The Best Laid Plans…

By - August 10, 2006 (Updated: November 28, 2014)

One of the hardest things for me to get used to in my current expat life is unpredictability. These days, Andrew and I plan ahead in terms of hours, or possibly days, but weeks, months, years — these timeframes remain as foggy as a Belgian morning.

I have always been the kind of person who likes to know what is going to happen. I’m a worrier by nature (from a long line of female worriers on my mother’s side). Having a tight schedule or an organized plan of events helped to lessen the worry, or so I thought.

From the time I was in high school, I had a plan of what my life would be like when I reached adulthood. We all know what they say about the best laid plans…

Even from the start, our expat life was a last minute decision. After our first three-month taste of expat life in Amsterdam, Andrew and I knew we wanted to eventually return and live in Europe. However, we had no idea we would be returning exactly a year from the day we last left.

It was less than three months from the time Andrew’s work proposed the Belgian move to the time we landed in Europe.

All of the big questions were down to the wire — Would we sell our house in time? (The sale closed literally as we were flying over the Atlantic). Would our car sell? (Yes, but only several months after we left and with the help of Andrew’s parents.) Would we find a suitable house in Belgium? (It was the fifth house of only five that we had time to look at). And so it went.

After a year in Belgium, our life finally seems to be settled, but only on the surface.

Andrew’s industry is constantly changing and evolving. His company has changed management and focus several times. His Belgian contract is technically for two years but what will happen then is anyone’s guess.

Family and friends back home are starting to ask seemingly reasonable questions — When will you come home? Are you coming home? Where will you live? What will you do? Late at night these questions play like a skipping record in my brain.

The truth is, so far, we’ve had no indication from Andrew’s work whether they will want us to stay or not. We don’t know if we’re ready to leave now that we’ve finally gotten settled. We have no idea where we would live or what we would do if we went back to Canada.

Sometimes this instability overshadows our decisions — Should we really spend the money to buy a new wardrobe if we’re just going to move again? Maybe we should travel more in case we don’t have the chance to later…

In many ways, I envy the expats who have a concrete plan — those who land in Brussels already with a return date marked on their calendars and keys to a house that is back home waiting for them in their pockets.

On the other hand, if I insisted on planning a year in advance, for starters, I wouldn’t be here at all. I wouldn’t drop what I’m doing on a Thursday afternoon, to book a hotel in Amsterdam for Friday night. I wouldn’t accept an invitation to meet a friend in Ireland without first checking to see if I could get a flight. I wouldn’t tag along with Andrew on last minuet business trips to Barcelona or Helsinki.

Maybe I would still be in Halifax sitting at my desk in my stable job wondering what life would be like in Brussels; wondering what could have happened if I had embraced a little instability.

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 15 hours ago


  1. Comment by Tawcan

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Tawcan August 14, 2006 at 21:03

    Those are really nic pics below. 🙂

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Alison August 16, 2006 at 21:04

    Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  3. Comment by susan

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    susan August 31, 2006 at 21:28

    hi allison
    i read your story about The landlords are coming – part IIl. I am quiet amused but i pity you. I hope my letter would help.
    I Know what you feel because i am like you when i am not yet with my belgian husband. smile! what i ve learned from him is this:
    in belgium there is always an appointment -=appointment for doctors for clients for dentist and even lardlords and etc. no appointment no meeting.
    example “one time i was in the bathroom when a would be tenant {we were about to move out from this appartment)rung the celfone of my husband because they wanted to see the house.
    they were already infront of the building looking to our window because we were on the second floor. But my husband said< my wife is in the bathroom you cant come in. Tomorrow at this time blah blah and end. The would be tenant didnt come back.
    Number 2\
    The landlord came at our door at 1100 oclock a.m and wanted to fix something but my husband said you cant come in yet my wife not yet dressed. You can come back at 2 oclock.
    Number 3
    An electrician wants to see the electric meter but my husband said no you cant go to the cellar. you tell the landlord to make appointment with me and i will let you.
    I think this is a good way for you to start making appointment with your landlord so that they would know that you want appointment and then they would start doing that. They should know when to respect one s privacy and if you will let them stick to your rules they would be careful and next time you will be ready and prepared when they come.
    cheers \

  4. Comment by astrorainfall

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    astrorainfall March 12, 2007 at 17:42

    hi alison,
    just wanted to say i really enjoyed your expatica article, expats and the best laid plans. i’ve trailed all the way to Tokyo to be with my partner whose career is also in the Internet/IT industry where things are changing quickly. it’s an exciting place to be but uncertainty and change are definitely the only things constant in our lives.
    like you, i love the instability but it can be hard sometimes when it comes to making decisions. my folks back home also ask the same questions: :”when are you coming home? have you got a job yet? what will you do when you return?” all pressing questions, but hey, part and parcel of being a global nomad. 😉
    keep up the expatica stories!

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