Wanderwoman Diaries: Making it in Madrid
This week we reunite with one of my first expat contacts in my journey living abroad. Meet my friend, Lori, a fellow expat, travel journalist and writer, who fell in love with the capital of Spain while pursuing her Master’s Degree and has decided to make it her permanent home.
The funny thing about meeting Lori abroad is that we actually used to work in the same company together in NYC, but never really knew each other back then. When I was first contemplating testing out living in Europe, I had contacted a friend, whose job is to travel the world (talk about #lifegoals), for some advice. He introduced me to Lori, who had made the transition several years prior and she was more than happy to help and proved beyond invaluable in my move from NY to Europe. Think we corresponded virtually for 2 years til we finally met IRL in Madrid in Spring 2018 and the rest is history. Let’s hear about her journey, expat challenges and thoughts on the importance of sustainable travel.
How many countries have you lived in?
Lived in? I guess that depends how you define live. I’ve spend several months in Thailand, a month or two studying Italian in Italy and a homestay in Mexico. But really putting down roots — opening a bank account, joining a gym — just two: Spain and the U.S.
How many countries have you visited?
I hit my 50th country this past summer, which was Bosnia. But I’ll be at 52 this fall after I complete trips to South Africa and Egypt. I’ve also visited about 40 U.S. states. But the count doesn’t matter, really. It’s about enjoying the experiences. I prefer to spend a month in one country than visit four different countries for a week each. I love getting the chance to explore past the more touristy spots to find special, more authentic places within a country.
What brought you to your current country and what is your favorite part about living there?
I originally came to study Spanish in Spain, first a study abroad program in college and later a master’s degree. Eleven years later, I’m still in Madrid, and and I’m still learning Spanish! You can never truly be fluent -- there's always something new to discover. I just learned a new one the other day: zarrapastroso. It means “bedraggled.” I think that’s my favorite thing about living there — I don’t know everything and each and every day is a learning experience. It keeps you humble. And the Spanish culture is so wonderfully vibrant and just embraces you in all senses. Living here is a dream, really.
What do you find most challenging about living in another country?
Besides not speaking the language at first, it’s hard to be far away from your family and friends sometimes. But slowly you create your own family and friends, and your life eventually becomes fuller and more interesting — you essentially have lives in two different places.
What country would you like to live in or visit next?
I think I’m done “living” in other places, meaning really putting roots down. Spain is where I’d like to stay long-term. But I love to travel and my bucket list is endless. I’d love to see more of Central America and Africa. Beirut, Cyprus, Malta and Poland are destinations I'd like to visit next.
What is your least favorite part about living in Madrid?
In general, Spain can be a little disorganized, so when it comes to getting any kind of transaction done: home renovations, paperwork, visas...it can be frustrating. But you have to accept the good with the bad. Part of the reason I enjoy the culture so much is because Spanish society puts more emphasis on the “life” part of work/life balance, so it’s certainly a pleasant place to live, but good luck trying to get internet installed!
What fuels your wanderlust? What inspires you?
Destinations that are lesser-visited or off-the-beaten-path intrigue me. I love being out of my comfort zone. However, when I need a boost of creativity, relaxing and rejuvenating on a long sandy beach on a sunny day really refuels me.
At the moment, I’m inspired by those putting a strong emphasis on sustainable travel. The only way we’ll be able to continue enjoying this beautiful planet is if we protect it. The way hotels and tour companies are beginning to wake up and make changes inspires me to do the same when I travel: avoiding straws and plastic bottles and adhering to no trace travel practices (don’t touch anything and don’t leave anything behind — especially in relation to wild animals, in the sea or natural spaces like parks or beaches). Connecting with locals and realizing the way others live their life around the world is an incredibly beautiful experience that never ceases to fuel a fire inside of me.
What advice would you give to other expats or travelers?
Be flexible, be open to anything. Getting lost may lead you to a secret park, talking to your neighbor on a plane may give you a lifelong friend. Just be open to anything the universe throws your way. If you had asked me 10/15 years ago if I’d be living my life in Spain, I would have laughed. But life twists and turns, just go with it and allow yourself to take chances. Also, don’t forget your passport and be kind to airport/airline staff, even in dire moments. Oh, and join frequent flyer programs. One day it will pay off!