What’s going on? Is America on the verge of mass emigration? What’s the deal with the never-ending cascade of get-away articles with tantalizing headlines like, “Best Place to Move Abroad,” “Retire Overseas at Half the Price,” “Top 10 Places to Live,” and the ever-enticing, “Most Livable Cities.” Do these articles signal a movement?
Judging by the weight of articles on the pages of Forbes, AARP, Money, Huffington Post, Kiplinger’s, USA Today, etc., we are led to believe that huge numbers of people: are burnt out on the good old USA, don’t like where they live, are tired of the rat race, adventuresome, seeking a larger understanding of the world, or can’t afford to stay put. Into the emigrant stew stir are those who are anxious to throw off the yokes of corporate life and those who are untethered workers. We began to wonder.
What these articles don’t address is: Why would they leave? What would make them take the risks? Why leave family and friends? What are they looking for?
Is there a brotherhood of soon-to-be expats in the making? We’re pretty close to this phenomenon and are here to calm the hysteria and shine a light on the subject.
At Home Abroad: Expat Expressions
Is there such a thing as an Expatriate or Expat in 2014? Or are these words lost to the 20th century?
Why are we examining these questions? Because a growing number of people are now living or planning to live abroad, and we’re gathering their modern-day expat stories for an upcoming anthology titled At Home Abroad: Expat Expressions.
We have collected stories from people around the world who have left their countries of birth for various reasons and have captivating stories to tell.
These stories make us consider: Is the definition of expat tied to the amount of time spent away from one’s home? What constitutes home? If all that is left of home is packed in a storage unit and your address is a postal box for gathering mail, are you an expat? Do you need to be disgruntled to be an expat? Is a perpetual traveler an expat?
Many people who work abroad for multi-national corporations self-identify through their blogs and forums as expats.
Then there are people like us who have traveled for years, living in a series of countries, without a home base.
Untethered freelance workers with a lust for travel and cultural experiences can be found just about anywhere on the planet.
Retirees represent a huge bloc of expats. They live in all corners of the world, and they are fascinating and courageous.
Try to buy a domain with the word expat in it. They are in use. Clearly, many of us view ourselves as expats.
While we have much in common, our circumstances are not identical. We feel that all of these groups fall under the category of expatriates or expats, but not everyone agrees with that definition. Some would reserve the word expat for early to mid-20th century travelers. Certainly, the word and the people it represents have a storied history.
Places like Paris and people like Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, Isadora Duncan, and Alan Seeger come to mind. At that time being an expat amounted to a movement.
It’s clear the word has diverse applications, including permanent travelers, people working in other countries, and those retiring abroad. See the definitions at the end of this post.
We don’t need to label the wide variety of lifestyles that involve living or traveling in another country — for our book we’re using the word “expat” to describe people who spend extended periods of time outside their home countries.
Having put the definition challenge behind us, we are excited and proud to say that in the last month or so we’ve been entrusted with amazing expat stories that will encompass the contemporary range of at-home-abroad experiences. They are inspiring, informative, challenging, and thought-provoking. These stories will help illuminate how expats relate to their world.
The adventuresome expat spirit is alive in the 21st century!
And it’s not too late. If you have an expat story, please contact us. Our deadline for submissions is November 1.
An expatriate (sometimes shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).
expatriate-noun. someone who does not live in their own country
An expatriate (often abbreviated to ‘expat’ or sometimes ‘ex-pat’) is a person ‘temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence’. In other words, somebody who isn’t from ‘around here’.
expatriate-noun. a person who lives in a foreign country
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
Constantly off balance. Yep. It’s hard remember the exact months or sometimes even the year of where we have been when during the last four years. A recent acquaintance after hearing our story said, “You guys are really out there, living on the edge,” and quickly added, “but in a good way.”
We call it slow travel. We target interesting places where we might want to live, do some research, and then go about finding an apartment — sometimes for a month, but three months is better. We both work remotely and need a routine to balance our schedules between work and play in order to pay for our travel.
We would love to have more flexibility in how long we can stay, but most tourist visas are granted for 90 days. In Europe the Schengen Agreement covers 26 countries with a common 90- day limit. In Central America the C4 Agreement sets similar parameters. Mexico has a six-month tourist visa. Some countries like Argentina allow you to leave for a day or two and return with a new 90-day visa, but that can be fickle.
Two to three months seems like a good amount of time to experience a place, after which you can almost say you have lived there. Certainly it is more than a casual affair. It is time enough to get to know people and burrow under the covers of a place.
Some exciting places where we have spent some slow-travel time during the last four years include:
Crucita and Cuenca, Ecuador
Dupont Circle, D.C., and Baltimore
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
When we add housesitting, Morganton, North Carolina, and New Orleans get thrown into the mix. If we include one- and two-week places, the list grows to include Slovenia, Scotland and much of Mexico, Spain and Ecuador.
Say what you will. As veteran slow travelers, we have come to appreciate this staple of city tourism. We arrive in a city determined to know it — to walk, live, eat, shop, and cultivate a deep understanding. These city bus tours offer the opportunity to do the once around and orient yourself to a place. Hear the historical overview and pinpoint places for future probing, while snapping pictures and visualizing the directions and locations of key places. City tours are generally reasonably priced, and we like that.
One of our first city bus tours was in Granada, Spain. That one gave you 48 hours to get on and off. We planned it so we could visit some out of the way places like the Science Center while we got our bearings in the city. The cost was 17 euros.
The most (possibly only) tiresome part of slow travel is finding apartments. Sure, if we had unlimited resources or even just lots of money, it might be one of the more fun aspects. But for us, it usually involves a lot of searching and then hoping. Funky apartments can be charming.
We have found some good ones. Our apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador, pops to mind. The people we rented from in Crucita, Eucador, knew the people in Cuenca, so as we were ready to leave the beach we had a nice three-bedroom, 6th floor, modern apartment, close to the centre, to rent for $850/month. Of course we had struggled to find the Crucita house. Finding good beach rentals in Ecuador is challenging.
Those gems pop up, and we’ve enjoyed our share. The funky apartments are memorable as well. For example, we were in Berlin for our son’s graduation and wanted to stick around to spend some time with him. We focused on the Neukölln neighborhood, at the time a Turkish area with a thriving weekly market. The neighborhood was in the process of gentrification with new bars and restaurants opening almost daily. Rents were low and the variety of value-priced restaurants amazing, which made it a cool place to live.