Hello from Punta del Este, Uruguay. I arrived here a little while ago for a fresh start. I’m staring a new life abroad… again.
Starting a new life abroad
After a seemingly endless 2020 buried in Covid-19 tests, red tape, flight cancellations and hand sanitiser, I finally made it to my new, temporary, home in the South American sunshine.
I’m still based in the UK, but I will now travel here regularly. As a digital nomad, Uruguay will be another new home from home for me.
Last year felt scary, intense, exhausting and if I’m honest, often rather boring. I feel grateful and excited to begin again.
This is what travel means to me – beginning again. Some people plan by school semesters, others work by tax quarters, I think by countries.
I have lived in ten countries, and I’ve travelled to many more. Each of these places are chapters in my book of life. In Switzerland I became a mother for the first time, in Angola I learned how happiness is a mindset, and in Lebanon I discovered that sometimes questions teach you more than answers.
Sometimes the little things are the big things
For me, travel isn’t just a physical journey, it’s also a spiritual, emotional, and cultural awakening. Starting a new life abroad goes deep. It’s not always the grand moments, but often the simple, mundane experiences, too. Things that take me by surprise and make me feel fresh in town. Take grocery shopping, for example. A seemingly boring routine becomes fun, surprising, challenging or desperately frustrating.
Here in Punta, among the shiny lights and familiar supermarket jingle, past aisle upon aisle of maté (a caffeine-heavy infusion) I saw boats for sale. ‘Mummy, can we get a boat? Pleeeeease!’, pleaded my kids.
Instead of a boat, I wanted egg cups, but they’re not a thing here. You don’t eat runny eggs in Uruguay apparently. So, I bought what I thought was a can of tuna, but upon opening it seems I’d bought pet food. In fact, it wasn’t pet food, it just smelled as if it was destined for animal consumption. It turns out there are different grades of tinned tuna here, and until now I’d led a privileged life of the class A variety.
The day I arrived my rental agent asked if I had any questions. ‘Erm, how do you cross the road?’ I asked, smiling awkwardly. Now, anyone else who has spent most of their lives abroad will understand this isn’t such a dumb question. In Germany I received an unofficial police caution for breezing past a red light on foot, meanwhile here in Punta, there are so few cars that it’d be silly to hunt out a crossing.
Back to school
Travel is a privilege, but it’s also a humbling leveller. It doesn’t matter how qualified you are, how impressive your CV looks, abroad you’re a child. This is particularly evident when conversing in a foreign language. From beginner level (‘me lost’, ‘me want pee pee’, ‘mmmm, food good!’) to a decent level of fluency, I make childish mistakes. However, I reckon being a novice is good life experience.
Like childhood, a new start abroad can feel frustrating. I need to figure everything out from scratch. My wings are clipped and I’m back to caterpillar stage, taking comfort in a cocoon of British tea bags and Netflix.
Starting a new life abroad, reaping the rewards
However, with every challenge comes education. My possessions are currently stuck in a shipping container somewhere between Ecuador and Chile, so I’ve had to adapt. I’ve learned everything from accessing rare books online, to rolling out pastry with a wine bottle.
I’m mindful of how much I’ve learned and I’m embracing all the rewards. Here in Uruguay that means great wine, lazy afternoons on the beach, and a slower pace of life.
My kids have been through a lot of change too. They also deserve a pat on the back for their new start. But I still won’t be buying them a boat.
Are you starting a new life abroad? Apply to join The Pool, a new, free, online community for women abroad only.