Reinvent Yourself Abroad

Living (and making a living) in another country may sound like a dream. but these six women dropped everything to make it come true.

By Nicole Blades
Photograph: Photo by Andrea Fazzari.

Bonjour Paris: Karen Henrich

Former job: Owned a boutique PR agency in Vancouver that specialized in tech companies.

What she does now: Rents an apartment in Paris near the Paris Opéra; owns Nuit Blanche Tours (nuitblanchetours.com), a company that takes ­English-speaking women on customized visits; and publishes travel guides in book and app formats.

The backstory: In 2004, after 18 years in the tech industry, Henrich was weary and bored with the business. She’d recently ended a 10-year relationship and was craving some freshness in her life. The solution? A girlfriends’ trip to Paris. “I had always wanted to visit the city, but something would usually happen to alter the plan,” she says. This particular visit ended up altering many of Henrich’s plans.

The inspiration: The French call it a coup de foudre, an intense and instant feeling of love, and it hit Henrich within an hour of landing in Paris. “Everything about the city—the architecture, how it’s laid out, the people, the cafés, the waiters—is pure romance,” she says. “I knew I had to move there and turn my discoveries of the fabulous retail spots into a business.”

Making it happen: Henrich sold her agency and cashed in stock options and most of her nest egg. She allotted $35,000 to cover a year’s living expenses and round-trip flights to Canada for three years. “To save money, I traded writing, Web or PR skills and house-sat,” she says. She listened to a friend’s French-language CDs for 30 minutes every day for six months. “But essentially I learned the language by immersion—talking to waiters, people in the markets,” she says. By April 2005, Nuit Blanche Tours (“for girls who want to have fun”) was up and running, and since it’s an online business registered in Canada, she doesn’t need a work visa. All her clients came by referral, and after two years, “I was just about making a living,” she says. Then she leveraged the business by writing a guidebook, Practical Paris (just released as an e-book from tapbooks.net), and creating shopping guides in app format (chicwalks.com). Her Nuit Blanche fees range from 140 euros (for a “shop till you drop” tour for two) to 1,200 euros (for a day trip to Giverny). An explorer by nature, she still travels extensively (sometimes with her new Canadian husband), but the City of Light is her beacon: “Whenever I leave Paris, I feel this strong pang in my heart.”

Bahamas: Lisa-Marie Cabrelli

Former job: Business systems analyst and senior manager at AT&T in northern Virginia.

What she does now: Owns Emily Rose Doll Clothes and Furniture (dolls?clothes-emilyrose.com), named after her daughter, and two spinoff sites.

The backstory: In 2002, six months into her separation from her first husband, Lisa-Marie Dowler (going by her maiden name then) and a friend, Mark Cabrelli, got into a serious conversation over dinner one evening about the question, What would you do with a million dollars? “Travel and living abroad were big on both our lists,” she says. But neither of them was living the life they wanted. Just before the pair married in late 2006, she made a decision: “I couldn’t do the 9-to-5 rat race anymore,” she says. “I wanted to stop the crazy business-travel schedule and be able to pick Emily [then eight] up after school.” That year AT&T offered a voluntary layoff package equivalent to a year’s salary, and she grabbed it.

The inspiration: “Emily was a recent convert to American Girl dolls, but we couldn’t keep up with the company’s high-priced accessories,” says Cabrelli. Knowing she wanted to start a portable online business, she checked out search engine keywords, looking for a niche market where lots of people were searching for a particular item. When she plugged in “American Girl doll accessories,” she knew she’d hit the mother lode.

First Published February 10, 2011

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