When we began telling people our plans to move abroad and travel the world the responses were all enthusiastic and invariably the same- “Oh, my gosh! How exciting!”, “I am so jealous!”, “What an amazing experience for you both!”, “You’re going to have such an amazing time!”, “If I had the balls I would do the same thing!”, and so on and so forth. In the beginning when you’ve decided this is what you are going to do and you begin putting it out there to your friends and family, it can be so easy to get swept up in your own, and everyone else’s, excitement.
While everything everyone has said about this being an amazing, incredible, enviable, once in a life-time experience is true, there is an unspoken side of this coin that seems to get left out of the conversation,and sometimes out of your own thought process as well, which is: the price that must be paid in order to follow the ‘I want to leave it all behind and travel the world’ dream. So let’s get real and talk about the cost. No, I am not talking money, although that of course is a factor to consider. While some of this may seem obvious, be prepared for the reality being more emotionally, physically and mentally ass kicking than you think it will ,as was the case for both my husband and I:
1. Saying goodbye is going to suck- bad
Unfortunately, there is no way around this one and no way to make it any easier on yourself or those you are leaving behind. The reality is that you are choosing to go and leave all your loved ones behind and although most will be super happy for you, the ones that love you the most will also be struggling with the fact that you are choosing to exit their lives while you go gallivanting around the world without them. This will inevitably bring up mixed feelings, for you and for them. Own it and do your best to acknowledge those mixed feelings
and make efforts to soak them up before you go and discuss ways to keep in touch that work for you and them. Some may be okay just seeing and commenting on your Facebook/Instagram/Blog, others may want an occasional snapchat, text message, phone call or video chat. If the relationship is important to you you will find ways of maintaining the relationship while you are gone, but the reality too is that other relationships may suffer and fall to the wayside with you no longer there to maintain it.
2. Letting go of certain places and things will be WAY harder than you think
When we decided to go abroad we originally thought we would have a ‘home base’ in another country and would then be able to bring a few checked bags each with some ‘homey’ items and a bit of variety in our wardrobe, but the more we researched, planned and developed our plan the more we decided we needed portability and the ability to just pick up and go which meant we had some serious decisions to make about our belongings. We decided to only keep one closet sized storage unit (2’x5’) for a few items and keepsakes and decided only to bring with us what we could fit into a backpack and one carry on each. Boiling down your life to a backpack and computer bag may be easy for some people, but not for me! For some people like my husband, letting go of things was not only easy, but felt like a huge unburdening and was even a bit exhilarating because it signaled that we were actually doing this- we are getting rid of all our things so we can go on this adventure we’ve been talking and talking about! Also, consider that your belongings are things you must be responsible for. You care, maintain clean, and use your items. Releasing yourself from your belongings frees you from maintaining this responsibility. An example: my husband works on our vehicles. This means we had to maintain an inventory of tools, lubes (ahem), floor jacks, gloves, etc. All of these things needed space, inspection, organization, and time.By choosing to let these things go, we have embraced an entirely different lifestyle of minimalism – or better: essentialism.
For me, selling, donating and getting rid of our things was distressing, anxiety provoking, and even triggered a lot of grief and sad nostalgia, because for me, different objects and places (like our home we raised our daughter in) were connected to memories and feelings of comfort and joy, so letting them go felt like the end of that part of my life, and my reaction was very different. We had three garage sales, gave lots of stuff to friends and family, sold lots on OfferUp and donated enough to Goodwill to be able to fill an entire store. Even after all of this, we were still able to supply our 19 year old daughter with a fully furnished apartment with items from our old home, which was a pretty sweet deal for her! As a therapist and someone who likes to analyze the crap out of everything, It was an interesting process for me to recognize which places and things were hardest for me to let go of and now to recall which things I miss having the most. Things like our favorite mexican restaurant (La Cocina De Rosita), being able to get our favorite tea at the store, being able to use my favorite face wash and exfoliator, my bed with my cozy blanket and fluffy pillows, my favorite smelling candles, my super soft socks, a computer bag I hand stitched and sewed, some of the holiday decorations I would put around the house, some sentimental jewelry items, and yes, I miss the variety I had with my wardrobe! But in letting go, I have been forced to learn to simplify and in that there is a freedom. So I am embracing the ‘less is more’ lifestyle and seeing it as an opportunity to embrace what truly matters and am finding ways to create a sense of home wherever we lay our heads.
3. Practice living with (and without) whatever you are bringing for at least a few weeks before you leave
This may seem silly and it may not be practical for all travelers in all situations but I found it immensely helpful. We ended up traveling to England in October. We had planned that this was where we would first live and have as our home base. For ten days we practiced living out of our backpacks and packing cubes. This was helpful in giving us an idea of what items were critical, which were unhelpful, what kind of clothing came in handy, and what clothing just took up space. Turns out, Nick needs more socks than underware and I need leave-in conditioner, but not three black sweaters. If you are traveling light as we have decided to do (I go into the specifics of packing and traveling light in my other article “Prioritizing & Packing Light”), the items you carry will inevitably change over the weeks as your needs change and you re-prioritize, but it was super helpful for us to get an idea in advance via a ‘travel test run’. After our England ‘test run’ it inspired me to give myself a month before we were to make our big move abroad to ‘practice’ packing my bag which gave me the opportunity to add and take out things over the next 4 weeks before settling on the ‘final pack-job’ that I ended up bringing. Over the course of one month I narrowed down favorite vs. most practical: jewelry,
makeup, hygiene products, clothing, undergarments, comfort items (like my soft blanket and pillow we jammed into a compression sack), shoes, etc. I packed and re-packed my backpack probably 5 or 6 times, no joke. It’s a big decision when you are trying to think about what you will want and need over the course of several months to years at a time in different parts of the world. Already, one month into our trip I can say I have left behind a thermal shirt, a sweater, and a lined jacket at previous Airbnb’s (your welcome to my hosts who find those little gifts!) and have had to get a lighter, more comfy pair of shoes to alternate between with my heavy, snow boots and I have procured two different jackets at thrift stores (although one of them will eventually be abandoned at some point). I had to hunt down some exfoliating shower gel as I also have found that without this shower routine, dead skin seems to get gross and sluff off when clothes or bath towel rubs against it- eew! I know, TMI, but in the spirit of full disclosure, this is just a fun reality- bodies can be yucky and skin likes being exfoliated. Most notably for lizard people.
4. Don’t give up on the dream, just take a break from it
This may seem like an odd one to include here but I thought it worth discussing because there were more times than I can count over the year since we mentioned we were ‘going to do this’ and us actually doing it, that I wanted to just say, “Screw this! Forget it! It just wasn’t meant to be”. I guess the Part II to this header is: Your best laid plans will fall through and nothing will work out the way you think it will. When we originally set out to ‘move abroad’ we planned to move to England and take our cat and our elderly dog. We thought we would just waltz on over there, get transferred, get jobs, get visas that allowed us to be there more than the 90 day tourist stay and enjoy ourselves for a couple of years before moving on to our next location. Once we started to do serious research into all these various components and it turns out bringing pets abroad is not easy and, in the case of our dog, who is a pitbull mix, wasn’t even allowed into most countries because of restricted breed laws. We also started looking into job opportunities in England. With a Masters Degree and a Marriage & Family Therapy License, and with three years experience teaching Undergraduate Psychology I thought I’d have a decent chance of finding work. Although we found several opportunities that I got excited about and applied for, it turns out that even if I were to be hired there is no guarantee of getting a Visa approved even with a job secured/offered/accepted as they do not look favorably on foreigners taking jobs away from their citizens or from other qualified expats in need who might be fleeing their country of origin due to danger, instability, poverty, etc. In UK, our privilege as American citizens makes it harder to employ in skilled positions, so we had to rethink our game plan. Needless to say, we came up with about 20 other travel ideas and for various reasons they changed over and over again. For us, the main thing we had to keep reminding ourselves was that our main goal was still the same- travel and see the world and to experience as much culture as possible. That mentality allowed for much more flexibility and although it was insanely frustrating at times to make a new plan, slave away doing hours and hours of research and then conclude that another option wasn’t going to work either, it helped us remember that no matter what, we would make it work.
On that note though, without going into all the details here, (because the topic is worthy of its very own article) planning a move abroad or any long term traveling is an insane amount of work (I guess that’s why travel agents and companies that help with moving abroad exist, right?!). There is SO much to think through, so much to do, so many things to get in order- seriously, the list is endless and ever changing- and so many obstacles that will seem to pop up just to test how committed you are to this plan of yours. There were more times than I care to admit that I wanted to throw in the towel and say, “I just can’t do this”. But it was in those moments that I had to acknowledge that those feelings were letting me know that I was needing a break from the planning, and the organizing, and the packing, and the selling, and the saying goodbye, and everything. Once we got past the talking about going abroad to actually doing things to make the move happen we were about six months out and it felt like planning and preparing us and our family for this move was now my part time job, so when those negative thoughts and feelings of overwhelm and fear crept in our plowed me over I just had to step away– sometimes for the rest of the day, or sometimes for the rest of the week if it had been a particularly challenging week. It was a great lesson in practicing what I preach, as I would remind so many of the people I worked with in therapy, we all have limits physically, mentally, and emotionally so this was a great reminder to myself that I am only human and that it is okay to step away when I needed to, and then I could come back once I had filled myself back up with some self-care and was better able to tackle things with a fresh set of eyes and renewed energy and enthusiasm. Another thing that helped us initially was having some flexibility in our exit date. Originally, our plan was to leave in the Fall (September-October) after launching our daughter off to college but when her plans changed our timeline needed to adapt as well. Honestly though, with all the obstacles and changes to our plan I was grateful for the extra time to revise our timeline, spend more time with our daughter, friends, family and pets, so it really worked out for the best. Once we had our daughter situated and figured out our new travel idea, leaving right after the New Year just felt right. New year, new chapter of our lives, although Berlin in January is a bit colder than San Diego. This is what I get for wanting a “real winter”!