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August 2017

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What Travelers Should Know Before They Go Home

There are many milestones in an expat’s life. Finding your favorite coffee shop or bar that you visit weekly. Having your first basic exchange in the local language. Making your first good friend. Saying goodbye to a friend who is moving on.

And going back home for the first time.

Visiting home can be both exciting and daunting. Kristin is about to do it for first time after being away for over two years, and I’ve also gone as long as two years without getting back to my hometown.

Kristin’s heading back to Anna Maria in December after 2 years away.

If you’re also about to go home after an extended period abroad, here’s what you should probably expect:

 

Interest in your life abroad will be minimal.

You might be fantasizing about your return, envisioning yourself as the life of the party – everyone will want to know every detail of your adventures. If this is what you’re hoping for, you should start readjusting your expectations now. Most expats are surprised, or even a bit hurt, when their friends and families show very little interest in where they live or where they’ve traveled to.

It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you – but if they haven’t been overseas themselves, they just don’t understand enough about your lifestyle to really ask that many questions. When you live abroad, you are always surrounded by fellow travelers who have similar interests and experiences at home. That’s not going to be the case at home.

 

You won’t relate to their stories the way you used to.

While you won’t spend much time talking about your life, you’ll probably hear a ton about their lives.

Your friends will be gossiping about people you’ve never met or barely remember. Your family will complain about a local shop shutting down. People will overreact to things you think aren’t that big of a deal – a mild traffic jam or a wrong order at a restaurant. You’ll find that their stories or ways of thinking now make you feel disconnected, like you don’t really belong there anymore.

You might find yourself daydreaming about other things

 

Everything will be the same.

One fear expats might have is that they’ll find their hometown has completely changed when they return. After all, we’re always told that “you can’t go home again.”
But in reality, I’ve found that home actually feels like it’s frozen in time. Small, insignificant changes will have occurred, but the things that matter stay the same. It won’t seem like years have passed. You’ll fall into a familiar, comforting, even boring routine very quickly. Your friends and family will still love you and be happy to spend lots of time with you. That will never change.

 

You’ll see just how much you’ve changed.

What changes during your time abroad isn’t home – it’s you. Your personality will stay the same, but your worldview and ways of thinking will be challenged and reshaped by different life experiences. Most travelers don’t realize these changes have taken place until they go home again.

You’ll realize you don’t worry as much about things that used to really stress you out. Rush hour will be a breeze after getting stuck in the congested roads of Bangkok. You’ll have more patience with cashiers, waiters, and other customer service workers simply because you speak the same language fluently and can communicate clearly. You’ll be more thankful for what you have, rather than complaining about any financial pressures, after seeing how intense poverty can be around the world.

 

You might realize that your hometown isn’t that interesting.

This one depends on where you’re from. Kristin’s from an island off the coast of Florida, but when I went home to my boring town in the UK I was hit with the realization that there just wasn’t much going on, and the rest of the world offers so much more.

There’s a lot more interesting places out there.

 

Get ready for prices you aren’t used to anymore.

Compared to a lot of other countries, the U.K. and USA are just over-the-top expensive. If you’re used to prices in Southeast Asia, South America, or somewhere else with low costs of living, the prices back home might be hard to readjust to when you return.

 

Doing chores again will be a struggle.

Because it’s so affordable, we have a cleaning service in Thailand. We can also eat out every night for barely any money, so we never cook. As lazy as it makes us sound, suddenly having to clean and cook for ourselves again is a rude awakening. It’s definitely a part of our old lives that we don’t miss.

 

You don’t actually miss some things as much as you think.

Maybe you have a favorite food that you can’t really find anywhere but home. Maybe you miss an old hobby that is difficult to keep up abroad. Some expats are disappointed to realize that they’ve wrongly idealized these little things when they weren’t available, but at least going without them won’t be such a big deal anymore.

 

The reality is that nothing really changes when you return home. Your hometown is not going anywhere, and your family and true friends will always be there for you when you return. Your visit probably won’t be perfect, but what is? You will still have what matters – time with the people you love most. So enjoy it for what it is, and then get back into the world for your next adventure.

Enjoy your travels! You’re missing nothing back home. 

Expats – how long has it been since you’ve been home? If you’ve already been home for the first time, what was it like?

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.

The Symbolism of Chiang Rai’s White Temple

Over a year ago, I was about to head to Thailand for the first time. Simon asked me to make a list of my top priorities of things to see and do. Near the top of my list was The White Temple in Chiang Rai (known as Wat Rong Khun to the locals).

While many temples around Asia start to look very similar after you’ve been traveling or living here awhile, the White Temple stands out with its surreal statues, surprising references to pop culture, and twisted fairytale-like architecture.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it up to Chiang Rai during that trip, but we recently, finally, made it there a couple weekends ago.

Our thoughts? It made for some beautiful pictures, but in person it was a bit smaller than expected.

But! Despite its size, there is a lot going on if you know what to look for. Here is what you should know:

Temple or Art Exhibit?

Years ago, Wat Rong Khun was a typical Buddhist temple that had fallen out of use and was badly in need of repairs. An artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided he wanted to completely renovate the building in an unorthodox way with his own money.

So is the current temple still a religious center or is it all for the sake of art now? It’s a mixture of both. While you can definitely see that an artist designed every inch of this attraction, it is still intended to enlighten its visitors about the teachings of Buddha and eventually provide space for meditation and religious learning. Kositpipat sees his work on the temple as a spiritual mission.

A Story Comes to Life

Exploring the White Temple is essentially entering into a narrative of temptation and redemption. To keep each visitor in the intended progression of the story, no one is allowed to turn back as they explore. They must move through each chapter just as they would a novel – without skipping forward or backward. (So make sure you get any pictures you want the first time around.)

Overcoming Temptation

At first, the artwork in front of the temple is almost disturbing. Multitudes of hands desperately reach out of the ground – this scene is supposed to represent the problem of desire and greed. Visitors pass over it by bridge, entering a state where they are free of worldly attachments and pain.

Mythological Creatures

You will also encounter many strange, mythological figures within and around the White Temple, including:

Kinnarees – Look for statues of half-bird, half-man creatures. They are similar to guardian angels in Buddhist mythology, keeping an eye on humans and intervening when we are in trouble.

Rahu – This creature is a beheaded serpent, and Hindu myths teach that he will determine the fate of each soul upon their death.

Nagas– You will also see plenty of snake symbology with their full body still intact – these are Nagas, and they are minor deities that guard the temple.

Pop Culture

When you actually enter the building, you are no longer surrounded by figures of ancient myths. Instead, you’ll see a display of movie posters, western celebrities, and popular fictional characters alongside news photos of war, terrorism, and other horrors. Again, the message is that the world is full of sorrow, vanity and destruction.

Where’s the Toilet?

Even the bathrooms have become an elaborate work of art. They are housed in an ornate building designed to contrast the spiritual purity of the White Temple with a materialistic, worldly gold coloring.

There’s Much More to Come

Kositpipat has many more plans for the temple in the future – according to his timeline, the entire project won’t be finished until 2070.

For those of you who have traveled around Asia, has any specific temple caught your eye? Why did it impress you?

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.

Do You Have to Change to Travel?

As expats, we spend majority of our time around other travelers. Most of our closest friends travel frequently, and this common interest gives us plenty to talk about.

But there is a certain type of traveler that always leaves us scratching our heads – the travelers who completely change now that they are abroad.

It’s almost like there is some book they’ve all read teaching them how “authentic” travelers should act.

Not sure what we mean? Here are some examples:

Overdosing on Positivity

Some travelers will insist to the very end that they love absolutely every aspect about every culture they encounter.

We call bullshit on this one!

While it’s admirable to hold back from making judgments about a culture that isn’t your own, no one likes everything, and it’s just ridiculous to pretend you do. It’s okay to complain about a long journey on a crowded bus. It’s okay to think some local foods are too spicy or too sweet or too bland. It’s okay to be overwhelmed by a bustling, crazy city, or bored with a sleepy little village.

You don’t have to give up all your opinions to be a traveler.

 

Singing Praises to Street Food

For some reason, nothing makes an overexcited traveler feel more “authentic” than eating lukewarm meat on a stick from a street cart with questionable cleanliness standards.

Street food seems very “exotic” to those of us from England or America, but after a few purchases we realized that the quality of most street food is pretty low, and it will often have you running for a toilet shortly after.

You can find much tastier and safer local food in a restaurant, even if it’s just a family-owned hole-in-the-wall.

(If you do want to try the street food, at least find a stand that has the locals lining up. An unpopular stand is unpopular for a reason!)

 

Getting Too Deep

There are so many travelers out there claiming to have had some kind of spiritual awakening while exploring remote corners of the world.

Of course, we’ve all experienced personal growth while traveling. But there’s something a little fake (not to mention cringeworthy) about someone going over the top with their newfound philosophies, flaunting them in everyone’s face.

Extra bullshit points if all those profound, poetic words actually mean very little when put under scrutiny. True wisdom is more than just sounding nice.

 

Knowing It All

As a traveler, you are always the student, never the teacher.

Which is great if you are a curious, humble, open minded person. But if you like to know it all, you’re better off staying home because you’ll never really be able to claim expertise on a culture that’s not your own. You can’t become an insider.

As expats living in Bangkok, there are few things that annoy us more than hearing a backpacker act as if they are an authority on this city – especially if they’ve spent less than a week here and have barely left Khao San Road.

If it bothers us, how much more would it bother a local?

 

A Return to University Days

Yes, this was Simon’s old university home! 

Finally, despite lofty claims of spiritual growth, increased maturity, and global awareness, too many travelers have actually reverted back to the adolescent behavior of their dorm days. Pop into a hostel, and you’ll find people stealing each other’s food out of the communal kitchen, using each other’s shower gel without permission, and getting in petty fights about cleanliness, noise levels, or bathroom hogging.

 

Do you ever feel like some travelers come across a little fake or over the top? Share your examples and stories below.

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.

Is Teaching ESL Abroad for You?

This past weekend we were excited to launch our new, free guide – Getting You on the Plane: A Travel Manifesto – we hope it will inspire its readers to make travel a more regular part of their lives.

While there are many ways to travel the world, we both began our adventures by taking jobs as ESL teachers. This decision was the best one of our lives, but we realize it’s not for everyone.

Is it for you? Here are some questions to consider:

What qualifications do you have?

The most important qualification is simply being a native English speaker – or at least living somewhere where English is widely spoken.

If you have that covered, you’ll just need to find the country or school that prioritizes what you offer. Some countries care most about what kind of TEFL certificate you have. Others primarily want those qualified to teach in their home country. Some are looking for college degrees in English, or just a college degree full stop.

What qualifications could you reasonably get?

If you are lacking qualification, all hope is not lost. TEFL certificates can easily be earned online, and some schools will even pay for you to get certified before your job begins.

Do you like the idea of settling in another country for a year or more?

ESL teachers usually have plenty of travel opportunities, but their day-to-day isn’t quite as adventurous compared to the life of the traveler who is changing cities and countries every few days or weeks. They are making a home in another country, not just visiting one. After the initial honeymoon phase wears off, teachers settle into a routine that becomes quite normal.

This kind of slow travel is perfect for some people. You can really get to know the culture, form genuine friendships, and even learn the language.

Do you want a creative job with a lot of variety?

Teaching is different every day. You are always teaching something new, overcoming new obstacles with your students, and coming up with new approaches and activities. If you are a creative person, and the idea of a monotonous desk job fills you with dread, teaching is for you.

Do you have plenty of energy?

Teaching can also be exhausting in every way – physically, mentally, and emotionally. You’ll need to be able to summon seemingly limitless energy to keep your students engaged and positive.

Are you patient?

You’ll need patience both inside and outside of the classroom as an ESL teacher. Language learning is a slow process, and your students will get frustrated, confused, or discouraged from time to time. It’s easy to also feel the same as their teacher – but you can’t show it.

Outside the classroom, you’ll encounter a host of challenges beyond the typical traveler’s stress. Arranging work visas, dealing with landlords, setting up bank accounts and international transfers – all of these tasks will take a cool head and plenty of patience.

And here are some questions that aren’t as important as you think (and why):

Are you good at grammar? Didn’t do so great in English class back home? Don’t worry – if you’re teaching beginner or intermediate classes, you’ll be able to manage the grammar lessons just because you’re a native speaker and the most common errors will naturally sound wrong to you.
Do you like kids? Not all ESL classes are for children. Look into adult language centers if kids aren’t your thing – they are just as common in most major cities.
Do you speak the local language? You don’t need to. You will only be allowed to speak English with your students, and outside of the classroom you’ll get by with body language and charades until you start picking up some basic survival phrases naturally.

Have you ever considered teaching abroad before? What’s holding you back?

 

Travelers often get asked how we’re able to find the money, time, or courage to go abroad.

Want to know how We do it?

Click here for a FREE guide.

Why Everyone Should Be an Expat at Some Point in Their Lives

So far we have lived in two countries as expats: China and Thailand, and we wouldn’t trade this experience abroad for anything.

Actually living in a new country is completely different from just visiting one. We believe everyone would benefit from life as an expat, whether it’s a six month stint, several years, or for the rest of their lives.

We met as expats living in China. 

Why? Here’s what we believe you’ll gain from making another country your home:

An Open Mind

Okay, so there are a few things in life that can pop that bubble everyone lives in for awhile during their youth. Maybe you had some epiphany-type moments at university, or when you met someone living a very life than you’re used to, or when you read a certain book.

But there is really nothing that compares to how expat life can open your mind. You’ll notice things about your old habits, home, and culture that you’ve never even given a second thought before.

You realize that the word “normal” really means nothing, and we are all products of our culture to some degree.

In China we were shocked by how people behaved trying to get on the metro (literally shoving their way on, no lines, no rules). In Thailand we weren’t thrilled with the sights (or smells) of squid on a stick that seemed to be at every street food vendor.

But eventually the shock fades, you stop comparing everything to what you’re used to, and you adapt to your new normal. You’ll find yourself becoming a less judgmental person who understands that there is rarely just one “right” way to do things, and you don’t immediately get upset when someone does something you’d have previously perceived as rude or strange.

You’ll also be amazed by some differences that seem so obviously better when compared to back home – such as a drastically lower cost of living, less red tape and tiresome regulations, better living amenities (beautiful swimming pools, saunas, and gyms are the norm in Thailand), and a culture that actually welcomes foreigners and values global awareness.

Not the best sight and smell we’ve came across. 

Amazing New Friends

Remember when you went to university and finding new friends was easy and natural? The expat community in most cities is kind of like that.

People worry about being lonely in a foreign country, but we’ve actually had the opposite experience. Nearly everyone we meet has a shared love for travel and adventure – even if we have nothing else in common, there is always that to fall back on. And everyone is looking for new friends because we’re all in the same boat when we arrive: unsettled and ready to find our new social circle.

Comfort with Your Style and Looks

You can forget about blending in – no matter how you dress, you will look out of place as a foreigner.

So if you used to make fashion choices based on just going along with the crowd, you’ll quickly lose that thought process. You’ll embrace a style that is more comfortable or genuine for you – whether it’s something a little wild, a little plain, or a little outdated. You’ll be happier with your look, and no one else will care – there is such a mixture of cultures and styles in the expat community, there is not one expected way to dress anymore.

Nobody cares what you look like. 

A Break from Materialism

The more we move around, the fewer bags we need, and the emptier our remaining bags become. Material items become less important, or even burdensome. You’ll discover the freedom that comes with owning less stuff, and you’ll find you prefer spending money on new experiences rather than new things. Flights, food, events, and socializing – isn’t that what really makes us happy?

A Healthier Financial Life

If you are living in a country with a lower cost of living, saving your money is easy. We can easily tuck money away while also traveling every couple months and enjoying a comfortable day-to-day life.

Epic trips can happen often! 

Easier Goodbyes

This could be seen as a negative, but the expat life is full of goodbyes. If you aren’t about to leave, one of your best friends is. You won’t go a year without a goodbye. The first couple will be tough. But then you’ll feel yourself getting stronger.

Is this because your heart is hardening? We don’t think so. Instead, we think we are learning that friendships can stay healthy and active regardless of location. We currently have friends all around the world, and we love it.

There is always someone to miss, but there is also always someone to catch up with, someone who is eager to hear the details of our lives and wants to share their own adventures. And we always have fun new places to visit on our holidays!

Confidence

You get so many stares when you are obviously foreign. You’ll also embarrass yourself a million times doing things the wrong way in an unfamiliar culture. And if you’re trying to speak a new language or use body language to communicate? Even more opportunities to look ridiculous.

Eventually you stop caring. You accept that you’ll often be the center of attention, and that people are occasionally going to see you as stupid, crazy, or silly. Why does it matter? The peace and freedom that comes with this revelation is priceless.

We’re often seen as silly!

More Self Knowledge

When living abroad, you’re always trying new things. You discover you start liking things you’ve always claimed to hate. In Thailand, many expats will develop a taste for spicy food – or at least a tolerance for it. You’ll also find yourself turning away from things you used to love or depend on – like getting around by car.

Maturity

For us, the biggest reason to live abroad is that it really forces you to grow up and take responsibility for yourself. You realize that you are more capable and more resilient than you ever thought. You become a lot more independent. You think more for yourself, and you realize that you are in charge of your own life. You have control over every decision about how you’ll spend the rest of your life. That alone makes it all worthwhile.

Returning Home

You might think being away for years means that when you return home it’s going to be like a foreign experience itself. It’s not.

We’ve never gone home for longer than a few weeks, but even during a short visit you’ll slip back in to your old life very easily. In a matter of days it’ll feel like you’ve never left.

Yes, people get on with their lives whether you are there or not, but nothing else changes that much – not the things that matter. You’ll see the same faces, pass by the same local stores, and eat the same meals. It will be familiar and comforting, and you won’t feel as if you’ve missed out on anything by going abroad.

Enjoy your new abode! You’re not missing anything back home!  

Do you agree with these points? What do you think is the best thing you’ve gained by living as an expat? We’d love to hear.

 

Travelers often get asked how we’re able to find the money, time, or courage to go abroad.

Want to know how We do it?

Click here for a FREE guide.