There was a time when I fantasized about traipsing the world by myself, selling jewelry to make money and hitchhiking to cross borders. I’d wear my soles into the ground as I learned new languages and marveled at life’s miracles. I was in my early twenties and had just moved to Buenos Aires. The world of travel was all so romantic; even though I had a college degree, I knew practically nothing about, well, anything. So as I find myself again moving abroad, alone, in my thirties, my outlook is much different.
After 15 years of traveling the world, my priorities have (thankfully) changed. While I’m still very much in love with the world, I’ve evolved into a more pragmatic person. My life has another trajectory and purpose. After much reflection, research, and travel, I’ve decided to pack my bags and find a new home base.
What has brought me to moving abroad, alone, again?
The eternal nomadic life isn’t for me
When I set out for Iceland in early 2016, I was armed with an insatiable curiosity, remote freelancing work, and the desire to travel eternally. Everything that I needed was lined up; with my overstuffed backpack and laptop in tow, I was destined for success. This was why I’d left Portland, Oregon– to pursue my dream of being the forever-wandering woman I was meant to be.
But things wouldn’t pan out as I’d planned. I’d traversed nine countries, including France, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. I’d fulfilled life-long dreams, including visiting Paris. I’d gone on luxurious press trips and marveled at some of the most impressive architecture I’d ever seen in Budapest. Four and a half months after I initially set out, I found myself in Istanbul, Turkey. I never thought that my initial trip to the Arctic would lead me to the Middle East, but hey, serendipity is one of travel’s chief delights.
After spending a few weeks in the tourist-starved city, I debated on teaching English in Istanbul. Although the city intrigued and baffled me with its history, architecture, and never-ending offerings of chai and kahve, there was something missing. I didn’t see myself living in Istanbul, but this feeling was deeper than that. That gnawing feeling inside my spirit-gut was personal; it had nothing to do with the city.
By moving around incessantly, the roots you establish grow negligible proportions, only to be ripped out prematurely and replaced by an entirely different tree. Starting over again is rough. And when that process is repeated every few weeks, it can leave you exhausted, frustrated, and anti-social. After all, what’s the point of making new friends if you’re just going to leave them after a few days or weeks?
I felt a homesickness that I’d never before known. Truthfully, I didn’t miss my actual hometown. I’m proud to say that I came up in the East Side of San Jose, CA, but that’s because of my accomplishments despite that fact. While I wish I could remain close to family and friends there, I never miss the actual city of San Jose. This homesickness translated into the fact that I felt a lack of community.
The return in 2016
After those four plus months, I decided to return to the Bay Area. Two of my main freelance clients had fallen through due to budget cuts. The “homesickness” was getting to me. I just wanted to spend time with family and hang out with my dog, Atlas.
I knew that wanderlust would soon come for me, but if even for a couple of weeks, I sought a haven in which men weren’t approaching me every time I hit the streets, trying to lure and guilt-trip me into buying their (albeit beautiful) handwoven rugs and glass lamps. I had no use for such material possessions.
Upon return to the Bay Area, it wasn’t long before depression set in again. You know when you don’t belong somewhere, and it’s even worse when you realize that you can’t buy your way out. With $10 USD to my name in the Silicon Valley, my world experiences suddenly didn’t matter.
Who cared that I had seen the Northern Lights? Marveled at the Eiffel Tower? Kayaked in Lake Bled? Visited Anne Frank’s home in Amsterdam? Wandered around the Haga Sofia? Made the improbable possible? What really mattered was that I couldn’t afford that $12 drink or that $30 dinner. I went from being a fearless adventuress to a hobo without a “real job.” In the Bay Area, where money is too often the topic of conversation, your finances are collectively intertwined with how others view your worth.
Any regrets? Not hardly.
It wasn’t long before I got new freelance clients, took to doing brand ambassador gigs, and focused. Determined to make things work, I set my priorities straight. I hired a life coach and decided that, no matter what, I would attend Book Passage’s Travel Writers and Photographers Conference for the first time. Investing in myself was imperative. It was the only way to move forward.
I don’t regret one day, one nano-moment that I spent pursuing my nomadic life. It was what I truly desired at the time, and I heeded the call. While it didn’t turn out as expected, I learned something that I otherwise never would have. I discovered that there was something majorly lacking in my life. I needed a community and a home base.
The Long, Damned Process
In late 2016, I decided that it was time to reestablish myself. I pondered whether I should move back to Portland. Maybe I would teach English in Taiwan or South Korea. Perhaps I’d move to Spain, Mexico, or Colombia. There were so many things to factor into my decision, like cost of living and accessibility to vegan food.
By January of 2017, I’d purchased my one-way ticket. My path was set, and nothing would set me astray…
Except, a few weeks before I was set to move, I received the news that I’d been accepted to Kerala Blog Express! For those who aren’t aware, this is a 15-day press trip to one of the most gorgeous areas in India: Kerala. India had long been one of the top countries I yearned to visit, so it was a no-brainer. I’d have to cancel my flight.
What took so long?
I returned from India in April of 2017, and somehow, the days seemed to pass faster than I could grasp. First, there was the necessity to save up money. While I’m well-versed in traveling on a tight budget, I’m over that style of travel. I want to contribute to whatever community I visit, in whatever capacity I can. Second, I felt a calling to discover Israel, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East.
But mostly, there was something else- actually, someone– holding me back.
Perhaps, I love too hard
“Holding me back.” These are harsh words that I don’t wish to impart, but it’s the reason I stayed. I felt a moral responsibility to continue living in my hometown, as much as I hate it. “I was born here, and I’ll die here, against my will.” Bob Dylan’s voice reverberated within my brain incessantly.
More than that, I was terrified that my beloved dog would pass away while I was traveling. And so, I cut my trips shorter and shorter. I decided to stick around until he left us. If he were to pass while I was away gallivanting, I would never forgive myself. I wasn’t sure if he would forgive me, either. The glare in his eyes every time he watched me bringing out the backpack was telling.
When I embarked on my journey to the Middle East in October, Atlas was nearing 14 years old. At 95+ pounds, he had already surpassed his life expectancy by more than two years. The thought that my baby would die while I was abroad absolutely petrified me.
In time for Christmas
After seven weeks in the Middle East, I was ready to head back to the Western world. While I am grateful for all of the experiences I had, I was ready not to cover myself head-to-toe anymore in the hot hot heat. I embraced being able to relax in a comfortable queen-sized bed without worrying that my valuables would be stolen. I looked forward to no one asking me where I was from, what I thought about Trump, or what provoked me to travel to the Middle East alone, as a female.
My parents were generous enough to pick me up from the Oakland Airport, and as always, there was an immediate sense of being loved. Tired as I was, we chit-chatted about what was new in San Jose since I’d left, but it all seemed like white noise to me. They made no mention of Atlas. I was paralyzed by the thought that maybe, they had withheld news of his death so as not to upset me. My hands shook and my brain buzzed with disastrous thoughts. I didn’t know what I’d be- or not be- coming home to.
When we arrived at my parents’ home, sure enough, there he was. Old, grey, limping from arthritis, yet running around in circles as best as he could, he greeted me with his toothy pitbull smile and wagging tail. I knew I had made the right decision in coming back.
What I didn’t know, however, was that in a mere three weeks, his health would worsen drastically. And in six more weeks, he would be gone.
The Death of Atlas
Atlas carried the world upon his shoulders and also brought the axis of our family together. His suffering crippled me; I would lie beside him, petting him, telling him stories of my adventures, of when he was young and all of the nonsense he got himself into. Tears would pour down my face as I ran my hand along his golden fur, his body shaking from exhaustion, anxiety, and the fact that his back legs were no longer fucking working.
He died on January 23rd, 2018, and with his passing, a part of me died as well.
It was time to move on.
Why I’m Moving Abroad, Alone
If you don’t know me, you may be wondering why a woman in her thirties is moving abroad by herself. Won’t I miss my family? Am I not patriotic? Don’t I have responsibilities to tend to in my own country? Am I not scared?
The truth is, I don’t have much holding me back. No kids, no mortgage, no partner… No real reason to stay. Of course, I love my family and will miss them dearly. But my lifestyle is much, much different than theirs. And, frankly, living in the United States has been frustrating as hell- politically and otherwise.
California ain’t just sunshine and beaches
There is so much to see and do in California- not to mention the diverse landscapes and superb weather. I mean, where else can you find places like Big Sur, Joshua Tree, Mt. Shasta and cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego? Nonetheless, the cons have far outweighed the pros for the last several years. This was one of the reasons why I moved to Portland- until the influx of wealthy Californians drove prices up there, too.
I’d love to live in San Francisco again, but the reality is that the Bay Area is far too expensive for me. Sure, I do okay for a writer, but the cost of living in this part of the world is horrendous. Most of my friends and family who rent- even in San Jose- spend an average of $2,500- $3,000 USD or more per month for a one bedroom apartment. Then you have a 9.25% sales tax on everything you buy. If you’re lucky, an “affordable” dinner out will cost you $30 USD. And then things like groceries, transportation, and the rest of all your bills. It’s just all too much.
The need for a fresh start
Have you ever had the feeling that you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, and as best you try, you’re not getting the results you want? Well, that’s how I felt. It was a perpetual circle of traveling for months, continuing with my freelance gigs, then returning to my hometown, feeling stuck, and then taking off again when I couldn’t take it anymore.
I realized that I need a big change- an environment in which I could forget the story I tell myself every day upon waking. A place in which I could pen new stories.
In honor of my writing
After attending Book Passage’s conference for two years, reading about writing, and taking courses like Jessie on a Journey‘s “How to Work with Brands (and make money),” it has finally sunk in. Traveling is only a small part of the equation. Continuing to travel four to six months out of the year, always pursuing the next destination, was wearing on me. Not physically, but mentally.
I’ve felt a guilt growing inside of me that, hey, I may be standing in front of the Great Pyramids of Egypt or getting up-close and personal with the horrendous situation in Palestine, but I still haven’t written about how I cried the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or why I consider Taipei the most eclectic city in Asia.
My stories deserve to be honored.
I recently won a Solas Award for the Best in Travel Writing under the category, “Travel and Transformation.” I screamed, danced, cried, jumped up and down; there was no way I thought I’d receive this award. After all, it was awarded by Traveler’s Tales, judged by seasoned travel writers. This made me come face-to-face with the value of my writing.
See, moving isn’t about escaping. It’s about starting afresh, being intentional, and writing until my fingers bleed if necessary. There’s no more time to waste. I’m committed to making the most of my writing. No more unnecessary distractions or excuses. It’s time to be the best version of myself, and do the same for my stories.
So, where to now?
Some weeks after Atlas died, I was petsitting two dogs in Berkeley, California. They were absolute dolls, following me everywhere I went, sleeping on the bed with me, and watching me intently when I sat for hours on the computer. Sometimes it takes being fed up to make a leap of faith. I opened Skyscanner, and searched for one-way tickets to Bogota, Colombia. I found one for $187 USD. I’d never seen the price so low- and I’d been browsing this destination for well over a year.
Turning to Tess and Little Man, I asked them, “Well, what should I do?” They looked up at me with their big, wet brown eyes. “Wag your tails if I should book this ticket.” Inevitably, they got super excited and their tails shook left to right as if they were fanning someone behind them.
I booked the ticket. And now it’s time to take the ride, to start my new life in Colombia. I’ve never been more ready to stay in one place, sit my ass down, and type away until the carpel tunnel paralyzes my hands. I’ve got so much to share.
Have you ever moved abroad? What were your motivations? If not, would you ever consider relocating to another country in your thirties? Leave your comments below!