Betsy & Mark, tell us a bit about yourselves. Are you expats? Where did you move from and to?
We refer to ourselves as slow-travelers, constantly discovering as we search for the physical place we will call home. Already we consider wherever we are with a few belongings to be home, but we suspect there is somewhere we belong more permanently.Originally from Michigan, we’ve traveled and lived in diverse places in Latin America and Europe during the last six years, meeting expats with wonderful stories that inspired us to publish At Home Abroad. We have three grown children and we’re currently in the U.S. plotting our next destination. Betsy is a freelance editor and Mark is a data storage consultant. A few years ago we published Migraine Expressions: A Creative Journey through Life with Migraine, and we like helping other people publish their books.
Your new book, At Home Abroad, is out now on Amazon. Tell us a bit about the book and its aims.
During our travels we’ve met amazing people who in one form or another have adopted an expat life. Their stories intrigued and inspired us. We began to ask ourselves: Who are today’s expats? What is the definition of the word “expat” anyway? What motivates millions of people to leave their homes, family and friends to move to an unfamiliar culture, maybe learn a language and take up a new way of life?
So we reached out to local expat sites across the Internet and solicited stories from people living abroad. We received around 100 and chose the 31 we felt were most representative of the expat world. The stories are from people in their 20s to their 70s in countries including Greece, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Spain, Panama, Thailand, Cambodia, Ecuador and Portugal. Most are permanent expats, but also included are slow travelers and even a couple who have returned to their home country.
There are 31 expat interviews included in At Home Abroad; in your opinion, why is it so important to represent as many viewpoints as possible?
By representing all these age groups, countries and perspectives, the book embodies the modern expat world with all its complexities. We let everyone submit stories without conditions so in the end their unique stories would be told. The variety of responses we received surprised and delighted us. The difficult part was choosing among so many great personal stories. While people move abroad for many reasons – love and romance, adventure, economical lifestyles, international jobs or retirement – common motivations and threads emerge that connect us.
Were there any themes or pieces of advice that kept coming up throughout the book?
It’s funny you asked because as we got to know the authors and their stories, we didn’t find the outright advice we had anticipated. Instead we enjoyed the powerful insights, experiences and practical information revealed in the storytelling. We did find a few major themes in addition to the most common reasons people choose the expat life, and they include self discovery and the idea that life is short so go for it. If there is one recurring piece of advice about living abroad in the stories, it is some version of: just jump in, take the plunge or seize the moment!
You've stayed in a lot of different countries over the past few years – what are the main challenges of moving so frequently, and how do you address them?
The top challenge is finding a place to live. It is fairly easy to know the next two or three places we want to experience, but we like to have an apartment picked out before we arrive and that is a time-consuming exercise. And yes, with three- to six-month visas, that process is almost ongoing. We have used Craigslist, local chat groups and word of mouth to find places to stay. Since we don’t have a home base, we need to carry enough clothes and essentials with us in two suitcases and a backpack each.
Climate varies among countries and seasons, so we have become efficient packers. We wrote a blog post on mindfulness, which is an essential element of slow travel since each new place demands our full attention. Every apartment is different, and simple things like getting money, groceries and transportation in a foreign place can’t be done by habit. It takes intention and patience. The good part is you learn to live with less material goods and be happy with what you have at hand.
What's your favorite thing about living abroad?
Our slow-travel lifestyle necessitates the ability to settle into a new location quickly. The initial landing at the bus station or airport where all the preparatory research is matched against the reality on the ground is exciting. Settling in to the new apartment is fun, and the first trip to the grocery store, which if it involves a new language, is always mind-blowing. Since we both work remotely, we need to establish Internet access and shop for SIM cards right away. Then we get on with what might be our favorite things: meeting the people and discovering everything – how people live, what they do for work and free time, the food, the architecture, the arts, the markets, and all the everyday stuff of life.
Is there a place you haven't visited that you think you'd like to live in? Where are you heading next?
We have not had the opportunity to visit Asia. The reports we hear about Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia make us gear up for that slow travel experience. Next on Betsy’s list, however, is Portugal. Now that our book is published, we’re turning our attention to what’s next and where we might want to live long-term. That special place has not found us yet, so the search continues.
Finally, when you're not writing books, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Obviously, we both enjoy travel. Betsy is an avid reader who loves movies, music and the beach. Mark enjoys technology, photography and exploring new places. We both love learning new things and providing vehicles for others to tell their stories. There are extraordinary people in our world, including those who chose to tell about their expat lives in our book, and we can learn from them all.
At Home Abroad: Today's Expats Tell Their Stories is available on Amazon/Kindle, iBooks and Nook.