This blogpost was written by Maja Meglic (you can spot her above, soaking up the sun in Seville in November 2014). Maja is an expat from Slovenia, living in Brussels for six years. She has 12 years of experience in telecommunication in three different countries and currently she is in a middle of her career transition. She is also certified professional coach, interested in work-life balance, well-being @work, mindfulness… One of her big passions are people and their stories, life of expatriates and their experiences. You can follow her on LinkedIn!
It is a gorgeous day today, writing this blog post. The sun is shining at its fullest through the huge windows of my apartment, temperatures are close to 30 degrees, and I am wearing a summer dress and keeping myself cool with a cold drink. Tonight, a friend of mine will come over to chat over a drink while sitting on the balcony outside, enjoying the summer feel and observing the sky, painted into orange and rose shadows by the setting sun. But we all know, it is not like that very often around here. And if you read my previous blog about the most common challenges many expats struggle with after moving to Belgium, you know by now that challenging climate and not always the nicest weather is one of the biggest struggles of many expats.
So instead of writing further about other challenges that expats are also facing, I have decided to first share some insights on how to deal with some of the biggest challenges.
As summer is slowly saying goodbye, days are becoming shorter way too fast and the challenging greyness might come into town faster than we think. It already is a good time to prepare yourself to cope with the long winter months, especially if you are a sun-addict like myself and someone, who’s mood is very much influenced by the weather as well.
Belgium and Brussels have one amazing advantage within Europe. And this is its central location, that allows you shorter or longer escapes to many European countries offering lots of sun and warm temperatures also in winter months. We have all heard of Ryanair and Wizzair and Thomas Cook and Tuifly, right? And if you haven’t heard of them before, I have told you now. Yep, they all offer many possibilities for shorter or longer escapes, for the fun of the summer and sand to be just few clicks away. If you research well where to go and book a bit in advance, you might be surprised how little you will have to dig into your pocket for a nice winter escape. So how often do we do it then? How often do you escape towards the sun during winter? I will tell you for myself: Now that I am reflecting back, for sure I haven’t done it often enough. For sure I haven’t done it at all my first years here, because I didn’t realize it for quite some time, how long and grey and dark and consequently challenging winter here can be and how much I miss the sun in those months.
I would recommend you to reconsider planning your vacation throughout the year differently as so far. If before you were taking majority of your holidays in summer, try to do it differently in the future. Summer can be rather nice in Belgium. True, not always, but still. It is full of festivals and other activities. It is especially the time between mid October when days start getting really short, until the end of February, that I found the most challenging ones. So why not planning a longer, at least ten days long vacation on a sunny side of the Globe somewhere in November and / or in January to get enough of Vitamin D to help you get through the so called winter blues? Spend some euros less for Xmas presents, buy a pair of shoes less on January sales, close that Amazon and Coolblue web page, unsubscribe yourself from Zalando and Vente Exclusive Newsletter with latest special offers and instead spend time and money to plan your longer winter escape to the sunny side of the planet instead. You don’t always need the fanciest accommodation to enjoy sun. If you are on a tight budget, why not try Coachsurfing instead for a change (https://www.couchsurfing.com/)? It can be fun getting to know new people. Never been to a hostel before? Everything is once for the first time, right?
Possible destinations for longer escapes are many. You can consider Miami, Cape Verde, maybe even Zanzibar or Jamaica. Tuifly has a special winter sale just as we speak. I spent one week in Mexico end of October some years ago and I tell you, I had the feeling my winter that year was a totally different one.
Ok, now that you planned your longer winter escape for November and/or January, what about in between? It can be three or even more months from end of the summer until your next “sunny vacation”, so why not adding another short escape in the meantime to a European destination that also offers quite some sun? When I landed on Sicily mid-June this year after something like 3 hours’ flight, I was amazed how close this island is. It offers a rich cultural heritage, many amazing culinary experiences, not to mention lots of blue sky, sun and loooong beaches to chill. So be it south of Italy, island of Sardinia, Greece, south of Spain or even Morocco or Canary Island…. options are many. A day or two off from work and a prolonged weekend trip can be planned. Temperatures might not be the highest, but just the power of the sun and feel of the South can do the trick.
Once September ends, I would say it is essential to get the dose of natural sun at least every 2 months.
Of course, it is not only destinations with warm temperatures that can boost your mood and Vitamin D. Driving to the Alps, covered with white snow is another alternative. You don’t ski neither snowboard? Hey, then go anyway and go sledging instead. Hiking in the snow on snowshoes is another alternative. Or try reading a book while sipping a gluhwein and being surrounded by snow and sun. It is also an amazing experience. Even for me, being a passionate skier.
And in the meantime, when being in Belgium? Be creative and search for the sun. When days are so short, that it is dark when you walk into the office and dark again when you leave the office, but otherwise during the day, the sun is out there, go for a walk during the lunch hour. Or pack your lunch and escape the office and seat down in a park and have your lunch outside, letting sun shine on you. “Oh, it is tooo coooold”, you will say. Have you heard of “there is no bad weather, there are only inappropriate clothes”? Why can we sit in the park in summer time, eating our sandwich, but not in December?
On the weekend during winter, leave those walls of your home behind and get lost into the forests or parks. Yes it can be cold, but it can be also surprisingly beautiful. Equip yourself with some gloves, colorful beanies and warm skiing underwear and explore Bois de la Cambre, Forest de Soignes, empty Belgian beaches or hidden corners of Ardennes. And if grey days are too many in a row, then taking Vitamin D as a supplement is my answer. I could copy-paste many links to many articles on the web explaining and proving to you how important Vitamin D is for your organism, but I believe that you googling it will have a stronger effect. It was four years back when my doctor prescribed me for the Vitamin D for the first time – to take it on a daily basis for two months. I didn’t believe her at first, but it did the trick, trust me.
Wishing you lots of fun while searching for the sun, be it in Belgium or elsewhere!