The Most Powerful Lesson I Learned From Moving Abroad in My 30s
Have you ever entertained the idea of living abroad? Perhaps a vacation to Italy left you longing for a home among the vineyards in Tuscany, or Season 5 of Girls planted the idea of moving to the neon metropolis of Tokyo in your mind. Whenever we're faced with a big, life-changing choice like moving overseas, there's usually a little voice in our heads that cautions us to take the safer path. For Zoie Kingsbery Coe, this voice was probably louder than most.
The founder of luxury family home-rental site Kid & Coe was at a difficult junction in her life. Coe and her musician husband had just packed up their lives in New York City to relocate to Los Angeles. They'd found a gorgeous rental home in the tree-lined suburbs and had settled son Luca, now 9, and daughter India, now 5, into new schools. The issue? They knew in their gut that L.A. wasn't right for them.
Then Coe got pregnant with their third child, and they had to make a decision: Did they want to continue to lay roots in Los Angeles, knowing it didn't feel quite right, or should they pack up once again and search for a new home?
While others would consider moving overseas with two young children and a baby on the way somewhat terrifying, Coe leaned into the challenge. She put her family's possessions in storage, packed their suitcase with swimsuits and summer clothes, and booked one-way tickets to Ibiza, a small Balearic island off the coast of Spain, where they'd spent countless vacations. Now, a year on, she says it's one of the best decisions she's ever made.
Wondered what it might be like to move abroad with your family? Below Coe on exactly what it's like, the biggest lessons she's learned, and why she'll never look back, as told to MyDomaine.
The Best Decisions Are Made Instinctively
We did two big moves in the course of two years, which I now realize is crazy in retrospect. I consider myself a New Yorker, but after years of living in the city, my husband and I started to feel burdened by our lifestyle. There was a real disconnect between our values as a family and the life we were living.
So after toying with the idea for a while, we decided to pack up and move from New York to L.A. in the summer of 2015. It was super last minute! We hopped on a flight and looked at some schools for Luca and India. We pretty much arrived in L.A. with nothing but a couple of suitcases. It was crazy, but it felt so good.
We pretty much arrived with nothing but a couple of suitcases. It was crazy, but it felt so good.
As time went on though, something just felt amiss. It was a gut feeling. Our time in L.A. just felt surreal, like an extended holiday, which is ultimately why we decided to take the plunge and upend our lives again—this time, to another country where we didn't even speak the language: Spain.
I got pregnant with our third child, Ivy Love, and our lease in Los Angeles was almost up. We were about to have some major life changes, so we thought, Okay, it's now or never. And just like that, we knew it was the right time to move.
You Probably Don't Need All That Stuff
Ibiza is somewhere we've been going for 20 years, even before we had kids. My husband is a DJ and spends a lot of time on the island, so we had just bought an apartment there, but we hadn't anticipated that it would become our permanent home. The space was smaller than our home in L.A., but I loved the idea that it was brand-new and our own—it was symbolic that we were starting a life together from scratch.
So we arrived in Ibiza with our summer frocks, Havianas, and that's about it. We really had to cherry-pick our most important clothes and possessions and put the rest in storage back in the U.S. I actually loved that part of the moving process: Packing up our belongings and going somewhere with only a few important things just felt so liberating.
I'm really conscious of consumerism (and I love shopping, so I feel like a hypocrite!). I've really gone in the direction of quality not quantity, and I try to pass that onto the toys I give to the kids, by choosing a few really well-made items that they'll cherish rather than buying loads of stuff that'll clutter their rooms.
Now when I want to buy something I think, Is it worth the pain of unpacking this, figuring out where it's going to live, and finding space for it? In the end, having less stuff has allowed me to focus more on what matters: Reading a good book at night, traveling with ease, and spending quality time with my husband and kids.
Workplace Flexibility Is Possible
I think it's a bit of a cheesy term, but a lot of people are warming to the idea of being a "digital nomad" now. It's such a huge shift for working parents—I'm so lucky to have my own company and the flexibility to work from home. My team uses [workplace collaboration tools] Trello and Slack, which are absolute game-changers for us. We do weekly video calls, so it never really feels like I'm far away.
That said, I'm also very aware that my husband and I have a pretty unique situation and are incredibly lucky. Not everyone can work from home or abroad, but I've found that starting my own business has given me a lot of freedom to create the life that I want. Starting Kid & Coe made me totally vulnerable but also fearless. I still have lots of fears, but I know that if the company folded I'd be proud that I had given it everything I've got.
There's No Right or Wrong Way to Parent
Moving to a foreign country involves more than just learning a new language—it's also about immersing yourself in a new culture. One of the most interesting aspects of moving to Spain with my family has been seeing how different parenting is here. There's a lot of freedom and not a lot of "helicopter parenting."
There isn't the kind of scheduling that took place when I lived in New York. There's no "We'll have dinner in three weeks' time" and then plans get canceled the night before. That's not to say that every family is like that in America, but we've just noticed that there is greater spontaneity here. It's been wonderful not to feel pressured to plan every minute and just live.
It's been wonderful not to feel pressured to plan every minute and just live.
Yes, There Will Be Hard Times But You'll Make it Through
I'd be lying if I said it's all been easy and carefree. This is our first year of being in Ibiza, and the island is very different depending on the season. In summer, it's packed with English-speaking travelers and there are a gazillion restaurants to choose from, whereas in winter it pretty much shuts down.
This winter was particularly tough. It rained every day, and my husband was away in London. I'd just had our third baby, and I was all on my own with three kids. I was miserable! I remember thinking This is not what I signed up for! Living in a new country felt so isolating and lonely. Then, the sun finally came out, and as the seasoned changed I felt that mood shift.
Moving to a new country has definitely strengthened my relationship with my husband. You have to be a partnership and tackle every challenge together. Luckily, we've always been on the same page and have approached every challenge as a team. It's stressful, but it's made us closer than ever.
All the Research in the World Won't Prepare You to Live Overseas
If there's one piece of advice I'd tell other moms thinking of moving countries with their family it would be this: All the research in the world doesn't prepare you! Analysis causes paralysis, as they say. You can spend hours thinking about what you should do and plot your next move, but the truth is that there is no right or wrong answer. If you're not sure about moving, go for a weekend and rent a house with a kitchen. It'll encourage you to go to the grocery store and imagine that you live there.
If you're not sure about moving, go for a weekend and rent a house with a kitchen. It'll encourage you to go to the grocery store and imagine that you live there.
Above all else, listen to your gut. Our gut told us that our life in L.A. didn't feel right, and while it took us a while to find our home, once we made the decision, we knew it was right.
Life Doesn't Have to Be Perfect
Sometimes it helps to have a "let's see what happens" attitude in life. Living abroad with three young kids isn't the best fit for every family, but if you do decide that you want to give it a go, shrug off perfectionism. When we moved, I kept reminding myself that if it didn't work out, we'd just do something else. It's not the end of the world if Spain wasn't the idyllic home we'd hoped it would be.
Now that we've lived in Ibiza for a year, I think moving has become a little bit addictive. Once you realize that you have total mobility, and once you lighten your load with fewer possessions, there's an incredible sense of freedom. I've learned that the idea of globalism extends to your friends and relationships. No one is going anywhere. Nothing is going to be adversely damaged by your choices. Life ticks along.
Interestingly, losing our sense of security by moving home gave us a greater, deeper sense of security. It made us realize that we don’t need this stuff to provide happiness and, in fact, it might even detract from it. Home has a different meaning to me now. I know that as long as I'm with my husband and my kids, that's all that matters. As long as we're together, wherever we are in the world, that's home.
Have you ever lived abroad with your family? What are the biggest lessons you learned?