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The pros and the cons of living and working abroad for extended periods of time

This post is the first of a two part post about living and working abroad for extended periods of time.

When I got my online business to the point where it was bringing in consistent money in 2008, one of the first things I did was plan a three month trip outside of the US, to Costa Rica.  At that point I had lived in the Chicago area for about 12 years and I was ready for a change.  I had always wanted to travel, but up until that point really didn’t have the free time or money to do any sort of extensive traveling.  So when my business got to the point that I was making enough money to live off of, I booked a one way flight to Costa Rica and embarked on a life changing journey.

After about three months of traveling around Costa Rica, staying in hostels and experiencing more freedom and adventure than I ever had in my life prior to this point, I met a girl.  We hit it off well enough that I decided to extend my trip indefinitely.  Three months turned into a year.  A year turned into two years and before I knew it, I was a full blown expat.  I ended up spending nearly a year in the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua.  Six months in Costa Rica.  Another six months in Panama.  I experienced a lot and grew a lot during this period.  This period was simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and challenging periods of my life.

In this post I want to explore both the pros and cons of living abroad.  Because although I don’t regret a minute of the time I spent abroad, it wasn’t always easy.  There are many advantages to living abroad, but there are many drawbacks as well.   This post will explore the good, the bad and the ugly, when it comes to working online as an expat.

First, for this post, let’s start with the good news….

The Dollar Goes Further –  One of the books that really inspired me early on was Tim Ferris’ “The Four Hour Workweek”.  In the book, Tim explains a concept he calls “Geo Arbitrage”.  The idea is simple, make money in one currency (the dollar in my case) and spend it in another, weaker currency.  Depending on where you go, if you’re making money in dollars, there are many places where the dollar will go much, much further , relative to the US.  At one point when I was living in Granada, Nicaragua I rented a one bedroom condo with a pool inside my condo for 500 dollars a month.  The pool was inside my unit!  Later I rented a two bedroom, fully refurnished colonial house, complete with courtyard and garden for 550 dollars a month.

Most of the places I have lived during my time abroad have had a lower cost of living compared to the US.  I’m currently in the Dominican Republic where a 10 mile taxi ride costs about 80 cents.  In Chicago that would cost me about 20 dollars.  Movies here are 3 dollars, compared to about ten dollars in Chicago.  Rent is cheaper.  Beer is cheaper. Entertainment is cheaper.  In general,  life is cheaper.

Everything Is Different –  The first place I spent an extended amount of time in was Granada, Nicaragua.  This city couldn’t be more different than what I was used to living in the US.  There is a novelty to living in a place that is radically different than where you grew up that, at least in the beginning, is intoxicating.  In Granada, horse drawn carriages still line the streets, the buildings are all colonial and most were constructed several hundred years ago.  Spanish is the native language and most locals don’t speak English.  Of course this novelty wears off after awhile and the reality of where you’re living sets in.  But in the beginning, this change of perspective is expansive and enlightening and I think one of the most positive aspects of traveling and experiencing other cultures.

Beautiful Women (And Men) Who Want To Date You – This one of course only applies to the single readers of my site and I don’t want to focus too much on this aspect of international travel in this post.  But the reality is that many countries that I have traveled to in Latin America and the Carribean are filled with attractive singles, many of whom are intrigued with the idea of dating a foreigner.  I have dated several latin women during my time abroad and could probably write an entire book about the pros and cons of dating latin women, but since we’re still focusing on the positive side of traveling abroad, I’ll focus on the positives.

I have no doubt dated better looking women abroad than I have in the states.  As a foreigner you’ll by default be perceived as having higher status when you travel to many countries.  This of course doesn’t mean that everyone will want to date you and sleep with you.  I have been rejected just as harshly and painfully while traveling and living abroad as I have in the states.  But if you are relatively decent looking man or women, who isn’t past their prime, you should have no problem finding a wide range of potential singles to have relationships with, if you’re open to that.   Of course to really connect with someone from another culture you’ll need to have a basic grasp of their language, get to know their culture and make an effort to assimilate into their way of life.  But if you’re open to it, dating someone from another culture can be one of the most eye opening and exhilarating experiences of your life.  And it can help immensely with the next item on my list, which is….

The Chance To Learn A Foreign Language – There’s no better way to learn a foreign language than to immerse yourself in a foreign culture.  I took a year of Spanish when I was in high school and within about a year had forgotten pretty much everything I learned except “come se llama”.  When you travel and spend extensive amounts of time abroad you’ll be forced to interact in whatever language is native to the country you’re traveling in.  In my case, I’ve spent the most amount of time traveling in Latin America and would consider myself fluent, at least in conversational Spanish, at this point.

Learn another language is like being give the keys to a whole different lens and will allow you access to learning about people and cultures in a way that simply isn’t possible if you don’t speak the local language.  It’s also one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.  There’s just something so exciting about sitting down and connecting with someone in a new language.  In my case, I feel like I have access to an almost different personality.  There’s the old American me and the new latin Aaron that I become when I’m intereacting in Spanish.  It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you experience it.

You Will Grow As A Person – There is something about immersing yourself into a new and strange place that will force you to grow as a person.  This category really fits into both the pro and con part of living abroad at the same time.  If you never move out of your comfort zone, it’s nearly impossible to grow as a person.  Of course there are plenty of ways to do this without ever leaving your native country.  But when you travel abroad to many places you can’t escape moving out of your comfort zone.  My first several months living in Granada were some of the most scary and exciting months of my life.  Other than my new girlfriend, I knew very few people at the time.  My Spanish was horrible at this point and I was literally afraid to leave my house for awhile.  Just going to the local supermarket was a challenge.  I experienced major culture shock!  Of course, I got over this.  I made new friends, my Spanish improved greatly and over time I became very comfortable in my new environment.   But it took a while, and I attribute this period to one of the biggest periods of growth I’ve been through in my life.

 

I’m sure I could go on and on about other positive aspects to traveling, but I have a date with a hot latin women in about twenty minutes, so I’m going to sign off for now.  Although in my next post I’ll explore some of the downsides of traveling and living abroad, I want to stress that I think the positives by far outweigh the negatives.  But, in an effort to be as sincere and straightforward as possible, in my next post I’ll explore some of the downsides of living and working abroad.  Believe me, there are plenty!

 

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