From Full-Time Traveller To Expat: What Changes?

When I first made the decision to stop moving around during my travels and instead set anchor in China, I wasn’t too sure of what to expect.

Sure I knew that I’d probably be exploring less, or at least not as often as I had grown accustomed to. But there are other things that I couldn’t have imagined or expected.

And while most of the things that change when you go from being a full-time traveller to expat can be expected, many of these might impact some more or less than others. Here is my list of things I realized when I moved from being a full-time traveller to expat:

No More Long Bus/Train Rides (Or At Least Not As Often)

Although I had grown accustomed to the long train rides in Europe and overnight buses in South America, I do not miss them at all.

After all, who could possibly miss the feeling of crushing your back in uncomfortable buses and trains for long hours, sometimes even overnight.

Sure, I still travel around every couple of weeks and I still take some overly long train rides every now and then, but not having to do this every couple of days is priceless.

From full-time traveller to expat

Not Visiting New Places Every Few Days

I actually miss this one.

As a full-time traveller, I used to visit places every couple of days. At least once a week I would wake up somewhere new; new surroundings, new people, new everything.

As an expat, I now get to see new places every couple of weeks, and only for a few days. Because of work, the number of trips I can take has had to be reduced. I still make sure to plan a few getaways whenever I can (Shenyang, Changbaishan), while still trying to get to know every corner of the city where I live, Changchun. But I do miss the feeling of seeing new things every couple of days.

Having the Same Friends

One of the hardest parts of long-term solo travel was always having to say “goodbye” to people I had just met and gotten along with really well. Any traveller will tell you, it is sometimes hard to build real connections with others while always moving on the road. All the people I’ve met during my travels, even those I still keep contact with, I’ve only met for a couple of days.

As an expat, my circle of close friends hasn’t changed much in the 2 months I’ve been living in China. At the same time, I still meet new people every week.

Although making friends is an easy process whether you are a full-time traveller or an expat, it is maintaining the same friends with whom you share the same interests that is appealing as an expat.

Learning a New Language Is Much Easier

Even with the best of intentions, learning a new language when I  was constantly moving around and visiting new places almost every day was very hard.

Let’s face it, even when only hanging out with locals, it is easier to switch to a language spoken by most (English) than to try to learn the language of the country we’re in. Of course we will pick up some important and valuable words and sentences, but maybe not enough to carry a conversation.

As an expat, learning a new language is easier as not only do I have an actual opportunity to take (in my case) Chinese classes with the same teacher to track my progress week  after week, but also I am really surrounded mainly by locals. Teaching at a university in a city without a huge many tourists definitely helps at communicating with locals.

Eating out at food stands, local restaurants and shopping at outdoor markets not only adds to the authentic experience of living in China, but is also helping me to learn the language.

The Experiences Are Totally Different

The preference of whether to travel full-time or to become an expat is personal to each person, not one is better than the other. The experiences are definitely different however; while one requires constantly moving and seeing more of the country, the other requires to stay put a bit more but, at least to some extent, also to create roots with the city you’re living in.

And just as sometimes as a traveller you’ll feel tired of constantly having to move around and change places, sometimes you will feel the opposite about stuck and not being able to move as much as you’d like as an expat.

Which brings me to my last point…

Why I chose Both

When I left home back at the start of the year, I knew little of what laid ahead of me. While I loved travelling full-time and seeing new countries like Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and many eastern European countries, the constant moving around became a bit tiring while at the same time monetarily unsustainable.

So I became an expat… least for now.

The decision to stop my travels and move to China was not an easy one to make, but it is one decision that today I am very glad that I made.

My plan, at least for the time being, is to live the expat life for the next year, while I gain some valuable work experience and replenish the bank account. Once my contract in China is done, I will continue to travel in Asia and Africa for another long couple of months. And once I’m done with that, I will look into teaching somewhere else in Asia for another while before seeing where I’m at.

Moving back-and-forth from being a full-time traveller to expat is how I sustain my travels. How do you sustain yours?


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