Reverse Culture Shock: The Four-Month Mark

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: A Series of Posts our Family's Repatriation ExperienceHere’s a post I jotted down in February 2015 during a particularly nauseating bout of reverse culture shock. I’ll be moving on to other topics next week, but the struggle I’m writing about today is an ongoing one for repats.

Culture shock – it hits you like a heatwave, a revolting smack in the face. What starts as a lovely dip in the sunshine (hooray for being back in the land of Target!) often ends in a full-scale meltdown… no toddler required (I can’t actually find a single thing on my list in Target).

In general, everything seems to be fine. That’s a loaded word, though, isn’t it? “It’s a fine day to fly a kite” is completely different from “I don’t need your help – I’m fine” or “Fine, have it your way.”

None of the children cry themselves to sleep or refuse to speak English or constantly blabber on about “the way things were in Germany.” (That’s just me.)

Eventually, driving seems normal again. I SO hate that. I’m sure I’ve told you before, but just to cover the bases… I hate that. I want my bike back.

And then, one fine day, you are bitten by “the bug.” This species often preys on repats and expats, but anyone is susceptible because this bug doesn’t discriminate (how P.C. of the devious little thing). The bite doesn’t seem severe, just a bit of a sting and no more serious than pricking your finger on a spindle.

You feel a bit of pain in your chest as the poison works its way to the center of your being. Before you know it, the full-fledged symptoms of this nasty sickness appear. You’ve now got oh-my-gosh-I-will-forever-live-in-the-land-of-the-free-but-oh-so-dull-and-never-travel-again-itis. Yep, that’s totally an official medical term.

The venom of envy courses through your veins, paralyzing your mind and wounding your heart. Your symptoms increase significantly when looking at Facebook posts featuring your friends and their holidays in Spain, Austria, and South Africa. Even browsing travel blogs leaves you in bitter agony.

America is so… boring. Going from one state to another isn’t nearly as exciting as hopping over to France or Belgium. Everything is SO far away here. And flying to another country is too expensive.You’ll never travel like you used to….

And on and on the deceit goes.

The problem in all of this is that this line of thinking is extremely, well, bratty.

I mean, how much of the total world population even has the ability to travel beyond where they can walk or ride affordable public transport? Are those who stay home and lead a “typical” existence, are they living worthless lives?

No, no, no.

But, the bitter taste of culture shock pollutes your point of view, and all of a sudden any possibility of remaining positive withers up and disappears as you mourn.

Discontent makes herself comfortable, and then you’re really in for it.

I’ll never travel out of this country again. I’ll never have that kind of vacation time. It’s so expensive to leave the US; how will we ever afford it again? I’m losing my second language. I know there are a zillion and one things to see in the US, but I just can’t get excited about any of them because America is so LAME.


These thoughts – shameful, repulsive, distressing, appalling, ugly, depressing – are nothing but lies.

Over the highs and lows of the last year, I’ve come to realize the antidote to this illness is thankfulness. I found I could fight the travel-homesickness like this…

Remember, self… you have an incredible husband and a strong marriage even after all you’ve been through in the past decade. Hello, you two even still LIKE each other, and that’s got to count for something. You have amazing children: handsome, smart, and healthy.

That last one should never be so easily discounted, and everything else probably pales in comparison. Travel can buy experience and perspective, and money can buy travel, but no amount of either one can cure illnesses of the chronic or terminal kind.

Today, you have each other. You have shelter, clothing, food, friends, love – and you have these in abundance. Give thanks over and over again, self, until that gratefulness defeats the ugly monsters of envy and desire.

With each outbreak of bitterness, longing, confusion, sadness – I will allow the surge of emotion to come. Fighting or denying is useless anyway.

I will remind myself these mourning waves are only temporary, even if it seems like they will never end. I will not always feel this way. I will remember emotion does not trump fact. Truth is truth, and no mere feeling can shake it.

And, I will pray. I will plead for contentment, for perspective. I will practice gratefulness and count my many, many blessings.

Have you pricked your finger on the spindle and fallen prey to homesickness? What’s your antidote for waves of irrational feelings or travel envy?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Traveling Mercy: Take Action Against Human Trafficking

CHILDREN of the CITY BookIt’s Valentine’s week, and whether you are into the holiday or not, the hearts and flowers are everywhere – love is in the air! I’m pausing my not-quite-lovey-dovey Parisian series today for an important message from the heart of a very dear friend of mine.

Tiffany Pastor and I met over 10 years ago when we were both living in Orlando, Florida. We became fast friends, especially when we realized our husbands already knew each other. We’ve traveled together on a fun Caribbean cruise, driven halfway across America together, and literally weathered storms together (hello, Florida hurricanes of 2004!).

And now, Tiffany has written a novel about human trafficking with the intention of bringing awareness to this heartbreaking reality.

Though the book is set in America, human trafficking is an issue that affects people, and especially travelers, everywhere. I invite you to read her words today, and I personally ask you to support not only the launch of her book but efforts to eradicate slavery wherever in the world you may be.

The Background

Maybe you have heard the statistics…

  • 30 million people are enslaved globally, funding a $34 billion industry.
  • An estimated 300,000 prostituted children live on the streets in the United States.
  • 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.
  • In America, 2300 children go missing every day, and 2/3 of those will end up in the sex trade.

The numbers are staggering and numbing.

Even with our best intention, we might say: “Wow, there are so many of ‘them’.” However, the moment we categorize the victims of human trafficking as a ‘them’ we have unconsciously held their sorrow at arm’s distance.

With compassion we might serve ‘them,’ or give to ‘them.’ We might fight for ‘them.’ But we would stop at nothing if it was one of US.

I realized this brokenness reached one of US one day when traveling. I was given a glimpse into a little girl’s life. She was in danger, and no one seemed to help her. I looked her in the eyes, and made a call to report my suspicion.

When I think of human trafficking, I don’t just think of the numbers anymore. It’s not a ‘them.’ It was HER. I picture her. Now, I picture the faces of people I have met, people with stories so heart wrenching that I can not stop fighting for freedom, because I know they are one of US.

The Story

CHILDREN of the CITY is a novel about human trafficking in America. It transforms the numbers of statistics into the personal connection to someone’s story. People may not feel they know a victim, but when they open the book, these characters come to life before them. It changes the issue into a heart’s cry for justice.

Many people feel compelled to make a difference but they don’t know how to respond. CHILDREN of the CITY spreads awareness that opens our eyes to the communities around us, and becomes a tool to share in the hands of readers.

A call to action at the end of the book features tips and signs to be aware of, as well as a list of non-profits who which to get connected.

When the book is released, 40% of all author profits will be donated to freedom fighting organizations.

What Can I Do?

The book will release in April 2014, and a Pre-Release Launch has just begun! Incredible doors to spread the story are opening up. As future events and conferences welcome the story into their venue, the cost of accommodating a print-run for the book falls to me as the author. That is why pre-ordering your book now really matters!

As you purchase the book, the funds will give us the ability to say “YES” to each opportunity and walk through those open doors with the book in hand.

Take a moment to check out the theatrical book trailer:

Ready to take a stand against human trafficking by supporting CHILDREN of the CITY? Pre-Orders are only available until February 24. Click here to contribute.

Anyone can buy the E-Book for $10. This donation or pre-order is a tangible vote that says “I CARE! And I won’t put up with it!” It’s a small price for a huge impact!

If you prefer a paper copy or would like to order multiple copies for a book club or resources for small group discussion, you can also do that here. We have perks at nearly every price point as a way of saying THANK YOU for taking a stand for the enslaved among us.COTC PreOrder Form

Thank YOU!

Thank you for sharing the story! Thank you for donating, and thank you for being a freedom fighter together. I am honored to stand for justice with you!

I’ve just ordered my copy – now it’s your turn! Please check out CHILDREN of the CITY’s website to learn more about Tiffany and this life-changing novel. You can also like COTC on Facebook here.Signature-Marigold

Cheesy Fun at the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsHave you ever met an internet friend in person? 

Back in the iffy days (as in over ten years ago in the dark ages when Facebook didn’t exist and you couldn’t just look up about anyone on the planet), I took a chance and got to know two people online who turned into wonderful, real-life friends (hi, Jen! hi, Aaron!).

I’ve since met a handful more, none of whom have turned out to be criminally inclined.  It seems that what used to be weird with a hint of creepy, or a chance of freaky is now… well, normal.

Results (not?) typical.  Do (not?) try this at home.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers here at TTM and I started emailing back and forth, excited to discover a long list of things we had in common.  And then, she went out on a limb and invited our family to stay with hers, ya know, because it would thrifty and require travel.


And, so we found ourselves driving to Luxembourg to meet Rosie and her family (you can check out her blog here).  The kids had a blast together, and we felt as if our new friends were already old friends.

Despite it’s bad rap, the Internet really can bring people closer together.

Rosie suggested we spend part of the weekend visiting the Luxlait Vitarium, a milk museum about 30 minutes north of Luxembourg‘s capital.  I had wanted to make a stop here back in March, but we chose to continue on to the castle at Vianden instead.  A few phone calls later, we were all set to drag five kids along on a dairy tour.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Now, we travel a lot more than most families, and I spend an enormous amount of time researching kid-friendly activities at our various destinations (time I could be spent doing things like, uh, sleeping).  I end up chucking most of the suggestions I come across –  museums, zoos, theme parks, blah, blah, blah.

Often these attractions are expensive and rather unextraordinary.  I mean, a zebra is a zebra whether the zoo is in New York or New Zealand.  But, a milk museum?  With interactive exhibits?  And taste testing?  Now, that’s something I haven’t heard of before.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn case you aren’t up on your national milk brands (I’m not), Luxlait is the official dairy product brand in Luxembourg.  The Vitarium is a visitor center of sorts (an interactive experience, really) that’s attached to a ginormous factory that turns a gazillion liters of raw milk every day into ready-to-sell dairy products.

The entrance fee to the Luxlait Vitarium is rather steep, so our two cheapskate families visited on the weekend when tickets are less expensive.  Also, we booked an English tour to make us feel like we were getting more for our money.  And, boy did we ever!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAfter securing our jackets in the free lockers, a staff member instructed us to don on some rather spiffy 3D glasses and a stark white lab coat.  Fully costumed, we were then treated to a hokey but entertaining welcome video.  The two characters in the film served as guides for the next hour, contrasting new and old methods of manufacturing Luxembourgish milk products while leading us through the gigantic factory.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

The kids were fascinated by the robots and machines used to fill, package, and collect the dairy products.  The adults were amazed at the spankin’ new facilities, extensive areas we were permitted to peruse, and that the whole shindig held five kids’ interest for an entire hour.

That alone is worth the price of admission, right?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsWhen the tour ended, our (human) guide allowed each person to select a Luxlait product to sample.  We gorged ourselves on chocolate milk, eggnog, milkshakes, and Luxembourgish cooked cheese (slimy and spreadable yet somewhat solid.. very strange).

Of course, we needed to work off all those whole milk calories, so we moseyed on over to the interactive stations.  Racing, biking, stomping, jumping, balancing, listening, pulling, lifting, weighing… We were huffing and puffing long before we ran out of activities to try!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsAll of the forty-plus, hands-on exhibits emphasized healthy eating and exercise… and, of course, how dairy is at the heart of both of those things.

To be honest, the whole experience felt like one continuous commercial for Luxlait products.  But, it was FUN.  Plus, the products are of a high quality and really do taste great.  Well, except for the cooked cheese.

I think the marketing genius behind the Vitarium just received a raise…

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Luxlait Vitarium Milk Museum in Luxembourg with KidsIn short, if you’re looking for a uniquely Luxembourgish experience that you won’t find replicated in Sydney or San Jose, make a beeline for the Luxlait Vitarium the next time you find yourself in the Grand Duchy.

For Rosie’s take on our milk museum visit or to simply stop by and say hello, click here.

Practical tips for visiting the Luxlait Vitarium with your family:

  • You can get to the Vitarium by bus or car.  Bus schedule here.  Parking is plentiful and free.
  • Try to visit on the weekend when tickets are cheaper.  Kids under 6 are free.  Current ticket prices here.
  • Book a tour (included in the admission price) in your preferred language at least a few days in advance.  Make a reservation online here.
  • Take kids potty before joining the tour because it lasts one hour and you’ll need to walk a LONG way back to the loo.
  • We brought a pram with us for Big Foot, so I can personally certify the tour is stroller-friendly.
  • Pack a picnic lunch because the cafe and restaurant are expensive.

Signature-MarigoldMore Luxembourg with Kids!  Read about our frigid morning in the city of Luxembourg here and an afternoon spent at Vianden Castle here.

Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple (Breakfast) Cookies

Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesBack in July, I asked on Facebook what y’all eat on a family road trip.  Surprisingly, many of you snack on cold chicken tenders (which we tried and loved, thanks!) but very few of you take your breakfast to go.

Oh, friends, eating breakfast in the car is one of the main reasons that our road trips with one, three, and five year-old boys are even remotely possible.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesYears ago, when T-Rex as a mere four months old, we discovered during a torturous and frustrating road trip that driving in the dark was the least stressful way to travel long distances by car with a baby.  We rarely drive all night, but we are often setting out in the wee hours of the morning.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesThe idea is that if the kids are drowsy enough, they’ll snooze several hours under the cover of darkness (works better in winter than in summer, obviously).

When they wake up, we serve breakfast to eek out an extra 30-45 minutes of drive time.  By the time they’re littering the backseat with stray crumbs and wayward yogurt drips, we’ve usually arrived at our destination.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesBut, what to give the hungry backseat monsters?  Cereal with milk is out; easy-to-eat carbs are in!  And bonus points if you can shove some extra fruit, veg, or protein in that package.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesEnter cheesy apple cookies.  Now, you may think I’ve let 13 kilos of apples affect my better judgement, but have no fear.  These sound ridiculous, but we’ve eaten them on the way to Italy, Zurich, and Berchtesgaden (posts coming next week!).

Everyone in our family happily scarfs down these crazy creations.  Well, except the grumpy baby… but we love him anyway.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesSo, seriously – don’t knock ’em before you try ’em.

p.s. – These cookies aren’t just for breakfast.  They make kids happy at lunch and snack time, too!Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple Cookies

Cheesy Apple Cookies

adapted from The Kitchn

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 T ground flax seed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans*
2 medium-sized apples, preferably Granny Smith or another tart variety
4 ounces cheese, finely chopped (about 1 cup)**

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk the olive oil, egg, and vanilla together in a glass measuring cup until combined.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, oats, flax, and nuts together.

Grate the apples into the flour mixture, stopping at the core.  Stir to coat the apple with the dry ingredients, and then add the chopped cheese.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined. The dough will be loose and lumpy. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and the cheese browns just a bit. Allow the cookies to hang out on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes and then remove them to a rack until completely cool.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for several months.

*The nuts are optional; feel free to substitute dried fruit if you’re a nut-free household.  **I’ve made these with regular (young) gouda, smoked gouda, and cheddar.  Cheeses with a stronger flavor (sharp cheddar, aged or smoked gouda) work best.  Otherwise the cheese flavor literally melts away.

If you want to make these whole grain, try using white whole wheat.  Going with 100% whole wheat will give you gummy cookies in this recipe.Thrifty Travel Mama | Road Trip Meals: Cheesy Apple CookiesSo, what do you think?  Will you give these nutty cookies a try?  If not, there’s always bagels!Signature-Marigold

Thrifty Travel Mama Now on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

Thrifty Travel Mama Social MediaKicking and screaming the whole darn way, I finally signed TTM up for Facebook and Twitter accounts.

I know I’m rather late for the Facebook train, and I would let the whole thing pass me by if it weren’t for my expat status and my desire to keep up with friends and family back home.  I hope you’ll hold my hand and stay with me while I try to avoid being squashed by the social media wave.

I’m not new to Pinterest, so if you haven’t started following my pins, you’ll definitely want to jump on the bandwagon.  Find loads of practical tips for all kinds of travel as well as fun travel-themed projects, DIY ideas, and gorgeous photos of dream destinations all over the world.

So, I won’t beg you to like me or follow me around the internet, but if you do like and follow this blog anyway, show your love with a click on the thumbs up.

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