Expats are friendlier and more adventurous than the average traveller.
We’re the kind of people who “do” rather than plan. We treat our homes like a holiday destination to be explored and appreciated, rather than stay at home to watch the latest episode of Masterchef and think about that next big trip. We’re risk-takers. We’re open to new people.
And we’re fun to be around.
All this according to Ben Groundwater, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Backpacker, in one of his latest articles (Read: What we could all learn from expats). I enjoy Ben’s work and this piece is no exception. I think he’s onto something.
Expats and travellers are different.
|Ain’t no party like an expat party. Credit: Tambako the Jaguar (Flickr Creative Commons)|
A foot in both camps
I see myself as both an expat and a traveller.
I’ve lived abroad for extensive periods of time but I also travel as my passion and my hobby. I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive – they can actually compliment each other.
When I travel abroad, I no longer look at a holiday destination as just that. I want to go deeper. I want to look beyond the tourist traps. I want to hear the heartbeat of a place and understand what makes it tick. I want to know how and why it works the way it does.
I want to know what it feels like to live there and I want to spend my holiday living like a local.
When returning to my UK home and once I’ve booked my London accommodation online, rather than plan my trip around what things to see and do, I contact people I know who’ve moved there or returned to London from overseas.
We spend time with these expat or repat friends, knowing they’ll show us the city they live and breathe, not the London of the tourist guide or travel magazine, and they’ll do it enthusiastically. We’ll see their city through the lens of their daily life and we’ll experience London as Londoners do, not as a backpacker or cashed-up tourist might see it.
Travel and expat life can support each other, but they are not one and the same.
There are differences
Expats are more adventurous.
It’s one thing to travel to a far-flung travel destination but another to make it a long-term home. It takes guts to leave family and friends behind. It takes strength of character to land in a relatively unknown country and start a brand new life there. It takes courage not to run back home at the first setback, to make yourself stay put when every emotion screams at you to give up and return to your familiar comfort zone.
I treat every single day in my adopted home as precious and unique. Every moment is a fresh experience and even when I’ve seen or done something before, it doesn’t matter – it never feels old or overly familiar to me and that makes life interesting. These experiences don’t end after a matter of weeks or months. They form my ongoing expat lifestyle.
Expats are friendlier.
They have to be. To survive as an expat means making an effort with the locals, other expats, your neighbours. This attitude of opening yourself up to strangers and embracing their culture and their way of life rubs off when you meet other expats and travellers who want to learn more about you.
It’s impossible not to smile, to welcome them into your world, to give them help and advice, to offer support, to show them how to have fun around town. It’s do or die and it goes with the expat territory.
The truth about expats
Expats are more adventurous and friendlier than travellers but are they happier? Life abroad is like an eternal holiday for most, myself included, but for some the honeymoon can quickly end.
With expat life comes a multitude of issues – from intense homesickness to frequent loneliness, problems at integration to difficulties with finding a regular job. Expats might talk about how wonderful life is but many secretly still pine for the homeland, wondering should they move back or shouldn’t they?
Expats also form cliques which can alienate newcomers. Some create groups around class lines, some whinge and whine, others constantly compare and contrast to their home countries, and it’s safe to say a few have annoyed the locals over time.
While these are emotional burdens that the average traveller would gladly pass on by, take away the negatives and you have an infinitely richer and more fulfilling life that travel alone cannot buy.
Or do you.
Is expat life more fulfilling than travel alone? Are expats and travellers all that different? Which would you rather be – expat, traveller or both?