Peg and Brian - An American photographer and her hot Scottish husband, expats and slow travelers out in the world and writing about it. Along the way we hope to see amazing sights, meet interesting people, stay in roach free lodgings and stay alive. So far, so good (except for the roaches).
Currently living in Brazil after a series of international moves, who knows where we’ll end up next? Certainly not us.
Thank you, Brandon! We’re honored to be part of your interview series.
For me (Peg) the idea travel was a life-long interest. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to go explore and see more of the world. When I was about six years old, I had a best friend who moved away, but she didn’t just move to a new school, she moved all the way to Brazil! It was the first time I had ever heard of Brazil, and I was fascinated. I also grew up with an older brother who seemed to always have opportunities to travel with the Boy Scouts and go on interstate adventures with his friends while I stayed home. I was so jealous! I had to be satisfied with weekend camping trips in my grandparents’ RV, which really only whet my appetite for more. Later, in high school, I briefly dated a boy who was born in Finland, which triggered a curiosity to learn about the country, and by extension to learn about what life was like actually living outside the United States. My wanderlust grew from there, and I made it a personal goal to someday live in at least one other country, even though I had no idea how I could possibly make that happen.
For Brian, leaving Scotland was a sudden opportunity at a time in his life when he was free to take it. With his boys off to university, he grabbed the chance and hopped on the plane. He arrived in Houston with a job and little else, and step by step made a life for himself there. Nearly ten years later he was given the chance to transfer to Brazil, into a position that he really wanted, and once again he jumped on a plane and built himself a life out of nothing.
–Would you please take some time to speak on your own expat travels, where you started, where you are now, where you’re going and perhaps talk a bit on some of the experiences you’ve had since leaving America/Scotland?
During the two and a half years that Brian was in Brazil before I moved down to live with him, we were only able to see each other for a week or two every three months. During my trips to Brazil we explored Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding area. We spent time in the national parks near Petropolis and Teresopolis, played on the beaches of Buzios, Cabo Frio and Rio das Ostras, and rode horses through the forests and the mountains. When we were together in the US we rode horses and four wheelers in the Rocky Mountains, hiked through Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, saw Lake Tahoe from three thousand feet up in a hot air balloon, hiked Mt. Rainier, saw Minke whales near Anacortes, Washington and ate our way around the Seattle/Tacoma area. For my fortieth birthday Brian took me back home to Scotland. It was my first trip to Europe and I was able to visit one of the villages where my great-great grandparents were born. My birthday dinner was a fish-and-chips supper on the pier at Anstruther, complete with Iron Bru. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday!
I moved to live with Brian full time three years ago. We eloped on St. John in the US Virgin Islands where I scuba dived for the first time in my life. We left Brazil last May, moved to the UK in June where we had a chance to see nearly every inch of Scotland, quite a lot of England and even a little bit of Amsterdam. Just a few weeks ago we returned to Brazil where we’ll stay for the next few years. Now we’re excited to get to know a new part of Brazil.
–More and more people around the world seem to be realizing that there’s much more to life than a career and permanent lifestyle forever settled and constricted within the norm... Was there a particular moment that made you decide to take the jump? And what advice can you offer the people who are currently mauling over similar moves in their own lives?
I have seen such a change in the conversation about what it means to live the “American Dream”. Every generation in the last 100 years or so has rebelled a little bit about what our own lives should look like, and I’m glad to see that people are beginning to realize that we don’t have to do or be what “they” tell us to do or be. The internet has changed everything by opening up the possibilities for us, and given us the opportunity to find like-minded people.
Even though it had been a dream of mine to live abroad, our moment finally came while laying together in Brain’s hospital bed in Rio. He had had a heart attack just three days after my most recent visit, and I jumped on a plane that night to go back to him. When I walked in the hospital doors the next morning I didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
We spent the next week in the hospital together where I wouldn’t leave his side and we made a plan for me to finally move down to live with him. My kids were old enough, I had their blessing, and life apart was not worth it any more. Living through the fear of that week was traumatic and awful, but it gave us the kick in the pants we needed to finally make the leap.
My advice to anyone who wants to live a life of travel, or to make a big change in location, is to get ready. Get yourself out of debt! That’s a huge one. I know so many people who want to travel or move and can’t do it because they can’t even miss two days of work because they’ve buried themselves financially. Start reducing all the “stuff” you own, simplify your life so that when the right opportunity shows up you are free to take it. Make a plan to rent out your house by talking to property management agencies and looking into insurance changes. Make a list of what’s stopping you, and then work on getting rid of (or changing) those things on the list.
Take advantage of the internet and find other people who have done what you want to do. Ask them what they did to prepare and start doing it. If you have a specific goal in mind, set a date. Write it down. Make it real. There is usually a long stretch of time during which you’ll brew up the dream in your head. The most effective way to make it happen is to make the decision. Give yourself no other option.
And be patient. It took Brian and I until we were in our 40’s before all of this happened. We weren’t free to do it before because of kids and family obligations. Those things are important, obviously, and they were worth waiting for, but time marches on and we eventually, finally had the freedom to say yes to everything we wanted.
–I think a lot of people dream of living somewhere else, but many think that it’s too difficult to uproot their lives and to transition into a new place... What would you say to those who decide they can’t be bothered, because the hassle appears to be too great? What are some of the initial difficulties people may run into?
It doesn’t matter if it’s across the city or to a new country, moving to a new place brings some difficult challenges. Everyone hates the actual logistics of moving, so do yourself a favor and get rid of your stuff! The literal burden of belongings has turned out to be the number one most difficult and headache inducing problem every time we have moved, and we have moved A. LOT. We’ve finally managed to whittle it down to two suitcases and a carry-on each, and I can’t tell you how much easier it has made these transitions.
Furnished apartments are gifts from heaven!
Once you get rid of that hassle, what’s left? Just a drive or a flight to your new location, and a couple of days to find the grocery store and the local pub. No hassle.
Once you arrive you get to start on the fun part. Go exploring, walk your neighborhood, find the farmer’s market and sign up for a class or two. You’ll get to know new people and each one will open up a new window into the area. It takes time and effort to really know a new place, but isn’t that why we’re doing this?
–As I asked Lis in a previous interview... What are some myths about becoming an expat? Are there any important points that others consider this lifestyle should realize before making the jump?
It’s the little things that will trip you up.
Not only do we have to take care of our every-day errands and messy life experiences, we have to do them in different language far, far away from our family and friends. For example, I recently came down with a nasty cold. I had to walk six blocks on broken sidewalks and dodge aggressive traffic to get to the pharmacy, then try to explain my symptoms in Portuguese so I could buy a medication that may or may not be what I needed. I Googled it when I got home to make sure I wasn’t poisoning myself. When I need to buy anything at all, I usually have to look up one or two words in Portuguese before I leave the house, and I’m in a process of trial and error because none of those familiar brands I’ve become accustomed is available.
These are minor inconveniences though. I think the biggest difficulty is that it can be lonely. If you’re lucky enough to move somewhere that already has a big expat community, you’re going to have a much easier time. We happen to move to more obscure places, so it takes us longer to get to know new people. The language barrier doesn’t help (we are conversational, but not yet fluent in Portuguese), and the cultural differences will be difficult to get past, but the friendships will come. With patience and time, you’ll have a new circle of friends before you know it.
–When settling in a new country, have you ever been met with prejudice or dislike? If so, where? And what sort of issues have you run into? What would you suggest for new expats to do when they’re met with resistance and unwelcome-like behavior?
I don’t think either of us has ever had a negative experience with this. Quite the opposite, really. We’ve been welcomed, included and invited in to countless activities and social circles. We both seem to get along easily with whatever group we’re introduced to, and have not been confronted with any kind of prejudice.
In fact, especially when we’re in the United States, Brian draws quite a lot of attention as soon as he opens his mouth. Everyone loves his Scottish accent! It’s been a conversation starter in the oddest of places and seems to break the ice.
The fact that we’re an international couple has also opened a lot of doors for us. People are genuinely interested in talking to us about our different cultures, and have bought us countless rounds of drinks while we all make jokes about which one of us speaks proper English.
–Thank you very much, it’s been quite a pleasure... Last, but not least – Am curious if you would leave some inspirational thoughts that may provoke those weary and unhappy patriots out there to begin thinking more about making a real move in their own lives?
All I can say is that life is short, and beautiful. There is so much more to see than just the small worlds we create for ourselves when we stay in one place. No matter the problems with our respective governments, no matter the jerk we have to deal with at work, no matter that the dog chewed up your expensive shoes and the car got a flat tire on the way home. There will always be negatives which will consume our brains if we let them.
Get in your car, or on a bus, a bike or a plane. GO. Whether it’s for a weekend or a decade, get outside your room, get outside your house and get outside your life. You will be amazed!
Who in their right mind doesn’t want to be amazed? We could all do with a little bit of awe and inspiration. I promise you it’s waiting out there for you, sometimes in the most unexpected of places.
There is so much to see, and there are so many wonderful people out there that you don’t even know about yet! There are places in this world which will take your breath away and you won’t ever even know if you don’t GO.