US Expats in Spain - Meet the Wagoner Family

Published: 4 Mar at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Spain
Heidi and Alan are in their 40’s and were both very successful IT Professionals with very well known corporations. In the Fall of 2011 they decided they wanted to live an expat life again, but this time they had to do it on their own. It was time to take a “career break”. By the Summer of 2012 they had sold their home and most of their possessions. When they told their family and friends of their plans, there were mixed reactions. It was either “Why?” or “Oh I wish I had the guts to do that”. By late August they were living in Spain. All of this with two kids in tow, who have been wonderful with the change. Heidi's expat blog is called Wagoners Abroad (see listing here)

Alan and Heidi Wagoner enjoying a good dinner out
Alan and Heidi Wagoner enjoying a good dinner out

Here's the interview with Heidi...


Where are you originally from?
I am originally from San Francisco Bay Area and my husband (Alan) is from Nevada. Our kids were born and raised in North Carolina.

In which country and city are you living now?
We currently live in Almuñécar, Spain. This is along the Costa Tropical in Southern Spain, with a mild climate. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are the backdrop to our coastline.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been in Spain since August 2012. The original plan was to take a “career break” for 1 year or so. Now, we are really thinking the “or so” is sounding good. Honestly maybe it isn’t a career break anymore, but a career shift. Our plans are currently open-ended until we can see what kind of “remote earning” we are capable of.

Why did you move and what do you do?
Alan and I lived in London “pre children” and we wanted to live internationally again someday before our kids were teens. We were hoping to have that opportunity with our “Corporate Jobs”, but it just didn’t happen. We then decided to take our destiny into our own hands and make it happen. We quit our jobs, sold everything and moved to Spain! Are we crazy? No way! This is perfect for us.

Heidi, Lars and Anya pictured here exploring the San Miguel Castle in Almuñécar
Heidi, Lars and Anya pictured here exploring the San Miguel Castle in Almuñécar
We moved to experience extensive travel with our children and expose them to the world. We are currently “not working” or at least not getting paid. We do keep our travel blog up to date and hope to figure out how to establish a location independent living. We are keeping busy with continuing to educate ourselves and explore the area as much as we can. We are part of the local culture and are doing many activities as locals. I am constantly planning the next trip/ excursion, which is very time consuming.

Did you bring family with you?
You bet! My husband Alan, son Lars (10) and daughter Anya (8).

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
This transition was pretty seamless, as far as they go. Alan and I have lived in other countries before, so Spain wasn’t too different. As far as the kids go, well let’s say “we threw them into the deep end” and they came out swimming. They had only lived in one home their entire lives and here we are! They are attending public Spanish school and after just 5 months can hold their own speaking Spanish. They did not know much prior to our arrival.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialize with other expats?
When you have kids, it is super easy to meet others and socialize. They are people magnets and have loads of friendships that have formed. We “the parents” of course are now friends with “their parents”. Some are expats from UK, Germany, Uruguay, France and other countries, but mainly Spanish. We have also socialized quite a bit with others attending our Spanish classes. You see, we also go to school, while the kids are at school.

Lars and Anya playing at the beach new our home.  We couldn't have a better location.
Lars and Anya playing at the beach new our home. We couldn't have a better location.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
There are so many things in this area. If you are an outdoors type person the options to explore are endless, with the beaches, hiking, caves, wine, small white villages. We happened upon the “running of the bulls” in Castril, Spain. You can check out our video on the WagonersAbroad YouTube Channel. There are also the Nerja Caves nearby and of course the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are playgrounds everywhere and our kids play on them all!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
We really enjoy the slower pace and good quality of life. We spend far more quality time together as a family and that is a luxury we cherish. The environment is a small town, and it is very safe and family oriented. The Spanish culture embraces children and they are included in everything. I have to admit we are spoiled rotten with our view of the Mediterranean Sea. It has such a fascinating life of its own complemented by incredible sun rise and sun sets.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Our budget in Spain is far less than it was in North Carolina. That said, we have a very small footprint here in Spain. We aren’t tied down with many material possessions, so that makes life less expensive from the get go.

Housing - We are renting a furnished townhome that is very cost effective, about $750/month (3 bed 2 bath, sea views and utilities). In North Carolina we would likely pay two or three times this price just for the townhome and utilities would be extra.

Fuel – It is more than double what it was in the U.S., I think it is close to $8 per gallon here. Thankfully the cars here are more fuel efficient. We only need to fill up every few weeks, as we just putter around town and go on excursions on the weekend. In the U.S., we were filling up 2 cars every 5-7 days.

Food- Some things are more expensive and others are not. A few things that are cheaper (eggs, milk, produce, wine and pork products) and those that are a bit more (beef, eating out, snack foods, some canned food).

The Wagoner Family enjoying a day out in the Spanish countryside village of Frigiliana.
The Wagoner Family enjoying a day out in the Spanish countryside village of Frigiliana.
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
I would have to say we miss family and friends. Thank goodness for email and Skype! It makes us feel closer and in some cases we communicate more than we did before.
We are also about an hour away from the nearest airport, so not too convenient for visitors.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Try to live like a local. Don’t come and try to live like you would in your home country. Embrace the change and really immerse yourself into the Spanish life.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
  1. Trying to figure out how we can keep the life of travel going longer.
  2. Getting used to the Spanish “timing”. If you have an appointment they will likely be late. As well as everything closing during siesta and on Sundays. We come from a 24 x 7 world, so that was an adjustment.
  3. Adjusting to different food, for the non-adventurous foodies in the family.


When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
This is a tough one, which I have personally lived through two other times. I think the adjustment going back home is more difficult than the adjustment moving in the first place. We will change and things just don’t “fit” the way they used to. With this wisdom, we hope to be prepared and allow for the “changed us” to find our new rhythm. Where ever we “go back” to, we will be starting over.

The Wagoner Family spending Christmas in Paris
The Wagoner Family spending Christmas in Paris
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Plan your budget well and then add some cushion.
  2. Get the entire family involved in the planning and decision making, so it is a full family experience.
  3. Try to connect with others doing the same thing or similar. Especially in the area you will be moving. It is nice to have some connections in advance.
  4. Pack light, you don’t need to bring your entire “old world” with you.
  5. Embrace your new environment and go with the flow.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Our blog Wagoners Aborad, is about an American family of 4, living in Spain, embracing the world and sharing our experiences. All four of us contribute to the blog and write up articles that mean something to us. We are sharing our adventures, experiences and everyday life, in an honest open and often in a humorous way. We hope to inspire others to get out and travel. If you want to do what we are doing, then by all means do it! Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and live life.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Please feel free to contact us via our blog. We have a “contact us” page and we respond very quickly. You may also follow us via Facebook (WagonersAbroad), Twitter (@WagonersAbroad) and YouTube (WagonersAbroad)

Heidi blogs at http://wagonersabroad.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Wagoners Abroad has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Heidi, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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Comments » There is 1 comment

Heidi Wagoner wrote 4 years ago:

Thank you so much for the interview and the experience. We love referring to your site, so hopefully we will help inspire others also. Such an honor! :-) Safe travels everyone.

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