London at Night

An Unconventional Life

The first time we ever did something expressly unconventional was when we moved to New York City.

As early 30-somethings, our abrupt move from tranquil Portland, Maine to the frenetic energy of NYC startled many of our nearest and dearest. New York City is a dynamic place to live, and for many people, it is the ideal starting point for an adventurous, career-minded 20-something, but not a common destination to relocate to for someone with an established career, home, and a dog in another state. And while Manhattan is a perfectly fine place to raise a family, it is understandable why we got lots of questioning looks when we traded in our three bedroom home with a picket fence in Southern Maine for a high-rise, studio apartment in a concrete jungle.

Maine Lighthouse

Even now, four years later, I find it hard to distill down exactly what we were thinking, what motivated such a drastic move.

For me, a deep-rooted need for adventure was a big factor. At the same time, ambivalence about having kids meant that ‘normal’ worries about comfortable housing and school districts just weren’t on my radar. I would say out loud when asked that we were heading to the big city for better work opportunities. But in all honesty, it’s not like we were lacking in that area – my criticisms about the lack of bustling industry in Maine was a pretty convenient explanation but not the crux the decision.

It could also be that I just crave the new, the bold and the curiously semi-unhinged chess moves that keep life wildly interesting but not all that predictable.

Manhattan Skyline

After two years, another curveball, another unconventional move – this time across the pond to London.

This move was unconventional in many ways. Drew left a promising, but NYC-based, restaurant career. We negotiated a package with my employer to make the move more financially bearable, but we frankly had no idea what we were talking about. Googling ‘average cost of groceries in London’ is not the best gauge for how to afford a London lifestyle, given the notoriously high cost of living and fluctuating exchange rates.

We also weren’t sure if Drew would find the new career of his dreams (he would probably say that he hasn’t, not yet at least), if we would regret the distance from home, or if our beloved dog would adjust to life in the UK.

Couple Walking

The interesting thing around the concept of unconventional living is that there needs to be a convention clearly rooted in the culture from which you are turning away. We are in our mid-30s, married for 9 years, and we don’t have kids. That decision thus far has been the one most firmly bucking the conventions of the culture where we grew up and where we now live. I have no idea what people think of our lack of kids – fortunately, most are too polite to tell us – but I’m sure it runs the gamut from envy to frustration to incredulity.

Moving abroad is also unconventional, but in my mind, less so. We now have so many friends and colleagues who don’t live in their home countries that it feels like the new normal. But that’s because we live in a country where movement between EU countries is easy and accepted. In the States, growing up in middle America, I barely knew anyone who grew up abroad, because the US doesn’t make it so easy for that to happen.

Road to Nowhere

We are in the middle of planning our next unconventional move. Our time in the UK will be up this year, and we’re narrowing down the options of what to do next.

We don’t yet know where the wind will blow us, but I can say for sure that we won’t be making the conventional choice to head home. Not yet.

Is it the desire for novelty and adventure that keeps us away? The need to be ‘different’ no matter the costs? I can’t say for sure, but I can describe what it feels like. It feels exciting, to not know where we will be a year from now. It’s not scary or anxiety-producing or even sad, as we bid farewell to yet another chapter, this one very dear to us featuring one of the world’s best cities and many, many friends.

It’s more like anticipation, a child who starts counting down to Christmas on December 1st. Each day the excitement builds a little more, the fantasies and dreams of what will appear under the tree increasingly grand and exotic. I’m flying high on the anticipation of what’s to come, the unknowable-ness of it all.

Maybe I am coming to the realization that what is deemed ‘unconventional’ by most people might just be my conventional.

An Unconventional Life

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  • March 28, 2016

    Gosh, I love this post. I am in the same boat. It seems like almost none of my choices fall under “conventional” and I have no intentions of starting now. Like you, my husband and I have no children (and it’s odd how personally some people take that) allows for so much spontaneity, not just now but for the rest of our lives. It’s exciting to know that anything could happen!
    Kacy recently posted…42 Reasons to Visit BrazilMy Profile

    • March 28, 2016
      Julie

      I’m so happy to hear of someone else in the same boat. I do love that the lack of kids provides a level of flexibility that I know many people don’t have. (Side note: after I wrote this, I was thinking that my sisters – I have 4 – probably think of me as terribly conventional and boring, except for the London thing. To them, I’m just a normal responsible adult with no drama at all!)

  • April 16, 2016

    Interesting perspective! I am still making conventional decisions, am hoping to courage up and to step out of comfort zone!
    Bernard recently posted…A Must-Have Experience in Siem Reap, CambodiaMy Profile

  • April 16, 2016

    I’m another one for the unconventional lifestyle. I lived and worked abroad for 6 years (in 6 different countries) from being 21 and only bought my first home (in another new country!) at 28. I’ve been in that house for 3 years this year and although I have no intention of having children I do now have a fur baby so If I was to up sticks again I would have to be wary of him – because I couldn’t leave him! Good on you for chasing adventure and welcoming opportunity and a change of circumstance as a blessing rather than something to fear. And I’m looking forward to seeing where your next stop will be.. the world is your oyster!
    Vicki | MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld recently posted…48 Hours in Amsterdam: The HighlightsMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      Oh, the fur babies. We loved ours (lost him recently to old age) but flying him around was so traumatizing for me! Now we’re talking about a new one that can fit easily under airplane seats, so that we don’t need to slow down the travel 🙂

  • April 17, 2016

    What wonderful experiences, NYC and the UK. Actually I am quite jealous of you stint in the big apple, something I would love to do. next stop?? I put my vote in for a stint in Australia 😉
    Sara | Belly Rumbles recently posted…Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour – TurandotMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      I’ve heard of a lot of Aussies doing some time in NYC – so even though those damned visas can be complicated, maybe there is some ‘special arrangement’ between the two countries! You should definitely come!

  • April 17, 2016

    I love your last line. What is unconventional for others is conventional for you. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Karla | karlaroundtheworld recently posted…Amari Patong in Phuket : A Mix of Both WorldsMy Profile

  • April 17, 2016

    I don’t think I could live in a city like NYC. I do admire that you change it up after a couple of years though. While I also don’t have any children any always think of living abroad, I still love to live in Belgium, so I’m sticking around.
    Geert Leysen recently posted…The real Israel, off the beaten pathMy Profile

  • April 17, 2016

    What an honest and wonderfully written post. Good for you for choosing what makes you happy and not what is deemed ‘normal’. I can definitely relate, my husband and I have been together for 13 years and married for 6 years. Lots of my friends are having their first (or second) child while I am planning our next long-term trip around the world… I love your last sentence, very well said:-)
    Lotte recently posted…Exploring East Cuba: Biran And Salto Del Guayabo WaterfallMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      It’s so great to hear from someone who has made similar choices – we feel few and far between and have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s okay to do different things than the people in our daily lives (who all seem to be making the same big choices!). Thanks for sharing Lotte!

  • April 17, 2016

    Life is too short to not live it the way you want it to. Since I have been travelling long-term, i keep asking myself the same question over and over again: why are so many people SO afraid to take the plunge and not live their lives of their dreams, even if they had every possibility to do so. I guess the safety net can be comfort & curse at the same time. I love people like you who were not afraid to swim against the current. London is not a shabby place to be. I miss it dearly.
    Tess recently posted…How to Overcome Anxiety Through TravelMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      I just read an article (if you google it, it’s this month’s cover story of The Atlantic) about financial fragility…basically the idea that most/some/a lot of people couldn’t cover an emergency expense in their lives. I’m sure that this plays into many travel fears specifically but also that perceived safety net that you mention!

  • April 18, 2016

    I look back on some of my big decisions in the same way. Why did I move to Australia from the UK? Why did I come back? What next? I love that you went with a gut instinct and not the conventional wisdom of everyone else. Sometimes its the crazy plans that make the most sense in the long run
    Kate recently posted…Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, North YorkshireMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      I think my biggest fear is that in 20 years I wake up one day and say, how did I get here? It’s not that I feel the need to make perfect decisions (impossible, really) but to be conscious about the decisions I make. To be aware I’m making them, I guess. Fortunately, a move abroad requires a certain amount of finality (not to mention lots of paperwork) so it’s built into that big decision!

  • April 21, 2016

    I really love the layout of your blog! Anyway, I feel you. I don’t have kids and I am not married. Unlike you, my friends are not being polite about it. They always ask questions about this and it’s really annoying to feel pressured towards these kinds of things. Just enjoy the ride! People who are 2, 3, 4 or 10 years older than you don’t have life figured out anyway. Thanks for your honest account!
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