In May 2012 I saw a Facebook update from a friend in Melbourne that stated ‘…over 40 resumes and nothing… I continue the travels…’, and so I decided to skip the call of the city and head straight to the north coast of New South Wales on my return to Australia. But another friend warned ‘It might be difficult to find work here in Byron. You’re arriving at the start of winter, people are losing their jobs’.
I needed to work, there was no question about it. A year of travelling between South America and Oceania meant that I was flat out broke and my financial independence was totally at stake. Additionally, my immune system was also fighting a battle and required rest and a good dose of TLC.
It made absolute sense to struggle (and a struggle was apparently unavoidable) surrounded by familiarity and a good dose of sunshine than in amongst a sea of city strangers. The decision to choose small town life over high-rise buzziness was easy.
Now, over a year later, I find myself reflecting on what has so far helped me to find my feet in a new town on the other side of the world. I’ve begun to build up a wonderful network of people around me, people with whom I can laugh, chat, adventure, dance, just be. I’ve been fortunate to find work – from unskilled to professional positions – that have kept me fed, watered and beyond. And I’ve found time to start exploring Australia, from the beach in my back garden to far further afield.
So, what worked? What helped me to take a break from constant travelling and actually put down some roots?
- Plan ahead, a little. Boring. Maybe. I sent emails and CVs ahead of my arrival that meant I had somewhere to live and work for the first few weeks. I stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then moved into a beautiful little B&B in the heart of Byron where I worked a HelpX arrangement for a few weeks, which gave me enough time to figure out something a little more permanent.
- Move into a share house. I remember how back in my early 20s this was helpful. When you’re new to an area and don’t have hoards of people to call up for a catch-up, having at least one other person around to say ‘What are you up to today?’ or ‘How’s it going?’ makes you feel a little less isolated.
- Know when to spend. In this part of Australia, public transport systems seem to be pretty abysmal so spending the last of my savings on a car was not only the right decision in terms of helping me to maintain a sense of independence, but it also helped me get to interviews, work and social appointments.
- Do the official stuff. Like sign up to Medicare. Like sorting out your Aussie driving licence. It might sound silly, but having a few basic things in place helped me to feel more secure in stopping my journeying.
- Get a job. Or three. At times I overcommitted with voluntary and paid work and struggled to hold it all together, but it felt great to have a different sort of focus, to contribute, to work in a team again.
- Get involved with activities. Back in January 2012 when I first visited Byronshire, I joined a climbing group. I am still friends with people from that group. Since being back in the area I’ve played in a girls’ soccer team, joined a local writing group and become an active member of a Sivananda yoga centre. Being part of things feels good and gives the week some structure.
- Say yes to invitations. Initially, you’re not on people’s radars because they have their own life and friends, but the more you go along to things and participate, the more you will become part of their consciousness.
- Travel and explore. In the past I’ve found it all too easy to split life between settling and travelling, rather than mixing the two, but on the advice of others I’m now trying to open my eyes to my daily surroundings. A cycle ride into town reveals a shady duneside pathway along which snakes are said to summer lounge. An after work beach walk puts me in near contact with the trailed tentacles of a stranded blue bottle jellyfish. That belly flip of excitement – the type of feeling you might experience when first visiting an exotic country for the first time – can still exist even if you’re not traipsing up mountains in Peru or exploring the salt flats of Bolivia.
But let me be honest. Stopping after travelling and embracing the life of an expat hasn’t been a totally smooth process (and clearly the travel bug lives on in my system as I still can’t claim to have really stopped). It hasn’t been easy, at all.
After the initial post-arrival elation, months three to nine proved tough. Whenever things weren’t going my way I contemplated packing my bags and moving to the next town, a place where there might be work, where people might invite me along to things, where I’d be sprinkled with some magical settle down powder and live happily ever after, my wanderlust diminished. I thought about Europe, about my friends and family there. I pondered: maybe I should just return to what I know, what’s comfortable.
There were times when I questioned why other expats didn’t reach out to me, offer me advice, hang out. At moments I wished so hard that I didn’t have to be the one to contact people, where I just wanted someone to call me up, out of the blue, and say ‘hey, do you want to do coffee?’
And then suddenly, it happened.
How was it for you? Was it easy to stop travelling? Or to settle in another country?
- The Top 5 Common Problems Suffered By Expats (expatforum.com)
- Top 5 benefits of being an expat (theexpatloop.wordpress.com)
- What Does The Expat Need To Know Before Moving Abroad (puravidafamilia.com)
- The Art of Courage for Expats (flavorsofbogota.com)
- Sailings from Britain to Australia a step closer (telegraph.co.uk)
- Record numbers as 40,000 young Irish emigrate to Australia (irishcentral.com)