A picture of las setas de sevilla, Spain, the first place Isabella lived abroad

Top Tips for Moving Abroad for the First Time

Here Isabella talks about her experiences of moving abroad for the first time, and gives her top tips for somebody doing the same.

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While there’s no right moment to start travelling or move abroad for the first time, I moved abroad for the first time when I was 24, and considered myself a late-starter. I know what you’re thinking (well, if you’re over 24 at least): “24? You’ve got to be joking. You’ve got all the time in the world!”. That’s what I was told over and over when I voiced my fears about being “too old”, but hear me out. 

For one thing, I was on an Erasmus+ programme (which I highly recommend, if you have access to it, so much that I did it twice!). This meant that a lot of people on my programme were younger than me, and the people that were my age had already travelled and lived abroad in several places. 

For another, I had been talking the talk for a long time. I’ve written about this before, but I basically spent the first half of my twenties planning, saving and telling everyone I was going to go travelling. All whilst staying put in my hometown, tucked very safely inside my comfort zone.

When it came time to walk the walk, I was petrified. It was actually one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. I was only moving to the south of Spain, but it honestly felt like life’s biggest adventure (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). I met my Erasmus group at Gatwick airport with walking boots, dungarees and the biggest rucksack you’ve ever seen. From there it was pretty plain sailing. I had done a lot to prepare myself for this moment which only made the experience better.

Here are a few things I did before I moved abroad for the first time that made my life a whole lot easier:

Take a Break

This might not be possible for everyone, but it was something that helped me tremendously to do everything else on my list. Obviously, I was closing the book on a lot of hobbies and responsibilities I had back in the UK, but I lined everything up to finish a week before I actually left for Seville. This way I had so much more time to do last-minute preparations (aka, the rest of the things on this list!).

Learn the Language

Okay, funny story. I applied to this Erasmus+ programme I think in the April or May of 2020, due to depart that September. I was accepted onto the programme in July, but then another wave of Covid struck and we were told that the programme was delayed and we we would be going in December at the earliest.

I calmed down, tried to forget about it, and told my work I would not be leaving imminently (oops). Then September came around, and just three weeks before departure the programme was back on. I’m not totally sure how they managed to swing it, but our plane tickets were booked and everything. Every day, I checked my emails waiting to find out it had been cancelled again. I didn’t truly let myself believe we were going until I physically stepped on the plane. But, I did, and we went.

Anyway. That was a long-winded way of telling you I didn’t have much time to brush up on my Spanish. I kept telling myself “next week, I’ll start studying again”, thinking I still had months until I went. When I got that urgent email at the beginning of September, I had to give myself a crash course.

I was lucky to already have okay-Spanish under my belt, but a lot had been lost since school. I binged an entire module of 1001 Reasons to Learn Spanish, changed settings on everything to Spanish, listened to Spanish podcasts, Spanish music, you name it. I was crashing with my ex in the weeks leading up to departure (long story), and he put up with a lot.

You also don’t want to make the mistake I made when I moved to Portugal. It was my second round of Erasmus+, and I thought I’d be here for three months, max. I was neck-deep in learning Spanish and thought I’d never have any use for Portuguese by the time April rolled around. I went to my Portuguese classes, but I didn’t pay much attention and I didn’t do my homework. Now it’s a year later, Lisbon is home to me, and man, I wish I’d listened in those lessons…

Getting a few lessons in ahead of time will make a world of difference, both for your own communication and for letting the locals know you’re making an effort.

More from Solo Travel: The best destinations for female solo travellers

Get yourself into a Good Headspace

This sounds a bit vague, but I am going to elaborate. As someone who has suffered with anxiety for most of her adult life, I knew I had some work to do before I moved abroad for the first time. Moving abroad under any circumstances at any age can be incredibly daunting and comes with a lot of challenges. They can be wonderful challenges, and overcoming these hurdles is totally amazing. But they still exist (at least, they do for most people, and they did for me).

In the three weeks I had to prepare for moving to Seville, I woke up early, before work, and followed a short routine. I’ve now come to learn that this is now a thing and it’s called a “low-dopamine morning” but I don’t think it had a name three years ago.

The routine was simple: 

  • Get up
  • Put the kettle on
  • Do some yoga (it can even just be for five minutes)
  • Meditate
  • Do something productive (just something small, like hang out the washing, prepare lunch for that day, or run an errand)
  • Shower and get ready for the day (doing everything you would do before leaving the house, so that includes choosing an outfit, hair, makeup, or anything else you would normally do to ‘get ready’)

Simple, but effective. I have since learned that this “low-dopamine morning” is actually backed by science. If you have dopamine spikes in the morning (from scrolling, or other unhealthy habits), it teaches your brain to crave these hits all day. By abstaining for the first hour or two of your day, you can avoid chasing the highs and stay more focussed and content without the constant need for dopamine.

This was an added benefit, I guess, or this wasn’t the reason I decided on a morning routine. I mostly just wanted to make sure I was doing yoga and meditating every day, because I know that’s what works for me.

I was also making sure I got plenty of exercise and was journaling daily, but you don’t need to follow every one of my tips. I would just recommend taking care of your mental health and making sure you are your healthiest self before moving abroad, especially if you’re going for the first time! 

More from Solo Travel: Is it safe to travel alone in Costa Rica?

Make a List (An Extensive One)

Okay, if there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I’m a sucker for packing. I really hate to say this out loud, but I like moving house. I like the idea of putting everything I absolutely need into boxes, taking it with me, and finding a new home for anything I don’t use. It feels SO refreshing to me.

So, my packing list for Seville was extensive, and it had several revisions. This isn’t to say that you’ll get yourself in trouble if you don’t take everything you need. (I did take everything I needed to Seville, but it turns out they have shops there, too.)

I just think that a packing list, and a getting-ready list, is a great way to take a weight off of your mind. Worrying that you left behind something essential can cause unnecessary stress, in my opinion, and it’s one that can be easily alleviated with a list!

Looking back, these are the things that I think holistically helped me when I first moved abroad. Of course, there are a lot of logistical issues to think about like visas, insurance, housing, etc. but you can find a list of those things just about anywhere and it will be different for each country! 

The last thing I want to say is this:

Do it. If you’re thinking about moving abroad. Just do it. 

4 thoughts on “Top Tips for Moving Abroad for the First Time”

    1. Teaching English seems like such a right of passage for so many students these days! I hope you had a great time 🙂

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