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How Living Abroad Will Change Your Outlook on Everything

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What is fulfilling about living in many different cities for short periods of time? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers, solopreneur, gentleman neuroscientist & economist, on Quora.

I'm not a huge fan of "traveling" in the traditional sense, but I've made a habit of living in different cities for a month or more at a time. I call it a "mini life." I've "lived" in Rome, Buenos Aires, Medellin, Brooklyn, Austin, and Manhattan.

Here are the things I find fulfilling about this habit:

  • Self-definition: For most people, your surroundings influence your behavior. I'm more outgoing in New York, I'm more introverted in Chicago, and I'm more patient in Medellin. Immersing myself in these different cultures for long periods of time has helped me recognize the parts of my self that are inherently me, and the parts that are a product of my own environment. Over time, I've gotten a better sense of who I am, and what my true preferences are.
  • Routine-busting: Living in a different city forces you to change your routines, thus trying things you might not have otherwise. In Buenos Aires, I had the routine of working in the morning, then going to Tango class in the middle of the day - something that's not an option in Chicago. Medellin is a more sleepy city, so that's where I learned how much I could enjoy spending a weekend night at home, reading. Over time, you learn to refine your routines, which are helpful for feeling at home wherever you go.
  • Making home out of everywhere: It really doesn't take that long to figure out your way around a city, or to make a few new acquaintances (I would say "friends" but I don't want to diminish the importance of close confidants). Spending a month somewhere is infinitely better in this regard than spending a few days, and spending years is not a whole lot better. Additionally, you gain the skill of adaptability: finding whatever you need wherever you go. The result is that not only do you really know your way around a bunch of different places, but you can more quickly deal with going to new places. You also build a network of interesting people.
  • Scapegoat-slaughtering: Do you ever think "I would be so much happier if I lived in X," "I just wonder what it would be like to live in X," or "there's nobody dateable in X?" I think a lot of us use these scapegoat fantasies to prevent us from being present in the here and now. One thing I've learned from living around the world is that I can find a reason to be miserable just about anywhere, and that there are things I can do to make myself happier just about anywhere. However, I have learned that my potential for happiness is greater in some places than in others, and that not everything I expect to make me happy really does. For example, I lived in a giant penthouse with a view in Medellin, but it didn't ultimately make me happier than the 500 square-foot apartment I'm in right now.
  • The Human Frontier: Traveling has made something about technology feel like a big distraction. I haven't gotten a great grasp of this just yet, so I run the risk of misspeaking here, but it seems like there is a "Human Frontier" that doesn't get explored as much as it could be. Technology has enabled us to spend so much time in these places, and communicate with people with whom we couldn't before (my first date with my girlfriend was heavily Google Translate-assisted), and it seems more people should be taking advantage of this. Instead, they're complaining about their Uber driver starting a conversation, or they're starting a startup that takes out the trash.

A word of caution, though: When you spend this much time in a place, it becomes a part of you. The desire to see a new place is sometimes overcome by a desire to re-visit a place that has become dear to you. It can feel like playing tug-of-war with your heart sometimes.

If you enjoyed these thoughts, you'll really love a conversation I had on my podcast with Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads, who has done even more traveling than I, and who has a great grasp on how it affects the human experience.

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