Elena is a web designer, I met at a dinner of my friend with. She said she is going to go to Thailand soon for a few months and when I asked if she has been to Thai before, she told me her story. It turns out that she has been traveling with her friend during last 7 years. During these years many stories has happened to her. She survived an earthquake at 7 point, familiar with conditions in prison in Thailand, does know that you can’t trust to Egyptian people and much more. She kindly shared them with me in this interview. I know it is long, but it is worth to read until the final sentence.
Hello, Elena. You’ve been living abroad for a few years so far and in different counties. When you first thought that you would like to leave your city? Under what circumstances occurred these thoughts?
First thoughts came after my first trip abroad with my friends when I was a student. We traveled to Egypt, and I was amazed and inspired by everything in this country – summer all year along, warm sea, a lot of fun, charming hotels. Egypt is a country next to the Middle East, so people there are friendly and helpful. That just looked like a fairy tale. Since then, I traveled to Egypt twice a year during my university studies. I was able to meet so many beautiful people from all over the world.
What motivated you to do the first step towards your decision?
After I graduated, I felt that I am free and at that point in my life when I can try to do whatever I want. I was sure that I want to try to live abroad, to get a job and to see how it develops as another motivation was the story of my friend who already had the experience of working abroad. I get an offer to work in Turkey with my friend as an animator at a hotel. For some reason, I had a feeling that everything will work out. It was very planned everything: we knew that when we get there we will have a job and out airplane tickets were booked, accommodation was prepared as well. There was one last thing — to convince my parents to let me go to Turkey. After a long persuasive talk, I was allowed to go there to try my luck.
What was after that?
After Turkey was Spain, where we went with my friend again, and there were our first obstacles — to get a visa, find accommodation, book tickets. We were preparing all by ourselves, even though we got a job offer from one of our friends who lived there. We had some money we made in Turkey, and it was enough to pay for flights and accommodation. We were young and brave, and after the first experience working in Turkey, we knew what it was to work abroad, so we were ready for that. We worked in Spain for several summer seasons. And then I met a guy from Austria, and we fell in love. We started dating, and then I came to visit him in Austria. After one week of vacation together, we decided to live together.
How different was your life in Austria?
Even though Austria is one of the best countries in the world, according to the living conditions, in the beginning, I had some struggled with settling, feeling integrated. On the one hand, everything looks perfect in this country — everyone is friendly, all cleanliness and order everywhere, everything was built for the comfort of people. The first difficulty for me, as for a simple Russian girl, war high requirements for everything: mandatory following of all laws (you can’t even imagine how many regulations are in Austria), high level of performance. For me, as for designer, it was tough at the beginning. Austrians are perfectionists and very demanding on everything. So in Austria, I had to make a lot of effort and to learn how to fit. After working in the Middle East and in the South of Spain, where people are more relaxed, it was a bit difficult. The Austrians are rational and practical, love comfort. I learn many things about them. In general, life in Vienna in many ways looked perfect and was relaxed, but sometimes I got bored. Therefore, I often wanted some new adventures.
And new adventures were…
traveling to Thailand and Indonesia, Bali Island. I have a travel buddy, my friend, with whom we travel most of the time. We visited many countries and lived together for half of this time, and now live here in Spain. We went through many adventures along, and she always has a lot of crazy plans.
When did you realize that you are not attached to a place and can live almost whenever there is the Internet? Because as I understood for your job to have an Internet connection is essential?
Yes, that’s correct. I am a graphic designer, and my clients live across the world, and I have to have a good Internet connection to send previews, get editings, proof the final layouts. But so far, I didn’t have any issue with it. So, when I moved to Austria 7 years ago, I got a chance to work remotely, and I had a lot of friends living in different parts of the world. Many of them were inviting me to come to visit them. Once I went to visit one of my friends, then another, and so on. Then I realized that I could move around the world, and it doesn’t affect my work, my lifestyle. After visiting Asia, my life has changed, and I fell in love with this country and wanted to explore it more.
You have been traveling to so many countries and living abroad for 7 years. What five life hacks have you learned from this experience?
Lifehack number one is always traveling with hand luggage. Lately, I figured out that it is easier and saves you a lot of money. In different countries, different climate, lifestyle, you will adjust to it anyways, when you get there and will begin to settle. Just take basic things and equipment.
Try to eat only in local cafes and restaurants. Usually, these places don’t look catchy from the outside, but the food there much better and cheaper.
Lifehack number three: book an apartment when you’re in the place already. I know it sounds a bit irresponsible, but when you book accommodation online, the final prices can raise a lot compared with the benefits you can get if you rent an apartment or room on the place through the locals. Very often you can find nice places that you would never have found online and with a good discount.
Don’t forget about insurance. You never know what may happen when you’re traveling. Thankfully in many countries, there are hospitals where you will be attended even though you are a foreigner, but it won’t be cheap.
And last but not least, communication is the key. You can’t even imagine how many life hacks and useful tips local people can provide you if you make an effort to get to know them better, to make new friends within the locals. And try to check forums and online communities; on the Internet there is tons of information.
And were there any difficulties during the whole time living abroad? Social integration issues, other struggles?
One of the most struggles for me is to calculate the budget and time to solve all the problems in a new place. It is tough to know in accuracy how much money you will need and the time you will spend to settle. To figure things out, you have to spend at least two weeks; sometimes it tires you out. There is a social integration issue as well in some countries. In every country, you start building your life from scratch. Even though you are planning to stay only one year or less, you have to make new friends, build new connections, networking. And after that, when you are leaving this country, you have to part ways with them.
Of course, we live in the century of mobility, and we have the Internet, but sometimes it is hard saying goodbye so many times to good things in your life. Here comes another issue, the need to adapt to new conditions, the mentality of the people, features of nationality. For example, in Thailand and Indonesia, people don’t walk much, so there are no sidewalks because all people use motorbikes to move. Local people seldom cook at home, because it’s easier and cheaper to eat out. And for non-observance of laws, which are unusual for us, you can be sent to jail.
Can you tell one of the most memorable stories that happened to you during these seven years of traveling?
One year ago, my friend and I were living on an Indonesian island Bali. We wanted to explore more new cities and found a small island Lombok. It was the last day of our trip, and we decided to get lunch at a local restaurant. We were sitting at our table, chatting while waiting for our food, and suddenly everything around started to shake. My first thought was — this is an earthquake! We ran outside with everyone at the restaurant. I remember I was staring at my feet on the ground, and I could see the ground was shaking, and I was trying to keep balance. Little by little, the shaking stopped, and people began to come back to their places. It ended! – I thought, but in one moment, the stream of cars, motorbikes, and a bunch of people was in chaotic movement around us.
Suddenly my friend Katya ran after them, and I didn’t have to think and just followed her. I was running in a crowd and lost my friend from the view. I saw a group of Europeans and approached them to ask if they understand what is happening? No one understood what is going on, and we asked locals on motorbikes; they explained that after the earthquake, there is a tsunami hazard due to the approaching of water, and we have to run up. It was a long way, and I was able to stop a car, and the girl from the back seat offers us to get in. It was just as an episode from a movie when someone’s car stops by, and the person says you to get in as soon as possible.
So, in the car were the drivel who was a man from Indonesia and one couple from Portugal. The driver said he could take us to a safe place since it wasn’t his first time seeing the tsunami there. He also said that the tsunami could destroy a big part of the island, and in my head, I already said goodbye to my documents and laptop I left at the hotel.
I texted my friend Katya and could send her my coordinates. The driver dropped us off on the road 10 km from the sea and to wait until it becomes safer. While we were waiting, we tried to gather all the information we had about the situation. So, we didn’t know if it is over or will be, and none of us didn’t have a place to go. Someone somehow figured out that it became safer down there, and they decided to return.
Meanwhile, the driver offered us to stay at his place at least a night, and we decided to stay there that night. Suddenly I felt that someone is pulling my hand, and it was Katya. She could find me! So, we are, with most of the group stayed at the driver’s house with his family. They gave us some food, blankets and we stayed at the terrace of their home. For the first time in my life, I heard so clearly the sound of the ocean, every voice, and every passing on the road. We all were freaked out and couldn’t sleep. So we took our stuff and went to the top of the mountain that was there, to feel safer.
After experiences like that, you understand that nothing is more valuable than human life, and everything else is trifles.
We tried to buy tickets to fly back to Bali, but of course, it wasn’t possible. In the morning, we checked again and found out that the ferry wasn’t canceled, so we took it immediately and got our hotel. In the evening the next day after the earthquake, we were on the island Bali, in safety. All of this felt like a nightmare, but it was real. But I was amazed and surprised how people were supportive of each other, trying to help, like a big family. That’s why I like and appreciate Asia, people there has a big heart.
When we got Bali, we googled the consequences of that natural disaster in Lombok and found out that there were about 436 dead and more than 15,000 injured. The earthquake was rated at 7 points; it is when the tsunami can be caused. And it freaks out because you can’t predict in what part of the island it can occur next time. Most people don’t know how to behave during such incidents. You think something like this will never happen to you but then boom, and it happens, and you’re not ready. We were lucky enough that we were on the other part of the island where the tremors weren’t so keen. After experiences like that, you understand that nothing is more valuable than human life, and everything else is trifles.