This post originally appeared on Girlboss.
I grew up in Canberra, Australia. Technically a city, it’s a relatively quiet one compared to its glitzy neighbour, Sydney. Soon after I turned 20, I jumped on a plane and set out on an epic three-month jaunt across America.
I started in New York, ended in Los Angeles, and hit up 33 states total. You already know where this is going, right? Yep, I came down with a severe case of wanderlust, and upon returning home, I began plotting my next journey.
At 21, I left Australia with a one-way ticket, beyond excited about the adventures ahead of me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would rack up around six months in Thailand, two years in England, five years in America, and weeks exploring parts of Asia and Europe.
But by the time I officially moved back – just before my 30th birthday – I was anxious, jaded, and tired. I was glad to be home.
Of course, I’d do it all again. But sometimes I wish I’d known what it would really be like. Whether you’ve just arrived in a new country or you’re mapping out your next move now, I’m sharing the good, the bad and the ugly – everything I wish I’d known before I stepped on that plane.
Make an effort to see and do
Three months before I was due to leave London, I realised I hadn’t seen many of the city’s main attractions. I had simply landed and started living the average London life: Going to work, going to dinner, going to the pub on weekends.
It’s important to immerse yourself in your new city and live the way the locals do, but you also want to make the most of your time there, and do the amazing, site-seeing things that a regular tourist would do.
It’s such a privilege to get to live in another country, and I felt I owed it to myself to see everything I could see, especially as I didn’t know if I’d ever come back.
Friends don’t come to you
Having a group of friends to spend time with, who you can count on, is something I realised I had taken for granted back home. It was quite discomforting, initially, to realise I knew no one in the entire city of London.
Unfortunately, when you’re an adult, it takes a lot more than sharing your toys to form friendships. I said yes to any and every social occasion – from drinks with coworkers to hitting up Camden Markets with my new housemates.
When I landed in America years later, I even placed an ad for friends on Craigslist, but you can imagine the seedy replies. I have no problem being alone, but it’s energising to socialise, and it helps you feel as though you have a firm footing in your new city.
“I depend on me”
Destiny’s Child was right; I depend on me. Save for four months in Philadelphia, my time living in America was spent in a small suburb just outside New York. As anyone who has lived in the ‘burbs will tell you, you need a car. I didn’t have one. For more than four years.
I had to rely on others – online shopping, rides from my then boyfriend – when I needed things. Looking back, I realise how valuable being independent is, especially when you’re already far from home.
These days, if I am moving, I prioritise living somewhere where I can be 100 per cent independent.
It gets harder (sorry)
When it comes to being away from family and friends, it’s hard. Initially, visiting Australia was a piece of cake. I’d spend time with family and friends, then go on my merry way again.
But over the years, my visits became steeped in anxiety and dread. It was as though being face-to-face with the people I love made me realise how much I missed them, and how much I was missing out on.
Even Skype calls home could bring on a massive case of FOMO. Two years before I returned home for good, I visited Australia for a month. As my flight home drew closer, I started to feel physically ill. A few weeks after returning to America, I began to question whether I was cut out for living overseas anymore.
Home can feel foreign too
After all those years away, I was surprised to find that Australia felt as foreign as America and England had all those years ago. The place I’d missed all those years didn’t satisfy me upon return, so much as weird me out.
I vividly remember walking down the street and feeling as though I stood out. As though it was evident I didn’t belong here, even though I couldn’t have looked more commonplace.
It took a year or two to feel as though I was home for real, and even longer to re-find my place in my friendship group.
And naturally, soon after that, the wanderlust set in again. Although for now, I think I’ll limit my adventures to vacations.