Tell us a bit about yourselves – where did you move from, where are you living now, and what prompted you to make the move?
I (Gabi) am English and Skip is American (from Boston). We are both former journalists and business executives who love to travel and experience other cultures. We met when we both worked for the same company in the U.S. and, after a number of years and multiple experiences, got married in 2006 and went on honeymoon to Thailand.That’s what changed everything for us.
One day in Chiang Mai, Skip turned to me and said “How would you feel about living here?” and that’s how it all began. While we weren’t unhappy with our lives in the States, we felt the pull of adventure and the attraction toward something new and different. Skip was in a high-pressure job and keen to get away from the 9-5 existence, I was used to living in different countries (born in India, raised in Bahrain then lived in South Africa and travelled constantly with my family) and there was nothing to hold us back. So, in 2010, we we sold our home and cars, gave away most of our stuff and bought one-way tickets to Phnom Penh to volunteer with NGOs in Cambodia.
We ended up falling in love with the country and living there for more than three years, volunteering, writing, travelling and making friends with people from all walks of life – from tuktuk drivers to royalty. I wrote two books (The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia, about traditional Cambodian desserts and The Definitive Guide to Living in Southeast Asia: Cambodia) and Skip did marketing and business consulting for a variety of businesses in Phnom Penh.
We left Cambodia at the end of 2014 and have been house-sitting throughout Europe since then, which is a wonderful existence that give us the opportunity to experience lives in other parts of the world in other people’s homes with temporary pets of our own.
Your book, Just Go! – Leave The Treadmill For A World Of Adventure, encourages prospective expats to make the leap into their new lives. Could you give an overview of the book for our readers?
Just Go! is a book about making changes in your life. The first part is our story – mostly Skip’s, as a corporate executive who decided he wanted out and found a way to make it happen. He writes about how the shift happened for him, how he stepped away from the life he’d lived for five decades and what it meant for him to do so. We include tips, suggestions and ideas to consider when making such a change (which are not exclusive to moving abroad) and include tales and anecdotes of situations that happened along the way.
I wrote the second part of the book which contains stories of other people who made changes in their lives – young, old, rich, poor, single, married, with kids. It includes detailed costs of living in other countries, tips on how to do it as well as inspiring messages from people who “just went”.
What did you find hardest about moving abroad?
Once all the “work” had been done – selling the house, selecting a volunteer organisation, giving away most of our stuff and saying goodbye to friends and family – the rest was much easier. However, when we first arrived in Phnom Penh, I was a little overwhelmed as we knew very little about Cambodia and I didn’t expect it to be so third-world. Skip was happy as a clam and eager to explore and see everything but I found the first two weeks very challenging as it was hotter, dirtier and rougher than I’d expected and I just wanted to stay in our cheap guesthouse in the air-conditioning!
Once I discovered there was more to the city than dirt, rats and heat, I fell in love with it. And now, it’s the country which is dearest to our hearts.
You spoke to a lot of different expats when researching Just Go! – in your experience, what are the most common reasons people cite for putting off moving abroad, and what can they do to combat these?
Fear is the biggest obstacle. Fear of foreign places where nobody speaks English; fear of being sick in a faraway country; fear of not having enough money; fear of being lonely; fear of making a mistake.
The title of our book (Just Go!) speaks to that fear. While there are sometimes situations that may be challenging or unpleasant along the way, there also are experiences that are magical, life-changing, enlightening, profound and unique.
Fear is usually a mental challenge, rarely a physical one, and we feel that taking baby steps is a great way to combat that fear. Take a short trip (or a weekend away) to a place where you’ll feel foreign or uncomfortable. Sign up for an online course to learn a new language. Volunteer in your home town with people who are challenged. Read about people who have stepped outside their comfort zone. Surround yourself with people (or even one person) who has done something inspiring. Meet and talk to people like you who have discovered a new way of life and find out how they did it.
When we fell in love with Cambodia, we realised we’d learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and it changed us forever.
Your book features a wide range of experiences from expats in all different situations. Why did you feel it was important to include this, and how did you go about finding people to feature?
We felt it was important to profile people from various walks of life so readers would find someone they could identify with. Skip and I are mid-career professionals in our 50s and not everyone would relate to our lifestyle. So we featured young people in their 20s, a gay man with a son, a woman in her 60s, a couple with three children, a single mother with a young daughter and many others who share stories that are truly inspiring.
We found these people either through our own travels in Southeast Asia or through Facebook or LinkedIn groups. We also discovered there’s an enormous community of people out there who have stepped away from “traditional” lifestyles and are living their own particular dreams.
What are your plans for the next few years, both in terms of writing and otherwise? Can we expect a sequel?
We’re not big on making plans more than a few months (or sometimes a few weeks) ahead but we are both constantly writing. Skip has almost completed a novel based on his life as a newspaper reporter as well as a cookbook of personal favourite dishes. I am working on a book about my father’s history as well as writing articles for various magazines such as Global Living and we both write a blog at www.TheMeanderthals.com which includes stories and experiences that we find along the road.
As for our travel plans, we are presently house-sitting in Portugal then heading to Morocco before going to a housesit in Nicaragua in October. We plan on exploring Central America for a bit then will be in England for Christmas, house-sitting five little dogs and three cats.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to people who are thinking about moving abroad, what would it be?
It depends on the circumstances, of course, but I’d advise people to listen to their hearts and to pay attention to what makes them happy. Don’t listen to the naysayers and don’t fall back into a ”safe” pattern if you really want to move to another part of the world.
If you’re the analytical type (like Skip), do your homework, perhaps visit a few places to see what feels right to you and get an idea of what to expect before making the move. If you’re the impulsive type (like me), it may make sense to just hop on a plane and figure it out when you get there. My biggest piece of advice, though, is not to let anything or anyone hold you back if you have a dream or an idea of living in another country. In every place we’ve visited,we’ve found people to be kind, helpful, welcoming and open. Trust you will find what you are looking for, give it time (at least six months) and, if it doesn’t feel right after giving it your best shot, keep moving till you find somewhere that feels like a place you can call home.
It’s a big wonderful world out here, despite what the media may say, and I believe the only way to build bridges between countries, religions and cultures is to get out there and see it for yourself.
Skip & Gabi Yetter's book, Just Go!, is available now in paperback or ebook.