Welcome to the first post of a new series called Women Who Wander. This series focuses of Solo Female Travel. The aim of this series is to enable Solo Travellers to tell their stories. Also to provide encouragement for those who have yet to venture out on their own. While I am not a seasoned solo traveller myself, I hope these stories will not only inspire you, but also give myself some inspiration!
Frist up is Meg and her story of solo expat life in Malaysia.
Get to know Meg
Hi, Fox here although some people call me Meg. I’m an avid adventure enthusiast and outdoor love. Travel is my passion. I’ve been to 29 countries across 5 continents and I’m currently based in Colorado. Aside from seeing the highlights of a region I often include off-the-beaten path, unique experiences in my travels. My stories include taking local transportation across parts of Indonesia, living in 3 different countries, and summiting the highest peaks in Colorado.
You can read about my stories, tips, and tricks over at www.foxintheforest.net.
You can also find fox on:
What They Don’t Tell You About Solo Expat Life
I shot up gasping, panicked, breathing heavily, and wide eyed. I looked around the room, unable to see anything familiar in view. It’s freezing, I mused reaching for the AC remote. Ugh, I simply do not understand how Celsius works – the numbers are meaningless to me and it’s too early in the morning to do math. The concrete walls and chipped vinyl floor amplified the cold blasting from the wall mounted unit.
The anxiety held on tightly in my chest. Why was this happening? As I began to come to I checked my clock 2:45am. I threw my head back down on the pillow, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep but my mind wasn’t having it. Why was I here? What am I doing staying in this stranger’s house in a strange land? I’m thousands of miles and an ocean away from anyone that I know. But most importantly, why was I a brave, daring, and sometimes reckless woman, so anxious?
It was day 3 of this madness and my third night living in Malaysia, I flat out didn’t get it. To say I was excited to move out here for 4 months is an understatement. I read up on the various cultures, learned a good amount of the language, read everything I could about being an expat and no where did it mention that 2am panic attacks were just part of the deal.
There are lots of things people don’t tell you about what it’s like to be a solo expat. Perhaps it’s because it’s nearly impossible to describe, or maybe it’s something that becomes so integral to your everyday life you simply don’t think of it as being that big of deal. Either way it’s what makes being a solo expat so alluring. Seeing what’s on the other side, testing new waters, whatever it may be you have that experience all to yourself and only you are influencing how you feel about it.
Making Local Friends is Challenging
This may be a little bit obvious, but I didn’t truly understand how difficult it would be to connect to the local community until I failed a few times. Language and cultural barriers are obvious, but it’s tough to understand how real that is until you encounter it. Before I left for Malaysia I learned enough of the language to speak conversationally. The problem was I was self-taught and Malaysians were not accustomed to hearing their language spoken with an American accent. Despite my funny “mat salleh” accent (lit “mad sailor”) my language knowledge got me pretty far. English is widely spoken in Malaysia, but making the extra effort to converse in Malay earned brownie points with local contacts.
However, the biggest factor that helped me fit in and make real connections is because I adjusted my mannerisms, tone, and attitude to not stand out as being so “foreign.” It’s tough to do, because you can’t change who you are, but knowing cultural queues and acting on them got me quite far.
The best piece of advice to give to anyone moving to a new country is to read up on social behavior, act accordingly, and enroll in a language course. Even if you suck at communicating and you don’t do things quite right, the honest and in-depth attempt never goes unnoticed. I relied heavily on online groups such as Travel Buddy and Couchsurfing to get out and meet local people. If used correctly these online networks allow you to meet locals who are interested in meeting foreigners. I’ve formed lifelong connections through both of these websites and I encourage anyone moving to a new place to get involved.
Making Expat Friends is Easy
Expat friends aren’t a bad thing. In fact, my roommate and coworker was a fellow expat (from South Africa). She is one of my best friends to this day. It’s easy to become friends with expats because you share the experience of living in a foreign land. Believe me, you are going to have insanely frustrating days. Expat friends provide a valuable shoulder to lean on. I have friends who I cherish from all over the globe. It’s a great network and I’m always smiling when I reflect on our time together.
Where these relationships become dangerous is when they turn negative. It’s easy to get frustrated with life in a new country, especially in a place where that life might be more difficult than home. However, surrounding yourself with negative people will only further isolate you from your new home. Choose your expat companions wisely and don’t be afraid to leave those behind you aren’t enhancing your experience.
The Everyday Mundane Becomes Fascinating
This is easily one of my favorite parts about solo expat life. Simple things like eating, commuting, even just relaxing become these eye opening experiences that you simply can’t replicate in your home country.
I have the exceptionally vivid memories of eating on the street with my roommate under a metro overpass in tiny chairs just musing and watching life go by. Motorbikes zooming dangerously close, hawkers shouting their wares while people crammed to get the hottest thing off the grill. It would consume me. I felt integral, yet insignificant to a part of life a world away from home.
Conclusions about Solo Expat Life
Solo expat life is refreshing. It caused me to pause and think of my own tiny impact on this massive planet. At times it overcame me in a way that I can only describe as seeing myself outside of myself. Like a drone hovering above my being. A big part of why I travel is to seek that feeling.
Eventually the late night panic attacks subsided. I figured out how to communicate and made friends and slowly, I rebuilt my life across the globe. Being an expat allowed me to expand my horizons in ways I never thought possible. The joys and pains of solo expat life never failed to surprise me. Despite a rocky start, the reward far outweighed trouble.
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories