On February 16, 2012 we hopped aboard a plane bound for South Korea with two carry on bags, two personal items, and four checked bags. Little did we know our short year in Korea would turn out to be three years abroad, but here we are. We’ve since downgraded all we own from those four checked bags to two due to international regulations and hard core fees (problems with living outside the US), but it’s been for the better I think.
Our expat anniversary also aligns with the blogiversary of LIAL. I started this blog back in February of 2012 as a way for my family to keep in touch with us. Look at it now?! I would have never dreamed I would be sitting here, writing for thousands of loving followers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being wonderful and encouraging via comments, emails, tweets, instagrams and more over the last three years!
Traveling and living abroad teaches you a lot of things about life, and I’ve listed below what I feel it has taught me in the last 1,095 days. Some of these you may have read from me before, but they’re very dear to my heart.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read up on a place and the writer’s assumptions and feelings were completely different than my own. The most significant instance of this would be when we visited Vietnam. I read review after review of people who hated it due to the poor surroundings, safety issues, and more. However, Derik and I LOVED Vietnam. We only had a week to travel while visiting, and I wish we would have had more! Sure it’s not plush or comfortable to Western standards, but it’s perfect if you know how to prepare for it. We couldn’t get over the food (seriously some of the best in Asia), travel costs, and the sites you’d see on the road!
Reading trip reviews are always great because you know how to prepare for your travels, but don’t let them sway your decision completely about traveling to a destination or not. If a location is really up for debate, write down a list of pros and cons (using only facts not speculation or opinion) and decide if it’s worth it to you to book the trip or not.
Open yourself up to the unknown
Travel isn’t always comfortable, but that’s what makes it so special. If you can learn and grow as an individual during your time in a place that is totally out of your element, you’ll treasure each destination you visit that much more! Sometimes we learn positive things from a place, sometimes negative; it’s all a learning and growing process!
The thing about traveling globally is that you realize there is more than one way to live life. People are not going to do things the way you were taught growing up, and that may frustrate the crap out of you at first. If you can open your mind up a bit to embrace or at least understand other cultural norms, you might actually find them endearing and maybe even easier for you to practice in your own life!
Packing less is more
I can’t tell you how true this statement is, especially if you’re traveling a long way internationally. If you can learn to pack only a carry-on bag, you will save yourself a TON of hassle at the airport at check-in and arrival! On our last adventure, Derik and I decided to pack a checked bag because we were going on a cruise and wanted to bring a few fancy items to wear. Boy was that the biggest mistake ever. Turns out Jetstar has this outrageous policy that basically states they can charge you whatever they want to check in a bag at the counter if you didn’t reserve it online. Jetstar NZ decided that price for us was $250; talk about first-day vacation ruiner. If that incident wasn’t enough, we forgot we would have to carry the dang bag from the airport onto public transportation, and then lug it down to the cruise terminal on the first day, and then do it all over again when we returned.
I’ve never hated a checked bag more in my life.
We typically pack a 55L backpack each, and even though there are a few sacrifices, we’re still able to pack more than enough for a 2 month trip in a tropical location. It is a little more of a challenge when you have to pack for cold weather, but thankfully then you’re not sweating as much as you would those summer months, and that means your clothes will stay fresher smelling longer.
Don’t be afraid to ask
It can be daunting to go up to a complete stranger (who may or may not speak an unrecognizable language) and ask for directions or advice. However, if it saves you a few hours of trying to do or find something yourself, you might as well swallow that fear and give it a go. Worst case scenario? You and the stranger don’t understand each other. Smile, wave, and move on.
Some fail-safe places/people to ask for advice or help? Information centers (they almost always speak English), currency exchange banks, or even a younger adult female. I don’t know why, but younger women (18-30) tend to be more friendly and helpful, and often speak English due to school requirements.
Being overly cautious isn’t a terrible thing
You can’t ever be too safe. If you’re getting a gut feeling about things and the hairs on the back of your neck start standing up, leave your situation like the house you’re sleeping in is on fire. Your natural instincts are usually correct. Be safe, be prepared, know what you’re getting into. Don’t carry all your money at the same time, leave passports back in your hotel safe or hidden in a good spot in your room, wear culturally acceptable clothes, and don’t take out the camera or your phone if you know it’s the most expensive item in the neighborhood.
You are never alone
Traveling and living as an expat abroad can be really difficult. I’ve gone through serious bouts of loneliness, have had the feeling that no one understands me, and have been completely stressed out to the max due to the immigration office contacting me. But guess what? There are countless other traveler/expats out there that can relate 100% to what I’m going through! We’ve all been there. The cool thing is, when you meet someone that has lived in a similar situation to you, for some reason the two of you just ‘click’ due to the things you’ve experienced and seen.
One of the most amazing things about Living in Another Language is discovering all the men and women that are on this journey with me or aspire to be! We are a community who loves seeing new places, experiencing new things, and discovering who we are.
Thank you for following along in the last 1,095 days. I would have never in a million years though I would still be sitting on the other side of the world right now. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have the opportunity to travel, encourage, learn, and create!
Here’s to the next 1,095+ more!