Transitions Abroad is a long-standing, family-run resource for expatriating, including articles about volunteering, working, and studying abroad. I placed my first article--a piece about how to begin your life as a EFL teacher--with the site back in 2011, and I have continued to publish with them ever since. In 2014, I was offered the role of contributing editor for the Living Abroad section of the site. I'm so pleased to have been a part of what these guys are doing and hope to continue working with them in the future.
All in all, I’ve set up shop in about 10 or so different countries, hanging my hat on everything from a clanging radiator in urban Moscow to a protruding tree branch in the Nicaraguan jungle. Sometimes life abroad has worked out really well, and I’ve nestled into feeling at home without much difficulty. Other times, challenges have stacked up and I’ve counted the days until my departure (for years, I was an EFL teacher working on time-specific contracts). Living in a foreign country was often a roll of the dice and the numbers didn’t always land in my favor.
From Texas to Turkey and Back Once More
My wife Emma and I have been living abroad for about 10 years, mostly as English teachers. Towards the middle of 2013, we decided we wanted a change of pace. We were yearning for a good, long backpacking trip, but having been earning a Guatemalan salary for the last few months we were largely lacking the funds to do so. Both interested in the slow food movement, and hoping to grow our own vegetables at some point in the future, we decided to take our chances, volunteer our way around Central and South America, and learn about organic gardening. We set off in October.
Just about everyone these days have heard of WWOOF, and without a doubt, the idea of volunteering on farms is largely on the rise in the world of travel. In fact, with the development of several organizations with websites offering similar offerings, opportunities have increased exponentially as have the travelers (and hosts) who are taking advantage of the arrangement. It is a great solution for those on a budget (both travelers and hosts), but a farm-stay can offer so much more to everyone connected.
The meaning of Christmas is something many people have tried to capture, and depending on who you are, that meaning will invariably be different to you, your neighbor, people in other parts of the country, and most certainly those who are literally oceans away. Having witnessed all manner of celebration and remembrance, I know trying to whittle Christmas down to one set of traditions or even one religion would fail to encapsulate the holiday on a grander scale. After nearly a decade and ten Christmases abroad, I’ve seen the good, bad, and ugly sides of a holiday—if not globally celebrated, certainly globally recognized. For me, the compiling of our unexpected Christmas tales has become the tradition.
I won’t mislead you by pretending I was not already a Tim Leffel fan before reading A Better Life for Half the Price. We have things in common. He’s a longtime expat with a special affinity for Latin America, as am I. He’s a frugal traveler; I’m a frugal traveler. Heck, we even both taught in Korea and Turkey. We’ve even been known, from time to time, to write for the same website (hint: it’s this one). On the surface, it was easy to guess that the book and I were going to nestle in well together.
Also having written Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and The World’s Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Tim Leffel is a go-to expert on going global as inexpensively as possible. (Editor's note: He has also written a fine book on Travel Writing with an associated blog.)
Guatemala has a great culinary history, dating back to the rise of chocolate in Mayan times to the current push into sustainable, fresh, organic crops. If you are a foodie, and especially if you are foodie into getting your hands dirty, Guatemala offers a wide variety of things to sample, such as the best rum in the world, coffee right off the finca, hand-made chocolates “from the bean to the bar”, and wonderful collection of organic produce, super foods, and wholly unfamiliar fruit and vegetables.
Colombia is more than just a beautiful tourist destination. Like any country really, it’s a place full of positives and negatives, a place on the rise and still entrenched in past struggles. It has been in the joining of these two poles, present and past, in the melding of the layers of history, where I’ve been most inspired by Colombia, and without a doubt, “inspiring” is a word worth considering.
For many fellow travelers, “experiencing another culture,” means something far different from visiting museums, archeological ruins, and national monuments. While trying to visit the Pyramids and Colosseums of the world, these ancient icons do little in the way of illuminating the culture in another country. It is precisely everyday life—modern, messy, and malleable–that often interests me most.
With the world becoming easier to navigate, the adventuring spirit continually spreading amongst the masses, we increasingly find ourselves in the position to lend a hand to the people that welcome us into their communities. Short-term volunteering has grown immensely in popularity over the last decade, so much so that a whole new form a travel—voluntourism—has risen into prominence. Recently, however, concerns about how we are helping have also become an issue.
Productive short-term volunteering is not always as easy as showing up somewhere to dish out meals or teach classes, and it should not be...
While many people could not point to it on a map, for me, Guatemala is one of the most beautiful, intriguing places on the planet. Its volcanoes, ancient Mayan ruins, and sprawling mountain lakes are truly breathtaking (due to the altitude, sometimes literally). There is still a wide variation of indigenous peoples, over twenty spoken languages, and an equally diverse selection of produce, plant life, and fauna. This is why I am now on my third stint living here.
Most of us go straight from high school to college, setting aside dreams of adventure travel, garnering ourselves descriptors like “responsible,” all the while hoping that our summers might be filled with trips to Europe, jaunts through Central America, or beach-hopping the islands of Southeast Asia. However, one responsible move leads to another until ultimately we hardly have a chance to see the world.