The unglamorous life of an Expat Blogger

Whenever people hear that I have a blog (a piece of information usually revealed by someone in my company and not myself), it’s almost always followed by the remark:

“Oh! How glamorous!

I never how to respond to that because of two reasons:

-Being a blogger can seem quite glamorous. Lifestyle, fashion and beauty bloggers are the popular kids in the blogosphere. They look fabulous in all their photos with their carefully curated flatlays, envy inducing wardrobes and let me not get started about their flawless make up and hairstyles (Sometimes I want to reach through the screen and touch their skin. I understand why men become creepy stalkers when I see their pictures). They have fan pages dedicated to themselves and there’s the whole business of parties and free products. I see you ladies and I admire you!

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Messy hair, no eyeliner and panda earrings- thats me!

-But the reason I can’t justify that remark or never know how to respond to it because well… being an expat blogger can be distinctly dull.

But why you may ask? Aren’t you on an extended holiday? You’re off seeing the world- that’s thrilling! Well… not quite.

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Here are 5 reasons why I don’t consider the kind of blogging I do to be particularly glamorous:

1. We live here… that comes with responsibilities

When I travel, my priority is to have a great time exploring a new place. Seeing the sights, sampling new cuisine, photographing the landscapes… sigh. I really do love to travel. HOWEVER- when I’m an expat, my priority is to SURVIVE with no minimal problems. That means I’m far less concerned about living it up and am more concerned with paying my bills, making sure I have petrol in my car and buying groceries- just like you! Then why are you blogging, you may ask? Well, judging from the heaps of emails and comments I get here on the blog about life in the Middle East (especially from ladies), it seems that people want to know about the mundane details of living in a foreign land! As for that extended holiday… I don’t know anyone who would call going to work everyday, furnishing an apartment and sorting out visa paperwork as a ‘holiday’ but thats just me.

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But just sometimes I mange to escape the responsibilities and run off to a camel farm!

2. We don’t always look good and we don’t party on a regular basis

Where did this misconception come from that we bloggers are all out there sending our days standing in front of cute walls and at night, doing the blow-a-kiss-over-your-shoulder pose at a fancy parties. I WISH I had the time and I also wish I had more cute dresses to wear to parties. But seriously though. There’s a reason my face is never really in the pictures on my blog or on my Instagram. I just can’t be bothered to do the whole make up and hair business. Give me a camera with a sunrise and I will flourish. Give me a hair iron & a contour kit and… I will be confused.

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Case in point… its 6am in this pic and there is a reason my hair is out of control & you can’t see my face!

I cannot express my admiration for bloggers who are out there reviewing beauty products while I am just sitting around waiting for those blog posts so I don’t waste my time and effort on useless products!

3. We are on a never-ending revolving emotional rollercoaster

So one of the drawbacks of being an expat, more especially an expat blogger, is that you are constantly stuck between two (or more) worlds and consequently, always climbing a mountain of guilt as a result. And you cannot always blog about it! Let me explain further: at the beginning of this year, my mum (Mummy Panda I guess we could say) had a terrible accident and couldn’t walk for most of the year. All of this happened while I was traveling in Sri Lanka. There was nothing I could do or offer and I was isolated from sharing in the family pain, being the only one living in the Northern Hemisphere. Although tragedies like this don’t happen often (Mummy Panda is mobile again after months of bedrest and physiotherapy) but you do frequently feel guilty about living your life away from your loved ones.

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Can you tell that I am suffering through a family tragedy in this pic snapped in Sri Lanka?

Even when you do return home it isn’t the sweet reunion you anticipate it to be- you feel that your old friends have moved on without you or you feel you can no longer fully relate to family because your life experiences have been so different. Blogging about these sort of things is difficult because you feel you may hurt your family/friends or just seem whiny because after all- you CHOSE to leave,

We miss birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and so many monumental milestones in the lives of our loved ones… There is nothing cool about this aspect of expat life believe me!

4. We actually have very little tangible talents

So as I mentioned, most of us expat bloggers can’t do a perfect winged eyeliner or stay up past midnight (guilty!). Photography is just our hobby to supplement our the tales of our life here and the stuff we write about is more a personal account of our lives rather than any sparkling political commentary. So no- we don’t seem to have any tangible talents. But let me tell you what we do have- undefinable superpowers. We can have an entire conversation using body language and hand gestures in order to achieve what we want with people who don’t understand us. We can field through stacks of bureaucratic paperwork- in a language we can’t even read- in order to live legally. We can cry our way into countries, flirt with police officers in basic Arabic, eat whatever is put in front of us in order to respect local culture and drive on all sorts of terrain in foreign lands. Or maybe I am the only one who does such things?!

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Not hard to deny food when it looks like this!

When you say to me, “I could never do what you do!”, its probably true. You couldn’t do these crazy things in a familiar place where you might be concerned about how you would be perceived. At home, you often feel under pressure of social conventions but once you are out there on your own, you realize you can do whatever you want. But in a new place where no one knows you or would report back to your parents… you embrace the unhinged nature of being an expat and let the crazy spew forth both in real life life and later, on to your blog!

5. We have nowhere to run home to

Well guys this is it. I am not writing about my kayaking experience in Abu Dhabi once I am safely in my home country, surrounded by people I love. I live here in Abu Dhabi, by myself, and this is my home for now. Traveling is a scary experience of course but let me tell you something- you always have that, “Soon I will be out of here mindset”. Its only when the dust has settled that reality kicks in and expat life proves this to you very quickly. The very things you find funny or quirky as you travel through a country as a tourist can just get plain frustrating when you have to live with them every day. A language barrier, rude shop assistants, bad drivers, people cutting in line, lack of personal space, attitudes towards gender, sexuality or religion can all become big issues when you’re living in a foreign land for a prolonged period of time. Sometimes it eats you away inside because you want to blog about it all but the truth is that you know these frustrations are just personal gripes and since you made the decision to move here, you have to suck it up and deal! I also feel that if a country is generous to allow me to work and live there, I have to be just as accepting of their quirks and idiosyncrasies as they clearly tolerate mine!

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There is nowhere to slide to except the bottom of the dune… and then you have to climb back up again!

It is also worth me mentioning that living in the Middle East means there are lots of things I CAN’T blog about while I live in a particular country because this is the price I pay for enjoying the life I live here. Remember how I laid it all bare when I left Kuwait?  I couldn’t be that honest while I lived there. This is one of the drawbacks of being an expat blogger depending on where you live.

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The truth is once you realise that this is “home” and that there is nowhere to run, the smoother your whole living abroad experience will be!

To be honest…

Expat life isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone. But even with all of these challenges, I wouldn’t change my expat experience for anything. For me, the benefits far outweigh the challenges and even on days when expat life sucks, I know it’s making me a stronger, more flexible person. Every day I learn something new as I’m getting familiar with my environment no matter which country I live in– sometimes it makes me happy, sometimes desperate and sometimes surprised but I do not get tired of it!

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As unglamorous as it may be, I believe being an expat blogging is one of the best ways to educate people about new places from the perspective of someone who is seeing their environment through fresh and untainted eyes. Although it isn’t always one big adventure, it does have moments that take your breath away and make you feel like you’re on an episode of Sex & the City!

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Standing on the terrace of the world’s most expensive hotel! Wait, what?!

What are some of the misconceptions you have/have heard about expat bloggers? Do let me know in the comments below!

Peace out pandas car

27 thoughts on “The unglamorous life of an Expat Blogger

  1. “When are you going to come back home to real life?” was possibly the most frustrating question I got while living abroad. Trying to get people to understand that living abroad isn’t an extended vacation, but a life choice, was very difficult to articulate to some people. In fact, most of the time, attending to responsibilities was a harder task while abroad because of the language barrier, cultural differences, and a lack of familiarity with the societal conventions of my adopted country. You learn as you go, sometimes you fake it ‘till you make it, and that is often times easier said than done. I do miss the expat life. In the end, it didn’t work out for me to stay as long as I wanted to at the time, but I do miss the freedom of being away from all the societal conventions and expectations of my home country. There is nothing quite like the beauty and frustration of immersing oneself in a new country and culture and the privilege of calling that place home.

    Something that frustrated me while living abroad is how most expat blogs I read focused on the positive aspects of life abroad. I love your blog, because it’s real and honest. Life goes on wherever you are in the world, and that includes the good and the bad. This post is spot on. Thanks for sharing, Panda!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This comment blew me away. You are SO right about getting people to understand that it isn’t an extended holiday abroad. Expat life isn’t a walk in the park, or a day at the beach to be more apt. For the first few months, your life is filled with a mix of emotions that all like to argue with each other in your head. The wrestling match that anxiety, fear of failure, and “don’t worry, I got this” have got going on in my head is not as entertaining as the expression on my face or the photos on my Facebook may suggest. Appearances are very deceptive and this is true for anyone. Of course it does have its benefits, as you pointed out, but its also “real life”!

      I always LOVE your comments on my blog and have come to really value your feedback so thank you once again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s wonderful to hear, Panda! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoy reading my comments as much as I enjoy writnig them.

        Yes, living abroad certainly does have its benefits, just as living in your home country does. Like you don’t have to plan across times zones to talk to family and friends, and comfort foods and restaurants that are particular to your country are easy to come by. 🙂 Each lifestyles has its pros and cons and I really wish more people would understand that.

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    1. I really like the way you summarized the experience – it’s exactly how I feel about being an expat, traveler/ tourist or immigrant almost everywhere in the world yet I don’t always or exactly feel at home when I’m “home” either…

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    2. Its SOOO difficult to make a home away from home and people who have never done it cannot possibly understand. Nobody sees the ugly side, nor do I want to rant on about how the immigration officer didn’t sign my form, or how the lady at the medical exam was a complete cow, or how I got fined for something I still don’t fully understand. Yet, I chose this life — the good and the bad of it — and the onus is on me and only me to make things happen whether people understand or not! Thanks for your comment!

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  2. Hmmm, this one got me thinking! I was born and brought up in Dubs and then moved to London for a few years after I got married and now back here again. I guess that still makes me an expat as am not originally from here. Still kinda feels like home though.

    Loved your pics in this post. Esp the one with the camels.

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  3. Awesome post Panda-chan!

    I identify with almost all of this, especially the part about missing important moments with your family. 😦 That is one really rubbish thing about living abroad.

    I have also found that it is totally different to live abroad in another English speaking country, rather than a country where I am obviously a foreigner. I have had totally different experiences here in Canada compared to living in Japan.

    I only really blog about positive things, but it is mainly because life here has been so good to us so far. I might start moaning about the rain later this winter!!

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    1. Oh my goodness you are SO right. My experience in South Korea (where English isn’t widely spoken) is totally different from my experience here in Abu Dhabi where there are more English than Arabic speakers! I never thought about that before you brought it up. Hey if you’re having a blast then why not blog about that instead of looking for problems?! No one is judging! I must say that living in the Middle East has made me forget what winter is 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post (as usual :)). The first three points especially are so true and very relatable.

    I’m just starting out on the blogging side, but I’ve been sharing posts with long captions a la blogger on Instagram for a while and got a couple of “you’re so lucky!” “can we trade lives?” “i’m living vicariously through you!” comments that made me a bit uncomfortable… Like you said, life abroad and travel – in general but especially frequent travel – isn’t all enjoyable and glamorous. People don’t necessarily want to know that, but they should be aware of that.

    Another thing is that we expats who are travel and photography enthusiasts that don’t mind writing about our foodie habits/ cravings, lifestyle, relationships, etc. are in a niche of our own that isn’t always well understood, but is quite different from the regular travel blogger, lifestyle blogger etc. We may never master how to share content in the most visually appealing way on blogs or social media, but our experience is still valuable and our voices should still be heard/ listened to.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This comment is everything!! I understand the sentiment of ‘you’re so lucky’, but no, I am not lucky and I actually (maybe wrongly, I don’t know) take a degree of personal offense when someone says this to me. I understand that you mean absolutely nothing bad by making such a statement, but please understand that it tends to “translate” badly in the process of leaving your mouth and entering my ears. I know in my case that I worked harder cutting through red tape and jumping through hoops than I ever thought possible. Expats aren’t lucky; the determination to not stay in one place just crushes the fear and we go for what we want, and where we want, in spite of the many possible hurdles. I know you understand what I mean!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “Since you made the decision to move here, you have to suck it up and deal!” I absolutely love that quote! I always feel so whiny and negative whenever I feel crappy or sad about missing my family or always being the ‘different’ one in the crowd. It’s so easy to push your feelings away and tell yourself it was your choice to move and why are you so ungrateful! I agree that being an expat allows you to learnt so much about yourself, I went backpacking for years and never learnt as much about who I am as I have in the last 10 months of living abroad. It’s really eye-opening. And it is SO important that all expats write about their experiences and show each other we are not alone in suffering behind closed doors !!! Thanks for the post, I loved it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOVING your comment! Of course, life abroad is amazing at times, but it’s also real life, and as expats we leave our network of friends and family and familiarity when we move abroad so we have to devise new ways to cope with the craziness. For me that means altering my mindset and just ACCEPTING the things I can’t change! Yes I have traveled a lot but just like you, living abroad has taught me the most about myself 🙂

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  6. You hit the nail on the head! So many people think this life is so easy and like I always say “ it’s not all sun sand and selfies” there is a reality to this life and it’s far from easy. Yes it allows us a lifestyle or to experience things we wouldn’t normally but it is a life not a holiday, which means just like everyone it can be tough and in someways a little tougher than the “norm”. All I know is that us expat bloggers are giving insights into this life that may not previously exist and some of us, like you, keep it real

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    1. EXACTLY! Moving to a new country doesn’t mean our problems have melted away. For some people, worries can become bigger – a high cost of living, job or visas security concerns, discrimination – to name but a few.
      But as you said as expats we also have financial opportunities perhaps our peers don’t have, and it’s up to us to embrace them to offset some of the concerns that would otherwise keep us from enjoying our lifestyle. I try my best to be honest! P.S. Hoping to run into you at Ed Sheeran soon!!

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  7. Hi!! As usual, you hit the nail on the head and made me LOL several times along the way. Your thoughts about missing out on family moments in particular resonated with me. I never want to talk to my family when I feel sad about being away—I almost feel like it’s asking them to make me feel better about my decision. It’s a moment where I, yep, have to suck it up and remember all the good stuff about my life. Expat friends are perfect at times like these!

    The other thing I was thinking of is all the “you’re so lucky” comments. I wish people would put their comments through the “engagement test.” Would you say “Awwww, wish it was me!” to your friend who just got engaged or announced a pregnancy? Living/working abroad is a choice, just like getting married and having kids are choices. Celebrate my choices, don’t make me feel bad. I have enough guilt on my own (see above), haha!

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