#Livingthedream seems to be a modern tagline required for every enjoyable experience (usually having a drink in the sun on holiday), and Instagram stalking would have you believe that many people are in fact living the ideal life. For example, my social media posts related to my recent trip to beautiful Northern Italy neglected to capture the moment I was sat eating dry crackers in a B&B bedroom waiting for the torrential rain to stop/Newcastle to score v Swansea/Aisling’s snoring to relent.
As a resident of Malaga, I feel well placed to provide an insight into some of the realities of a commonly revered scenario – Living Abroad. Travelling or living abroad was something that my 18 year old self had aspirations of doing, so in some sense I have achieved those goals.
Whenever people discover that I live in Spain, it often evokes a jealousy-themed response or a quip about the beach/weather/sangria. Not to say that these presumptions are wildly inaccurate, just that like with the perfect Instagram accounts that you follow, there is more to it than meets the eye.
In a two-part blog I am going to give my opinions on the positives and the negatives of living abroad, drawn from my own experiences. Although I have lived in Australia and travelled extensively in South America, I am going to focus my points around my current location; Spain, and more specifically, Malaga. Therefore, not all points will be applicable to all locations but I’m sure some points will hold relevance, and if not, move to Malaga…
As anyone who knows me would testify, my outward enthusiasm and charsima mean that I’ll naturally start with,
The Weather – Lets start with the biggest cliché, because it’s actually true. The weather in Southern Spain is incredible. 300+ days of sunshine a year does wonders for mental well-being. In the U.K. I really struggled with 9-5pm winter (/autumn/spring) life where it’s dark when you go to work and dark when you leave. It left little option for weeknight activities except pretending to know what I was doing in the gym and then sitting watching Eastenders eating my mothers’ Pasta (over) bake (d). Life is a lot easier when you can almost guarantee a warm sunny day 300 times a year.
The Beach – Followed closely by cliché number two. In Malaga I live 5 minutes walk from the beach. This was one of my objectives when moving to Spain and one I’ve finally been lucky enough to fulfill. I still don’t manage the lifestyle that people probably imagine of laying on a sunlounger sipping piña coladas most days, but I do try to take advantage as much as possible.
N.B. Both of these are hugely subjective to location, and during my year in Bilbao the weather would have made the negative list as it rained an awful lot, and the beaches wouldn’t have made the positive list, despite their beauty, due to the 45 minutes travel time to get there.
Healthier Eating – Malaga is famous for its fresh fish. Unfortunately I don’t really like fish unless it’s the main ingredient of a tuna sandwich or it’s accompanied by lots of batter and chips. Fresh fruit and vegetables are however also much easier to obtain, with a fruteria on every street in my neighbourhood. This has allowed me to become the first Geordie ever to regularly ‘brunch’ and to develop an obsession with avocados. It’s also less tempting to have a big pie and chips as there is less cold weather to stave off. If this point sounds a bit pretentious and smug, don’t worry, I am still fat. And skinny.
€1 euro pints – On my street I am able to buy a pint of local beer, which is way nicer than Fosters or Carling, for €1 between 16.00 and 20.00 every single day. Need I say more? Similar offers exist further throughout the Costa del Sol due to the level of competition.
(Un) Sociable working hours – Due to the less strict/rigid work timetable here, I often work in the evening and don’t start till the early afternoon. Some people may not like this but it gives me all morning to exercise/enjoy the beach/learn Spanish/lie in bed and do none of the above.
Cycling – If I cycled around my hometown from job to job as I do here when teaching private classes I’d need 4 changes of clothes due to the rain, or rowdy youths throwing McDonald’s at me for being a 28-year-old bike w$%&er with a schoolbag. Everywhere in Malaga is reasonably accessible and flat and cycling saves time and money, as well as toning my one-pack.
Holiday at Home – Although this is a strange one, and will also appear in my negative list, living somewhere like Malaga means that the majority of my holidays now consist of trips back to my hometown or that of my girlfriend. As it is often for special occasions, or in summer and at Christmas, we are often kept very busy doing a lot of exciting things. This maintains a positive outlook for home and we try to do things that we would on a ‘normal’ holiday. Similarly, when people visit us in Malaga, they are in holiday mode so a lot of quality time is spent with friends and family despite the decline in quantity.
Cheap Flights – This year I was able to get return flights from Malaga to Newcastle for €30. That is cheaper than most taxi journeys. Malaga airport provides many options of cheap flights and since moving abroad, I have become an expert at scouring Skyscanner for the cheapest combination. Granted, my increase in Ryanair travel increased my likelihood of a cancellation to ‘certain’ but when that happened I was able to resolve the situation myself with a bus/train/flight combo from another UK city. These are skills I take for granted but travelling and moving abroad has definitely developed such resourcefulness.
Local Trips – As a resident of Malaga, short-haul trips for me now include, Marbella, Granada, Cadiz and Sevilla. These are popular places internationally and I am in the fortunate situation of being a relatively short bus journey from all three. Added to that the ferry access to Africa is similarly accessible. Regardless of where you move abroad, your geographical location will mean that you will have access to some great places that you otherwise may not have had the opportunity to visit.
Sports – If you move abroad, the chances are you’ll seem better at sports than you really are. In my case I’ve gone from being the worst football player out of ten friends in the UK to the dizzying heights of second bottom with friends in Malaga. I also somehow managed to not be the worst Gaelic Football player when trying my hand at that for the first time. Sports are a great way to make new friends and build contacts when moving abroad and enable you to maintain hobbies that you enjoyed at home or even take up new ones, and due to the nature of expat/integrated nationality communities you likely won’t stand out as lots of people will be playing only for the social aspect or for the first time.
The Great Outdoors – Living in a warm climate really confirms how much the weather dictates national pastimes. In Spain, it is possible to exercise outdoors all year round and therefore there is no need to be upstaged in a gym by a lad called Carl who can pull off wearing a vest because he doesn’t have back-hair. Outdoor eating and drinking are also possible throughout the year, and Spanish people take full advantage of this in both winter and summer, often having sociable family meals until the early hours. In the UK or Ireland we have to huddle in the warmth of a bar and get stotting drunk to forget how cold it is
Desayuno – eating out for breakfast in Spain is almost as cheap as having cereal. An Andalusian breakfast usually consists of either a toasted baguette with tomato and oil, or churros, accompanied by coffee and perhaps an orange juice. Therefore when your finances are limited due holidays to England and Ireland, you can enjoy a nice breakfast out for €3-4 and have your evening meal at home.
No Sky/English T.V. – This will also feature in both but since moving abroad I no longer know the characters names in Emmerdale/Coronation Street (except Gail Platt) or Eastenders which is undoubtedly a positive. And although I still manage to watch a lot of football, it can sometimes be difficult to access Newcastle games (especially when we get relegated) which is often a positive.
‘What are you doing with yourself then?’ – For anyone that has a snobby aunt Nora who asks this question with no attempt at hiding their expectation of a disappointing reply, you’ll now have a bit of a top trump answer. You could be doing exactly the same job as you were doing at home but, like lime juice to avocado smash, ‘I live in Spain’ adds a bit of panache.
Opportunity to Learn a Language – Learning a foreign language is difficult regardless of where you are, and living in the country where that language is spoken is no guarantee of fluency BUT it is definitely easier to improve your language skills within that country. You will face situations where you will be forced to utilise your skills on the spot, and in the long run that is better than learning from a book. See some examples of these situations in my previous blog post (https://geordieunsure.com/2017/08/15/not-speaking-the-local-language-problems-when-no-hablo-mucho-espanol/).
Traveller/Blogger – Last but not least….upon moving abroad you’ll be able to write a blog about travelling that your mam will read, and print off for your granny so you can officially call yourself a writer – with readers, plural.
Finally, if this reads like somebody gloating about their life abroad in warmer climes, or if you started to write your resignation letter at the mention of €1 euro pints, then please check back in next week where I will discuss some of the less obvious negatives of living abroad.
Has anyone taking the plunge and moved abroad? Are there any positives, either general or place-specific that you would add to this list?
For anyone currently thinking about moving abroad, I hope this list helps a little. If you have any specific questions feel free to comment below or get in touch through the website.