Last time I moved to France, I sold my car and spent the $3,000 on all my “landing expenses”: flight; furnishings; first, last, and deposit. I could have done it on less, but it certainly convinced the landlord more quickly when he showed me the room and I just held out a wad of 50 euro bills (fifty euros are impressively large, as the size of the paper increases with the amount. Whatever I owed him—maybe six hundred euros—looked so impressive all fanned out in giant, orange bills) and nodded yes. I could not yet speak French.
After the money was gone, I made do with my assistantship salary: eight hundred euros a month. After rent, phone, and electricity were paid, I usually had about ten euros a day for food. I always spent it on coffee, then came everything else.
It was a great life, a minimal life, the life of a student. It was easy not to overspend because of simple arithmetic. Often, I functioned completely in cash.
People always told you to go abroad, travel while you’re young. If you studied abroad or went right after college, you might be tricked into thinking that the best years are behind you. You might look back nostalgically on that little loft where you slept and couldn’t even kneel on the bed because the ceiling was so low, like some badge of honor, pretending to yourself that you actually liked it. You might be sad, thinking that you’ll never have that again, your simple life in a foreign country.
You’re Braver Now
Taking the subway in a foreign city was always daunting when you were nineteen or twenty, but now, you’re not afraid of getting catcalled or pickpocketed because you’re more worldly and aware. The world seems to open up a bit more when you don’t feel so threatened.
I’m not saying that you’re not at any risk, but as an adult, you seem to know your limits and your judgment about what seems sketchy or inappropriate has hopefully improved. I seemed to feel I was always running across Paris in a panic to get home, even though I lived in a sleepy, bougie neighborhood. It’s so much nicer to walk home without this heart-hammering anxiety because I know better how to be safe.
Bravery is also a key component to your linguistic skills: you aren’t so insecure anymore that you can’t make mistakes. You can try new words and laugh at yourself when you butcher or misuse them. With more life experience, you can better gauge which cultural barriers are acceptable to breach, and which are not.
Your Friends & Family Can Visit
It’s so pleasant to share a new place with an old friend. In the past, it was such a hassle to get anywhere that my friends lived; I was always trying to travel on the cheap, which meant a lot of overnight buses and sleeping sitting up. It was so much effort just to get together, and when we did, we’d buy a few groceries and eat in at their tiny kitchen tables surrounded by their roommates, who slurped leftover noodles while standing at the counter in their pajamas.
Being a little older means that your friends have often become more established in their jobs and have benefits like vacation time and disposable income for travel. You can still travel on a budget—by using RyanAir or those dirt-cheap flights from Norwegian or Wow—but you might want to splurge on a nice dinner out, and it’s all within your reach. We all like to have a little more fun.
You’ve Got a Handle Financially
Abroad as a student, money seems to flow away like cheap liquor from the bottle. You’re always strapped for cash, and all your friends sit around talking about making plans and what you can and can’t afford. Sometimes, you’re forced to stay out until five in the morning to wait for the metro to open because you don’t have money for a cab.
When you’re a little older, you’ve got the perspective of what’s worth the money and what isn’t, and it leads you ultimately to make better decisions. You might be better aware of what kinds of side gigs will bring in a little extra cash, and your connections might be stronger to get you there. You’ve got better time management skills; you appreciate the experience a bit more deeply. You’ve also got higher standards, and you want a home that feels welcoming and adult because you know you’re more productive there. Plus, your friends have money to travel, and you want to welcome them somewhere that feels comfortable.
Life Doesn’t Instagram Itself
The best reason to go abroad as an adult is, of course, because you can. We tend to get caught up in feeling like that time is behind us, and we have too many responsibilities now, but there are so many wonderful programs that encourage people to participate in cultural exchange. You can consider Remote Year, for example, and take your show on the road. I also encourage you to read Paris I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down to see that the dream is attainable. There are scholarships and programs that will applaud your real-world experience over other applicants.
Besides, don’t you want an enviable Instagram feed?
Don’t get me wrong: it was a blast to be a student in a foreign city or country. And despite what this asinine article from the New York Times says, we gain infinitely when we are young little sponges waiting to soak up a foreign life, even in the age of the iPhone (perhaps especially in the age of the iPhone). But being an adult is already proving to be so beneficial, and I think you should know it. Yes, it might take a bit more planning (this time I had to plan about 18 months in advance), but it’s going to be so worth it.