4 years and 3 countries later, living abroad has changed the trajectory of my life.
From studying in London to teaching in Shanghai and trying my luck as a digital nomad in Thailand, living abroad has taught me more lessons than I can count. But for the sake of this post, I’ll round it up to 20.
Without further ado here are 20 life-changing lessons from living abroad.
1. Hold Back Assumptions Before Visiting a New Country
Growing up in America I saw foreign countries through one lens, American news. It wasn’t until I traveled internationally I realized a lot of the assumptions I made about other countries were wholly based on media.
Holding back pre-conceived notions and experiencing a new place with an open mind will always be the best lens to travel with.
2. It’s Okay to Outgrow People
You change, and so do other people. And in my experience, living abroad ultimately means sacrificing friendships along the way.
In truth, it’s perfectly natural to outgrow people and friendships. The best thing you can do is end things with no hard feelings and mutual understanding.
3. Figure Out Your Own Version of Success
While I was living the laptop life in Thailand, my heart secretly yearned to be in London.
Travelers put the digital nomad lifestyle on a pedestal, and so when Covid created this random and divine opportunity for me, I took it.
Although I treasured the experience, I quickly realized the digital nomad life wasn’t for me. I like roots. And that’s totally okay. Because the only thing that matters in life is your version of success. In travel and in life.
4. Action Means More Than Dreaming
Until you do it yourself, all you can do is speculate.
Whether it’s travel, a job, or pitching for an opportunity, you’ll truly never know until you go for it.
Inspiration is amazing. But it’s important to use it to take action. The first real step to make your travels or dreams get in motion.
P.S Go Abroad is a great first action step for finding opportunities abroad
5. Fear is the Entry to Success
Every since I boarded my first flight to U.K, fear was a constant background. “Why did I leave the U.S?” “What if I hate it here?” “What was I thinking moving to a random foreign country?”
Subsequently, all these voices seem to silence once I realized what a good decision it was. But you’ve got to get past the fear first.
6. Money Isn’t Everything, but it Matters
Over the years I’ve worked dozens of jobs, usually at once, to support my travels. But looking back I would never trade any of those experiences to get that money back.
At the end of the day, money is only a tool. Recognizing it’s importance while keeping emotionally detached is the best way to value what money can do for you, without obsessing over it. And more importantly, not valuing it over experiences.
7. Recognize Your Passport Privilege
As an American traveler it’s important to recognize your privilege. We are blessed beyond belief to be able to roam much of the world hassle-free.
Unfortunately, this cannot be said for many passport holders. This includes extra scrutinization, visa processing, and overall added hoops, just to enjoy the same country, in the same way we do.
Recognizing and learning about passport privilege gives you a deep appreciation for your ability to travel and learn about the world 🙂
8. Learn to be Your Own Best Friend
If living alone in Asia for months amidst the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that you need to take care of yourself; emotionally, physically and mentally.
Your wellbeing is a top priority. And learning to be your own best friend (although friends are super important!) is a great first step. This means checking in, wanting the best, and looking out for yourself in the best and worst of times.
9. Take Lessons from Everything
From interviews on my podcast, serendipitous travel moments and living with locals, there’s lesson to be found in everything. Especially, when you travel.
Ask questions, share stories, and take nuggets of wisdom into your day-to-day life, on and off the road.
10. Small Talk Only Gets You so Far
After way too many typical travel conversations (“Hi”, “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been here?”) I knew I needed to up my conversation palette.
Nowadays, I try to ask deeper questions (“What do you love most about travel?” “What the best thing you learned this year?” “Is (insert country) what you expected? (why or why not)” etc.
Over time I realized so many people are dying to go past small talk, but are afraid to take the lead. So don’t be afraid to take the initiative and ask better questions.
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11. Always Choose Experiences
In quarantine, none of us were thinking about all the retail stores we couldn’t visit. What did we want? To have a meal with our friends, go to the park, and literally anything else to spend time with others and make experiences.
Materials can be great, but at the end of the day, it’s the experiences that truly make life meaningful. So, if you ever have to choose between the two, go for the latter.
12. Living Abroad Won’t Get Rid of Your Problems
There’s this “Eat, Pray, Love” mentality in the world of travel that equates jumping on a plane to solving all your lives problems.
Well, in all honesty, I tried this. And it didn’t work. Because until you bring awareness and deal head-on with your issue, geography can only do but so much.
In truth, travel can have a major impact, but only if you admit the baggage you brought on the plane. In this way, you’re able to use travel to help with your healing process, without depending on it.
13. Social Media is Only 1% of the Story
As someone who spends her free time sharing her life with strangers on the internet, this may seem controversial (and slightly hypocritical). But in the online world, there’s only so much of someone’s life you can know through a screen.
Be mindful to compare yourself to others on the internet and judge someone based on a few curated squares.
14. Embrace Staycations
If you love to travel, Covid was truly a wake-up call. The “what-if” question of travel becoming obsolete was answered. And it wasn’t pretty.
But, if the pandemic taught us anything it’s that there’s so much beauty to be found in our backyards.
Looking at pictures of people traveling the US has made me appreciate travel in the states so much more and we definitely shouldn’t take it for granted.
15. Focus on the Now
A lot of the world is out of our control (*cue 2020*). But luckily, the present is always ours. From our thoughts to our actions, honing in the present is the best way to stop worrying about the future.
Whether that’s travel mishaps, waiting on borders to reopen, or for life to go back to normal, it’s never too late to live in the present.
Simply ask “What can I do right now to fix this?”, if the answer is nothing, try to focus on the now and redirect your energy.
16. Always Make Time for Family
I’m not proud to say it. But living abroad, I’ve missed graduations, reunions and everything in between when it comes to family.
In hindsight, I knew this was a sacrifice I would be making for years to come. But I never expected how easy it can get to lose touch with family if you’re not intentional.
Scheduling weekly Facetimes, making virtual celebrations and planning travels together has made my family a constant part of my life, even if it’s 3,000 miles away.
17. Representation Matters
Growing up I fell in love with travel stories. Lovers gripped in front of the Eiffel Tower, friends eating brunch at the local trattoria before roaming the cobblestoned streets of Rome, career women catching the tube on a rainy day in London.
But the older I got, the more I realized none of these stories had me in mind. Point being, lack of positive representation in the travel space is a major issue.
Choosing to be the representation I wish I had growing up has definitely helped me shape stories of my own to share. But, it’s important we all realize representation shouldn’t be a one-off, it should be the norm.
18. Culture Shock is Very Real
When you live or travel to a different country, you’re experiencing their reality. Their language, their culture, their customs. And when you get back, there’s a major reality switch.
You’ll start to look at your country in a whole new light. And not everyone will understand your experiences. I’ve found journaling and noting your thoughts and opinions on being back home as the best way to process your inevitable culture shock.
19. Old People Regret One Thing
I’m always fascinated to hear what older people have to say about life. And throughout my time abroad, it all seems to come back to one thing. I wish I traveled.
No matter what way you slice it, there’s a magic that can only be found in travel.
Whether you’re living abroad or experiencing a new country, you’ll learn your own lessons from travel that will inevitably shape you into everything you’ve wanted to be and more. So don’t wait.
“You don’t choose the day you enter the world and you don’t chose the day you leave. It’s what you do in between that makes all the difference.” -Anita Septimus
If you liked this post be sure to read my the best quotes about living abroad!