Words & Pictures by Shaun Troke
“I live in the best city in the world!”, I regularly hear – or read – from those who’ve only lived in that ONE city throughout their entire life…but, how can someone claim they live in the ‘best city in the world’ when they’ve never lived anywhere else?!
While there’s nothing wrong with remaining loyal to the bubble you’ve lived your life inside, you should never forgot that there’s still a whole world of cities out there, that also have the potential to be better than your home-town, IF you’ve ever opened your mind to what life could be like elsewhere.
For some of us, this desire may no longer be possible: I discovered too late in life that you may only have up until the age of 30 (sometimes 35) to obtain a working-visa to spend a large period of time in another continent…
Luckily, I’ve still managed to live life in three different continents.
People ask if I’ve a favourite place to live…quite simply, my answer is that “I don’t like to have favourites” (because, if I had a favourite place to live, I’d also be somewhat claiming that the favourite place is the ‘best city in the world’, hashtag contradiction)…
What I can do, though, is tell you more about why & how, and, what I liked & disliked about the five countries I’ve stayed in longer than a month.
My first ever time living away from home, on the other side of the world…
I was 21. And, I decided to leave behind a life that wasn’t making me happy.
We can sometimes feel that life has become stale, where it seems we’re not living the life we’re supposed to be living: I was drinking & smoking a lot, dabbling in Class A-C substances, and, working in a job that clashed with all of my childhood ambitions & goals…yet this daily routine had clouded all thoughts of what I could do to escape this, or where I would even escape to (this was back in the day before the internet & mobile phone revolution, so I couldn’t access the world so instantly like we can today)…
It was actually my Mum who pointed out an ad in a local newspaper, advertising an agency called ‘Oz Jobs’ (I think it was).
And, I saw an escape route.
From what I recall, applying for the 1-year Working Visa was a fairly easy process. My Mum kindly deposited £800 into my bank account, because the application required a minimum of $1,000 of savings, and I’d blown most of my savings on the flights etc…
But, I remember that during all of this, it all felt…right.
I was already starting to feel alive again!
And, in December 1999, I left the UK’s winter, and arrived 48hrs later in the Australian summer…
As you can imagine, Christmas that year was very different to what I’d been used to!
It was sunny. And, HOT! And, Christmas dinner was devoured on an outdoor balcony next to a lake!
The scenery down under was so beautiful. I worked two jobs: For the first part of the day, I’d be in the suburbs; Then I’d head down to Sydney Harbour to work at a bar in the evening…and, whenever there was time between those jobs, I would often sit around Circular Quay, watching ferries (and cruise ships) come in & out of Sydney Harbour, using this time to look inside myself, to reflect on the last 21 years of my life, and to once again, get to know…me.
The transition from life in the UK to life in Australia had turned my previous life upside-down.
I now had a new life.
New people, new surroundings, new locations, new foods, new culture, new jobs, new options…
Life in Australia was not as I knew it…and, I LOVED THAT!
Day by day, my head became clearer & clearer. For the first time ever, I was feeling freer than I ever had in the previous 6 years!
As much as I loved those 6 months of living & working in Sydney, I was also able to travel to every single State around this large country…and, if I had the chance to go back there again, to live & work, I’d choose both Queensland and Victoria as areas I’d like to try.
Australia, to me, will always be the country responsible for where I found myself again, that gave me clearer vision of how to begin the next chapter of my life…
And so, I was able to return to the UK feeling like myself again, only stronger & healthier…and, a lot skinnier, too, I remember my brother mentioning, as my family welcomed me back at Heathrow Airport!
What you’ll always find is that, when you return home after living abroad for a few months, you’ll notice (more) that everything is exactly the same at it was from when you left…
And, this was VERY hard for me to deal with!
The only thing to have changed was me.
Whereas I’d grown as a person, and, had months of different experiences almost every single day, everything back home seemed to have continued as normal. Only this time, this was all the more noticeable, and, I could clearly see all of the reasons that made me want to leave in the first place…
Which is why, within months after returning from Australia, I instantly moved over to Ireland.
This probably wasn’t the best move financially, as the plan upon returning from Australia was to pay back the £800 loan to my Mum…however, I assumed that I could just as easily live & work in Dublin (due to having a European Union passport), and save the loan money there to pay back my Mum…
This really wasn’t how it worked out at all.
I’d met many Irish travellers on my journey across Australia, and I’d caught on to the fact that they like to drink…a lot. While in Dublin, I lived in a house-share with 9 other people, so as you can imagine, there were parties at the house most weekends, OR, I’d be out drinking with the people I’d met on my travels.
Finding a job in Dublin was never a problem: I first worked in a 5-Star Hotel (read more about this experience here), and after I ‘quit’ that job, I then worked in a music shop in the city centre, just a 30min walk from the house-share in Rathmines. The music shop – ‘McCullough Pigott‘ – has since relocated to another part of Dublin, but it seemed to attract many famous faces, from Shane McGowen to Kerry Katona to Ally McBeal’s Peter MacNicol…oh, and my Uncle, too!
Not that my Uncle has a famous face, but it was one Saturday morning while at work, when I turned around to see my Uncle (from Hungerford, UK!) walk into the store! He had no idea I worked there; I had no idea he was in Dublin for a stag-party!
OH, I almost forgot! And, in my first week of living in Dublin, I randomly bumped into a barman from a pub in my hometown of Newhaven, UK – again, neither of us knew that the other was in Dublin, but…SMALL WORLD!
Dublin is a very social city. If you crave plenty of drinking outside of a 9-5 working-life, then Dublin is your place! I’d also have liked to have spent time living in both Cork and Galway…and, who knows, this could still happen.
So, from the age of 22-23, I was mostly drinking. I do like Dublin, but most of the memories are hazy!
And, with my Dublin wages spent mostly on alcohol, my food budget only allowed for a diet of fish-fingers & noodles!
The plan to pay-off the £800 loan to my Mum wasn’t possible, and so, due to wanting to escape this debt, I decided to fly back to the UK (on September 11th 2001, of all days), where I was able to save money, that would help fund my next major trip abroad, 6 years later…
If you’re a UK citizen, every time that you enter the USA, you are always granted a 90-day Waiver Visa…
So, what’s stopping you from spending three months there?!
I’ve been able to visit around 30 States in the US so far (my goal is conquer all 50!), yet it’s the State of California I’ve visited the most (tied with New York…5 times each, to be exact)…
Since I was a kid, the California dream had always appealed to me: Movies & Television portrayed the Los Angeles lifestyle as the life that I wanted; In secondary school, I’d always wonder what it’d be like to experience an American ‘High School’; I’d heard myths about how cheap the food was out there, and how large their food portions are; And, I’d been brainwashed to believe that the Santa Monica lifeguards would resemble Pamela Anderson and Erica Eleniak!
And, it was my fourth visit to Cali, for three months from January 2008 to April 2008, where I finally got to learn more about the real American way of life…
Month One: Finding somewhere to live; Learning that running a car is cheaper in the USA than it is in the UK – gas (petrol) prices are extremely low; Cars aren’t required to have an MoT.
Month Two: Finding possible work; Discovering I can’t work in the USA unless I’m sponsored by a Company; Most companies don’t offer paid holiday with a job, and instead, you have to earn days-off (over the first two years of employment); Healthcare isn’t free!
Month Three: All that was left to do – have fun!
As you can see, while I didn’t get the opportunity to work in the USA (even though I certainly tried!), those three months were a learning experience, not just about LA, but about how America works, too (the myths about the food are absolutely true!)
I love the United States, and would instantly go back for another 90-days in a heartbeat. The USA has always been what I call my ‘playground’, and, while I still have plans to conquer all 50 States, it’d still like to experience what it’s like to work over there, too…
Anyone wanna sponsor me? 🙂
“WHERE that’s??”, you may ask!
Basically, Lędziny is a small town, less than 50 miles West of Krakow. How did I end up in small-town Poland for three months? To work on a movie, of course!
While most of the time was spent putting together the movie, there were still chances to discover what was in & around this tiny town in the summer of 2010…
For the most part, it seemed that myself & the British cast of the movie really enjoyed how cheap Poland was! It worked out that most products were around 4 times cheaper than if they were purchased in the UK!
We were also occasionally driven to the nearest city – Katowice – where I would like to spend most of my downtime.
And, eventually, I did take a trip to Krakow (which was slightly more expensive than Lędziny), where I was able to take connecting bus & train lines to the neighbouring countries of Hungary and Czech Republic.
I enjoyed this Eastern European living experience, and, it is definitely something I’d like to do again…although, there’s a high possibility that the language barrier would still be a major obstacle, like it was back then!
The county of East Sussex is where I grew up, in a town just outside the city of Brighton.
It truly was an incredible area to grow up in, with the English Channel on one side, and, the South Downs on the other…Surf ‘n’ Turf!
What’s also available is the direct ferry to France, which meant regular day trips to the port of Dieppe, with school or with family & friends.
In 2008, I was able to live in London for a short term. At the time, I was there for work, and looking back, I wish I’d been there for longer, to really appreciate London’s strongest point, that everything really is happening right on your doorstep.
But, like what happens to many, and, because the cost of living in London and the South East is the highest in the UK, shared accommodation was all that could be afforded. My London house-mates were lovely, but I was in my early thirties, in a box-room, with a single bed, and this really wasn’t how I wanted to be living at that point in my life.
Fast-forward 10 years, to where I live now, in the North West of England, in a little city called Liverpool (you may have heard of it!)
And, while I could easily write a 3,000 word journal on what I like & dislike about living in Liverpool (let me know in the Comments if you’d really want this blog!), I’ll try keeping the explanation of why I’m here short:
Rewind to 2012, after I returned from a 6-month Round The World trip, when I was once again beginning to feel as though the cost of living in the South East of England was having a severe affect on my lifestyle & career goals.
So, after a two-month ‘tour’ of travelling all over the UK, spending 2-3 nights in many major cities (Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester, Derby, Exeter, Nottingham, Bournemouth, & more), and, figuring out where I’d like to relocate to, Liverpool was short-listed…and, in 2013, after a year of seeking employment in Liverpool (via the internet), I was finally offered a job that allowed me to relocate.
I’ll be completely honest with you in that, while I was attracted to Liverpool in the beginning, whenever you make the transition from being a ‘tourist’ to being a ‘local’, some cultural elements can raise their ugly heads (like with any place you live)…so much so, there’s been THREE TIMES in the last four years when I’ve wanted to leave Liverpool for good…
Liverpool won’t let me go: I made the decision to leave this city in May 2014, but an attractive work opportunity came up; I made the decision to leave in January 2016, but a long-term relationship came into my life; I made the decision to leave in July 2017, but, once again, more work opportunities came up.
Whether you believe in fate or destiny or mystical forces or what not, when you’re feeling like you’re being kept somewhere for a reason – yet you’re still aware that there’s a whole world out there to be experienced & lived in – you will ALWAYS question whether or not your current place is right for you…
Which is where I’m up to in my life right now.
Find your place in the World
Does any of this sound familiar to you? That craving, that feeling, that urge, that calling, that you need to change something in your life, to be somewhere else?
If it does, then maybe it’s time to leave your current habitat…?
If your 30th birthday is creeping up, or, better still, if you’re under the age of 25, then I can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t hesitate to search for which working visas you can apply for! Many (young) travellers aren’t aware of these age restrictions, and, I wish that someone had told me about them 18 years ago, because if they had, then today, I’d certainly be writing about more than just five countries!
I wanted to live & work in Japan, but the cut-off age was 30. I wanted to live & work in Canada, but the work visa age limit is 35 (I applied for this when I was 34, and they declined the application, because I would’ve turned 35 while IN Canada).
And, even if you’re over the age of 30, this doesn’t mean it’s too late to make a change…
Now aged 39, I often find myself being pulled towards so many other locations, because I acknowledge & adore that there’s a whole world out there, with so much to offer, and, that there’s hundreds of optional cities available, if I ever wanted to escape (I could move to Paris – or Greece – tomorrow, if I really wanted to!)
You will always hear people say that travel opens the mind…and, there’s no BS attached to that comment: Long-term travel and living abroad, without doubt, increases your awareness, and, it will help you spot & identify all that is wrong with a place that a (narrow-minded) local refers to as ‘the best city in the world’.
And, while a locals opinion is only his or hers own opinion, just know that there could a better way of life for you outside of that city…without even needing a visa: If you’re in the UK, you’ve so many other regions to choose from (I did this!); If you’ve a European Passport, you’ve 50 countries to choose from; If you’re in the USA or Australia, you’ve a number of different States to choose from…
Because, it’s really only after you’ve lived in other cities that you can truly validate a claim that your city is the best one!