Wherever you may be reading from I hope you are making the most of your life and keeping as upbeat as possible. Below I share about my journey from working in New York to finding my way back home to Wales.
I’ve been asked some downright bizarre questions since I arrived back, with some people openly disbelieving/ disapproving as to why I would want to return back to my roots. I’ve said this all along for as many years as I can remember and I’ll say it again here now, loud n’ clear in black & white:
I left a very happy life in Wales when I first went away, age 19 … I only ever wanted to move away to work hard, kick ass in my career, have ALL THE FUN and ultimately explore our world. When I ‘went solo traveling’ I planned just 1 year away. It turned into 8 and more countries than I can remember right now but I think it’s 24 at this point. What a ride it’s been!!!
Let’s get into it: I recently arrived back home after traveling and working away since 2014. 8 years down the track I finally realised my ~final destination~ was not London, Australia or New York. It was where it all began, in rugged West Wales.
When I went to New York (with work) at the end of 2021, I believed I was going there to ‘fully move’. I gave away lots of my belongings and stacks of clothes that I couldn’t see on me in Manhattan. I also sold my car.
I successfully ”down-packed” my entire life into five suitcases. Two came with me, three were going to follow me out once I was ‘settled in my own place’. Can you imagine packing your whole 36 years on the planet into five bags?
Can you imagine the feelings I felt as I actioned every step of this monumental journey, all the while mentally prepping for my little Welsh feet touching-down in the world’s most famous city.
New York is without a shadow of a doubt; one of the most UH-MAZINGGGG places us humans will ever have the privilege to know. You always wanted to be a movie star? Great stuff – because now you are! Welcome to your new life. You’re officially born (again) in the USA!
After my first weekend a red-headed guy said to me (in a coffee shop line, as I waited on my Monday morning cappuccino) ”You’re in New York! You made it!!”. That’s the mentality there. Because quite frankly if you ever step foot in Manhattan to work or live (not just holiday), you certainly had made it somehow.
Walking down Fifth Avenue at sunrise, with said coffee in hand was a highlight of many days for me. Hitting Central Park and feeling like my eyes were on storks was also a regular ‘pinch-me!’ moment of my colourful time there.
New York was EVERYTHING. Everything I hoped it would be and more. I often found myself crying tears of overwhelm and pure joy. When you looked at the plus-side of my time in the Big Apple, there were so many to add to that list. It was the little things that I hope will stay embedded into my memory for the rest of my life. Sitting at the dog park on Madison Square, setting eyes on the priceless goodies in Saks, getting buzzed in through the doors of fur salons in Chelsea, sharing a laugh with my work-friend at a celebrity-fave restaurant in Soho, the police letting me be front-row for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, exploring the MET, seeing Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night in real life. My ‘I can’t believe I am living this!’ list is incredibly endless!
On the realistic side of my life there; New York is in my honest opinion ‘Brutal and beautiful’. The fact that you never get a moment of down time, physically or mentally. You never switch off. Sure you sleep at night but the hustle-culture keeps spinning through your veins 24/7. I have always lived my life at 110% go, go, go speed but even I was shocked at how New York made me feel. It was so much to take in, to absorb in your ears, mind, eyes, heart and soul. I was simply one little person blazing her own way amidst 19 million people.
I had only been to New York once before moving there. That was back in 2017 on a 10-day holiday. At that time I had flown in from Sydney with my savings burning a hole in my back-pocket. I stayed with two friends who very kindly put me up that whole time. Looking back now, I understand how much effort it would have been to have me stay and take care of me; all the while juggling their own NYC lives to stay on top of. They showed me the best bits of the city and it was all so surreal! I lived that ~movie star life~ for 10 days then hopped back on my flight to Sydney, to keep living my Aussie dreams down under in Bondi.
This time – the ‘reality’ of New York hit me like a cricket bat after the first few weeks. When I started to look at apartments I quickly found out I would need to prove I had 40 x the rent available (and we are talking apartments costing around $3,000 for a shoebox, realistically that covers just a room in a share). That works out something like having $120,000 a month in your account to cover said $3,000 rent for a teeny corner of the city you would call your home … The maths on that is alotta lotta money.
It was also the fact that you couldn’t do it yourself – you needed someone to back you on the fact you had the money AND they needed to be American … who did I have to ask for this? No one. Of course – if there’s a will, there’s a way and you can always find a way to make something work but on hearing these figures I was stumped. I couldn’t see a way over or through that hurdle.
Another huge reality-check moment was understanding how the health system works there. I’ll never forget when a girl from work said ”If my friends need to get to the hospital in an emergency they don’t call the Ambulance – they get an Uber!’‘ that hit home with another !uh-oh! moment. Someone banded around figures of it costing something like $35,000 a year just to be covered.
I don’t know the in’s & out’s of the health care in the USA but from what I could gather – if you didn’t have full health care that you forked out $$$$’s for (or a job that covered this for you), you could end up in deep water very, very quickly. We are only human after all – we are bound to get poorly and potentially have random accidents where we need support at one time or another in our lives. It’s human nature.
The figures mentioned ref housing and healthcare are what I heard on the grapevine – obvs I can’t confirm ‘facts’ as I did not get to the stage of fully investigating my own options. One thing is for sure: No one said it was an easy process – even if your job was backing you, upping sticks to New York, New York would always be extremely challenging. The USA is known for having one of the strictest visa-walls in the world. To get a visa is the first huge hurdle to overcome, then onto housing, then healthcare and everything else that needs to be taken care of when we settle into a new country.
New York, you ferocious wonder – I’ll never forget my time there or the life lessons I learned both in work and away from my desk, pounding the streets in my own time. I walked roughly 20,000 steps most days. It was the most eye-opening, scary and jaw-dropping time of my life and while it didn’t last forever, I’ll always be grateful for Lara Lain’s two months living & working in New York.
Deciding to come back home to my family was certainly one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made in my life! I respectfully mean it when I say ”only people who have lived away for a long time will understand me on this”.
I’m 36 now – being away since 19 means I’ve been absent from home pretty much half of my whole life and it’s fair to say ‘all of’ my adult life. Coming home and realising it was the right thing to do didn’t come to me immediately, it took a few weeks of assessing what I wanted out of my future. At the end of the day, after every place I have explored, lived, loved and got through challenges in – I came to the conclusion that I was ready to spend more time with my family and my handful of friends.
Everything for me, over the last 8 years has been a rollercoaster of unforgettable places and so many people I have really connected with, loved and shared special bonds with. When I left Australia during Covid in May 2020 that was one of the craziest ordeals of my life. The flight home was full of people who were scared senseless about what was happening to the world. One minute we were living in Aus, the next we were on our way out of the country we loved. Even if you chose to go (like I did), it was still the oddest way to leave. It was so much for people to process, as they went through the strict, red-tape steps to get out safely.
I left a lot of friends behind in Australia and said ‘goodbye’ to just a few. I only told my housemates and three other friends that I had been spending time doing ‘lockdown walks’ with. I had lots of close connections in Bondi, across Sydney and wider Australia but I couldn’t deal with all the long goodbyes. I had to leave in my own way and hoped everyone understood somehow. I definitely look back now and 110% wish I had said bye to everyone ‘properly’ but it’s easy to look back and say that now, nearly two years down the track.
At the time I had to do what I had to do, in that way or I might have kept living in Covid-limbo and never left. Covid-limbo mentality was caving in on me as the days went by … Also – I honestly left Aus with the intention that I would ‘be back when things calm down’. I didn’t take into account I might not be back or wouldn’t see everyone again. At that time I just wanted to get home to Wales. Leaving was definitely one of my most confronting decisions ever.
Arriving back home in 2020 was great for a few months but I was unsettled. I bought a car, was looking for a house and also nearly bought a puppy. But I felt like I was trying to fit myself (like a square peg, in a round hole) into life at home … I felt like I was ‘trying everything’ to settle down but there was still some pent up fire in me that told me to keep going. Nothing was feeling ”right” – I needed to explore more. I listened to the beat of my drum; I wasn’t ready and I couldn’t force it.
At the end of 2020 I hot-footed it again and went to live in Spain. This was a great experience, in the beginning. Working from my laptop, while feeling like I was on ‘holiday mode’ was another fresh start. I met some good people, they took me into their world of surfing and loving nature on the Canary Islands.
Then I tried again to ‘settle’. I (very!) luckily got my visa approved as a resident of Spain. With the kind help of locals I sorted a house and car. Next up, I rescued a puppy. All the ‘trying’ just did not work, again! I ended up living a secluded, lonely life where it was me working from my laptop and looking after the puppy most of the time.
I loved the turquoise ocean and the belting heat of the sun there, of course that goes without saying. I would work then hit the beach for a swim or surf to keep myself on track but I didn’t feel comfortable during those last few months. Looking back, I know I ”overstayed” my time on the Canaries. Working remotely or flying through on a high with surfing friends YES! … But trying to ingrain myself into local life when I had no family or lifelong friends was, as you can imagine; difficult. Also – my friends back then will back me on this; I really struggled to speak Spanish. I tried but oh my goodness! Languages are not my strong point!!
From Spain I went to Dublin for a few weeks to stay with one of my close friends, who I had met in Bali, Indonesia in 2019. We had a great few weeks full of yoga, beach walks with her dogs and cold-water swimming. Dublin is an awesome city! If I hadn’t done London growing up, I think Dublin would have been a wicked city to work high-flying jobs while mixing with good people.
… So. Circling back to New York. It was from Dublin that I went to New York. Are you feeling a little worn out reading all this?!?!. Well you can imagine how I felt after the last two years living it. New York was undoubtedly one of THE BEST experiences of my whole life. I honestly only know one friend from University days (and her husband) who have ‘made it in New York’. Those are the friends I visited back in 2017.
There’s a reason we don’t have lots of contacts or people we know who live in NYC. There’s a reason celebrities and the richest of the rich ‘have apartments there but they don’t live there’ … New York is hardcore. You need to be on your A-Game around the clock. You need to be properly set up with a BIG salary job, health care and housing sorted to be able to breathe and get stuck into it, without worrying every day about these things that are so hugely important to our normal lives. You need to be extremely strong and really GO FOR IT at all costs to get your feet on the ground there. I have so much respect for everyone I know who is still there right now.
When I knew New York wasn’t going to work out, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I was interviewing for jobs back in Australia, London and Dublin too. I kept my sights set on another BIG job, as I knew how much I had to offer in that realm of my life.
But the more I looked away, the more I realised it was ‘too much’ to go through again. I had some really sticky times in Spain and also in New York. Some of the scariest and most challenging times of my life happened in those places and the thought of putting myself through a big move away again just didn’t feel exciting any more. In fact if anything; it felt worrying – for the first time since I could remember, I just wasn’t up for it.
Up until now I had always put adventure and chasing my career above most things in my life. When I came home I was so happy to see my family and felt extremely lucky to know that everyone was ‘still here and healthy’ after all these years.
If you have read all of this post – thanks for sticking with me 😉 … If I met you on the road in the last 8 years and we shared special times together (you know who you are!) – I sincerely hope you know that the things we did together and the moments we experienced will always be with me somehow. I think about the people I left behind in different ways most days. That’s part of the beauty of parting ways. If we spent time together in New York – thank you for the memories and the work experience – keep killing it! I wish you the best and I respect your grind!
It’s somewhat traumatic leaving a country and not knowing if you will ever see someone again. I’ve done it so many times in my life, I ‘got really good at goodbyes’. I would say it’s one of my strong points. I can turn on my heel and GO!
… But of course, just because I am good at it doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s heart wrenching! There’s been so many tears shed when I’ve left a place and people I love. I thank social media that I can keep in touch with all the people who have lit up chapters of my life over the years. Knowing how hard these goodbyes are; I simply realised I couldn’t do it all again, I didn’t want to! … Especially not to my family, not again, for the umpteenth time.
I will always 110% support and encourage anyone that wants to travel, to do it solo or with company, to chase their dreams, to work abroad and tick things off their bucket list. I am a prime example of someone who went out and ran after their dreams hell for leather for years. Ever since I moved to Cardiff Uni when I was 19 I’ve been running fast as heck on my dream-chasing track.
One of the best things for me in all of this is having come to the realisation that I wanted to come home. Now I feel like I know all the roads, all the beaches and recognise familiar faces everywhere I go. It’s comforting.
Being home is like when you drink a good cuppa tea, it’s that ‘Hug in a mug’ feeling that I am revelling in right now. Now I’m here I am looking ahead to now and next. Every day I wake up genuinely happy to be here and light on my feet.
I love being a tourist in my home town and am excited for Spring, Summer and beyond! Wales is a beautiful country and I can’t wait to get to know it even better, explore more corners and get lost in it, in the same way I used to get lost on Bondi Beach. Wherever you are; there you are. Same, same but different.
Thanks for reading