We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Living the dream - dual citizenship

Yup- dual Citizenship. I could not believe I qualified for dual Italian citizenship when I checked into it, but would you believe it--- I do!! . It's just the oddest of coincidences. One of the items on my "plan" was to research how we could live in Italy long term legally. Naturally, I started reading up on how Visas work. Somewhere along that path, I came across an article posted by an expatriate ( I'd been doing tons of reading expatriate experiences and tips) which suggested finding out if dual citizenship was even a possibility, if you had native Italian ancestors.

My mother happens to be native born, originally from La Spezia, Italy. She came to the US right about the end of WWII, having married my father over there. My dad was an American soldier stationed in Naples. So Mom came over on the boat. The regulations for dual Italian citizenship are different depending on which ancestor is the native one- grandfather, grandmother, father or mother. If its your mother, as in my case, you had to have been born after January 1, 1947 and also before your mother became an American citizen, if she did that. My older sister was born before that cut off date of 1947, my 2 younger siblings were born after she became a US citizen, and I am right in that little window !

I've mentioned before that I am now a believer in things happening for a reason. Just like miraculously finding travel agent training that worked out so conveniently, here is another instance of something falling in my lap. Literally.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Living the dream--- what's up with this Life Coach business???

Not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask me about this "moving to Venice" business. Yes, it is truly incredible. Every person I talk to has pretty much the same reaction....awestruck that we are actually doing this! I get hit with all kinds of questions but mostly people want to hear the whole darn story. What makes us want to move,? How are we going to do it? How can we give up our lives here?? When I start telling our story and get to mentioning my use of a life coach, eyes start to get even wider. Then I have to get into a sidebar on what a life coach is and how I found one, and how it worked for me.

Because I feel so strongly about the positive experiences I've had using a life coach, because I get asked so often, and because it's such an important element of our whole adventure, it warrants a place here in my blog.

When I was pretty clear on the fact that I wanted to move to Venice, I knew I needed help. I had done alot of reading ( self-help kinds of topics) so I knew what a life coach was. I also had the sense that was what I should look into. What I wanted was a mentor.. a cheerleader even, someone who would help me get over the hurdles when I was feeling like it was too much for me.

When people ask how I found my life coach, I tell them I turned to the internet for research. I found several life coaches on the web in my area, and started calling them to have an inital conversation. One of the first three I talked to was Bill Pullen, of Pullen Associates in Washington, DC.

During my initial phone conversation with Bill, I could sense that this person seemed to really "get" where I was coming from. When we met in our first face to face appointment, I quickly confirmed that my initial instincts were correct. Bill did have a firm grasp of what I wanted and needed. I could tell that I'd make a wise choice having him provide guidance and support during this venture. There was no need to look elsewhere, I knew I had found the right coach. I can't put my finger on it, but I think when you know it's the right connection, you go with it.

Bill helped me work through what I call "the plan". It's more like a roadmap that has helped me every step of the way- from the original idea to the final steps of getting ourselves moved over there. Whenever I could sense an obstacle, I would fall back on my plan and the absolute confidence I had in myself now. I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that I would have faltered if I had not worked with Bill.

I must say that for my particular purposes, I only had sessions with Bill for about 4-5 months. During that time we had 3 monthly meetings, generally over the phone. We'd discuss my progress on particular tasks that I had set out for myself and then plan what was next to accomplish. Even after I stopped having meeting time with Bill, I have never stopped focusing on the end goal, using my plan to guide me.

Fortunately for me, my husband Mike has been completely on board and as committed to this adventure as I am. I never had to sell him on making this move. Also fortunately for me I have had Bill Pullen in the background as sounding board for my ideas right from the beginning.

So- what have I got to say about life coaches? I could be the poster child for all Life Coaches of the world. It was worth every penny and then some. Using a life coach has been a life changing experience for me. I cannot recommend this enough to anyone who feels they need change of some sort. Whether its career or personal in nature, if you need change--- I encourage you to do something wonderful for yourself by enlisting a life coach.

NOTE: This is not a commercial for Bill Pullen by any means. Bill has consented to the use of his name in my blog.

Living the dream--- is there a travel agent in the house?

I've been in the Information Technology industry a long long time. Almost longer than I care to think about, but I never imagined at this point in my life I'd be starting over at something brand new. Making the decision that our life in Venice would be supported by running tours was the easy part. Figuring out how in the world we would actually DO that was another story!

We didn't know one thing about the travel business. One thing I did know however, was that in order for us to be credible at this venture, we needed more knowledge than we had. My life coach and I had numerous discussion on this topic. After some research, I decided I had no other recourse but to go to school to obtain the skills and knowledge I believed would be required. I found one school with locations in Boston and California offering a 2 week program that was of particular interest to me-- but they did not offer any kind of certification. I had the notion that having national certification of some kind was going to be important to have. Back to the drawing board researching schools, this time I came across The Travel Institute. This group is the one that awards national certification for travel professionals. Just what I needed! They offer both online and regular classroom type programs for entry level students. Also just what I was looking for.

I made the decision that I would benefit most from having the ability to discuss issues with the instructor and other students in a live forum, so I opted for the classroom program. Now all I had to do was find a location that would be workable for me. The gods were smiling down on me, and I still don't fully understand why. But I'm grateful . Extremely grateful. The closest location offering certification programs was just six miles up the road from where I live in Baltimore. I made a quick phone call to The Bennett School of Travel to obtain information only to find out that the semester had already begun. My work schedule wasn't going to cooperate with the class schedules for the first few weeks, however the school's director was more than generous about finding a way for me to work this all in, including some make up sessions for me. Ten weeks later I had successfully completed the Basic certification course offered by The Travel Institute. I was now in possession of the necessary credentials to give my future tour business in Venice the industry recognition required to compete in the market place. Crossing this hurdle felt SOOOO good!!!

I want to say at this point that I really believe things happen for a reason in our lives. My running across Joanne , the director at Bennett was one of those events that confirms this belief for me. And this is just one of several "meant to happen" events I've experienced along this journey. Every time I think about these now, looking back on them, I am more convinced than ever that our moving to Italy is inevitable. It was just meant to happen, thats all.

Joanne encouraged me to get the next level of certification, the CTA designation. Only about 30 percent of all travel agents have this designation. It's about another 10 weeks of school consisting of in depth learning on topics such as travel marketing, customer service, niche marketing, and communication skills for example. Back to class I went, every week for 10 weeks. I naively thought this would be easy, compared to what I go through in the Information Technology field on a day to day basis. Ha ha ha.... there was an enormous amount of material to plow through and learn in order to prepare for the certification exam. I can't even tell you how elated I was when I received the email from The Travel Institute informing me that I had passed.

I had worked with my life coach to create the road map I'd use to get to us moved to Italy. Completing the training classes for travel agent certification was a major milestone in our plan. There were many more milestones ahead of me, but having one under my belt was so rewarding.

We had the plan, and every day we were working the plan and staying on course! "Working the plan " became my mantra over the next year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Living the dream- how will we finance this dream of ours??

One of the big question marks I struggled with as I was working out " the plan" was how in the world we could actually afford to live over there. Had I been good with my financial decisions in my younger years, and if I had a plan for my life back then, maybe I would have had that nest egg tucked away that would finance this adventure. You can already guess by now that there is no nest egg. Nope. not even a pigeon egg. My divorce 9 years ago wiped me out, and I am just now getting back on my feet from the after effects of that whole fiasco. I could fill up a whole blog just on my divorce tips--- but this is much happier, so I won't go there. Michael hadn't fared much better in his divorce, and on top of that he put himself through law school at about the time we met 9 yrs ago, so he has massive school loans to deal with. As he says jokingly, he'll be paying for law school way after he has died.

Ok- so we have no savings to use, and its highly unlikely we could ever stay in our careers while living in Italy. Not only is it highly unlikely, we didn't even want to consider staying in our present careers. We'd both been in the corporate work world our entire adult lives, and frankly we'd both accomplished all we felt we were ever going to. We had no more lofty career goals, we were just existing. And existing with very little joy in our days. This idea of a move to Italy was fueling a new passion in both of us. It was the perfect time for us to " retire" if you will, from our present existences here in the United States. We soul-searched on this topic for a few months. Were we absolutely sure we were ready to call an end to our respective careers? ?? I wanted no regrets, no looking back, if that was the decision we were to make.

We were both in agreement on this issue. We did not wish to attempt to pursue our current careers after a move to Italy. So----. next question .. how would we make a living there? Going through our finances a) didn't take long and b) made it obvious we certainly had to work. There would be no "retirement" for us at this point in life. At first I thought it would take a lot of gut wrenching self-work to figure out the answer to this question. Surprisingly, the answer came to us easily. I wish I had written down the moment it occurred. It just appeared as a very clear vision--- we knew Venice like the back of our hands, we love every inch of it. Here comes the answer-- we'd give tours of Venice. We'd show people the Venice we have come to love so passionately. This felt absolutely right to both of us.

Running some numbers ( I used to be an accountant in another life), we quickly determined there was no way running a small tour company would match our current incomes. Running some more numbers, we found many ways we could reduce our monthly expenses so that this reduction in income would still allow us a comfortable life. Not a grand life, but a comfortable one. We both were ok with this. I'm looking at my notes here and realize that I've made this "running of the numbers" sound pretty simple. Actually it took ALOT of going over expenses and negotiating over what things we would be able to cut back on to make the balance sheet look workable. But you would be surprised what two people can come up with when they both want something so badly.

So one more big question mark had been resolved. We knew how we would finance our lives in Venice. And that just opened the next can of worms. Neither of us knew one thing about the travel industry. Not one thing. OK. Add that one to the items on my list of things that needed more work in order to get this plan off the ground. How we are learning about the travel business deserves a whole blog entry of its own.... maybe even a few.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Living the dream--- how this journey began....

Living the dream---- for my husband Michael and I this means beginning the adventure of a life time by moving to Venice, Italy. This blog will contain the story of our progress on that journey to find our new life in a new exciting place.

I hope you will bear with me. I want to turn back time a little bit so I can capture the entire journey, right from the very start, even though some time has now passed. I regret not starting this blog back then. But, as the saying goes, no time like the present. So, with no further ado, here goes .....

Being with my father for the last few days of his life in January 2005 made a profound impact on my own. One thing became so clear to me-- I could not squander the rest of my life doing things that did not give me immense joy any longer. Who knows how much longer there is left? Every day is such a gift, I need to be treating it exactly like that. No more going through the days, ticking off time, with no purpose. I had to find what brings me joy, and make that my focus. That was a turning point. I still didn't know what that would mean, but I clearly knew it meant something of profound importance. For all practical purposes, the journey starts right there.

The next step in this journey we ( my husband Michael and I) took was to spend 3 weeks in a rented apartment in Venice, Italy. We'd been to Venice twice before in the previous 2 years. The first time, Venice was the jumping off point of a 21 day "grand tour" of Italy. Wanting to get to know Venice alittle better, we returned a second time the following year for 12 days, staying in a quaint little inn right behind St. Marks Place. For this next trip, we wanted to get still closer to Venice. This called for renting an apartment so we could go to the markets each day and cook for ourselves. We chose a 2 bedroom apartment in Castello ( one of the 6 sestiere's of Venice ) not far from St. Marks. We filled 3 weeks with walks to the Rialto market, cooking with the fresh ingredients we found in the markets each day, and exploring canals and campos. We already knew that we enjoyed every bit of Venice. What we didn't realize just yet was that Venice had stolen our hearts.

Shortly after returning back home to Baltimore after that trip, I remember turning to Michael one day and asking him if he thought he could possibly live in Venice, because that was what I knew I wanted to do. This wasn't just a wild-assed thing I dreamt up. This was real. I had no idea how I was going to do this, but I knew I had to try - and not just a feeble effort. One of my weaknesses in life is that when I hit a brick wall, I tend to turn around . This time, I knew there would be a brick wall, maybe several---and I didn't want to let my fears cause me to turn around. Michael was as smitten with Venice as I was... and gave me the green light to pursue whatever I wanted.

I made a bold move -- I hired a life coach. I wanted , no -- I needed someone to guide me up and over all the brick walls I would encounter along the way as I proceeded on this journey. My new life coach helped me devise a plan- my road map for getting to Venice. There were lots of question marks I needed to answer, lots of holes in the drafts of the plan I worked on, but before long I had a plan that felt right for us.

So that's where all this began. Next time I'll continue with the steps we've accomplished so far and where we are in the plan to date.