40 Travel (and Life) Tips for Expats

  1. Bring everyday goodies from your home country to share with your new friends abroad. Little jars of peanut butter, Marmite, dried squid… something yummy from your native land is always a good ice breaker.
  2. Teach your un-techie friends and family communication apps like Skype and What’s App before you flee the country.
  3. Learn basic greetings, and the following phrases in any destination language: How much? Please. I’m sorry. It’s O.K. and thank you.
  4. Better yet, seriously study the language of your new homeland.
  5. For Asia, Middle East, and Europe: accept the squat toilet. Just accept it.
  6. Force yourself to go to expat parties and meetups, even if you’re a hermit.
  7. Pack actual photos of your family and friends to share with people when you can’t use your phone. Real photos are nice.
  8. Learn about the history of your new home through something you love: art, books, food, architecture, music. Finding a connection to your expat homeland gives you an anchor and a fun connection with locals. It’s also a great way to learn a new language.
  9. Watch your wellness. Being an expat can sometimes like a long vacation. Don’t abandon healthy habits just because you’re out of your old routine.
  10. Keep your professional presence connected and your CV updated. If you’re a short-term expat, finding work when you return will be tough if you’ve let your career network atrophy. Most companies will see international work experience as a major plus.
  11. Stay connected to your friends back home, and not just through Facebook. Write email, send video letters and photos, let people know you’re thinking of them.
  12. Send family and friends little care packages with food or beauty products from your expat homeland.
  13. Buy a Skype phone number with a local phone number so (just an example…) your Dad doesn’t freak out if he needs to call you and has never dialed out of the country. You can have the calls forwarded to your expat phone.
  14. Research the availability of absolute necessities. Example: solid anti-perspirant is not sold in Japanese drugstores, and foreign stores sell it for thrice the standard retail. Stock up or have it shipped over.
  15. Learn to live without those absolute necessities. (For the record, I still use Secret…).
  16. Things will go wrong. You will get lost. You will make mistakes. You will offend or embarrass people. No one is an expert of a new culture straight off the plane. Be patient with yourself.
  17. It might be tempting to become jingoistic or overly judgemental. “Normal” is a bankrupt adjective to the expatriate, and suddenly you might find yourself pondering moral rights and wrongs you’d never think twice about back home. Every country has good and bad, and different doesn’t automatically mean bad. Try to keep perspective.
  18. Support fellow expats. If someone is making an error in etiquette that could cause confusion, embarrassment, loss of a job, or of well-being, by all means say something. But be helpful, not pedantic. Culture policing is just plain rude.
  19. Embrace fear. Enter shops that look intimidating, ask questions when you need answers, and eat at least one completely unknowable meal.
  20. Invest in a great carry-on duffel bag. Recommendation: North Face Base Camp
  21. Prepare for the worst: evacuation procedures, emergency phone numbers, the nearest police station. Spending a bit of time learning how to deal with crisis in your new homeland gives you a greater sense of security.
  22. Space bags are your friend.
  23. Share your new favorite things by setting up an international beauty or snack swap with a friend. Ask for your old favorites to stave homesickness.
  24. Avoid being easily offended. Part of connecting as a foreigner means not only navigating a new culture, but also having that culture navigate you. Expat life is so much richer when you can let go of minor miscommunications.
  25. Scarves and hats are the best travel accessories. Thin scarves can dress up ugly shopping bags, work as a cover up mid-flight, wrap as a sarong, a skirt, a dress. I like a good beanie to cover up my invariably crap plane-hair, to cover my eyes while I sleep, and generally look a bit more put together when I arrive.
  26. Contribute. Volunteer in your new homeland. Set up a meetup or a social club. Find a way to make your new community a better place by actively engaging in it.
  27. Travel light, live light. Recycle unimportant paperwork you can’t read, clear out your old region-specific spam and subscriptions, delete ten photos of the same thing. Don’t take samples or pamphlets on things you’ll never use. Edit your life ruthlessly and often.
  28. Asia: Save your dental appointments for your Ho Chi Minh, DaNang, or Bangkok trips. You’ll save hundreds and the quality of care is as good (if not better!) than back home.
  29. Flip flops. Showers, bath houses, beaches, running to the corner store or around your guest house: keep them in your carry on always.
  30. Clean your handbags and luggage. Wipe them down after you get to your destination for longer wear and tear and fewer germs.
  31. Luggage lock recommendation: Victorinox Swiss Army
  32. Invest in great luggage: Recommendation Hartmann Tweed.
  33. Become cozy with minimalism. Moving across the globe showed me almost 90% of what I kept (and use regularly) were the investment pieces: great bags, classic clothing in natural fabrics. Cheapo stuff comes and goes (as it should). In general, buy less and choose wisely. (Vivianne Westwood said that…)
  34. Buy great flats shoes. Recommendation: London Sole.
  35. Become a wash-and-wear kind of traveler. Double beauty products, small-size palettes, all-in-one oils or creams can do wonders for your vanity clutter problem. (Unless you’re a beauty fiend… you know I can’t help you.) Duty-free is a great (if dangerous) source of inspiration here.
  36. Edit and invest toward a capsule wardrobe. a few pieces that can be turned into multiple looks for multiple occasions. (Fashion junkies know this can’t happen for them).
  37. For those who can’t pare down: learn the best overseas shipping options for sending you beloved gear ahead of you to your new home (or for when you return home). For me, Japan Post offers sea freight, which takes 8 weeks, but is great for shipping books and art and out of season clothing back home.
  38. Dress well when you travel. It says you care how you present yourself. You don’t need to don stilettos or a Zegna suit, but say no to sweat pants, old polo shirts, anything given to you for free by a company. And please- no crocs. Just because.
  39. Eat very little or fast during long haul flights.  Most cabin food is that is pre-packaged, salty, and makes you feel bloated and gross. You’re better off taking a salad and a protein shake on the flight and arriving hungry than gorging on salted pasta and feeling like a sausage in your seat. If you must eat, try to pre-order the Hindu or Vegi meals. They tend to be fresher and not filled with greasy stuff.
  40. Embrace uncertainty. When you hit the proverbial ice on the road, speed into the skid. Learn from patience. Accept what is. Enjoy your new life.

If you have any awesome expat travel tips, don’t be a miser- share in the comments section!


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