Traveling to Hurghada

Our tans have long faded, the snorkle masks are put away and I still haven’t seen any of the pictures Steve got on the GoPro. Our trip to Egypt was 2 months+ ago, though it feels like a lifetime! August has been super rainy here in the UK and I am over it! I need to be back in the sunshine, drinking colorful drinks and swimming in the lagoon!

Unfortunately I have to wait another 5 weeks until I’m back in the sun again. In the meantime I figured it was high time I told my readers about our trip – where we stayed and what we did.

We booked our trip just 9 days before leaving because a) we’re crazy and we needed to wait till payday to book it and b) we we’re hoping to snag the trip super cheap (which we did). In the end with Thomas Cook, we paid about £750($973)for a week at an all inclusive hotel for the both of us, not too bad. If you can be flexible with travel locations etc I suggest booking late.

This was our first packaged holiday, flights and hotel all booked with one company so we didn’t know what to expect. We treated ourselves and bought some extra luggage weight, meals on the flights and picking our seats ahead of time. That set us back about £75 but after the flights we had I’m glad we at least had seats we wanted. The check in counter at Gatwick for Thomas Cook was a mad house! Long lines, not enough employees and no smiles. Since we primarily fly BA or Delta/Virgin this was a very different experience. Once we boarded the plane we saw what a “budget airline” was all about. The seats were like stadium seats with a bit of cloth over – no cushion. architecture-1750794_1920The flight attendants were nice but looked tired and overworked. After taking our seats the pilot came on and told us there has been a computer issue so they were going to be handling the flight paperwork manually for the flight. Way to make us feel safe!

Our 5.5 hour flight took 7 hours – and when you add an obnoxious 5 year old a few seats in front of you – it was one of the worst in my life.

Once we landed we found out just how careful and a little overboard the Egyptian government is when it comes to airports. We bought our visas in one line, got in another to fill out boarding cards, had our passports checked and stamped and then someone made sure our passports had been stamped. It was a lot of deja vu.

After getting our bags we were directed to a coach that would take us to the hotel. We had to wait on the bus for 45+ min for 1 guest. When she finally showed up she said her husband had walked away from her in the airport so she just sat and waited for him to come back. This was about 11.45pm local time, so it took a lot for me not to lose it at her.

Our hotel was the closest to the airport but we were the last to be dropped off so the ride took an hour. To say we were hungry and unhappy campers when we finally arrived would be a massive understatement. Thankfully the rest of the trip went much better!

AirBnB Packing List

Steve and I love airbnb. Its so much nicer to stay at a home then a hotel when we’re traveling – especially when it saves us a fair amount of cash. On average we book airbnbs for £40 a night where a hotel would cost us £80.

Depending on the sort of holiday we’re going for we stay in both rooms and whole houses. When we do a holiday with multiple locations we normally just do rooms, we save money and can get advice from locals. When we want something more relaxing or are staying in one place for a few nights we like to go for an entire house. Just makes it easier to relax.

When we do go for a whole house we’ve found some come complete with everything and anything you might want or need. Unfortunately they’re not all like that. Since most of the places we stay are international we find different people in different countries have different definitions of “we provide everything”. So in order to avoid being stuck without we’ve made a little airbnb kit we keep packed and ready for our trips. Due to the contents we dont fly with it but we could if we really needed to.

Here’s what’s in our AirBnB Kit

  1. Tea bags
  2. Instant coffee
  3. Sanitizing gel
  4. Dish soap
  5. Paper towels
  6. Laundry detergent
  7. Close pins
  8. Bin bags
  9. Granola
  10. Spoons
  11. Honey
  12. Set of sheets

We tend to pick up basics like milk and maybe yogurt in a local shop to cover breakfast. If we are traveling by car and on a strict budget I will even pack my crockpot to make/reheat a simple meal I can easily bring from home.

We’re looking at going away for the bank holiday weekend at the end of August so I will be making sure our “kit” is set and ready to go!

Do you have an airbnb kit? Or something similar that you always pack? Tell me in the comments below

Hidden Cost of being an Expat

Thanks to technology expats like myself are not longer subject to cray long distance phone call prices just to keep in touch with our families. We have the benefit of skype, facetime, email and many other communication apps which are free or at the most $5 a month (what I pay skype for unlimited calls to US a month). We can text, snapchat and facebook message our friends and family at home when we miss them.

If we are so inclined we can send snail mail – which I am all about. My mom and I joke that the two of us are keeping the US post office in business. I love sending and receiving actual mail, despite the cost. In the US a stamp for a postcard costs $.35 and its good for the entire country. For international mail – postcard or a standard card or letter, its $1.15 for a forever international stamp. Not a fortune but it adds up.

Here in the UK, sending a postcard back to the US costs £1 – $1.30. Not bad, just a bit more than the US. Sending a standard birthday card or letter to the US from the UK costs a whopping £4.65! As you can imagine sending mail back to the US is very expensive. Luckily my mom is happy for me to mail her a lot of mail and she then mails it from the US saving me a lot of cash!

When our friends and family send us things its really awesome – its easy to feel left out and forgotten when we’re out of sight, out of mind. Getting cards, pictures and small packages makes us feel very special. Unfortunately there is a nasty downside to receiving mail. Due to strict customs and VAT policies – royal mail reserve the right to charge us for anything that is shipped to us from another country. I recently received 2 tanks tops valued at $15 each from a swap I did with Reddit. It cost me £13/$16 to get them out of customs. In other words I had to pay for 1/2 of the declared value of the package in order to get it.

Filing taxes is never a fun experience, but when you’re an american expat its even more painful. We have to file taxes in 2 countries – the UK and the US. Unfortunately turbotax isn’t an option for such complicated filing so most families spend upwards of $600 to have a professional international accountant file their taxes. Due to the high tax brackets here it’s unlikely we would owe the US taxes on top of what we pay here in the UK, but it also means we are very unlikely to get any sort of US tax return.

Another very expensive part of being an expat is visiting home. I’m sure most people would love us to come home every 3-4 months to visit and catch up, but most expats find a yearly trip back is all their budget can handle. For example I was tracking flights to come back in September for 2.5 weeks and this was the breakdown

  • £600+ flight
  • £50 gas to and from the airport
  • £50 extra suitcase on the way home
  • £300 for airbnbs when I couldn’t stay with friends or family
  • £500 car rental as my mom is driving my old car at the moment
  • £150 gas for rental car
  • £400 eating out money – when you visit everyone wants to go out to dinner with you
  • £200 miscellaneous expenses

Total:  £2250 = $2932

That doesn’t even cover the price of buying clothes and goods in the US we can’t get here. Simply put visiting is a massive financial undertaking. Regardless Steve and I are doing our very best to make a trip home at the end of 2017/early 2018. We are very blessed my parents have offered to help us with a car, a place to stay and some cash towards the flights but it’s still the most expensive trip we will take this year by far.

I dont write this post to make anyone feel bad for us nor am I asking for financial support. I simply want to open people’s eyes to the costs that they may not consider when it comes to friends and family living overseas.

Fellow expats – have I missed anything? Any other hidden/forgotten costs I’s left off? Let me know in the comments

 

The Expat Tag

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I feel like I haven’t done much expat related blogging so I decided to do 10 questions Seychelles Mama posted to her blog!

1. Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in Greenwich CT USA. I grew up in Atlanta GA, Surrey UK, Brussels BELGIUM & back in Atlanta. My dad worked for a big american company in their international division so I moved around a bit as a kid. I spent 7 years living in europe as an expat with my family.

2. What made you leave your home country?

Steve took a job with a company who had an office in Reading. It was a big career move for him so we relocated here.

3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?

Without fail they ask “why would you move to Reading?!” haha! It’s not that Reading isn’t a nice enough place, but most brits see the US like americans see the UK – with rose colored glasses. They can’t believe we gave up sunny, warm Georgia for England with gray skies and dark winters.

4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?

I think the easiest part of moving to the UK is the language. Having lived in Belgium I know how hard it is living somewhere you dont speak the language. I can remember trying to grocery shop with my mom when I was little and how hard it was- thankfully she speaks french fluently.

The hardest thing to adjust to here has been transportation/ lack of independence. In our first year we didn’t have a car so we were stuck using public transport or renting a car. Thankfully we bought our first car about a year ago but since it was a stick shift so I couldn’t drive it. Now that we have an automatic my US license isn’t valid so I have to take expensive lessons in order to be able to drive.

It’s been really hard going from being super independent- with my own car and schedule to now relying on public transport or Steve to take me places. I really miss being able to do things on my own – it often feels like I’m a highschool kid again and my parents are dropping me off and picking me up from the movies.

5. Images, words, or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far?

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We’ve moved house 3 times in 2.5 years

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We’ve had a lot of visa issues with Steve changing jobs since we arrived

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We’ve found the local expat community to be quite cliquey and its hard to make friends with

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We’ve done a lot of traveling – 8 countries in 2.5 years

6. Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?

I have grown to love tea and traditional english sponge cake with jam and cream. Yum! I haven’t ventured into the world of making my own – I’m sticking with my US baking, but thankfully I can buy a yummy cake from Tesco for £2.50!

7. What is the one thing you said “yes” to in your new city that you wouldn’t say “yes” to back home?

Walking places. In the US we got in our car for everything – from going to the store to getting brunch. In fairness we lived in a suburban neighborhood so we couldn’t really walk places – but I feel like even if we could have we wouldn’t have. Here we walk into town for nights out, I walk home from work and during lunch I walk into town to run errands.

8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you can not stand?

  • Flat pancakes – they’re not pancakes they’re crepes but the brits won’t call them that
  • Splitting the bill equally. When a big group goes out to dinner and some people order bottles of wine, appetizers and a main but I order just a main and a drink, I dont want to have to split the bill equally because I spent much less. Drives me mad!
  • The lack of decent customer service. I find so often I have to fight with a store if I have an issue with their product or service. It almost seems like they make it so hard so you just won’t bother returning something or making a fuss.
  • 10 minute doctor’s appointments. I like to get to know my GP before they put their hands all over me but here its like an assembly line – 10 and you’re done no matter if you haven’t discussed everything.

9. What do you most enjoy doing in your new country?

Both Steve and I have really enjoyed the pub culture here. The ease of meeting up with friends for a drink is nice – we get out of the house but we dont have to go far since our local is just a few doors down.

The ability to travel internationally is definitely a plus here, along with the 30 days of holiday we both get, which allows us to take actual vacations and long weekend trips as opposed to squeezing everything into a few days like we did at home.

10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?

Never say never, but for the foreseeable future I dont see us moving back to the US. We sold everything before moving so going back would mean starting all over from scratch. Something we’ve done here – its very difficult, expensive and time consuming.

Weird British Phrases

This past weekend I was skyping with my family back in the US and it was pointed out to me that I’ve picked up some weird british sayings. I was explaining to my dad and my sister that I was going out for a “leaving do” for some co-workers and wouldn’t be around to talk later that day. Of course this sentence sounds pretty normal to me, but they were both fascinated and  tickled by the phrase “leaving do”.

It occurred to me in the US we would call the same event a “going away party”. Here in the UK the term “Do” seems to have replaced the term party. They call the bachelorette party a “Hen Do” and the bachelor party a “Stag Do”. Or they leave out the “Do” all together and say “birthday drinks” or “leaving drinks” implying its a meet up at the local pub to celebrate.

Another strange one I find myself saying is “bog standard” which is a term for normal. I can confess that when I heard it first I thought it was “bob standard” and I said that for a long time – but I have learned the error of my ways. The weirdest part of this phrase is bog is an old word for toilette.

“Chockablock” is a term that Steve still can’t get his head around – but since I learned it when I was young its one I use a lot. It means full or really tightly packed. Like a crowded room would be “chockablock”. No idea where the term comes from – its just what we say.

Cheers! Brits say cheers for everything. When we first came over to look for a place to live we had lunch at a pub and the waiter said cheers when Steve handed him the menu back. The look of confusion on his face what so funny. As americans we think of cheers as a term said when you clink glasses together. Here in the UK its a replacement for yes, thanks and just general acknowledgment.

Now when I say to Steve that I’m going to call my parents I always say I’m going to “ring them”. It’s definitely not an american term but it’s pretty self explanatory – probably why no one has ever asked what I mean when I say it.

After 2 and a half years it shouldn’t surprise me that I’ve picked up some local lingo, but even now I still find myself having to guess when people use some terms. I think it’s just  a part of the expat experience.

Tomatoes, Eggs & Chorizo

If you ask Steve my favorite thing to do in the kitchen, he will say it’s to tell him to say “yes chef” when he’s helping me. He wouldn’t be lying but I wouldnt say its my favorite thing to do. My favorite thing to do is borrow a recipie I find online or in a cookbook and modify it to make it my own – sort of like an evil kitchen scientist (Steve’s term, not mine). It’s not that I think I’m a better chef – but I try and squeeze as much goodness into one meal as I can.

510AI7sYiWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Recently I bought this cookbook for a reddit swap I’m doing. Before I mailed it off to my swap partner I decided to flip through it and see if there were any recipes that caught my fancy. Of course I found 5 or 6 that I liked so being cheap thrifty I photocopied a few I thought looked good and I made one last night.

Joe calls it Tomatoes, Eggs & Chorizo which I personally think is a bit of a weird name for a recipie. But this guy is all about simple, healthy meals so why make it more complex than need be?

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The original recipie from the cookbook

The original recipie looks really yummy and I dont doubt I’ll make it in the future just as Joe  intended – I had a fridge full of veggies that needed to be used. So I spiced it up a little bit by adding onion, garlic and peppers.

I sauted the veggies in canola oil along with the chorizo. It took 10-15 min since there was a lot of veggies. After everything was soft and the kitchen smelled amazing I added 2 cans of tomatoes. The recipie called for one but since I always cook for 2+ meals I added two and some water to thin it out a bit.

Once the tomatoes have heated up and everything is bubbling and beautiful smelling add a pinch of red chili flakes – depending on how hot you want it you can add cayenne pepper as well. I didn’t but Steve added some to his bowl.

Turn the heat down to low and carefully make little divots in the pan with a spoon. Slowly add the eggs – I suggest adding at least 4 to this size or more. I ended up cooking 3 more. Make sure to salt and pepper the eggs when they’re still raw – the flavors will mix better. Once the eggs are in the dish put the lid on top and allow them to poach slowly. Keep an eye on them – they’re best when they’re just a little runny.

Here’s the final result – not pretty but oh so yummy! Steve and I both really enjoyed this meal – its full of veggies and lots of protein. This will go in my file for quick and easy meals for sure!

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Patriotic Treats

This year I really got into the red white and blue spirit and made 2 different patriotic desserts. Neither one was a perfect success but they were both yummy – and when it comes to sweets thats what counts right?

cupcakes

My first USA themed dessert were my blue velvet cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese icing and fresh raspberries. I made the for Steves & my offices as a special treat to celebrate our heritage.

Unfortunatly my favorite blog – The Pioneer Women didn’t have a recipie for this particular treat so I went to food.com for my recipie which you can find here. As you can see I had to adapt the recipie from cakes to cupcakes – which is normally straightforward but I learned with any velvet cake – the instructions are critical. Unfortunately I didn’t follow the step by step instructions (blame the sunshine) so my cupcakes didn’t rise like they should have and they were more gray than blue.

I didn’t have butter milk – they sell it here but its expensive and I never remember to get any, so I use the vinegar trick. Measure the amount of buttermilk you need but leave it a little low. Then fill it up the rest of the way with vinegar – about a teaspoon or so. Let it sit for a few minutes for the magic to work and voila – buttermilk.

My other patriotic dessert was my red white almost blue rice crispy treats. These are pretty self explanatory to make but in case you dont know how here is the recipe. Me being the crazy lazy blogger I am didn’t snap a photo of mine – but I borrowed this one from google so you can see what they’re meant to look like.

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These are what they should look like

1 bag of large marshmallows equally divided into 3 bowls

1 large box of rice crispy cereal – or any other crunchy cereal

3 tablespoons of butter divided into 3 equal parts

red & blue food coloring

Start by spraying your baking tray with non stick coating – get every nook and cranny or these babies will not come out of the pan!  Put 1 bowl of marshmallows in a pot over low-medium heat and add the butter. Stir until melted – adding red food coloring until you get it to the color your like. Remember it will disperse with the cereal so make make it a little extra intense. If your pan is big enough pour your cereal into the pan (heat off). Mine wasn’t so I poured the melted marshmallows into a bowl with the cereal and used a spoon to mix it all. It will cool quickly but its still very pliable. Spread the red batch in the will greased pan.

Repeat the above steps but this time no food coloring – this is your white layer of your dessert.

For the last layer do the same thing, replacing the red coloring with blue. Layer on top of the white later in the greased pan and allow the whole pan to cool before cutting – an hour or 2 should do it.

Cut and serve!

You can get creative with adding sprinkles to the mix or different kinds of cereal – maybe red white and blue cereal and skip the food coloring. This is such an easy treat to make and you can let your imagination run wild!

 

All American BBQ

What do you get when 2 americans,1 brazilian, 1 south african, 1 malaysian, 1 russian, 2 italian and 12 brits walk into a BBQ? A party. A big party – by small house UK standards. We had 18 of our nearest and dearest join us this past weekend to celebrate the 4th of july. It was by far our most international for the 4th yet – which made it extra delicious as everyone brought food to share.

We went all out and decorated the house with all of our red white and blue for the occasion. We had a photo booth out in the garden with props for silly pictures, a makeshift cooler for beers and I made some red white and blue rice crispy treats for everyone to enjoy.

Steve’s coworker who’s brazilian brought the most amazing meat from a london butcher and grilled chicken sausage, pork sausage and a giant hunk of steak which was some of the best I’d ever eaten!

Thanks to our amazing guests neither Steve or I spent more than 10 minutes in front of the grill – it was very much a group effort with everyone jumping up to cover it as burgers and hot dogs cooked.

Aspirational_540x540I brewed up a big jar of Pimms for everyone to enjoy and it was a major hit! Pimms is a very traditional british summer drink and its enjoyed everywhere from Wimbledon to Henley Regatta to summer tea parties and bbqs. The traditional recipie calls for lemonade which here in the UK is lightly carbonated and not as sweet as in the US. You mix the lemonade with the Pimms and add strawberries, oranges, cucumbers and mint leaves. It makes a very refreshing summer cocktail. I am not a fan of british lemonade so I make my Pimms with sprite for a sweeter, more bubbly drink. With a splash of bombay of course!

We even celebrated our friend Jess’s birthday while we were all together. Her fiance Ed brought a yummy chocolate cake to share and we all sang happy birthday while Jess blew out her candles and made her birthday wish.

All in all it was a very successful party and we look forward to hosting again next year for our 3rd annual 4th of July!