At times, I think about what I would do differently now that I’ve been living in Denmark for over two years. Being an American expat in Copenhagen has been thrilling – Mike and I often describe it as “really high highs and really low lows.” There’s a lot more than what you see on House Hunters International – expat life is intense! Most of this adventure, I would never change but there are still things we could have done better. One of those is something we look back on and call “the travel trap.”
The Travel Trap
To sum “the travel trap” in a few words – we traveled outside of our host country way too much in our first 6 months. We had our reasons – the original expat contract that brought us here was for 6-9 months and there was no certainty it would be renewed at the end of that period. Because of that, we wanted to see as much of Europe as possible while living in Copenhagen. Being afforded the means and convenience of frequent travel, we didn’t hold back in that first 6 months. What we didn’t realize is that by booking every $40 RyanAir flight we found, we never truly settled into living abroad.
Routines Are Important
I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a routine whenever you move to a new city, especially a new country. This means more than finding a grocery store and a barber shop – it’s reaching a point where you know how to execute the daily minutia. This is impossible if you aren’t falling into a routine, or like us, if you routine is hopping on a plane every weekend.
Build a Local Life
This goes hand-in-hand with forming routines, but a local life means that you not only become familiar with places and procedures but you have people as well. Making friends in a new country is tough. It’s different for everyone and there are a lot of organizations available and even social media can be a resource, but you have to physically be in your host country to start planting roots and building a local life. Simply put, it’s impossible to meet people if you aren’t there.
Attend expat events, go to local cultural events and festivals or join a team or club. We started with events at InterNations, a global expat community that organizes a ton of expat events all over the world. We even went to MeetUp events in Copenhagen to make connections and stay busy.
Travel When it Makes Sense for an Expat
Of course you can, and should travel, however you can find times to travel when it makes more sense for an expat. Understand the travel customs of your host country and jump into those. In Denmark, for example, there are week-long school holidays where most Danes, especially families, travel. Do the same. For some younger, childless residents it’s appealing to travel the following week or weekend when there is lower demand and you can find discount airfare.
It’s also smart to travel when national holidays occur. This is particularly true when your local friends will be visiting their family in your host country. Mike and I are not flying home for Easter holidays, but have time off of work in Denmark. Because of this, we always travel over Easter and don’t miss time with our Danish friends.
Strike a Balance
The most important advice is to simply find a balance. During the first few months, it is crucially important to adjust and get to know your host country. You can find a level of travel and dedication to your new surroundings that works for you and your family. Like anything in life, the more you put into getting to know your new surroundings, the more you will get out. Mix exploring your host country this with some travel and having visitors come to see your new city.
The “travel trap” isn’t the end of the world, but if we got a do-over on those first months abroad, we would put a little more energy into living in Copenhagen. It’s home now and while our travels have waned, we are happier at home. I’m glad we made the investment in time, places, procedures and most of all the people that contribute to making Denmark home and I hope new expats can benefit from our advice.
What do you think other expats need to know about the first few months? Leave a comment and share your experience.