When you’ve got a serious case of the travel bug and haven’t yet been able to nail your behind to one permanent location, despite being the wrong side of 25, it could be time to try moving abroad. By not backpacking you keep the parents happy by showing some semblance of adulthood in your life, but keep your inner desire to bolt for the beach slightly satisfied.
Moving to new places for a few years at a time has been my method of managing the travel bug. But that kind of upheaval, settling in and setting up home, is different to backpacking and takes a little more coordination. Along the way the process has become a little easier and a lot less daunting. I’ve been able to pick up some key processes that help me make my new location my home.
Where to live
If you’re looking for a job abroad and you find one prior to the move then that makes the decision for you. After all, who says no to a teaching job in Bangkok, an internship in Oslo or a position in Oz? But if you’re more focused on the move and less on finding the right job then the world is your oyster – visa permitting.
In my experience it’s best to go where visas allow, where you know you can find work and somewhere you have a friend or two. Anywhere in the EU right now is a great option because it takes away that visa stress, and other English-speaking countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada make the move easier.
In some parts of Asia, Africa, and in the USA residency is a little tougher, so do yourself a favour and pick a destination where legal entry is easier.
Test it out
Unless you’ve done loads of reading and know you’re going to love living there, I suggest taking a mini trip to your potential new home. What if you underestimate Iceland’s temperatures and realize soon after arriving that you can’t hack it? Or what if covering up in the Emirates is just too much?
Save yourself the despair and the dollar and do as much research as you can beforehand to ensure you’re making the right decision.
Manage your money
Again, the amount of money you need depends on your destination, but you don’t need to be as well off as you might think. If you’ve been lucky enough to secure a job as an au pair in the US or as a writer in France then you can pretty much go with a few hundred euro and make it last until your first pay day. If you’re more spontaneous and are going to the Pacific Coast or West Africa hoping to find a job on arrival, take a few grand.
Either way, it’s always best to have a back up stash because phoning home for a loan is never a fun moment.
What to bring
Unfortunately it’s the bare minimum. One of the downsides to hauling your home all over the world means furniture and trinkets are left behind. If there’s a box or two you absolutely need, consider using a service like Luggage Mule to get it delivered.
Generally the rule is if you can’t carry it in a case, leave it.
Let it be known
Possibly the hardest step in moving abroad is telling friends and family. There’ll be mixed reactions, some half-smiles and some bellyaching, some nonchalance and some exasperation; even when they’re used to you flitting off, word of the next million-mile separation is always a tough one to break. Do it gently, dropping hints beforehand, and then pacify with promises of postcards, Skypes and visits.
You’ve made it to the country you’re now proud to call home and it’s time for the tough part.
To take the pressure off finding a home it’s best to book into an Airbnb or to couchsurf for the first month. That way there’s no mad panic and you can ask your hosts for advice. From there, visit estate agents. While it’s tempting to do it all online, going through an agent means they’ll tell you exactly what paperwork you need and will stop you from being scammed. Places like Barcelona have several housing scams running on Craigslist and falling into one can be a costly error.
You’ve got somewhere to sleep and hopefully the job, so now it’s time to sort out your social life. That means being super smiley, chatty and enthusiastic despite your inner cringe-ometer going wild.
Join a gym and talk to people, check out Meetup and head to an advertised gathering. Ask friends of friends you’ve never met who happen to live there to meet and even knock on the neighbours’ doors with treats. It may sound totally old school, but really, when it comes to finding your new best friend, relying on the Internet just won’t do. Once the awkwardness washes away and you’ve got yourself a solid crew you’ll be glad you put yourself out there.
Conquer the culture shock
You’re bound to get it at some stage and the trick is to just go with the flow and not to panic or make any rash decisions. There’s things you won’t be used to, like eating super late in Spain or crazy traffic in Jakarta, and things you won’t understand, like Japanese street signs or the New Zealand haka, but taking it one step at a time will get you through.
Ultimately, when it comes to moving abroad there is a lot to worry about and enough tiny voices to put you off taking the plunge, but when adulthood comes calling and you’re not quite ready to make your hometown home, then moving to a new place is really your only option. What a great option it is.