Can the fantasy ever really live up to reality?
What with Brexit, the wettest June on record and the end of Brangelina, who hasn’t fantasized about jacking it all in and running away somewhere sunnier, more exotic or even just somewhere outside of the M25? At the moment it seems you can hardly go one thumb swipe without drowning in articles of people who have done just that; writing their novel on a beach in Barbados, getting paid to hug pandas in Taiwan or simply sailing the world on a mega yacht.
They follow an all-too-familiar format, each accompanied by a series of blissful images, ‘foolproof’ explanations of how you can do it too and unquestionably conclude with buzzword of the decade – happiness. By taking the ultimate leap of faith, these lucky few are living their dream, waking each morning and going to bed each night in an unfaltering state of pure, unadulterated bliss. If they’re working, it’s pursuing their passion, providing a tangible benefit to the world and making a real difference. If they’re travelling, it’s to visit places we mere mortals have only dared to dream of and having regular, if not daily, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Who can blame us for getting sucked in; the world happiness index this year ranked the UK at 23rd, behind popular British emigration destinations such as Australia and Canada.
For me the dream was America, land of the free and home of the chilli cheese dog. And earlier this year, I did it, leaving behind a drizzly commute for balmy evenings by the pool. Don’t get me wrong, it has been amazing. Warmer weather, a cheaper cost of living and no morning tube rage. I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity and I definitely don’t plan on heading home anytime soon. But after a few months stateside I started to wonder why I wasn’t suddenly overflowing with gratitude, skinnier, prettier, with better fashion sense and a wider circle of friends. I’d been here two months. Why wasn’t I at the pinnacle of my career, richer, with 10,000 more Instagram followers? I had more free time, sure. So why wasn’t I up at 5am making mason jar salads and squeezing in a quick 10k before my Moon Dust smoothie?
Turns out, it doesn’t work like that. And chances are, I’m probably not alone in my findings. So if you’re toying with the idea of taking the plunge, here are some things I have learned about the big move.
It’s not that simple
If it was that easy, we’d all be doing it. Unfortunately, moving to another country just isn’t that simple. As seamless as some articles can make it sound, you won’t just slot into a new and improved lifestyle. According to most, all you’ll need is faith/determination/passion/insert alternatively sickening buzzword here… It’s so compelling you’d be forgiven for believing them. But, while this may be a reality for some, the fact is, like many things in this world, it’s probably too good to be true. Real world considerations have to be made. Perhaps you need a hard-to-procure visa, a very specific skillset, a network of contacts, diverse language capabilities, an initial investment to kick start your new lifestyle, a thousand boxes to ship all your stuff. The list goes on. I know, because I’ve done it. The stress of moving can push relationships to breaking point. There have been more tears and arguments in my household in the past few months than there were in the previous 4 years. But I’ve learned that’s OK. It’s a big transition and it will take some getting used to.
You still have to go to work
I just want to make this absolutely clear. You’re probably still going to need some source of income. There are myriad articles online about people giving up high-flying careers to lounge on a beach in Bali or getting paid to Instagram their breakfast. While that certainly can happen, it involves a lot of work behind the scenes that is rarely shown or mentioned. If you’re remaining in the same role, or the same industry, any negative aspects of your work won’t magically disappear or suddenly become funner. You’re essentially doing the same stuff, just in a different place. You might still need to commute long distances (although this will almost definitely improve if you move anywhere outside of London). You might still hate your boss. You might still be underpaid and underappreciated. You might also have just lost your work wife – the only one you can drown these sorrows with.
This doesn’t apply exclusively to your professional work either, I still have to do ironing (loathe), I still have to hoover my apartment (double loathe) and apparently, I still have to clean the bathroom (THE HORROR!). In many instances these annoying tasks have even become worse. Trying to set up medical insurance or register a new vehicle without being a bona fide citizen have caused unimaginable amounts of pain and suffering, where previously I would have understood the system or had friends around me I could ask for help. Admin. Admin doesn’t go away. I still have to make a budget and pay my bills and shop around for internet service providers. None of these things go away, no matter where you are in the world. You still have to function as an adult. I know, annoying.
To begin with, you may not have many (or any) friends.
This was probably one of the hardest to come to terms with for me. Living in and around London most of my life I have been blessed with a better quality and quantity of friends than I deserve. In this regard, I have been incredibly lucky and, quite possibly, it took moving away to realise that. Meeting new people here is easy, especially with my accent for an ice-breaker (“Say ‘tomatoes’ again!”, “Do you know the Queen?”). But crafting genuine, meaningful relationships takes time, energy and the confidence to sometimes be vulnerable. Making friends has been a more daunting task for me than any romantic relationship I have ever pursued and, being completely honest, I’m not sure it’s going to get any easier. Making friends as an adult is awful and I hate it. I’ll let you know if that changes. (Unlikely).
Update: My tips on making friends as an adult are here
Money doesn’t solve all your problems.
If, like me, you’re looking to get out of London because the cost of living is crippling you and you just want to have a nice life with some semblance of disposable income – this applies to you. I wouldn’t exactly call myself money-obsessed – I once spent a full year using toilet roll stolen from a nearby office building and would rather wet myself than lose 25 of my hard-earned pence on a train station wee – but I didn’t want to spend my entire 20s scrabbling together a meagre living in pursuit of making enough ground to (maybe) enjoy my twilight years when I’m on my second hip replacement and all my friends are dead. I had visions of moving abroad and suddenly being inundated with cold, hard cash, obviously leading me to ultimate happiness. Spoiler alert: This is not the case. For the first few months money was extremely tight. In between paychecks, we had to start all over again with our home, buying everything from sofas to spatulas. Add to that visa processing fees, flat deposits and finance for a new car and let me tell you, we spent more nights eating cereal in the dark than I care to admit. Even if the money does start rolling in, it doesn’t bring with it a magical fix for all of life’s problems. There will still be disagreements about how it’s spent or distributed, but for the record we absolutely DID need a $30 hand-blown water carafe for the bedside table. Unsurprisingly, I still don’t have a mega yacht.
Above all else, you’re still you.
You won’t become a new person. Aspects of your personality that you know you need to work on won’t change. Sure, you get a chance to start afresh and be whoever you want to be, but at the end of the day you’re still you. And whether you’re moving to the big city from a small town or escaping the grind for a slower pace of life, your insecurities, worries and fears will all come along with you. The concept of an ‘outfit’ continues to elude me and I’m still convinced my boss will figure out I have no clue what I’m doing any day now. The idea of meeting new people still renders me nauseous and no, my unwanted bodily hairs haven’t suddenly disappeared forever. I haven’t transformed into a ‘morning person’ either, but I’m working on it. Just like I was in the UK.
To reiterate, I am still so grateful to be here and, believe it or not, I don’t spend every day whinging about the inexplicable agony of having to clean up after myself. I’m simply learning that there’s not a fix-all for happiness, just like you won’t turn into Mary Berry just by purchasing a Kitchen Aid (a devastating and needlessly expensive blow). I do have moments where I have to pinch myself, but then there’s also moments like last week when my partner and I spent 2 hours walking round Ikea in silence, aggressively throwing things into our trolley because he questioned our need for the aforementioned carafe.
Everything in moderation.