Expat Advice – Avoid the Travel Trap

Expat Advice – Avoid the Travel Trap

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.” Here is some expat advice on how to avoid 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. 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.

Expat Advice and tips Copenhagen American Expat House Hunters International Denmark
We weren’t really asked about the difficult times on House Hunters International

Routines Are Important

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a routine whenever you move to a new city. This is especially true in a new country. This means more than finding a grocery store and a barber shop. It means 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.

Expat Advice and tips Copenhagen American Expat
Get into a routine and build a local life. You can explore elsewhere later.

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. Knowing more expats also meant more expat advice and support.

I snapped this the day I became a resident of Denmark

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. That’s when there is lower demand and you can find discount airfare.

You Deserve a Vacation!

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.

Expat Advice: 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 with a little bit of travel. Also strike a balance with visitors that come to see your new city.

Expat Advice and tips Copenhagen American Expat
This was during my second weekend after leaving the states – not even 10 days in Denmark

The “travel trap” isn’t the end of the world. Still, if we got a do-over on those first months abroad, we would have put more energy into Copenhagen. It’s home now and while our travels have waned, we are happier at home. I’m glad that we made the investment in time, places, procedures and most of all the people. They are the most important thing that contributes to making Denmark home. I hope new expats can benefit from our advice.

Read more expat advice on the early stage of expatriating.

Nyhavn Copenhagen

What other expat advice do people need to know about the first few months? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Derek Hartman

Derek Hartman is an American expat from Philadelphia, currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. His blog, Robe Trotting focuses on travel, expatriation and lifestyle topics.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Timothy

    Interesting. My sister has been ‘expatting’ since 2008 and having a husband and children those children often were the catalysator for meeting new people.

    I once really considered moving to Australia but what held me in Belgium was the ‘one week’s notice’ mentality. Too risky.

    1. robetrotting

      Oh wow, yeah she has even more reason to really get settled early. We definitely had a delayed feeling of permanence here because we traveled or hosted friends so much during our early stage. Lesson learned.

      There are definitely a lot of professional positives to being in the EU, but Australia still attracts a lot of American expats. It’s much easier for Americans to get a work visa there.

      1. Timothy

        I had a ‘holiday boyfriend’ in Melbourne and it was tempting to move. But…
        – What to do jobwise? A communications degree in Dutch won’t help in Australia.
        – Having a boyfriend is fine but leaving a support circle of friends and family is a huge step.
        – Like I said: on week’s notice. So losing work or a home in week? No way.
        – Living in Australia is hugely expensive. Being single I can be home owner in Belgium, not in Oz.


        After Vietnam, Indonesia and Ivory Coast, my sister now lives in Switzerland. They’re integrating well and for me she’s just a few trains away. 🙂

      2. robetrotting

        I totally understand those fears! We were together for a couple of years and still had SO many things to consider and take care of before moving over here from the states. I’m glad you’re close to your sister, that must make it easier for her transition 🙂

  2. Wade Joel

    I liked how you suggested building a local life by attending expat and local cultural events. I have a cousin coming from Germany next week, and this seems like a great way to introduce him to the city and for him to meet some new people since he may be staying for a long time. I’ll start browsing websites looking for local events, and maybe even some expat job opportunities. Thank you!

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