Every family has different holiday traditions. For us, the first week of January is a time to sit down, bust out the 2020 calendar, and embark on one of our all-time favorite activities… planning (our!) travel for the year ahead. Ever since we left our jobs and started this semi-unconventional, experience-focused life five (!) years ago, this has become our ritual - remembering trips from last year, dreaming up adventures for the year to come, and figuring out how to transform our travel dreams into a reality.
It’s been just over four weeks since we packed up our little Fiat and drove to our new home on the other side of the Mediterranean (well technically the Balearic and Ligurian) in Lucca, Italy. We know. A house in Tuscany sounds super romantic. But within two weeks of arriving, we had 6 feet of sewage pumped out of our front yard, no hot water or heat, and - after attempting to renovate our kitchen and bathroom at the same time (bold) - no running water and a hole in our stone kitchen wall that very closely resembled an archaeological excavation site. There has been more than one moment when we’ve longed for the ease of our rented apartment in Valencia, our trusty landlords just a phone call away, the ability to communicate, and a cafe table full of cheap wine, tapas and our wonderful friends to laugh with. But, even as we stood in the pouring rain, looking down at the almost overflowing tank full of raw sewage, trying to understand why the pump wouldn’t stop beeping, and later forking over nearly 1,000 euro for a new one, we’re confident that this crazy decision was a good one.
Introducing one of the world’s biggest travel myths:
A hotel is just a place to sleep.
We’ve certainly heard this sentence once or twice. Hell, we’ve even said it ourselves to justify paying a low hotel rate in a pricey destination. But wanting a great hotel (at any budget) doesn't make you high maintenance; it makes you smart. Because the truth is that where you lay your head down at the end of the day really matters, like a lot. In fact, it can easily make or break a trip.
Why the right hotel (really!) matters:
Because you don’t want to choose the wrong location.
Ever booked a hotel in a not-so-awesome neighborhood? Or saved some money by staying outside the city center, only to pay a small fortune in taxis or trains? Or, have you booked a hotel nearby famous sights but in a neighborhood that is packed with crowds during the day and noise during the night? Or have you chosen an apartment thinking you’ll have a local experience, and found yourself in some strange version or a foreign suburbia? The right location is paramount. It will dictate the overall ease of your trip - what restaurants and sights are nearby, if you get a good night’s sleep, and if you can pop in for a rest halfway through a long day of sightseeing. If there’s one thing to get right (after the obvious safety and cleanliness standards), this is it. Choose wisely.
Because the room may not be what you’re picturing.
Nothing’s worse than walking into your room after checking in to a surprise. It’s tiny, there’s no air conditioning, there’s only a tub and not a shower (or not even a tub - holler if you’ve been to Asia and experienced the all-in-one bathrooms!). Especially when traveling to international destinations, where large hotel rooms with coffee makers don’t come standard, know exactly what you’re getting into before you book and never rely on pictures alone.
Because the hotel can easily over or under deliver.
Are you cool with a little front desk and not much else? Or do you love a good fitness center, pool, or spa? Does a hotel that offers a good breakfast really knock your socks off? (It does for us!). Or do you enjoy a nice terrace, or rooftop bar? If you can define what hotel amenities are important to you, it will really help you narrow down your search and be sure you’re picking the perfect spot.
Because you don’t want to miss out on experiencing something unique
We get it - sometimes a familiar hotel chain can feel comforting, but often times, branching out from the big corporate chains can payoff big. Boutique and/or locally-owned hotels not only support local economies, they often offer a much more local experience. From local art and decor, to local cuisine, to the history of the building itself, there may be cultural insights and experiences to be had.
Bottom line - a lot of travelers underestimate the value of coming home to a great room at the end of a long, tiring day while traveling. Especially in a foreign land, your hotel can feel like a sanctuary. This is why we spend countless hours searching for the right room for each individual traveler we work with. So whether you work with us, or seek out your own hotel, just don’t take the hotel choice lightly. Trust us - your future traveling self will thank you.
Since moving to Spain three years ago, the two questions we receive more than any other are: “How did you do it?” and “How do you continue to make it work?”
The short answer: We winged it. In reality, we probably should’ve planned a little more than we did. But instead we bought two plane tickets to Valencia, rented an apartment for a few weeks, and packed as much of our stuff as possible into four massive suitcases. That being said, we did have one, super helpful advantage that most people don’t… citizenship within the EU (Megan did, at least). But getting a visa and residency in Spain is completely its own blog, which we’ll save for another day. (However, we do know a big handful of other American expats who are happily and legally living in Spain without citizenship, so it's absolutely possible!).
The long answer: After traveling for 9 months in 2015, we were (and continue to be) dedicated to the goal of living a different kind of life. We moved to Spain to create a life focused on having more time together, the opportunity to explore new places, experience new cultures, and to grow our business to the point where we would become completely independent, working only for ourselves. Over the last few years, we've made a number of calculated decisions in support of this goal (one that could not have been achieved had we stayed in the U.S.), but ultimately, Spain's low cost of living and social benefits have been invaluable for us in creating the kind of life that we ultimately want to live.
It probably goes without saying that the cost of living in Spain is less than in the U.S., (and it’s really a lot less than in San Francisco and Maui!). That being said, job opportunities are pretty limited as well, especially without fluent Spanish skills. We knew this going in, and originally moved to Valencia with the plan to teach English for a year or two as we continued to grow Cohica (which thankfully, is pretty much how everything has worked out). Once we established residency and had permission to work, we both easily found teaching gigs, which are generally quite prevalent in decent sized cities like Valencia. These jobs don’t pay a lot, and for a few long months Megan found herself corralling kiddos and dreaming of the salary left behind. But being on the payroll of an English Academy (even part-time), allowed us to pay into Social Security and take advantage of healthcare and other benefits us Americans often only expect to receive with a full-time, salaried gig.
As Cohica continued to grow, we quickly found that the best way to live here, in our opinion, is to simultaneously earn an income in the U.S. while supplementing our earnings with super part-time local work to take advantage of social benefits. This combo has worked well for us over the past three years, but with the growth of Cohica, we’ve recently made the decision to both work on our business full time - one more step in the direction of achieving our goal.
Our life in Valencia isn’t extravagant, but it’s also pretty amazing in a lot of ways. We do our shopping at a century-old market just blocks from our flat, meet our friends at street-side cafes for a beer or glass of wine, explore one of the many nearby museums and cultural centers on the weekends, and head to the beach all the time during the summer. We travel a lot, but utilize our flexible schedule to score inexpensive airfare, manage our credit card points, and take advantage of shoulder season pricing in popular destinations. All in all, we do almost all of the things we want while also being smart about our money.
So what does it really cost to live in Spain?
While the answer is certainly different for everyone, here is the breakdown of our monthly costs, along with some typical prices for everyday goods, costs to travel, and other common items:
Overall, we estimate that as a couple, we spend approximately half of what we spent when we lived and worked in the U.S. (per month, not including travel).
Moving to Spain was a bit of a leap. But the truth is, that the low cost of living and the social benefits have been key to our success in growing our business. Ultimately, lower costs equal less pressure and less stress, which for us, has resulted in the kind of fulfilling, fun and happy life we want to live.
If there are any specific items you'd like to know the cost of here in Spain or if you have any other questions about living here, just drop us a line in the comments section below and we'll get back to you as soon as we can!
If you’re interested in what it’s like to live in Spain, come and see for yourself! Check out our Live Like an Expat in Valencia Designed Trip.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on three years living in Spain. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that we landed in Valencia, excited and eager to give this expat thing a try, only to have our life flipped upside-down for the six months following. But in other ways, when we think back to all the experiences we’ve had in Valencia and across the Iberian Peninsula, we’re reminded of how well we’ve come to know this amazing country that we call home.
Many people visit Spain and hightail it straight to Barcelona or Madrid. While both are great destinations, Spain has so much more to offer than its two largest cities. Choose to visit smaller towns to experience everyday Spanish life, medium sized cities for incredible architecture and mind-blowing food, or if you’re really itching for a big city experience, do something different and visit Valencia instead. Here are our top 7 spots beyond boring Barcelona (yeah, we said it):
For many of us, coffee is more than just a drink. It's the life blood that wakes us up, gives us the energy to get dressed in the morning, and make it to work each day. Without it, our mornings (and afternoons) would be a lot slower, our minds a lot foggier, and our ideas, probably, a lot duller. Let's face it, coffee is the best drug of all. It's legal, does magical things, and is fully maintainable on a daily, or even twice daily (3x?) level.
So if you're a coffee aficionado like we are and you'd like to experience the way the rest of the world consumes this incredible drink, then read on. See how local cultures, climate, and economies impact the world's best brews and get inspired to get out there and experience it for yourself!
Secret Coffee Tasting in Hanoi, Vietnam
Although not many people are aware, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world. The Vietnamese have a serious love for the stuff and, since the French colonization, have come up with an array of different ways to drink it. From traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using a slow drip filter unique to the region then adding condensed milk, to the Hanoian cappuccino in the northern capital.
On this secret coffee experience in Hanoi, you'll visit an old French mansion for a coffee tasting that includes a secret ingredient, before sipping an original Hanoian cappuccino, followed by a trip to a hidden cafe in an old military dormitory and ending with a sampling of dessert style coffees.
In our latest Cohica Vlog, we're coming at ya from one of this year's most popular travel destinations, Porto, Portugal. Learn how to save money when tasting port (a must!) and when is the best time of year to visit.
At the beginning of each year, we sit down together and start planning our travels for the next 12 months. It's become somewhat of a ritual for us - discussing our trips from the previous year, dreaming up vacations for the year to come, and deciding how exactly we'll make these adventures happen.
The 2018 recap
We covered a lot of ground in 2018. From a weekend getaway to Budapest, to a group running adventure in Ibiza, to two trips to jolly ‘ol England. There was a summer road trip to Strasbourg, France, south through Switzerland, Lake Como and Piedmont in Italy, and with a relaxing stop in Provence before our long drive home to Spain. A surprise birthday trip to Mallorca, family travels to Granada and Costa Blanca here in Spain, a two-night friendo vacay in Porto, Portugal, and back home to San Francisco for the holidays.
We're celebrating Ryan's birthday with a long weekend in Mallorca, our favorite nearby island destination. Learn what makes this island so awesome, including 3 reasons why you should go, and travel tips for when you do.
Many Americans visit Spain and only experience major cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada. Adding an island stop to a Spain itinerary is inexpensive, easy and a great way to diversify your trip. And who doesn't want to jump off those cliffs and swim in that water (I mean c'mon now!). Check out our Spanish Mediterranean Cohica Designed Trip for inspiration or contact us for your own Custom Travel Plan (see a sample here!).
Our European road trip continues as we head to Rognes, a tiny town in Provence, France known for its production of rosé. Learn why this breathtaking region should be on every wine lover's "must visit" list.
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