4 Realities of Everyday Expat Life

“So, how’s your three year vacation going?!” someone once jokingly asked regarding our relocation to Barcelona. We laughed right along and agreed that with the sun and palm trees, the very laid back attitude of Spanish culture and the ease of weekend jaunts to virtually anywhere in Europe, it can absolutely feel like a vacation!

At times.

But the reality of everyday expat life as a family (with three young children) isn’t always easy peasy!

We truly love living here, it’s been the experience of a lifetime! But anything worth it in life brings about sacrifices and in our case, some major inconveniences.  One of my main reasons for starting a blog was to uncover more about our life abroad beyond the highlight reel of social media.

So for your entertainment and enjoyment (!) here are 4 realities of our everyday expat life. I don’t share these inconveniences to scare anyone away from moving abroad.  The experiences we’ve had and the stories we’ll tell far outweigh them!

1. Apartment Living

Okay so, there are absolutely pros and cons here.  I adore our bright and airy Spanish apartment in midtown Barcelona.  It feels cozy and safe.  It’s easy to keep clean. It feels like home.

What used to take hours of holiday decoration back in the U.S. can be achieved in a matter of minutes here.

Simple and sweet Halloween decor

And I love chillin with the baby and a coffee on our balcony watching the world go by.

This apartment is a massive change from the spacious American home we loved and left behind.  And there are days when a smaller way of life totally works for us!

However, the realities of apartment living for a family of five can get tricky at times as you’ll see…

Without a back or front yard, building forts is our norm!
The elevator in our 100-year old building is like cramming into a London phone booth
Tiny bath for three tots means more water out of the tub than IN!
Our Playroom (or the War Zone as I sometimes refer to it) can resemble an episode of Hoarders at times. Then again, some of the best memories have been made in this space.

2. Transportation

The day before we moved abroad, I handed over the keys to my Ford Explorer and relinquished all automobile responsibilities.  It was so liberating! After all, it’s part of our American culture to practically live in our cars.  Now, after two years without one, I understand WHY!

Having no car here in Barcelona means loads of walking, which actually I DO love.  It’s forced me to get into shape and made the little legs on my three toddlers super strong.  They’ve climbed up the steep hills to Parc Guell and made the lengthy trek down La Rambla to Port Vell. 

Their stamina is impressive….on most days ha!  But having no car and relying solely on buses, trains and metros can have its disadvantages.

It means lots of time waiting at the bus stop, sometimes in the rain or July heat.  It means squeezing a stroller, backpacks, two toddlers and a baby onto a commuter packed train during rush hour.  Running full speed (with kids in tow) down the sidewalk so we don’t, once again, miss the bus we need.

The adjustment takes patience and resilience.  We’ve come to expect the unexpected and be prepared (with everything from umbrellas to a potty seat!) But then again, it’s a way of life in any big city – and families for decades have been doing it.  We’re surviving just fine! 

Major bonus – the kids have all become so acutely aware of mass transit and how to find their way around as well as be safe.  Pretty cool.

3. Food Shopping

Oh how I long for the days when going grocery shopping meant a house filled with food for weeks.  I could open the trunk of our SUV and load bag after bag after bag.  It meant a hefty food bill of course – but it also meant two refrigerators, two freezers and a walk-in pantry stocked!

In the event of a bad storm or perhaps THE APOCALYPSE, we were solid!  Time saved, money well spent.

Without a car (as mentioned above!) this complicates grocery shopping.  Essentially, my stroller (pram, pushchair, trolly – whatever you call it depending on where in the world you’re from) becomes my SUV!

I also try and recruit some cute helpers whenever possible.

Now listen, I can get pretty damn creative with maximizing space by shoving canned goods and smaller items into tiny spaces.

But ultimately it’s about 5-6 days worth of food – during the school year (must point that out since summertime means 47 snacks daily for my kids – all moms can relate!)

4. Laundry

I got so many laughs from my recent Instagram (@theexpatchronicle) post about how we dry clothes here.  People couldn’t believe that a family of FIVE would need to hang dry everything on a small rack (that I used back in college!)  But it’s been our norm for the last year and a half.

Truth is, we do have something called a lavadora/secadora which washes and dries clothes.  But we’ve never had much success with it – so out came the drying rack (and at times, the guest room bed frame). 

Are the clothes a tad crunchy even after fabric softener? Sure.

But at least they have that fresh air scent. 

Silver lining, people.

So yeaa, some things are a little less convenient here.

But the best part about it all? It’s humbled us so much! We never truly appreciated our large kitchen, clothes dryer or SUV when we could. We took them for granted. Now having lived two years without these luxuries, we appreciate them for the conveniences they bring,

The other thing? Our kids have yet to complain. We’ve never heard them say, “This kitchen is too crammed!” or “We have to wait at this bus stop again?!” It’s been kind of eye-opening for my husband and I.

We notice and dwell on the inconveniences much more than they do. And that’s a good thing.

I know when we leave this expat life and settle back into the “luxuries” we’ve always known, we’ll reflect and laugh.  And if the expat life is in your future, so will you.

4 Comments

  • Jill Mendes

    Loved this Laur!!!! Giggled going through it and was so happy to have experienced your daily life and routine!!!! Many times with my jaw on the ground! You are amazing! Your family is so flexible and easygoing!!! It’s perfect! Also thank you for transferring over your SUV !! She has been great to me! Xoxox 😄❤️😄

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Hahahaha that’s so true, you guys experienced so much of it in only one week. Lots of laughs for sure 🙂 xoxoxo

  • Anonymous

    Love this life of joys and new ways to enjoy city living! We will look back at all of this one day and simply smile 😀

  • Lynn Ryder

    Excellent as usual. The drying rack is so funny. I got so used to the fact that it’s also the norm here that I actually forget that we have a dryer. It’s like I almost feel bad using the dryer when I do like I’m killing the environment🤦‍♀️

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