Posts Tagged ‘expat life


Five Things You Can Lose To Make Travel Easier

Note: This post cross-posted from my self-hosted blog.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what sort of things a person can do to make it easier to travel or lead a nomadic lifestyle. My answer is usually that the biggest change you can make is in the way you think about your personal belongings. To be a nomad, you must think like a nomad. If you look at virtually any nomadic culture, you will see that they do not generally have much. When you have to be able to carry your life around on a cart/camel/caravan, you learn to really pare down what you “need” in life. I have a separate post coming soon about how I went from having 3 truckloads of belongings to 4 plastic bins of them, but I felt I should write about some of the bigger things that can really tie you down, that you should consider getting rid of if you are interested in leading a more nomadic lifestyle. These are not easy, and they’re all things that society claims that we “need” in order to have a “good” life, so be prepared to do some reevaluating of your own values. Anyway, here you go:

  • Vehicles. Admittedly, in most places in America, vehicles are a necessity if you want to be able to have a job/buy food/go anywhere. My response to that is this: avoid those places. There are plenty of places in the US that have good public transportation systems that aren’t astronomically expensive to live in like NYC, and you should be able to find somewhere that you can live without needing to own a vehicle. The internet has made it easier than ever to be car-less; with services like Zip Car, you can now get a car on-demand if you want to head out on a weekend road trip. Why to lose it: Between vehicle payments, insurance, maintenance, and property taxes, vehicles are expensive! Not only that, but once you have one and have invested so much money in it, you’re likely to be loathe to get rid of it. If you have a vehicle and want to spend an extended amount of time abroad, you will have to either find someone to look after it for you or you will have to sell it (most likely at a loss). What to do instead: Live in a city with at least moderately decent public transportation (a good bus system will do). Invest in a Zip Car membership and a bike. If you absolutely must have a vehicle, look into getting a scooter or a small (250cc or below) motorcycle. They don’t take up much space, are often eligible for free parking, are far cheaper than a car to both purchase and maintain, they get great gas mileage (even a larger motorcycle like our 750cc Ural gets around 30mpg, and a small bike or scooter may get over 100mpg), and they maintain their value much more than cars and are easier to sell. Being “Car Free” does still cost you some money (a bike, a zip car membership, taxis, etc), but in the end it is far less than what a car would cost, and if you decide to move abroad, you don’t have to worry about having something expensive and complex to sell. In not buying a car/vehicle, you’re effectively buying your freedom.
  • A House. One of the major causes of the current recession is the havoc that has been wreaked by a largely-unregulated lending industry, with particular blame on mortgage lenders. Americans place a tremendous amount of self-worth on someday owning a nice house with a white picket fence and a swing in the front yard. This is really just social conditioning. People in most of the rest of the world do not feel the same drive to own their own housing that Americans do. Even in Europe, it is not unusual (or stigmatized) for families to rent their housing well into their 40s, and in places like Asia, many folks never own their own place. Why to lose it: Housing is one of the main assets that ties a person to a particular place. Not only are houses expensive (maintenance, fees, taxes, mortgage), but they also have a sort of magnetism that ties their inhabitants to them. Once you are settled in one place and are financially and emotionally committed to it, you are less likely to want to change your circumstances. What to do instead: Apartments are great in that you are only committed to them for a limited period of time, and even if you need to break that contract, the cost is comparatively small. Thanks to places like Craigslist, it is no longer difficult to find a wide variety of rooms, apartments or even houses to rent, and many of them can be surprisingly flexible about lease durations. If you want to be really hardcore and plan on spending most of your time on the move, rent an indoor, climate-controlled storage facility (about $50/month) for the belongings you aren’t taking with you but you really want to keep (bedding, off-season clothes, etc) and rely on the kindness of friends, family, and couchsurfers. Remember, home is where the heart is.
  • Debt/Credit Cards. One need only look at the wonderful blog Man VS. Debt to see what you can do when you don’t have debt hanging over your head. For many, this will be the most difficult to get rid of, but it is also the item likely to cause the most profound change. Society has managed to convince us that we need credit cards because we need to buy things we can’t afford in order to keep up with the Jones. Why to lose it: If you don’t have debt payments to make, you only need to make enough money to survive, and that opens up a lot of options. Also, the only person who benefits from debt is the credit card companies. Period. What to do instead: Stop caring about having stuff. Some people advise you to think about whether or not most people in the rest of the world do without your purchase, but that’s a little too detached for me. Instead, before you buy something, think about what you will do with it if you go abroad. If it’s going to have to go into storage, think long and hard before you purchase it. Also, don’t buy for the future; if it’s not something you are going to use now, you don’t really know if you need it, right? (Exceptions are off-season clothing that is on sale, etc.) If you have a lot of student loans hanging over your head, look into programs abroad that will make payments for you while you are abroad – the Peace Corps is excellent about this – or find work while you’re overseas. Another option is to sell your belongings, if you have them. It’s stuff you’d probably have to put into storage anyway, so why not make some money off it instead?
  • Pets. I know that having fido or fluffy gives you something to look forward to at the end of the day, but pets are pretty much a no-go for nomads unless you have someone who stays back home to take care of them. Believe me, I love animals – I’m a professional dog walker and I have had around 30 pets over the course of my life – but I also am acutely aware of the limitations they can place on your mobility. Why to lose it: Unless you want to put your animal through the emotional trauma of being pawned off on your friends or relatives for extended periods of time, having a pet is not a good move for a frequent traveler, nor healthy for the animal. What to do instead: Buy a plant (when pawned off on a friend, these become gifts, rather than burdens). Become friends with the dogs at your local dog park. Offer to pet sit for people. Spend more time outside your home.
  • Contracts. In particular I am thinking of things like work-duration contracts (you agree to work for them for 1 year, etc) and things like cell phone contracts. Contracts are the ultimate representation of restriction, but they hide this by often offering benefits (a guaranteed job, a cheaper phone, etc). Why to lose it: By their very nature, contracts punish you for making your own decisions. Want to leave your job early and work somewhere else? Well, you’ve broken your contract and now lost a reference. Want to get a different cell phone carrier before yours sucks? It’s going to really cost you. Contracts claim to help you, but in reality, there are generally very few benefits to signing anything that restricts your free will. What do to instead: Find a job that does not require you to work for them and only them for a specified duration, or alternatively, offer to work for a reduced rate in exchange for not being bound to a piece of paper. For things like services, find out if there is a “pay as you go” option as can often be found with cell phones.

As you can see, by choosing not to have these things, you are also choosing to reject large portions of the status quo. You know what? That’s okay. Not everyone needs a house, car, spouse, two kids, desk job, and a golden retriever. If the white picket fence isn’t your dream, then why bother picking up all the trappings? Live your own vision, not someone else’s. To do any less is to shortchange yourself at life. Do you want that? I doubt it.

In the interests of disclosure, here’s how I stack up against my own advice:

  • Vehicle: None, though I am on the title of our Ural sidecar motorcycle. I am supremely lucky in that I am able to use Marc’s car without having it be a ball and chain around my own leg. If I were not able to use Marc’s car, I would put more effort into getting our Ural running daily, or I would find a job that I could use public transportation to get to.
  • Housing: Marc and I live in an apartment now, but prior to this and prior to Korea, I lived for a year via the storage unit/couch method I described above. I had minimal costs, I was able to visit people and places I had never seen before, and I got to know many of my friends far better than I had known them previously. In an entire year, there were only a couple nights that I had to actually sleep in my truck, and it wasn’t the end of the world.
  • Debt: This is the #1 issue I still struggle with. It took me years to finally learn that I didn’t need more stuff, and thankfully this lesson has largely stuck. I still have a reasonable amount of credit card debt to pay off, but it was largely accrued while I did not have a job. But, debt is by far the largest stone I carry, and it’s pretty much the only thing that prevents me from being able to get up and go work in low-paying countries like Vietnam and Mongolia. I’d sell my belongings, but I already did that, two years ago, and I didn’t sell them, I gave them to charity. The only two valuable things I own are also the two items I need to make a living: my computer and my camera equipment.
  • Pets: Marc and I have two cats, but I would not have gotten them if I were living alone. Marc’s job does not permit him to travel with me (unfortunately), so I have a built-in pet sitter that the cats are already familiar with.
  • Contracts: My job is blessedly free of a contract, and I have a tendency to seek out work that is often temporary in nature (retail, waitressing, freelancing, etc). In Korea, I did have to sign a one-year contract (breaking it means deportation), but that’s not unusual when working abroad, and I consider that to be an exception. As for other contracts, the only binding thing I’ve signed in recent memory is my iPhone service from AT&T. I would not be able to do my job without a GPS-enabled phone, and there are none available on a pay-as-you-go basis, so this is a sacrifice I had to make. Thankfully, iPhones can be made to work in foreign countries, so it’s not a total loss.


As I approach the half-way mark here of my time here in Korea, I have noticed that time has once again slowed down again, unfortunately.  For about a month or so, time was speeding by.  My weeks seemed almost over by Tuesday, and before I knew it it was the weekend and another week was happening again within moments.  Time was going very quickly, which is good, because while Korea is interesting, I don’t particularly enjoy my time here, and I dearly miss Marc.

While my weeks themselves are still going fast, it feels like time in general has slowed back to a normal pace, which is to say, too slow.  When I look at my counter toward my hypothetical vacation date (I have not gotten my vacation time set in stone yet), which is also the date I get to fly back stateside and see Marc again, it never seems to get closer.  I mean, sure, it now stands at about 2.5 months, rather than the 5 months it was back at the end of August, but…that still feels like a long time.  Too long.  Really, anything more than a month feels not all that much more different than 5 months, I have found.  While the weeks go by quickly, looking at my calendar and thinking “Oh, I only have 2 months and 2 weeks left instead of 2 months and 3 weeks left” just isn’t all that satisfying.  Know what I mean?

Added to this is the fact that Marc has apparently been feeling what I have come to call “reverse loneliness”.  He has been hanging out with his female friends a considerable amount recently, but instead of it making him feel less lonely, it seems to only make him miss me more.  In his words, “They are nice, and they keep me company, but they are not you.  Their presence only makes me more acutely aware of your absence and makes me miss you more.” .  I am not a jealous person in the least, and I have no problem with him hanging around with other women or even having them sleep over (so long as they know his heart is taken).  But, it does pain me to see him so lonely, with or without other companions.  So, I want to get back to DC as soon as possible, a sentiment he very much mirrors.

Anyway.  Time needs to speed back up.  Now.  I need to get back to this:

Aw, we're so cute.

I miss my Frenchman.


Some thoughts…

I do a lot of web surfing in my copious amounts of free time at work, and with web surfing inevitably comes daydreaming.

I was meandering around wikipedia and various expat blogs today and I started thinking; if Marc and I were not together, or if he were somehow able to fit into my pocket, what would I do?  Where would I go?

Before I came to Korea, I told a few people that if Marc and I were to break up before I got back to the US, that as a coping mechanism (because really, it would hit me pretty hard) I would look around for a tall ship to sign onto for a few months or so.  I haven’t sailed in years, but it’s a good way to get away from the world.  Your life is pretty much work/sleep/work/sleep/work/shoreleave/drink/sleep, and while it does get tedious, it is also refreshing in its simplicity.  Plus, on a ship, you’re pretty much cut off from the world except for your crewmates, and if you’re not socially inclined, they tend to leave you alone, I have found.

I think that path is still something I would consider, though these days I think I would be more likely to go and try to find work in other countries that I have more of an interest in.  Russia would be interesting, especially places other than Moscow or St. Petersburg, such as Krasnoyarsk or Perm, on the edges of Siberia.  Mongolia would also be neat, as would Slovakia, Croatia, or even Turkey.  I would love to work in Germany, or Switzerland, or France – countries where I know people and speak the language to varying degrees – but it is almost impossible to get jobs in them.

I get irritated with the culture here in Korea, but that is not because it is foreign – on the contrary, I love integrating myself into new cultures – it is because the culture and I do not personally mesh.  I’m sure it’s different up in Seoul (though, from reading the forum posts, only somewhat different), but down here in Jindo, I find that people are generally rude, inconsiderate, dirty, selfish, and closed.  Not everything, but if I had to characterize, that’s what I would say.  But, the cultures I have listed above are all ones I feel I would be at least moderately compatible with, for different reasons, and they are places I think it would be interesting to live for a temporary period of time.

Hopefully I will get to visit all of those places for more than a cursory glance, but I hope it will be with Marc, not without him.

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