Today’s guest post is by Chris Backe of Chris in South Korea. He examines the pros and cons of moving constantly versus staying put. No matter what kind of traveler you are, there is always two viewpoints to the equation. As usual, I love your opinions in the comments, so sound off!
As an expat of 2 1/2 years, I’ve found living in one country to be a wonderful adventure. Reading blogs like Nomadic Chick, Nomadic Matt, and Everything-Everywhere remind me that there are PLENTY of adventures to be had across the world. In fact, I’ve sometimes thought about the advantages and disadvantages of staying in one country for the mid-to-long term (say, 6 months or longer per country).
I’ve lived in South Korea since March of 2008, teaching English to stay in the country legally and make money. My passion, however, is traveling, writing, and taking photographs; in fact, I make it a point to get out to one new place, event, or festival every single week. That’s taken me all over Korea, out to its furthest reaches, but it isn’t quite the nomadic lifestyle. At the end of every trip, I still go back to a school-owned apartment in the Seoul area.
Whether you want to travel like a nomad or just travel while living in a foreign country, it has to be a part of your lifestyle. The conscious decision must be made: ‘I’m headed out to [insert here] on Saturday and I can’t wait!’. Maybe that becomes your Facebook or Twitter update for your friends, family or followers.
Advantages to staying in one country:
- You really get to learn the culture, the people, and perhaps even the language. Living as a local helps me appreciate the locals’ grocery shopping habits, which vendors have the best street food, etc. There’s simply no other way to get the insider scoop on a place than to be there and see it for yourself.
- You become self-sufficient. You’re out there learning things on your own, or with help from a guidebook. While it’s always nice to have a local guide, you’ll find it a bit more difficult to retreat to a safer / more comfortable place if things get too weird.
- You get off the beaten path. You’ll have ample opportunity to ask the locals about the places they enjoy, then find your own way there. I’ve discovered more than a few places not found (or barely mentioned) in guidebooks because they were fairly well-known by the locals.
- You get to know the locals – and expats – on a deeper level. That pizza place down the street knows you by face, and occasionally throws you a little extra something (“ser-bi-suh!” or “service!” the Koreans call it) for being a loyal customer.
- You help establish a reputation for foreigners in that area. This is one case where the ‘advantage’ is actually for future travelers. You complained loudly about getting ripped off by the taxi driver? Maybe he’ll think twice about trying that with another foreigner. Your keeping your hotel room clean (or not partying until 3am) makes it easier for the next person to get a room there.
- Stability – even a modicum of it – feels good. The feeling that things aren’t going to change from one hour to the next is a nice one. I still have an innate need to travel – which being in one place has allowed me to do at least once a week.
- In-person opportunities. While quite a few opportunities have come because of an online connection, others have come because of meeting someone at a bar, at the grocery store, or by being able to meet someone in person. A conversation that might take days over e-mail happens in minutes in person. Also, bouncing ideas off a real person feels so much more fun than the computer screen.
There are a few disadvantages of staying in one place, of course:
- It’s too easy to get comfortable. Even signing a one-year contract as an English teacher leaves you feeling a little more locked in than before. Nomads may have jobs, but the feeling of ‘I can leave anytime I want’ is probably a comforting one.
- It can feel limiting, especially if making money or a job obligates you into staying somewhere. One common solution has been to make money blogging, consulting, or selling e-books – money that can be earned almost anywhere in the world. Of course, being an English teacher is one job you can do in many countries across the world.
- Learning about one culture can make you forget about your own – or the hundreds of other cultures out there.
- Leaving your new ‘home’ may feel like you’re letting people down – and the longer you’ve known them, the harder that connection will be to break. No, of course you’re not breaking the connection forever in this era of Skype, e-mail, and cell phones – but physically moving away definitely changes the relationship.
At this point in my life, being in one location works well for me. Korea is still a foreign country in many ways; plenty of unusual customs, interesting people, and exotic places to fling myself to. Since the country is so small (about the size of Indiana for the American readers) and so well connected, it’s possible to make a weekend trip to almost anywhere in the country. Make it a three-day weekend and a number of neighboring countries open up to you.
I’m sure I’ll have a different perspective if I get to the point where I can travel more freely – I’ll get back to you in a year or two :)
About the Author
When Chris isn’t writing about his weekly adventures in Korea, he enjoys swing dancing, long walks along the Han river, building a better expat community in Korea and making money. Sorry ladies, he’s taken. Twitter: @chrisinseoulsk.