LIFESTYLE

A Much Needed Life Update

The starry night sky from our rented apartment in Bansko Bulgaria

We’re not sure exactly when you’re reading this, but we’re writing this in April 2020, we can all agree that life has gotten really crazy really fast. We don’t have any solutions or magic cures, or even insightful knowledge to add on the subject, but we felt the need to write this post. Our goal was always to create a personal blog, and not just a site with travel tips. With that in mind, we created recap and favorite posts, but eventually, those stopped and we shifted the more personal content to our Instagram account (which maybe you’ll want to follow if you don’t want to wait another year for a life update, oops). However, with all that is going on, it didn’t feel right to just continue posting “business as usual” on the blog without at least acknowledging what is going on.

For months, Rui and I have been talking about how we really need to update our ‘About Us’ page, because our life as changed so much since we created it. However, with so many urgent things on our to-do list, we ended up delaying it, and to this day it remains the same. And now with the world turned upside down and a pandemic that has had us on lockdown for over a month, it makes all the sense to (at least) write this post.

Us dancing in a natural viewpoint at the Fint Oasis in Morocco

Spoiler alert: we moved away from Lisbon and spent a couple of weeks last year living in Ouarzazate, Morocco

Life Changes

We weren’t exaggerating when we wrote above that our life changed so much since we wrote the ‘About Us’ page – we completely uprooted our life in order t(w)o find a way to follow our goals and dreams. When we were just teenagers, we moved to Lisbon together to do our undergraduate degree, and eventually continued there to do our Masters while working.

After many moves, we were living together in a small apartment we called home, with the promise of a career in the area of our studies, and a long list of favorite places in the city. But many important things were missing. Despite our promising careers, we still didn’t have stability. We had enough money to pay our bills, but there was barely any left to save for the future or to travel. With the housing market in Lisbon going crazy, and the salaries not keeping up with the renting prices, it was impossible to plan for the future or to imagine a time when we would be able to actually live and not just survive. And even though we both loved our jobs, we felt unsatisfied with the whole situation.

We drew diagrams with our lists of life options, filled Excel sheets with possibilities, and eventually decided to change our lives completely. We left our jobs, our apartment, and the Portuguese capital. We were incredibly scared, but we knew we wanted more for our lives, and we were privileged to have other options. If ten years ago anyone had told me that I (Maria) would be this person who gives up a career and some sense of security, I honestly wouldn’t believe it. But here we are.

Praia da Adiça: Green vegetation, a calm sea, and an orange sunset over the Atlantic ocean

We’re missing these Lisbon Beaches more than we can put into words.

Maria and Rui in the middle of an empty road by the beautiful Arrabida Park in Portugal
View to Ribeira do Cavalo beach in Lisbon during sunset

Travel is our main passion, and we knew we wanted it to be a big part of our lives. So we became digital nomads. We developed our skills and started freelancing from our computers. We create content and manage social media for other companies, while also working on developing this blog and other small businesses we have. And these are things we can (mostly) do while traveling. We’re still not 100% remote because some of the content we create forces us to have a base, and in total, we spent half of 2019 in Porto, where we stay together at my mom’s house. But the other half we spent traveling and living in other locations, both in Portugal and abroad.

We’re not rich and won’t be teaching you how to make six figures any time soon. Moving back and leaving our apartment was not easy, there’s certainly been fear and anxiety, but at least we feel like we are walking in the direction of where we want to be. There’s a lot of privilege involved in all of this: we can still live together, our fixed expenses are a lot lower because we’re living with family, and we both have Portuguese passports which make traveling and living in other countries rather easy (before this pandemic started, of course).

Life Lately

We started 2020 with a life meeting about our goals and plans for this year. The meeting ended up with us booking plane tickets to Russia, a country we’ve both been dreaming to visit for years. Rui had found some incredibly cheap tickets to travel in March, and even though the price doubled after we added (very small) bags and seats together, we still bought the tickets.

I downloaded Duolingo, made a list of shows about Russia to watch, and Russian books to read to get myself prepared for our visit to Saint Petersburg. Our plan for the first half of the year was to travel in Portugal and Spain, go to Russia, and go back to Bansko in Bulgaria, a small town we fell in love with last Autumn. We got a work proposal, and instead of buying tickets to Bulgaria, we got our plane tickets to Morocco, where we would spend two months after returning from Russia. We knew we had to be in Portugal due to some health-related appointments in June, so everything was settled and the first half of the year was perfectly planned. Until, of course, it wasn’t.

With a pandemic declared by the World Health Organization and a health crisis in Europe (and the world) unlike everything we’ve ever seen in our lifetime, all our plans were canceled, and all we managed was a trip to Salamanca at the beginning of the year.

A cityscape of Salamanca in Spain during sunset

Sunny days getting to know Salamanca, a charming city in Spain

Maria dancing in the front of a pretty door in Salamanca, Spain
Rui and Maria at Convento de Las Duenas in Salamanca Spain

All the Feelings

We’ve both felt a lot of frustration with all that is going on: our plans were canceled, we lost jobs we had scheduled, and money that we had already spent on trips we can’t take. Spending all our time in a small apartment with three other people is not always easy and conflict-free, and it’s hard to feel like there’s nothing we can do to help those around us with all the changes going up in their lives as well. We’ve kept up with all the work we do have, but it can be hard to find the motivation to write about travel with all that is going on. We’re creating a new series on our Instagram and Facebook that’s all about how we can still travel in our dreams. It’s been a way to remain creative, develop skills, and somehow still travel, even if only virtually. And also, yes, we have a TikTok account.

A composition Rui prepared using a Jack Harding original photo in New Zealand

We can’t go to New Zealand right now, but we can in our dreams and Instagram

However, overall, we’ve felt incredibly grateful for all that we do have. A roof over our heads, food on the table, and most importantly, our health and of those that are closer to us. We’re also thankful to everyone that continues to put their own health at risk to make sure that the world keeps spinning, that the essential businesses are open and that patients are being treated.

Truthfully, we also feel a lot of guilt for having these privileges when so many don’t. We try to give back, but we know that the world was already in complete chaos before this pandemic, and it will be even more once this pandemic ends. We know we’re lucky to be safe at home, and if you have that luxury as well, make sure you don’t take it for granted.

Money Matters

We’re not financial experts, but we know money is on everyone’s minds at the moment, and we wanted to give our two cents on the topic. We hate how money is such a taboo topic in our society, and we’ve taken small steps to change that in our own lives, which is part of the reason why we share online exactly how much we spend on our trips.

We are both very conscious about money and we constantly do our best to learn more about how to handle it in our lives. Rui has years of college education on managing money, and I’ve been tracking every single cent I spend since I was a teenager. When I moved to Lisbon, my relationship with money shifted because for the first time in my life I had to learn how to deal with (student) debt. And let me tell you, it’s not easy to deal with debt. Overall being an adult, and even just dealing with bills if you don’t have any debt, it’s hard. I invest a lot of time in augmenting my financial literacy because I want to control my money, instead of allowing for it to control me. This is easier said than done, especially in times of crisis, which is why we wanted to share some of the instruments we use.

Maria taking it all in during a short hike in Bansko Bulgaria

Bansko, in Bulgaria, is a very budget-friendly destination for digital nomads

Maria and Rui in a hiking trail in Sofia's Vitosha Mountain
Rui and the natural wonder of Bulgaria - in this case the Pirin Natural Park

At the beginning of each year, we sit down to plan our yearly budget: how much we plan on spending on each category, on making, and saving. Some of the expenses are fixed, others are projections we make based on our plans, but this gives us a rough overview of our year. Then over the year we keep track of all our expenses and update the budget every month accordingly. I use an Excel sheet to track everything, but Rui has been using the MoneyBoard app on his phone for years.

As freelancers, it’s incredibly important to try to diversify your income sources and take every opportunity you can to increase your income. That’s why this year we’ve started offering VA Services, and Rui is also selling his photo editing skills online. Saving as much or as little as you can is crucial for everyone, but if you’re a freelancer make sure you look at your income critically. If you make 1000€ but from that money you’ll still have to pay taxes and other expenses, make sure you only count with the money you’ll actually keep. We always put aside a set percentage in a different account for all the money we make, because we know that sooner or later we’ll have taxes to pay.

Resources

There are many people talking about money online, but be careful and make sure that you’re listening to people that are knowledgeable and honest – many people are just trying to sell you something. Money is not a science, and we have to find ways to make it work for us. Unless you win the lottery, no one has the answers on how to plant a money tree.

You can find countless books on financial literacy, but one that I truly recommend if you’re starting this journey is “You Are a Badass at Making Money” by Jen Sincero. Yes, it’s self-helpy and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved how it forced me to look at my relationship with money differently, and how it challenged so many preconceptions I had.

Online, there are two Youtube channels I recommend: The Financial Diet and One Big Happy Life, but I’m sure there are many more great ones. I also really enjoy all the content created by Jason and Caroline, the duo behind Wandering Aimfully: they have a blog, a podcast, a Youtube channel, and plenty of other resources online. Their main focus is not money itself, but their content is great if you’re starting your own business.

Love Lockdown

Despite everything, the lockdown hasn’t dramatically changed our daily lives. We already worked remotely, so we continue to spend most of our time in our computers working and trying to keep our minds and fingers away from too many news.

We wish we could be here telling you how much we’ve been loving lockdown, how we now have perfect abs from our daily workouts, and how our novel is almost written, but that’s not how lockdown has been working for us. Workouts have been sparse, finding the motivation and right space to work is not always easy, we’ve been having trouble sleeping, very weird dreams when we do fall asleep, and we spent an entire day binge-watching La Casa de Papel.

Going to the supermarket feels like a bad sci-fi movie, we miss the sea, our friends, our normal lives, and sushi. Some of the highs during this quarantine have been eating my mom’s delicious Polvo à Lagareiro, baking cookies, and bullet journaling sessions at three in the morning. During this time, we’re trying to get by. Doing the best that we can, and trying to be gentle to ourselves when our best is not as good as we wanted it to be.

Homemade Polvo a Lagareiro, a famous octopus dish in Portugal, with delicious onions and plenty of olive oil
Baking cookies for lockdown
Goals page in Maria's April Bullet Journal spreadMaria's Bullet Journal spread for April in tones of pink, trying to celebrate Spring

We’re taking in all your recommendations for things we should watch/read/listen/try during this time and also sharing our favorites on our Instagram highlights. One of the best movies we watched this year was Jojo Rabbit, and the quote on the movies’ credits perfectly applies to what’s going on:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.”

Rainer Marie Rilke

We honestly wish that you (on the other side of the screen) are safe and doing your best during this very difficult time. We really shouldn’t need a new virus to remind us that as humans we’re all connected, and compassion and empathy are the main skills we all need to have first and foremost during this crisis. Also, of course: please don’t forget to wash your hands.

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