It goes without saying that there are many different types of expats. For those who are moving abroad for a specific job opportunity, none of the following applies. But for the increasing number of people who are thinking about moving abroad for the sake of trying something new, the following might be interesting food for thought.
I’ve met dozens or perhaps hundreds of people while traveling who have moved to a different country and then invented a job for themselves after arriving. Then there are English teachers and the like, who can usually find jobs almost anywhere, in addition to those of us (like me) who work online and have the ability to live anywhere there is an internet connection. For these people I’d like to mention that it isn’t necessary to choose a new home before you leave your old one.
Perpetual travel is cheaper and easier than you might think
You may not realize that there is a large community of “perpetual travelers” who have either saved up a lot of money in advance, or are working on the road, or usually both. Many of them are travel bloggers but many others are freelance writers or web programmers or graphic designers etc.
It’s pretty obvious that this strategy works best when you are traveling through cheaper parts of the world. Moving to London and staying in a hotel for a month would cost as much as staying in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 6 months, so unless you are earning a lot of money you have to be smart about where you go.
The good news is that there are many parts of the world, notably Southeast Asia, India, and much of Latin America, where it’s pretty easy to live quite well on US$1,000 per month, including everything. Nice hotel rooms with air-conditioning, TV, a fridge, and free wi-fi for US$10 are out there if you look around.
Stay as long or short as you like
I left the United States a bit over 2 years ago with a backpack and a laptop bag. The expression “perpetual travel” implies that a person never stops traveling, but in my case, and many other people on the road, each new stop is a potential home, at least for a while. I landed first in Hanoi and I stayed for more than 2 weeks. The fact that it was my first stop was one factor in not staying any longer, but I honestly did consider staying for months, especially after meeting some expats who were living there.
Nha Trang (a beach town in the south of Vietnam) was a nice place for me to stay for a month to complete a project, and I got to know many in the English-speaking expat community there as well. After that it was several more stops until I got to Bangkok, where I moved into a serviced apartment for 3 months, but otherwise I was staying in places for one or two weeks as I went.
Every place I stopped I asked myself if this could be home, at least for a while. There were many very nice places both before and after Bangkok, and not until I landed in Kas, Turkey almost a year later did I actually stop for an extended period (almost 11 months now).
Great places to visit versus great places to live
Perhaps the best part of this strategy is that it gives you time to really get to know the specifics of what living in each place would be like. You might have had an awesome holiday in Bali and upon leaving you thought you might like to come back to live at some point. The problem with this is that staying in a beach hotel for a week is very different from living in a rented apartment indefinitely.
For one thing, when you are on vacation you mostly talk to other people on vacation, so it’s easy to assume that the place is a nonstop party, even for those who live there. However, few expats end up living in the heart of the tourist district, and those that do might find it difficult to buy groceries and other day to day items.
When you go to a place like Bali (which is a place I might move to one day myself), you can spend time finding the expat community and their hang-outs, which will help you learn about renting apartments and other concerns. If it all looks right it’s usually not too difficult to find an apartment for a month or two, which will really allow you to try it all on for size.
Sampling many places only costs a bit more
Imagine you are thinking you want to move to Southeast Asia or Central America. You might think you want to live in Bangkok or Panama City, but in regions like that it’s very cheap and easy to move around for a month or two in order to find just the right spot for you. In fact, in both of those cases you can actually live more cheaply if you choose a smaller city in the same region, so the act of traveling around for a while could end up more than paying for itself when you find a place to stay for a while.
Honestly, the freedom to leave a place that feels disppointing and stay on indefinitely (visas permitting) in a place that looks good is a wonderful thing. It can also be quite cheap if you know what you are doing and travel in cheaper parts of the world. So for those who just have a general feeling of wanting to live abroad, the road itself can be a great place to start.