Marriott Comes to the Balkans – Rewards Card is Worth it!

RISarajevoBefore leaving the Unites States, some wise friends of ours recommended us to apply for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card. We were already Marriott Rewards members, but the credit card takes it to the next level. Initially, we experienced a bit of sticker shock, but trust us: The $0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year, then $85 annual fee is well worth it.

The Marriott Rewards Premier card has quite a few perks to recommend it. First off, the signup bonus. Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. It has a great rewards rate of 5 points per $1 spent at the Marriott; 2 per $1 spent on airlines, car rentals and restaurants; and 1 per $1 spent elsewhere. And then come the perks. Oh, the perks. Yes, there’s an $85 annual fee (waived the first year).

Since we received a free nights stay in a Category 1-4, we of course wanted to stay the at the best, but the only problems is that we lived in Southeast Europe, AND Marriott had all its hotels in Western Europe. Wait…did I just see a “coming soon.” Yes, Marriott was opening its first hotel in the Balkans in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. WooHoo! That’s not too far from us, and we have never been to Bosnia…yet. 🙂RISarajevoBedResidence Inn Sarajevo is amazing as soon as you walk in from the brisk, cold winter day. The staff, speaking both English and Bosnia, great you with a smile and a wealth of information about the area. As soon as you turn the door knob to come into your suite, you see the fully-equipped kitchen and separate areas for eating, working and relaxing. The well-designed rooms promote productivity with large, well-lit work desks, ergonomic chairs and complimentary high-speed Internet. A welcoming and restorative feel is created throughout with warm, earthy colours and light wood fixtures and fittings. Natural light floods the rooms through floor to ceiling windows and each suite has its own private terrace.RISarajevoLobbySince the Real Geek Dad is in graduate school, the public spaces on the ground floor were inviting, feature flexible seating for working or relaxing and a 24-hour Market selling drinks, snacks and meals. He also squeeze in some time to release some the tension in the fitness center. The Residence InnSarajevo also provided a delicious continental breakfast.RIColdFood RIHotFoodIdeally located near Old Town, the Residence Inn Sarajevo provided convenient access to the city’s historical and cultural attractions as well as restaurants, cafes and shops.

Here some other benefits that offset the fee, you’ll get:

  • One free night’s stay after your account approval, plus one night a year on your account anniversary
  • 15-night credit towards Elite status
  • No foreign transaction fees (key for international travelers – these usually set you back 3% of everything you spend abroad)

The anniversary free night’s stay, by itself, wipes out the annual fee with room to spare. The Marriott Premier gives you quite a bit in terms of rewards and bonuses – the signup bonus alone is better than the industry standard of $200-$300. I cannot wait to use this reward in a year!

How My Life Changed in a Year

2015This year has gone by in the quickest of flashes. Each successive day seems to differ just slightly from the last. When a year’s worth of those days has passed, I find myself in an entirely new place from when I began. While the past must stay in the past – as dwelling will do no good – I think that reflection is an important component of personal growth. Looking back at a period of time all at once, like a snapshot, allows me to see what I’ve accomplished and how I’ve grown – spiritually, physically, emotionally and more.

Reflection can be done at any time – and can focus on any amount of time – but when the end of a year comes around, reflection always seems to join it naturally. With the final days of 2014 making their appearance, I’m looking back on the past few hundred of them – and urging you to do the same.

January
My family was preparing to move to Morocco. In our preparation, we were visiting ALL the doctors (event the ones we put off seeing) we needed to make sure we are healthy, have all our prescribed medicine and correct prescription for glasses. My son was just wrapping up his eye therapy (with a patch).

February
Wait, plans have changed. Montenegro job opportunity became available. Really?! Pinch me. My husband is fluent in Serbo-Croatian, and I have some elementary knowledge of the language AND absolutely love the people of Southeast Europe. This journey to expat life had its hurdle (time of reconciliation), BUT I think we really may be moving to Europe. Pinch me again.

March
We started purging, selling, donating and packing our life for our big move. We actually started doing this months ago, BUT this month I feel like this is all I did. Although, we did make time to celebrate my and my son’s birthday. Side note: The Game Truck is an awesome party concept, especially when your house is all in boxes…or actually empty with just suitcases. 😉

April
‪I was humbled by my dermatologist about the importance of getting your skin checked annually. At 37, I had my first visit to a dermatologist, thinking you only go if you have acne (when younger) or sunspots (when older.) Well, I had three spots that were biopsied. People, put sunscreen on (even if you are not pale skin), don’t tan in beds, wear wide brim hats and don’t neglect the largest organ on the human body – your skin. I am so thankful for my planning in January to reveal these spots months later.

May
Saying good-bye is never easy, especially since I have been so blessed with amazing friends. These people are like family – wait, they are my family. One of these friends also became my first contributor of this site, Jayne. I think one of the hardest part of moving to Europe is not being close to these friends, BUT I am fortunate to be able to have seen each one of these special ladies before I left the country.bridesmaids
June
Our final month in Texas, and we decided to go out with a bang. The kids camped at Pine Cove for a week without mommy or daddy, watch a dear friend get married on the beach and travel one last time to hang out with friends at SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica. And, my oldest FINALLY had her dream birthday party at the American Girl Cafe.AGBirthday
July
When moving away, good-byes are not only for you, but for the people that you leave behind. Actually, I would say it is more for those you leave like your family, so it is important to take time to just be with family. This month, we spent quality time with my husband’s family in Arizona and mine in Texas. Of course, we took the kids to wonderful places in US along the way. Even though Europe has much to offer, so does the amazing country of the United States of America.GrandCanyon
August
The transition period is real. This month was a time of reflection. A time where I looked back at all that I had and looked forward to the unknown. During this time, I discovered something about myself; how insecure I am. During all this time of transition, the fear of the unknown also made me feel that people are just being nice to me, but are not truly my friends. The power of fear is amazing – what a waste of time. Taking a leap of faith is powerful and like Dorothy, I packed my ruby red slippers. Because when I miss home, I could put them on and click them together and be transported back home (via Skype or Facetime). 😉

September
We moved to Montenegro! The kids started school…in Montenegrin! It is only a short walk from our house, which is a cozy place on a hill with a nice large terrace to see the Rumija Mountains and the Adriatic Sea.Back2School

October
Our first month reflections in Montenegro: ‪The people are friendly, relaxed and the cuisine is fresh & flavorful. Unfortunately, the struggle is real for cross-cultural living for my kids, especially for my girl who keeps begging me to go back to America. My son was frustrated that his head hurt so much because of the language. I don’t only expect bright, sunny days here, but I am praying that the transition becomes easier for my kids because when they hurt, I hurt. We truly love it here and love the work we are doing, but this month we transitioned past the “honeymoon” phase.

November
We are thankful for so much. We are thankful to have a new contributor, Jacqueline. We are thankful to have this job that we have worked for six years to get. We are thankful for our health. We are thankful for the new friends and the old friends who have been there for us this year. We are thankful for our new neighbors, with whom we ate Thanksgiving. But most of all, we are thankful for the loving God who abundantly gives to us, even when we forget Him.

December
Living abroad is not all beaches and bungalows. Here’s a glimpse into my life of a typical day. As an expat, you have to expect the unexpected daily. Fortunately, there is lots of coffee and laughter that help you get through it.

2014, thank you for all you’ve given me. 2015, let’s do this.

What to Send in Expat’s Care Package

ExpatI’m an American, who loves living in the Europe! I have embraced the Montenegrin lifestyle and to confirm this I now frequently start working at 10AM after having sipped a cup of coffee at cafe for a couple of hours. I find myself looking at “Westerners” as rushing through things and focused too much on tasks. But…I also still love a plan, and I confess to having taco seasoning stashed in the back of my cupboard for those nights that I need to make some tacos for comfort. After all, it’s only been 2 months!

To be honest, I don’t miss that much about the US because I’m having a bundle of fun discovering Europe – however, a strange sensation came over me just the other day when I suddenly thought of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – you know, a perfect balance between peanut butter flavor and chocolate that just melts in your mouth. And, even though I wasn’t one to partake in sweets much back home, oooh, I tell you I could have eaten a whole bag and then some!

And this got me thinking, what are the things that Americans really, really miss when they are abroad?

Food, it appears, is very often at the top of the list. So, what do they crave; what do they get their relatives and friends to stash in their suitcases; what do they utterly long for and research online to find if it’s available in various American online stores over here, no matter what the shipping cost?

Expat Care Package List

  • Tollhouse Chocolate Chips
  • Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
  • Good & Plenty
  • Hot Tamales
  • Jelly Belly’s Jelly Beans
  • Junior Mints
  • Lemonheads
  • Lucky Charms
  • Mike & Ike
  • Pop Tarts
  • Red Vines
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups & Reese’s Pieces
  • Sour Patch Kids

***You can always throw in LEGO for the kids and coffee beans for the parents. 😉LEGOCoffeeNow feel free to send me any of the items listed above. Just kidding…not kidding. 😉 Oh, and am I missing anything else from the list? Comment below, and I will update it. Again, it has only been 2 months, and there is bound to be something else that I will crave as the year moves on.

5 Things to Remember When Becoming An Expat

BecomingAnExpatAt some point or another, almost everyone has fantasized about packing up and spending some time in another country. Maybe you’ve got the itch to live in a different climate, to try different foods or to become bilingual. Whatever the reason, if you’ve decided you’re ready to give things a try in another country, here’s some things you should remember.

1. Remember to keep your expectations realistic. If you need help in finding “reality” in your new situation, ask your boss or other associates who have been lived here for a while.

2. Everyone is different in how they deal with jet-lag and in how long it takes them to get over jet-lag. This can cause extra problems for families with children as every family member can be on a different schedule for a while. Some people want to stay up as long as possible the first day, and some people need to sleep a bit to begin getting over jet lag and to begin getting back on a normal schedule. Do what you need to do for you.

3. Even after you get over jet-lag, you will likely feel more tired day-to-day than you ever did in the U.S. Living in another country and culture and constantly dealing with another language that you don’t understand is exhausting. You may find that you need more sleep each night or that you need to take afternoon naps to get through the early days even if you never did that in the U.S.

4. It is possible that you might spend your first weeks feeling “sort of off-balance.” For many people this has lasted just a few weeks; for a few, it went on for much of their first year—everyone is different. Culture shock, stress of adjustment, and sensory and information overload combine to help create this weird feeling. If you experience this, it will eventually pass, but can feel difficult to get through.

5. No matter how hard it is, be open and honest about your struggles. We all have struggles from time to time—especially in the beginning of our adjustment to the move. It is gross, but it is normal. If you share your struggles, then others have the opportunity to encourage and love. They will probably even share some of their own struggles from their initial adjustment. If you are having difficulties, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. However, if you don’t get help with your struggles early on, then you could eventually become the “failure” you fear.

A Day in the Life of an Expat Mom

ExpatMomMy family recently moved overseas for work after six years of interviewing, searching and researching more about where in the world that would be best for my family. I have been writing for seven years, and this move is exposing me to new things and also learning how to write in a foreign setting. I have a 9-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, who attend the local national school because homeschooling is illegal in Montenegro. I have been married to my husband, Real Geek Dad, for 14 years, and we are learning life as he works from home. Pray for me! 😉

6:45AM My kids wake up. I usually hear laughter in the other room, or they come into mine. Oh, where’s my coffee? They come into the big room whining that they are still tired and don’t want to go to school. I pick up my iPhone to see what pictures have been posted on Instagram, what is happening on the other side of the world on Facebook and if there are any news that I may be missing on Twitter.

7AM My husband starts making eggs for them, but everyone wants something different, so sometimes it is just cereal or peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Mental note: We need bread. When they’re done, I clean up the floor, the table and the dishes. Wash my face and brush my hair. Throw on a pair of jeans and clean shirt. Check outside to see if there will be rain – if so, wear my wellies – and if not, then wear a pair of my flats.

7:20AM Kids get dressed. I take my first sip of coffee. Yes, I can conquer the day. Wait, is that the kids playing in their room instead of getting ready?

7:30AM Kids begin to pack their bags and get their uniform jacket and shoes on.

7:50AM Walk to school. Pray with the kids about their day. Give hugs and money for snack at Veliki Odmor (break a.k.a. recess).

8AM Pray by myself. Take a deep breath. Kids are in school. Hmmmm, should I start checking e-mails, study my language books before lesson or go sit down for a coffee at a cafe?

8:30AM Sitting in a cafe with my husband sipping a Veliko Macchiato (large macchiato a.k.a. average US-sized cup of coffee).

9:15AM Begin my language homework. Usually writing sentences about my life or filling in blanks for conjugated verbs or declined nouns.

10AM Language tutor prepares me tea. My language lesson begin.

11:15AM Walk to local prodavnica (local market) to pick up some fresh fruits, vegetables and bread. Treat myself to a Schweppes Bitter Lemon.

11:30AM Pick up kids from school. “Talk” with a few moms as we wait. I try my best to speak in the language, but some of the moms know English and will complete my sentences in English.

11:40AM We get home, and the kids go to the their room to play while I figure out lunch.

12:30PM Sit down at my laptop and start to work. Attend to various e-mails first.

1PM Work on creating this month’s e-newsletter. Also, jot down some future articles to write about life, food, fashion and travel. I really love doing this work.

1:50pm Realize that I am hungry. I tear off a piece of bread and make me another Nescafe instant coffee (strong, of course, with two scoops of sugar). I grab some kikiriki (peanuts) and head back to my laptop.

2PM Husband takes kids to their language lesson while I skype with my company mentor or people from the states.

3:15PM Start to read the local news online. Ugh! Maybe I should be studying my language books some more. Wait, there is Google Translate. 😉 Now, it is time to see where we should travel this weekend.

4PM Motivate the kids to begin their homework. This usually means that I will be sitting along beside them helping them out with their math or their language assignment. Oh, how my head is starting to hurt.

5PM Time to get dinner started. Remind my son to go in his backpack to look for a notebook that might have his homework inside of it. Strongly encourage him to get his homework done before dinner if he wants to eat.

6PM We set the table and get drinks ready. Then, we sit down to eat. *sigh* Oh, this is nice.

6:30PM The kids use some of their “screen time” and watch TV.

7:30PM Kids start taking showers. Then begins the question, “Who goes first?”

8:15PM PJs are on, hair brushed, teeth brushed, hugs given, books read and lights out, take one. I finally go to sit down when my daughter comes into the living room whining because she can’t go to sleep. I give her a drink and send her back to bed – lights out, take two. I sit with my husband and talk about our day, and then he heads to bed.

9PM Pick up books and papers that the kids left lying around and throw a load of laundry in the washer. Clean up the kitchen by loading the dishwasher, setting the time for 2 hours (since electricity is cheaper after 11PM) and wiping down counters. Check e-mail one last time.

10PM Collapse on the couch and place my laptop on my stomach to watch something on Netflix. Oh, how I am grateful for VPN. Fall asleep half way through a show. Shutdown my laptop and stumble into bed.