Author: Denise Pulis

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

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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?”


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

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