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Outgrowing Home Base
When one trip abroad opened my protected eyes.
I have no house keys, no car keys, and no health insurance.
For fourteen years and spanning twenty-five countries, I ‘backpacked’, lived as an ‘expat’, and now living as a ‘digital nomad.’
It didn’t always start out like this. I was raised under the same roof with a loving family in a lovely suburban town with cookie-cutter cul-de-sacs. My life was rooted down here - only venturing as far as the next state for the family’s annual summer trip to the Jersey Shore.
But, I felt like there had to be more out there to explore. Was this my destiny to continue living this identical life in Sameville, USA? My upbringing was desirable. I had a beautiful home, complete with delicious home-cooked meals, incredible parents (both named Pat!), and two loving brothers.
There’s a lot of pressure to grow up and establish roots in your hometown.
But, one quick trip to North Ireland to visit my cousin studying abroad opened my protected eyes to opportunities for international friendships. and worldly experiences in unimaginable destinations. I was outgrowing this rooted belief.
‘Prove it,’ my father said on the other end of the phone when I told him I would study abroad in Australia during my last semester of college, just a quick two-hour car ride from home.
And one year later, I boarded the 14-hour plane to the University of the Sunshine Coast for an expected six months. I’ve been living abroad since.
I am more used to this way of life, this is my familiar way of being.
I had my first full-time travel experience, spending 6 months in Southeast Asia with most of my belongings busting from my backpack. It was exciting to move around every few days, spanning the tropical region of Buddhist temples and white sandy beaches. Exploration in every way possible, whether it was the puddle jumper flights, a handful of loud buses, overcrowded sleeper trains with the AC cranked, or lots of neon-lit tuk-tuks. Month after month spent whizzing through the cities of Bangkok, Siam Reap, and Ho Chi Minh City. This young and adventurous lifestyle felt freeing and invigorating.
‘Where should we go tomorrow?’ we would ask ourselves daily, endlessly planning bus routes and hostels for the next beachside town. The backpacking trail had a common direction, taking us from Malaysia to Thailand and Singapore. Commonly followed by Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and ending in Bangkok, Thailand, for the final hurrah.
Before this trip, when I tried to imagine myself living this lifestyle, I wondered, ‘How could anyone want to live out of a bag with all their belongings on their back?’
And just like a turtle, It took me about one week to realize why. Making friends from around the world and reconnecting in new places would not have been possible in my cozy cul-de-sac.
The freedom of no plan. No commitment in sight.
This instability was so liberating.
Fast forward through three countries of residency, fully embracing the expat lifestyle as a teacher in South Korea and most recently in Taiwan. With an original intention to go teach English in Asia for a year, I suddenly blinked, and here I am reflecting on the past decade of living abroad.
An incredible experience immersed in traditional Asian cultures and mouth-watering flavors.
After purging all my belongings, I packed up a few cherished items and lugged them to the post office on my 120cc moped. The possessions traveled by slow boat to my parent's home back on that cul-de-sac. And all I was left with was one suitcase bound for Europe.
I officially hung up my chopsticks and said sweet goodbyes to bubble tea and soup dumplings, kissing this beautiful tropical island and comfortable ‘expat’ life goodbye.
With our sights on something new, I decided to leave the stability behind and explore as ‘digital nomads’ for the remainder of 2022.
The first destination was Lisbon, Portugal, in hopes of confirming my dreams of establishing the next future home base. After arriving on April Fools’ day with my fiance, everything seemed to fall into place. The first moments were complete with Pastel de Natas, historic jazz clubs, outside escalators, endless hills, and enough grilled sardines to satisfy your salty tastebuds.
‘Could this be our new expat destination?’ we thought as we drooled over European architecture and compared the ancient neighborhood cathedrals to the colorful temples we had just left.
It did not take long to be welcomed by the friendly service at the tiny back alley bakery, as the old man behind the metal prison-like bars handed over the paper bag of chocolate croissants and a smile, ‘Obrigado!’ This could be it.
This lifestyle may seem scary, but I find it incredibly fulfilling.
Trying new places, immersing myself in different cultures, and stimulating my senses with new and pungent scents are still as fresh as the first time I used my passport.
As we embraced our plans for Lisbon, we received notice that we won the competitive bid to secure a rental in Lisbon, just one of the many things required for the 5-year visa.
So while we wait for this move, I can feel the end is near.
While it’s a bit closer than Asia and just across the ocean from my suburban American cul-de-sac, I’m ready to unpack and plant some roots. And, of course, have some house keys, a MetroCard, and health insurance.
Lisbon, our future ‘home.’
Thank you to all of the WoP support team, including Sandra for editing, Michelle for reviewing, Alexandra for inspiring, and many more for getting me here.
What do you need to book the flight and take the next trip? If anything resonates or would love to learn how to make it happen, comment or reply, and let’s chat.