Expat Reflections – How I Lived Like a Gypsy and Travelled the World For Half a Year

In 2012 I was sick and tired of many things, of criminal attacks affecting people we know, of being scared to sleep at night for fear that someone would break in and assault me. Many South Africans live in fear since violent crime is at an incremental level and we cannot seem to improve it or get away from it.

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I wanted to better my life and make more opportunities for myself and for my future family. I hope this doesn’t make me a terrible South African. Nonetheless, I felt the need to reinvigorate my life and as a writer there is nothing better than travel as a muse.

Towards the middle of 2012 I had pretty much no savings and had just bought a new car. I was repaying car finance and my bond finance for a flat I own. How could I just pack up and leave these commitments? What about my tight-knit family? How unfair would it be to leave them on their own? Many thoughts ran through my head, mostly guilt and fear of the unknown.

But there was a longing and a need deep down to move and explore and I couldn’t ignore that any longer. I gathered the courage to speak to my boss about relocating and keeping my job. As a writer and digital marketer this sort of thing is a breeze as every aspect of your job is online and so you can literally pack up in seconds and find the next Internet point. My boss was very understanding and allowed me to move. I set up an overseas bank account into which my salary would be paid. I sold my car and made sure someone could oversee my property and my tenant (whose monthly rental is more or less equivalent to my bond). I took out a good health insurance and found accommodation within days of my decision.

I had enough money for a flight ticket, for the first month’s rental and some cash to feed myself and my insatiable hunger for arts and culture. On the 28th of December I left Cape Town and arrived in Rome, my absolute favourite city. I lived there for three months and saw so much. Nearly every single night I would walk around the city centre just to stare at the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Colloseum. It was an incredible experience. This was the life I had always dreamt about – being so close to the arts and culture of my childhood dreams. After three months of working hard every single day remotely and then venturing to museums and nearby towns on evenings and weekends, I was ready for a new challenge.

Now that I was free to work from anywhere where would I go next? Where else could I travel? I must mention that during my three months in Rome I also explored numerous other countries including France, Hungary and Sri Lanka on holiday or weekend trips.

My next permanent location would be Spain. I lived in Barcelona for over two months and soaked up the ways of life in Catalonia, exploring numerous little towns in the area, admiring Gaudi’s awe-inspiring architecture and dancing salsa with locals until the wee hours of the morning on weekends.

In both Italy and Spain I met up with people I knew who lived in Europe but I also made friends with new people. I joined expats clubs to integrate myself a little and to at least be able to speak English and feel comfortable in a foreign land. During all this, I maintained my ties back home through Skype and phone calls. I even bought my grandmother an iPad Mini to enable her to Skype.

In May this year I took some leave (you wouldn’t think I’d need it would you?) and my family came to visit. We went on a tour of Europe and we saw many cities throughout Spain, France and Italy.

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As I sit here to type this I am still in Spain. I have given up remote work for a new and exciting position in the Netherlands that I begin in the next month. Even though I’ll now be working in a proper office, I’ll continue to use my weekends to travel, to explore and to broaden my knowledge and understanding of the world. I’ll be taking my suitcase with my tightly rolled up clothes and my laptop bag and heading for the beautiful windmills, delicious cheese, happy people and incredible greenery that is the Netherlands. Watch this space travellers!

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Elizabeth Joss

Elizabeth Joss is the founder and main writer at The Museum Times. She works as a university lecturer by day and is an avid travel blogger and arts and culture enthusiast by night. Elizabeth started The Museum Times out of the need to give smaller, lesser-known museums more exposure.

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17 Comments

  1. Fabulous to read this Elizabeth, what a wonderful adventure! Glad to hear that you are doing so well, wishing you all the very best on your next adventure in Netherlands 🙂

  2. Spain is one of my absolute favorite countries. I attended university and became a professional writer (yes, Hemingway was a role model of mine, more for his writing style than his lifestyle) there in the early 1990s. If you haven’t been to Ibiza or Valencia, I highly recommend visiting both (stay in the Playa d’en Bossa part of Ibiza if you go during the summer and don’t miss Sundays at Space).

  3. Good for u for hitting the road. I think the important thing for a solo traveller is not where u go, but what options are available. I *really* recommend going on adventures trip. They are excellent and a great way to meet other people. I have been on several in Morocco, Italy and more. Honestly, they are wonderful.

    However, I have also gone *full-solo*, so to speak. If u decide to do that, my main tips would be…

    1. Stay in hostels, they are THE BEST place to meet other travelers.

    2. If there are no hostels, go on 1 or 2 day activity outings, e.g. diving, climbing, canyoning, etc. They are another great way to meet people.

    3. Carry your smartphone with you and join websites like Wandermates or AirBnB to help meet other people (like me http://www.wandermates.com/profileview.php?profileuserid=6 🙂 None of them are perfect, but they are useful.

    4. Go on a backpacker-type bus tour. They are brilliant also and a great way to hook w people 🙂

    • Fabulous! Thanks for sharing your useful tips Suzie!! I agree that hostels and activity outings are the best way to meet other likeminded travellers. I’ve never heard of Wandermates until now but will check it out. I know that Couchsurfing also offers events and groups for travellers so you’ll always be able to meet other travellers somehow. One should just keep in mind safety precautions when doing so i.e. meeting in a public place with lots of people.

  4. Amazing how the media never talks about the massacre in South Africa. Have you thought more about bringing this to the attention of people in the world? btw/ Crime in the Netherlands is way up so watch yourself there in the larger cities.

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