We’ve been living here in Spain for about four months now, so how is it going? Is it everything we’d hoped for? What do we miss most (and what do we not miss at all)? Just what are we doing with all that spare time?
In a word, being semi-FIRE abroad in Spain is fantastic. We are happy, healthy, well-fed, and believe it or not, plenty busy! I have a ton of things I want to share with you, but first and foremost, this: taking a year (ish, more on that in a bit) to be together and concentrate on family and Baby Vagabond’s development been one of the best decisions of our life. It has reinforced our commitment to be Financially Independent as soon as possible (while still placing our collective mental and physical health first) and reassured us that yes, life after FIRE will be everything we hoped it would be.
Back when I announced our crazy plan to sell our house, for Mrs. Vagabond to quit her job, and to leave for parts unknown, I shared that we aren’t Financially Independent yet– we’re somewhere around 50-60% of the way to our low-end goal (semi-demi-FIRE?). Still, with the birth of Baby Vagabond last year, taking a year or two to travel and spend time together just felt right. Living the FI lifestyle is all about remembering the value of time versus money, and this time with our very young daughter is something no amount of money would ever make up for missing.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the life we’ve built here in Granada, Spain!
We live in the Albaicin, the ancient Moorish Quarter (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) within the city of Granada. In many ways, the Albaicin feels like a “city within a city,” divorced from the traffic and hubbub of the city center while remaining close enough to walk within 10 minutes.
When we arrived in Granada, we sent four queries off about houses we had found on the best available real estate listing site. We heard nothing back on two of the properties– coincidentally (or not) the two listed by real estate agencies. One landlord called me back right away, but explained that the property wouldn’t be vacant for 90 days. Finally, one landlord responded to my email offering to show us the property, a beautiful and, from the photos, perfectly decorated, house in the Albaicin– all in perfect English.
I was immediately skeptical. Everything just seemed too perfect. But, after seeing the property, meeting our landlords (also our next-door neighbors), and talking a bit, we knew we wanted the house. The house’s outer walls are ancient, dating back to the time of the Reconquista. The insides, however, were all rebuilt in the 1980s, and felt at once typically Spanish and modern. It has four bedrooms– enough for a master bedroom, a nursery, an office, and a guest room– and four bathrooms. According to Google Maps, the tapas bar two doors down is 47 feet away, and according to the Frugal Vagabond, two Euros for a Tinto de Verano and a tapa is the best deal on food and drink in Europe.
Without a doubt, the crown jewels of the house are the two terraces overlooking the Alhambra. Behold, our breakfast nook!
This is personal finance blog, so I’ll tell you that we pay around $1500 per month in rent. By Granada standards, this is a fortune, but coming from Silicon Valley it feels like a steal. Rent for a two bedroom apartment is closer to $500-600 per month in our neighborhood. We’re paying more for our location, amenities, the size of house, and of course, the fact that we had to find a place that would allow us to bring the Vagabond Pups.
As I mentioned before, our landlords are our next-door neighbors. Far from cramping our style, they’ve become some of the most wonderful friends we have made in Spain. They are a young family with four children and incredible local connections. If we have a question about where to find something, need help navigating local bureaucracy, or just need to talk, there is no doubt that we can turn to them. We eat and go out together often, and joined them recently at the beach for some seafood and relaxation. I often tell people that if we had looked at ten thousand houses, we might never be lucky enough to find friends and landlords (in that order) like these.
A Day in the Life
As the parents of an eight-month-old, we are up once or twice during the night, so we do our best to sleep as late as possible. Unfortunately, that’s usually only about 8 AM. We play with the baby, feed her breakfast, and get her down for her first nap. We usually take that time to do our chores and get ready for the day.
Three times a week at around 11 AM, we head to the local Crossfit gym for a workout, and usually grocery shop right afterwards. If we still have plenty of energy, we’ll head to that tapas place 47 feet from home and have a few drinks and tapas. Then, the baby goes down for her afternoon nap and we work on integrating into Spanish society by observing the all-important siesta. During the hottest part of the day, usually from around 2:30 to 5:30 PM, most small businesses and restaurants close (restaurants until closer to 7:00 PM). We use this time to nap, read, or catch up with friends and family back in the US who are usually just waking up.
In the early evening, I do a few hours work for my client, who has been really flexible in allowing me to drastically reduce my hours and work from abroad. The great news is that since the cost of living is so much lower here than in California, and since up to $102,100 in income will be tax free under the FEIE, working 4 or 5 hours per night covers our cost of living here, our monthly travels within Europe, and still leaves enough left over to max out my 401(k).
Anyone who’s spent any time in Spain knows that life begins at sundown. Once I’ve finished my work for the night, we either have dinner at home or head out to enjoy free activities around the city. In the past few months we’ve gone to religious festivals, free rock concerts, May Day parades, and spirited competitions pitting the neighborhoods of the city against one another. Even when nothing is officially going on, it’s awesome to walk in the beautiful streets, stop into shops who have begun to notice that we’re more than tourists, and simply be someplace new and exciting. Through our gym and our neighbors, we’ve started to build a social circle. One group of Italian friends recently opened a fresh-made pasta shop. They import Italian flour and cheese and pair it with seasonal local produce to make some of the freshest and most delicious pasta we’ve ever tasted. We try to drop by once a week and support them (if fresh ravioli and cannelloni are supportive, sign us up!). The effort to immerse ourselves in everyday life here has paid off in tiny, perfect moments.
Freedom to Adventure
Of course, we’d be crazy to miss the myriad opportunities to explore the rest of Europe. RyanAir and EasyJet both fly into three nearby airports, and much of Europe is a sub-$100 round trip flight away.
Since we arrived, we’ve visited the Algarve in Portugal, eaten life-altering pastry in Budapest, wandered ancient Greek temples in Sicily, and shopped at the most jaw-dropping fresh market we’ve ever seen in Vienna. We’re headed to Malta and Ireland in the next month or two. We’re planning for a long roadtrip around Christmastime through France and Switzerland, and to celebrate Christmas week in Munich.
Assuming we stay a second year, we’re hoping to stray from the beaten path a bit. We’d like to get to Romania, Bulgaria, and Armenia, and we’re this close to booking a few weeks in South Africa for early 2019 (It may not be close, but it’s about half as far right now as it is from back in California!).
One of the requirements of acquiring our visa was to be fully covered by a private insurer. We knew we would be seeking a doctor for Baby Vagabond’s normal developmental appointments, but our introduction to Spanish medicine came much sooner than we might have expected.
Shortly after arriving in Spain, I was pushing the baby in her stroller. As we rattled our way down some nearby steps, the combination of cobblestones and severe angle bounced her right out of the stroller onto the ground. I have never felt so horrible and fearful as I did at that moment. When the baby wouldn’t stop crying, we rushed her to the emergency room. While we were pretty sure she would be okay in the long run, it was better to be safe than sorry.
When we arrived at the hospital, we learned that all hospitals in Spain have a dedicated Pediatric Emergency Room (amazing!). Within five minutes, we were ushered into a triage room, where a half dozen nurses alternately evaluated and did their best to cheer up the baby. After that, we met with a doctor who reassured us that she showed no signs of serious injury, and that she would be fine.
We did make a minor mistake when we went to the ER– rather than going to one of the two nearby hospitals that takes our insurance, we went to the hospital closest to where we happened to be. As a result, we’re expecting a bill, but we’ve made some inquiries and were told that being seen at the ER as we were is usually a flat fee of under 200 Euros. In the US, it would be reasonable to expect the out-of-pocket at the ER, even when covered by insurance, to be an order of magnitude more expensive.
Since that day, we’ve met with the baby’s pediatrician multiple times. It has been a bit of a culture shock as he has invited us to drop by to discuss things that would never merit an appointment back home. How is her introduction to solid foods going? How’s her growth this month? We’ve also figured out how to get immunizations done. It’s trivial under the public health system, but when insured privately, we need to fill a prescription at a pharmacy, then take the immunization to a hospital to have it administered. Not the ordinary way of doing things in the US, but simple enough once you know how to navigate the system.
Neither myself nor Mrs. Vagabond have seen doctors ourselves yet, but Mrs. V will probably do so in the coming months owing to post-pregnancy followup. We feel a lot more confident about the level of care, and how to obtain it, than we did a few months ago.
What We Miss (and What We Don’t)
Here’s a short list of things we’ve found ourselves missing from back home:
- Friends and Family (duh)
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Red Vines
- Proper Mexican Food
- Amazon Prime Same Day (or Next Day) Delivery
- Places being open on Sunday
- Places being open from 2:30-5:00 PM
… and here are some things we don’t miss:
- Work (duh)
- Commuting to Work
- Other Judge-y Parents
Was It Worth It?
If you’ve been paying any attention you’ll know. Yeah, it was worth it. We’re really happy, though of course there are tough moments. Still, even the toughest moments are washed away when our baby does something for the first time and we’re both there to see it. I often ask Mrs. Vagabond, “Where do you think we’d be right now if we hadn’t done this?” The answer is invariably “at work,” or “commuting to work.” It has put into perspective exactly how much life you trade away to be “normal.”
A few years back, when I had extensive dental treatment in Thailand, the at-that-time future Mrs. Vagabond shared it with one of her customers. The customer scowled and responded, “That’s weird!” It bothered my wife at the time, and when she shared the story with me, she indignantly exclaimed, “Weird is good!” We laughed so hard that it became an inside joke and an unofficial mantra for our lives: Weird is good. We love our weird, adventurous, wonderful life here.
As a parting word of advice, I think anyone who is working towards FIRE intending to slow travel the world should consider a semi-FIRE sabbatical like this once they’re 50% or more of the way to their goal. If it’s not right for you, it will help you to adjust your goals. If it is– and I hope it is– it will absolutely reignite your passion for this incredible, intrepid life.
We’ll see you on the road.