How Do You Write An Expat Blog, And Other Life Questions

Here's my terrace, for lack of a more relevant picture

So… you may have been able to tell by the infrequent and half-assed nature of my recent posts that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing here anymore. With this blog, I mean.

Well, okay, I guess my life too.

I know how to write a travel blog. Not a super successful monetized one, but the kind of travel blog I want to write. I know what kind of material to look for and write about: snippets, character sketches, first impressions, cultural clashes, bizarre moments—the other-worldly, almost out-of-body moments that travel affords, that I’ve been craving and chasing for years now. I can even write a good informative, service post from time to time, and not feel totally smarmy about it. And when I’m not traveling, I know how to write travel-themed posts that manage to be relevant.

But I don’t know how to write an expat blog.

I’ve been in Phnom Penh for a little over two months now. I’ve left the city once, for 2 days; I’ve got a couple little trips planned, including one to Malaysia over Khmer New Year. But for the most part, I’m staying put. I’m focused on establishing a life here—getting a job and friends and more furniture and houseplants, a routine and rhythm to my days. It’s not dynamic, exciting stuff; there’s no a big wow, must-see factor. It’s kind of just my life, and I’m not sure how to write about it here.

I’m not sure of a lot right now. I’m new at this—my first time being an expat. I’d always been intrigued by them, as a traveler. You could spot them, you know—the ease, the breeziness, the comfort with which they walked down the street, talked to vendors in the local language, went about their business with the kind of self-possessed air of a person reading a book on the train, when you just know it’s their commute home and they’re thinking about dinner or what TV show they’re going to watch or whatever—mundane shit.

Now I’m one of them, and there’s a lot of shit that feels mundane, uninteresting to write about. Which isn’t true, of course—it’s just that I don’t know how to write about it.

And I’d always wondered what expats thought of travelers. I’d talk to friends, whose feelings ranged from indifference to embarrassment; one girl I knew, living in Santiago, would avoid eye contact with other gringas, she wanted to badly to not to be associated with tourists.

But for the most part, for me, they seem to exist on this other plane, walking up and down the riverside in their flip flops and tank tops, and they kind of fade into the static of life here, right along with the construction noises and metallic audio recording of the egg vendors.

But it’s funny, cause sometimes I notice them, just kind of watch them, and it’s a strange, unexpected feeling that comes up. It’s not jealously, but a sort of wistful longing. They have a kind of structure, a context and definition: They are travelers. They are passing through. For the most part they have book ends for being here—return tickets and lives waiting, houseplants being watered by friends in their absence. They have closets, I imagine, where all those zip-off pants and Tevas will return to.

And for the first time, I don’t have that. I don’t have the security, the knowledge of a life that’s waiting for me somewhere. Here’s my life, but I’m not exactly sure what that life is yet. I’m discovering it, and it’s exciting and scary and lonely and exactly where I need to be right now.

But I don’t know how to write about that.

But inbetween-nees seems to be the theme these days. I’m 29: I’m not old, but I’m also not young anymore, and there’s wrinkles where there didn’t used to be wrinkles. I don’t know what clothes to wear; I’d go to shows back in the States over the summer, and the band would look like they were 12, and everyone would be young, so young, glowing with young in a way that seems ravaged and obscene. And not me.

But I’m not totally sure what “me” is anymore. Or I suppose I should say, where me fits in this new life, that has yet to form. It’s slowly taking shape—I can feel it and I have a faith, which might be a blind faith but is a faith nonetheless, that it’ll all gonna work out.

I just don’t know how to write about it yet.

11 Responses to “How Do You Write An Expat Blog, And Other Life Questions”

  1. 1 Michi January 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    This is a very touching post for me, because the past year I’ve been trying to deal with very similar emotions and not knowing quite how to place them, let alone write about them. It’s been about wondering if I’m even ready to settle down after having gone from temporary traveler fluttering about Europe while living in Spain, to being expected to have more stability (still in Spain) now. Bah. Mind you, I like having a place to come back to, but I wish my “place” might involve another change of scenery, even a change of language, so I can move on to another challenge. It’s not that I’m afraid of settling, but I certainly do relish the occasional change. 🙂

  2. 2 Liam January 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Lauren! So proud of you for venturing out into the great beyond. I remember the first time we discussed the idea years ago. Glad to hear you’re living the dream. Enjoy the journey!

  3. 3 jenna January 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    for what it’s worth, i think this is exactly what an expat blog should be, for me anyway.

    i like to know that no matter where you are in the world, whether you live in the relative comfort of citizenship or not, that life is confusing.

    i also really like the look of your terrace- homey spaces always intrigued me when i was travelling, they became such a novelty after shared dorm rooms!

  4. 4 Kirstin January 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Your terrace looks amaaaaazing! The door to my balcony has been shut since fall (it’s technically enclosed, but very drafty) and I’m jealous. As for expat blogging, I’d say just continue writing in your usual style, since that’s what we all (er, me, at least) love and come back here again and again to read. All of the mundane, daily life stuff is interesting to people who lead a different daily life. Then again, it does take awhile to just settle in and really get a grip on your surroundings and your life and your future in a new place. A really long time. So don’t worry, you’ll figure it all out eventually.

  5. 5 Steffi January 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I know what you mean, the same thing happened to my old blog when I moved to London and then Japan… sometimes, living life is just more important than writing about it. Looking forward to hear about your life in PP, the first city in the world that managed to freak me out (and leave me broke, emotionally wrecked etc.).

    • 6 laurenquinn January 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      “first city in the world that managed to freak me out (and leave me broke, emotionally wrecked etc.)”—You’re not alone in that, my friend!

      Thanks for the kind words.

  6. 7 risingontheroad January 20, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Ah … I want a button that says ‘hell yes’ rather than like. So much of what you said sounds very very familiar. That sense of being somewhere in the in between..

  7. 8 Simon Oliver (@SimOliver) January 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Just remember that your in Cambodia, one of the most messed up and diverse countries in this region where there is content (for blog posts) on every street corner and experience you have.

    I too struggle though with updating my expat blog here but only because of time constraints and not because of lack of content.

    You’ll be amazed by the amount of people from back home that will be fascinated by someone who is actually living an alternative lifestyle.

    Personally I’d much read an expat blog than a travel one which in my opinion have been done to death and are rarely anything more than a journal.

    There are only a few expat bloggers in Cambodia so another great thing is you’ll stand out very quickly.

  8. 9 Kelly January 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    As someone who’s living a very, very different kind of expat experience (paralegal for an international law firm in Germany), I’ve found what you’ve written about being an expat in Cambodia completely interesting, and would love to see more of it!

  9. 10 Alexander January 26, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Ah, I’m so glad I read this because this is exactly how I feel right now. I feel like my experiences here in Spain are amazing, but they are so different to my experiences travelling where everything is new and stimulating all the time. When my friends call and ask me what I’ve been up to lately I’m stumped because I feel like these daily experiences are more intuitive and not something that sounds interesting or flashy. It’s definitely the same with blogging too. It really makes me question the differences between being a traveller and an expat.

  10. 11 Eva January 27, 2012 at 2:00 am

    As expat blogs go, I’m a big fan of my friend Anne’s:

    A lot of it is TESL-focused, but a fair bit is cool little “strangeness of life in Korea” type stuff too. Check it out.

Comments are currently closed.

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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