Almost Fearless

What I Really Want From Travel Next Year

Living in Mexico has completed the slow shift we’ve been making from traveler to expat. When I started traveling I just wanted to see new places. I was collecting experiences and it didn’t matter that I was traveling quickly and perhaps missing out on other things, as long as I kept going somewhere new. It was fantastic, actually, I’m really lucky to have gotten to see so many corners of the globe. Having kids changed that, but not for the reasons you might think. Certainly we travel much slower now because of the kids, but really it was the way the world reacted to our children that changed us more than anything.



Suddenly with our first child, we weren’t invisible travelers, we were a couple with a kid. In that first year we quickly got used to people looking at us, getting into our personal space, and starting conversations with us. It felt weird at first, I had always been a quiet traveler, there just to see, to observe. People weren’t supposed to stop us on the street and get up close, putting their head almost on my shoulder to get a peek at my child in his sling.

It made us interact with people more, and it opened a lot of doors. I don’t know, maybe it’s just us, but it seems like since we’ve had kids, getting to know people locally has been so much easier. It has led us to wanting to slow down, to not miss that part of travel, to get to know people better, before we go to the next stop. It has changed the way we travel but I love it.

Literally what you see all the time in Spain.

The Big Move

This year we decided to settle down in Barcelona in 2014. We’re going from travelers to expats to immigrants. There’s a distinction there, and I have started thinking of it as immigration because it captures an important shift in perspective. An expat is rooted in the fact that they are not home. An immigrant is chosing a new one. Or at least that’s how I think about it for me. I know everyone has their own relationship with the place they live… sometimes it changes over time. I think of this as an immigration because this time, for the first time, we’re making a home.

Expatriate: One who has taken up residence in a foreign country.
Immigrant: A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

This is such a huge difference and I’m lucky because my children will make it so much easier. We’ll be part of the community through their school and the other parents. They pull people into our lives, they adapt to everything, they jump in and splash around and as their parent, I need to jump in too.

This year, I want to jump.

This is my biggest adventure, and it’s oh so domestic and normal: rent an apartment, find a pediatrician, register with the local government, enroll Cole in school, get internet installed, furnish our apartment and make some friends with families who live nearby and have kids the same age. Maybe go to the zoo on the weekend.

This is what I will look like as I try to figure out the proper way to tie my scarf.

It sounds almost exactly like what my friends back home are all doing, they even have a school lottery system (joy!) like they do in Boston, where we’d be if we didn’t leave all those years ago.

School kids in Barcelona: soon this will be Cole…

Except one thing: Barcelona is in Catalonia, a bilingual part of Spain that uses either Spanish or Catalan on the street and ONLY Catalan in the schools and government.


It’s daunting but I’ve always wanted an adventure like the one in the book (I know many of you have read this one): Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain, about Chris Stewart’s move to Andalucia, where he buys a small farm and is completely in over his head, figuring out his way through the paperwork and culture, dealing with crazy locals and helpful neighbors, wrong-headedly trying to do this his own way, and slowly but surely figuring it all out.

I want my memoir year. The one where I just dive right in and do it. I march into the city hall and get my residency papers boldly using whatever Catalan I can stitch together. I want to cook however the local moms cook and buy my produce from the weekend markets. I want to wear knee-high boots in the winter and scarves artfully tied around my neck all-year-round. Will our kids play in the plaza until midnight while we nosh on tapas? Will we live in Barcelona proper or the more family friendly Sant Cugat? Will I find my Catalan BFF and we’ll watch trashy telenovelas while drinking wine? Are these all clichés? Will we love it? Will the kids learn Catalan? Will Drew and I? I think so, I hope, I mean I really don’t know.

I feel like Barcelona is my chance to re-do all the times I hesitated when I traveled. When I didn’t learn Thai in Thailand or I skipped seeing parts of India. It’s my chance to travel in the way I thought travel would be in 2008 when we moved to Madrid but we were too shell-shocked to truly appreciate it. Moving somewhere and committing to that culture, embracing it and letting go of your own way of doing this. There’s a certain travel-purity to doing it right — to be that person who strikes up conversations wherever they go, to try new things without missing a beat, to be almost child-like in their curiosity and openness.

I thought my word for 2014 would be JUMP. But I changed my mind. It’s OPEN.

Luckily I have Cole and Stella: two small guides to lead the way.

Pics: Obis, delhaye, xavier, TOET, lulamy.

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Lovely post, and exactly what I needed to read today. You see, tomorrow I’m going to look at a sailboat for the 2nd time. The boat I buy will be my home, and I am ready to live aboard, yet I don’t want to get in over my head with repairs to a boat. Yet, after reading this, especially the part about Chris Stewart’s book, maybe I need to dive in and get over my head a bit. Swim my way back to the top and surface stronger and more self-sufficient for the experience. (yeah, water is a big theme with me!)

    My word for 2014? Found this while clipping images for a vision board – 2014: Adventure Time! Buena suerte on jumping with open arms into adventure!

  • I think you’re going to get the most out of your move and big jump through being open. It will be such fun putting together a life and a home in Spain!

    My word for 2014 is Focus. Consistent, directed focus was what I was missing in most of 2013 and I need it in my life.

  • Remember one thing Christine. “It doesn’t matter where you are, you’re there.” It comes down to you. But it sounds like you’re very ready to embrace this next chapter. Hope it, and 2014, are everything you wish for. Thanks for another year of thoughtful posts, great observations, laughter and friendship from afar. Can’t wait to watch it unfold. x

  • I’m pretty sure you’ve already jumped, so I think you’re right, the word needs to be open. You have a lot on your plate, but it’s not like you haven’t conquered similarly difficult tasks before. It’ll be a challenge and probably not what you expect, but isn’t that part of the fun of life? I cannot WAIT to drink some delicious Spanish wine with you!

  • DId you decide that you’re going to give up your citizenship? Or is that question just on hold to see how the next 5 years shake out? That’s like a lifetime for kids, so I could see waiting to decide. Just wondered where you ended up on the question.

    • Here’s how I understand it works now… 5 years temp residency, 5 years permanent residency then you’re eligible for citizenship and while you do have to verbally renounce your US citizenship this is just a formality. To actually give up your US citizenship you would have to go through a lot of paperwork and effort at the US embassy. So basically in 10 years we will decide whether to apply for Spanish citizenship, but in the interim we plan on staying in Spain. We can still travel, but we will maintain a home there year-round.

  • HI Christine, I recently stumbled across your blog and love it! I have always thought about moving away from where I was raised but am still here. I’ve vacationed in Barcelona and stayed in the Gothic Quarter; ate tapas late into the night and bought scarves for myself and as gifts. Wishing you and your family a wonderful 2014 in your new home.

  • So excited for you! I first went to Barcelona fifteen years ago and I swore I would one day live there. I haven’t given up hope and you inspire me to fulfill that dream sooner than later!

    • I was the same way, I always wanted to live in Europe but I wasn’t sure how to get there… it’s been a very indirect path but 10 years after first visiting Barcelona we finally decided to just do it. Helps that we have little ones going into school… puts some pressure on us to just do it.

  • Beautifully written. I enjoyed your distinction between expat and immigrant, although I’m still not sure which one I’ve belonged to in the past. Hope you enjoy Barcelona and learning Catalan – personally, I find it a gorgeous language, and understand it fairly well, but it helps to have knowledge of a Romance language beforehand – three would be ideal 🙂 Good luck and wishes of a splendid 2014!

    • Thank you. I have been researching Catalan a bit, it seems like there’s more Italian and French influence than Spanish, but it’s still very similar in concepts. Can’t wait to learn it, but I’m thinking I need to get my Spanish perfected first, so I don’t start mixing languages.

  • Exciting plans … but then, yours always are! My sister-in-law lives in a village south of beautiful Granada. She went for a week’s holiday 25 years ago and is still there! Every time I visit her, I immediately understand how that happened. May 2014 be filled with only the best of health and happiness for the four of you in this next intriguing chapter of your wonderful adventures.

  • Very exciting plans! I have similar goals for 2014, but I’m jumping in where I am today, in Dallas, TX. We’re saving and making plans to travel long term in a couple of years, but I’ve decided there’s no better way than to live “all in” where we are for today. Life is to be lived fully and openly no matter where you call home. Good luck in Spain!

  • Kids definitely give you more opportunities to interact with the locals… I speak from experience (number six will be here soon, she’ll be a dual citizen – Costa Rica and U.S.)

  • Wow! This sounds exciting and challenging at the same time. I recently moved to Mexico from the US, and it’s been the hardest and yet most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. It’s nice to know I’m not alone!

  • Christine, wishing you the very best in your move to Barcelona. Sounds like a wonderful move for you and your family. I visited Barcelona for the first time more than 10 years ago and I returned couple of years ago. I loved it the first time and I loved it even more the second time around. I found Barcelona sexier, more polished and a lot cleaner than my first visit. It seems to me a very kid-friendly city. All the best to you and your family in 2014.

  • I love that you are going to turn normal into an adventure. Everything can be an adventure if you have the right perspective.

  • I really found myself agreeing with your definitions of expat and immigrant, especially since I think I’m heading toward possibly thinking about maybe becoming an immigrant here in Ghent. I’m only three months in, so it’s way too early to tell, but we’re doing all of those same domestic things you were talking about (school registration uuuuugh). I think the best part about living somewhere, expat or immigrant, is the amount of time you have. You can be open to all sorts of experiences and attitudes, but you also have the time to slow down and allow yourself to have days where you don’t do anything that resembles life in your new city, or that makes any progress towards bureaucracy or integration or anything like that. (And by “you”, obviously I mean me.)

    Best of luck with the move, I can’t wait to keep up with your story! I love the idea of a “memoir year”!

  • How did you decide on Barcelona? I loved my brief time there. Really, all the schools teach only in Catalan? I’d imagine it be similar to Basque Country with many schools teaching in Basque but other schools (often with a heavy immigrant student body) taught in Spanish.

    And I agree with expat vs. immigrant having been an expat for 2 years. I knew it wasn’t for the long term and certainly would have been very different if I had chosen the path of immigrant.

    Good luck to you. Enjoy the transitions! oh and you may enjoy a BCN based blog-

  • So maybe I should have a child to get in with the locals more . . . hmmm maybe one day. I also think you are already in love with your big move that you and your family will fall into an incredible life with ease immediately. Before you know it you will be able to sit back, sangria in hand and scald around neck and take a deep breathe all to realise you have made it. But for now enjoy the journey of it, I am sure you will 🙂

  • WOW, i was just pointed to your site by way of my adviser, while in my final year of my BA here in america for journalism & media studies…returning from italy, which inspired the shift, to complete. i am then heading back out to live life around europe in the fashions you speak of. i am sitting here struggling to do homework in my final 10 days, and all i want to do is read of your adventures! you inspire me!! one of the subjects was children and traveling, i haven’t had the kids yet because of my wanderlust and what i want to do with it. now, i am inspired either way, it can be done both ways!! thank you for this great site, i too am almost fearless! spain is beautiful, when i am near, i am sure i will contact you. formentera was one of my favorite places, beautiful beaches…

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