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6 Great Skills to Overcome Obstacles While Living Abroad

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Jeanne Smith
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My name is Jeanne, and over the last 20 years, I have traveled by land and air, and worked on five continents, in 15 countries and not once had to ‘return home’.  Now, together with my husband, we call the world our home and our sailboat, our little island.  I have learnt a few personal skills that have allowed me to not only survive the pitfalls and weather the obstacles that everyone encounters on their journeys, but to thrive and embrace all the changes and unexpected detours along the road.

Each skill was learnt through an experience that changed my life and made me happier and more comfortable not only in what I do, but who I am. 

For those who are already on the road or just starting out, the most important skill I learnt was the art of positivity.  What you give out, will come back to you, so having a positive frame of mine will benefit you tenfold.

Here are the 7 skills you need to overcome obstacles while living abroad.

Skill #1: Be Positive

a laughing woman sitting on the side of a dingy at sea in Panama
Enjoying the moment in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Seeing the bright side of a negative event can be a massive challenge. Viewing the hardships that we encounter as opportunities is not just a state of mind, but a skill that can be learnt. 

When things go bad, it can take the wind out of your sails and will give you a reason to pause.

Seeing obstacles or uncomfortable events as a way to learn and reinvent yourself, will provide you with an invaluable skill which is vital for the continuation of your journey. It’s only when we are outside of our comfort zone that we really grow and learn and take note of the people and things around us. 


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Skill #2:  Be Versatile

A South African woman looking over as a Cuban makes a cigar
Learning how to make cigars in Cuba

Living in an unfamiliar place is exciting. There is so much to see and do and being open and accepting to information, help, support and advice will guide you down different paths to experiences, people and places you would never have gone otherwise.

It’s important to plan and remain focused but it’s also important to expect your plans to change. Being versatile and able to adjust to your ever changing environment will make your entire travel experience so much more rewarding. 

16 years ago, while living in Thailand, we encountered problems with our business as the market we were in began to change, but instead of going home, we decided to help a local family who ran the guesthouse we were staying at to get set up with an internet café so we could get online and find something new. It didn’t cost us much to buy and set up the system for them and it ended up landing us a wonderful job running an Eco Resort on the Little Corn Islands in Nicaragua.

The local family had ended up having more guests staying with them and could take bookings because of their new connectivity and to this day we are still in close contact with them and love the strong bond of friendship that that single act created.

Which leads me to skill #3…

Skill #3: Be Helpful

 A woman on a boat with Panamanian captains on the Pacific Coast
Taking in the Pacific Coast of Panama

Very often when things become difficult we turn inward and ask ourselves “why did this happen to me” when the question should be “what can I do now to help others who are also struggling?” 

Hardships shared are hardships halved! 

10 years ago, our then online business collapsed as a result of a massive change to Google’s algorithm. Instead of returning home, we pivoted to look for ways to help others and landed a house sit for a couple on a remote island. That started a 3 year journey of various house sits off grid on secluded islands and jungle locations in Panama. With little to no expenses, we were able to be more creative, to explore more options and to take the time to learn new skills.

Our lives became simple and we found incredible joy in living in the moment and being able to feed our creative beings. 


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Skill #4: Be Creative

Enjoying a sailing trip on Isla Escudo

Being creative not only feeds the mind but also the soul. It is, for so many, a means of meditation and the amazing feeling of creating something out of a thought, a passion or a desire is intrinsic to our discovery of all the possibilities of our life.

I have always had a wild imagination and turned that into animation skills that have become a business allowing me to continue to work and earn for the last 10 years. Turning a passion into an income makes work easy and very rewarding.

Not every creative endeavor needs to become an income earner, but the joy of ‘being in the flow’ when you are in a creative mode is priceless.  

Over the years, I have found joy in a large number of creative ventures and recently started creating jewelry from shells and resin. With no intention to make it an earner, that just seems to happen when you create things that people love and can see the love you put into them. I have recently sold a number of my creations and am so thrilled to see them worn by those who love them. 

Skill #5: Be Compassionate

A South African woman hugging a Cuban man on Castro's death in Havana
On the streets of Havana during Castro's death

Traveling and living abroad is a true privilege and often we forget the plight of others while we think we are living as our ‘best selves’.

Turning our focus away from ourselves and towards those around us while really listening to the needs of the communities we visit has had the greatest impact on our travels and our own personal development. 

When we arrive at a place, it’s very easy to think that the problems the local people experience can be solved by our ideas. It can be truly humbling to know that sometimes we, as travelers, are not helping, but are sometimes a big part of the problems they face. We all want to be the heroes and save everyone from their hardships, but often our limited knowledge of their circumstances make us the least heroic people. 

The art of listening and the ability to have compassion and empathy for those who are struggling around us is sometimes the first step to the solution. Cultures are different and the ability to really listen and reach out with support and understanding will change not only your path, but the person you are. 

Having compassion for a friend in need turned our planned trip back to Asia into a long term adventure back in Panama. Having the freedom to drop everything when someone calls for help is a privilege too and our ability to facilitate and help others when they need it most have created opportunities we would never have thought of. 


Skill #6: Be Grateful

the side of a sailboat at sunset at sea
Gionconda, our beautiful sailboat and home

My final skill is about living with Gratitude. We can forget how lucky we are! Whether it’s opportunities that I created or those that just appeared to me during my travels, I am grateful for each one. 

Each day I practice the skill of being grateful. Taking the time each day to remember what makes you so lucky begins to help you focus on the positive which brings you full circle back to that first skill. Acknowledging just 5 things that you are grateful for each day will make you notice so many more.

Today I may be grateful for my wonderful husband – who is always there to support me, my amazing sailboat – that now allows the opportunity to move when and where I want with my home comforts, my jewelry making and animation that feeds my soul, my travel promotion business that affords me the freedom to dream big, feel financially secure and guide others, and my body – which is healthy and strong and for which I am eternally grateful.

For the next 20 years we plan to sail the seas and see the world from the water. The world is constantly changing and in order to take full advantage of what it has to offer, we can learn all the skills we need to become the person we really want to be.

If you can live by the rule of giving more than you take, you will be amazed at how much more you receive. 

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xx,
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