That’s how long I’ve been dreaming, and working towards this goal of living in Spain again. And on April 24th 2018, I manifested that dream and moved back to Barcelona.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Why Spain? Well, I first moved there in 2010 for my second study exchange, and living there changed my life. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt so completely drawn to a place, but Barcelona had me the moment I landed.
The only way I can try to describe Barcelona and do it justice, is to say that the city is pure magic. It's a vibrant modern yet historic metropolitan with the old quarters of the Barri Gothic and inspiring architecture of Gaudí sprinkled through the city. From its beaches, to mountains, food and culture - Barcelona has it all.
I loved everything about my life in Spain, the ability to speak Spanish everyday, the difference in culture and lifestyle, the emphasis on actually enjoying yourself and having a solid work-life balance... the list goes on. Living in Spain was an incredibly special time in my life. It helped me shape who I wanted to be, and where I wanted to take my language skills. Living there and speaking Spanish everyday made me the happiest I had ever been in my life. It made me want to think outside of my borders, and live beyond the classic 9-5 Canadian life. I craved a different life. I needed it. I wanted more for myself. When my time in Spain came to an end, moving back was one of the saddest and most depressing times of my life. I remember crying myself to sleep almost every night for the first two months when I got back. The reverse culture shock was real. I didn’t want to be in Canada. It was like being ripped out of a wonderful dream, and that’s when everything changed.
I developed an obsession, and I told all of my friends that my dream was to live and work in Spain. To my friends reading this, you have heard me say this over and over again. But I think, in order to achieve a dream like this, you have to almost be obsessed about it. It has to consume you. You have to have a drive, and a passion so strong, that no matter what obstacles that might stand in your way, you find a way to get around them and keep pushing forward. Working towards and even achieving your dream is not easy. It was pure discipline and focus that got me to where I am today.
From studying advanced Spanish on my weekends, to only listening to Spanish podcasts, or watching Spanish content on Netflix. I did everything I could to keep up and improve my language skills. I even took an opportunity to work abroad in Colombia to further my international working experience and language abilities. (ps. Colombia was amazing, and I highly recommend anyone to go there! More info on Colombia to come in future posts!).
And so over the last 8 years I have been working towards this BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) of mine. I honestly had no idea how I was going to make it happen, but I knew that if I kept moving in the direction of this dream I could somehow achieve it. And as luck (alongside hard work, discipline and focus) would have it, the opportunity to become an remote employee presented itself and I suddenly found myself buying a one way ticket to Barcelona...
Month of Goodbyes + Stress
In the month leading up to my big move, I was able to say goodbye to all my friends, coworkers, and most importantly my Mom. This ended up happening over the course of a month time period given the number of people I wanted to say goodbye to. From a cottage trip with coworkers, to special dinners with great friends, and an epic goodbye party in my very empty apartment - thank you to every single person who I was able to see before I left. Our conversations, your words of encouragement and hugs meant more than you'll ever know. I am so grateful for the amazing friendships I have in Canada. Thank you.
But as I was saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, I started to notice a trend and a fair amount of stress that built up right before I left. While most people didn’t know they were even doing it, my mom and I were actually pretty stressed out from people repeatedly asking us two questions:
- Are you sad you’re daughter is leaving?
- Do you have your apartment lined up yet?
Why did these stress us out? Well for #1 - no, my mom wasn't sad I was leaving. She was actually thrilled for me. She’s the one I’m actually most inspired by, as she left home (as a child of 1 of 11) when she was 23 to move to Canada (for what she thought at the time was only going to be for one year). My mom is the reason I am so inspired to travel the world and live abroad (thank you Mom!). But unfortunately her friends and even patients unknowingly stressed her out and caused a lot of self doubt. Should she feel sad for her only daughter (and child) leaving? Was she a bad mother? These were actual questions she confessed to me on the phone a week before I left, asking if I needed her to be at the airport. Of course I needed and wanted her there, but she was worried she would “ruin my special day” because she would be too sad, or crying too much (I took this phone call at work, and broke down). It’s heart breaking to hear your Mom tell you this, and more infuriating that it was caused by other people and they actually influenced how she truly felt.
#2 - Finding an apartment. No, I didn't have an apartment lined up, which surprised most people I told. In Spain you actually can’t rent an apartment until you have your NIE (foreign identity card), and my appointment for that wasn't until May 11th. Additionally - Barcelona is known for a high amount of fraud when it comes to renting apartments. Notably, many people get ripped off when they submit their deposits electronically for an apartment they’ve never seen in real life, only to have their money (which is usually thousands of Euros) stolen by people pretending to rent apartments. Thus, you really can’t find an apartment until you see it with your own eyes, and work with a trusted agency, or private renter. So no, I wasn't worried about finding an apartment, but again when people keep repeatedly asking you this - it starts to cause a lot of self doubt which leads to stress to the point where I started to ask myself, should I be worried?
Ok rant over.
"Hi my name is Katie, and I’m a last minute packer.” There I said it. I love the adrenaline and pressure of packing last minute, so of course I didn’t do the majority of my organizing and actual packing until the day and morning before I left. It’s almost as if I can’t bring myself to pack before a trip, because ironically I’m afraid I’ll forget something.
I did however, start organizing piles of clothing especially clothing that I wanted to sell or donate, versus take to Spain about a month prior to leaving. I started slowly - putting aside things a couple of nights during the week. Moving to another country, especially with no return deadline, is a big deal, and takes a lot of prep. And although, I felt really prepared leading up to my move, I was all over the place the 3 days leading up to my trip. My brain wasn’t working, I was literally thinking of a thousand and one things to do, to remember, to pack, to say goodbye to, to call, to cancel, to confirm - the list goes on. Even the day I left, I felt on edge. There was a lot at stake and I felt like I didn't have a clear mind.
All I can say is thank god for my Mom. The woman is literally an angel. While I was prepping everything from my finances, to luggage, clothing, and legal documents - she was busy organizing trips to the Salvation Army to take things that I no longer needed away, and without even asking, she cleaned and emptied my entire apartment and handled my key drop off.
At the end of all my packing, and prep, I managed to fit my entire life into 3 suitcases, a duffle bag, and backpack. Pretty impressive.
What selling and packing my life away also taught me was actually how little you actually need in terms of materialistic items in your life. I sold most of my possessions (shoutouts to my friends and internet strangers who purchased them!) and donated the rest. It was actually very cathartic to rid my life of things I didn’t really need. It was also a reminder that when I arrived in Spain that I only need to buy the basics, and be cautious of my spending - thinking things through before buying, considering “want” vs” “need”.
And just like that, suddenly I was in my Mom’s car driving to the airport and I was overcome with emotion. I had to choke back tears while in the car, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice I was having a mini emotional moment. I was looking away from her for the majority of the car ride, and completely silent while she drove.
Everything was happening. Days even weeks leading up to my move, I was surprisingly calm. I kept telling my friends and coworkers that I think my excitement cancelled out with my stress and anxiety. I was calm all throughout the day, but as soon as I was in the car, it was as if someone flipped a switch inside of me, and all of my emotions were bubbly up to the surface. I forced them down, and wanted to be strong, especially for my Mom, as I knew regardless she would breakdown at the airport and I wanted to be strong at least for her.
After arriving at the airport, we stood in what felt the longest line to drop off my bags. The check-in agent was lovely, and had to break it to me that I would need to pay $300 CAD to check my 3 bags. As a person who NEVER checks bags (I am a carry-on girl for life), I knew this was most likely going to be the case, and just sucked it up. After all this was me moving my life across an ocean, and it cheaper and faster than shipping it, so I just handed her my credit card. The check-in agent did however make up for it by scoring me an emergency row window seat for my longest leg of my trip from Toronto to London.
Once the bags were packed, I knew the moment I was semi-dreading was coming. Saying goodbye to my Mom. But before we get to that, a little background - my Mom and I have an extremely close relationship. My parents are divorced and my Father hasn’t been in my life for over 16 years. On top of that, I’m an only child. So my mom always jokes and says that I’m her “favorite daughter” - when in fact I am her only daughter and child. Lately however, she’s been saying “hija favorita” while practicing her Spanish as she takes Spanish classes in the town she lives in (cuteee).
Ok back to the moment I knew was coming… it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought I was going to be, but it wasn’t easy. I think I actually broke down first and way more than she did. We hugged for a while, and then the tears came. Mostly, I was just so appreciative and thankful for her. Everything she did leading up to my move, always encouraging me from the beginning, never doubting that I could make this dream a reality.
Mom - if you’re reading this, you are the reason I am where I am today. From being courageous enough to move abroad when you were 23, to every sacrifice you made for me when I was growing up, to everything you still do for me to this day: thank you, a thousand times, thank you.
As the hot tears began to run down my face as I hugged my mom tightly in the airport, I managed to squeak out my thanks to her, for everything she did to help me move and for just being there that day. And just like that, we said goodbye, and she headed back to Toronto, and I waited in the security line.
Balancing off the edge of an emotional cliff, I was fragile, and the outpouring of messages I received the day of my move through Instagram, texts, and even calls from my friends, coworkers, and family abroad was incredibly special. Each message was touching, and really helped me to realize that this was actually happening. Something that I worked so hard for was happening, and I was even helping to inspire others along the way.
One final surprise as I was waiting for my flight, was that I ran into a fellow Shopifolk at my gate! Kait was heading to Germany and was actually in the gate next to mine. We sat down together and chatted about our upcoming trips, it was her first time heading to Europe. It was so nice to see her before I got on my trip, and she helped lift my spirits before getting on the plane (thanks Kait!).
The Arrival - Back in BCN!
Before arriving I had a friend graciously offer for me to stay with him and his wife during my first week in Barcelona. He also offered to pick me up from the airport (Thank you Raúl!). Also huge win after landing: zero lost luggage.
As soon as I landed, I had the biggest grin on my face, especially when driving into the city. Seeing the palm trees, Montjuïc, the sea, Passeig de Colom, made my heart skip a beat. I was back, and this time I had no set return date.
During my first week in Barcelona I stayed in Poble Nou, which is in the north end of the city, and a great up and coming neighbourhood that is walking distance to the better beaches of Barcelona. Pablo Nou is quiet during the day, filled with young families, but becomes more lively at night around the area of Razzmatazz.
I maybe slept a total of 4 hours combined on my two flights, but when I got to my friends’ apartment, I had no intention of sleeping. It was about midday, and I already had plans to meet up with a friend of mine who use to work for Shopify in Canada, but was now back living in Spain and visiting Barcelona for the weekend. So off I went to meet up with my former colleague, Javier. We met in Barceloneta, so I could walk on the beach (my first day priorities), and then naturally headed to one of my favorite places in the city: La Xampanyería.
I felt like I was running on pure adrenaline and was experiencing some natural high. I was so completely happy - and you can see it in the photos that I took on my first day back in the city.
After saying goodbye to Javier, I ended up walking all the way back to Poble Nou, and strolling through Parc de la Ciutadella. Everything that surrounds me in Barcelona is stunning, and makes walking long distances a complete joy.
Towards the end of my first day, I could feel the jet lag and tiredness come over me and I fought to stay awake. This included staying up to watch the Bayern vs Madrid soccer game, and then eat dinner at 10pm with my friends.
After dinner, I flopped on my bed and passed out. I’ll be completely honest, my first couple of nights, I was actually scared to go to sleep each night, because being back in the city felt so surreal. I felt as if I was dreaming, and I was afraid someone would wake me up from it. As I went to bed that first night, I could not wipe the huge smile off my face and all I could think of was:
I did it. I actually did it. 8 years later, I managed to make my dream come true.
Are you thinking about making a major life change or getting ready to move abroad? Here is some advice before you make your big life change:
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a friend (Thanks Luna!) before starting the process to pack up and sell my life off, was to start early. You need more time than you think you do. I received my contract in January, and I started to seriously organize and sell my things as of mid to end of February, even though I wasn’t leaving until the end of April. I sold my first items (table and chairs) at the beginning of March, and the majority of my large furniture items were gone by the end of March. Then over the first couple of weeks of April, I sold odds and ends.
Give yourself time.
I had 3 full days off from work before I left Canada, and boy did I need them. Although I felt super prepared before leaving, the day before I left I was a space cadet. As I mentioned above, my mind was everywhere. The more time you give yourself, and especially if you can distance yourself from work to clear your mind a bit, the better. Work-Life balance is tricky these days, especially if your company uses an internal communication tool like Slack, which is usually sync’d to your phone and you can constantly be pinged for work.
Save more than you think you need.
I had a goal to save $7,000 CAD over a period of 4 months before I left. I actually ended up saving about double that. My savings mainly came from aggressively putting almost every dollar I could into my savings account. How did I manage to do this? Well, first I paid off all my debts (Student Line of Credit and my OSAP loan) at the beginning of December 2017. Then I saved every dollar I earned from teaching at Seneca College part time. I also liquidated a TFSA, and banked all of my furniture sales. I even took advantage of not having to pay my last month’s rent, and again, straight into my savings account. When you don’t have debt, and you’re very cautious of your dollars, you’ll surprise yourself how much you can actually put away in such a short time. There were a lot of last minute expenses that I didn’t really account for, or didn’t properly account for - like extra baggage costs, prescriptions for 1 year (ie. birth control), cancelling a gym membership (thanks GoodLife for the stupid $100 charge to end my subscription, so much rage) etc - the list goes on. Basically I’d recommend saving an extra 10-20% to account for random costs that you don’t know about yet, and won’t know until they pop up.
Have a Place to Land
It sounds pretty basic, but if you’re moving to another country, and you don’t have the luxury of a job helping you to line up an apartment or permanent place to live - make sure you have an initial place to land, whether it be an Airbnb in the neighborhood you’re thinking of moving to or a friends place for a few days. This gives you time to adjust after landing, and sort out your surroundings
That's all for now! Feel free to follow along on my adventures via Instagram: