Question: A reader writes that she plans to give up her apartment, store her belongings and live and travel outside the U.S. for a year. “Can you recommend resources on this subject?” she asked. “Might be a topic of interest for a column.”
Answer: There’s enough information on this to fill a book, and a quick search using such terms as “expat” and “extended travel” will turn up several of them.
The biggest issue is where to start. Here’s what Karen McCann says: “I often tell people that a journey of a thousand steps begins with an online search.”
She knows well some of the complications of being abroad. For the last 10 years, McCann, a California native who called Cleveland home, has lived in Seville, Spain. She details her transitions in the books “Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad” and “101 Ways to Enjoy Living Abroad: Essential Tips for Easing the Transition to Expat Life” as well as on her website, EnjoyLivingAbroad.com.
She notes that traveling abroad for extended periods and living abroad — she has done both — raise slightly different problems, but there is common ground as well.
Indeed, traveling abroad may well lead to living abroad, as it did in her case. She and her husband, Rich, were visiting friends in Marbella in southern Spain, when they stopped in Seville and fell in love with it.
With a lot of research, the nuts-and-bolts issues such as health insurance and mail delivery will fall into place, she said. It’s the mental adjustments in making the leap that are the larger hurdle. And for that, you’ll need help.
Although many people decide that they’re going to hang out only with locals — an “authentic experience” being one of the buzz phrases of travel these days — consider seeking out expats, who can be enormously helpful, McCann said, “in fitting into a new society” if only for a few months.
InterNations.org, which has been around since April 2007, sprang from the experiences of its founders, who had lived abroad. Besides the forums, it offers “activity groups” that can be as diverse as “a group for art lovers … business networking, for parents and children and many more.” There’s also a volunteer group component that gives travelers an opportunity to give back.
Brittney Strange, who writes the LifeofanExpatParent.com blog, agrees that support from people who are like you can be helpful but notes that being with others who were also doing an internship in Britain in 2004 may have made her less likely to dig deeper for information, which was more limited a decade ago. “We didn’t understand universal healthcare; we never registered with a doctor,” she said. “We didn’t know about banking.”
That wouldn’t be an issue today, partly because her knowledge base has grown with time but also because there are many more sources of information that are easier to find and access because “somebody always knows somebody.” Using those connections, however tenuous, should yield specifics.
John Henderson, formerly a sportswriter with the Denver Post who decided he would retire in Rome, details some of his challenges in moving from the Rocky Mountain State to Rome in a GoNomad.com post: bit.ly/12TSxZ6.
Henderson, like McCann, had previous extended travel experience; he had spent time in the Eternal City more than a decade earlier before returning to live la dolce vita, which, he notes, isn’t always dolce.
Whether it’s to live abroad or to travel for a period of time, here’s his advice: “If you think you can, do it. It’s better to try and fail than spend your days looking over your shoulder thinking you could have something better than you have.”
Yes, it is about logistics when you plan to be away for a period of time. But it’s more about having the mind-set and the heart-set (OK, I made up that word but I think it works) to make it happen, and you won’t find that online.
Travel requires you to be braver than you think you are, whether it’s for a week or a year, and involves the joy of finding a better, smarter, stronger self that lasts well past the day you put away your suitcase if, indeed, that day ever comes.
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