We’ve all heard the expression, “the honeymoon's over,” and after about 4 years of marriage, I can say that my honeymoon is still going strong! After getting married in May of 2014, my husband and I spent the entire month of June on our honeymoon exploring South East Asia. It was a dream. Neither of us had ever traveled to Asia and with my in laws providing the tickets as a wedding present, these newlyweds could afford to live luxuriously in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos- for four weeks at least.
After the month was up, it was back to real life. New school, new city, new life, new jobs, and new internships while living in our “new” and very overpriced basement apartment located in the Suburbs of NW Washington, DC. In the two years leading up to our move to Thailand, I held 8 jobs ranging from dog walker to community outreach coordinator for an international NGO. My husband, Evan, interned/worked for free from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday and then took his GWU graduate school classes in the evening. We worked hard, and LOVED our lives. We had a dream of making it in DC- working for NGO’s that changed the world and living a cozy, city lifestyle in a DC micro apartment. Being adults, making money, living a meaningful life.
Fast Forward to October of 2015, our dreams came true! Evan was done with school, we had the jobs that were supposed to make a difference in the world, and we got the perfect apartment that was only a block from union station….Then we really asked ourselves, is this the life we want? We were exhausted after coming home from work, and the enduring the long crowded and expensive rides on the mostly unreliable metro. We had a very limited time to destress and focus on ourselves and a short 2 weeks of vacation time to look forward to each year. We came home late, tried not to think about work, ate, watched TV, went to bed, and woke up tired every morning. After seeing the pattern we were falling into we decided it was time to make a change. We missed nature, and we didn't want to live for 2 weeks of vacation every year. We wanted to live a life we didn’t need a vacation from. Plus, I was tired of the competitive mentality of DC life. It felt like people were building walls around themselves and finding how to best avoid each other, while building up their careers and self importance in a way I didn’t care for. We thought of a place where life could be more simple and lived according to our own values. A place where we could have the time to invest in what we care about the most- each other.
After relentlessly applying to every job in South East Asia, Evan landed the perfect job in Chiang Mai, Thailand and in November of 2016 we returned to our honeymoon destination to live our best lives. But simply changing locations isn’t enough to change your mentality and living like you’re on a perpetual holiday won’t do much to move you forward in life. So, here are 5 things I’ve learned in the last year and a half that have helped me understand and embrace the perks, and recognize the differences in vacationing vs living abroad.
1.Cost of Living
One of the major perks of living and traveling in Thailand is the cost of living. About 30 Baht here equals $1.00. When living in Washington, DC our micro apartment was about $2,000USD a month. More than a lot of people’s mortgages. In Chiang Mai, we rent a newly built home that faces the scenic Ping River for $500 a month. Whether you are vacationing or living here the cost of renting houses and condos is very affordable! Having services done like laundry, manicures, massages- all very affordable especially when compared to American prices! But I’m not living life like I’m on vacation. I never got my nails done when I lived in America, and if I get them done here, it’s a special treat. Just because things cost less, doesn’t mean you should do them! Costs add up no matter where you live. And when it comes to food I follow the same rule. In Chiang Mai, western foods have western prices and I avoid them not only because of the price, but also because of the calories. I choose (most of the time) to head to the market and grab a fruit smoothie and pad thai for $2 vs a restaurant where I could spend $7 on a burger and a soda.
2. Exploring your Surroundings
When traveling on a holiday, all you have is time! It is your priority to explore and see as much as possible before returning to real life. When you are living in your favorite vacation spot, you have to learn to make time and plan for getaways to have a bit of fun. We were able to move to Thailand because Evan found a 9 to 5 job, but we also work for ourselves like many other expats you’ll find living in Chiang Mai. He has his podcast, eRochefoucauld, and I have my blog, The J Curve. Most people living abroad are retired, working remotely, or have their own businesses. When working for yourself, I find that it’s harder to pull yourself away from work, especially without a feeling of guilt for giving yourself time off. Luckily, there are so many day trips and events happening locally! Often times, we drive a hour or so out of the city to go on hikes, see waterfalls, or visit nice cafes, and because Chiang Mai has its own airport, many places like Bangkok, coastal cities, and islands are only a short flight away! So are international cities in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. All you have to do is plan and budget accordingly!
3. Getting work done
I’ve just explained that many people living abroad work for themselves, and the environment in Chiang Mai is great for that! There are many expat/nomad events and workspaces that make it possible to collaborate and get feedback on the things you’re working on. There are so many adorable cafes in this city! And because of this nice tropical climate, you can sit outside and get some sun while you work. If you’re a travel blogger, it’s also a great location to meet up with other travelers to create content! The relaxed, slow pace of Chiang Mai, gives Evan and I so much time to focus on our own endeavors and personal growth. Unless we plan a special weekend trip somewhere, we are working 6 days out of the week and although we work more often than we did when working in America, the work day is much less demanding because we are working on own own personal projects and we take breaks when we need to. We go for walks through our neighborhood, grab some fresh fruit or a smoothie during snack breaks, and one major perk is that we have more time to work with and support each other.
4. Fitting into the culture
Thailand is not my home country, and while most people are accommodating and understanding towards foreigners -I am simply not from here. People stare at Evan and I (I think because we are a strange sight to see). We are an interracial couple, and we hold hands, which is not something the Thai people do often as a sign of affection, especially in public. On top of that white men are usually seen with other white women or Thai women. What is a rare sight in America is even rarer here. Seeing a black woman alone is enough of a reason to stare for most. Usually a simple smile earns one in return, and just like that you’ve had a delightful interaction with a stranger! Even though my gut reaction to people blankly staring at me without any expression on their face has made me feel like a weird alien, I know it’s mostly curiosity so I’ve learned to smile and say hello!
We don’t talk about the government and we definitely don’t talk disrespectfully about the King. You can go to jail for that. So, don’t do it, or at least tread very carefully.
Other things: The food is spicy and I LOVE it! Don’t drink the tap water. There are water stations in many different locations that will give you fresh drinking water for a small fee. If you live in a house, be prepared to deal with house geckos. Rainy
season- it will be wet, but life must go on. Thai people for the most part dress conservatively here, but if you’re a foreigner people can be more forgiving.
5. Enjoy where you are
The newness of places, people, and ideas can wear off. Don’t forget the reason why you fell in love with something. For a time, I’d gotten so wrapped up in working first thing when I woke up that I forgot to appreciate where I was, so now I take more steps to not take the things I love for granted. Instead of going straight to the computer to work in the mornings, I make the bed and open up all the windows so that I can see the river and feel the breeze. When I get hungry during the day, I don’t work though it or rush to eat. I take the time to enjoy my meals, make myself a pot of tea, and remind myself that I have time. I go to facebook groups to look for opportunities that wouldn’t usually be available to me like traveling photographers looking for models, which has actually happened twice now, and to look for more interesting places around me that I can explore! I practice yoga everyday, not only for myself but as something that I’ve integrated into my work and something worth sharing with the world. This is how I keep living in my honeymoon and my dream destination. I continue to work towards my goals, while still being able to enjoy this life that I chose. I hope that if you get the chance to travel and live and enjoy a place and culture different from your own you also can find the balance needed to live, to work, and to enjoy every moment.
Written by The J Curve
The J Curve is me, Jessica (Hi!) writing and vlogging about fitness, travel, and femininity. Currently, my husband and I (eRochefoucauld), are living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Check out The J Curve Blog!