5 Ways to Survive and Thrive as an Expat Traveller
Many people who want to travel never do because “it’s too expensive,” or “it takes too much time,” or ends up being “more trouble than it’s worth.” But with that attitude, your world stays tiny.
I’ve been living in Asia for the better part of a decade, and I’ve discovered that the best way to make travel a lifestyle work, without needing a trust fund or depleting your savings, is to move overseas. Here are 5 tips on how to make it happen.
1. Make money as you go
If you are going to live and travel abroad, you need money. The challenge is finding the kind of work that still gives you the freedom to move around. There are three main ways travel-minded expats get it done.
1. Restaurants, Bars, Shops
- Pros: relatively low commitment, easy to find a position, fun way to interact with locals, don’t require all your time
- Cons: lower pay, difficult to get hired if you aren’t proficient in the local language
2. Teaching English
- Pros: decent pay, may provide benefits and time off, fairly easy to get hired
- Cons: can be a significant commitment, hard to get hired if not a native speaker
3. Freelancing: writing, coding, design, etc.
- Pros: set your hours, work from anywhere, possibly great pay
- Cons: need to have developed skills and a steady flow of clients
While some intrepid travellers consider starting a business, this route can be incredibly time consuming and the income uncertain. In my personal experience it’s hugely rewarding, but it also limits my ability to travel as much as I would otherwise be able to. If your goal is to jet-set and explore, stick to paid work that won’t tie you down.
2. Write a blog
Can you even be a traveller anymore without a good blog? Writing about your experiences is almost as much fun as actually having them, and if you do it really well it can become a lucrative source of income. Even if it doesn’t, your blog can be a great introduction to other travellers and can be a good way to tap into networks, places, events and opportunities that can enrich your travel experience.
The best travel blogs take the task seriously. They employ good writing, good design, and a high degree of professionalism. If writing, design or developing isn’t your strong suit, get someone to help you. Ask for guest posts and have your friends contribute. Get an editor, or even consider hiring a writer.
Also, make sure you post consistently. One post per week is a good frequency to aim for to retain an audience. You can also write posts in advance and schedule times for them to go up automatically. Keep in mind that your posts don’t need to be novels. Even quick and dirty posts keep your blog fresh.
Finally, photos are key. Make sure you have at least your smartphone camera ready when you’re travelling, and if you aren’t a pro photographer, leverage your network and get friends and freelancers to take pictures for you. Check out stock photo sites to help elevate the visual strength of your blog.
3. Pick a base
Choosing a place to make your new international stomping grounds can be complicated. The impulse is usually to pick somewhere exotic that you’ve been meaning to visit. And while the Phi Phi Islands are lovely, they might not be the best spot for long-term expats.
Your new base needs to be low cost, offer high levels of satisfaction, be relatively close to other locations you’re keen to explore, and be worth exploring in and of itself. For all of these reasons I’ve chosen Taipei as my base. The cost of living isn’t unattainable, it’s convenient, safe, there is a ton to do right in the city, and Taiwan is an amazing place to explore on your own. Even better though, it’s a quick flight to:
- Okinawa – 1h 26min
- Hong Kong – 1h 55min
- Shanghai – 1h 55min
- Manila – 2h 15min
- Seoul – 2h 30min
- Hanoi / Ho Chi Minh – 3h+
- Tokyo – 3h 10min
- Bangkok – 3h 40min
- Singapore – 4h 40min
- Kuala Lumpur – 4h 40min
- Jakarta – 5h 25min
Just think of the range of authentic international food you can eat less than a 5 hour flight away! In my opinion, Taipei is king if you want to explore Asia. Other travellers rave about Thailand and Seoul, while places like Prague, Croatia, and Berlin get high praise in Europe.
4. Set a travel schedule
So, you’ve found a spot to live and started a blog, but now you need to commit to actually travelling. A good rule of thumb I follow is to plan for two main trips a year, and then at least one smaller, more local excursion. For example, a few years ago I went to Korea and Hong Kong on two separate trips, and then a solo trip around Taiwan that took me almost a week. Next year, the goal is to do Japan and the Philippines, but I’ll probably also do some weekend travelling to Taiwan’s outlying islands.
Stick to your schedule, update your blog, and within a year or two, you’ll be a regional travel expert. At that point you’ll find yourself feeling well established overseas, gaining valuable travel experience, and perhaps even a loyal following on your blog and a growing audience. Like anything else, being consistent and remembering to go slow and steady are the keys to success.
5. Make it actually happen
The hardest part is actually making it happen. So get started.
When it comes to establishing a blog, start by reading great travel blogs. Pay attention to what’s worked for them, how they’ve done it, and what articles of theirs are most successful.
Research some of the places you want to go and figure out a path that works for you. Try creating a pro-con list to narrow down your decision. Consider your must-haves for a base abroad and what you may miss most about home. These factors aren’t trivial considerations when you’re 8000 miles away in a foreign place.
Look into opportunities for work before you go but don’t feel like you need to have all your employment ducks in a row before you arrive. Just make sure you have enough of a financial buffer to give you time to get on your feet in your new destination.
Finally, make a tangible commitment. Buy your tickets. Avoid over-planning. You could spend a lifetime preparing for a trip or a move that never happens, and it will never be perfect. You’re going to make some mistakes and you’re going to have to become comfortable with making big decisions quickly.
In my opinion, becoming an expat traveller is one of the most rewarding life experiences you can have.
For more first-hand experience on what becoming an expat is really like, check out how one travel writer forged a new path in Paris.
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- 5 Ways to Survive and Thrive as an Expat Traveller - May 2, 2017