For those with a thirst to step off a plane into exciting new cities very, very far away from your home to see what adventure awaits: then this post will resonate with you.
I work for many reasons but the top 3 are: I really like helping kids learn new culinary skills. I like to be my own boss and make good money. I like the freedom to travel anywhere at any time.
The last reason was a part of my soul that was reawakened first in August of 2020 when I experienced the wonders of Eastern Europe on a month-long trip to Kiev, Ukraine. It then flared up in December 2021 on a lone trip to Medellin, Colombia, that was supposed to be 2ish weeks but turned into 5 life-altering weeks of sun, new friends, new recipes to learn, nights out, dinners shared, and much, much more.
This summer, I am preparing for some more time abroad, probably in Europe somewhere (Italy is always a blast and I speak the language!) but the key element is HOW to travel in a way where I can still work, live well and pursue my goals for the year.
This is “Living Abroad,” which is not “Vacation”
Vacation is usually
- A shorter duration of time, maybe 3 days or up to 2 weeks
- It’s often through a “guided” tour like a cruise or with a travel guide
- There is NO work done, and it’s purely for enjoying the city and seeing as much as you can, often at a fast pace
- It often lacks the basics of life that we do regularly like exercise (except for lots of walking), going to bed at a decent hour and of course, the diet goes out the window (because those new foods look really good!)
- It’s usually quite draining, in part because there’s a lot of FUN (and self-indulgence)
Meanwhile, I prefer “Living Abroad” which is:
- Slower paced over a long period of time, at least 3 weeks, but ideally 1-3 months
- Built around living in one city, often in an Airbnb or rented apartment
- There is WORK done, almost like a regular work week
- You keep up the day-to-day routines and goals for the year including exercise, eating (decently!), and trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour (though Colombia at night is quite tempting)
- It’s rejuvenating because you’re not going to a lot of destinations, but often staying in one or two spots to truly get to know the city and its people. Plus, you have the time to build real relationships and connections.
I’ve done this in 5 countries: Italy, Peru, Argentina, Ukraine, and Colombia. I like it because there’s no dip in income and my big goals stay on track…and 2022 has some BIG ones as we get LIFT Enrichment’s cooking classes back in person and at all of our old schools while adding new ones in Arizona and California.
Here are my top 9 tips to “Live Abroad”…which encompasses many of the key life areas: health, wealth, and relationships.
Tip 1: Location, Location, Location. The magic of proximity
When you’re planning your trip, the first part is choosing the location of your hotel or Airbnb for the first 2 weeks. This is enough time to get a feel for the city and then later choose a month-long place to settle into.
You have got to choose one not too far away from the action, or it’ll be extra hard to make friends and enjoy the city you’re in.
At the same time, be aware of decision fatigue. I like to choose about 5-7 Airbnb, message them all to see if they have the key elements I need (kitchen, wifi, comfy bed, desk, nice view, etc.). Then pick one. Fortunately, Airbnb will help you out if you made a bad decision and you can move out if it’s not a good fit after a few days.
For this recent trip to Medellin, I did some google searches, talked to friends who traveled there before, and figured out “Poblado” would be a good area. I call Poblado the Beverly Hills/Scottsdale of Medellin because it’s nicer, more expensive, and kinda touristy. There are lots of “gringos” and foreigners around, but Colombians also like to frequent the area as well.
My Airbnb was about 10 minutes away from the center, which gave me access to everything but didn’t put me in the thick of it, which was perfect. I like my privacy to get work done as needed. I even filmed a LIVE cooking class on zoom I taught here making Penne in “Pink” with a Tomato-Cream sauce
I stayed for 2 weeks, and then extended my stay another 3 weeks and moved to a different part of town called Laureles.
Laureles is a much more local spot, which doesn’t have the sleek look of Poblado, but I liked that a few friends were in the area, and it was a bit more flat. It has a more relaxed vibe, and I could always get to Poblado in an Uber (which costs about $3 one-way!)
Again, proximity is key. If it’s too much of a drive or effort to hang out, you won’t see people much, and that’s not good.
Tip 2: Find Your “Go-To” Spots To Create A Sense of Comfort
With some self-awareness, you need to understand what you need to feel your best. For example, I’m an extrovert, but I know I like staying in an Airbnb because I like having my own kitchen to cook some of my own, healthier meals, during my travels.
Here are my “Go-To” spots that I make an extra special effort to attend frequently so I can get to know the staff and regulars.
- A local cafe, to get coffee and work at
- A nearby supermarket, for fresh ingredients
- A restaurant, preferably a local spot for a weeknight meal to try new foods
- A kinda fancy bar or lounge for hanging with friends in a relaxing environment
- A co-working spot, (see below)
Tip 3: The Magic of Co-Working Spots
I never considered myself a “digital nomad” because it brought to mind an image of a backpacker with a laptop who lived off of cheap beer and quick bites. Later, I realized how different that is in 2022. It’s made up of people who are employees, often with remote privileges, who just want to explore and travel.
One buddy of mine worked for a real estate company in Texas while another was at JP Morgan. They were well-paid and that money went much, much farther in Colombia than it ever would in their home states.
Co-Working spots are basically offices where everyone is working and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbor (who probably speaks English) and make a new friend to grab lunch with.
Tip 4: Expect moments of confusion, loneliness, and boredom.
While Instagram is for showcasing all the fun and thrills that happens…life isn’t that way all of the time when you travel! If you don’t speak the language and/or get lost, there will be moments of frustration.
Take for example one evening where I hiked up the wrong hill with some groceries. The sun was down and I was tired and sweaty, so I just stopped and ordered an Uber to get home.
There were some evenings where we tried to find one cool “spot” someone told us about…only to discover it’s boring and doesn’t get interesting for another two hours.
These things only usually happen the first week as you get your bearings, but just soak it all in as part of the “experience” of being a stranger in a foreign land.
Tip 5: Share the experience with others, but also enjoy them on your own.
I was talking with a good friend recently about some of the biggest highlights of our lives and his philosophy was that most of those moments involved other people. I agreed, partially…but when he said “people” he meant friends he came with on a trip. Sometimes those “people” are there in the moment because you put yourself out there.
In life, I really, really encourage you to travel and explore and try new things BY YOURSELF.
Of course, you can invite people, but if they don’t want to go…will that stop you from doing them?
I was on the game show “Let’s Make A Deal” in 2013 and WON A CAR ON NATIONAL TELEVISION….but my neighbor was supposed to come with me and flaked last minute. It’s a good thing I still went on my own.
I went to Ukraine BY MYSELF and ended up exploring some of the most incredible beaches of my life with experiences I will remember to my dying day.
In Colombia, I had dinner by myself at a restaurant (with my journal, so I can reflect and take notes) and made good friends with the waiter who enlivened the whole experience.
So when you’re out there, go DO the activities you want to…but this leads me to another key part
Tip 6: You gotta make the first move.
In life, no one is going to ask you to be your friend (at least most of the time). So when you meet someone new it’s YOUR JOB to take their number and/or Instagram and invite them to something. It could be lunch, coffee or drinks. Give that person a chance to see if they’re a good fit to be a friend, and if not, then at least you tried.
When you’re out with a group from the local hostel or foreigners meet up, just pick a spot and say “Let’s go there.” You can use yelp.com and see what happens. But just make a decision! You can always go somewhere else if it’s not a good fit.
This is a muscle that has to be trained. Too many people in groups ask “What do you want to do?” “Where do you want to eat?” Maybe it’s just my personality, but I’ll always suggest one spot and just see what happens. 90% of the time, it’s a good meal or spot.
And when you’re in a NEW place…
Tip 7: Say “Yes”
We all can get wrapped up in our routines…even workaholics like me!
Also sometimes we don’t want to go places because we’re too tired, or it’s not our “scene” or something.
For me, as a mid-30-something I’m not the “stay out late” and party type anymore (or at least just “occasionally”)…but a lot of my traveler friends are in their late 20s or early 30s and want to go to new venues.
So I just said “Yes” to new things
I went to an electronic nightclub and got to be on stage and dance to some crazy good music.
I went to a random restaurant hidden away in the city and had one of the best meals of my trip.
Saying “Yes” got me to Colombia in the first place.
(Quick backstory: A friend invited me to Medellin to go with him and his girlfriend. This friend is sometimes a bit of a wild child and I booked my ticket and Airbnb to be in the same city as him, but not in his living situation. A week before the trip he bailed because he had issues with his vaccine card. I was still going to go nonetheless and I’m very glad I did!)
So say “yes” because you have the opportunity in front of you in a new land.
You can “disciplined” later in the week
Tip 8: The Key To Safety: Don’t Put Yourself in Dumb Situations
Before I left for Colombia a LOT of very fear-ridden people in my life warned me not to go there. These people RARELY travel and are working off of very limited information
“This one time this guy got his wallet stolen there!”
“I read an article about someone who was robbed by a guy with a knife!”
In 99% of these situations, someone was: drinking too much, out very late at night, in a bad part of town, and/or was acting like a tourist (wearing weird traveler clothes and being kinda showy)
If you just don’t do those things…you’re fine. Trust me.
I’ve traveled to over 20 countries and was never once in a dangerous situation.
Just act chill, dress like a local (so no hiking pants, backpacker shoes, sandals, etc.), and don’t be dumb. It’s literally that simple.
Tip 9: Technology Can Help: Data, Google Maps, and Google Translate
When I first studied abroad in Italy in 2006-2007, we would get lost all the time trying to find Piazza San Marco in the middle of Venice.
But nowadays your phone can guide you to ANY place at any time.
When I get to a new place:
- I buy a SIM card so I have data
- I use Google Maps to know exactly where I am at all times
- I use Uber to get around if I don’t feel like walking or taking the metro
- I use Google Translate to say anything and get necessary information like “Where can I buy an umbrella?”
It’s surprisingly simple, and the technology will ONLY get better in time.
I hope these tips encourage you to go out and travel. Life is short and is meant to be enjoyed!
Do you want to spend your life afraid to visit the places you’ve dreamed of because you don’t know anyone there?
Can you create opportunities to truly live abroad?
It’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable!
And once you get that first taste of stepping off of a plane in a new country, you’ll want to make a list of all the places to SEE and EXPERIENCE.
And just know, that wherever you go, you’ll be OK.
So go out and grab a coffee on your own and say “Hi” to the person next to you.
Or ask out that new girl you met at the co-working spot to grab lunch.
Or just say “Yes” to something new to try.
You’ll be pleased with the results, and you’ll create memories for life.
Now…I gotta get back to work calling schools…and not get distracted by where I will be this summer. 🙂
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