Albania, Europe, Expat life, Family Travel, The Balkans

Finding Your Center as an Expat or Long-term Traveler

I wrote last week about the stages of culture shock and where I was in those stages. It was raw, it was real. I’m happy to say that I think I’ve broken through the fog and am loving our new life here in Albania. Tirana has captivated me once again.

Moving is stressful. Moving across the world is more stressful. When you move to a country with different food, language, customs and social mores, it puts your brain and emotions on overload. Finding your center, your peace, your daily rituals becomes essential.

Because here’s the thing:

You’re still you.

Yes, you will change. Travel, new experiences, new cultures, new opportunities change you, but you don’t have to change everything about yourself in one day.

You aren’t going to suddenly drop your cultural and personal habits just because you move. Nor should you.

Humans crave comfort and familiarity. It’s just a fact. Many people move to a new country because they might want a change. I, for example, have always, always loved Europe. I love the laid back vibe in the Mediterranean. I love the food, the weather. All of it. But I’m not going to suddenly become Albanian. I’m going to be me as I learn to integrate myself into this new world.

Here are five things I discovered I need no matter where I am. Yours will likely be different. The key is to figure them out.

1. Exercise.

At home for the last few years I had a daily ritual of either doing a home workout or going to the gym every morning. It became a non-negotiable for me and my mental health. It helped me battle postpartum depression, and helped me cope during my son’s brain tumor nightmare. I’d been here for two weeks and not really taken time for movement (besides walking). I had my husband take the kids out to explore last Sunday and did my favorite YouTube yoga workout. I felt 100x better.

2. Food

Food is such a part of a culture. It’s so intertwined with comfort and traditions and family. We’ve learned on our long term trips with our kids that, yes, it’s very important to try new food and fully experience the country you’re in, but it’s also important to feel comfort and familiarity. So, while we still are buying mostly local, healthy food. We got some comfort items for the kids like tortillas and cheddar cheese for quesadillas as well as cereal. It’s so small, but it really helps to give some semblance of normalcy when your world is completely different.

3. Meditation/Spirtual Practice

Along with daily exercise, I used to do 15-20 minutes in a sauna and take that time to meditate (unless the headlamp guy that used to frequent the sauna was in there chomping on hard candy while reading a newspaper… ugh). I would often list the things I was grateful for daily as well. It took me years to develop these habits, but it always helped me to reset and just made me a better person, mom, and wife. For some, it might be prayer or other spiritual practices. Whatever it is, if it was important to your mental health before, it surely is now too.

4. Make Your House a Home

We sold everything we owned before we left. Our home and everything in it. I vowed not to ever be so bogged down with clutter ever again. And I still feel that way, but if color and textures and design and beautiful things fill your soul, then a plain, tan couch, and nothing on the walls (I still don’t have anything on the walls) isn’t going to feed your soul no matter how gorgeous the view might be. Make it a home and I would suggest doing it quickly.

5. Mementos

For me, scents and small mementos are everything. I brought small things that would fit into my suitcase like baby pictures in simple gold frames, paintings, and souvenirs we’ve collected on our travels. Every time I light the candle that we bought at Windsor Castle, it floods us with happy memories. Likewise, every time we see paintings and family pictures and memories, it makes us feel “home”.

6. Explore

Explore the area so you feel comfortable with your daily activities. Find the park, the grocery store, maybe the mall, or swimming pool… Whatever you need to make daily life feel normal. I would say that getting a bearing on your neighborhood is something you should do right away. I felt totally lost for the first week until I took the time to wander and make mental notes of where everything is that I need to make our lives smooth.

I’ve found that after these bases are covered, you have more emotional bandwidth to explore with openness and excitement. For me, these things made all the difference in the world. It’s definitely a process.

I’d love to hear what your daily rituals are.

❤️ Melissa

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  1. Jules

    September 9, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    All very good points. For me finding a Yoga School (built my community), find my favourite cafe (to retreat to for me time), and cooking and baking are essential to settle into a new home. I was once told that expats often unpack their bags, but not their emotions and until you “unpack” your bags as well as your emotions you will never truly arrive.

    1. admin

      September 9, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Such a good point. That’s really what I’m missing is community. I think finding a place to practice yoga would help so much. Baking is therapeutic for me too! Thank you so much for your thoughts. That last thought makes so much sense to me right now.

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