Last week the German Foreigner's Office gave us approval to live in Germany another year. This process isn't easy, but definitely worth it. I've been abroad for nearly two years now and away from my house for three. I didn't do this by going into debt or quitting my job. Instead, I forged a different path. Maybe it was a bit harder in the beginning, but it ensured a more stable path in the long run. I get asked about this a lot, so I'll attempt to outline how I travel the world while also working. And how you can, too.
There's a new breed of people. Digital nomads. They get a bad rap, and oftentimes, rightly so. There's a trend of “begpackers,” who beg for money to enable them to travel the world. When I read that article I almost spit out my cornflakes. I've been taught that if you want something, by all means, go for it. But be prepared to roll up your sleeves, put in a hell of a lot of effort, devise a plan, and dedicate the time it can often take to reach your goal.
Travel can be an incredible experience. But it isn't for everyone. Everyone carves their own path based on their different wants and desires. For me, it starts with the “B” word: Budget. I wear the same dresses and carry the same purse over and over. For some, that's out of the question, but I'd rather do that if it means I can travel and save for retirement. It's about setting priorities.
I remember sitting in my cubicle in Dallas, a cardigan draped over my shoulders despite the over 100-degree temperature (over 35 degrees for my Celsius people). I was exhausted. Not because of the long work day, but from jet lag after my 10-day trip to Greece, Belgium, and Prague. We spent 10 days, barely catching any shut-eye, jet-setting from place to place, trying to see it all.
We spent 12 hours awake in Santorini. I cried when we left.
This made no sense. I wanted to soak up the travel. Not hop, skip, and jump through these places.
In 2014, Michael and I made the decision that the best way to see Europe in all its glory was to move abroad. We saved up, made a plan, and did a “test run,” moving from Dallas to Nashville from 2015-2016. It went well, so in September of 2016, we made the move to Heidelberg, Germany, a place we'd never been before. If you'd like a detailed look at our long road to get a visa, read this post.
So many people thought (and probably still do): oh, how nice they are going to just set off to Europe, not a care in the world. OR, they quit their jobs and are skating by on a few bucks here and there. That's not how we did it.
It's not uncommon to romanticize the idea of quitting your soul-sucking job to head off on an adventure. But for many, it's just not practical.
I've heard of people who move to Southeast Asia and “live the dream.” While that might work for them, it's not something we wanted to do. Yes, it's cheap, but Michael and I wanted to live in Europe and maintain stability. This entailed steps like renting out our house and bringing our dogs. True, this isn't possible for everyone for a myriad of practical reasons. That's OKAY. Every path is different. However, for anyone interested in how we pulled it off, keep reading.
What we do so we can travel full time:
Full disclosure, I am a full-time blogger. That means I can live and work virtually anywhere. It took me a long time to get to this point. I've been doing it for three years now and blogging for almost seven. Although you might hear someone say they are a full-time blogger, they might not be making a full-time salary at it. I do. And it took me years and several failures to get to this point.
I do not believe in giving up financial security in order to see the world. You CAN travel and be financially stable. You just need to plan a bit.
Before you do anything, think about how you can sustain your lifestyle. Stuff happens. For example, I broke my ankle and had to pay quite a lot out of pocket. I'm so glad I had a job with insurance and enough savings to get me through.
As of now, I've been blogging full-time for three years. I didn't officially quit my job until I was making about the same as my current job. (You can see how I make money here.) Crazy? Maybe, but it's important to make sure you have the means so you feel comfortable to live the life you want.
What jobs let you work abroad?
Today there are many opportunities that allow you to work remotely. You can find a job online, work as a freelancer, teach English, get a job in another country, start a blog, or simply ask your company if you can work from home. Technological advances provide many new ways to work abroad.
Before moving abroad, I took a “go-cation” in Amsterdam. I call it that because we barely slept, trying to see as much as possible on our 10-day jaunts. We met a guy from Australia who works remotely and always carries a black drape with him. That way, when he's in meetings, the drape serves as his backdrop. No one ever knows where he's gallivanting off to.
So it's possible to safely and truly change your life and move abroad. Now let's get to how to do it.
Why do you want to move?
Before you do anything, sit down and ask yourself why you want to make the move. To learn more about other cultures? Expand your experiences with different people? Learn more history from the region? Have an understanding of a new place? Learn a language? Reflecting on your reasoning can help you choose where to move and when.
If you're moving abroad to travel to new places, meet people, or learn new things, along with discovering yourself, then go for it. A recent study found that people who move to a new country have a better sense of self, reflect on their values, and have less stress! The stress part, I'm not so sure about. It is not easy — not any part of it — but moving abroad can be incredibly beneficial.
Now that you know your reasoning for moving abroad, start saving money. You can't know what will happen, especially while abroad. You could end up like me and not have a place to live for 6 weeks. We had to stay in a hotel during that time. This can add up quickly. The money we had saved got us through.
We saved $45,000 before moving abroad. That took us six months. It's wise to have at least six months of savings when you move abroad. Look up the cost of living in your destination. It can vary widely, so study up and make sure you know what you're getting into.
My advice? Live as lean as possible before the move. It will be worth it, even if it means you won't get to eat out or treat yourself as often. Start slowly by removing things like cable or getting your nails done. These things add up. Start right now to save money, no matter what you want to do.
Make a plan
Now that you've got some money, it's time to plan it out. Of course, things will be out of your control. But the more you can plan, the better. I suggest using the resources of your prospective country's website and seeing what's required of you to move abroad. We spent a lot of time choosing Germany. We wanted to find a place that met our needs and would also let us live there while being self-employed.
Usually, you'll need to provide documentation to move to a new country. Handle that well in advance. Update your IDs and passport. I also suggest getting healthcare before you move abroad. The U.S. Embassy has a list of doctors and hospitals in the specific countries so you can round up this information ahead of time.
Get rid of your stuff
Selling off your stuff is a great way to make extra cash. When traveling abroad, you don't need much. I brought over two large suitcases (weighing 50 pounds each). I didn't need all that stuff. I brought things like extra socks and white t-shirts and sweaters. You can buy that! Only keep things that you truly need or that has meaning. We stored some things at my parents' house and the rest we sold in a garage sale.
If you do choose to move with your stuff, make sure you know the cost. Shipping can cost thousands of dollars.
Make the move
Moving is hard. It's scary, challenging, and wonderful. Expect the unexpected. Some will be great, some won't. You'll learn about yourself, meet new people, and change your mind about ideas you've never challenged. Push your fear aside and go for it. You'll never know if it's worth it until you try. Just make sure to plan ahead.