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Travel Life

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Minimalism & Travel Life

After living abroad for a few years now, my life seems pretty normal to me. I have a steady job, a consistent social life, bills to pay, and a favorite coffee shop that I visit regularly.

But sometimes it really hits me that my life today couldn’t be more different than it was 3 years ago.

And I don’t just mean the obvious, outward differences – like how everyone around me is speaking Thai, driving motorbikes, and eating really spicy food.

Sometimes it feels like I created a whole new world for myself when I became an expat.

When I think about my American life, I remember feeling so immobile and weighed down by all my responsibilities and possessions. I read a couple blogs about minimalism and location independence. The thought of getting rid of most of my stuff and being able to easily move where I wanted, when I wanted, was so attractive to me. But it also seemed impossible.

I had shelves and shelves of things – how could I move freely around the world?

Years later, when I was preparing to move to China, I loved the feeling of dropping off all my stuff at charity shops. I loved getting all my stuff down to just three bags.

When I moved to Thailand, I only needed two bags – both carry-ons.

One of my favorite feelings: being at the airport with a one-way ticket and only a couple bags.

Being abroad has reshaped my perspective in many ways – one of the most important ways is showing me how to fully embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

Why Minimalism?

So why is this such a big deal to me?

First, it has made life a lot more peaceful. The less things I have, the less I have to worry about. I don’t need a big apartment to fit all my stuff. I have less to organize and clean.

When it’s time to move, which happens often as an expat, it takes less than hour to pack. It still shocks me how little I really need, and I love it.

It’s also cheaper because I rarely shop for anything I don’t need. I now believe that spending money can easily become an addiction. I used to get a strange pleasure from buying something, even if I knew it wouldn’t have much use in my life.

Today, my money mostly pays for experiences and memories, not little knick-knacks. These expenses are more meaningful and worthwhile 100 times over, and they’ll never be lost, broken, or taken from me.

I’d much rather spend my money on creating these memories.

Minimalist Travel

I have also learned to pack very lightly when I travel. I don’t think I’ll ever go on another short-term trip with more than a backpack. Simon and I even share one backpack on trips that are 4 days or fewer.

Giving up giant rolling luggage has brought me so much freedom as a traveler. My stuff is easy to carry while staying handsfree. I can quickly throw everything in my bag and change locations every couple days without a worry.

Minimalist Tips

If you want to travel (or live) with fewer things, here’s the best advice I’ve received: Get rid of anything that you don’t find useful or meaningful. If you’re struggling to give something up, put it in a box and write the date on it. If you haven’t taken it out in 6 months, give it away. If you have a lot of nostalgic, sentimental items, take pictures of them instead.

Giving Up Souvenirs

For many travelers, souvenir shopping is a huge part of their trips. I used to be the same way, but I noticed that most of my souvenirs didn’t have that foreign spark when I got home with them. Again, these became meaningless trinkets that took up space in my bag (and later my apartment).

Here are some things I find way more valuable than a typical souvenir:

– Photos
– Videos
– Journal entries
– Screenshots of my social media posts or messages to friends during the trip
– A copy of the playlist I was listening to
– Contact information of new friends I’ve met

Has traveling made you less attached to stuff and more interested in life experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Expats: When Is It Time to Move On?

If there is any word that describes us, it would probably have to be restless. While many of our closest friends and family back home seem to find great satisfaction in settling down, creating a home, and growing roots, we are always craving something new, something adventurous, and something foreign.

This is the main reason we have chosen life as expats. We can’t imagine ourselves ever staying in one place too long.

We’re always on the go!

But time does seem to speed up sometimes, and many fellow expats talk about waking up one day to realize they’ve been in the same place for years – even though that wasn’t their intention.

We have so many places we want to live and experience as expats, not just travelers. So we know we have to guard ourselves from accidentally settling down.

When do we think it’s time to move on? These telltale signs are red flags for us:

Life starts to become routine.
We are living abroad because we want an exciting life. When our home base loses its luster and routines become the norm, it’s time to shake things up. Some questions to ask yourself: Are you eating the same meals from the same restaurants every day? Is every road familiar to you now? Has it been months since you’ve tried something new?

You aren’t as excited to return “home” after a holiday anymore.
One of the best parts about living as an expat is that you don’t experience the end-of-holiday blues anymore – you love your travels, AND you love being “home” in your new country. But when your return to day-to-day life is getting you down, it might be time to consider moving on.

How are you feeling on your return flight?

You’re getting annoyed easily.
You might find yourself becoming irritable at the most trivial things and start blaming it on the country. Traffic, slow service, even the weather – is it getting under your skin and affecting your moods?

You are no longer surprised by cultural differences.
When you first arrived, there was a surprise around every corner. People and life were unpredictable. Everything felt so random, and it was easy to romanticize the weirdest things – even crapping on squatter toilets or the crazy Asian way of driving. But eventually that surprise fades, and you start knowing what to expect. It’s time for a new challenge!

Bangkok’s traffic is beyond words.

A lot of your friends have already moved on.
One of the best parts of being an expat is finding friends who also love to travel. But your social circle will constantly be evolving because people are coming and going all the time. If your original group of friends has dwindled, it probably means you’ve been settled in for awhile. Are you ready to try something new, too?

You’ve explored most of the country and its surroundings.
Seeing an entire country or region is impossible, but if you live somewhere long enough it might feel like you have. If you’re planning your next long weekend, and you’re feeling like you’ve already done it all, it’s probably time to set up home in a new part of the world.

Your reasons for staying are mostly about finances.
There are plenty of countries where you can get a good paycheck compared to the low cost of living. If you’ve been somewhere too long, you might start to think you’ll never get it this good anywhere else. There are actually opportunities all around the world. Relocating might take a little extra coin, but finances definitely don’t need to hold you back.

Your reasons for staying are about comfort and ease.
Maybe you’re enjoying the comfortable life you’ve made. If you are truly happy, that is great! But think back to the day you first left your home country. Were you looking for comfort? Did you want an easy life? Or were you expecting something more? Have those desires changed?

You aren’t feeling inspired at work anymore.
If your expat life is tied to your career, staying fresh and motivated at your job is essential. As teachers, we can fall in a rut if we stay put too long. New schools and new students give us a boost of energy and inspiration, especially when we are switching to a new age group, subject, or educational approach.

You need a lot of energy and creativity to teach!

Leave while it’s still good.
Actually, our best advice is to leave before any of the above happens. In fact, we think it’s best to leave when things are still really exciting and fun. Why? Because you are preserving your memories and leaving on a high note. If you wait until life is getting a bit stale, that might be what you remember when thinking back to that city. It’s a brave decision to make your exit during happier times, but wouldn’t it be horrible to resent a place that’s give you some of the best memories of your life?

We’d love to hear from other expats! When do you decide to move on? Have you ever stayed somewhere too long? Share your experiences below.

 

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A Traveler’s Bucketlist – Beyond Sightseeing

When it comes to traveling, there are countless preferences, styles, and activities. Every traveler has their own pace, their own favorites, and their own frustrations.

While we will never deny we love a good tourist hotspot, we’ve also discovered that most of our memorable moments and fun days do not come from sightseeing.

Instead, we get the most excited about new experiences we have while exploring the world. So while many of our pictures may feature us at the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, or the Great Wall of China, our best stories take place in an entirely different setting.

If you can relate, this travel bucket list is for you. It won’t send you to any famous landmarks, but we think you’ll definitely have a worthwhile and adventurous trip if you can check off all or some of this list.

Camel Riding – While it wasn’t always the most comfortable experience, seeing the desert by camel was an unforgettable experience. I never realized how tall a camel is, and it took a lot of balance and core strength to keep from slipping off. The tour guide who took us out also provided two home-cooked meals and time to lie outside under the stars.

Boat Parties – If you’re by the coast and have a decent group of friends to split the cost, you can rent a boat and crew for a party on the water. We did this in Oman, and it was beautiful, fun, and relaxing.

Hot Springs – One of our favorite things to do in China was visit a Hot Springs park. Small pools are scattered throughout a flower garden, and the idea is to soak in each one by one. Despite being called “hot” springs, they range in temperature from practically boiling to ice cold. They also have a variety of aromas and medicinal properties, relieving stress, arthritis, acne, or inflammation.

Cliff Diving – Simon loves these high-adrenaline activities, whereas Kristin is much more nervous about heights. Whichever side you fall on, you should try it at least once. You’ll feel unbelievably free and come up laughing afterward, we promise.

Festivals – One of the best ways to get to know a new culture is to celebrate one of their holidays alongside them. We definitely recommend Songkran in Thailand, and there are several others we hope to experience one day (Mardi Gras, Holi, and more).

Cooking Classes – Loving the local food? In many countries, you can find one-time cooking classes designed for travelers. We signed up for one in India and had a great evening trying something new (and stuffing our faces).

Safaris – It’s always surreal to watch certain wild animals in their natural habitat, especially when you have only seen them in zoos before.

Motorbike Trips – If you had asked me five years ago if I’d ever get on a motorbike, I would have laughed. Now it’s one of my favorite ways to explore an island, mountain town, or small village.

Exploring by Water – You can get an entirely new perspective on some cities if you go by boat, kayak, canoe, or even paddle board. If you’re ever in my hometown, Anna Maria, I definitely recommend getting up and down all our canals. You’ll be right in our backyards and eventually find yourself at the beach.

Old Forts and Castles (with a twist) – Okay, so this one is creeping into sightseeing territory. But we did have a blast one day when we explored an old Omani fort that was basically empty except for us. Instead of browsing the fort slowly, reading everything, we decided to play hide and seek. It was really funny, way more entertaining, and we still were able to see everything.

This list is just based on our own experiences – there is plenty more to do out there! Share your best travel experiences with us, and maybe we’ll also give it a try.

 

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Tips for Traveling Vegetarians

When traveling, many people discover that they actually need fewer things than they once thought. If you want it to be, life can surprisingly simple.

I’m happy with a bed to sleep in, a few changes of clothes, and my phone to help out with local maps, translation, keeping in touch, and entertainment.

And a few meals a day, of course. Sound easy? It is! But many think finding these meals would be a challenge for me while traveling since I am a vegetarian.

My favorite pasta dish in Italy

It’s true that many cultures around the world eat very meat-heavy diets, and the concept of vegetarianism isn’t too popular.

But I have never gone hungry anywhere. I’ve eaten a few strange meals, usually on my first day somewhere, but in the end vegetarian food is always accessible without any worries.

Spring rolls and egg coffee in Vietnam

If you are also vegetarian and you’re worried about an upcoming trip, here are my best tips:

Learn a little about the food before you go. No matter where you’re heading, it only takes a quick google search to discover the most popular dishes. Find out if any of the common local cuisine is suited for your diet. Then keep a look out for these items on menus.

Learn how to say “vegetarian” or “I don’t want meat” in the local language. When I lived in China, I would just say “bu yao rou” (don’t want meat) if I couldn’t figure out the menu. A few minutes later, I’d be handed something vegetarian. Thailand has been a little trickier as not all food vendors will make something vegetarian for me, but if I say “mungsawirat” (vegetarian) I will usually at least be pointed to a place that can serve me.

My first couple meals in China

Combine sides to make a meal. I have actually done this my whole vegetarian life, even prior to my time abroad. It’s why I constantly reassure my friends that I can figure out something to eat no matter what restaurant they choose. I don’t need any of my food to be labeled a “main course.” Give me a salad, potatoes, and some beans. Altogether it fills me up just fine.

Look for western restaurants. We’ve yet to visit any city that didn’t have a least a couple western restaurants. Even if the traditional local meals always include meat, you’ll likely find some familiar vegetarian food on a more international menu.

Talk to other travelers or expats. Meeting fellow vegetarian or vegan travelers has been very common for me. I’ve probably met more abroad than I did back home. Ask them where they have been eating and share tips.

Pastries, crepes, cheese, and chocolate in France – maybe not the healthiest, but it’s all vegetarian 🙂

Go to the grocery store. If you’re really stuck (which, again, has honestly never happened to me) then you are guaranteed to find vegetarian food at the grocery store. There isn’t a country in the world that isn’t selling rice, beans, potatoes, fruit, and veggies at the market.

Cooking in India

Pack your own. This is completely unnecessary, but it can give you some peace of mind if you are still worried. The first time I left the country I was heading to Tanzania and I had no idea what to expect. I stuck several jars of peanut butter in my bag for safety.

I’d love to hear from other vegetarian travelers! How do you usually find the best food abroad? What country was best for meat-free diets? And where was it more of a challenge?

 

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Beyond Teaching English: Job Opportunities Abroad

It’s time to bust this myth: Teaching English is not the only job you can do while living abroad.

Many people, including ourselves, want to travel for a long time.

Years, if not forever.

In order to do this, money is obviously required. So unless you have rich daddy, you’ll most likely need a job.

Teaching English is a common solution, and it’s the perfect fit for us. We love teaching and traveling, so combining the two is perfect.

But teaching is mentally, emotionally, and even physically exhausting. A break is needed from time to time, even for those who see teaching as their greatest passion.

Other people just don’t like teaching English. It’s not the career for them.

And that’s fine! Because teaching English is not the only job you can get abroad. Below we have a list of many other routes you could go down.

First, there are other types of teaching jobs you could have.

Teach at an International or Bilingual School

English isn’t the only subject you can teach abroad. Most countries have international schools for students who already have high English proficiency and who want to have most or all of their education in English. Bilingual schools are similar – students take classes in both languages with a English-speaking teacher half the time and a local teacher half the time. Qualifications needed will vary based on the school and the country.

Teach a Skill

Can you guide a yoga or fitness class? Give piano lessons? Teach coding, graphic design, or website development? Turn these special skills into your career abroad. This might mean starting your business, or sniffing around to see which studios, gyms or learning centers are hiring.

Childcare

If you enjoy working with very young children, you can find nanny jobs in many countries. Parents might be looking for an English-speaking nanny with hopes that their children will pick up the language naturally from a young age.

THEN, There’s other jobs completely.

Bar Work

If you have some experience bartending, this could be a great way to earn money to pay your hotel bills, save some money for your next flight, and continue traveling. You’ll also have fun and meet some great people. A few countries have laws against foreigners working in bars, but many don’t, so don’t let this restriction discourage you.

Translators

Can you speak more than one language? If so, there are many opportunities available for you! Companies need translators all around the world to help with speaking, writing, and reading tasks.

Editing

No matter where you travel, you’ll find English on billboards, signs, flyers, and menus – often with a few errors. Companies wanting to create high-quality ads and products will hire native speakers to check their copy for any mistakes before they publish or distribute. You also might find some students who will pay you to correct their essays or school projects – if you are comfortable in this ethical gray area.

Writing

Nearly every major city around the world will have some English media, such as newspapers, magazine, or websites. These publications need writers to produce great content with the natural ability of a fluent speaker.

Working Holiday Visa

Many countries offer an opportunity to work and travel in their territory with the right visa. While the terms may differ, the idea is that you can stay in the country for a longer period of time than the typical tourist, and you’ll be able apply for available jobs and fund your time there. Some countries that offer this are the USA, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Ireland and Singapore.

Farm Work

Not only will you get a steady paycheck, you’ll typically get a free room during your stay on the farm. This is a popular choice for expats in Australia, a country that requires farm work from anyone who wants to stay longer than a year. These types of opportunities can also be found in other countries. It can be hard work, but produce continues to grow and labour is always needed. Why not commit to a short period, make some good money, and fund another few months of travel?

Photographer

If you have good equipment, good knowledge, and a good eye, you can make some money selling stock photos, working for magazines or websites, or even being hired as a personal photographer. You can also advertise your skills to couples planning a destination wedding abroad.

Tour Guides

If you know a city well (or you’re a fast learner) and you’re a naturally friendly, talkative person, tours might be the right line of work for you. If a city has a healthy tourism industry, you can bet they have a need for English-speaking tour guides.

Work on a Cruise

This is a great opportunity to get around the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and a few other areas of the world while working. From entertaining kids to working a casino table, there are a variety of positions available on cruise lines.

Flight Attendant

Not only do airline employees fly around the world while working, getting a couple nights in top hotels, they can also fly for free on their off days. If you have experience in customer service, you might qualify for a job.

Acting or Modeling

We’ve known many expats who earn extra money this way. If there is a role that requires your look, there will probably be less competition abroad. These opportunities range from speaking roles on TV to simply being an extra in the background of a scene.

Beauty, Hair, and Massage

Plenty of travelers with salon experience are funding their travels by offering cheap haircuts and other beauty services to the people they meet while traveling.

Arts and Crafts

A friend of ours started a business in designing bracelets. Do you have a creative or artistic talent? Use it to bring in some cash.

Volunteering

Don’t rule out an opportunity just because it’s described as volunteering. Foreign volunteers are often given free housing and food, and some even receive a very small amount of money that can be saved if you try hard enough. Look into the terms of each position.

Your Profession

Look into your own industry to see if there are opportunities abroad we haven’t mentioned. For example, nurses, librarians, or researchers can all find programs that place them in temporary jobs around the world where there are shortages in their field.

Housesitting

Many homeowners with expensive properties will let you stay at their place for free to simply watch it. Some might pay you to watch their poodle. A good website to check this is TrustedHousesitters.com

 

The great thing is that this list isn’t even close exhaustive. There really are so many opportunities around the world, we could never name them all. What are we forgetting? Let us know in the comments.

 

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How to Handle Culture Shock

As we’ve recently discussed, living in a foreign country as an expat is hugely different from traveling during short-term trips.

In July 2015, this difference really hit me, and it wasn’t a subtle realization.

I was sitting at the dinner table in my soon-to-be apartment, uncomfortable and confused as my new real estate agent and potential landlord rapidly spoke Chinese to each other. It seemed like they were shouting most of the time. They weren’t smiling. Occasionally I’d be asked a question that I never knew the context of – was I Russian? Who was my employer? Was I taking Chinese classes? I’d answer, the landlord would nod curtly, the real estate agent would sigh or roll her eyes – because of me? Because of the landlord?

This conversation lasted from 6pm to 11pm, and I still wasn’t sure if I was getting the apartment at the end of it.

Leaving, I didn’t remember where the metro was – I got pretty lost looking for it. Taxi drivers were baffled by my hotel’s address, several just shaking their heads at me and driving off. I thought the street I was walking down was terrifying after dark. It smelled strange and I saw more than a few rats that were basically the size of small dogs.

This was a whole new experience and assortment of feelings for me. I felt out of place, vulnerable, and overwhelmingly confused.

Before I moved to China, I had been warned about the culture shock I’d most likely encounter. I wasn’t taken completely off guard by any of my negative thoughts. I knew they were natural, and that they’d pass.

Five Stages

True to my nature, I had done plenty of research before beginning my life abroad, and I repeatedly read about these 5 stages for expat life:

1. Honeymoon – At first you’re just thrilled with everything about your new home. It’s a bit like falling in love, where every quirk is fascinating and beautiful. You can’t imagine ever feeling differently.

2. Frustration – But no infatuation lasts forever. Soon little cultural differences will start to rub against you and irritate you. Things were just easier at home. You’ll start to compare your routines, values, and world views with those around you – and secretly you’ll decide that your way is the better way.
3. Adjustment – Hopefully you’ll reach this stage sooner rather than later. It will begin to dawn on you that there is no “better” ways, just different ways. If you’re going to live somewhere long term, you’ll have to learn to live like the locals do in many ways.
4. Acceptance – Here’s where you’ll find a good sense of peace. At this stage, your foreign environment now seems normal to you. You are comfortable and at home.
5. Reversal – But you still have one hurdle left: going home. Whether you’re returning for a short visit or to move back permanently, most expats say they feel a bit out of place when they try to rejoin their old communities. It’s not until you’re back in a familiar setting that you’ll realize how much you’ve been affected by your new culture.

What Does Culture Shock Feel Like?

Just being able to name an uncomfortable feeling can cause it to lose power, so knowing what thoughts can be classified as “culture shock” can definitely help you to not be overwhelmed by your first few months abroad.

Helplessness – It’s normal to feel a bit lost when it comes to many of the tasks you’ll need to complete upon arrival, from finding an apartment to setting up a bank account. These processes will likely work differently than you’re used to, and you’ll be trying to communicate with people who speak a different language.

Mistrust – After I had been in China awhile, it became easy to spot a newbie expat because they often seemed kind of paranoid. They’d think that all taxi drivers were trying to scam them, or that all local food would make them sick, or that they needed to be safely home every day before sunset. An unfamiliar environment can stir up a lot of fear, whether it’s rational or not.

Annoyance – Irritability is another tell-tale symptom of culture shock. Maybe you’ll find the locals to be too loud, too polite, too slow, or too pushy. You might want to change the way things are done to make everything easier, clearer, or nicer.

Loneliness – Finally, it’s normal to feel lonely at first. At home you had relationships you spent years building. Now all your friends are brand new. It takes time to build intimacy and genuine closeness.

Now What?

So you’ve determined that you are experiencing culture shock – what can you do about it?

Don’t pack up your bags quite yet. This phase is only temporary, and if you understand why you’re feeling the way you do it’s much easier to overcome. Try these tips to help yourself deal better:

– Talk about it with another expat.
– But then take your mind off it by doing something you enjoy.
– Take note of positive things you observe. Write them down.
– Ask a lot of questions and make very few judgments about your new culture.
– Guard your thoughts – don’t allow yourself to compare this culture with your home culture.
– Befriend locals, not just other expats.
– Stay in touch with loved ones back home.

Have you ever experienced culture shock while living abroad? How did you handle it?

 

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An Honest Review of Van Life in Australia

For years, the idea of a long road trip through Australia seemed like such an adventure.

In fact, for many Brits and Americans, Australia is talked about as an ultimate travel destination. For myself, the appeal was the size of the country. There’s so much to see, from the all the coastal cities to the huge outback.

So a couple years ago, I packed up a bag, hopped on a plane to Oz, and started traveling around in an old van with some friends. We worked on farms for funds, food, and boarding. This lasted for 6 months, and here’s an honest assessment of what my experience was like.

Let the journey begin!

The Good

The freedom is unbelievable.

Your life is mobile, so you can go anywhere, any time. You aren’t tied down to anything. Don’t like a job? You can leave the day you began. Or you can just pop to the beach or turn down a road because you see a sign for something interesting. You may find yourself becoming part of the community in a random cheese village called Bega, or maybe you’ll end up camping in the woods surrounded by kangaroos. Your only real possession is a van, the van has wheels, and Australia has many roads to drive them on.

There are some stunning places to drive to.

You’re never far from a place to stay or a grill to cook on.

In most ways, Australia is a very expensive country. Food is expensive. Hotels are expensive. Petrol is expensive. But if you’re up for some camping, you can always find free campsites that provide somewhere to park your van, set up your tent, get some free drinking water, grill up a meal, and take a shower. If you can afford a cheap kangaroo burger, you’ll always have a place to cook it and rest after.

The beaches are plentiful.

Most major Australian cities are on the coast. Wherever your road trip takes you, you’ll probably be pretty close to a beach. Because beaches are everywhere, they don’t get too crowded. I loved having stunning, empty beaches around every corner.

The country is made up of amazing beaches.

The Bad

The Farm Work

If you want to stay in Australia for a second year, you have to complete 90 days of agricultural work. Admittedly, it’s probably a good idea by the Australian government. To earn another visa, you have to give something back to the country. But, good idea or not, it’s just torture for those of us on the farms.

I never even wanted a second year, but I also found that farms were the only jobs with short-term positions available. Unless you have specific professional skills or bar experience, then your opportunities are pretty limited.

Lots of people think three months on a farm will be easy and quick. They’ll just get it done, and then they’ll have their visa sorted. What they don’t account for is just how hard it is!

At first it was kind of refreshing. I had been teaching for a few years, and it was nice to have a break while I did a job that was so simple and mindless. But it wasn’t long before it became unbearable. The farms have you working 12 hour days, 7 days a week, rain or shine. They have you lifting heavy cabbages for three straight hours, and then hacking broccoli until your fingers nearly bleed. It’s monotonous, it’s boring and some of the farmers can be absolute pricks. We lasted 5 weeks on a vegetable farm in Bathurst before we told the farmer to shove it!

This photo is the definition of ‘let’s pretend I’m loving life on the farm for Facebook’

The Cost

It’s a very expensive country! This is not the place for you if you are after a budget trip. Towards the end of the trip I decided to stay on another three weeks in a hostel in Melbourne. The idea was to sell the van during this time, but in the end I was spending money pointlessly in order to get the van money that wouldn’t even repay what I’d spent. Even when you’re making frugal decisions, you’ll feel like you’re bleeding money.

The Culture

Australia is not the best travel destination for Brits or Americans who are looking for a different cultural experience. It’s basically the same as Britain, just a lot hotter and with more beaches.

The Strict Alcohol Laws

If you like a good party when you travel, Australia can be a bit of a struggle. While we had many cracking nights, this was usually because we were naked in campsite pools or crashing a Christmas party at a local pub. It was never because of the bars or the ease of getting alcohol. The bars close far too early, and Aussie bartenders or door staff will decide when you’re too drunk and cut you off. Now when I was 18 – 21, I needed to be told this many times, but by 25 I knew my own drinking limits.

The Van Repairs

Buying your own van is a risk, and we ended up with a right banger. Assume that it will break down a million times. Australia has a lot of middle-of-nowhere roads, so the cost of a breakdown lorry is expensive – not to mention the repairs. I’d also advise not getting too attached to your van. We did, and we ended up paying way more for repairs than the van was ever worth.

Our poor van! 

A lot of people romanticize a van trip around Australia. Yes, it had many once-in-a-lifetime moments, but it also had a lot of struggles that I did not expect before I arrived. I hope this will give future Aussie explorers a more accurate idea of what their experience might be like.

Is there anything we’ve missed? Is there anything we’re wrong about? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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