I consider myself a citizen of the world. Born in the Netherlands, raised in East Africa, middle school in Eastern Europe, high school in Vermont, university in New York and post university studies traveling the globe. Hence, I am not exactly sure where to call home.


So, I make it easy for myself and say the world is my home. Or I say I am a geographic gypsy. Working as a Trek Travel guide, I find myself hopping from country to country with greater frequency than ever before. I have a strong desire to travel and eagerly look for any opportunity to adventure. I soon head back to another season with Trek Travel and look forward to calling Provence home…at least for a few months.

I have often been asked, “What is it like to spend most of your life abroad?” It’s difficult to find a response that fully answers the question. Yet one thing I can say for sure is that I am blessed to have had the opportunity. Recently, I have thought about a few of the lessons I have learned while living abroad. There are many, and many more will be learned over the years.

Top 5 Lessons From Living Abroad:

1. Make an effort to learn to speak the local language, even if it is only a few words. Whether it is a “Bonjour” in French, a “Habari gani?” in Kenyan or a “ce mai faci” in Romanian, try to pick up the language of the country you are visiting or living in. Languages may or may not be your forte, yet any attempt to speak the local language shows that you are trying to assimilate and care to connect with the locals. The same applies to customs, holidays and traditions. Learn a country’s customs, ways of greetings and public holidays. Know that in Paris you kiss twice, while in the Netherlands you kiss thrice when greeting. Become aware of etiquette in a country, such as taking off your shoes before entering an Egyptian home and handing a gift with your right hand.

Trek Travel cycling guide Tara Hetz in Provence, France

2. Greet and become friends with the common people. Learn about each and every person’s story. Get to know the taxi driver who is taking you from the airport to the hotel, ask about his/her family, and you may be invited to paella at their home. Chat with the bartender while ordering your drink and you will get recommendations for the best restaurants in town. Ask the farmer how the season is going and you may end up with a basket full of fresh vegetables. Joke around with the local bus driver in a busy city and you may be dropped off at your doorstep. Befriend the airline steward and you may get treated with extra care. Go out of your way to get to know all the staff at your hotel and your stay is guaranteed to run smoothly.

Top 5 tips for living abroad from Trek Travel cycling guide Tara Hetz

3. Carry extra underwear, socks, toothbrush, deodorant and a change of clothes in your carry-on. Throw in some playing cards and a journal. Your checked luggage may not show up for days and a fresh pair of underwear makes all the difference.

Trek Travel guide Tara Hetz in Provence, France

4. We are truly all the same. We may look different, speak different languages, possess different beliefs, eat different foods and live in different homes, but we are all basically the same. Humans around the planet have very similar goals, ambitions, dreams and wants. An American’s wants and desires are not unlike those of a Maasai mama’s in Tanzania, even though the two live in entirely different environments and follow different customs. Remember that we are alike, desiring and striving for comparable dreams and goals.


5. Take the path less traveled and take the time to smell roses. While living in a foreign country avoid the tourist traps and find the places less traveled. Ask the locals for recommendations and don’t always follow advice found on the internet. Make sure to take your time and use all your senses to embrace a new place, new experience and new interaction. How did you feel? What did you smell? What did you hear? Did you taste anything? See anything new? We often rush to see and do as much as possible in a day while traveling. You may experience more of a country by just sitting and visiting with a kid in the street or sipping coffee at the local café.

Trek Travel guide Tara Hetz on the top five tips for living abraod

Written by Trek Travel guide Tara Hetz. Meet her in Provence to learn more about life as a geographic gypsy.