Family of Four Taking Flight to Financial Independence

Moving Abroad: Four Take Flight During A Global Pandemic

In the last few weeks we retired early (financial independence retire early (FIRE)), obtained our Non-Lucrative Visas, moved abroad from Houston, Texas to Granada, Spain ...and all during a global pandemic.  Whew.

No wonder I am tired?  Thankfully we can embrace the siesta in Spain!

What was it like to move our family abroad?  And during a global pandemic?

Granada, Spain

First, we’ve been preparing for a few years to travel lightly.  We travelled like turtles with our belongings mainly on our backs.  No checked luggage!  (Some people travel like this ...some opt to load up as many suitcases as an airline will let them.  Some opt to ship a little or a lot over.)  So what about all our stuff?  Part of this new journey of ours focuses on people and experiences over stuff.. so we wanted to get down to minimal.  We purged a lot.  Then we got down to important keepsakes and such.  Luckily we have very generous family members holding some items in the US.  (We do plan to ship our kid’s golf clubs soon).

Travel Gear 

What travel gear did we use?  And what made the cut?  Erik did extensive research, and we went with all Tortuga bags.  We got the largest Tortuga Setout Backpacks for us, and two smaller ones (Tortuga Setout) for the kids.  Erik ended up carrying the kids bags, but as they get older they will be able to carry them on their own.  In retrospect, we could have maybe gone even smaller for them.

I also got a Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack that I wanted to keep under the airline seat with me.  It’s also been great for daily use in Granada, Spain.  The kids carried on their back Tortuga Setout Packable Daypack.  We’ve had these two bags for a few years now.  These are great for carrying a few lightweight items if you don’t mind the inability to organize the items within the bag.  They did the trick for the kids (they basically carried a few toys).

We also had some packing bags / cubes we got as a gift, and then we bought the Tortuga packaging cubes that specifically fit the bags.  What about smaller stuff?  I wanted to buy reusable bags.  Although geared towards kids, (I have tried many reusable bags) I really like Bumkins.  They do have some prints that could work for adults too.

Bags: Tortuga

Packing Cubes: Tortuga Packing Cubes

Reusable Bags: Bumkins

So what made the cut in the bags?  To sum it up, minimal clothing wardrobe, minimal shoes, very minimal bath / body products, tech / camera gear, a few important items, and a few important toys.  And of course ID / passports, and important Visa paperwork.  Oh, and our PPE gear.

Clothes: Erik and I have been working on our travel clothes for a while now.  Most of our clothing is from Bluffworks.  He also has a few items from Myles Apparel.  I also have travel jeans from Aviator and comfy joggers from Vuori Clothing.  We have underwear from Uniqlo (I have bras from Pepper), and we have socks from Bombas and Smartwool (and we have a few other winter items from Smartwool).  Erik’s jacket is from Arc’teryx, and my jacket is from National Geographic Craghoppers.  I am not sure that my exact one is sold anymore, but you can maybe find a similar one.

All of our clothes were very well researched, and in many cases specific for travel (such as light weight, quick dry, wrinkle free, etc).  And some items are just well made and will stand the test of time (for example, our socks).

What about the kids clothes?  We took this much less seriously.  They grow so fast so we didn’t want to invest in too much clothing,  We brought basics (like for a week), and we bought some more when we arrived at El Corte Ingl├ęs for some colder weather clothes.  We will probably do the same or check out Zara in May to get some more warmer weather clothes.

Shoes: All of our shoes are either Vivobarefoot or Xero.  They are barefoot and lightweight shoes.  Better for your feet and travel!  I also have a pair of MoMA Vans I got for Christmas that I brought.

Bath / Body Products: I decided to take very little of these.  For the most part, you can buy whatever you need once you get there.  Bath / Body products tend to be heavier and take up some space anyways.  I ended up bringing just a few essentials to get us by ..or a few items I use daily / may be harder to find.

Tech / Camera Gear: Let’s talk about the latter first.  I decided to bring my nice Nikon camera.  I want to focus on more and better photography eventually.  I also brought our son’s new Polaroid; I want the kids to play around with photography too.

We decided we needed to upgrade our tech in order to communicate better with family / friends, for World Schooling, etc.  I already had a new iPad from early 2020, but we bought three more iPads for Erik and the two kids so they could each have their own.  I already had an Apple Keyboard and Pencil, and Erik got a case and keyboard off of Amazon.  It probably isn’t the greatest, but it works okay.  I also got a new iPad case since I tend to break things easily.  I got it from SUPCASE.  I can take it off at home if I choose to use the keyboard.  We got the kids their iPad cases off of Amazon.

We bought our headphones from Cowin, and the kids headphones (volume limiting) from Puro.  All four have Bluetooth and wired capability.

I also got an iPad adapter to be able to use some other devices and connections, and we received some electrical adapters as gifts so we had those already.

What about phones?  This is a big question for many expats.  It may require a whole separate post.  We decided that we needed new phones anyways.  We purchased new phones in Madrid and went with the Orange cell phone service so now we have Spanish cell numbers (which we felt we needed for their school and doctors).  We kept our US numbers and switched them to Tossable Digits (Google Voice wasn’t available for our numbers).  We are communicating with family and friends in the US mainly through our iPad / Apple services, WhatsApp, Facebook Instant Messenger, etc.

A Few Important Items / A Few Important Toys: For me this included some jewelry / purses (or bags), a few art supplies, and a few Christmas ornaments.

For the kids this meant some jewelry, their travel journal and compass, and the toys they wanted to bring that fit in their small Tortuga.  I ended up making extra space in their larger Tortugas so we did fit some toys in there.  What did they end up picking?  Not completely comprehensive, but our son picked ...his Nintendo Switch, two important monkeys, baby blanket, action figures / Ken, small cars, marble game, and maybe a few other miscellaneous items.  Sadie picked her American Girl 1980s Doll - Courtney, 3 Husky Stuffed Animals, her baby blanket, her baby doll accessories (she bought a baby here in Spain), and a few other miscellaneous small toys.

Erik made sure we had two copies of the Bible including a Kids Bible.

ID / Passports / Visa Paperwork: Of course we have our IDs and Passports, and our Visa Paperwork.  I tried to make all other important paperwork and items digital copies.  I found some sturdy file folders at Target to hold the Visa paperwork.

PPE: We are currently living through a global pandemic so what PPE did we bring?  I have a fantastic and talented friend that makes our cloth masks so I had plenty of those to bring.  I also ordered n95 masks for the adults for plane and train and future bus travel.  I also had on hand disposable adult and kid masks so we can double mask during riskier situations like travel.  I ordered adult and kid size disposable gloves, but I didn’t even find those necessary.  I had some wipes and of course hand sanitizer too.

Four Taking Flight

So then I packed ...repacked.  Packed again.  Took stuff out.  Packed again and again.  Then it was time to travel during a global pandemic.  What was that like?


We had airline credits with Delta and TAP Air Portugal All of our plane experiences and our train experience we received individual hand wipes and in some cases individual hand sanitizer as we boarded.  We flew from Houston’s IAH to NYC - La Guardia to see family before heading to Spain.  It wasn’t required, but we got COVID-19 tests in Pearland, TX before flying to be safe(r).  These seem to be covered by insurance.  The airports in Houston and La Guardia seemed to be a little busier than I thought they would be (despite Covid and a 6 am flight).  But Delta was still skipping the middle seat when we flew.  Note, we did have to fill out an online health questionnaire for NY State due to COVID-19 At the time, Delta did not have onboard refreshments like normal, but they did bring around bottled water / treats in individual packages.

We normally would take the bus / train to get into Manhattan, but due to Covid and our bags, we took a taxi (and rolled down the windows).

Another big stressor for those moving on the Non-Lucrative Visa to Spain is the current COVID-19 test requirement.  You have to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival to Spain.  They also require (check with your consulate for any changes!) on the test results: your full name; passport number; date of the test; identification and contact details of testing location; test technique used; and of course negative results.

This was all challenging, but not impossible.  My sister sent me a testing location near her: Sameday Health.  I contacted them via phone and email, and they said they could provide what we needed.  (I should have known it would not be THAT easy). We booked two appointments since we were concerned about any possible flight delays.  We booked one Friday at 5 pm (our flight was Sunday at 11 pm), and we booked another one Saturday at 8 am.  We did pay out of pocket for the PCR test in SOHO NYC which was quite a lot, but Erik had health money put aside for this purpose (you could probably file a claim with insurance though).  The actual testing for the entire family went smoothly both times (and all negative tests!), but the test result page didn’t go so smoothly.  They got our results back in under 36 hours, but the result page didn’t have what we needed (as they originally stated it would).  I immediately called the number on the results page.  The number actually directed me to the lab that completed the Covid test.  The woman on the phone was very kind, but said she didn’t understand why Sameday Health is promising people all that information on their results when they don’t normally provide that info.  She directed me to an email, and she said they would fix our result information page.  I also contacted Sameday Health and made the same request.  Thankfully both places were quick and helpful and fixed our result page immediately with everything we needed for travel.  Note, we also needed to fill out online questionnaires for both Portugal and Spain.  I printed out QR codes once I completed both questionaires.

...after many years of preparation, we were finally ready to take flight to Spain!  What was that like during COVID-19?  We flew on TAP Air Portugal from Newark to Madrid with a one hour layover in Lisbon.  Newark’s security was very busy (not our airline), but our flight was very empty.  Maybe 50 people or less.  Note, your printed at home boarding pass is not enough.  Go to the counter at your gate and get another one.  They did check our Covid tests here, and they checked them again when we went through customs in Portugal.  The plane was so empty we spread out and each had a row.  They served two meals on the overnight flight...a late dinner and breakfast.  They also gave the kids a bag of nice goodies.  I would definitely fly TAP again.

We were concerned about our one hour layover and missing our second flight.  Turns out we landed early, and we were okay with time to spare.  The second flight was also fantastic and a quick flight to Madrid.  It was a smaller plane, but it wasn’t full (also TAP Air Portugal).

Once we landed in Madrid we got a taxi to our Airbnb.  At that point we were exhausted...especially the kids, so staying a few days in Madrid before heading to Granada was a good idea.  We will save that visit for another post!

There you have it ... we finally took flight (and during a global pandemic)!

How do you prefer to travel?  Pack light or no?  Have you flown yet during COVID-19?  If you have specific questions about taking off with a Non-Lucrative Visa, moving abroad to Spain, or questions about travel during COVID-19, please comment below!

Want to learn more about how Erik may be able to help you take flight to financial independence?  Read more here, and contact us.


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