A reader named Timo sent me an email recently – he’s planning on living abroad; but he’s never lived in a foreign country before.
So he’s not sure what to expect!
It didn’t make much sense to hoard the info and answer him privately, so I created this two-part interview style article instead.
Are you a man who’s filled with wander-lust?
Ready to leave your homeland and live life abroad?
Here’s what you’ll need to know:
Picking A Country
Timo: What are good countries to travel to for starters? Meaning for people who might be traveling for the first time and alone? What’s best in terms of safety, pricing, Internet (since I have to work online)?
Mario: That’s a very personal question. There are so many to choose from. Go somewhere that calls to you. But where you’ll also fit in. If you ‘like’ a country and have a natural affinity for it? There’s a good chance the locals will like you back.
I chose Colombia for multiple reasons. For one thing, I always wanted to come here. Language was also a plus. I wanted to begin my ‘expat life’ in a Spanish-speaking country so I could become fluent.
Being close to home was important for me. Colombia is close to Texas, just a few hours by plane from Bogota to Houston. For first-timers, proximity to home may be a factor. But I wouldn’t base your decision 100% on that; since these days the entire world is a plane ride away.
It’s also key to pick a country that you can afford. You don’t wanna live like a bum or go broke! Look at your current income and savings levels versus local living costs. Make sure you’ll be able to live a nice lifestyle with what you earn. Also check exchange rates for your target country versus your home country currency. For example, the American dollar is very strong against the Colombian Peso right now. So my money goes further here.
Male travelers can obviously be more adventurous choosing destinations. With that said, use common sense. Avoid war zones and ‘murder capitals.’ Make sure your new home isn’t on the ‘50 Dangerous Cities‘ list.
Since you’re a single guy, girls will clearly be crucial. So go to a place where you know you’ll love the women! Also consider the fact that opposites attract. So if you’re tall, blonde, and white Latin America could be great. If you’re short and Latino, Scandinavia or Eastern Europe might be ideal. It depends on you, your preference, and your looks.
Specific countries for starters. For the first-time male traveler on a budget? Vietnam, Colombia, Mexico, Philippines, Dominican Republic, or Czech Republic. More adventurous? Ethiopia, Mongolia, or South Africa. More well-heeled? Japan, Russia, or Australia.
Protip: Most of those countries have decent Internet (in the big cities). But Wi-Fi can be unreliable abroad. So if you work online, bring an Ethernet cable. That way you can connect your computer directly to routers and avoid wireless connection problems.
Purging Your Stuff
Timo: Should you sell everything at home? For example I have a computer. I could sell it and get a laptop. I have huge speakers that I obviously can’t take with me, etc…
Mario: Purge it! Get rid of everything you can’t take with you. If you’re gonna be living abroad, it just makes sense.
So pare it down to bare essentials. If you have a lot of stuff, selling it all is a good way to raise money for your journey. While also lightening the load. Of course, if you have stuff you must keep, leave it with friends, family, or in self-storage.
Minimalism is the best option though. Sure, it’s a little scary after a lifetime of consumption. But try it, bro. You’ll be hooked once you realize you don’t need much to live well. Oh, and remember that minimalist doesn’t mean cheap. You can pack light and still have nice things.
Finally, remember that you can buy many things abroad! Most countries will have stores where you can replace broken, lost, or forgotten items. So don’t stress out if you forget socks or underwear. And if they don’t sell what you need locally? Amazon and eBay both have international shipping for many products.
Getting rid of your stuff can be complex. I’ll go into more detail in an upcoming post: How To Get Rid Of All Your Stuff.
[This post has affiliate links, which means I get a commission if you buy something using these links. This costs you nothing extra.]
Timo: What should I bring with me. Really just a backpack? A suitcase with clothes, laptop, and the other shit you usually take with you. Nothing?
For first-timers, two bags is probably best. That way you’re traveling lean. But you’ve also still got enough space. So you can keep a few comforts from home, your full wardrobe, and your mobile office.
Be sure to bring both bags as carry-on. Nothing ruins a trip faster than lost luggage. Avoid problems by always keeping both bags on you.
As a first-timer traveler, you’ll likely pack way more than you need. Best way to avoid that? Decide on which bags you’re gonna take first. Then commit to fitting all your stuff into those two. Get rid of excess.
As for what to bring? Again, that’s a topic for another post.
Visas & Passports
Timo: How does the visa and passport stuff work? What should you look out for as a newbie?
Mario: That really depends on your country. Rules will be specific to your native land and the places you’re planning to visit. So go online. Research. Check all relevant immigration offices before you go. It’s generally best to handle visa and passport issues in your home country. Avoid dealing with visas and passports on the road if you can.
Get a passport now if you don’t have one yet. Don’t wait until the last-minute. Also make sure your passport is fresh. Check the expiration. Expiring passports may cause problems even if they’re technically still valid.
For most countries, a passport is all you’ll need to enter. But for others, you’ll need a passport AND a visa. And most of the time you gotta be in your own home country to get that visa. For example, if you’re an American already in Colombia who wants to visit Brazil? You’ll need a Brazilian visa. And Americans can only get that visa in America. So if you’re visiting multiple countries in one trip? Plan ahead so you’re not accidentally ‘locked out.’
Protip: Make at least two color photocopies of your passport. Carry one of these copies with you as your ID, instead of your real passport. Leave the original locked away, only take it out if mandatory. Also take a photograph of your passport. Then save that photo to the ‘cloud’ or your email account. Do the same with your driver’s license. That way you’ll have extra copies with numbers, if you lose originals.
Before You Go
Timo: What should you do before you go on the plane and leave the country? I bet there are things that a first time traveler could fuck up as well!
Mario: Plan your first day and night out completely! I can’t emphasize that enough. You do NOT want to arrive in a foreign country after a long flight, and then be forced to figure out your transportation and lodging at the airport because you didn’t plan. So reserve your car from the airport to your hotel ahead of time, well before you leave. Also reserve your first night’s stay, either at a hotel or an Airbnb. Do not skip these steps. You’ll thank yourself later.
Money is your life-line when traveling. But it’s not always easy to deal with banking issues on the road. So make sure you’ve got your finances squared away first:
- Checking Account – Pick the right international travel checking account. Get an account that doesn’t charge you every time you withdraw cash (it adds up). Schwab is the best travel checking account for American expats – they reimburse int’l bank fees. Also set daily limits for cash withdrawals. And finally, set up international transfers for your cash accounts, so you can move money easily if needed.
- Credit Cards – These are vital on the road. So get one that’s meant for travel; meaning no foreign transaction fees. The card should also give you points back on purchases. I use a Capital One Venture card. It’s OK. But there are better ones out there. I’ve heard good things about the Chase Sapphire card.
- Tell Your Bank – You wanna make sure all your cards will work overseas. So call your banks and credit card companies before your trip. Tell them about your upcoming travel plans, including any airport layover stops.
- New Cards & Online Access – Check your existing credit cards. Replace any that are expiring soon. And set up full online access for all your cards and accounts. That way you can handle issues quickly, instead of dealing with international phone calls.
- Travel Insurance – This might seem like waste of money, but it’s not. Insurance is vital for a safe trip! It protects your health and belongings. It’ll also give you peace of mind, making your trip more pleasant. So don’t skip it. I use WorldNomads.
- Phone Apps – If you have a smart phone, take advantage. Apps make travel easier. Here’s what I use:
- WhatsApp (international texting)
- Wallet for iPhone (saving plane boarding passes & credit card info)
- Booking.com (hotels)
- Airbnb (private lodging)
- Uber (private drivers)
- GoogleTranslate (talking with locals, reading signs)
- DuoLingo (learning languages)
- AmericanAirlines (for flights, most airlines have apps)
Timo: How do you prepare for the new journey? Mentally or physically? Anything in particular?
Mario: Don’t over think it. Decide on your target country. Plan it out fast. Then commit – buy your tickets and make your reservations. If you think you can handle it, you can!
With that said, here are things to focus on before you leave:
- Pack Early – Finish packing at least two days before your trip. Then spend the last few days resting and mentally preparing for trip, instead of running around getting stuff done.
- Relax – A few days before you leave, focus on relaxing. Cultivate a calm and positive mindset. Patience is vital because travel is stressful. Long lines, filth, rude people, border agents, police, bad weather, delays, etc. If you’re feeling calm and relaxed, those things won’t affect you as much.
- Hydrate – Drink plenty of water before your trip, because airplane travel is extremely dehydrating.
- Avoid Alcohol – Avoid booze before your flight. Hangovers on airplanes are not fun. You can always have a drink on the plane if you need it to calm your nerves.
- Medicate – If riding in planes makes you anxious, consider medication. Ask your doctor about it. Or self-medicate if you know what works for you.
- Screen Yourself – Go through all your bags before you leave! Remove any dangerous or forbidden items like knives, lighters, or aerosols.
Are you dreaming of freedom? Why wait? The bell tolls for you, my friend. By this time tomorrow, you’ll be one day closer to your death. So no more excuses. Take the plunge. Go international.
Here is Part II of this series, where I answer the rest of Timo’s travel questions…
What would YOU like to know about starting a new life abroad?