Is RTW Travel for Everyone? Consider Expat Life As an Alternative

Readers of Bootsnall like myself have gotten used to the weekly Wednesday RTW travel inspiration articles being featured regularly on its homepage, all enthusiastically urging readers to take the plunge, follow their dreams, sell everything, pack their bags, and head out to explore the world full-time. But I recently got to thinking that I can’t be alone in cringing a little every time I read such articles, because I keep wondering, “What if the holy grail of RTW travel which is constantly being thrown at us from multiple sources and directions –travel websites, travel blogs, friends, and acquaintances who are doing it or want to do it – is not really what we want?”

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Why RTW travel isn’t for everyone

I, for example, wouldn’t want to travel around the world for a year even if someone offered me the possibility to do so for free. Am I crazy? No, I’m simply…different. It just wouldn’t make me happy in the same way that it wouldn’t make many other people happy. Long-term travel simply isn’t for everyone. There are many reasons for this, and I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts.

  • What if I actually enjoy having some kind of routine, like knowing where to find my tooth brush each morning?
  • What if I don’t want to spend years making sacrifices to save up my RTW travel budget, only to go into an extended period of traveling on a budget?
  • What if I actually enjoy having a home which I can fill with lovely memories?
  • What if I want to keep travel special, enjoying it in small, bite-sized portions rather than gorging on it so much that I eventually lose my appetite?
  • What if I have issues – professional, personal – from which I will only be escaping temporarily by going on a RTW trip, and which I’ll come face to face with again once the money runs out and I need to head home?

A few years ago, I was facing all these questions. I lived in a place where I felt I was stuck professionally even if I loved what I did, and where I felt that I was not cultivating my abilities and reaching my full potential. For a couple of years all I did was save up for traveling, fantasizing in the meantime about all the places I could escape to in order to leave my reality behind. But inevitably, the money would run out, and in these fantasies I always had to go back to the place which made me unhappy and back to the job I hated because my boss didn’t believe in my potential.

Read From Tourist to Resident: 7 Signs You Just Want to Stay Put and Travel Burnout: Is It Real? Will I Get It

Consider an alternative to RTW travel

 

But I, like many of you, still wanted to experience something akin to long-term travel without the constant movement, but I knew that it had to be on the condition that I would not be escaping from anything I would inevitably have to return to. Instead, it would have to be in a way in which I could change my life, move away from the place which was making me unhappy, while at the same time allowing me to improve and develop myself personally and professionally.

So I chose expat life, because…

  • Choosing expat life is not some kind of second-hand, second-grade option for people who can’t be on the road constantly. It’s a way, in fact, of achieving the perfect balance between having a comfortable routine and having a new place to explore at your own leisure, whenever you feel like it, turning the exploration of new places into a pleasure, rather than the chore it sometimes becomes on extended RTW trips.
  • Becoming an expat means that you can still develop yourself professionally without compromising on traveling. Unless you have a location independent job, the truth is that while traveling develops key personal characteristics, it generally means that you’re putting your career on hold. And let’s face it. Not everyone has a job which makes them want to bang their head against a wall. Some of us actually love what we do, find it enriching, and would miss it greatly should we have to give it up to travel around the world. How about that for food for thought?
  • Having a stable job in another country means that you are earning money not only to keep funding your travels, but also to take care of other non-traveling needs, such as saving for your retirement or starting a family. I refuse to believe that the most important thing in someone’s life will always and forever be traveling. Priorities change, and while some people are happy spending every last dollar of their savings on traveling at one given moment in their lives, they might not feel the same later on.
  • Not becoming a fully-fledged nomad constantly moving from one place to another is not opting out of the big dream, but it’s simply acknowledging that not everyone is the same and that some people prefer a slower and deeper form of exploration.
  • It allows you time to connect to a place in a much deeper way over an extended period of time, to really make local friends and tap into the culture, to go beyond looking at touristic sites and instead take time to notice the beauty which is there for the locals, not the tourists. It allows you to form meaningful relationships with other human beings, and even to find love because you don’t have to be on a plane bound to another continent next week.
  • You can spend time in a particular place developing yourself personally and professionally, traveling in-country and to countries easily reached from there in your weekends and holidays while at the same time also saving some money. Then you can do it all over again, slowly, in a different country or even in a different continent.

The life of an expat

When I decided to become an expat, I had multiple countries to choose from because in my home country I was and had always been an ESL teacher. In the end, I chose to move to Zurich, Switzerland because of love, and while I never fell in love with the country, the experience enriched me immensely, and allowed me to take the next step on my long-term expat life.

Getting a work permit which allowed me to find a job in Switzerland was not difficult because of my EU passport, but finding a job was challenging because I did not speak the local language. Over the space of three years, I juggled three jobs which I could do by only speaking English, and in this way earned a decent though still small salary by Swiss standards. I taught English as a foreign language mornings and evenings, worked as an after school program supervisor at an international bilingual school, and was a nanny to a 4-year old eager to learn English on Fridays.

My time in Switzerland was full of challenges and rewards. The time spent out commuting and waiting between jobs was long, with days often starting at 6 am and ending at 9 pm, but working with Swiss children and adults alike was extremely rewarding. Slowly, I learned to function in a society where my mastery of the local language was very limited, and I could understand, at least in part, a country and a society filled with silly stereotypes which don’t really even begin to explain what Swiss culture is all about.

And the beauty of my time in Switzerland was that while in the end I decided that I did not want to make Switzerland my home, the experience there greatly enriched me personally and professionally, and allowed me to move on to greater things (like emigrating to Australia, which I’m in the process of doing via 2 months in Vietnam) which wouldn’t have been possible in my home country. And in three years there, not only did I explore this beautiful country, but I also got to visit corners of Europe which were only a short train or plane ride away, like Vienna, Berlin, London, Istanbul and Budapest. Now, it’s on to my next expat adventure.

For more information on expat living, read the following articles:

Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.

Photo credits: Franco Folini, all other pictures belong to the author and may not be used without permission





Leave a Comment

  • Diana LaRussa said at 2013-08-19T15:49:05+0000: DMyifill in myfeel that once ia of travelvisas be similar to yours. I have lived overseas and enjoyed it but the work wasn't the focus.now I'm thinking of going back to use my ESL certification. I haven't taught yet as this cert was just part of the plan to become legit. Have you noticed age limits on esl teachers? I'm 57 and was told that some counties love older adults and some refuse to employ us. I lived in Indonesia For 10 years. My idea is that once I accepted a job Over there with say English first, so I got visas and such, that I could do a few things on my own To augment my income and travel inside the country. As you are an esl teacher, please provide some tips. And fill in my spaces that are labled non reality. Is like to have another opinion. Thank you, Diana LaRussa
  • Worldtravelfamily said at 2012-09-19T19:45:16+0000: That is a very interesting article Denise. I'm coming at it kind of from the other side, I've done long term travel, done being an expat (5 years in Queensland now) and I'm about to go back to the long term travel thing. You are right, priorities do change, we have had 9 years of just taking short trips because we were starting a family and needed to set ourselves up a little better financially. Now those kids are old enough, we're hitting the road again. You are absolutely right, long term travel would be some people's worst nightmare, ( I'm imagining my mother!) for me, it is heaven, learning and exploring and having the time to be together as a family. As a mother, work and career doesn't interest me at all, the children ARE my work, they are my ultimate product and nurturing and educating them is extremely fulfilling. Ultimately, I have found the short trips frustrating and very expensive, slow travel is the way to go for us. really being able to experience and connect with a country. Being in Australia is also rather frustrating, it is expensive, time consuming and difficult to get flights out, something I didn't actually realise when we moved. It has been a great experience, but I need to be mobile again! Good luck with your emigration. Alyson
  • Zach Martinez said at 2012-03-21T16:55:55+0000: "My home is where I lay my hat"
  • Sean E Keener said at 2012-03-21T22:56:57+0000: Thanks for writing this Denise. I have a few questions for you, regarding the 2nd paragraph and bullet points."I, for example, wouldn’t want to travel around the world for a year even if someone offered me the possibility to do so for free. Am I crazy? No, I’m simply…different. It just wouldn’t make me happy in the same way that it wouldn’t make many other people happy. Long-term travel simply isn’t for everyone. There are many reasons for this, and I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts.":How do you know that it wouldn't make your happy? Or at least provide a growth opportunity? If you haven't done it, how could you possibly know?"What if I actually enjoy having some kind of routine, like knowing where to find my tooth brush each morning?"If you injoy routines, it's quiet easy to get into routines on a long-term indie travel trip (RTW as well) - the key to finding your toothbrush while traveling, is the key to finding it your home, always put it in the same place! :)"What if I don’t want to spend years making sacrifices to save up my RTW travel budget, only to go into an extended period of traveling on a budget?"What if you don't need to spend years making sacrifices. What if you didn't need to travel on a budget for an extended period of time?"What if I actually enjoy having a home which I can fill with lovely memories?"You still can. With "lovely memories" of new experiences, people and places."What if I want to keep travel special, enjoying it in small, bite-sized portions rather than gorging on it so much that I eventually lose my appetite?"How can you know that you won't injoy and RTW if you never tried it? How do you know that you would eventually "lose your appetite"?"What if I have issues – professional, personal – from which I will only be escaping temporarily by going on a RTW trip, and which I’ll come face to face with again once the money runs out and I need to head home?"Everyone has "issues". And yes, many escape the issues temporarily but come back with new perspectives and attitudes.Wrapping up my Thoughts:We all can "what if" on life till the birds come home. We all can rationalize whatever perspective we want to in life. Denise, you've rationalized it for yourself.The easy thing in life todo is to say and rationalize "I can't do it, I don't want to do it, and what if" sort of scenarios.I haven't met a person yet, and I've meet (in person and digital) 1000s of people that have done RTW/Indie Travel - and I have yet to meet a person who said, "I shouldn't have done it" or used ideas and rationalizations used here.I have met people that haven't done it, and say why they can't, shouldn't etc. Those folks are common, and can be a big deterrent for folks trying to make a go of it.When I look at the values of the Indie Travel Manifesto - http://indietravel.org - IMO, the easiest way to connect with those values is through long-term indie travel. BootsnAll co-founder Nick O'Neill said something like:Indie travel is like swimming or rafting down a river. To enjoy the ride down the river, you have to let go of the edge, and let the currents and rapids take you. You won't have the same experience rafting/swimming a river if you don't let go of the edge. The same can be said of Indie Travel. You have to "let go".Cheers to you Denise and in your journey, wherever it may go. :)
  • Angela Petitt said at 2012-03-22T19:35:56+0000: Interesting article. For my sabbatical, I elected to not sell anything and just take trips as often as possible.
  • Lee Pfalmer said at 2012-03-30T18:26:44+0000: I have found that I like spending my travel time experiencing more thing in a few places rather than seeing just a little of many places. So an around the world trip I would not plan on my free time, but if I got paid to travel around the world, would I dislike it? No. I got that opportunity making videos for 9 USAC study abroad programs in China, Italy, France, and Spain. One week in each location, making a 9 week trip of non stop filming. Staying on my toes continually to keep track of all my gear, flights, and shot lists was a welcome challenge, although I wouldn't want that for a leisure vacation. The short story of the trip is in my blog: http://leeandrew.net/2011/04/14/around-the-world-9-cities-in-9-weeks/.
  • Kaylin E. Stephens said at 2012-05-03T04:05:50+0000: I totally agree with you. I love living vicariously through other people's RTW trips, (and they definitely give me inspiration about places I want to go!) but I just get burnt out really easily while travel as I have a tendency to over-crowd my itinerary... and I have a feeling that's what I'd do if I did an RTW trip. 6 months or a year of go-go-go and I'd just be over traveling so fast. Right now, I live in South Korea teaching English and I'm moving to France to teach English in September after a couple weeks at home in the US. It's 7 months in France, then I'm not sure what I'll do (but I have a long-term plan to go to NZ and Australia on working holidays in the next few years). But I definitely am one of those people that loves to have a home base and do short travels from there. The longest I can travel is about a month to 6 weeks before I'm ready to go back "home", wherever that may be at the time.
  • Pamela Brennan said at 2012-03-22T12:33:40+0000: Hi Denise, Thanks for your insights. I agree entirely with your expat living/travel option.- And I have tried the other way, finding it eventually turn into an ultimately grinding and lonely experience as a solo traveller, finding the 'locals' on tourist trails to be tourism jaded and not representative of their fellow countrymen at all. Particularly SE Asia, eg. fighting my way through throngs of touts and beggers at every 'site' and street corner. Not pleasant. 'friends met along the way' turn out to be just that, as you meet 'new chums' on your next leg, then return alone back to your home to find the same old...usually not very interested in your great adventures. I also agree to your insights about the perhaps no-so-happy home to which some of us return to. I am Australian -hope you enjoy your experience there- and an expat. After several years living in SE Asia, I am now in Andalucia, Spain. I am no spring chicken, am now reached my 60's and find this way of life ultimately satisfying, especially as I can now travel with my pet dogs, which is very accepted in Europe, esp. Spain, where most places rent furnished with what we need for comfort, due to the heavy tourist trade. Presently I have 11 mths lease on a hilltop finca property 20 kl from the crush of the costa del sol,- neighbours are Spanish,-the lifestyle is Spanish, there other english speakers, expats for similar reasons who supply that extra support. I find it an idyllic lifestle option while being able to explore the countryside at my leisure, and still visit other Places for a few days [just booked return flight to Venice]. I have bought a car, so can drive and explore at my leisure, outside tourist hours and visit local markets for my household needs, When the time is right I will up sticks and move to another place- in my case, I have been making contacts for a stay in Ireland, and intend to drive via France, England etc. with my dogs in a few months time. It is travel that suits me ie, long term, leisurely, insightful and in depth, and I cant at this stage contemplating returning back to my origins. As you said, not for everyone, but for the many like us, perfection!
  • Mark Shea said at 2012-03-21T23:13:29+0000: I'm eight months into a round the world trip. I have found every now and then I have to stop and just stay put for a while. I need these breaks from constant movement to catch up on things, like finding ways to make money on the road. http://www.overlander.tv/
  • Cassandra Reaves said at 2012-03-22T08:48:01+0000: Travel is wonderful. Enjoy your life. Don't be afraid see new places.
  • Naomi Brooks said at 2012-04-05T13:55:16+0000: Interesting perspective Denise. although I can relate with your pros and cons it isn't my experience of many ex-pats I know. I actually find many expats to socialise almost exclusively amongst themselves, have a rather paternalistic attitude to the country in which they are living and working and it really discourages me from thinking that that is an alternative choice. I like to immerse myself in the local culture and I don't see the majority of expats doing that at all.
  • Taking the long way said at 2012-03-27T16:32:05+0000: I'm not sure if I will do RTW trip but being an expat in Thailand and Tanzania has been a really great experience!
  • Doug Walsh said at 2012-03-22T03:52:13+0000: We've been in the "saving phase" for a couple years now, but we've hardly sacrificed anything in the process. We're just taking our time, making sure we have a nest-egg to come home to (or stay abroad with), enjoying the remaining years of our dogs lives, and continuing to build our career. I suspect we'll be 38 when we finally embark (~2014). My wife and I both love our jobs and we're successful, but it's time to simply reboot our lives. For us, selling off everything and heading out on a multi-year trip RTW via bicycle just makes sense. But I can see that it's not for everyone. It may not even be for us. But we won't know until we try.
  • Decker Way said at 2012-03-24T14:52:33+0000: Only problem is that if you have never done an RTW, how can you possibly know the best place to live as an X-pat?
  • Rissa Zhang said at 2012-03-21T16:50:51+0000: At the end of the day, we need a place to call home :D