Tieland to Thailand

Quit Your Job – Sell Your Stuff – Travel Abroad

..."We spent last year selling everything and paying off thousands in consumer debt, planning our wedding, and ultimately figuring a way out of the daily nine to five. Twelve months later here we are living a truly free and location-independent lifestyle, currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand"...

Visiting Home After Long Term Travel

Visiting Home After Long Term Travel

Our time in Thailand was up. At least, it was for a little while. For the month of June, we embarked on a trip that took us back home to America. We knew even before our bags were packed that this visit would be bittersweet. We’ve fallen in love with Thailand, which may explain why we struggled with our feelings about visiting home after long-term travel in Thailand.

We melted into a sea of people after stepping off the plane, Chris’s height and my hair color no longer singling us out among petite, black-haired Thais. We were also blasted by conversations we could understand – some mundane, some annoying, some inappropriate for public talk. Good grief, where’s an off switch when you need it?

We followed English-only signs to immigration. “Hey! If yer an American citizen, get in this line! If yer not, get in that line!” spat a disgruntled TSA worker. Welcome to ‘Merica!

What We Missed About the USA

Seeing friends and family for five weeks and across eight states was, by no doubt, amazing. Visiting our old stomping grounds and places we lived made us smile as memories resurfaced. We had a huge list of things we wanted to do and foods we wanted to eat. And of course, we looked forward to some of the everyday norms of the US that Thailand sorely lacks.

We missed the comforts. We joke that US bathrooms are ones of luxury. Those that are well-ventilated, amply stocked with toilet paper, with a guaranteed supply of hand soap. It’s hard to describe the defeated feeling of having to use a poorly lit squat toilet with no means to wipe oneself. And the couches? Boy, what an incredible feeling it was to sink into an oversize plush sectional or a La-Z-Boy chair. This is a stark contrast to the Spartan wooden day beds and chairs made halfway bearable with thinly padded cushions.

We missed getting free drinking water at restaurants and drinking from the tap at home when thirsty. This sure as hell beats having to buy bottle after bottle of drinking water when out, or waking up in the morning on a hot day without water and in need of a cup of coffee.

And of course, we missed the food. Although Chiang Mai has a great selection of Western cuisine, it doesn’t compare with mom’s home cooked meals or favorites like a Chipotle burrito or Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion. And speaking of restaurants, we welcomed the professional service. Waitstaff in Thailand is known for overlapping or switching courses, or staggering the delivery of entrees, so dining out with properly delivered food was refreshing.

What We Didn’t Miss About the USA

But surprisingly, as much as we looked forward to America’s cultural norms (Hey, look! Deodorant without whitening products in it!), more often than not we were bothered by things.

Some may think we’re crazy, but we couldn’t wait to get away from central air conditioning. We’ve acclimated to Thailand’s room temperature of about 85⁰F and typically use a fan to keep cool. Every time we stepped inside on a hot June afternoon, the 20-25⁰F degree swing in temperature brought on goose bumps and fantasies of pants and sweaters.

We didn’t miss driving long distances or the maddening traffic that came with it. In Chiang Mai, we have just about everything we need within a 15 minute drive. But in the US, we’d have to drive forty minutes just to meet with friends for a drink. We were also bothered by the limitations of our car and US road rules. In Thailand, we can (legally) zip between cars and drive on shoulders (even sidewalks!) on our motorbike, never having to succumb to the idle parking lot of cars during rush hour.

Oh, and the sticker shock! We knew we would be spending a lot of money in America, but we weren’t prepared to spend three thousand and eight hundred dollars during our visit home. The crazy part was that it was a modest vacation. We didn’t indulge in luxury hotels, excursions, touristy activities, and shopping. Our highest expenditure was eating out, and even then it was mostly for lunch. We did rent a car, and we also spent money on personal care (haircuts, clothing, grooming accessories, etc). In comparison, our previous month’s budget in Thailand (one that was out of control) still didn’t come close to what we spent in the US.

Outrageously Spending Money on Our Visit to America

Cost of Visiting Home After Long Term Travel

Tackling the “Big Question” from Friends and Family

Well, we actually took on three big questions that kept surfacing throughout our trip:

  • How’s Thailand?
  • When are you really coming back to the States?
  • What do you do over there all day?

A few people asked us about kids (none any time soon). A few people asked us if we missed Thailand (absolutely).

Thailand’s great, thanks for asking. If we hadn’t loved Thailand, we’d already be back in the States and probably back at our old jobs. But we’re not because Thailand is awesome.

And when are we really coming back to the States? Well, it’s not exactly fair to ourselves or the people we know to promise a definite return date. We’ve already made plans to live in Thailand for another year and after that it remains open-ended. “But you’ll be back, in say, five years, right?” We just don’t know. And it’s better that way.

And what do we do all day? Jokingly, Chris began to respond with a cheerful, “Nothing!” There’s a little part of us, deep down inside, that knows no matter how we’ve been occupying our days in Thailand – “Oh, Angela’s been health teacher at a private school,” or, “Chris self taught himself the ins and outs of photography,” or, “We’ve created a website from the ground up that now is actually pretty popular with people looking to go to Thailand. Here, Google us,” – those answers aren’t the right ones.

Visiting Home After Long Term Travel – It’ll Never Be The Same

But as any expat or long term traveler may tell you, visiting home after long-term travel will never be the same. Traveling has way of spoiling familiar things, no matter how much they made you comfortable before.

Anthon Bourdain Quote

So true! Chipotle steak salad, Maryland steamed crabs, BBQ chicken pizza, champagne… Our taste buds changed, and some of our favorite foods just weren’t satisfying as they once were. They were dull, single-dimensional, or too rich and salty. Where were the dishes that delicately balance sweet and tangy? Where were the dishes with a slow building fiery spice?

Our definition of normal has now changed. Sticky rice and skewers of grilled pork for breakfast? Ok! Side-saddling on the back of a scooter on the way to work? No problem. Sitting outside on a humid night with Thai and Western friends drinking whiskey and soda? Any time! We wouldn’t bat an eye at this now, but it was not that long ago that we would have never imagined doing these things.

We Love Thailand

Although we had a great time visiting friends and family in the US, we looked forward to going back to our home in Thailand. Living there for the past fifteen months has changed our perspective on life, and for that, we love it. There were certainly things we missed about the States, but there were many other things that confirmed our choice to move to Thailand was the right one. We are looking forward to another exciting year ahead of us!

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About 

Chris and Angela sold everything, paid off their debt, and ultimately figured a way out of the nine to five grind in the United States. Today they are living full time in Chiang Mai, Thailand, guiding and inspiring future expats towards amazing lives abroad! For more updates like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram. For more posts check out the archives.

  • smasonnc says:

    Great post. We’ve just arrived in Hong Kong and we hope to travel to Thailand soon. I know our friends don’t get it. It’s nice to read about expats loving’ life abroad. Thanks!

    August 22, 2014 at 8:46 PM
  • Asset-Grinder says:

    Thanks for the update. The food and bathroom I would really miss but i hear ya on tuning things out like peoples conversation you really dont care about. The good with the bad I guess!

    July 21, 2014 at 2:38 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      So true, the good with the bad. Too bad that if you immerse yourself in a new language, eventually you’ll once again be able to understand what the locals are talking about!

      July 21, 2014 at 2:45 PM
  • Jeremy says:

    I know that feeling all too well. I’m back in the States now, after 4 years abroad and 13 months in Asia. I had the same reactions as you and now, 6 months later, I can’t help but just feel bored. Like you said, traveling has a way of spoiling things.

    Nonetheless, it’s all a part of the journey!

    July 17, 2014 at 2:13 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Indeed, and it’s better you made that four year journey than never having done it. Let’s hope you find something that peaks your interest again soon.

      July 17, 2014 at 6:52 AM
  • John says:

    Very nice info and story here. The graph was surprising comparing the expenditures well done. Do you feel family and friends are becoming frustrated that you have no definitive answer on whether or not you’ll return? All the best.

    July 16, 2014 at 10:38 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      We wish we hadn’t spent so much!
      If our friends and family are frustrated, they aren’t showing it. Most are happy for us and support our decision. We try to make it resonate with the few that are on the fence and show why our decision is right for us, and that it’s ok if it’s not the right decision for them. Surrounding yourself with positive people makes all the difference in your life regarding big choices like this.

      July 17, 2014 at 7:23 AM
      • Johnny Milkovich says:

        I think your approach of making it resonate with friends on the fence is very considerate without making them feel left out or misinformed. Kudos to the both of you. My brother and I really enjoy your sight always good content.

        July 22, 2014 at 1:24 AM
  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) says:

    OMG! Love that Bourdain quote about food and how Asia changes your palate; we noticed it too after nearly 2 years traveling around Asia. We were SO excited to travel through Europe for five weeks, only once we got there, we found most of the meals were really bland and flavorless for us… We no longer crave the comfort foods that plagued our memories at the start of our trip—now the thought of a big plate of mac & cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches actually makes us feel a bit sick—and even here in Toronto where Asian food is abundant and generally considered good quality, we find it doesn’t hold a candle to the food we actually experienced over there. For sure the food aspect of being home has been one of the hardest transitions!

    July 16, 2014 at 1:09 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Cheese felt like a brick in our stomachs! We’re sure some people feel relieved to be back at eating their familiar foods and loving it. We guess our only regret was not going back to the Thai places we loved where we used to live and try them out… we remember them being amazing and a great representation of authentic Thai cuisine. Hopefully you’ll find a star place or two in Toronto that can really whip up a good rendition of the food you had in Asia. P.S. We love love love Anthony Bourdain!

      July 16, 2014 at 7:04 PM
  • theletsgoladies says:

    I’ve never lived in another country as long as you have (only half a year) but I comepletely relate with so much of what you’ve written here. I had to laugh when you wrote about feeling bombarded by English conversation when you came back to the US – I had forgotten about that sensation but, yes, it absolutely happens and it’s DISTRACTING!

    ~ Sara

    July 15, 2014 at 9:19 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Six months gives you plenty of time to adjust to a new cultural norm, and in your case, the fact that other countries seem a lot less crass in public!

      July 16, 2014 at 6:59 PM
  • Terry Vierra says:

    Based on all your posts, not just this one…, I think you’ve truly found your home in Thailand. You seem so satisfied in many ways despite the minimal hardships. Thailand is a moderate sized country and you could easily spend the rest of your lives exploring and enjoying new places and things.
    My wife and I can’t wait to move there and “come hell or high water” we will sometime in the latter part of next year! Visiting Thailand just isn’t enough only to go from enchantment to the humdrum of the USA pace. I’m glad you had a good US visit, but I’m glad you’re back in Thailand so I can read more new blog stories! Keep up the good work you two :)

    July 15, 2014 at 7:37 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      That is so exciting Terry! It sounds like you and your wife are in love with Thailand just as much as we are. After our first two week visit in 2012 it was so hard to go back to our normal routine in the US. For the next six months we kept our dream of moving to Thailand in the forefront of our thoughts. We wish you the very best in your transition. Stay motivated! :)

      July 15, 2014 at 10:15 AM
  • Christopher Foose says:

    I’m back in the States and totally heartbroken.

    July 15, 2014 at 6:34 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Sorry to hear that, Christopher. We hope you are able to make it to Thailand soon!

      July 15, 2014 at 10:11 AM
  • Graham Stenton says:

    Hi guys , I love reading your blogs and your responses. Sometimes I think im the only one who thinks that way , its great to know other people think the same. All though they say Australia is the lucky country its just so expensive and to many rules and regulations. After travelling to Thailand and Cambodia for the last 4 years I yearn to spend the rest of my days there. But my family having not been there do not understand . Looking at retiring at the end of the year and looking forward to the freedom that Asia has to offer. Keep up the excellent blogs . Graham

    July 15, 2014 at 6:19 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      More personal freedom is a very large part of why we chose to live in SE Asia. The frivolousness of the west it stifling to say the least.

      July 15, 2014 at 10:10 AM
  • cubiclethrowdown says:

    This is perfect – just like my trip home to Canada for three weeks last summer. After the first week, I had eaten everything I missed (SUSHI!! and steak) and seen all my friends and family, and was already to head back ‘home’.

    July 15, 2014 at 12:14 AM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Both of those cravings were identical to what Chris was looking forward to chowing down on!

      July 15, 2014 at 10:07 AM
  • Rhonda says:

    I can empathize completely with your feelings. Although we have not yet actually lived in a foreign culture long term (although Chiang Mai would be high on our list of places to try it), even just traveling long term has so completely changed us that even now, a few years back into our life in the US, we don’t feel like WE fit anymore. Even with good friends and family, a part of us is always wishing we were elsewhere and so much about the US is an irritant. Now, I do still thank the heavens everyday for a good shower and comfortable bed, but we realized we like being slightly off balance getting by in a different culture than our own. And yes, after time in Asia I’m sure sticker shock was very, very real! Glad you’ll be back in Chiang Mai for at least a year. From what we have noted, the people we love will NEVER understand because they haven’t done it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the documentary “A Map for Saturday” but I think it should be required viewing for the friends and familys of ex-pats and long term travelers to, perhaps, give them just a glimpse into the world outside their borders and maybe begin to understand what draws some of us away.

    July 14, 2014 at 10:53 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rhonda! We love “A Map for Saturday”. It was totally one of those things that really motivated us to take the leap. Travel definitely changed our perspectives on what was always normal and comfortable. Once you get out there into the rest of the world it becomes almost painful to imagine yourself settling back into your old routine back “home”. So much to see. So little time!

      July 15, 2014 at 10:20 AM
  • Brian Dennis says:

    I know exactly how you guys feel. The hectic and loud pace of American culture was familiar, but now more off-putting, when I first returned. It began as early as the flight home. The cordial and pleasant service by flight attendants on Asian flights was now replaced by cold and indifferent attendants on American Airlines. They weren’t that bad this time around, however, its just not the same treatment. I’m sure you know what I mean. You definitely learn to be more patient and let things go when living in Thailand, which is the opposite in the US. There are so many things, I miss about Chiang Mai and I sometimes wish I hadn’t returned to the US. I will plan better for my next move to Thailand. Thanks for a great post and the inspiration.

    July 14, 2014 at 10:45 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      We know exactly what you mean in regards to the airline staff. Korean Air was an amazing flying experience. The flight attendants were polite, even after 13 hours in the air. We took immediate notice of how cold the American Airlines flight attendants seemed to be. It was easy to see that they truly did not want to be there, but judging by how the many of the passengers were behaving we don’t know how long we would be able to fake a smile either.

      We’re glad to have been able to give you a little inspiration and wish you the very best in planning your return to Thailand! We joke that Chiang Mai has probably ruined any other place that we might have thought to settle down in one day :P

      July 14, 2014 at 11:01 PM
      • Brian Dennis says:

        Chiang Mai has definitely ruined me. I am staying with parents till I can get back on my feet, and they will order Chinese take out on the weekend, and I just shake my head. Its like eating cardboard with soy sauce on it. ok, I am exaggerating, but the food just ain’t the same. did I mention the cost…OMG! Guys, I hope to meet you both one day….its possible you will see me zipping past Tha Phae gate on my motorbike by January 2015. Peace :-D

        July 25, 2014 at 9:53 AM
        • Chris and Angela says:

          Hahah.. Chinese food is not Thai food! And even Thai food is $10-$15 a plate… yowzers! It was even hard for us to justify paying $8 for somtum when we buy it for a buck down the road. Bet you’re glad to be coming back next year!

          July 25, 2014 at 2:32 PM
  • Tonya says:

    Great article with so many statements that touch home for us. We have been international now for 15 years and people still ask if we are going to ‘come home’. But after being in the Middle East and in south east Asia, the thing that bothered us a lot was people’s shoes and feet. My friend put shoes on the dining table and it took all my will not to scream. Also, food portions at restaurants still baffle us. But we return each year to see family and now we are hoping our next stop will be Thailand…again!

    July 14, 2014 at 9:34 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      15 years and people still ask you? And the whole shoe thing on the table…our eyes would have bulged out of their sockets! When we took our shoes off before entering people’s houses, they sometimes would say “Oh, you can leave them on, you’re not in Thailand anymore.” But it felt so wrong! It’s great to hear you’ll be returning to Thailand soon :)

      July 14, 2014 at 10:13 PM
  • Robert Spearman says:

    As always a great post! I guess, other than my family, I missed the western food the most. When folks ask me when am I really coming back my answer is always a quick and resounding “NEVER”.

    July 14, 2014 at 8:19 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      We got our fill of our favorites for sure. Now that we’re back, We have new enthusiasm for cooking our favorite dishes from the States. We see you do the same. Yum yum!

      July 14, 2014 at 9:56 PM
  • Vince says:

    Reverse culture shock is interesting to say the least. We experienced a very mild form of it after our one month visit to Thailand back in January. When we returned to the US we were amused (appalled) at the loudness of Americans in public. Have you noticed any “returning to Thailand” culture shock since you’ve come back here? Good to see you back and hope to see you soon.

    July 14, 2014 at 7:29 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      Vince, we were blown away by how abrasive many of the people were back in the US. Police officers, cashiers, and random people in public had no issue with cussing and treating those within earshot of them with complete lack of respect. We are so used to smiling at everyone here and Thailand, but on a few occasions we actually had people in the US look at us like we were aliens if we did something a simple as smile and politely say “excuse me” while passing them in an aisle at the grocery store. Fear rules in the States.

      We’re happy to report that we have had no culture shock since being back in Chiang Mai…actually we have experienced nothing but “Culture Bliss”. We hope you and Linda are doing great!

      July 14, 2014 at 10:42 PM
      • Brian Dennis says:

        Wish I could like these comments too. Chris and Angela, you have a great following and I am realizing now how important it is to connect with like-minded people so I don’t get discouraged and sometimes having that feeling of being alienated by old friends. Thanks again!
        Brian@one-away.com

        July 25, 2014 at 10:09 AM
  • Diana Edelman says:

    The! Western! Food!! And then, the western prices, which are enough to make me run back to Thailand and eat noodle soup forever!

    July 14, 2014 at 7:27 PM
    • Chris and Angela says:

      We couldn’t wait to have our 20 baht smoothies and 40 baht dinners! The prices were painful!

      July 14, 2014 at 9:46 PM

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