My sister currently lives in Goa, India and is very happy doing so. She is doing this on a 10 year tourist visa, which means every 6 months she’s in India she has to leave the country to reset her status. Here’s her top reasons for loving this transient lifestyle:
1. I don’t have much. This could be seen as a disadvantage to many people but for me this equals freedom. I don’t own a house, a car, a dog, I don’t even have a house plant. I love that I can pack all my things into a suitcase and move into a different apartment, city or country almost at a whim. Recently I had to pack all my belongings while I left to Thailand for a month. I was upset I needed two extra boxes to store my things. Although it was two small boxes, and mostly food items (an electronic rice cooker is a must) I was still disappointed I had so much stuff. Needing to keep minimal belongings also saves money. I might love something when I see it, but the first thought in my mind is, “Where the hell am I going to put this? Right…nowhere. Put the Doraemon lunchbox back where you found it.”
2. I meet so many people. Traveling will always force you to meet new people but living abroad allows you to develop relationships in another way. A temporary holiday is just that, temporary. When you meet people on holiday it’s mostly understood you’ll lose contact after it’s over. I’ve found that when I’m abroad for one month or longer, I build amazing relationships with people in ways I didn’t back home. Something about going through living in a new place makes the relationship stronger.
3. I have become comfortable being uncomfortable. As in, things are new and I don’t always know the customs or the culture or how to use the elevator (I swear every country has a different button to get on the ground floor and I always end up in the basement!) or transit system (where do I buy my ticket? I can’t read any of these signs…) or trying to tell a cab driver how to get home (tip: have someone write your address in the local language or find a recognizable landmark you can say). In the end it’s all part of the adventure. After a few months of sometimes being very overwhelmed and exhausted, I can look back and see that I have now become familiar with a new place, a new city, a new country. It’s exciting when people start asking me for directions. Hah!
4. I am infinitely more patient. I can’t imagine that my younger self was ever considered patient. In fact I’m sure that I was the exact opposite. Impatient is probably not even a strong enough adjective to describe my lack of patience (my mother can probably add a few choice words here). But somewhere between my extended travels and my living abroad I gained an immense amount of patience for life and people. Sure I still get bothered and flustered and all that fun life stuff but most of the issues I can’t control. The food someone cooks me, the smells of a country, the cleanliness, the hot summers–it just doesn’t bother me the way it used to. Or maybe I’m just content with my life and know things could always be worse.
But for all the reasons I love being abroad there are a few things that make it suck. I live out of a suitcase and sometimes wish I had nice things to make my house more homey. When I get bloody lost on the same bloody road I’ve been using for weeks I wonder why I keep moving so much. And dammit, I really just wish I had a dryer to make my bath towels soft and fluffy!
Really I’ve decided the hardest thing about living abroad is missing out on everyone else’s life events. My best friend’s baby, my parents’ new dog, seeing my nephews for summer vacation. If I could clone myself a dozen times I would. But then would I still be able to catch it all? Is that even what should be done?
We all miss important events—whether because of work or health or other circumstances. I used to blame myself and my nomadic tendencies for being a less-than-stellar friend and/or family member. (Oh you’re getting married? Sorry I’m hanging out with cows in India, can’t make it.) I thought if I wasn’t such a wanderer I could be there for them during this or make sure I could help them through that.
However what I have come to conclude is that in some odd way, my travels and lack of physical presence has actually helped me become a better friend. Had I been there with my tangible support I may have lacked the experience to actually be a positive influence on my relationships (see above #4: increased patience). So just like cheese is best improved through age and circumstance, travel is best to improve me.