Is expatting better than long-term travel?


If you are related to us, a good friend or just happened to have dinner with Cody and I anywhere between 2008 and 2014, then you know it was a dream of ours to somehow live overseas.  As we talked through the ways to do this, it seemed like the best option would be to quit our jobs and travel for a year. When we stumbled into an international assignment it seemed like a great way to have the best of both worlds—the security of a job with the excitement of living overseas.

But in the moment, I wondered if we were settling for something short of our full-fledged dream. We were afraid to leave our jobs behind, so wasn’t what we were doing kind of a cop-out?

Now that we’re wrapping up our first assignment, I realize that long term travel and expat life are two completely different animals, each with their own set of benefits. Keep reading to see how I think we got the better end of the deal.

You’ll still have a job.

Over our travels and living abroad we’ve met lots of young people who work nonstop to finance a long-term trip every couple of years. If this works for you, fantastic. On the other hand, it sounds like a recipe for burnout. Maybe it’s doable for the younger set (most of the people we met were singles or young couples), but the whole work a year/travel for a year thing is less feasible as you establish a career or have a family.

When we thought about what was so appealing about a year of travel, we realized we were longing for an experience outside our home culture and having jobs in the meantime wasn’t really doing anything to hinder that. An added bonus is that work cultures differ by location and depending on where you land, it may mean that you’ll have a better work-life balance.

Before you start thinking that this kind of transition would be impossible considering your profession, think again. I’ve met more than just Embassy workers and English teachers in Bogotá—regular school teachers, marketing professionals, filmmakers, missionaries and NGO workers, and a biologist are all people I’ve encountered who are making a living for themselves in this city. Though it takes more work and time to get an overseas gig than just picking up and going, it is a longer term solution if life abroad is a long term goal.

Assistance with moving and red tape.

This doesn’t really need an explanation. Perhaps you don’t need all of these things for a year of travel, but it is incredible to have an employer’s backing when it comes to shipping your things, securing visas and finding a place to live.

You’ll really get to know a place.

When you’re passing through a city, even if it’s for a few weeks, it’s impossible to see it all. However, with an extended period of time, you’ll be able to see much more than the “top ten” of a place. Actually living somewhere allows you to slow down, develop favorites and discover the cool spots that aren’t in guidebooks. Even better is being able to make friends with locals and really getting to know the culture and vibe of a place.

You’ll still get to travel. 

When you’re living in a foreign country it’s already exciting because most of your everyday experiences will have a whiff of that travel adventure. You’re living in a completely different culture, after all. When you do want to explore, you won’t have to go far because a weekend trip to the next town over may be enough to scratch your travel itch.

From the perspective of someone native to the U.S., there are even more benefits. Firstly, because the U.S. is an isolated country the simple act of being in a different country means you’re already halfway to scads of cool destinations. You’ll also have more time to explore or go on long weekend trips as practically every country outside the U.S. embraces the use of vacation time, as well as having more national holidays.

You’ll have a sustainable lifestyle.

Just as switching between work and extended travel sounds like too much, so is the go go go pace of trying to tick off the ‘must-sees’ in a new place each week. Cody has the capacity to live at a relentless pace but I think total rootlessness sounds exhausting—all I see is calculating the time between laundry days and doing a sniff test of whatever is at the bottom of a backpack. However, living abroad means you have a home, a place to unpack and escape and rest. I can move from place to place every couple of days for a month or so, but around that time I start longing for my own cooking and a day with no adventures.

Having a home and a routine also means that you’ll be taking better care of yourself. When I’m on a trip I tend to forgo workouts for sleeping in, ignore my writing and have more than my fair share of beers. Taking a break is great, but there always comes a day when I miss my routine and having a home allows you to keep these things intact.

Of course, no one way of life is better than another—it all comes down to what works best for each individual. When Cody and I were playing with the idea of an around the world trip, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could keep up with the continual change. Having a kind of home base helped me happily transition away from the familiar—family, friends, my native language—and into a life I can see myself in for many years to come.

Do you prefer to split your time between work and travel? Do you work abroad and spend time seeing the world? Please share your secrets to a happy balance in the comments below!


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