My first trip to the US was for my 21st birthday.
I booked tickets (for me and my ex-boyfriend) to spend a few weeks exploring the southwest. We did a 10-day tour from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which gave us the chance to party in Las Vegas and explore some of the country’s national parks.
I loved the trip, but what I didn’t expect was that I’d become so completely obsessed the country. All I could think about after I returned home to Australia was going back to see more of it.
Two years later, I’d managed to save up enough money to book an epic cross-country adventure with my brother. We signed ourselves up for a bus tour from New York City to LA, and I hoped that this trip would satisfy my craving to travel more deeply through the US.
The trip was everything I had hoped for, but yet again I was left with the feeling that there was so much more that I had yet to explore.
Another two years later, I was living with Rob in Sydney. While planning our upcoming travels, we decided to take a 2-week road trip up the US Pacific Coast. This would be Rob’s first time in the US and I was excited to show him why I’d become so obsessed with it.
Our journey from San Francisco to Vancouver was amazing, and Rob seemed to enjoy spending time in the US as much as I did. It was on this trip, while we were exploring the Pacific Northwest, that we first had the idea of eventually moving there.
We liked the idea that we could travel more around North America if we based ourselves in a major US city for a year or two. It would also be a good opportunity to build our respective careers.
Rob needed to choose a city with a decent tech scene for his job, and we definitely didn’t want to be in Silicon Valley, so it made sense for us to choose NYC. We sold all our belongings, said goodbye to our friends and family, and left our home country for a new adventure.
That was 2 years ago. Now that I’ve finally moved overseas and had the chance to learn from my experience, here are 8 important things I learned while living abroad in the US.
1. Moving abroad was more difficult than I thought
It’s not that I ever expected it to be easy, but it was certainly more difficult than I thought it would be.
We got off to a rocky start with our visa, and ended up in debt for the first 4-6 months of our time in the US. We also struggled with things like getting a lease on an apartment or getting a credit card as we had no local credit rating.
If I were to do it over again, I would save up way more money to use for an emergency, like going 6 weeks without income (which is exactly what happened to us), and mentally prepare that things won’t go to plan.
2. Adjusting to a new culture takes time
After we got settled in New York City, we realised just how different the working culture is in America. The people here (especially the ones in big cities like NYC) work extra hard, often working overtime, and get much less annual leave.
It was a big adjustment from the standard 8 hour work days and generous 4 weeks of leave that we would get back in Australia.
There were also other culture differences that I didn’t expect, especially in regards to language. Australians generally speak very casually and use many slang words, even if we’re talking to a stranger or someone in a position of authority. Everyone is your mate.
This informality is not considered socially acceptable in the US. I was not at all accustomed to calling men “Sir” or being addressed as “Miss Wheeler”. I also said things that were looked upon as somewhat rude by Americans (like responding to “thank you” with “you’re right” or “that’s ok”) with no idea that I was being impolite.
It took me quite a while to get used to the cultural differences in America.
3. Moving countries for a career is a good idea
One of the reasons that we wanted to move abroad was for better opportunities to advance our careers. Rob wanted the chance to get deeper into the tech industry, and I wanted to become a more prominent member of the travel industry.
Moving to the US for our careers turned out to be an excellent idea. It allowed us to attend conferences and meetups, work with important companies, and make connections that we would never have been able to make if we had stayed in Australia.
4. Moving countries to travel more is a good idea
Australia is a rather isolated country. Every time us Aussies want to travel somewhere like the US or Europe, it’s one hell of a journey. This is one of the reasons that we wanted to live abroad – to travel more of North America, South America, and Europe.
Since we left Australia in 2015, we’ve managed to visit 14 countries and are ticking off 1 more (Colombia) on the way back to our home country.
We’ve also travelled all over the US since we’ve been here, including plenty of weekend city breaks, some road trips to the south and the southwest, a ski trip, and even a few trips to attend conferences. Living in the US made it so much easier for us to travel more around this part of the world.
5. I shouldn’t take nature for granted
I grew up in Tasmania, which is 40% national park, so I had nature on my doorstep for most of my life. Now that I’ve spent some time living in big cities, I’ve come to realise that I always took nature for granted.
Don’t get me wrong, the conveniences of living somewhere within 5 minutes walk of cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores is completely awesome, but it also gets stifling. After a while, it would get to the point where I desperately need to get out of the city for some space.
When this feeling came about (usually around once a month), Rob and I took weekend trips away to somewhere more natural. A weekend in the Catskill Mountains or a drive along the coast gave us an opportunity to collect ourselves and enjoy some personal space.
I now look at natural places as a precious resource that I can fully immerse myself in and enjoy.
6. I really can live like a minimalist
Living in New York has given us some interesting insights on our living requirements.
Most people compare NYC apartments to shoeboxes (which is somewhat true), but Rob and I have been living in a very small 1-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side for the past 2 years, and not once did we feel like it wasn’t enough space for the two of us.
Back in Australia, big houses with as many bedrooms and bathrooms as possible are what most people desire, but our experience has made us realise that we’re completely happy living in a tiny space.
We don’t need all the extra bedrooms and bathrooms and giant living areas and. Living like minimalists works for us, so we’ll continue doing that after we move back to Australia.
7. It was harder than I thought to be away from family
I’d been living in a different Australian state to my family for 4 years before we moved to the US. I was already accustomed to taking a 2-hour flight every time I went to see them, so I didn’t think that the move to NYC would be that big of a deal in regards to the extra distance.
It turns out that it was a big deal. My Grandmother passed away a few months after I left Australia, and a few months ago, my other Grandmother died. I decided not to fly back for either of the funerals, but it definitely sucked to be on the other side of the globe when my family were going through those difficult moments.
I also managed to miss 2 years of my nephews growing up. As they were both very young I didn’t think that me being in the US would matter too much, but to be honest, I actually wish that I’d been more a part of their lives. I currently feel like a distant relative that they only recognise from the times that we occasionally video call. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with them.
8. I actually do want to base my life in Australia
It’s easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side (and of course, in some ways, it might be), but once you remove yourself from the situation that you’re comfortable in, it becomes more obvious that what you had in the first place was actually pretty good.
Living abroad given me a new appreciation for my home country. Sure, Australia has its flaws, but so does the US. Living abroad really showed me that Australia is a great place to live, and that I do want to base my life there.
So what’s next?
Even though we’ve thoroughly enjoyed living abroad in the US, the time has come for us to leave. Many of our friends have been asking why, and there’s not really one answer for us to give.
Our original intention was to move abroad for a few years, and we have done exactly that. We wanted to experience living in another country, which we did. We wanted to travel more of the US, and we did that too.
The lease on our apartment was coming up for renewal, and we questioned whether we should sign on for another year. After talking it out for a few weeks, we decided that it might be the right time to move on.
After travelling for a month on our way out of the US, we plan to head back to Australia, and what comes next is a big fat question mark. We will probably base ourselves back in Sydney, but honestly, our future is wide open.
Living in another country was not simple or easy. It was challenging, and at certain times, it sucked, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Most of our time abroad was absolutely wonderful.
These past 2 years have been a whirlwind of life experiences, and I’ve come out the other end a more confident person with a better understanding of what I want for my future.