This is part twelve in my Expat Interview Series, where I interview interesting expats around the world. I’m hoping this series of posts will provide some insight into what it is like to live overseas, and might even encourage a few people to pack their bags and make the move!
Meet Sonal Paladini, a travel blogger and digital nomad from India, who left behind a stable career and life in New Delhi to see the world. Sonal met her soul mate, Sandro, at a music festival in Thailand and they eventually got married and now travel the world together. They have spent the last year on the road, visiting many new countries and they are now living as expats in Germany for a year.
What made you move abroad in the first place?
I had a stable life in Delhi and had an amazing corporate job. I had everything I ever wanted, except vacation time that was never longer than two weeks at a stretch.
Back in 2013, I went for a backpacking trip to South East Asia. During that trip, I met many people who were long-term travelers (6 months or more) or were just living in SE Asia as expats. I had never considered the possibility of me doing that before I met them.
I returned home after 2 weeks and realized I wanted more. I went back to Thailand the next month to find out about teaching English there. While there, I realized that teaching English was not for me so I started reading up about Digital Nomadism. I met Sandro in Thailand and we hit it off right away. He also wanted to travel longer and live abroad.
We got married the year after and started planning for spending our life on the road. We both had full-time jobs in New Delhi and we saved a lot. But every month we took time off work to travel in India and Asia.
A year after our marriage, we both quit our jobs and left Delhi. We spent one year on the road but just moved to his hometown in Germany a month back. By now, I have established myself as a professional blogger and digital nomad, so I can make money anywhere. We’re planning on living here for a year and then move to our next destination (perhaps Norway).
How long have you been living abroad?
I left my hometown “officially” in June 2016 and I have lived in many places since then. It has been exactly a year that I have been living abroad. If you talk about Germany specifically, I have been living here for a month now. I also lived here for a month last summer so it’s not a new place for me.
What is the most difficult thing about living abroad?
The most difficult thing is being away from family and close friends. I hate being away from home on special occasions such as my family members’ birthdays, Diwali, etc.
I really miss the madness and chaos of living in India. I obviously miss real Indian food, especially roti. I really miss Indian beauty salons because they are affordable. Oh, and I also miss Indian bum guns in toilets. Seriously, why don’t they have them in Europe? (aargh)
How did you make friends when living abroad?
It was very easy for me because I’m an extrovert. Moreover, the fact that my husband has lived here for many years helps and he has many friends.
What do you love the most about being an expat?
I feel I’m lucky that I am getting to experience life outside of my hometown. I love learning about cultures so every day is special.
I also love seeing people’s reactions when I tell them I’m from India. They usually have an image in their minds, which is so different than reality so I love their look of disbelief.
Has anything funny happened to you due to cultural differences?
It’s not because of any cultural differences but a lot of funny things have happened to me when I try to match my German friends’ alcohol tolerance levels. Maybe it’s because it’s a beer country but Germans REALLY know how to drink.
Last year, I was invited to my husband’s uncle’s place for a barbecue. It’s a very “German” thing to sit outside in the garden in summers and drink endless beer and eat meat. My Indian stomach was not prepared to eat and drink the way Germans do and I ended up puking in that same garden. Needless to say, I was embarrassed for a long time. Thank God they still love me!
How do you cope when things are going badly?
It really depends on my mood. At times I can be quite a sissy and cry my eyes out. But usually, I think I just shrug, sleep over it and think of a solution.
Do you think you travel a lot more now because you live overseas?
I travel a lot more now, not because I’m overseas but because I’m now location independent. If I was back in New Delhi and had the same job, I would have traveled only 3 – 4 times a year.
What are your future plans? Travel plans?
In the immediate future, I’m planning on visiting a few places in Germany because there’s so much to see here. I’m visiting Hamburg in two weeks, most likely either Belgium or Holland the next month and definitely Italy in September. We’re also planning on spending a few months (again) in Goa, India but not sure when.
If you could give one piece of advice about moving abroad, what would it be?
You need to have an open mind. No, I’m not only talking about just accepting all the differences but also embracing them with open arms. Your brain may have been conditioned to see things a certain way, which is normal but you need to “empty your cup”. It is important to understand the culture, rules and the way of life in your new place of residence to be happier.