When it comes to taking steps to change my life when I am unhappy, it has always been a no-brainer to me. Life is too short to do what other people expect you to, or to settle for a comfortable and familiar routine when that same routine is killing you slowly inside.
So at the beginning of this year, I went from freezing my ass off in Switzerland…
…to quiting my three jobs and catapulting myself in the beautiful and wonderful countries which are Vietnam and Singapore…
…to relocating my whole life and starting from square one in Melbourne, Australia.
And I have never been happier.
But I suppose, my point is that all this did not happen overnight. I did not wake up one morning determined to change my life, and got where I wanted to be the following day. As a matter of fact, it took me 6 long years to get to where I am today, and what I needed to do so was relentless determination, an ocean of patience, and the ability to go through with something no matter how freakin scared I was of what could go wrong if I did.
The truth is that, for most of us, there is nothing easy about changing one’s life and turning it upside down and inside out, no matter what all the 29.99 dollar ebooks out there tell you. Whoever simplifies the task of breaking out of one’s routine to just taking the decision to do so needs to have a few dozen eggs leisurely thrown at him or her, because the reality is that there are friends and family to say goodbye to, years of accumulated possessions to get rid of and cry over, and finances to fix before quitting jobs and buying tickets.
So is it possible to change one’s life for the better? Of course it is. Does it happen over night? Hardly ever. Do you get what you’ve always dreamed of? Not necessarily. Can you just wing it? You can try, but it might turn out better if you come up with some sort of long-term plan.
I first became restless at around age 21, when meeting people from all around the world in my English for foreign students classroom made me realise that I might want more than what living in Malta had to offer. My boyfriend at the time had it all figured out. All he wanted was to find a job and spend his life doing it. He never had any money for travelling because he was too lazy to work while studying at University, and only wanted to eventually get married and have a couple of kids. When I told him I was not sure whether I wanted children or not, he laughed at me, and told me that of course we’d have two children, because that’s what everyone else did.
When I finally broke up with him, I was relieved. I saved, painfully slowly on my bad salary which averaged out to around 700 Euros a months, to take my first few trips far far away. I always had a blast travelling, but I always, when the money ran out, had to return back home to a life where I could not afford to move out of my parents’ home, where my boss clearly had very little respect for me as a teacher and would never promote me, and where all in all, I was just unhappy.
Some of you who have been following this blog for a while know what happened next. I made up my mind to leave the country and saved as much as I could for 2 years. I knew that the money I had saved would not last me for long, so I needed to get myself somewhere where I could find a job. I started applying for English teaching jobs in China, Japan and Korea, but because of my nationality, all I got was rejection. I was depressed and dejected, but I didn’t give up. Before meeting Mr Swiss Boyfriend, I had pretty much decided to get myself a working holiday visa to Australia, but even this decision was unsatisfying, as that would have only been a temporary fix to the problem until it was time to go back to Malta .I was also toying with idea of simply going to Japan and trying to get a job in person. Finally, I also knew that I could try and get a teaching job in Thailand where I had heard that employers were less strict with passport requirements.
Instead, I chose love over everything else and ended up in Switzerland. I went there with no expectations whatsoever. Boyfriend already had a rental over there, so that part was easy, and getting a residence permit was fairly easy as well because of his help (everything was in German) and because of the fact that EU members are allowed to live and work in Switzerland for as long as they want. Everything else was not that easy.
I spent the first year working around 10 hours a week teaching English because I just couldn’t get any more work without speaking the local language. I lived in the fear of getting sick and having to go to doctors which charged you by the minute and presented you with a hundred-dollar bill just for a simple 10-minute consultation about a sore throat and cough. I paid through the nose to get to and from work with the local train network, and never even travelled anywhere around the country because trains were so bloody expensive.
In my second year in Switzerland I picked up some more work and added two more casual jobs to my schedule. I did a few hours at an international kindergarten and school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and was a nanny on Friday to a beautiful Swiss boy. But my financial troubles did not end there. I was still pretty much making only 3/4 of what was considered a basic salary in the area. All my jobs were casual, which meant that when the school kids had holidays, or when I was sick, or when my adult English students were off on vacation, I was not getting paid. The combination of the three jobs was also resulting in me often leaving my house at 7 in the morning and returning home at 10 pm, while having technically only been paid for 5 to 6 hours of work. And I didn’t even fall in love with the country, which would have, at least, made everything more bearable.
Once I realised how unhappy I was, it was all back to square one. I spent months considering different options and doing research as to what I could do and where I could go, until it turned out that both Boyfriend and I could get sponsorship to live and work in Australia because of his job. It took a year and a half and a lot of money to get the visa we wanted, and I ended up doing everything myself to save on paying for a migration agent. And getting that visa was not the end of it, as it took another year to save up for me to be able to make the big move.
During the course of 1 year, I saved 1000 dollars a month out of a salary locals told me no one would be able to live off. I didn’t do much in Switzerland itself because everything was so expensive, but I still had money to take trips around Europe, where, thanks to many friends, I only had to pay for my flight and for some food and attractions. And I still managed to pay my rent and all my bills, as well as all the expenses associated with getting my Australian visa. In 12 months, I achieved my goal of saving for my big move, as well as for two months travelling around Vietnam and Singapore before landing in Australia.
While I wanted to leave Switzerland with every inch of me, it wasn’t easy. Any routine, no matter how unfulfilling, can be extremely comforting. I teared up when I said goodbye to all the kids I had been taking care of for a year at a local school, and to the lovely 4-year old child who had filled my Fridays for the same length of time. I was sad to leave the language school where, for the first time in my adult life, I had felt respected and valued as an employee. I cried a lot about leaving my flat, the place which was always warm and comforting when I went back to it in the evening after every long frustrating day. And I felt heart ache with a mix of relief when I said goodbye to the beautiful view of lake and forest and mountains which I saw everyday on my way to work on an over-priced train ride.
Travelling around Vietnam and Singapore was one of the most exciting and rewarding things I have ever done, and the reason why I did it was because I was not ready to go straight back into the stressful situation of finding a job and a place to live in a new country. While I believe travelling to be one of the most fulfilling things in the world, I never had any intention or turning my journey into a perpetual one. For me, that doesn’t equal happiness.
I have been accused in the past of saying this without actually ever having travelled long-term. Well I tried, and I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy living in hotel rooms, being on the move so much and being in a different place every few days. And, despite how enthusiastic and excited every long-term traveller is out there at the beginning of his journey, a look at the long-term travel blogging world will show you how even the most die-hard advocates of perpetual travel eventually crave settling down and having some sort of routine. I am simply one of those people who never pretended otherwise.
I am about to turn 27, which means that I will soon celebrate 6 years of searching, and waiting, and actively pursuing change for the better. Many people keep asking me, why Australia, and I always give the same answer. First of all, it’s because I could. And of course, it’s because Australia is simply an amazing place to be, not only geographically, but also economically.
I’ve been here for 4 months now, and in that space of time, I found an apartment I love, a job in which, if I work hard, I can be rewarded and fulfilled (I am a travel consultant, partly thanks to this very blog), and a place and space which feels endless and full of possibilities. There was no shortage of freaking out and tears, no lack of fear of running out of money before I could get a job, or the anxiety of shaping a new routine for myself.
And it was all worth it. Every sleepless night, every saved Swiss frank, every hour spent filling documents with the same information over and over ago, every resume sent.
But it didn’t happen over night, and I didn’t find happiness or look for it in perpetual travel, because perpetual travel is not the only way in which one can change one’s life, and even if this is, by default, a travel blog, I wanted to write an article in which, while I acknowledged that travel is important and life changing, it is not, by any means, the only way to find happiness, no matter what those ebooks say.
-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com.