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How Living Abroad Makes You Appreciate the Small Things in Life

Materialism receives a new definition when living abroad. Yes, you will be enticed to buying all those souvenirs while traveling and send them back home, but when it comes to your actual possessions, you do not really have any and learn to not grow attached to anything too much

Live the comfortable life or sell everything?

When I first ventured out to India, the only way I could afford to pay for my flight ticket was to sell all my furniture and everything I pretty much owned. I was a student who had the luxury of living quite comfortably in a two bedroom apartment with nice and good quality furniture. But I had to make a choice if I wanted to travel the world or if I wanted to keep everything to save and build up for a solid future.

I decided to sell everything.

Over the years when having to relocate so many times to different houses, apartments and countries you learn to not grow attached to anything, let alone buy much in the first place. Your mind-set is that you will not be staying for long anyway and rather than splurge on things you might just want or need for a short time, you would rather use the money for flight tickets and more travel opportunities.


I am not even necessarily talking about ‘big’ purchases like houses or cars – but basic things as simple as too much cutlery, pots, pans, crockery, shoes, trousers, underwear and bras! Yes! If you are a Western girl living in Asia, chances are you will never find a bra, underwear or trousers that truly fit like back at home (in the West). So yes, you kind of have to deal with wearing things over and over again for many years until you have the luxury of going back home to buy some replacements! haha!

Simple everyday things such as clothes and buying underwear is something you take for granted when back home as you can go out and simply replace what you need. Not so, when you are living on the other side of the world. So you somehow have to make do with it, when things fall apart and become creative if you cannot buy it anywhere.

Skin Products

For women, it can become even more complicated when buying beauty products and makeup. You will generally find that Asian countries usually offer skin whitening products and make up to make you look whiter. However in the West, we really do not like that and prefer to look a little tanned as we consider it to make us look healthier and for some also wealthier…

After ruining my skin my first year in China, because I could not find a “normal” facial wash without skin whitening agents, I had to have my family send me products over. However, depending on where you are in Asia, shipping can become quite expensive. So, what do you do? Again, you must become creative! It was because of these experiences that I had to start using natural kitchen ingredients and make my own facial washes, toners and masks. Who would have thought, this is how I would learn about and prefer home remedies to store bought products? And it is cheaper! Another bonus for your travel budget!


As a result, you learn to not take things for granted. Comforts you grew up with and probably were not even aware of, become more precious and better taken care of. But then again, you will not really know what you are going to miss until you miss it. Other examples include specific foods you like to eat – especially when you have cravings that time of month as a girl or when you are sick - or medications that are not available in the country or area you happen to live in.

When I had to see a doctor in China about my migraines and asked to prescribe me meds similar to what I had been taking back home, I was told it was not available and migraines were pretty much unheard of. Instead, I was prescribed a concoction of dried insects, leaves and a whole lot of other ingredients I did not know what it was or had even heard of before...

This is called Chinese Medicine.

I know it has a very long tradition and I am sure that some of the stuff is great, but I found it more repelling than helpful. This was not a one-time experience and maybe being a newbie in China at the time, I was not yet open enough to give it more time. However, what happened instead was I found an Acupuncture practitioner and every time my migraines would strike, I would give him a call and he would be there within 20 minutes. He would insert countless needles all over my body and within an hour my migraine would have vanished. So, being open to trying out alternatives and new methods is not always bad!

The list can go on about everyday things that are not available in many countries: tampons, deodorant in winter, body lotion, coffee (not instant coffee), toilet paper, just to name a few. Let us not even consider water and electricity at this point.

You become more appreciative and that is the greatest reward

I do have to admit though that I do have moments when I desire (in a good way) what some of my old friends have ‘achieved’ while I was gone. “Achieved” from a Western perspective which may include buying houses, buying cars, furniture or clothes that do not fall apart after a couple of months and everything that goes with it. But then I realise, that yes, they might have gained all of the "materialistic " things, but they have not gained the experiences I have made. It is then I am assured that I would never want to swap. One saying I always stick to is that “You can always make money, but you can never get back time.”

What are your experiences? What did you miss most when you were abroad or living far from home?

Please share your comments and thoughts in the comment box below!

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