

We're all familiar with AirBnB, its competitors, and the way they work. But after the year we've had, staying in ten AirBnBs in five countries, I would almost (almost) call us experts.

Our AirBnB stays have not taken place in incredible villas or penthouses. There have been no infinity pools, castles, mansions, or teepees in our travels. But we have figured out a formula that works for us when choosing accomodations for travel, as well as a few principles that will apply to all travelers regardless of interest, destination, and general level of pickiness.

Whether you're a shared economy newbie or are a tried and true AirBnB junkie just looking to improve your experience, here are a few things to consider when gearing up for your next stay:

Know what you want out of the experience

When it comes to travel accomodations, it's (really) important to know and understand your preferences well before you even think about searching for accomodation. Think about what you consider to be important when it comes to travel – are you willing to sacrifice certain parts of your experience to improve on others? 

For example, both D and I are pretty low key, but there are certain things that we're not willing to sacrifice. Location is one, and we're willing to bypass some frills if it means improving the location of our AirBnB while staying in budget. Otherwise, all we really want out of an AirBnB experience is a clean, quiet, private space that feels safe, a host that's easy to reach (more on that below), and solid, reliable Wi-Fi. Knowing these priorities upfront has helped us choose properties that we've always been happy with. Actually, I don't think we've had a bad experience – and that's saying something.

 

Finalize a budget before you begin looking

AirBnB, VRBO, onefinestay and the like can be crazy overwhelming. Before you even start searching, I would recommend setting a budget and sticking to it. That way you can set a cap on your search and filter out any of those dreamy teepee or penthouse-type places that may be out of reach. Cut the excess results, and your accomodation search will become much easier.

Note: When searching for travel accomodations on AirBnB or a competitor's site, make sure you search for the exact dates you plan to stay, and keep in mind that there will be a few fees tacked on to the final price (a service charge from AirBnB, other potentials charges for cleaning, etc.).

Paris, France

Barcelona, Spain

Location, location, location

As with budget, you should go into any accomodation search knowing exactly where you want to stay. If you're headed to a big city, search by the specific neighborhood you want to stay in if at all possible. This will make your searching experience much easier and less overwhelming overall. Pro tip – staying sane when planning a trip tends to be helpful.

 

Communicate, yo

Put yourself in the shoes of the owner. How would you feel if you were renting out your property to a total stranger? I owe the success of our AirBnB stays to clear, regular communication – you need to be available and quick to respond. Being friendly doesn't hurt either, in this case or ever. After all these are people just like you who are a part of the same community, and there's something about that that's kind of cool, don't you think? (It certainly helped when we were temporarily homeless in London.) 

Treat the owner and their property with respect, and they'll do the same for you.

East Sussex, England

Don't get me wrong – I still love a good hotel stay. You can't beat the experience of staying at a hotel – the crisp sheets, room service, and the pure luxury of it all. But when it come to regular travel, AirBnB just feels like a better fit. I like being able to make coffee at home and get recommendations for restaurants from hosts and those who have stayed before me. It's cool seeing old European apartment buildings and understanding how people really live in the city you're visiting. It also tends to get you more bang for your travel accomodation buck, which is something I think we can all appreciate.

That's my experience, but what about yours? Any horror stories, or 'best practice' tips you've learned in this shared economy of ours? I'd love to hear!

 

All photos by D. Watterson III

P.S. – Yeah, so what if I used an affiliate link in this post? Other than that, this post is not sponsored by AirBnB in any way – like, at all. AirBnB doesn't even know I'm alive. Instead, I just genuinely like the service and use it far too often. That's pretty much it.


Barcelona, Spain

Hey, remember that time we went to Barcelona?

It was only in April but it feels like a lifetime ago. A whole country ago, if you will. 

Needless to say, having film developed wasn't at the top of our list when we first got to the States. (Getting cell phone numbers and re-learning how to drive were.) 

You see, D is a big fan of photography.  This is lucky for me because he documents everything we do which means I don't have to. We struggled to find anywhere that would develop film in Durham at first...and then we found the holy grail of a real, genuine camera store in nearby Carrboro. We now go just about every week to get film developed, and on a recent trip we picked up the shots from our trip to Barcelona.

Barcelona.

It was an incredible city and one I'm dying to visit again, though I knew that would be my reaction before even visiting. I said this at the time, but the best way I could think to describe it was like a tropical Paris: The incredible, romantic architecture, that feeling of history and standing in a place where things, big things, once happened, combined with its location right along the Balearic Sea, along with the desert climate made it feel like paradise. 

Here are a few of my favorite shots from our trip – many, many more can can be found here.

All photos by D Watterson III


I'm In Paris!

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to be a little on the quieter side until early/mid-next week. You see, I'm headed to Paris for a long weekend away and plan on staying offline as much as possible.

After 14 years (!) of living in London my husband is making his way to Paris for the first time and I couldn't be more excited for us to stroll the Parisian streets and have picnics on the Seine.

I'll be posting-a-plenty on Instagram, so follow me there to see Paris in all it's late-summer glory. In the meantime, you can see some of my past posts on France here and here.

Until next week...!


To Try: Traveling With One Member Of Your Family

When I was in college, my sister and I went on a weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina.

Neither of us had been so we drove up for a weekend from Georgia and spent a few days exploring – checking out farmer's markets in the mornings, grabbing lunch at rooftop cafes, and taking slow dinners at Charleston's many wine bars and restaurants. 

I loved that trip and still so clearly remember the B&B room we shared – it was totally Instagram-worthy, if only Instagram existed then. In thinking about this trip the other day, I realized one of the things that made it so special: it was just me and my sister.

Have you ever done that, traveled with just one member of your family? If you have, then you know the magic that is a trip dedicated to learning more about a loved one than you ever could at home or on a group trip. And if you haven't? Well, you should try it.

When you travel with just one member of your family, the trip is entirely different than it would be if you traveled with your whole family, or even with your partner or spouse. With a partner, you're used to spending time alone together. Unless you're in a long distance relationship, it happens every day.

Taken along the coast of Devon, England, earlier this summer

But how often do you spend quality time with a single member of your family? And I'm not talking about going out to dinner or to Target – though both of those experiences can be very quality in their own right.

I'm talking about being in a situation out of the ordinary, particularly one in a new place, that will give you a different experience with the chosen family member than you've ever had before. And having such a new, different, and personal experience with this person will help you to see them more clearly and get to know them a little better.

In my family we have somewhat of a history of taking these trips. Aside from the Charleston jaunt I took with my sister:

•My mom and I spent a Thanksgiving together in Key West, Florida when I was about 9. (The rest of the family was in Italy, ho hum). We later spent a lot of time alone together both when I was living in New York, and in London.

•Before I moved to New York, I used to tag along with my dad on business trips to the big city where we would stay in fancy hotel rooms and explore the city together.

All of these times spent with the people that I love doing new and different things were so important, and I think back on all of them and truly appreciate the experiences.

Now that my sister has a wee one, we're planning on doing the same thing when her daughter gets a little older (i.e. more than 2 months old).

And you know what? I can't wait to share that time with her again – to explore another new city with her and now, plus one more.


Budapest Travel Diary

Remember when I went to Budapest?

I do, because it was me who went, and because it was earlier this month, and because it was amazing.

Luckily, Mr & Mrs Smith also remember and earlier this week posted my SUITCASE Magazine x Budapest travel diary on the Smith Travel Blog. 

Give it a read, and see more of my Budapest adventures here and here.


An American In: Budapest

A week ago today, I found myself in the capital of Hungary, awash with art, design, history, and plenty of wine.

When you work as an editor at a travel and fashion magazine, this kind of things happens from time to time. One minute you're wearing fleece and writing on your laptop in London, the next minute you're taking a helicopter ride in Monte Carlo or strolling through an abandoned palace in Central Europe. NBD.

My journey to Budapest came to be by way of SUITCASE and Mr & Mrs Smith. We ventured to the amazing Brody House–a hotel and membership club that is basically the epicenter of arts and culture in Budapest. We tasted wines, swam in thermal baths, drank cocktails with local rock stars, and saw the glorious Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.

An American In: Budapast | secondfloorflat.com
An American In: Budapast | secondfloorflat.com

Aside from the fact that it's the furthest east I've ever been, I can say without doubt that Budapest is one of the most magical cities I've ever visited. There's something about it that has a mystical feeling that draws you in and leaves you with a thirst for more.

Budapest? I'll be back.

 

For more of my travels and day-to-day sights in London, follow me on Instagram.

For more Budapest, check out my coverage in SUITCASE Magazine.

Want to go to there? Book a room at Brody House on Mr & Mrs Smith.