Many of you have been asking “How did I start” or how I overcame the challenges of living abroad and I’ve been dreaming up a way to concisely tell my life story… without humble bragging (too much at least), WHILE being brutally honest… but without scaring people out of taking the jump.
And with as many run-on sentences as possible. There are just so many elements to consider that I can’t really provide an exact “How To” Guide, but I can explain how I got my big start to provide ideas on how to get yours.
The Challenges of Living Abroad: My Experience
I was a weird child and an even weirder young adult. I never really had a concrete “friend group” in school or had any serious relationships because I would get bored quickly and I have a very low threshold for bullsh*t.
I felt much more compelled to pursue self-improvement challenges and buried myself in activities, classes, and books year-round.
I’ve done everything from cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu to military martial arts (Krav Maga), and all of my money has always been dedicated to becoming the best version of myself; which includes traveling.
I started off small and took trips around America for Speech & Debate tournaments in middle school, high school, and college and this is how I development my most useful skill: talking.
If you take away one piece of advice from this blog post let it be this: learn how to convince someone that it was their idea to do what you want.
I’ve talked my way through Vietnam’s immigration office without a visa and I’ve been able to convince companies and brands around the world that Wander Onwards is a worthy investment.
If you learn how to talk, and can back up your bullsh*t, there is nothing on this planet that can stop you.
How I Moved to China
I bought a one-way ticket to China to teach English. I hated it. I hated every damn second of it.
I tried to quit but the Chinese company threatened to throw me in jail for breaking my contract, so I did what I do best: I talked my way out of it.
I convinced the company that I was flying home for Christmas. I photoshopped my old plane ticket as “proof of purchase” and told them I would come back in 30 days.
I took these 30 days to process a new Visa, moved apartments, got a new phone number, and blocked them from any and all types of communication.
I became a ghost; and refused to see anyone from the company, which included all of my teacher friends scattered around the city.
And I did all of this alone, without my parents or the help of a significant other because I am my own hero.
After all this drama, I manage to secure a full-time job as a marketing and PR manager for a luxury spa in Beijing and I was treated to facials and pedicures basically every other week.
I was able to improve my Chinese with the help of my colleagues and I tutored adults on the side for extra travel money.
Life was good until our building got bought out by the government to construct a hospital and then, I lost my job (and my visa) and was sh*t out of luck.
So then I decided to move to England; because why not?
By calling in favors, going to networking events, and following up with random leads, I managed to sort myself out with 5 different contracts, and now, I get to work in my PJs from anywhere in the world.
The reason I can leave and jump from country to country is that I have nothing holding me back.
When you relinquish your need for material things and dependency on anyone other than yourself, you gain freedom that can’t be bought.
Yes, I have student loans. Yes, I have people who miss me. But neither of these things is an ultimatum.
I don’t have to choose one or the other, I can have it all. And so can you.
15 Challenges of Living Abroad You May Experience
1. You have too many language-specific names to keep up with.
Vanessa? (English) Ru Yi? (Chinese) Farasha? (Arabic)
2. You know you should stop eating street food… but you can’t
3. Smuggling your favorite products and snacks across international waters is a normal holiday ritual.
I’ll take three bottles of my Agave hair serum and two kilos of Egg protein, please!
4. After being sick so many times, you basically should have degree in medicine.
5. You’ve come to accept that anything and everything will probably get stolen at least once.
6. You’ve probably dated/hooked up with someone a close friend use to date/hook up with in the past.
7. You don’t “give directions” you draw treasure maps because Google Maps never updates properly.
Take a left at the homeless man with the cat, but if you hit a baozi stand, you’ve gone too far.
8. Not-getting deported is a monthly or yearly struggle.
I’m going back to university!… again…
9. Your friend circle communicates in a hybrid language composed of words from your native tongue and the local language.
10. You don’t have time to keep in touch with everyone back home… but when you do, you don’t hold back.
Tell me everything significant about your life since we last spoke… now.
11. You’ve given up on keeping up with national holidays back home.
Since when did lent start?
12. There are constantly too many awesome things to do on the weekend!
Everyone who’s anyone is going to this party… but I still want to see that somebody at this other rave… where did all my money go?
13. “Where are you from?” Worst. Question. Ever.
14. When ever anyone new moves to town.
15. You have no idea what city you’ll end up in permanently, but you have a rough idea it’ll be in… this general continent.
How to Overcome the Challenges of Living Abroad
So now that you know my background, here are some helpful generic tips that I learned from experience that you can put into practice.
1. Buy a one-way ticket on a new Travel Rewards credit card.
I have a Bank of America Travel Rewards card that I live/die by because all of my traveling comes back to benefit me later on.
By opening a new card and buying your one-way ticket on it, many cards will offer some sort of ridiculous bonus if you spend $XXX.XX amount within the first 2-3 months of opening the card.
This is your “get out of jail” free card and can be used in EMERGENCIES if you ever absolutely need to come home, but you’re dead broke.
Do your research before signing up for ANYTHING because different companies will have awesome signing bonuses at different times.
If you put your $XXX USD flight and then a down payment on an apartment immediately, there’s your flight back home paid in full by your frequent flyer miles.
But not having a guaranteed flight back to your home country schedule also puts a fire under you to force you to make things work on the ground; not matter the circumstances.
Bet on yourself to swim, give yourself no choice but to swim, and it’s amazing how well you’ll at least float.
2. You can always fall back on teaching English.
If you speak English, you will always have a safety net below you in non-English speaking countries.
There is such a need that schools and private clients will be willing to pay you 25-40 USD an hour for basic lessons or to practice over coffee. Don’t feel guilty, you’re not scamming anyone.
By improving their English, your clients will have the capacity to earn more money at work in the long run so the agreement is in their interest too.
Sometimes they’re just lonely and want a friendly person to acknowledge they exist; that’s okay. Whatever the reason may be, just know that you always have this option to fall back on and you’ll never have zero options for income.
3. Work on your interpersonal skills
If people like you, they’re going to want to help you. Before I went to the Philippines, my debit card was eaten by an ATM and I had 0 cash on me at the time so I was basically screwed.
Fortunately for me, travelers along the way offered to pick up different small tabs for me since “they understood” and one person even straight up gave me 500 pesos in cash because “it wasn’t a big deal.”
This is also how I started freelancing and building my consultancy career. Most of the people who have currently hired me are friends or contacts from events, casual lunches, or parties that I was at.
If you’re a good person and fun to “have a beer with,” then doors will open for you.
4. Befriend people who you aspire to be
When I first got to China, I was hanging out with English teachers without a clue.
This stunted my ability to grow into who I wanted to become for the first three months until I met my best friend who opened the professional world to me.
I started mingling with consultants, diplomats, and other driven young professionals and I was able to pull myself to their level with their help.
I also got an inside look at what it takes to be at their level in life, which led me back to grad school to make a career change.
I would advise moving WITHOUT a job because the best jobs aren’t listed on the internet, they’re introduced to you at networking functions and happy hours on the ground.
5. Develop your technical skills.
Tech and media aren’t going away anytime soon and if you can design or build a website, you will ALWAYS have work.
Check out my article, How to Travel the World While Working Freelance, for advice about finding clients and building your network.
Small to medium-sized companies are always looking for freelancers or marketing companies who won’t break the bank and that next small contract could be the stepping stone to a bigger one.
Build your portfolio online for easy access and always, always have your resume and/or media kit ready in your DropBox to send at a moment’s notice. Companies talk, and you want whatever they say to be good.
Monday 12th of October 2015
You are so inspiring! You articulated many things I think of or have gone through, like moving somewhere and not mingling with the right people (my situation right now in Milan). I also want to refine my interpersonal skills and develop the art of persuasion/negotiation. I feel like these are things I read about, but have no clue how to execute in practice.
Laura A. Mer
Friday 8th of May 2015
I loved this. The more I read of how you manage to travel and what's the story behind it all the more I want to follow in your footsteps and wander onwards as well :)
But it's haaaaaard. I was this close last week but something came up. But soon!!
Friday 8th of May 2015
Your China story KILLS me! So glad you got out of that. Seriously, wthell. :/