How to Quit Your Job and Move Abroad

I haven’t lived full-time in the USA since 2009. Each new adventure seems to be longer, and to pull me further away from staying permanently in the States. I now have a binational marriage, and moving abroad will always be a part of my life.

It’s been readily apparent recently that this lifestyle is unconventional. I’ve been hanging around in my hometown, waiting for a visa for China and then waiting to heal from shingles so that we can actually go on said visa! I often get asked how we do it. How do you just go and live in another country every year?

Question: How do you quit a job and move abroad?

The answer: Just do it. 

I know that sounds like an oversimplification. It can be really hard to see the layout of a lifestyle that is chosen, or out of a career that seems to be set in its path. Maybe you’ve been doing the same things since high school, always banking on the fact that if you just keep doing what has always been told to you as the way to happiness you will find it. And maybe you will!

But travel is an essential part of any life. Living abroad is obtainable for more people than ever in human history. The world is smaller and safer than ever. It doesn’t have to be forever. Just go and see the world.

A good bit of advice from my mid-February self...

A good bit of advice from my 2012 self….

Step 1: Plan Your Escape

You will need to begin planning several months ahead. Start by setting a tentative date for departure about six months in the future. Begin putting away money for the move, while you still have the job. Make sure that you take into account extra expenses like student loan payments.

Step 2: Choose a General Direction 

Do you want to teach abroad and work while you live in another country? Start looking into TEFL options.

Do you want to have more flexibility and travel for a shorter time? Look into longterm visa regulations for any countries you intend to visit. For example, in the Schengen Zone a US Citizen can only travel for 90 days without a visa. Some South American countries have similar limits on tourists.

Do you want to study abroad? Even if you aren’t currently in school, there are many options for short and long-term courses in other countries. I studied abroad three times, twice in college and once at the IFALPES institute in Annecy, France. Studying a language abroad is a unique opportunity, not to be missed.

Once you choose the general theme of your travels, you can begin taking concrete steps to move abroad.

3/14/2011 Puerto Natales, Chile

3/14/2011 Puerto Natales, Chile

Step 3 (Optional): Get A Criminal Record Check  

For many work and student visas, you will be required to submit a spotless criminal history from a national police record check. In the US, this can take up to four months!!!!! Get a move on and submit this before you even have job interviews.

How to Apply For an FBI Background Check 

While you’re at it, apply for your passport. That way it won’t get down to the wire, and you won’t have to use this guide to get your passport ASAP. 

Step 4: Job Interviews/Study Applications 

Take professional photos for applications. Awkwardly.

Take professional photos for applications. Awkwardly.

Begin to apply for jobs or study. You may need to gather a lot of documents, so get in bureaucratic shape. Don’t be surprised if you have a lot of job interviews before you find a place that’s right for you. When I went to Korea, I had about eight interviews. With China, we had a weeklong slog of interviews in our last week in London. I applied early for my MA programme in the UK, and that helped with loan applications. This is where things will begin to look solid, but…

Step 5: Get Comfortable with Ambiguity 

A lot of waiting will happen. A whole lot of not knowing what’s going on. A whole lot of guessing about visa regulations and where specifically you will be working. In my experience, you may not know where you will be living in the new country until about a week before you leave. In the case of China, we couldn’t buy our flights until the week before we were supposed to fly out.

Think of this as Zen training. And try not to get shingles from stress. 

Yeongtong 2012

Yeongtong 2012

Step 6 (Optional): Get Your Visa

Depending on the country, you may need to apply up to three months in advance. Sometimes, it will be much shorter. use these guides to help you if you are going to Korea, China, or the UK (student).

E-2 Visa for Korea and ARC 

Tier 4 Student Visa for the UK

Work Visa (Z visa) for China 

If you are planning on just travelling, check to see if you need to apply for a tourist visa before you leave. It is necessary for India, but most places let you pay a fee on arrival and step on through the border.

Step 7: Give Notice 

When things are in place, and you have enough money to travel, hand in your notice at work. Make sure that you keep things friendly, despite how happy you are to be moving into adventure mode. You never know when you might need a job!

Eat delicious food!

Eat delicious food!

Step 8: Fly Out

Get on that flight! Eat well and rest before you go if you can. Don’t pack too much; you really won’t need five shirts and a toilet brush. You can buy shampoo everywhere in the world. Just leave it. Travel light.

Prepare yourself for some serious weirdness on arrival. You might get taken directly from the airport to your hagwon in Korea! You might get robbed your first week in Chile! You might have to turn your flight around and land in Houston because of a drunken Brazilian! Anything can happen!

Step 9: Don’t. Give. Up. 

Travelling is a beautiful and fulfilling lifestyle. It’s life-changing. But you will have days when you get sick. You will have days when you just want to eat some real pizza. You will have days where you just don’t understand what the hell you are doing in The Great English Teaching Machine. You will have days where you just want toilet paper to be in every stall, damn it!

It feels like it looks. Underwear strapped to your face.

It feels like it looks. Underwear strapped to your face. Two type of influenza, at once! Korea, 2012.

These are the days that make the best stories later on. Keep a journal. Find local activities. Push yourself to get outside, even if it’s just for a walk. Whatever you do, don’t waste this opportunity by sitting around ‘saving money’ by playing WOW all weekend, every weekend. 

Quit your job. Move abroad. Nine easy steps. Are you up to the challenge?

Contact me directly with any questions you have about the international life. Direct access to my email!!

My #TravelStoke Map, 2015

Coleen Monroe-Knight’s Travel Map

Coleen Monroe-Knight has been to: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Switzerland, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Germany, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, South Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, San Marino, United States, Vatican.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Iceland’s Ring Road: A Winter Drive From Skaftafell to Selfoss

Iceland has a main road that stretches all the way around the outer rim of the country. It was completed in 1974, and the last section of it featured heavily in our drive back from three nights in the middle of nowhere. The road is remarkably well-maintained and easy to travel even in the dead of winter, and you can even check the conditions in real time online.

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After our amazing trip to the ice caves and a stop-off to walk toward glaciers in the nearby national park, we had to head back toward civilisation. We began the trip in mild weather, which changed to gale force winds around the village of Vik, and calmed again on our way to the western part of the country. One of the most peculiar things about the Ring Road is that there are marked picnic areas every kilometre or so. Everywhere. Even on the sand flats, where the wind never seems to stop.

They must really love their picnics in Iceland.

Up to the glacier

Up to the glacier

Skaftafell, Iceland

Skaftafell, Iceland

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Car Advert.

Car Advert.

The drive was intense; at times the road was covered in more than two inches of ice. At times, the sun was strong and beautiful, shining off the road with moss-covered, other-worldly lava fields flying by at 80 kph.

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Russell took the opportunity to shake his fist at a giant rock. Geology. Reminding us how tiny and flash-in-the-pan-y we puny humans are since the beginning of time. The road turned even more icy shortly after this, as if the fist shaking had brought down a bit more challenge for us as we hurtled toward Vik. IMG_6724 IMG_6722 IMG_6715 IMG_6720

When we pulled up to the village, the wind was howling intermittently. We tried to get out and walk up the black sand dunes, but we were immediately turned back by the blowing sand. It was like a hurricane, but with tiny black pieces of rock being thrown everywhere. It was exhilarating.

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Picnic in the gale!

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Gale-force winds in Vik covered us in loose volcanic sand. It was black in our teeth!

Gale-force winds in Vik covered us in loose volcanic sand. It was black in our teeth!

We had opted out of the package tours that take people around the island, creating our own Russleen tour. We didn’t mis out on much of anything on our drive, including a visit to Skógafoss. This is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, and flows heavily even in winter. It’s not particularly well-marked. There is a tiny village built up around it, and several horse farms. IMG_6808 IMG_6751

There is a stairwell-hiking path up the side of the waterfall. It’s not far, but the wind was coming and going like a breathing giant and the snow was stinging our faces.  IMG_6753 IMG_6756 IMG_6757 IMG_6758

From the top

From the top

Skogarfoss Waterfall

Skogarfoss Waterfall

The mini-hike in the howling wind and rainsnow was worth it. We vowed to come back in the summertime to do the trek that begins here and leads to some volcanic areas. When we came down, we ventured closer to the fall itself and ended up in a colossal amount of water.

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I was wearing GorTex and my slightly ripped underlayer. Russell was dressed in Death Pants (cotton jeans). He was drenched!

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So. Cold. Can’t. Face. Waterfall.

A quick change in the back of the car and we were back on our way, coming closer and closer to the ‘big city’ of Selfoss, where we would be staying the night. We pulled up to our brand-spanking-new hotel, which was geothermally heated from top to toe! It’s not uncommon for showers to smell of eggy farts in Iceland, because you are usually bathing in hot spring water. So good for the skin. So bad for the nostrils.

Geothermal heated!

Geothermal heated!

At Hotel Selfoss, we managed to glimpse the Northern Lights. We had been peeking out windows for days, with the weather not cooperating. Late at night, between snow squalls, I spotted something out our window.

Selfoss

Selfoss

“Hey, that’s a weird cloud…”

“Oh….it’s a bit green!”

“YAY”

And we tried to put on our shoes to go outside, but the Icelandic weather had changed yet again and two-inch wide snowflakes were blowing by in blizzard conditions by the time we tied our laces. But we saw them. Iceland’s little gift for us.

Next time: The City 

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Another World: Into Iceland’s Glacial Caves

The ice in that photograph is more than 1000 years old, and was formed before anyone lived on the island. It moves forward in the Vatnajökull Glacier, slowly encroaching on the sea. Surprisingly, the last glacial maximum for Iceland was only about 110 years ago!

We drove out of Hvergardi after our first night in Iceland, through the tiny village of Vik and to the middle of nowhere. The ring road was not finished in this area until the 1970s, and completed the circle around the tiny and yet vast country. Iceland’s ring road drives through microclimates and fairytale landscapes, with constantly changing weather. The day we arrived, it was raining. The next, perfect conditions for climbing into the belly of the glacier. Frozen, bright, and dry.

After our three hour drive, we arrived at Hotel Skaftafell. We could see it for fifty miles on the horizon, at the edge of a massive glacier that glowed blue in the perpetual twilight. Tiny, twinkling lights that grew only slightly bigger as we approached.

The hotel is nothing too special, but it reminded me of the hiking hotels in the Rockies that I grew up with and the ones in the Alps I visited on my solo visit to Switzerland in 2009. Deathly soft, warm beds. BBC Northern Ireland. Warm shower. All you need, and the warm welcome of staff who seemed surprised that we had chosen to stay three days in the middle of winter.

We got up and dressed in what would turn out to be a few too many layers, and tied our weatherproof boots on tight. A 45 minute drive into the expansive, white desolation awaited us. We passed tiny villages with names posted, some of which seemed to be little more than a farmhouse. Could it be that the name of the family that lives there is on the sign?

The mountains to our left were lit up by the time we arrived at Jökulsárlón, the Ice Lagoon. The glacier breaks off and runs wildly into the sea, leaving 1000-year-old shards on the black sands of the beach. It was exactly 0 degrees C outside, and the gravel was frozen solid. IMG_6425 IMG_6433

I tried to follow Russell up that gravel mound on the left there and found my GoreTex boots were poorly suited to the task. The only way to get back down was to slide on my butt on the frozen gravel. All the way down. About 40 feet of sliding. I ripped my brand new travel pants and my base layer when I dragged my butt across a jagged rock.

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It was a small price to pay for the sheer beauty of the place. IMG_6435 IMG_6439

Black sand ice beach, Jökulsárlón, Glacial Lagoon

Black sand ice beach, Jökulsárlón, Glacial Lagoon

With the sea

With the sea

Like glass

Like glass

We met up with our guide, Oscar from Ice Guides, and the other ten or so people ready to clamber into his giant rig. He told us that the conditions cannot get any better than the ones on that day. The caves are very sensitive, so they react badly when it rains. IMG_6492

We drove in the giant van for about 20 minutes, turning early off the ring road and into the middle of apparent nowhere. Down huge banks of a frozen river, and across the ice of the river itself. The glacier loomed huge and blinding in front of us, and we pulled up to the entrance of the ice cave. Oscar left his driver’s door wide open and helped us into some basic pull-on crampons. Helmets on, and we were ready to go.

I’m gonna step aside here and just let the ice cave speak for itself.

It’s like no place we’ve ever been, and we’ve been a fair few places. It was magical. Ephemeral. The glacier is changing, and every time I’m in a polar region I feel like it might not be at all the same the next time I’m able to come by. The ancient ice is receding, all over the world. More rapidly than anyone thought. We were incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and the tour was worth every króna. It was special. A huge travel experience for our honeymoon.

When the ice cave tour was over, we wandered down to the glassy water of the lagoon at sunset. The oddly-placed ducks who filled some areas of the lagoon came over, wondering if we had bread to share. We continued on, and some mother seals lazily wound their way through the giant icebergs, playing in the light reflected off the surface while their babies rested further away. Russell had a whole conversation in snorts with one of them, who reminded me of the many hundreds we saw on the Norfolk coast last year. They had reign over the lagoon in the afternoon, all the tourists safely packed back into their busses and rental cars.

As of today, the glaciers are a part of an eruption on Iceland. The stripes indicate areas that are no longer safe for hikers or drivers. The star is where the Ice Lagoon is, and the oval is roughly where Hotel Skaftafell falls. 

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The ice cave tour was easily worth it, and the best thing to do in Iceland. Once the sun began to set, we headed back to our hotel and had a traditional Icelandic dinner of head cheese, hard rye bread, whale blubber, sheep testicles, and Hákarl (fermented shark). A pint of Viking lager was needed to wash it all down, but we felt ready to pillage some villages after such a fatty meal. A perfect, magical day in Iceland. 

Next Time: The long drive back to The city. A preview…

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Iceland: Part One

Not much time to write now, on a honeymoon in Iceland. But here are some of the amazing shots!