Growing up with stories about different countries from cartoons to magazines to books to movies, we all have fantasised at one point in our lives to move to another country that is so out of the ordinary, so different from what we’re used to and where we grow up in, to experience something we never experience, to meet new people, to try new dishes, to see new things, to live in a different culture, to adopt new skills, and to learn a new way of life.
But when it comes to reality, we get stuck. We don’t know where to start. We can’t find someone to go on the journey with. We feel scared as the future seems uncertain and you don’t know what’s out there.
For me, traveling is never about a package tour, a Contiki tour, a shopping trip with girl friends — spending 5 days in each city, jumping from one tourist attraction to another, sightseeing and taking photos.
Traveling is all about experiencing new things and having my mindset and perspective shifted — hanging out with the locals, experiencing the local way of life, eating local dishes, learning about their culture and attitudes, adopting their way of life even just for a period of time — simply trying to see things through their lens.
Traveling is not a holiday or a vacation. It is not taking a break from work or a relaxing getaway, neither is it ever a drunken week of partying in a party city.
Traveling is living — in a different place, in a different environment, surrounded by people whom you never met before — who may become your new friends — who may shed light on something new for you.
This is why I’m not a fan of going somewhere for 5 days and leaving, saying I have been there because traveling to me is not a visit to a place or a city far away from home.
Traveling is falling deeply in love with a place beyond face value and making the place fall back in love with me.
Just like how people set milestones in life they’d like to achieve — career progression, role as a parent, advancement in sport — I see moving to another city as a milestone.
Trying to fit in in a new city, first and foremost you have to learn about their culture and their attitude. You can’t fall in love with something beyond its outer beauty until you’ve really gotten to know it. You can’t fall in love with a city until you really get to know it inside and out.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
I believe there’s always beauty hidden in everything — it’s about finding the pair of glasses whose lens fit your eyes. In this case, I mean finding your kind of place and your kind of people.
Here are a few tips on how I travel and work and continue to do so without fear.
1. Shift your perspective from thinking that travel is a luxury and that you need to save to travel.
Traveling is simply moving from one place to another; it’s no different from moving from one suburb to another. You just change the location. You still continue to do what you do if you were in your hometown — work, cook at home, do your laundry, and exercise. You just meet new people who may speak a language you don’t understand, walk on the roads you’ve never been on, go to cafés you’ve never been to, and eat foods you didn’t grow up eating on a daily basis.
2. Get over fear
We all have fear, mainly the fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar — you don’t know anyone in the new city/country, you don’t know the place well and its different areas, you don’t have a job secured there, you’re not used to the culture, etc. — the list goes on and on.
Traveling alone doesn’t need to be scary. You don’t know anyone, why not make new friends? You don’t know the place well, why don’t you move there so you get to know the place well? No job secured, why don’t you look for a job there? It’s a different culture, why don’t you try to understand and adapt yourself to it? You might learn something new, become a better person, and feel happier.
3. Do your research
Once you make up your mind that you’re going to move to another country, then do your research.
Location & Culture
What is the culture like? What is to be avoided or careful about? Possible culture shocks? Safety concerns?
What areas should you check out? Where should you stay?
How much would your monthly or weekly expense cost — rent, food, transportation, phone and internet charges, etc.?
Making a Living
What are the options, obligations, and requirements with a visa? Can you get a visa with a work permit? If you’re under 30, look into Working Holiday or Work and Holiday Visa. Many countries offer this to encourage youth to travel.
What is your field of expertise like over there? How do they work? What kind of pay would you be getting? What companies can you approach for work? Who should you have a coffee with when you’re over there? Get in touch with some recruiters specialized in contract and freelance jobs in your industry.
Is there any cash-in-hand work you can do to avoid the complication with visa? If so, how can you prepare yourself for it so you won’t struggle to get some income? Look into non-traditional jobs here; teaching a language, teaching a skill (swimming, scuba diving, dancing, piano, personal training, graphic design, photography, programming, writing, tutoring), becoming a chef, a bartender, a barista, or even a sale person.
Think about the connections that you have elsewhere. Could any company benefit from your connections? Help with market expansion or language and cultural barriers and know-how? Look into companies with international markets, travel companies, international companies, and digital agencies.
Can you work remotely? If so, can you secure a few contracts beforehand?
Can you build a passive income stream? Think about real estate and online businesses here.
4. Prepare — for a change of heart and the expected extension
Are you ready to go? Just as you’ve booked your flight, searched for possible accommodations and job options, you need to get ready.
Let me warn you: This so-called a-few-month trip can end up being a year-or-longer trip. You might fall in love with the place. You never know. So please be prepared!
Scan all your important documents — An ID card, driving license, university certificate, birth certificate, house registration, etc. Also, make copies and get them all translated to English (if it’s not already in English). Keep in mind that you may need to get them translated to the language of the country you’re moving to. They may also need to be certified. If you’re not bringing the original with you, leave them with someone you trust in case you need them to send them over or scan them for you.
Get rid of stuff you can live without. I know we all tend to endlessly collect things but traveling will make you realize that you can live just fine with 3 pairs of jeans and 10 plain tops. You can live without an amazing hair dryer or a hair curler. You can live without 10 pairs of shoes and 10 handbags to match each clothes you wear. You only need a small bag of make-up instead of a big set of drawers. You can read eBooks which don’t weigh a kilo or take up a lot of space. Plus, you can take them with you wherever you go.
Store your stuff — whether at a storage space or at your parents’. Give access to someone you trust in case you need to get access to something while you’re away.
Sort out your bills and contracts — phone, internet, electricity — you don’t want to come back a year or two later seeing $3K+ bills.
5. Get excited
Now you’ve sorted out the hard work which is the paperwork and the logistics, it’s time to get excited about what lies ahead of you. This transition can become a life-changing moment. Be prepared!
Learn the basic language so you don’t get ripped off by a taxi driver or a seller, get greeted with a friendlier manner by shopkeepers, and can make new friends more easily.
Pack as little as you can. Keep in mind that you may and will likely end up buying new clothes to match the trend and the climate. If the country you’re moving to has a lower cost of living, then don’t bring any toiletries, skincare, or medicines because they will be cheaper there (even the same brands will be cheaper).
Look up cool local magazines. I tend to avoid reading publications produced by tourism bodies as I want to know where is cool to go to from a local’s perspective rather than a tourist’s perspective — from the chic hangouts to the upcoming gigs, the coolest art galleries, the best cafes and restaurants rated by local tongue, and the hottest bars.
Ask for introductions. Has any of your friends been to the country you’re moving to? Do they know anyone there or anyone that has recently moved there? Do you know anyone that is originally from there? Can they introduce you to a few of their friends over there so you have a local showing you around, making your transition more at ease?
Make some new friends in advance. Hey, it is not 2001 anymore. I’m sure you’re on social media and must have made connections with people in another country. Why not take this chance to finally meet up with your Twitter friends who reside in that country or try tweeting someone interesting in your field over there suggesting a coffee? Expats are usually quite open-minded to meeting new people. It doesn’t hurt to say hello first.
6. Say goodbye
Goodbye is not a sad thing. It’s saying I will see you again and I’m looking forward to showing you around another country and having an amazing time with you there.
You can’t grow if you’re always surrounded by the same environment. Growth accelerates with change. If parents and friends don’t understand why you want to move, inspire them to travel and invite them to come visit you and they will understand why. Sometimes people grow apart and that’s a part of life. You can’t let fear hold you back, neither can you let people who love you hold you back.
If the need to travel has been itching you for so long, you need to just do it. There’s no trying and failing.
It’s only “doing” or “not doing” — and “wanting to do more”.