If you’re privileged enough to even consider taking a gap year or moving abroad for a short while, consider this – how will the experience change you? Maybe you’ll come back cultured; more appreciative of what you have, with a renewed sense of independence. Unfortunately you’ll become all this and more, but when it’s time for you to return home you’ll find that it isn’t always easy to adjust.
A couple of years ago my boyfriend came back from a 3 week trip to Thailand convinced that he wanted to live there. At the time I told him to get a grip. I had a ‘real job’ in the ‘real world’, in an actual office! I had my big-girl pants on, no need for holidays and wild adventures.
Overtime he chipped away, showing me Youtubers that lived abroad and telling me how life was better out there. It didn’t help to see many of my friends jetting off on their own adventures to various corners of the world. His parents tried to offer a sense of clarity – ‘it’s different when you’re on holiday‘ they pointed out, but he had answers to us all. Drop-shipping this, freelance that, it was all mapped out in his head.
The next year rolled around and he’d convinced me to see it for myself. I’m not a traveller and I’m the furthest away from ‘wanderlust’ that anyone could ever be, I’m a total cynic. However, I hadn’t been on a holiday in years and Thailand was starting to seem like great place to visit. This was my first mistake.
— Jessica Wilby (@_Philocalist) July 4, 2017
A different way of life isn’t always better
Everywhere you go the societal norms change, but the difference between Thailand and the UK is obviously a huge one. Every person we met wanted to stop and chat, they were happy to help with directions and were unexpectedly appreciative when we spoke back in broken Thai. The general attitude of the local people seemed dramatically different and it was easy to see why Thailand is nicknamed the land of smiles. In comparison, even though I live ‘up north’ in the UK, sometimes I can go a full day without talking to anyone other than the robotic voice on the self-service check out.
Through the rose tinted glasses you start to believe that perhaps life could be better abroad. After all, the cost of living is far cheaper than renting an apartment in Manchester city centre. The street food stands are superior when compared to a Co-op sandwich for lunch. You could work in the sun from your laptop and life would be a total breeze.
At least, that’s what you think at the time. But then you hear about criminal expats muddying the water, the healthcare that struggles to reach rural areas and you suddenly realise that life would change entirely if you left your home country – not always for the better.
Immigration laws are tight. If we wanted to move over to Thailand we’d have to waiver a lot of our rights. You can’t own your own business unless you’re a citizen, we wouldn’t be able to own a house for the same reason, worryingly also we’d have to kiss goodbye to the comforting embrace of our free health care. Even though I’d consider myself working class, I have an extremely privileged life by living in the UK. Some people are desperate to get to my country for asylum, so I shouldn’t be so ready to throw it away.
But then you start to negotiate with yourself. Am I really living in the UK?
Well, no probably not. I go to work, I go to the gym, I live for the weekend where I hang out with my boyfriend and then rinse and repeat. The housing market is a joke and if I spent years grafting enough for a deposit would I really want to buy a shack in the middle of Radcliffe, only to then spend the rest of my life paying it off? Or would I rather jet away to another country where I could volunteer at an Elephant sanctuary, eat fresh food everyday and work on my mental health?
The internal argument suddenly leads to you a state of limbo.
I can’t be here, I can’t be there
They say that the grass is always greener and that’s no different with travelling. You’ve had a taste of a different life, a small experience of what could be. It’s important not to look at this through rose-tinted glasses.
Life in the UK would mean struggling to get on the property ladder, a life of office work, paying a small fortune for social outings. Living abroad would mean lengthy visa stress, no assured income, inevitable loneliness. You’re never really going to know what the right choice for you is until you commit to getting it all out of your system. That in itself does come with a heavy price of course. Don’t you just hate those people who bang on about wanderlust and how much they love to travel? Yeah, we all do, Becky! Not all of us have the funds to go to Bali for 9 months though.
It’s all easier said than done. I have debts to pay and a living to make, and if it didn’t work out I’d be scrambling to rebuild the life I’ve built for myself in the UK. So what have we done? We put the conversation on hold. ‘Let’s see how much we can save and then think about what we want to do with the money’ and now I wait, in a weird state of limbo with no definite plan for the future.
I suppose that’s why they say curiosity kills the cat.