When you’ve really settled into a place, you eventually find the rhythms and routines that work for you. It’s part of what makes a new location feel like home, instead of like an extended business trip (or, depending on your mindset, vacation).
One of the things that I’ve been doing lately is getting my weekly grocery shopping and most of my batch cooking done on the weekends, such that my meals are more or less ready for the entire week. It occurred to me that on workdays, where I walk to work, bring my own lunch, and go to yoga after work, I wouldn’t need to make any purchases at all.
So I thought, why not make it into a challenge? I’m going to see how many weeks I can go without spending anything at all from Monday-Friday. It’s really not that different from usual, but it will cause me to be more mindful about just stopping in at the supermarket to pick up one or two things, and walking out having spent €15 on random items. Or getting coffee during my lunchtime walk, just because I feel like it.
My intention with this challenge is to be more mindful of my day to day spending, to plan my food shopping more carefully, and to practice being extra frugal in anticipation of some big changes I hope to implement soon. And I also just want to engender not spending money as the default modus operandi. Making a purchase should be a considered and mindful occasion.
It goes without saying, but of course anyone could avail of this frugal strategy. But I feel like especially expats and/or the globally mobile might not think to set up the same kinds of thoughtful, frugal routines as they would at “home,” and thereby mightn’t be as aware of their day to day spending habits. This will help push the reset button! Home is where you’re at right now, and being mindful with your money is one of the best things you can do to enhance your freedom and mobility even further.
I’ve now completed my 2nd week of this challenge and I plan on keeping it up for the rest of the summer! What ways are you saving money this summer?
Given that taxes are one half of the oft-cited only two certainties in life, you might expect my humble profession to have a more glamorous, or at least dramatic, reputation. And yet, despite having a profound influence on every aspect of our financial lives, some people (inexplicably!) find the topic less than scintillating. Shocking, I know.
I found myself in this field somewhat by accident, but after nearly a decade working with expats and taxes, I can tell you it’s far from dull. Especially working with individuals, and never more so than in the context of international moves. Helping people sort their taxes out can be incredibly gratifying at the best of times, when I ideally help set someone’s mind at ease, or provide insight into complex areas that can be rife with misinformation. Then there are the other times, when someone perhaps wishes they’d thought about taxes a bit sooner. Those conversations can be a tad more dramatic, albeit not the kind any of us hopes for.
But at the end of the day, dealing with tax means dealing with people and their lives, in all their beautiful, messy complexity. The intermingling of their pasts and their futures.
International moves can be overwhelming. And for busy professionals, often their taxes could be one of the last things they want to devote their valuable time to thinking about. So I always count it a personal, as well as professional, win when someone tells me how glad they were they spoke with me, even at that most hectic time in their life. And even in those, shall we say, ‘dramatic’ times, it’s always better to get a plan in place sooner rather than later.
When I say I found myself here by accident, I will admit I didn’t set out to be a tax professional when I grew up. I sometimes joke that it doesn’t tend to be what little girls dream of. (For the record, I believe my top professional aspiration at age 8 would’ve been “princess.” Still waiting on that one…)
When I signed up for the on-campus interview through my university, I was drawn in by the “international” aspect of the job description. I later found out that the job entailed diving deep into this very specialised area of US tax that many people never think about. But it has expanded my own global mindset in every way possible, and now I count myself truly fortunate to be able to work in a profession that so closely aligns with my values.
I deeply believe that global mobility is an incredibly powerful tool for personal and professional growth and fulfilment. I also deeply believe that the freer people are to move around the planet, the better our world becomes. In that sense, I consider it an honour to play a part in facilitating that freedom, one person at a time.
The other side of the equation is helping people sort out a major area of their finances. To the extent that I can help people feel more empowered, and less in the dark, about the financial impact of their relocation, to me that’s absolutely worthwhile, values-driven work. To take something that can feel overwhelming and undecipherable, and make it relatable and actionable to individuals, given their own individual facts and circumstances, is really rewarding.
So, despite a somewhat mild-mannered reputation, I see my work as furthering two of the things I value the most: empowering individuals in both location freedom and financial freedom.
I try to keep that in mind even when I delve into the denser or nerdier aspects of expat tax, which I may even do on this blog. And if it inspires or reassures anyone to take the leap into the expat or globally mobile lifestyle, it will be well worth it!
Do you have any areas of confusion on expat tax issues?
Particularly from a US perspective, either people moving to the US, or US people moving abroad? I’d love to hear from you and plan some posts to help bring some clarity to any areas of confusion! There are absolutely no silly questions in this complex area, and remember, smart people ask.
I’ve recently started using Twitter. Re-started, rather. I was an early adopter but eventually found it a strange combination of information overload and dull, and gave it up. What I’ve come to realise is I just hadn’t found my tribe. I’ve partially done that now, by following a bunch of really smart, inspiring people in the financial independence community, as well as the expat community. It’s become one of the top sources of new content for me. I love reading content by, and interacting with, people who are so immersed in the subjects I care about.
On the financial independence side, one of the things I value is the diversity of the stories there, how people are all taking their own unique paths in pursuit of their goals, and how many of us share a common goal of greater freedom over our lives and our time. One recent post that spoke to that was this guest post on Millennial Money Man’s excellent blog.
I was delighted to read it, as it echoes many of my own thoughts on the subject of financial independence. It was so gratifying. Here was someone else who valued freedom as highly as I do, and was taking steps to get there! I wasn’t the only one!
Before I started following blogs like that, I didn’t know there was this big, supportive community of weirdos like me. What I did know was that the unspoken rule in our culture is: you don’t talk about money. And I picked up on the fact that, understandably, many people wouldn’t want to talk about early retirement when they could be uncertain whether they’ll ever be able to retire at all, full stop. And so I added financial independence to the list of things that I was interested in, that most people just wouldn’t relate to. I was used to having such a list, was used to being a bit of an outlier.
I suspect that most of us in the FIRE community learn to pick our audience carefully, around the sensitive topic of personal finance. Probably there are other aspects of our lives that we selectively share, not out of secrecy but more out of a desire not to bore (or worse, alienate) people with our sometimes nerdy pursuits. I suppose I’ve always been an outlier of sorts, even though I try to “pass” for normal in polite society… with varying degrees of success ;). But I think there are some perks to being an outlier, even if you sometimes feel as though you live a double life of sorts.
There are a few different, but overlapping and, I think, complementary, aspects to being an outlier that work in our favour.
Here are some things that make us weird, in a good way, and how I think that ultimately gets us closer to our goals, financial or otherwise.
One thing that will definitely make you aware of being different is being a foreigner. You’re weird by definition, and it’s so freeing. It’s a great, eye-opening experience that I have come to love. I recently watched a great TEDx talk by Tayo Rockson, who is a seriously inspiring thinker on the subject of global mindset (he also runs one of my favourite podcasts). His talk included the above line which really resonated with me. It’s what we as immigrants, expats, and digital nomads do regularly, and it’s so beneficial. We’re in places where we’re the different ones, in one way or another.
Having an immigrant mindset changes the way you look at the world and you ultimately become culturally bilingual, which is a huge asset. If you can understand not just the culture you grew up in, but another one as well, you’re at a massive advantage. That’s two (or more) sets of wisdom and “common sense” for you to draw from (and question, as we’ll see below). Part of what’s so powerful about this is you learn that conventional wisdom isn’t universal, and that there are diverse ways of knowing and being.
You also learn to code-switch, much in the same way those of us in the FIRE community learn how and when to talk about our goals for financial independence. There’s no better, faster, or harsher, lesson in the importance of picking your audience. Immigrants get this. Immigrants also hustle hard.
Self-experimentation – The Tim Ferriss Effect
It seems like there’s a significant overlap between the FIRE community and what I’ve come to think of as the “Tim Ferriss Effect.” I think Tim brought a lot of new ideas into the collective consciousness in a way that hadn’t been done before, or at least not as effectively. For those of us who had always been prone to being outliers, reading his work lit a spark and made us aware that self-experimentation, and thinking differently, wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but celebrated. And that it could be beneficial, even profitable. As I continue to learn from others in this space, I see his name pop up over and over as an early inspiration for a lot of people. I’d count myself in that group, in my own small way.
Looking back, it was kettlebells that proved to be my gateway drug. See, I’d believed the gospel of women’s magazines that long hours of steady-state cardio was the One True Path to the body I wanted, and yet strangely enough, all that time on the treadmill wasn’t getting me the results I sought. I genuinely hadn’t considered that there might be a better way, until I read Tim’s book, the 4 Hour Body.
Then, when I began to see results from trying something different, from doing a little independent research, from going against the conventional wisdom, it’s like it gave me permission to start questioning everything. I started reading up on lifestyle design, and while it took a few years for me to really action any of what I was reading so voraciously, that first step of shifting my mindset was crucial. The mindset shift that acknowledges it’s ok to do something different, even if it’s different from what the “experts” recommend.
If we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the literal treadmill, we can challenge the conventional wisdom of the figurative treadmill of high-spending/low-savings/40 year working life. We can challenge the idea that the place you were born is the place you should stay. We can demand something more, something better, something different.
Question everything – Not following the herd
Once you feel you have “permission” to question everything, and a good many badass people don’t require even that, you have the keys to the kingdom. From self-experimentation, the natural progression is self-education. We learn we don’t need to rely on authorities, we learn that conventional wisdom is often plain wrong. And we learn how to find the information we need. Or if it’s not out there, to create it ourselves.
The blogging community does this so incredibly well. There’s detailed information available now that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. One great example is the now-classic and oft-cited FIRE tax strategy known as the Roth Conversion Ladder. Thanks to outliers like the MadFIentist, it’s now out there for anyone to discover.
The way I see it, the future belongs to the outliers, to those who embrace being the different one, who get out in front of the herd. And I think we can all do this, not just in the realms of personal finance or global mobility, but in whatever areas we’re passionate about. And by doing so, we not only reach our goals faster, we bring others along on the journey.
In the first half of 2017, I’ve done a good bit of of travelling. It was a mix of work, family, and fun/random trips, and it made these past few months fly by. It felt like I was rarely in the same city two weekends in a row. Which was good, as it was a stressful time at work and I welcomed the diversions.
And also, it’s honestly a big part of why I’m here in Ireland. I’m going to make the most of being in close proximity to so many countries, and having an array of cheap Ryanair flights to peruse every time a bank holiday weekend crops up.
Here’s where I’ve been since 1 January 2017, in order:
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Seattle, WA, USA
Prague, Czech Republic
Portland, OR, USA
That’s 9 cities, in 8 countries, in less than 6 months. It actually wouldn’t be my first choice to travel so quickly, but for now I need to make the most of limited vacation time and bank holiday weekends. Someday, post-location independence, I’ll be able to travel more slowly, and avail of cheaper flights mid-week. But for now I think it’s important to keep doing what I love, namely, travel, as it’s motivation to get to location independence/financial independence all the sooner.
Here are 8 things I learned travelling to 8 countries in 6 months
Flights don’t need to be wasted time: I’ve been a pretty regular flyer for the past few years now, although I used to dread the wasted hours on planes. No more! With a little planning, those hours can be relaxing and productive. Catch up on podcasts, read, write, or watch movies you never have time to watch at home.
Short trips are still worth it: Sometimes it can feel like a waste of time to travel for just a few days, but I’ve found these trips to be invaluable in terms of recharging my batteries and giving me inspiration and motivation. Even if an international trip isn’t always practical, switching things up and putting yourself in new scenarios is good for your brain.
Always have a portable charger: You will absolutely positively require your phone to navigate a new city, in the dark, in the rain, exactly and precisely when your battery jumps from 21% to 2%. Plan for this eventuality.
Travel light! This is my incessant mantra, but only because it works so well. In each of these trips I still could’ve packed even lighter than I did, and I only brought a large purse for a few of them, and a 30L carryon for the rest. Pack light, and then pare down even more. You won’t regret it when you’re breezing through airports and hopping onto public transit without a care in the world. Plus, packing/unpacking takes less than 15 minutes.
Stay where the locals stay: By staying in AirBnB’s for most of these trips, I got to experience what life might be like in actual neighbourhoods where actual people live. Imagining what it would be like to live in a new city is a lot of fun, even if you’re not a perpetual expat/nomad. But if you are, every trip is just more research. That charming corner coffee shop could one day be your local haunt!
Go with the flow: Travel is so different depending on who you’re travelling with, and their particular pace and style. Thinking back, each of these cities took on a unique feel that had a lot to do with my travelling companions, even when I travelled solo! It’s good to have a mix, and it’s best to just embrace the uniqueness of the trip you’re on. My friends have been kind enough to accept my innate desire to not do anything before 10 am, and I’ve in turn tried to accept that not everyone wants to walk 25 km per day (bizarre though that may seem to me). And we’ve had amazing experiences in spite of (or because of) those differences! Don’t let it stress you out if things aren’t going exactly to plan; we don’t travel to stay in a bubble of predictability, after all.
Public transport makes for the best stories: Seriously. Like the time this cool Oregonian dude and I had to walk to a random bar in Rome to find change, because the metro ticket machines didn’t take notes or cards, only coins. And the solution offered by the metro worker was a vague gesture and half a shrug. Sure why not go on a random stroll in search of change! Or, did you know the Prague metro apparently operates on an honour system? All the cool locals just stroll out without scanning or showing their tickets anywhere. (Still buy a ticket though!) Public transit, like staying in AirBnBs, gives you an amazing view into everyday life in another place, and for me, that would be worth it even if it weren’t also vastly cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
Down-time is acceptable: Travel is exciting, but that can also mean sensory overload. And sometimes, midway through your travels, you might need some chilled out time to recover and to prepare you for your next round of adventures. Sometimes you might just need a few hours of no-talking (if so: what’s up, fellow introvert!). Never feel bad about this. While I wouldn’t suggest a short trip as an ideal time for a two day Netflix binge, sometimes you need to unplug and relax in order to fully enjoy the rest of your trip. Don’t feel badly about this if it’s what you need to really be present and absorb your experience.
I don’t have any trips planned for the next few months, although I’ll probably pop over to Glasgow to see my sister in August. I plan to relish this stretch of airport-free living and make the most of Irish summer, such that it is! But I love knowing that a fresh batch of inspiration and discovery is only an airplane away.
Have you got any summer travel planned? How do you make the most of your limited vacation time?
One year ago I was getting on a plane, with a one-way ticket from Vancouver to Dublin, and all of my physical possessions in a few bags. It wasn’t my first expat experience, although perhaps it should’ve felt like the most momentous. This was across an ocean! In a country I’d never been to before! For who-knows-how-long! And yet, I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive. What was the worst that could happen, I figured?
It’s an attitude that I try to remind myself of often. Expats, world travellers, immigrants, and all variety of hustlers, we’re all risk-takers, but we know a secret: most risks aren’t really that risky. Getting on a plane is easy, and you figure the rest out when you get there. Starting a business or a side hustle doesn’t have to be agonised over, it can be started with a simple, single step. In fact, that’s the only way. That’s how it works, and you don’t need to wait for permission, or for some pre-tested checklist. And if we can remember that, we can gather the nerve to do some pretty epic shit.
I’ve lived in Ireland for a year now. Dublin feels like home, or home-ish. I’ve mostly figured out what I needed to, gotten the lay of the land. I’ve had those perfect, expat-magic days when everything about this city seemed wonderful and significant. And I’ve had those rough days where I felt out of place and uncomfortable and sad.
Like the day I found out I wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage here because of the work visa I’m on, for example. In hindsight, it may have been a blessing in disguise, but at the time, facing what I thought would be endlessly rising rents, and viewing a flat that I could totally, really easily afford to buy, being told “no” felt like a devastating blow. Sometimes being a foreigner means having doors slammed in your face, decisively and for no good reason. The rules are sometimes just different for us, it’s not fair, and it sucks. But #immigranthustle means accepting that life isn’t fair, and developing resilience.
Because not being able to buy a house does suck, maybe, but when things don’t come easily is when we have the chance to be our most creative and tenacious and fearless. And when we’re a bit off-script is sometimes where we can find room to play in the margins, whether it’s carefully managing our tax residency, or maintaining funds in multiple currencies. Or simply not buying a property in the run-up to another housing boom. Just a few small things that spring to mind. 😉
And I think taking these risks, and weathering the setbacks, has a compounding effect. We just keep getting stronger and braver, ready to take on even bigger risks, unafraid. I need that reminder, as I’m currently preparing to take an even bigger risk, something potentially much further off-script than I’ve done thus far. And I’m surprisingly at peace about it. More than that, I’m excited. What’s the worst that could happen?
I’m embarrassed to say that I only recently learned what the Dow Jones Industrial Average actually is. A few weeks ago, on a podcast (Jim Collins on ChooseFI, eagerly anticipating the next conversation in that series, by the way!) it was finally explained in simple, plain language. And, like so many other Sphinx-like mysteries, once it was demystified, I couldn’t believe I’d once found it so utterly unknowable.
On a recent long-haul flight, availing myself of the expanse of hours and selection of films (cheers, Virgin Atlantic), and on the recommendation of my boyfriend, I started watching the movie Arrival. It wouldn’t have been something that would’ve jumped out at me, but his recommendations are generally sound, so I gave it a go. Early on in the film, in a completely throwaway line, a TV news announcer mentions something like: “the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2000 points.” Nothing noteworthy, but I heard it in a new light after listening to that podcast. We all know what the screenwriter wanted to convey was: the stock market is taking a nosedive! And the generally accepted standard fill-in-the-blank words to use are “something something the Dow!!!”
I started thinking about the whole chain of people who, in all likelihood, hadn’t the slightest clue what “the Dow” is, much less why anyone should care. The screenwriter, the actor delivering the line, the majority of the audience. And I remembered hearing that term as a kid, and getting this weird sense that it was something, along with a lot of other financial stuff, that the grownups didn’t know about any more than I did. Like everyone was kind of fudging their way along. Kids can smell bullshit a mile away, and that was definitely some bullshit.
But somewhere along the way, we stop feeling comfortable asking questions, I guess. Which is a pretty lame excuse for how I went 32 years, including nearly 10 years in a finance-adjacent profession, without ever really knowing what the Dow was, exactly. I know from experience that even other smart people have similar shrouds of mystery over things like how various tax advantaged retirement schemes work, what even are dividends, and what to do with their W-4’s (US-specific, so don’t panic, non-US friends). And the reason that some of these topics seem so mysterious is that even the people who are supposed to understand them, don’t. Not really, anyways. Not such that they could explain it to aliens (sorry, I’ve just seen Arrival).
This is just one more small way that people are disenfranchised when it comes to their money. We’re made to feel as if we’re the only ones thick enough not to know what the newscaster is on about when he’s talking about “the Dow” like it was his best friend. If you asked him what it was, he mightn’t be able to tell you. But he probably feels too intimidated to ask, too.
It’s incredibly off-putting, and it’s why a lot of people just steer clear of the whole area. For me, I’ve only ever been content with my level of understanding of something if I feel comfortable explaining it to someone else. Years of providing US tax consultations to a population of highly analytical newcomers to the US will entrench that belief. You’d want to be really clear on your pre-tax vs. your after-tax vs. your Roth 401k’s, for example. Because the guys I was giving these consultations to would grill you on it, and have you explain it 5 different ways, with examples. They were taking full advantage of a little-known, and rarely exploited privilege afforded to anyone who’s new to a topic and not afraid to ask questions until they’re satisfied they get it. I learned to respect and emulate this approach as yet more #immigranthustle magic.
And that’s how we should all approach this stuff. Ask loads of questions, and don’t rely on advice from anyone who can’t explain something in clear, simple language. And never feel stupid for asking. Smart people ask.
One of my primary intentions is to enjoy life to the fullest while still moving towards my financial goals. Location independence + financial independence is the ultimate dream, but until I get there I have no intention of cutting travel out of my life. I live simply in most ways so that I can experience the things that really matter to me, and travel is, and always has been, high on that list. And it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, if you’re thoughtful, creative, and adaptable.
Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your travel planning, to travel lighter, travel simpler, and travel more:
1. Pack light: This will save you in more ways than one. Firstly, don’t pay to check bags. Ever. (*Unless you are moving countries permanently, and even then, question each item ruthlessly.) This will save you up to €100/$100 per trip, since checked bags can range from €25 per bag, each way.
But the savings don’t stop there. When you travel carry-on only, you can easily avail of (fun, interesting, character-building!) public transport instead of needing to take boring, expensive taxis to fit your luggage. You can also happily stay in small Airbnb’s or hostels because you don’t have lots of stuff to store.
Are you travelling to admire your possessions, or to get out and experience something new?
2. Fly cheap(er): I avail of Ryanair whenever possible, but not everyone lives in an area that’s well served by low-cost carriers. (Ahem, I’m looking at you, basically all of the United States and Canada…) So here are a few ways to be sure you’re getting a good deal:
Google Flights: Are you using Google Flights yet? You should be. You can set up tracking for any flights you’re interested in, and it will let you know when it thinks the price is at its lowest. I really like the calendar feature as well, especially if you have flexible dates.
I also like the Explore feature, where you can have a gander at where’s cheap to travel if you have specific dates in mind (like a long weekend, and you don’t mind where you go in a region with lots of great destinations, like Europe, or Southeast Asia, for example).
I wish they had a dedicated mobile app, but that’s my only quibble.
Hopper: I also like Hopper for helping me decide when to book or wait on a particular flight. It gives handy reminders from a mobile app telling you when it thinks you should book.
Savings: I’d say I average €100 savings on most round-trip flights I book, by following the sage advice of Google Flights and/or Hopper.
3. Airbnb: Airbnb is my first stop when booking accommodations. Rarely do I find a better/cheaper/overall more appealing option than on Airbnb. It’s great as a solo traveller, because you can book a room in a shared accommodation if you want the potential to interact with the host, or you can book the entire apartment if you rather have privacy. I’ve also had great experiences with Airbnb in groups, where we got lovely houses for a great price, and were able to cook/relax together either as a group of friends, or with family.
I was an early-ish adopter of Airbnb and have been using it since 2012, with almost entirely positive results.
If you still haven’t given it a try, here’s a code to get €20 off your first trip!
Savings: The places I stay tend to average €50 per night, and hotels can be up to €200 per night (!?! Or so I’m told! That sounds insane to me but okay…) So let’s say that’s an average savings of €450 per trip, since my weekend jaunts tend to be around 3 nights.
5. Ground transportation: Walk when you can, and public transport all other times, should be your default approach. Sometimes safety or practicality can make public transport untenable, but give it an honest consideration at least, and approach it from the perspective of being a bit adventurous and anti-fragile.
Savings: At my home airport, I save at least €50 per trip, just by taking the Dublin Bus Airlink, at €6 each way, or €10 round-trip, instead of taxis at ~€30 each way (or more in traffic). Then at my destination, I’d say it’s easily another €50 savings on average, as most European cities have even better airport-to-city-centre transit options than Dublin.
So, let’s estimate the total savings per short, weekend trip, of applying a few really basic principles:
Pack light = €100
Fly cheap(er) = €100
Non-insane accommodations = €450
Ground transportation = €50-100 per trip
TOTAL= €700- €750 per trip!
Stick that chunk of change into your low cost index fund, or your fund for your next trip, and travel on, you frugal, personal finance whiz!
I’ve followed my own advice for my trip to Rome this past weekend. A roundup of the #pursepacking results and some pics to come!
I considered trying to keep the alliterative thing going by incorporating some forced pun about pasta, but thought better of it (it would’ve been, dare I say… too cheesy?). I did have a pretty good run there of visiting cities that were brought to you by the letter P, namely Paris, Prague, and Portland, all in a pretty pink row.
But as it happens, my latest purse packing adventure is a quick weekend trip to Rome. It’s my first time visiting Italy, and I’m only going for 2 full days, really (my flight gets in late Thursday night, and leaves Sunday morning). But I’m going to try to get the most of it, and with any luck I’ll be back again soon!
The weather for this weekend is forecast at around 30°C (or 86°F for American friends) and sunny, which is way, way hotter than it ever gets in Ireland. So I’m just packing a big vat of SPF 50, basically. (Just kidding, I never pack more than the carry-on limit for liquids.)
So, for two days and three nights, in near-perfect weather, purse packing was a breeze. I remembered to pack something modest enough to visit the Vatican, but otherwise it’s skirts and light, airy tops. I’ll wear my black ballet flats on the plane, and probably for most of the trip, but I’m also bringing a pair of flat leather sandals that don’t suck to walk in. They’re probably overkill, actually.
The long trousers are from one of those techwear companies (ProofNY, in this case) that I really wanted to be a thing, but that seemed maybe ahead of their time, sadly. They’re made of super light material that I’m hoping isn’t horrible in the hot weather. I need them because none of my skirts come below the knee, for my Vatican/cathedral day. I’ll probably stash a skirt in my handbag for after, to be honest.
Minimalism has become a full-blown cultural movement. The Minimalists have a hugely popular podcast, and film that has recently come to Netflix. When I encountered the concept a few years ago, it was immediately a good fit for my personality and preferences. I’ve been naturally inclined in that direction for most of my life, and I loved reading about how others interpreted the idea of living with less and reducing excess. I eagerly delved into accounts of capsule wardrobes, tiny houses, and living with 100 things or less. It makes for compelling reading.
However, for many people, it’s understandable how minimalism could remain a casual Pinterest fascination. They might sense that applying some of the ideas could benefit their lives, but lack that motivating factor. One group of people I think can benefit from minimalism in very real, tangible ways is the globally mobile: the expats, the digital nomads, those of us who try out new countries as readily as some people try out new neighbourhoods. I believe our ranks will only continue to increase, and that one of the best ways to prepare for a successful move is to embrace minimalism.
Here are some ways embracing minimalism will make your life easier, freer, and better, whether you are making an international move or not:
1. Travel light: Whether you are travelling for a weekend, a few weeks, indefinitely, or picking up and transplanting your life to a new location, the concept of travelling lightly will serve you well. “Stuff” weighs you down, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually. You’ll find you can make your move(s) so much easier and simpler if you can cut down your physical possessions to only the essentials.
This is an iterative process and it helps if you minimise early, and minimise often. If you only have a few pairs of shoes, because you’ve been diligently minimising for months prior to your move, it’s not hard to decide which to bring with you. And better yet, if you’re not that attached to any of them, it’s not hard to leave some behind. There will be shoes in your new country, trust and believe this.
I thought I had made a fairly minimal move, and even still I found myself donating various items a few months after I’d arrived in Ireland. Bring less than you think, it’s almost never a mistake.
2. Simplify your finances: When you move to a new country, or hop around the globe, it’s really helpful if you can keep your financial life as streamlined as possible. The last thing you need is to have 20 different passwords for 20 different financial institutions, and then to have to remember which card charges you foreign transaction fees, and which accounts you have linked, etc.
I suggest keeping a bank account open in your home country, and best yet if you have a no- foreign transaction fee credit card that’s with the same provider. Extra bonus points if you don’t pay an annual fee for either the account or the card. Banking is annoyingly expensive in Ireland, but from what I can tell there’s not much that can be done about that. I kept my US bank account, and a Visa associated with that account. For investments, I’m all Vanguard. I have a Paypal linked to my US bank, and another linked to my Irish bank.
I haven’t found anything like Mint or Personal Capital that works with non-US accounts, but at least I can log into Mint and it only needs to check two financial institutions to give me a snapshot of everything on the US side. I’ve been keeping the Irish side low key for now, so there’s only a few places I need to look there, too.
3. Minimalist home: Let’s assume you adhered to Minimalist Expat Commandment #1 and didn’t lug a bunch of heavy home furnishings and decor half way around the globe with you. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. Now that you’re in your new country, for however long that may be, see if you can keep your home-related acquisitions to a minimum.
To dress up my furnished flat, I purchased a few things to hang on the walls, a few throw pillows, a charity shop chair, and a storage ottoman/coffee table. Plus the necessary kitchen stuff. All of this will probably stay in the flat when I leave, or get donated. And I’m none to precious about any of it, which helps when I’m letting the place on Airbnb when I travel. I don’t mind if they break a plate or two (although this hasn’t happened, but it seems to be a concern for some people, who ask me: “What about your STUFF?” in anxious tones when I tell them I host Airbnb guests when I’m out of town).
4. Daily routines: By this I mean your day to day cooking and grooming and whatnot. Have you encountered people who feel as though they require a lot of complicated accessories just to get ready for a normal day? Simplifying this, to the extent possible, makes travel and relocation a lot easier. I don’t feel I need 15 different hair products to be a valuable member of society or to enjoy my life. And I really enjoy the ease of packing, since all my normal personal care products easily fit into the 1L bag limit. Being flexible and adaptable is something to continually practice, and is a skill that would serve any expat well.
I’ve come across expats who complained that the posh nail salon in our exclusive, wealthy suburb of northern Johannesburg (Sandton, just to name-drop for those in the know), didn’t stock the right kind of gel nail polish. I don’t know, but it seemed like they might have been missing the point? Try to make peace with an alternate brand of gel nail polish, is all I’m saying.
5. Technology and digital life: This is one area I’m working on. I sometimes bring more devices than is strictly necessary, but the setup I currently have is:
external battery pack
I don’t bring all my devices on every trip, but if I were moving longer term again, or if I were transitioning to full digital nomad, I think I’d keep more or less this roster. The iPad is a few years old and probably the most redundant, but I like it for reading free magazines from the library (shoutout to the Zinio app! Don’t buy expensive magazines, fam). In reality, I probably won’t replace it when it dies, especially now that my laptop is a lovely, lovely Macbook.
I also have a portable bluetooth speaker that sorts out my music needs, usually via Spotify. With Spotify and Netflix, I’m well covered from an entertainment perspective, and the only thing I need in a new country is wifi. No TV or stereo required, either in a shipping container, or in a rented flat.
So there you have it. There are surely countless more benefits to minimalism when you are undertaking something as major as moving countries, but with simple, streamlined, and thoughtful possessions, finances, homes, habits, and technology, you’ll be well ahead of the curve. Go forth and become location independent with intention!
Long-haul flights have become a recurring feature of my life. Living 8 time zones away from my family means there will be at least a few round-trip journeys a year consisting of 12+ hour flights. I’ve recently returned from one such journey, and one of the questions people kept asking me, on both ends, was how horrible did I feel from the jet lag? The assumption being that inevitably my answer would fall somewhere on the scale of horrible-feeling. (This scale, I imagine, runs roughly from “lemon juice in a paper cut,” all the way up to “Donald Trump is really the president of the United States and that’s actually a thing now.”)
But I didn’t feel horrible at all, and I almost never do, and I don’t think you have to, either. Here are some things that will help.
1) Stay hydrated. This is probably the biggest single contributing factor to non-horribleness. Apply this maxim with as much zeal as you #staywoke. I look around the plane sometimes and wonder where other people are stashing their giant water bottles, and then am forced to sadly conclude that they for some bizarre reason didn’t bring their giant water bottles. That’s a mistake. Bring a big reusable bottle (I like HydroFlasks) and fill it up when you get through security. If you’re nice to the flight attendants they might even fill it up for you mid-flight if you ask at a non-annoying time in a non-annoying way.
*Aside: I’ve had occasion to spend some time in Heathrow Terminal 5 recently, and I struggled to find a water fountain. They assured me (only a little snootily) on Twitter that there are millions of water fountains and I’m a big dumb jerk for not finding one. I dunno. I looked and failed to find. On more than one occasion. This last time, I found a water jug sitting out at a coffee stand. Desperate times, etc, etc. Just don’t get on the plane without your own water supply, is all.
2) Change your phone’s time zone. Or, do you wear a watch like some classy person in the before-times? Change that too. It can be somewhat disquieting, especially when you’re travelling east and therefore losing hours. My journey back to Dublin from my most recent trip began with a 9 hour flight from Seattle to London. I got on the plane around 6pm Pacific Time, and immediately set my phone to London time, and boom, suddenly it’s 2am the next morning. But it reminded me to try to get into nighttime mode a little bit. I don’t go crazy trying to force myself to sleep, but I swear this trick does help. Especially when you land and have to orient yourself to the new time zone. If it’s morning there, just embrace the morning-ness of it all.
3) Upon arrival, sleep and wake at normal times. Right away. This is probably the next most important thing, after you remember to #stayhydrated (and, of course, to #staywoke). You can get into a surefire cycle of horrible-feeling if you start napping at weird times for days on end. The best thing, I find, is just stay up kind of late your first night, if you can. I stayed up late catching up with my family upon arrival in Portland this time, and on my first arrival in Dublin I stayed up until dawn (perhaps not strictly recommended, but was I jetlagged after those shenanigans? No, no I was not).
4) Stretch, walk, yoga: just do something active before and after. The day before and the day after your long-haul flights, move your body somehow. Bonus points if this movement occurs outdoors. It will feel so good after all that sitting.
5) Don’t overdo it on the alcohol or caffeine. Generally this is a good idea, but never more so than when mixed with extended air travel. I may have still grabbed a large coffee as soon as I landed in Dublin, but I am a seasoned coffee pro. Showing moderation with the in-flight drinks is probably the most important, but if caffeine affects you strongly (or if you haven’t spent years building up immunity, iocane-powder-style), exercise restraint.
6) Remember that it’s awesome that you get to do this at all, chill out, and enjoy the expanse of hours. Yeah, yeah, long flights suck, but remember how we’re incredibly privileged to get to travel this way in the first place, to far-flung locales with varying degrees of glamour? Your dreaded ordeal is someone else’s dream trip. Recapture some of that magic, people. Plus, you’ve been given the gift of time. Get some work done, catch up on your reading, or on some movies. We have so many options for entertainment and productivity at our fingertips, and most likely a rare stretch of no wifi. Enjoy it.
Be grateful, travel light, peace, namaste, and all that good stuff. Go and be jet-lagged no more, friends.