Travelling the world, living abroad and choosing a different path in life has become more accepted and more popular over the years. It’s common for one of your friends or family members to tell you they’re taking off to live in London or spending a year or two travelling around the world. Sometimes it’s a rite of passage, other times it’s a life path they’ve chosen. Either way, it’s wonderful so many people are following their adventurous hearts and taking time to explore the world.
People talk a lot about all the wonderful adventures they have while living abroad and travelling. We speak openly about all the fun times and the highlights, but is it all fun nights out, warm beaches and exotic holiday destinations in far off lands? Hmmm, no. Sometimes it’s sleeping on the floor, running out of money and being very, very cold.
Moving overseas, spending time living in a new country and experiencing new cultures is an incredible way to learn and grow as a person. It definitely changed my life and is one of the best things I have ever done. You learn a lot about yourself and create many wonderful memories, but it’s also important to really understand just what it’s like to move overseas. If you’re prepared for all the good and challenging things that can come your way, you’re stronger and better equipped to handle them.
So today I wanted to share with you some of the challenges Matt and I faced when we moved to London and, hopefully, arm you with some knowledge in case you come up against them too. After all, knowledge is power.
We made the move from Brisbane to London in late September which meant we left home in winter and arrived in London in winter. This made it tricky because we were very cold for a very long time. Being outdoorsy people who love to spend time at the beach and in nature, it made it hard being indoors a lot. If I had my time over again I would plan things differently, aiming to do back-to-back summers instead of back-to-back winters.
It’s a good idea to do some thorough research into the climate of your soon-to-be homeland and really understand what the weather is like. It sounds like such an obvious step, something you would do anyway, but it’s easy to skim over it and say, “Oh yea I love snow! It’ll be a hoot!” Do you really love snow? What if it snows for weeks on end or months? How cold does it get there or how hot? How long does that last for?
The good news is that the world is pretty big so you’re not limited to just choosing from one or two places to live. You can do your research and find somewhere that’s more suited to your lifestyle. If I were looking to live abroad again for an extended period of time I’d be looking at somewhere warm and tropical with excellent wi-fi.
Because London is in an english speaking country we didn’t expect to have any kind of culture shock, but the truth is there was a little bit. I was a bit frazzled by just how many people there are in London, the large crowds really overwhelmed me at times and I found myself feeling a bit dizzy on the tube. Sometimes I felt a bit scared walking around at night, something I hadn’t really experienced in my home-town before. All these things were unexpected for me but they taught me a lot about being street smart and constantly aware, which has made me a better person and a better traveller.
I’m not a terribly emotional person or really attached to my home, but for some reason I got pretty homesick when we moved. I don’t really know what came over me, it just kinda happened and I couldn’t shake it. I felt like I was missing out on life at home and worst of all I felt like I wasn’t moving forward in life. At home I’d had a job with a great income and a beautiful inner-city apartment, a car and loads of financial freedom.
In London I was earning significantly less, share-housing in a small flat, catching public transport everywhere and on a pretty tight budget. It felt like I had taken a step back in my life and that was hard to adjust to, a big part of me longed for all the freedoms I had before we moved. This made both Matt and I feel like we had regressed in our lives, taking a step back from being grown-ups to being in those ‘first job’ days where every dollar is counted.
I think if you can understand this is something you could possibly feel, then it will help you overcome it if it ever arises while you’re living abroad. We managed it by coming up with plans we stuck up on the wall, travel and other big things we were working toward. Seeing them every day reminded us why we were there and what we were doing it for, it helped us stay focused and positive.
The homesickness can be overcome by meeting the right people in your new home town. Toward the end of our stay we connected with two very wonderful people who changed everything for us, they became close friends and if we had’ve met them at the beginning of our stay in London our whole time there probably would have been very different. Making a connection with good people makes all the difference to making your new city feel like a home.
Being well-educated, hard-workers and generally good people we thought it would be a real breeze for us to find work. Especially because everyone kept telling us Aussies find employment easy in the UK as we’re known for being so hard-working. Because we arrived in the lead up to Christmas a lot of businesses weren’t looking to hire new staff until the new year, which posed a real problem for us.
For some reason I was able to find temp work a lot easier than Matt was, maybe because my resume had more years of basic administration work on it. We were able to scrape by on the small amounts I earned temping but blew a big hole through our savings. After being unemployed and sitting at home in our London flat all day, every day for nearly 3 months we finally got full-time jobs and were back on track.
It’s really important you prepare for this possibility, it may be a while before you get a job. Do you have enough money saved to get by? What would be your monthly budget and how long could you afford to stay there for before you ran out of cash? What’s your back-up plan if you can’t get a job? These are all important questions to ask yourself, just so you’re prepared and don’t feel stressed if a few weeks or months go by and you don’t have a job.
When we did find jobs it wasn’t the cushy, easy ride everyone made it out to be. Yes, Aussies are hard-workers but so are the people we were working for and my job turned out to be more demanding than any other job I have ever had. This was hard for me mentally because I was working harder and being paid less, a hard pill to swallow. If I had my time again I would try to get a job that isn’t demanding, something I could go in and do each day then go home with no stress. I wasn’t there for a career, I was there for travel so it would make sense to look for a job that isn’t too demanding and allows you to enjoy your time there.
One of my favourite things about our gap year is the impact it had on Matt and my relationship. Away from our family, friends and support networks, thrust into a completely new situation where everything is a little bit scary and overwhelming, we had nobody to depend on but each other. It brought us closer than we had ever been and took our relationship to a whole new level of trust, understanding and support.
When things got tough and one of us felt really down about something, the other one stepped up to support them and encourage them. We were constantly building each other up and working together to get through the challenges. Then, when the wonderful moments happened we had someone we loved by our side to share it all with.
If you have someone you can travel with, be it a friend, loved-one or family member, you should consider doing it with them. Having those memories together make it easier to look back and reminisce, it made the happy moments even better because they were shared with someone else. Travelling together doesn’t mean living in each others pockets. If you travel with a friend you can always take solo trips without the other person to give yourself some time apart.
Living abroad is absolutely life-shaping and incredibly rewarding, there are going to be times when you feel lonely and miss your home, there may even be times when you question what you’ve done moving there. Just remember that all the challenges you come up against are there for a reason, to teach you an important life lesson and shape the beautiful person you are. Embrace the difficult times, learn from them and savour, celebrate and enjoy the wonderful times.
The best thing about home is that it’s always there waiting for you, it’s not going anywhere and there’s no rush for you to get back to it. So, take your time and appreciate every moment of your adventures. We only get one shot at this life, just one, so make every moment count.