Today marks seven months of being an expat in Thailand. To say my life has been a blessing these past seven months is not an understatement. From exploring Sri Lanka to blissing out in Bali to rescuing elephants and all of the beautiful moments in between, I have loved nearly every moment.

What have I learned about life as an expat?

Ask for help

When I first arrived to Thailand, I had no idea what I was doing. Visas, work permits, medical care, even the best place to go and get a massage, I was clueless. I solicited people who had lived here to help, locals, social media and more to figure everything out. Don’t think you can just go and have instant perfection (which doesn’t exist). There is a learning curve for life as an expat, and you’re not immune. Even if you think you are.

Get a strong support system

Being so far from the life I know isn’t always easy. There are days where I long for my old life, a more normal and routine life. Having people by my side has been instrumental in getting me through these seven months. There are some people who only come into my life for a short time, and others who have been by my side since the beginning. All of them play roles in my life. I never for a moment thought I could go this alone, and having that support system of people I love, and who love me, is my saving grace for when I get into one of my funks. Speaking of …

D Travels Round Elephant Nature Park

A funk is a funk is a funk

Sometimes, you just have to have one. They are unavoidable. Don’t become an expat because you think it will change you. As my friend used to always tell me when I was struggling with depression and contemplating more long-term travel, “everywhere you go, there you are.” Being an expat does not excuse depression, it does not change who you are inside. While I am not depressed anymore, I still have those occasional moments of funk when I want to curl into a ball and cry, or fly home and get a Mom Hug. They are OK. So long as I can come out of them. Whenever I get into one of these funks, I have learned the best thing I can do is just take time for myself. Whether it means going to hang out with elephants or Mr. Lucky, or something as simple as taking a walk and drinking in the beauty and charm of Chiang Mai, it gets done.

Pharmacies are good, doctors are better

Many people come to Thailand and stock up on the prescription drugs you can’t get at home without, well, a prescription. I’m guilty of this, thanks to the ridiculously cheap pills like birth control. But, I don’t abuse it. When I get sick, I go to a pharmacy and tell them what ails me, and they hand me over magic pills of better. But, that isn’t always the case. A couple of months ago, I got really sick and decided I would self-diagnose myself because I didn’t feel like hauling it to the hospital to get a real examination. Thanks to some google searches, I confidently went to the pharmacist, announced I had bronchitis and then asked for antibiotics. Easy, right? Good? Not at all. In a conversation later that day with a doctor friend, who informed me it could be pneumonia and antibiotics weren’t a good idea for me to take unless I knew what I had. Short version of this story: go to a doctor if you get sick. Skip the pharmacy.

Don’t lose touch

With social media and all of the apps you can download to smart phones, it is really difficult to lose touch with the people I love the most. Which is good. There are people in my life who I count on to call me out on my bullshit, give me advice and remind me not to sweat the small stuff. Most of them are on the other side of the world.

Las Vegas home

Home is where the heart is

I come from Maryland. I lived in Vegas. Home to me is both of those places. But now, home is here. It’s weird when I am out of Thailand and people ask me where I am from. My automatic answer: Chiang Mai.  On my little street, in my little slice of Chiang Mai, I have made a home. I walk down this street every day and see my new family here. When I need a smile, I head to Ciccia’s House for some wine and laughs with my new family. Sure, it isn’t my mom, dad or brother, but I have created my own version of “Cheers” here … and sometimes that’s all you need.

30 comments

  1. Great post Diana and thanks for the powerful insights. You are expressing so eloquently what most of us fellow travelers feel as well. Keep up the good work! Khap Khun Krub!

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  2. Diana, that is a truly heartfelt page you’ve created…i have been around the world and spent a short time in Chang Mai…your trek is very inspiring to me…I was refered to you by a very close friend Zeke Quesada…going through a trying time myself, a seperation. I have been gathering my spritual self together for the last 5 1/2 months…I’ve been thinking about returning to Thailand for some soul travel…luv the country and people…I am an elementary teacher, thats where my heart ois here in the states…but am going to make a serious point to get out when I can…perhaps meet u there some time for tea…smile.

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    1. Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to read my stories and to comment. Thailand is a great place for soul travel. I try really hard to be open and honest in my writing. I don’t want other people to think my life is perfect and think that if they hit a few stumbling blocks along the way, something is wrong. I say, do it! And, yes. Will definitely meet you for tea.

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  3. So agree with all of this but especially the part about not becoming an expat because you think it will suddenly make you a happier, depression-free you. I meet so many people who want to travel or live abroad because they think it’s going to fix all their problems. And, well, I can’t say I haven’t thought that a few times myself. “I’m depressed. Why don’t I quit my job and move to another country!” But, there’s one thing I’ve learned after my years of being an expat, if you suffer from chronic depression, picking up and moving overseas isn’t going to cure it. The depression will just come find you.

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  4. I’m not an expat (at least not yet), but as someone who has been traveling for 6 months now, I really just wanted to add an “Amen!” to your “Funk” section. I thought that I was largely unhappy in my life prior to traveling simply because of my location, but the thing is, the seeds of unhappiness are sown within us, not around us. And even when we’re traveling light, we still have an awful lot of baggage we take wherever we go. If you can be at peace with yourself, you can probably be happy anywhere.

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  5. I am considering doing the ex-pat thing once I retire and as I get closer to that blessed date, I am pondering the trials, tribulations as well as the rewards of that lifestyle. I find myself seeking out blogs of ex-pats to get a better sense of what I am looking at, so thanks D; especially since I also suffer from depressions, you are my go-to gal. 🙂
    donnae

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  6. Love the first photo! Where is that?

    While I definitely agree with the point that you’re going to have that funk, and it’s okay to have that funk no matter what people say (“You can’t be in a funk when you live in Paris!” Oh yes you can.), I have to disagree a bit about the being an expat not fixing your problems. After nearly five years of being an expat I’ve completely changed — I would still be depressed if I’d stayed at home. It’s the moving abroad, new friends, new jobs that changed me, that fixed me. It’s a long story I won’t go into this comment (this comment’s gone on long enough!) but I wouldn’t be who I am today, or where I am today, if I hadn’t chose to become an expat. But everyone’s expat story is different — congrats on reaching seven months and here’s to seven months or seven years more!

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    1. The first photo is at Elephant Nature Park (www.saveelephant.org). I agree — you can be in a funk ANYWHERE in the world. I’m glad being an expat was able to help you overcome your depression. That is amazing! Thank you for taking the time to comment!

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  7. Becoming an expat certainly won’t solve all your problems at once. Sometimes the opposite can be the case while you are getting used to a new system or work ethics. I think you definitely need to be thick skinned to become an expat, but I have been one for over eight years now (I lived in England and now in Cambodia) and have never regretted it.

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  8. Great advice! We also struggle with the “Where are you from?” question which seems to be inevitable anywhere you go while traveling abroad. Having lived in three States and 4 countries, where is home? After all, it keeps changing. Even filling out government forms they try to box you into one place – What’s your permanent address? There is no “none” box to check either. Is it so unusual that people are on the move? Why don’t people just understand that we are not “from” any place in particular and that a certain place WAS our home and NOW some place else is.

    Plus “back home” changes while you’re gone so “home” will not be the same when you get back anyway. The best thing to do is to just make yourself at home wherever you are. 🙂
    Enjoyed the post 🙂
    Ligeia

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  9. Great post! I have learn a lot from your story, but it has also brought back memories or people I have lost and misses every day such as my Mom. Not being able to go home for a Mom hug is a great lost for any one who loved and appreciated their mother. I’m glad that you are no longer depressed and that you are able to find a new home and family wherever your travels take you. I do believe that family are not just those people who share you last name, but those who loves you and are there when you need them. Home is where the heart is and family is where they take care of your heart.

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    1. I lost my grandmother when I was backpacking through Europe. It was terribly hard on me. You are right, family are not just people who you share a last name with. 🙂

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  10. I learned a lot of these lessons myself when I was an expat 🙂 I totally loved that I could get birth control without a prescription but I did take doctors seriously, which was good for me. I got some serious throat infection and needed steroids to take the swelling down. I also found out my body doesn’t respond to all antibiotics, so a trip to the pharmacy might not have helped me anyway.

    I used to call figuring things out like how to get my hair cut or where to buy a clock “small victories.” I enjoyed figuring things out on my own, but I was never afraid to just ask.

    I also agree that being an expat doesn’t change you. It’s an experience, but not one that will change any issues you have personally.

    So glad you are doing well!

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  11. Love the post and love your page! I am a recent college grad and looking forward to living life on the road! Your story is truly motivational.

    C

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