I believe that a city lives or dies by how much people can move in and out. About four years ago, I reflected on the idea of being an American Expat in America. That idea is that despite the fact I was no longer an active member of my hometown or any town, I could still move somewhere else, become just as active, make a difference with my diversity of opinion and actions and promote my hometown and the awesome things it has and of course, do this in another one of the 49 states of America or a different city or even just down the street. Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile inspired this idea and I think it’s still very valid today. I even wrote home about it, for the Triad City Beat a couple of months back.
And as I sit back and reflect on five years of being an urban planning and development blogger, I want to talk about the keys to being a great American Expat. Then, at the end of this post, a moment on what it feels like to finally be a true American Expat, much like I predicted I could be back in 2011.
So what does it take to be a good American Expat in America?
Your new home, even if it’s right down the street, is going to be different from your old home. As you change even more of your surroundings, that fact will become boldfaced, underlined and even be
struck through because something you thought would work for you, may not work for you after all. But that’s ok. I’m learning that it’s key to keep going to different meetings, gatherings, restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, Targets and such until you find the ones that allow you to create a routine. You also need to be ok with not going to certain things if they no longer work.
Another key adjustment is that the food and climate and even the time zone may be entirely different. You have an accent (or not). Your car may need a front plate and a back plate. You may find yourself walking more or less, driving more or less, riding transit more or less. You may have the company of people, lots of new vibrant people. You might be at home with a library book from your very robust new public library.
Either way, you need to be open to different experiences and also have a coping mechanism for when things get weird, hurtful, sad or some other form of negative. And then gratitude, but we’ll get to that later.
Finding Local Things You Can Support
Yes, I’m a Royals fan now. Who doesn’t like a winner? Ok, at the time of this writing they aren’t, but they have been and could still be! I think burnt ends from Joe’s Kansas City, along with their regular ribs are delectable. Yet, according to my mom, the line procedure there is not that much different from the NC State Fair’s lines for places to sit and consume fair food, next to the actual vendors.
You see what I did there, I managed to find something local I could pull behind, but I was able to tie it into something from back home. Then, I can go back to whining about the lack of Calabash seafood, namely Calabash seafood fried in House-Autry seafood breader. Or Biscuitville. Or I could drive 30 minutes to the Krispy Kreme on Shawnee Mission Parkway, and instead of eating the half-baked original glazed that’s apparently the modus operandi of the non-North Carolinian KK’s and eat that new seasonal salted caramel doughnut instead.
Seriously, folks need to go crazy over salted caramel and not pumpkin spice. And that sentence alone reminds us that while we are different, there are things that are the same and new things we can eat, see, root for and enjoy.
Savings and Travel Hack Savvy
You need to be a member of every travel club possible. You need to be a member of every shopping coupon site possible. You need to meal plan for the nights you don’t go out to eat. Mend your clothes. Do something on the side. Unless you are already one of those people who has a second full residence in your new town of origin or a division of your company in more than one place or you are location-independent, then all these things are vital.
Actually, they are always vital, in that’s how many people become successful expats and travelers and business people. I read somewhere that millionaires have an average of seven pockets of income.
Sometimes one of those pockets is penny-saving stuff like couponing apps and travel rewards. Seriously, the Marriott Rewards is how many a family vacation happened in my youth and also what helped me stay connected via wi-fi during my recent move. I’m racking up Southwest points and I’m using my knowledge of their routes and how trains work (and my friends and boyfriend who are geniuses at this), to learn how, when and where to travel to save the most money.
Also, not just how I travel, but also being at peace with what’s in your suitcase and what makes it to the moving truck. You cannot bring everything with you. You should not bring everything with you. You’ll bring things back, get new things, better things.
And finally, for the tips section, I say be thankful. There are so many research studies that state the benefits of having the ability to move wherever you need to for economic, health, spiritual and educational reasons. But if you’ve ever done it, you know that now your brain and mind is stretched because you’ve experienced life in another metro. So many people want to be you, but never get the chance. Some folks don’t even get vacations.
Historically, the Great Migration of African-Americans, along with the migrations of many other ethnic and cultural groups to and from this country, has created freedom, enhanced creativity, cultivated wealth and strengthened our ability to be diverse. No, the process isn’t perfect. But I do find that people who are thankful for the opportunity to move around, for new kinds of neighbors, for new experiences, make this country stronger and wiser.
And now, a more personal reflection.
So that moment happened. When I, who’d been in bed alone, but with my new stuffed toy Southwest Airlines plane beside me for the third night in a row, had that nightmare. The nightmare where you wake up and you miss your flight, even though you’d made sure you Passbooked (or I guess it’s just simply Wallet now on the iPhone) your boarding pass and you went to bed early and all your stuff was packed the night before.
You get to the airport and you find that it’s an incomprehensible maze, made even worse by the fact that you are not carrying your nice purple carry-on, rolling suitcase, but a black purse you picked up because you forgot your tiny black backpack, and your real backpack and they are all heavy. And of course, since this is a dream, you try to move forward and you end up partially waking yourself up, especially when you realize that you’re really floating through your dream and not actually walking. But then you feel weighted down.
You wake up after this dream and you’re really sad. Your fridge is still making that noise that sounds like a jack hammer that you told maintenance to fix and they even showed up to fix, but isn’t really fixed.
You get on Zillow, just like you were the night before, scouting out houses in all different metros, including the one to which you just moved. You remember that conversation with that colleague where you were both reminiscing about various things you did when you lived in or visited that other city and how your current city just doesn’t fit the bill today.
But then it’s later that Sunday afternoon and you are sitting in a branch library, against a wall of windows, over a part of town that mimics parts of California or Florida (take your pick of inspired Spanish mission architecture, mixed up with buildings of all kinds of modern vintage and even a canal with a Venice-style boat cruise that passes through at least a couple of times).
You realize that in that spot, you’re honestly ten minutes from everything you have come to do in your new town, in all directions. You’re walkable to things to which are actually fun to walk. You can hop on the bus and be up the hill with your bike, which will pedal you to your workplace in no time. Or, if it’s a day you don’t really need to come into the office, you can just fire up your laptop and knock out your InDesign flyers and social media postings there, at a home not too far from that wall of windows and that branch library.
You realize that even though it’s not the city you dreamed you’d be living in for the past ten-twelve years, it’s still a different place, with different lessons and a different perspective. It helps you to see even more of the world than what you saw before. And who knows, you might be in another city, maybe that dream city, in a few more years. But for now, you are happy here. You are an American Expat in America and you are ok.
Join me at my Facebook page, on Twitter, on Instagram and on Periscope Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m. Central Time (That’s 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific) for a live conversation around mobility and being an American Expat in America.