Life as a Traveler vs. Life as an Expat

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Walking the streets of Venice, Italy

A lot of people think that traveling the world is very exciting, and it is! It’s interesting to learn about new cultures, it’s fun to try new activities you may have never even heard of, and it’s (sometimes) yummy to try new foods! But when most people picture this around-the-world adventure, they picture traveling as a tourist. Everyone is having fun all the time on vacation, right? That may work for 2-3 weeks, but after that, you will probably start to get tired, and one cathedral just blurs into the next. It can be overwhelming for some people.

Living out of a Suitcase

Say you’re European and have a gap year, where you’re planning to go with your boyfriend on an epic adventure and back-pack around the world. Sounds great! Some people really do love doing this, but I’m not one of them, and I know a lot of people are like me. Living out of a suitcase isn’t always glamorous, and a backpack is even worse! In fact, a lot of these people end up stopping for a month or two in Sucre, Bolivia (where I’m living right now) because it’s a great city to chill, volunteer, and take Spanish classes while regrouping for the next leg of your adventure across South America.

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Skydiving in Australia

If you hit each city for only 2-3 days at a time, you never have time to make friends, know your favourite café, or have a chill day. Since you’re only in a place for a few days, you feel like you need to “make the most” out of every day. Having a chill day often isn’t an option because you need to see the basilica, try surfing, go for a hike on an exciting trail, see the sunset from a certain lookout, and try the top five best restaurants in the city! It can be overwhelming. If you do get sick or just sleep in until 2 pm then you can easily get FOMO (fear of missing out). This is especially true in huge cities like New York or London where there are hundreds of different things you feel like you SHOULD do while you’re there. You may not even be able to do laundry because your clothes won’t have enough time to dry, and since you’re not in the city for a full week, you can’t even participate in the fun activities that only happen on Friday nights.

I’m not against traveling in this way. If you only have a few weeks, you should try to fit in as much fun and adventure as you can! It’s a great way to see places like Europe where there are so many exciting places close together. That’s what I did when I was 18 and ready for adventure. By the end, I was tired, but I loved every minute of it and don’t regret a thing. However, when I tried to do the same for 6 weeks in South America two year ago it wasn’t so easy. By about week four, I was burnt out, tired of looking at old churches (which are very beautiful but also pretty similar), and my favourite day was sleeping in until noon and then going to get ice cream in the afternoon in Chile. Some people never get tired and are able to keep their energy level and excitement up for months or years at a time. If you’re one of those people, then you should totally travel like that. However, for people who don’t have unlimited energy (like me), I also think there’s something nice about staying for a few months and really getting to know a place.

Starting to Feel at Home

There’s only so long I can handle being on the road.  Some people want to go on an “around the world adventure” and only stay for a few days in each city, for months or years at a time.  I don’t think I’m that type of traveler.  Yes, I love to travel, and I’ve been to many countries on six different continents (no Antarctica yet), but I prefer to stay in each country for at least a few weeks or months at a time.  I like having somewhere to settle in and find a home. Once I’m there, I can explore.

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Setting up an apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh

My favourite part about living in a new place is that it gives you lots of opportunities to travel! Travel locally within a country/region is ALWAYS cheaper and faster than traveling from the other side of the world. By living somewhere like Sucre (Bolivia), I’m able to travel all around the country on weekends. In the past 6 months, I’ve been able to go to see many different cities (like the silver mines in Potosi, a rural town in Betanzos, the Sunday textile market in Tarabuco, the statue of Christo in Cochabamba, wineries in Tarija, and the hustle-bustle of La Paz). It also allowed use to go to explore Colombia for two weeks over the holidays without spending thousands on airfare.  When you travel from your home-base, it feels exciting because you know it’s just for a weekend. You can run around and do all the touristy things for a few days and then come home to fresh laundry, a real bed, and your new friends.

Living and working in various countries for extended periods of time isn’t for everyone. It’s harder when you have multiple people with different jobs and responsibilities. It can be complicated if you have kids in school. But while I’m young and relatively free, it’s a great choice for me. I’m able to live in different countries for 3 to 6 months at a time. I work in the countries, learn about the culture, have time to explore the region on weekends and holidays, and still have a “home base” apartment in that country where I feel a bit settled. For me, it’s the best of both worlds.

So, what do you do? That’s totally up to you! That’s the great part about being an independent woman in the world today – you have choices, lots of them. If you want to work the 9 to 5 job so that you can afford your mortgage, and therefore you only have only 3 weeks of vacation a year. No worries, that’s doable. You should make the most of your time of and take every opportunity to explore the world! However, if you don’t need that stability, perhaps the “digital nomad” life is for you. Why not sell your stuff (or put it in storage), pack a suitcase, and head to a new place to start a new little life there? Worst case scenario is that you don’t like the city after awhile, so you decide to try a new city, country, or even continent! The whole world is at your fingertips, so I encourage you to go on an adventure, however you feel is the right way for you.  🙂

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