In the last year, I’ve lived in 10 countries. And I mean really living – I don’t have a storage locker or a room somewhere “back home.” There’s no one waiting for me to return. My mail is in an unattended pile at a friend’s house. People ask where I’m from. The answer is always simply where I’ve slept the night before.
A year ago, the concept of living in a new country seemed overwhelming. As I was getting ready to move to Argentina last October, I remember going to the bookstore to pick up a Spanish workbook. As I leafed through the pages of verb conjugations in the anonymity of that quiet aisle, I broke down in tears. I didn’t feel ready, and yet I had that one-way plane ticket already booked and off I went.
Fast forward to this morning, when I was drinking coffee in an apartment in Taipei, Taiwan. I thought, you know, it would be fun to hop on the subway and try a supposedly delicious local dish I heard about called “stinky tofu” for lunch. So, I went. And I ate it. It was, yes, stinky, and it was, yes, delicious.
I’ve only been in Taiwan for less than two weeks, and yet I feel totally at home. With each country, it takes less and less time to get my bearings and figure out how everything works. How exactly did I get so comfortable with change, so easily throwing myself into completely unknown situations? After doing it now 10 times in a year, I credit a few key things:
- I set myself up for success. In truth, I’m really not very good about researching a country or a city before I arrive. Compared to my serious attempt to master Spanish before arriving in Argentina, in Taiwan I did not know what language people even spoke. (Simplified Chinese, by the way, is the most common of many languages. I can say hello.) But before I arrive in any new country or city within a country, I always know where I am going to stay for at least the first few nights. I’ll check Hostel World for top-rated spots, or I’ll set up a housesitting gig. I’ll download Google maps (to use offline), so I can point myself in a direction. Next, I check out the transportation situation. I may need to rent a car or a scooter, buy a metro card or catch a bus. It’s sometimes ridiculously confusing – honestly, figuring out the bus in Korea involved a miracle – but it happens, every time. I hit the ATM for some local cash and away I go!
- I am my own best friend. If you’re up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know these basics (safety is a part of everything I just described, of course) must be taken care of before social belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. The beautiful thing about the decisions I actively make everyday is that I can skip ahead to being my full self. I have plenty of people who love and care for me. Social media makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with those I care about. Sometimes I am super-busy with work, and all I can do is send a quick note. But I try to let people know I’m thinking of them, and I love it when people think of me as well. My family loves and supports me in a wonderful, hands-off manner that I’ve come to cherish. My boyfriend starts every day by telling me how much he values me. And I spend time giving energy to my own health: Every day, I exercise, try to eat right, limit my alcohol and sugar, practice yoga, meditate, take a nap and simply do things I want to do. So, I’m never lonely, and I’m never bored. If I want to wander around until I find that stinky tofu place, then I will. If I
want to work nose-to-the-grindstone all day so that I can relax the next day, then I do. Everything I do, I do because I love myself.
- I don’t worry. Period! I make it an active, mindful practice to be low on anxiety. I didn’t check-in to my flight online. OH NO! Maybe I’ll get a bad seat. And yet, experience has shown that attendants frequently give me an emergency exit row. And if I do get the middle seat of the last row? I still get to where I’m going. OH NO! My ATM card expired. It’s actually OK. I can get it forwarded to me in Australia. And I follow intermittent fasting anyway. You don’t actually need to eat, it’s fine. OH NO! I don’t speak the language, I have no idea what I’m doing here, What if I get robbed? What if the next earthquake is bigger than the last? What if? What if? The reality is that bad things happen … and often they happen exactly when they are supposed to. My recent round of Bali belly food poisoning? Believe it or not, it was a blessing. Long story, but it’s true. Everything always works out.
When you’re so comfortable in your own life, all the outside influences and potential stressors stop becoming such a big deal. In fact, life becomes worry-free. The reason I broke down in the bookstore before Argentina? It was because I didn’t truly believe in myself. Well, with time, I proved myself capable. As a reward, I get to spend my days learning about different cultures, interacting with interesting people who have very different lives than mine. I get to try different foods and drinks, see landscapes that are unfamiliar and adapt the best I can to totally foreign ways of life. I get to discover how, in spite of all these differences, we’re really all the same.
It’s certainly not always easy – trust me! When the airline attendant told me that I couldn’t bring the 1.5L of water I just bought on to the second flight of a 12-hour red-eye from Bali to Taiwan, I almost cried. (I’ve actually cried a lot this year, because I love myself and value all my emotions.) But in line at that second security check, I didn’t cry. Instead, I unscrewed the lid, stepped out of line and downed the whole thing. As the massive amount of water sloshed in my belly, I thought about all the times I have been thirsty in my life. That’s the thing with being comfortable with change: It’s knowing that sometimes you’re thirsty, and sometimes you’re waterlogged. But you’re still living … and, hopefully, still smiling!