If adventures won’t befall a young woman in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” So wrote Jane Austen in her novel Northanger Abbey.
Growing up in Watford – a town Lonely Planet once labelled as “the kind of place that makes you want to travel” – Jane Austen’s words resonated with me.
There’s nothing really wrong with Watford per se but I couldn’t help thinking: there has be more to life than this corner of Hertfordshire?
So at 18, after finishing school, I escaped Down Under on a gap year. I followed this up by spending my university summers working as an au pair in Switzerland.
At 25 I made my way to the Middle East where I lived and worked with Emiratis for three years, before swapping Arabia for the Caribbean. China came calling after the Cayman Islands, followed by Argentina and Hawaii.
Fast forward to 2017 and I’m finally back ‘home’ in London, by all accounts one of the greatest cities in the world.
Don’t get me wrong – I do love London’s bright lights, black cabs, cultural wealth and amazing restaurants and get where Sir Samuel Johnson was coming from when he famously remarked: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
But my experiences and adventures abroad have shown me that life outside of London is just as valid, as life in London.
Here’s how living abroad changes you…
Always trust your gut instinct
“I really wish you’d reconsider your decision,” my friend Henry said. “I hear it’s dangerous down there.”
The decision he was referring to was the one I had, circa January 2015, to move to Argentina. Henry wasn’t the only one with concerns. Plenty of friends thought I was bonkers – why would I want to leave Britain? What was I thinking?
I was thinking a lot of things… In Britain it felt like it was impossible to achieve a work-life balance and as though everyone I knew was struggling with anxiety or depression. Maybe, just maybe, the happy go lucky South America lifestyle would be the answer? It was. The time I spent living and working in Argentina – where they treat strangers like Brits treat lovers and always have time to stop for a Cafe cortado or glass of Malbec with friends – was one of the happiest I have known
You become a stranger in your homeland
American author, Thomas Wolfe, once wrote: “I have a thing to tell you. That is you can’t go home again.”
Wolfe was wrong. You can, of course, go home but it will never be the same again. While you’ve been having adventures the other side of the world, friends and family back home have got married, moved house… In short, they’ve moved on, and all you can do is watch from the sidelines.
Admittedly you’ll never lose good friends and your family will always be family, but the emails and phone calls will lessen and you won’t be as readily included in social gatherings as you once were.
To them you’re not normal for shying away from settling down while, for you, normal is now nothing more than a setting on a washing machine.
Moving abroad makes you realise that “things” don’t equal happiness. In fact, you’ve learnt that more stuff simply equals more stress and you’ll start to favour a minimalist approach to life – and pride yourself on your ability to fit your home into a backpack. What you thought was ‘home’ doesn’t exist anymore. You’ve learnt that home is not a place or a postcode. It is not made of bricks and mortar and never has been. Home is inside your head and your heart.
Freelance work is no longer to feared
The likelihood is you won’t be able to hold a steady, regular job on your return. Or, if you do, you’re daydreaming about jacking it in. You resent being stuck in a sterile office slaving away for someone else. You have your own dream and you’re working towards it but, for now, chances are you’re a freelancer earning a living from writing, teaching, film extra work, photography, leading walking tours…. anything to avoid working like a robot in a cubicle all day.
You’ll have more friends abroad than at home
You’ll find that the friendships that truly matter to you tend to be long and far apart. They may have been formed at airports or in bars abroad – basically outside of your comfort zone – but they are the ones that now mean the most.
These are friendships with people you’ll only get to see every couple of years ra-ther than week in and week out, but they are the ones that will last forever.
Foreign friendships are for the open minded who are thirsty for new adventures and know that the best relationships are forged across borders, not in them.
Dating is difficult
Dating won’t be a walk in the park. The usual dinner and movie date won’t im-press you after impromptu asados in Argentina and secret supper clubs in Beijing.
Neither will his/her new car or watch – you’ve chosen a life full of experiences as opposed to possessions.
And when it comes to holidays with your other half? Well you’re too independent and won’t care whether your partner travels with you or not. Lets face facts: you’ll be too busy talking to stranger and making friends with like minded people from around the world.
You learn to live without people
Living abroad thousands of miles away and in different time zones from your family and home town friends, you’ve come to the conclusion that presence is not a requirement for company.
You’ve also discovered that no matter how much you once depended on someone – maybe it was your Mum, your best mate or your boyfriend – you can live without them. You know how to not only survive but thrive in a foreign county. You are enough.
Routine becomes a word to be dreaded
Uncertainty and starting anew no longer terrifies you, conversely it thrills you. In the aftermath of your adventures overseas, you’ve become addicted to new plac-es, people and challenges and afraid of regularity which, for you, is now synon-ymous with dullness.
Or as the acclaimed author, Paulo Coelho, put it in his novel Manuscript Found in Accra: “To those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say: try routine. That kills you far more quickly.”
Words by Kaye Holland