We live in extraordinary times with extraordinary possibilities. I grew up on science fiction stories and am constantly astonished how many have become real: driverless cars, virtual reality, robots doing surgery. At a lecture a few nights ago, I learned that young people are now in training for the 2032 mission that will land humans on Mars. I’m pretty sure I’m over the age limit, but I was about to volunteer anyway until the NASA Solar System Ambassador told us, “There’s no return ticket.” Apparently they can’t carry enough resources to refit the rocket to fly them home. “Just like Columbus and Magellan,” Rich said. “They, too, set out never expecting to return.”
So I may have scrapped my plan to be among the first humans to set foot on Mars, but I am still fulfilling my other childhood dream: living abroad. Back in 2004, when Rich and I first got serious about moving to Seville, the idea struck many of our friends as preposterous. “Leave home? To live among strangers? Really? Why?” But in the last year or so, the concept of living abroad has gained traction with a surprising number of people. I now receive a steady stream of emails from friends, relatives, and readers asking for practical information about how to leave the USA and settle overseas — preferably somewhere with congenial company, good weather, and affordable wine.
I’m always happy to pass along whatever information and advice I can offer. Since I moved to Spain, much of my writing life (to say nothing of my personal life) has been devoted to exploring topics I wish I’d been more savvy about from the start, such as how to get a residency visa, find a lost dog in an airport, and leave excess baggage — literal and figurative — behind. In the beginning I focused on practicalities and logistics but soon found myself addressing larger issues, such as how to create a new life from scratch, preferably one that’s less frazzled, more authentic, and filled with generous amounts of friendship and laughter.
Much of the writing I’ve done on these subjects has been scattered among my blog posts, replies to readers’ queries, and three short guides I’ve produced over the years. Since I can’t answer all the recent emails in as much detail as I’d like, I thought it might be useful to gather my three guides together, update them, add material on topics people are asking about, and spice up the narrative with more anecdotes and adventure stories. The result is a new three-book set I’m calling Enjoy Moving Abroad. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to rush out and buy it. Yes, it will be for sale on Amazon soon, but right now I’m sending it to my readers for free, as thanks for being part of my journey and this online conversation.
Enjoy Moving Abroad begins with an overview of logistics and legalities called 101 Ways to Enjoy Living Abroad: Practical Tips for Easing the Transition to Expat Life. It’s designed to help you decide whether, where, and how to make your move, enable you to avoid some pitfalls and cope with others, and give you the confidence you need to relax and enjoy the ride.
Expat life involves plenty of packing, not only before you go overseas but later for visits back to the old country and for exploring the region that’s now your home. When it comes to hauling around possessions, our motto — and the title of the next guide in this set — is Pack Light.
As my regular readers know, Rich has an intense relationship with luggage. (Would we call it an obsession? I leave that for future historians to decide.) He’s struggled mightily to whittle down the volume without sacrificing comfort or functionality; I strive for some stylishness as well. We’ve learned what clothes we reach for and which remain unworn at the bottom of the suitcase. And we are much better at resisting the latest "must have" travel gadgets we'll never use — and identifying those that are genuinely helpful. Pack Light isn’t a manifesto on minimalism, it’s simply a few guidelines for gradually reducing the amount of excess baggage you’re hauling around, so that your journeys become easier and more pleasant.
A few months ago, as I was being interviewed for a podcast, I was talking about traveling light and somehow got off on a tangent about memorable people I’ve met on the road, such as musicians in a Trieste dive bar, that dentist in Zagreb, and the Stockholm “oops” party. It was morning and I was on my third cup of coffee, so it took the interviewer some time to get a word in edgewise.
“Karen,” she finally managed to ask, “how do you meet all these people?”
I get this question a lot from both expats and general readers, and while I was answering the interviewer, half my mind was busy sketching out a plan for the third book in this collection, How to Meet People on the Road: A Guide to Forming Friendships in Foreign Lands. My original intent was to help travelers, but as these tips are tremendously valuable for expats as well, I expanded the sections that are particularly relevant to living abroad.
Even if you already own all three of these books in their original form, you’ll find plenty of new and updated material in this volume. If you’re on my mailing list, I have already sent you the link for downloading your free copy of this book in Kindle or E-Pub format. New to my blog? Click on the button below to tell me where to send your free copy of Enjoy Moving Abroad.
If I’ve learned anything during a lifetime of travel and upwards of 13 years as an expat, it’s this: you absolutely do not have to settle for boring, predictable travel at any age — or a boring, predictable life, for that matter. You and I may not be candidates for the Mars mission, but if, like me, you spent your childhood secretly longing to live in a foreign land, maybe it’s time to ask yourself: is this your year to move abroad?
If you have advice or questions about living or traveling abroad, please post them in the comments below. I'm always happy to provide information and gather more material for future blog posts and updates of Enjoy Moving Abroad.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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