the expat diaries | tips for staying sane abroad

Welcome to the second installment of The Expat Diaries. Add your expat/travel stories below and be sure to visit other bloggers. Thank you for joining us! The next link-up will take place on June 6th.

Because I was so excited to move to the UK, I never really thought about what I’d be doing there to pass the time. I already knew I wouldn’t be able to work with the specific visa I had, and figured that I’d just roam around Aberdeen every day, soaking up the culture of the city. Even though I had great intentions, I didn’t explore the city every day and sometimes I even felt bored and sad. After all, being away from friends and family is tough and when you throw in a whole new country, the outcome could be disastrous. I eventually figured things out, but you can learn from my mistakes and be prepared for your move from the get-go.

Here are some of my tips for staying sane abroad:

1. Join a support group
No, no… I’m not talking about the type of support group most of you are thinking of, I’m talking about an expat support group. My husband’s co-worker’s wife found a flyer with information regarding the Aberdeen American Women’s Association, or the AWA, and we joined after a month or so of living abroad. These ladies held various activities during the week that ranged from hiking, in-town sightseeing, cooking classes, book clubs, Mahjong nights, happy hours and other fun activities. Being a part of a tight-knit community was by far the smartest decision I made while living in the UK. Not only did I have women to socialize with and lean on when things weren’t going my way, but most of these ladies were experienced expats and had very useful information. Sometimes when you’re living in a different country, the simplest tasks become challenging. Where should I shop to find a certain ingredient that’s available everywhere in America but not in Scotland? Where’s the nearest dry cleaner? How do I sign up for NHS Scotland and make appointments with a doctor? These were just a few of the questions I found myself asking other expats in Aberdeen.

2. Find a hobby… and bring the goods with you
I had always been interested in photography before we moved abroad, but did I think about this before we hopped on our flight? No. I was too caught up in other things. Instead I went months and months with nothing to do. I wasn’t blogging then, I didn’t have hobbies, I was just hanging out while my husband went to work every day. It wasn’t ideal. By the time I got the bright idea to focus on photography, we had been living in Scotland for four months. And when I began to look for equipment at the local shops, I was stunned by how much more expensive everything was. That’s why it’s smart to bring anything you need with you (assuming you have room). If I could do it over again, I would have purchased a DSLR in the States before we moved, but instead I had to wait for my friend to bring one over when she visited.

Note: You can read about registering equipment prior to traveling here.

3. Research the best method of communication
This. Was. Such. A. Headache. Before we left DC we purchased a magicJack at one of our local stores and figured we would use this as a means of communication. The problem we ran into time and time again was a shoddy Internet connection. Hotels, our apartment… it didn’t matter. The Internet sucked. Because the Internet went in and out constantly, Skype didn’t work that great either. Don’t get me wrong, Skype is the best invention ever and it was nice being able to see our loved one’s faces, but when you’re constantly having to call each other back after a lost connection, it sort of ruins the experience.

Since we had purchased two mobile phones when we arrived, we moved onto our next option: a Lebara SIM card. You can easily find these cards at airports, convenience stores and stands at the mall, and the nice thing is that you can continue to add money. You can also purchase ones in different countries if you’re moving around or traveling a lot. The disadvantage? Well, you have to add more money. And it runs out fast.

While I was there I also used different apps on my mobile such as WhatsApp and Viber. This allowed me to text friends and family members throughout the day for free but calls were iffy. Sometimes I’d have connection problems with these, too.

When we moved to our second apartment in Aberdeen, the couple before us already had an International calling plan set up. Having a reliable landline was so much easier than anything else we tried; it was nice having static-free talks with my mom! If you can, set up a landline.

4. Travel
Ummm, hello?? You’re living in another country! Make the most of it by driving around or taking weekend trips. We loved that flights were affordable once we were overseas. We both traveled from Scotland to Greece for less than the price of ONE plane ticket in the United States. Ryanair and easyJet are good ones to check out.

And finally…

5. Adopt a West Highland White Terrier

Description of Photo


Filed Under: Expat10 Comments
  • Megan

    Good tips! Finding a reliable way to communicate with friends and family back home is so key! We have friends who currently live in Aberdeen and the wife is in AWA- husband works for Chevron. Small world- wonder if you knew each other!!

  • Bonnie Rose

    Love this and great tips! I have written something sorta similar for a guest post that will be live next week. I’ll make sure to send you a link for feedback. Ps. I need a dog now apparently. ;) What a cutie!

    Bonnie Rose | a Compass Rose

  • tiarenie

    Great tips.. Thank God for WhatsApp, its been my favorite communication tool. Weekend trips are what have kept me sane living here in the DR {HELLOO 3rd world country!!}

  • EmmaK

    Thanks for doing this linkup!! Amazing tips. I’m a Brit living in Baltimore USA who also wrote a book in her spare time called Cocktails at Naptime. Maybe I wouldn’t have had time to do that back in Blighty.

  • Nicole Bryce-Sharron

    Just found your blog, hello fellow expat! Loving this link up!!

  • Stephanie

    OMG BABY MALCOLM!! I am obsessed with him.

  • M and L

    ekkkkkk! tiny malcolm!!!! i’m in LOOOVE!!!!


  • Dena Barrie

    GREAT tips!! Being an expat isn’t all fun and games, it is lonely and hard a lot of the time!

  • The Nomad

    Thanks hosting the link up! Community is the most important part about being an expat. Otherwise you’re so lost.

  • Amanda Wissmann

    Geeeeeez! I waited and waited and waited for this…then we were out all day and I MISSED THE LINK UP! Saddest day ever.

    Off to read these awesome blogs!