Moving Abroad: How I Failed

January 3, 2011

in life changes, reflection

I’m almost a year into living in Australia and possess designs to stay here longer if allowed. I’ve evolved a bit as a person and a blogger over the last year, which is to stay I’m a little less scared of being a bit more revealing (to further explore the latter subject, read BrookevsTheWorld’s post from today).

Like many people, I often see the start of a thing as all sunshine and rainbows. We humans can get so drunk off the novelty, the realization of a dream, that we can forget the really real realness of it. Now that I have my good friend hindsight in my corner, I can clarify what I did well and what I did bad in my move across the world.

1. I Didn’t Have Enough Money

OK, technically I had the money Australian Immigration said I needed to get my visa. But I’d just come off six months of collecting unemployment benefits and was still figuring out my footing in the world of full-time freelance writing. In fact, I dropped or got dropped by a few clients right after I moved, which drove me into a financial panic for a while and forced me to live off the money I’d saved. I really had no financial business making a move to a far-away city that turned out to be so darn expensive.

2. I Didn’t Research Enough

Which leads me to my next failure: not looking into Sydney’s costs and other lifestyle factors. I usually hate planning, and for me, I did research the trip more than I’d researched other things in my life. But for some reason, the high rent, Internet and food costs didn’t so much as make a blip on my radar. Surprise, surprise, $60+ a month Internet costs and $20 cocktails.

3. I Jumped on a Place to Live

Prior to Oz, I had never been in a hostel. One week into my little backpacker bungalow in Bondi Beach, I knew I needed to skedaddle ASAP or I’d risk beating the ish out of one of my rude European roommates. Preface: I’d actually gotten in touch with a few prospective landlords/flat mates I’d found on Gumtree. No luck, until one called me back to say the person he’d given the room to backed out and it was mine if I wanted it.

While the rent was cheap as, the house was 30 minutes away in the Inner West suburb of Homebush. Now, not all Sydney suburbs are bad, but this one had no sort of restaurant or pub area, so I was forced to either twiddle my thumbs on Friday nights or head to the city, but leave by 11 to catch public trans before it shut for the night.

4.  I Stopped Taking Care of Myself

In the months leading up to the departure from the mother land, I ran 5Ks, quit smoking (for the second time), cut down the drinking, slept seven to eight hours and ate right. That all went to pot when I came to Oz, and fast. When I saw food was expensive, I regressed back to my college days of eating pasta and rice. Since I needed to make new friends, I did the most socially-bonding thing you can do as a loner in a foreign country–drink my face off. I had several nights where I didn’t return home till dawn or slept only a few hours.

My body knew I was a 28-year-old fraud and repaid my rock star lifestyle with five or six week-long illnesses in 2010, the last of which I’m still getting over. The one thing that didn’t suffer completely was my physical activity, because I started walking everywhere I could and eventually got back into races and added in some dance classes.

So now that I’ve exposed my failings, tell me about the mistakes and mishaps you made when moving abroad.

36 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. ayngelina

    I’m been traveling ten months and my gym and 4-day a week yoga practice fell to the wayside so fast. I decided that New Years was as good an excuse as any to kick myself in the ass.

  2. Lauren Post author

    I hear you. It’s hard when you’re traveling and especially hard after the holidays. Good luck getting going! Maybe a blog post on getting back into good habits while on the road is in order?

  3. Heather

    I was running 2-3 times a week and walking EVERYWHERE. Then I moved to my current location & started eating sweets like a champ. I said it was all in the name of exploring cafes & bakeries so I could write about them…and I still will O:-) I guess I was doing a little too much EAT (but I’ve had some Pray balance and will see if Love may follow!)

    I became a little too comfortable on my ways off and just lounged about. I’d do a fair bit of that at home, so I should be able to do that here too right? But part of me was afraid I was wasting precious time here…I was caught between needing/wanting some down time and wanting to be out and about and making the most of every day.

  4. Lauren Post author

    Brooke, you are still in one piece and looking fantastic two years in, so I think you have it down.

    Heather, I know what you mean about wanting to let yourself indulge! I kinda had the whole “I had a tough last year and didn’t have money, so now I’m going to go nuts” mentality. Balance, balance, balance…

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  6. Michael Hood

    Is the luster down under fading already? Must be that time of year. I literally just popped open my Microsoft Word to start narrating my own bit of text in a similar vein before your post came up. I may be purely domestic in my migrations, but having relocated 1000+ miles every two to four months for the last two years I know all too well how hard it is to maintain the healthy bit when moving about. I’ve committed all four of your aforementioned felonies, more than once, and I will continue to do so over and over again. I’m okay with that. I’ve found there to be a constant onslaught of extreme ups and downs in the nomadic lifestyle–at least in the one I’ve been living anyway. All in all though, I’ll take this way of living over the sedentary alternative any day. Do the Dew, you know. You’re doing something awesome that others could only aspire to and you’re going to have greater failures than others. You’re also going to have amazing experiences they could never even fathom. Chin up and all that.

  7. Lauren Post author

    Hey, Hoods! Long time, no talk…No luster lost, just able to see now what I could have done better. But you’re right, big things carry big consequences. No regrets at all, but if I can save another aspiring expat some grief, than I’ll gladly sell out my misgivings.

    Where are you these days? Hope all is well, and Happy New Year.

  8. Zablon Mukuba

    i love your post, but you should change the title from how i failed, to how i learnt. in my book you didnt fail you just learnt how things work and you will make better decisions next time. happy new year

  9. Lauren Post author

    Hey Zablon, thanks for the comment. Happy 2011 to you as well! I thought I’d be a little dramatic and say “fail,” but I definitely did learn from the experiences. And hopefully others can learn from them, too.

  10. Matt Preston

    Our experience of living and working in Sydney is much the same as yours. We did research the costs but it still turned out to be a lot more expensive than first thought. It’s hard to factor in the amount of transport costs, food and drink out, etc. Plus you get used to a certain level of lifestyle when you’re at home so when you live in a new country your natural default is to live at that level. It’s when you do this that you realise everything is a lot more expensive than you’re used to.

    The student-ish life style is definitely something we had too. It all depends what social circles you end up moving in. We had the best flat mates we could have wished for but they were bad for the liver! (and the lungs for that matter!). On the plus side we had an awesome time and so many good memories, when everything is said and done that’s all that really matters. You can pay back costs (somehow), you can get fit again, you can feel embarrassed by the mistakes you made, but you’ll always have loads of great memories and new found life skills.

  11. Lauren Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Matt. Wish I had met you earlier since you left town so soon! I really like your last part. Travel is often about letting yourself go, and sometimes it happens in unhealthy, but memorable ways.

  12. Eurotrip Tips

    I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan your money in a realistic and reasonable manner. I got back from my year in Europe in June 2009 and as of January 2011, I’m still repaying it. Why? Because I haven’t planned, nor did I stopped myself from shopping and going out. On the other hand, I was telling myself that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and that I shouldn’t hold back on anything. Had I known I would still be repaying that trip a year and a half later, I would have thought twice.

    Of course, location planning is important too. For me it was pretty easy, because I’ve always been obsessed with London and knew already a whole lot about it, and I researched like crazy.

    At least you’ll have your lesson for next time you move abroad. 😉

  13. Lauren Post author

    Thanks for the comment–London was actually my first choice, but I went with Sydney, partly for their easy visa. Both wildly expensive cities, though. Good on you for being focused on paying it off, even if it takes a while. I think it is good you had a bit of the “once in a lifetime” mindset. We just have to remember that our “once” is now over 🙂

  14. ML Awanohara

    When I looked at your blog title coupled with that headline–“The Life That Broke … Moving Abroad: How I Failed”–I was prepared to read something depressing: “Eat, Pray, Love” gone badly wrong. But having perused your blog and read thru that post, I think you’re saying it can be healthy to “break” one’s life on occasion, and l gather you’re still committed to life in Australia.

    Still, what a courageous post for beginning the new year! (You also got my attention on Twitter. I’ve just now retweeted your post…)

    At the risk of coming across as an oldster (even though I probably am one compared to other commenters), my sense is you’ll need to get more distance on the experience before you can make sense of what went well and what didn’t. I’ve been repatriated to the U.S. for some time now and am still puzzling about what it all meant — which is why I started up a blog, Seen the Elephant, in the middle of last year.

    Basically, I think it’s a natural part of the process to find out that the “elephant” has wrinkles–or, as you put it above, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

    Still, if the worse thing you’ve discovered thus far about Oz is that it’s more expensive than you’d thought, you’re in a pretty strong position compared to people who are exiled from their native lands (and don’t have choices), expats who find themselves struggling with learning a new language late in life, or people who find their values fundamentally compromised in some way. I haven’t been in the first category but know what it’s like to be in the other two…

    Long story short: I think you’re doing rather well. Hang in there, and make sure you quit smoking for good! It’s the worst of all expat habits…

  15. Lauren Post author

    Thanks for the comment–I’ll definitely check out your blog. You do put things in perspective. Whenever I’ve been in a funk about being here for whatever reason, I think of people in Asia and other areas where there are language barriers, political turmoil, a more prevalent and disturbing sex trade and more that I don’t see here.

    Haha, and I will make sure to quit smoking 🙂

  16. Kat

    It’s amazing how we can delude ourself before we head out isn’t it? I’m in a different experience, on a work assignment, but I resonate with you experience. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, or “pizzas and piazzas” as we say in Italy. Nice post.

  17. Suzy

    Nice to hear I’m not alone in some of my travel mistakes. This past summer, I spent three month renting an apartment in Italy. I went with an apartment that was way too expensive, thinking it would be safe, etc. In the end, I think I could have saved thousands by renting another place. Also, I feel your pain about the freelancing projects falling through. That just happened to me. A writing project that was the main source of my income stopped. I’m scrambling to find other jobs before I go live in Ireland for a month.

  18. Natalie - Turkish Travel Blog

    I think your story is one that a lot of people can identify with. thing is that I have learned even when we plan and save and do the right thing, life can still go horrendously wrong. I didn’t exactly know where I was going to move to. I knew I just wanted to get out of the Uk and was prepared to be a gypsy to do it. I left with no money, no plans, no friends and some how it just all worked out for me. I am a true believer in what is meant to be, will be.

  19. Lauren Post author

    Hey, thanks for the comments ladies! I think it’s nice to have the can-do, “I’ll sort it out when I get there” mindset, but it can definitely come with some setbacks. I’m glad we have stories to look back on and have learned how to get through these kinds of challenges.

  20. Caroline in the City

    I have a feeling I’m about to make the exact same mistakes, especially when it comes to not having enough money. I don’t even technically have the $5,000 Australia tells you that you need with your visa. And did I mention I leave in 2 weeks?

    But I guess these are the mistakes I have to make to learn!

  21. Lauren Post author

    Hi Caroline–Another person coming to Oz! I’ve heard of about five recently who will shortly be arriving. You should be fine for a bit, but you might have to get a job pretty quickly to keep up with costs. Good luck wrapping up the finals preps for your trip!

  22. Leslie

    Thanks for sharing your experience! Sounds like you learned a lot from your mistakes. I’ve never lived in Australia, but I spent two months road tripping through Oz on my RTW trip. I was also surprised by how expensive the food was, and I agree the hostels are geared towards a young party scene. We were mostly camping, which was a fun (and inexpensive) way to see the Outback and Queensland coast.

  23. Lauren Post author

    Thanks for reading, Leslie! That does sound like fun to spend your time camping. There are definitely ways to drop your costs, but it’s a little overwhelming when you first get here.

  24. Erin

    How refreshing to read such honesty. I don’t know how I’ve missed your blog. I’ve followed you on Twitter for awhile and we have mutual blogger friends. Oh well. Nevertheless I’m glad to have landed on your blog! I have a lot of catching up to do!
    I moved here under different circumstances, for love. So, whilst I don’t quite relate first hand to the specifics of how you feel you’ve failed, I get it. I think from my point of view I relate to your lack of planning. Eight years ago I didn’t think to look for blogs. I didn’t think to search out other expats and read about their experiences and journeys. If I had I might not have come. Now that is a hard thing to think of considering that I’m still with the man I moved here for and now married. I don’t like to think of us not together… but the reality is that if I hadn’t jumped in head first and if I had done more homework I really might not have come. The transition from a long-term point of view has been very hard. The homesickness has been difficult over the years. The thought that I live here indefinitely is scary. The thought that I’m missing out on important years with my family and friends is heartbreaking. So… I didn’t do my homework either. I didn’t THINK… I just followed my heart. I don’t regret that, but I relate to being ill-prepared. You might not have been prepared financially, but I wasn’t prepared mentally or emotionally. But anyway, I think you are doing a great job and I commend your gumption for just getting out there and doing it. You are a lot stronger than me!

  25. Lauren Post author

    Thank you so much, Erin. It’s nice to hear your story. It’s good to see all the positive that came from it even if it was scary at the time.

  26. daisy

    Sydney living IS expensive. I wish I had gotten a job right away when I moved – for financial purposes. I probably also should have lived somewhere outside of Bondi but you live and learn right?

  27. Lauren Post author

    Hey Daisy! Bondi must have been an amazing place to live despite the costs. You are absolutely right–you live and learn. Think you’ll pop back over to Oz ever?

  28. Carla

    Hi there! I just stumbled here from Suzy’s reccomendations. I really enjoyed your post, and as an experienced expat myself, I just wanted to remind you that a few years down the road -wherever you may be- you will look upon these fails/learning experiences and smile. You will reminisce and feel proud of your accomplishments, even more than you already do.
    I do feel a bit condescending saying this at 25 years old, but I have been living around Europe for 4 years, and I’ve experienced everything you said – except the writing gigs part (I’m barely getting started!).
    Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  29. Lauren Post author

    Thanks so much, Carla! Glad you found me. Suzy runs a great site. I will keep your comment in mind for the future!

  30. Antoinette Lattouf

    Hi Lauren,
    Im a reporter working for Channel Ten News. Are you still living in Sydney? Whats the quickest way to get in touch with you? My number is 0401638116.

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  32. Glen

    After exploring a handful of the articles on your blog, I seriously appreciate your way
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  33. Beatrice Hayes

    Hello Lauren, Moving is always a hard thing. You should give yourself more time to adapt. Don`t push yourself so hard. Some things happens really slowly. Actually I read somewhere that people usually adapts for 80 days. Greetings!

  34. Srikar

    Hi Lauren,

    It is really appreciable that you have some how managed to live there for more than 3.5 years .But my question is that USA is still a place of diverse opportunities and is called the land of opportunities would tell me why you have preferred Australia than your home county US .Please let me know the top few reasons which made you say YES to AUS…and NO to US i am asking this because i am aspirant to be there in US for studies and earn some money for a certain period of time.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Hi Srikar — Thanks for a very thought-provoking question. I think the Australian lifestyle and climate really appeals to me. Australians don’t take themselves as seriously as Americans. You have more work-life balance, travel more and know how to have fun. Those are all areas Americans, especially those from or on the East Coast like I am, struggle with. That said, I think the US is a great place for opportunity due to the sheer quantity of opportunities there are given all the people of various backgrounds and skill sets that live here.


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