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Traveling Tightrope

‘Oh how wonderful, think of all the traveling you can do!”

It’s one of the first responses expats get when we tell our friends and family we’re packing up and heading overseas. It’s certainly the chorus we heard over and over when we announced we were moving to the Netherlands.

Now I know some will scoff, buying into the stereotype of expats swanning around the globe, jet setters hopping from one popular hot spot to the next. The truth is more mundane in that many people who live abroad these days do so without benefit of a corporate, government or organizational stipend for annual or semi-annual home leave, let alone setting out to see the world. This means any travel is on their time and their dime.But the hardy souls who gather up their suitcases and backpacks, and head off to set up house in another land already have adventure on their mind and wanderlust in their veins. Depending where you are in the world, you needn’t always travel far to satisfy the yearning.

Our family has always put a high premium on exploring new countries and cultures. My husband was a seasoned international traveler as a child, and I joined the ranks by the time I was at university. We both wanted international careers, and established the precedent early on of saving up for the next trip to some far flung land.

Marriage and parenthood didn’t slow us down; they merely added two more travelers to the mix.

Upon our arrival in The Hague four years ago, we made a promise to ourselves and each other not to waste opportunities for exploration – both near and far. It’s easy to be dazzled by the surfeit of inexpensive airline and train tickets allowing you to wake up in a different country with little investment of time or treasure.

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But we also recognize that part of living in the Netherlands means getting to know Nederland, and not always rushing to the border and beyond. It’s walking the tightrope of travel, a delicate balancing act of getting a taste of different places and getting the different tastes of a place. Weekend visits and day trips to the nooks and crannies of this fascinating country are duly factored into the mix.

Some people buy the latest technological gadget, others spend their cash on a fancy wardrobe, elegant meals, jewelry, status car, a new piece of furniture or home renovations. We’re more apt to be earmarking our hard-earned funds for the next adventure in an unusual or exotic locale.

You’ll find us gathered around the dining room table, spinning the globe and poring over maps, debating the pros and cons of a half-dozen possible destinations. We search online for the best airline flight prices, monitor last minute special deals, consider savings on train travel, and factor in costs for a tank of gas and time tradeoffs involved when thinking about driving somewhere.

Checking out short-term apartment rentals to avoid outrageous hotel costs? We’ve done this in several of the larger European cities with great success. Perhaps someday we’ll even swap houses if the right opportunity arises. I have yet to convince him to attend one of the large summer music festivals – I’m thinking Glastonbury in the sunshine, sans the mud – but you never know.

Some people like to go shopping on weekends, others like to visit real estate open houses or troll antiques markets. We are far more likely to drop in from time to time at the neighborhood travel agency to see what special discounts and package deals are in the offing.

They say the thrill is in the chase, and my husband derives every bit as much satisfaction in putting together the best deal to see the places we desire most, as he does in actually traveling there and undertaking the cross-cultural experience. Whenever a friend or colleague returns from their latest sojourn, he practically interrogates them on the details, ranging from where they stayed and what they saw to who they met, highlights and surprises, what they ate and the overall vibe of the trip. All in the quest for greater knowledge for the next trip or future reference.

See the requisite tourist sites? Sure. Being off the beaten track? Even better. In the end, it’s the excitement of exploration, the delight of discovery, the wonder of new worlds to behold.

You know where you’ll find me.

A writer and American expat living in the Netherlands with her husband and two teens, Linda pens articles on expat life and blogs at Adventures in Expat Land sharing the good, the less good and the just plain odd with a twist. She is also a co-author of the recent bestseller Turning Points: 25 Inspiring Stories from Women Entrepreneurs.

You may also follow Linda’s adventures on Twitter @in_expatland.

Read Linda's other Expat Focus articles here.