12 things only former expats will understand (and travel lovers, too)

I’ve found that former expats have a special bond because we’ve all gone through similar life experiences. Whether it’s discussing our amazing ability to pack a suitcase at the speed of lightning, expat woes that involve searching high and low for certain ingredients in foreign grocery stores (canned pumpkin around Thanksgiving time, anyone?), or getting way too excited for care packages filled with Goldfish crackers, Oreos and weirdly flavored Pop-Tarts, there are certain things only expats and former expats will understand — and here’s a list you can probably relate to.

12 things only former expats will understand

1. Your storage unit triggers violent panic attacks.
Saving everything seemed like a good idea before you moved abroad, but now that you’re back in your own country, you want to burn this mother down. All of that toothpaste, mouthwash, makeup, and medicine you forced your spouse to pack away in boxes because you didn’t want to waste a single item? Expired. You should have given it away to co-workers. But would they have really wanted your extra toothpaste and acne cream? Maybe.

2. Coins everywhere. Everywhere, dammit!
You can’t find a couple of dollars for your Starbucks grande caramel macchiatto, but you have plenty of other currencies… you know, just in case. Pounds, euros, Moroccan dirham, and Czech crown litter your vehicle and you basically feel buried in tiny worldly treasures. Why are they in your vehicle after moving back to the States, you ask? Who the hell knows; it just happens. They’re also covering your night stand which is always interesting when you blindly look for your glasses in the morning.

3. Why so big, Walgreens?
You quickly remember that everything in the United States is massive — especially Walgreens — and you feel overwhelmed. The parking lot, parking spaces, and the brightly lit aisles? You need a beer (or a shot of vodka) after a trip to the pharmacy.

4. You’re too nervous to throw away travel mementos.
Train ticket stubs from Italy, castle guide books from Scotland, and cafe receipts from Morocco clutter your suitcases, handbags, and dining room table, but every time you try and throw something away, your stomach forms that familiar little knot. If you finally rid your house of annoying pieces of paper, will you forget about good times spent abroad? Maybe you should keep them a little while longer. Yeah, that’s a good idea. (hint: you’ll most likely keep them forever)

5. People think your home decor is “eclectic”.
Long story short, you have random shit from your travels strewn all over your house and it somehow works. Or at least you hope it does.

6. Almost all of your stories start out with, “When I was living abroad…”
You’re not trying to be a pretentious jerk, but almost every conversation reminds you of a travel story. Before you’re even able to stop yourself, you utter those familiar words that cause friends and family (and strangers who already hate you) to roll their eyes: “That reminds me of when I was living abroad…” Just shut up, you jerk!

7. When other people talk about creating a “travel gallery wall” in their homes, you get excited… 
But then realize you’d probably need ten of those and your house just isn’t that big. Ya know, since you spend most of your money on travel. #worthit

8. A trip to World Market makes you absolutely giddy.
Paprika from Hungary? Those little waffles from The Netherlands?! Your favorite tea from England?!?! You’re basically in heaven. Time to gain a few lbs.

9. Your pets have passports.
Sometimes travel and pets don’t mix, so you’ve already taken care of everything that could be a headache in the future — and your pets now have passports. If for some reason you decide to take another assignment abroad, they’ll be set. And you’ll shake your head once you realize how many countries they’ve been to.

10. About once a month, you have no idea where you are.
You shoot up in bed in the early morning and think to yourself… Scotland, France, Phoenix, Arizona? Oh wait, you just moved back to Virginia. That’s right. Now go back to bed you little world traveler.

11. You can pack a suitcase in two minutes flat.
And you’ve seriously considered adding this to your resume because it’s that impressive.

12. You create friendships all over the globe — and then someone inevitably moves away.
You met wonderful ladies in an expat group abroad… and then you moved away. Your husband’s corporate rotation took you all over the United States and leaving those people sucked, too.

Even though it’s difficult to continue the vicious cycle of making new friends and then moving away from them, you wouldn’t change anything.

Are you an expat or former expat? Share your stories below!


Filed Under: Expat, Travel69 Comments
  • http://awayfromtenerife.blogspot.com/ Irene @ Away from Tenerife

    I loved reading this, Rachel, so true! When I first went back home after my study exchange year in Belgium all my stories started ‘when I was in Antwerp …’ And yes, I made friends from all over the world and it sucked when we had to leave – so many goodbye parties, so many farewell tears. And tickets, brochures and postcards, yes, I kept and still keep them all :)
    I wish there was something as a wonderful as a World Market around here – I miss my Dutch ontbijtkoek. Sigh …

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Goodbye parties are the absolute worst! It’s always difficult to leave new friends.

  • http://www.toothbrushtravels.com/ Amy @ ToothbrushTravels

    Completely relatable!
    Leaving friends is the hardest.
    I’ve been back in England (after a year in Thailand) for a month and i miss my friends (and the food!!)

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      It’s hard but I’m looking forward to visiting everyone. Always a plus.

  • http://unlockingkiki.com/ Kaelene Spence

    I love the fact that I have friends all over the world, a major bonus of being an expat!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Exactly. Now we can visit friends all over the world!

  • Karin

    I think the title should be “…former American expats will understand”. Or is this website only for US readers…?

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      I’m an American so I wrote it from my point of view. Sorry if that’s a problem!

      • Karin

        I realized that halfway through yeah ^^” Just felt a little excluded, that’s all.

        • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

          Plus I figure any expat can relate to most of these — moving away from friends, belongings in storage, souvenirs all over your home, being able to pack fast, etc.

          • Karin


  • http://wetherillssayido.com Madison

    I can definitely relate! When I studied abroad (see!) I came back and every story started with “Yeah, when I was in Italy…” and I always felt super pretentious. But I had no other stories to tell!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Ha! We just can’t help ourselves. :)

  • http://www.memyselfandatlanta.wordpress.com/ Rachel @ Me Myself and Atlanta

    I have the opposite – living in America and heading back to Europe for vacations parking in the small parking lot spaces is a nightmare! We’ve got so used to the huge American parking ones!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Aren’t American parking spaces massive? I’m always in shock when I run errands.

      • http://www.memyselfandatlanta.wordpress.com/ Rachel @ Me Myself and Atlanta

        Huge! But after getting a big American car (well it’s not a massive truck but big compared to my European standards!) I’m pretty glad they are!

  • Lauren Tenney

    So relatable!

    I’ve been back in the US for almost a year after studying abroad last summer and at least once a day I find myself saying “When I was in Budapest…”

    I think World Market is the greatest store in on the planet!

  • http://www.akwanderlusts.com/ Alison @ AK Wanderlusts

    Love this! I totally agree on the shock when you encounter American stores/parking lots/roads after some time abroad. WHY ARE THEY SO HUGE?!

  • http://www.alonewithmytea.blogspot.com Julie

    Making close friendships almost out of sheer necessity, then having to leave them. So sad. :(

  • Ella

    Can definitely related to 2, 4, 6 and 12! Great post

    Ella | http://www.towanderandtoroam.blogspot.com 

  • http://www.creatricemondial.com/ Amy Lynne Hayes

    This is an awesome list!! And yes, I can relate to just about every item on the list. I have woken up many times in the middle of night having no idea where I was, and one time I “woke up” (sleep walked really) speaking French. Thanks to my sister for informing me on that one! As for leaving friends, that is a price to pay for a nomadic lifestyle. Thank goodness for the internet to keep in touch! :)

  • Agness

    I can totally relate to this post. #8 rocks! :)

  • http://www.jadeoak.com/ jackie jade

    after living in london, for the longest time when i moved back i had to stop myself from constantly saying “when i was in london…” i didn’t want to be that annoying!

  • http://www.ericajacquline.com/ Erica Jacquline

    coins everywhere is soooo true! I think you get like five more pounds in your luggage just from all the coins.

  • http://www.livinginanotherlanguage.com/ Amanda

    I LOVE IT when ‘sarcastic Rachel’ writes! You had me laughing and nodding my head the whole time…even though I’m not back in the states yet. ;) Number 6? GAH. IT was so hard talking to our families when we went back to visit! I felt like a complete jerk. But the only way I could contribute to a conversation was to somehow try to figure out how it related to our life back in Korea…

    I have being a pretentious jerk. Crap.

    PS> I have about twelve pounds of coins from 8 countries in my closet. But I keep finding coins from japan, the philippines and occasionally singapore (which is weird because we were only in the airport there) in my wallet.

  • Casey C

    #6-YES! I think my friends secretly hate me. And #4…don’t even get me started. I’ve been to IKEA twice this week to try to find boxes to neatly pack away all of our travel brochures and mementos for the move. D thinks I’m nuts…but I want to show our future kids all our cool adventures someday! Also, I can’t wait to shop at World Market again!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Hahaha! I always feel bad once I realize I’m telling yet ANOTHER travel story. I need to shut my mouth!

      P.S. Thanks for featuring my blog post, dear! I appreciate it!

  • Grace from Amble.travelblog

    I am currently an ex pat in my 6th country abroad!! I know exactly what you mean…

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Oh, wow. 6th county? I definitely need to check out your blog!!

  • http://jennafinch.blogspot.com/ Jenna

    I identify with so many of these! Especially not wanting to throw away coins, receipts, tickets, etc. My wallet currently contains currency from South Africa, the US, Rwanda, Uganda, and Europe lol

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      I sort of want to go through your wallet and examine all of these currencies! Ha. I’ve never been to South Africa, Rwanda or Uganda. :)

  • http://tidethatleft.blogspot.co.uk/ Amy @ the tide that left

    This rings true on so many levels! The coins, the momentos, the feeling like all I do is talk about my time abroad (when what else am I supposed to do when it’s where my life has been?!!)

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Exactly! Living abroad is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done so what else am I supposed to talk about?

  • http://www.la-lingua.blogspot.it/ Lucy

    Number 6 is so true and I hate it! I feel like such an idiot! Especially as it always manages to pop up – the other day I ordered a typical Milanese cocktail whilst at home (UK home) and the bar staff were asking me how come I knew about it etc. – it just can’t be avoided sometimes!

  • http://alexandramariek.com Alexandra

    I’m currently living abroad in Poland. This is so true. Especially the point about realizing how big everything in America is. I get so overwhelmed with just how many cereals there are to choose from.

  • http://www.lifesajournee.com/ Elicia Shepard

    #1. yes!!! Why oh why are we paying for the storage unit still!?! I have been sorta kinda wishing for it to disappear. Or I’ll just avoid it as long as possible once we are back. Eeek anxiety just thinking about all that junk!!!! World market. Yes. When we begun searching to live abroad world market fueled the travel bug I already had. Lastly, living abroad we have met the coolest most diverse people from all over the world! That’s definitely one of the best parts about being an expat. Meeting people from around the world and knowing you always have friends to visit!!!!

  • http://hannahonthemap.com Hannah Wasielewski

    I can relate to this so much. I’m currently living in Brazil and in February I went on a 2 week trip home to visit my family. I was seriously culture shocked (or reverse culture shocked) about the size of our grocery stores, target and other things that used to be so common for me. Definitely sharing this post!

  • http://movebyyourself.com Kelley Matney

    This is great! All so true! Not only can you pack really fast, but you have also learned to pack really well!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Mhhhmmm! I’m a packing expert by now!

  • Evelyn Simpson

    Love it. I can relate to so many of those – except for the pet one (we don’t have pets because we travel too much!! Not an ex-expat until this summer so will see how it’s received in Edinburgh!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Where are you moving from?

      • Evelyn Simpson

        Moving from Brussels after 25 years and 3 continents away. Edinburgh’s home for me but not for my husband and kids. Interesting times :-)

  • http://journeywithdestiny.wordpress.com/ Destiny Barker

    Yes to all of this!! I will forever be a packing pro with foreign coins floating around the bottom of my purse!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Same. I wouldn’t have it any other way! :)

  • http://www.itstartedinla.com Gwen

    I love it! Thanks. Except as an Aussie now living in the US I still can’t find lots of stuff here even when Walgreens is so huge. We got excited last weekend when we ended up at an Asian grocery buying products that reminded us of our time in Shanghai. But we spent all our time in Shanghai at CitiShop looking for foreign food ;-). xx ItStartedinLA xxx

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Isn’t it funny how that works? We looked for American products while living abroad and now that we’re back in the states, we look for stuff we used abroad!

  • Becky Matchullis

    Thanks for this, Rachel! Great presentation of both the fun and hard of being an expat! I had to laugh at the coins (#2 as we still have a drawer with ziplock bags of various currencies just in case we go back for a visit. And #3 – Why so big? Coming from Cambodia to Canada and going into grocery stores had me paralyzed for months, overwhelmed at the decisions in front of me. #12 is both painful and enriching! Having friends from all over the world and having them move means that whenever you travel, you have not just places to connect with, but also people that are friends. Thanks for this!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Yes! We have two ziplock bags in our car and a few in our house too. And then of course all of the loose coins in purses and suitcases.

      Leaving new friends is definitely the worst when it comes to being an expat/traveling all over the place.

  • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle

    Haha loved this! While I was backpacking around, I would get SO frustrated with my wallet. Every time I reached in for a 2€ coin, this damn Turkish Lira would always pop up! They look so similar! And, because I was traveling, I had no where to chuck it, so I eventually developed a love-hate relationship with my specific TL coin.

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Don’t you love the confusion? Ha. I think we actually have Turkish lira in our house too.

  • http://naomihattaway.com/ Naomi Hattaway

    Hysterical, Rachel! I’m new to your blog (Evelyn Simpson pointed it out to me) and I love it! I have a great idea for all of those coins … I’ll take some pics and post them soon but it involves some awesome jewelry!

    We’re moving to the DC area soon, so I’ll have to play catch up and get to know your blog a bit ;) As I started purging for the next move, I actually got rid of most of the travel souvenirs (gulp!) and I HAD to laugh about the eclectic home decor. The home stager was NOT impressed with any of my amazing collections from around the world … she said to for sure box it all up for showing ;(

    • Gwen Ligo Brugger


      • http://naomihattaway.com/ Naomi Hattaway

        Hey Gwen! Feels weird to say hey on Rachel’s blog, but yep – relo’ing (again!) to the DC/VA area this summer!

        • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

          You will love this area!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Welcome! I always love meeting new bloggers. :)

      Hahaha, I can’t believe the home stager said that. I’m sure she would tell us the exact same thing.

  • http://asmallworldafterall.smugmug.com/ Jennifer

    I found your blog through We Took the Road Less Traveled…I can totally relate to #1! I cringe every time I make that monthly payment on our storage unit. We kept way more than we ever needed to and more than half of it will end up being thrown out upon our return!

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      Welcome! :)

      And that’s what we did. We basically donated everything in our storage unit. What a waste of money!

  • http://www.sarainlepetitvillage.com/ Sara Louise

    TRUE! I paid for my storage unit for 8 years and it absolutely gave me panic attacks, and it emptied my wallet too :|

    • http://www.postcardsfromrachel.com/ Postcards from Rachel

      We had our storage unit for about three years and some of the junk we kept… I can’t even believe it! Plus it was packed all the way to the ceiling. Whoops.

  • http://www.novelbenedictions.com/ Leah B

    Haha, I love this, especially #3 and #11.

    We were lucky to be able to store our everything in an extra room at my in-law’s. Was it worth hanging onto? I guess we’ll see in the next few years or so. :)

  • Brittny McLeod

    We haven’t made the trip back yet, but we were just talking about the storage taking up the attic in my in laws garage. Did we need to keep all that stuff? Probably not, but we moved so fast it was one panic attack after another to try to get rid of everything. And we will be back in a few years…


  • http://luyoutravel.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth Georgian

    This is so true. Even though the goodbyes when you leave friends is so hard it is nice to have friends all over the world! I recently got craft with some of my random maps from travels, but I’m still working on an idea for tickets. http://luyoutravel.blogspot.com/2014/04/saving-memories-from-travels.html

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  • em

    Oh gosh – this is my life! You hit the nail on the head!

  • Happyeverafter_Bride

    I am looking forward to create my Travel Gallery wall. :) Loads of potential with where we could go still.

  • http://oddyearstravel.com/ Megan

    This is perfect! I’m currently an expat but plan to take a trip back to the US for a few months this summer. I can totally relate!

  • http://www.tami-marie.com/ Tami

    I am planning on moving to Japan next year to teach English. It’s exciting but nerve wracking as well. This was a great read…allows me to see what I will be getting myself into. :)