Have you ever had that moment of clarity where you say, “I’m tired of this pandemic and it’s time to move to an island in Portugal?” My wife and I did about 2 months ago.

Specifically, it was on July 4th. I had taken my little girls to the annual July 4th celebration in small town America, Northern Arizona. This is an annual tradition that my kids and I look forward to every single year complete with red, white, and blue décor in every direction, a parade, squirt gun fights, bbqs, and cakes shaped like American flags. In spite of a global pandemic that had shut down most events and large gatherings, I was determined to give them some sense of normalcy and have a great 4th. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out how I’d hoped. The town did their best to offer socially distanced celebrations and my kids did their best to keep high spirits, but by mid-day on July 4th my girls looked at me and politely and simply said “can we please go home?”

In reality I was relieved. I was exhausted from the preceding 4 months of home schooling. I was discouraged from months of trying to figure out what on earth to do with them that didn’t involve looking at a screen. I was tired of stressing about the ticking countdown to the pending school year and distance learning that my wife and I were ill equipped to handle. I dreaded the thought of yet another 110+ degree day locked in the house with no relief in our hometown in Phoenix. But most importantly, I just felt bad for my kids. They’d been troopers for months and even in their disappointment about a bust of a 4th of July, they still were polite and dignified in their request that I just stop the dog and pony show and take them home.

At that exact moment, things became clear to me. Something had to change… drastically. We were going to pick back up plans we had previously delayed since the pandemic started to move our family to Azores, Portugal. I immediately called my wife and said “enough of this, we’re getting you and the girls to Portugal and we’re doing it now… what do you think?” With little hesitation, she concurred.

To provide a bit of back story… about 4 years ago we started working on a plan to open an Airbnb business in my wife’s home, Azores, Portugal, and leverage the income from the business to buy our forever home on the island. By June 2019, we had achieved just that… a successful Airbnb business with cash leveraged into another home for us to move into. We had spent the back end of 2019 and the first couple months of 2020 carefully calculating our move down to the tiniest detail. Then one day President Trump came on the TV and said that he was closing American borders to European travelers due to this mysterious Coronavirus. I had been hearing murmurings about this virus on the news for weeks before but had not thought much of it. Within a day the globe turned upside down. Our plans went up into thin air as we watched borders close, the tourism industry implode overnight, and our Airbnb planned income evaporate into thin air.

Suddenly 4 years’ worth of meticulous planning was gone, and we were left staring at each other blankly not knowing what to do… that is until July 4th came and punched me in the face with a heaping dose of clarity. The only problem was that by this point a travel ban was placed on Americans entering Europe (i.e.: me). And additionally, there was that pesky issue of our Airbnb business having imploded, meaning: no €€ coming in on the island. Minor details when you live in the world that my wife and I have existed in since meeting 10 years ago in Paris (I’ll save that story for another narrative). The solution seemed simple. I would just have to stay in the USA to work while they got set up in Portugal and we figured out what to do with our business.

Now that you have the backstory here is how we approached moving my wife and our kids overseas in a two-month timeframe (they left last week and are safely at home on the island now).

1. Burn the Bridge Behind — No Going Back

Giant life changes are scary… scary as hell. You never really know if you’re doing the right thing. You just know that your heart is telling you it’s the right thing and you can either act on it or not. Once we decided to take action, it was crucial to us to remove any big rock obstacles that could give us cause and excuse to walk back on our plan.

That being said… within a week of this decision we had the plane tickets purchased, a few weeks after that my truck was sold, a day later we had a car purchased on the island, and within a month my kids’ household possessions were packed and inventoried in boxes for shipping or given away.

While I generally am a proponent of gradual change over time to achieve new habits, this was one of those situations in which an exception was warranted. By burning the bridge behind us it left no place to look but forward towards our future in Portugal.

2. Do the right thing and let your kid talk about how they feel.

Our kids are dual citizens. They are Portuguese and American but have spent the majority of their life living in the United States. While we’ve spent plenty of time travelling to Portugal for vacation, there is a definitive difference between moving to a place to live and travelling to a place to visit. We knew this move was going to be hard on them. Having real conversations and encouraging them to share honestly how they felt about the move gave us valuable insight as parents into what they were going through. Unsurprisingly, in many ways their fears and concerns mimicked my own.

3. It’s just stuff — people are what really matter.

I was reluctant at first to start packing up and off-loading the household items that I knew couldn’t go overseas with my family. However, as I started to let go of each attachment either with a donation to the Salvation Army, or a sale on Offer Up, or a hand off to a friend who wanted it, I began to feel lighter. Lighter because I realized that the good moments those items provided us didn’t disappear just because you move on to new things.

We have spent 9+ years in Arizona building a life. In that time, we have given our kids a great life and they’ll carry that with them to their next adventure. We’ve been in our home here for 5+ of those years and it is filled with moments and memories in every direction that I turn around. Deconstructing that is a tough thing to do. However, watching your family move to a place where you know a truly blessed life awaits them overpowers any attachment to the ‘things’ in our home that I have to watch them give up.

Don’t be afraid to let things go in search of the next adventure. You might be surprised just how liberating it feels.

4. Do your research.

When you’re moving international you will have to deal with agencies across borders. I thought I identified a solid international moving company; you know because I googled it and clicked on the first result. Upon presenting this option to my wife, she did a quick Yelp analysis and determined quickly that if we hired this company there seemed to be a high likelihood, we’d never see our boxes ever again. A little more time spent on the internet yielded a moving company who we are confident will do a great job for us.

5. If you want to take a pet and not devastate your kids — make sure their shots are up to date.

Did you ever go to the vet to get your health certificate to take your cat on an international flight… only to have the vet inform you that you’re behind on your rabies vaccinations? No? Weird, I thought everyone went through that at least once in their life.

Word to the wise, check your pet’s vaccination history at least 2 months before you plan to travel. There is absolutely nothing worse than explaining to two scared children that their beloved cat will be staying in America with dad while they travel to lands unknown.

6. No matter how much you plan, things will go wrong

An international move (particularly during a pandemic) has a lot of moving parts. We made lists, we called agencies, we enlisted friends to help (from both countries), and we had in depth discussions about every detail. But things still came up unexpectedly. For instance, one week before departing we received word that the regulations changed and that my wife would be required to present a negative COVID test no more than 72 hours old before boarding the plane to Portugal. This wouldn’t be world altering stuff if the average turn around in Arizona for COVID results wasn’t 5+ days at the time. Luckily, we were able to find a clinic with fast turnaround times and get her the needed COVID test to get on the plane. My point is simply that when things come up, we couldn’t let them stop us… forward was the only direction.

In Synopsis

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                                        Photo by Vera Gorbunova on Unsplash

Adventure and travel are woven into my family’s fabric. Our story started with a happenstance encounter in Paris, France and has taken us on a transatlantic journey ever since. When obstacles present themselves, we have never been afraid to divide and conquer even if it means being apart. This current predicament is certainly one of the larger challenges we’ve been faced with… our children’s’ education in question, a business we spent years building on the rocks, assets on the line, new languages to be learned, and the reality of a prolonged time apart are all realities of the moment for us right now. However, when presented with a harsh challenge the truth is that sometimes you have to pick a path forward and go without looking back. This is one of those times and I look forward to writing a follow up to this to let you know how it all turns out.

Joey Szolowicz is a Nutrition and Health Blogger and Vlogger. For weekly tips join, his community here.

This post was previously published on Medium.com.


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Photo credit: Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

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