You’ve chosen your new home, your new flat, cottage, or bungalow, overlooking Parisian iron balconies, or perhaps feathery palm trees. It’s set. You’re going. And the mixture of anticipation and anxiety makes you feel as if you’ll keel over and collapse at any moment.
You’re moving abroad.
Every time I move abroad, I somehow mess something up. It’s just inevitable. I’ll completely neglect to sort out my phone bill, my suitcase will break, I’ll buy the wrong contact solution at the airport and have some bizarre allergic reaction…if there’s a mistake to be made, I’ve made it.
I’ve previously written The Master Guide to Moving Abroad Part I, which focuses more on various resources for people hoping to move to a new country. Although I planned to publish this post shortly afterwards, life seems to have gotten in the way. But I’m settled, I’m making a list of dream literary agents for my fantasy book, and I just finished writing the book proposal for my non-fiction story on Paris. Life is calming down, and that means more time for the blog.
So this week I wanted to finally share some lessons I’ve learned over the years. I hope my massive missteps will help you in some way. As always, please just let me know if you have any questions!
1. Be Picky About Your Roommates
Yes, finding a flat can be difficult, but not impossible. I’ve seen the desperation in people’s eyes – read it in their Spareroom messages – and I’d urge you to be careful. Don’t allow the pressure of finding a place to overpower your desire to live with kind, respectful people. Great price? Decent location? But you have a horrible feeling about the roommates? Don’t go for it.
If you don’t think you’ll be best friends, that’s perfectly fine. But it’s more important to be certain you’ve found people you can reasonably share a space with for a year.
I’d particularly caution you against sharing a room with someone.
You know yourself better than I do, so if you feel like it’s a non-issue, go for it. Just know that life can become incredibly uncomfortable and strained when you’re sharing a room with someone for an extended period of time.
As a side note, it’s also important to remember that very few people offer short-term leases. If you’re staying short-term somewhere, I’d suggest looking into Airbnb.
2. Make A List of Priorities
When you picture your life abroad, what do you imagine?
Going out at night with friends?
Exploring every last historical site in your new home?
Hopping trains every weekend to visit nearby cities?
Eating all of the foods?
Your budget will depend on your personal preferences. If you don’t mind devouring ramen every night, you can skimp on the cost of food, and splurge on more travel.
Personally, I don’t have expensive dinners that frequently, but I love and appreciate good food, enjoy eating healthily, and want the option to splurge every once in a while.
And although I’ve chosen a more central apartment, I also walk almost everywhere I go, only relying on public transportation when absolutely necessary.
I’ve found that when creating a budget for moving abroad, it’s incredibly helpful to make a list of your priorities, and then use that to inform your monetary decisions ahead of time.
3. Research Social Activities in the Area
The TAPIF program saved my social life in Paris. I made a few relationships with people outside of teaching, but my closest friends remain the lovely ladies I met during TAPIF orientation.
(We were all tall. I haven’t decided if that’s why we became friends or not but it’s an ongoing theory).
No matter where you go, it’s important to build a life around you. In Paris, I befriended my neighbor, which eventually led me to discovering poetry readings at le Chat Noir the perfect place to meet people, relax, and enjoy a glass of Merlot on a Monday night.
Find a book club, a network, something, to tether you to your new home, or eventually the isolation of being so far away from familiar surroundings can seep into your skin, and make you regret moving at all.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll make friends who won’t judge you for dancing like this:
4. Have an Open Heart But Be Wary
Ahh romance abroad…
Meeting people while you’re traveling or living abroad can feel dreamlike, as if time pauses and you’re willfully trapped in this unusual, extraordinary non-existence. It can be softer yet harsher, more fulfilling yet emptier. Sometimes we get lucky and create lasting relationships with people met in far-flung cities, in beach-side bars or beneath the bridges of the Seine. And sometimes we don’t. But those relationships – or even simply the possibility of them – nearly always feel intoxicating, drug-like. So be weary, but open as well, for you never know who you’ll meet.
5. Visas: If you need a visa, ask how much money is required WAY in advance
Welcome to Visa Hell. It’s a very particular branch Dante neglected to inform us about, but don’t worry, I’ve been there, and miraculously survived. You can expect: Migraines and panic attacks. Sweating and insomnia. A gnawing uncertainty of putting your entire future into the hands of some anonymous government official. That same government official somehow mixing up your fingerprints so you get stopped and detained at border control. Unexplained hidden fees that drain your poor bank account.
You have been warned.
6. Travel By Yourself At Least Once
I fully support the development and exploration of different travel styles.
If you don’t consider yourself a solo traveler, you shouldn’t feel pressured to become one. However, I do believe that traveling solo can help you learn a lot about yourself. It’s quiet. A little moody. Occasionally emotional. Raw. Different. Just try it – see what happens.
7. Keep Your Plans Flexible
It can be tempting to over-schedule yourself. But from spontaneously inviting a stranger to visit Normandy with me, to canceling an entire holiday in Brittany, and of course, spending an inordinate amount of money to remain in Scotland a month longer than anticipated, I’ve found that scheduling only goes so far. Find the balance that works for you. Waiting until the last minute can be pricey and stressful, but you may just meet someone wonderful enough to make you reconsider your plans. You could fall in love with a person, a place, or yourself in that new place, and want to spend as much time there as possible. Keep yourself open to new possibilities – new experiences. Plan but don’t schedule away spontaneity.
Lastly, you know yourself the best. So take every piece of advice you receive with a grain of salt, and good luck!