I’m Moving to Indonesia!

I’ve now been on the road for exactly one year.  It’s crazy that so much time has passed so quickly.  And it’s incredible that a year’s worth of travel has now evolved into another year abroad.  The past year has been a whirlwind – to say the least.  It’s very easily been one of the best years of my life, but it has definitely also been the most challenging.  But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself!

The only photo I took during my few days traveling in Jakarta earlier this year. I was really sick so I didn’t do much exploring!

When Aaron and I moved out of our apartment a year ago we had a plan to travel around Southeast Asia indefinitely.  We’ve been traveling the world together for years, but we’d never been able to escape for more than a couple of months at a time.  Traveling around long term is something we’ve always wanted to do.  So when the moment came, we seized it.  Aaron graduated with his Ph.D. last June – a seriously impressive feat that I still marvel at – and we decided it was the ideal time to embark on the journey of our dreams.  After his graduation we spent a month moving out of our house and in August 2013 we left our hometown of San Diego, California, and hopped on a plane to Thailand.  We planned to take full advantage of having the time to travel but while we were living the nomadic life we’d also work on securing jobs for the fall of 2014.  Aaron would apply to be a university professor and I, well, my career path was a bit more fuzzy than his!

Our first stop in Southeast Asia was Southern Thailand’s Railay Beach.
boracay palms
Beautiful Boracay, Philippines. I will live here someday!

We spent seven months traveling all through Southeast Asia and had the time of our lives.  But, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t always fun and games.  There were many times where we had to take lengthy breaks from exploring new cities and bumming around perfect beaches to apply for jobs.  We spent countless days hunched over our laptops in hot hostels, we had numerous freak outs when we couldn’t find reliable Wi-Fi for Skype interviews, and we endured handfuls of heartbreaking rejection letters.

The rejections were the toughest part.  Part of being in the world of academia means that we’ve always been prepared to live anywhere.  We always knew the day would come when Aaron would graduate and have to take a position at some little school somewhere in Middle of Nowhere, USA.  But, being a diehard traveler, I have always been open to moving pretty much anywhere – barring a warzone.  In the past year I prepared myself for living in freezing cold Boston, a small town in Tennessee, a metropolis in China, and back home in Southern California.  Getting to the last phase of a job interview and mentally preparing to make such a big move is an emotional experience.  And getting our hopes up only to have them dashed time and again really began to take its toll on both of us.

After spending seven months in Southeast Asia we took an unplanned detour back to the states so Aaron could attend a couple of in-person job interviews.

julia pfeiffer
While in California, we decided to keep our travels going and take a road trip to Big Sur.

After suffering two more frustrating rejections, we weren’t entirely sure what to do next.  Summer was approaching and time was running out on getting a job for fall semester.  So in true procrastinator fashion, we decided to keep our travels going for a little bit longer.  We would continue our journey into South America with the goal of seeing a part of the world which had eluded us for far too long, while also asking ourselves some serious life questions.

Did we want to return to the US and start over, for me to return to my career and for him to try to piece together adjunct teaching jobs?  Did we want to give expat life a shot and teach English in Colombia?  Or did we want to throw caution to the wind and just keep traveling through South America until the money ran out?  None of these options were ideal and, for anyone who knows me, the latter was never a viable one.  I’m far too much of a stress case to ever let my bank account reach zero, or anywhere close.

By the time we landed in Colombia it was already mid-June and the uncertainty of our future was weighing heavily on the both of us.  But after a rough couple months back in the states, arriving in Colombia was a breath of fresh air.  We felt at home being back on the road and we felt ready to do some serious soul searching.  To figure out not only what the practical next step should be, but to figure out what would make us truly happy.

I fell in love with Colombia.  And I thoroughly relished every moment of my trip.  I spent decent chunks of time in Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena and I would love to live in each one of these cities someday.  Despite the fact that Aaron and I were having a blast in Colombia, real life nagged us at every turn.  And as we traveled through this South American wonderland I would have a slight panic attack every time I withdrew money from the ATM.  A few weeks ago I made the decision to stop looking at my back account balance altogether because I knew it would just stress me out.  Aaron and I knew we were at the point where we had to make a serious and immediate decision about where we were going to work.

dogs on cobblestone street
Bogota exceeded all of my expectations. With its cobblestone streets and brightly painted buildings, it’s picture perfect.
Medellin is known as the ‘city of eternal spring’ due to its temperate climate.
old town 1
A peek inside Cartagena’s perfectly preserved walled city.

It was July and we figured all hopes of Aaron finding a teaching gig for the fall were lost.  So as were sitting in the tiny town of Doradol, Colombia, stewing after a frustrating travel day we were shocked when Aaron received a message on his Google Voice number – a number he only gives out on job applications.

It turns out that a university in Jakarta, Indonesia, was looking for someone with exactly his skill set:  not only a mastery of American literature but also international experience and the ability to work with non-native English speakers.  Check, check and check!

The interview process went on for weeks.  We experienced a few more freak outs – our internet seemed to go out whenever he had a scheduled Skype appointment.  We weighed the pros and cons of living abroad.  And we sifted through the risks associated with signing an international contract.  But in the end I knew it would not only be an amazing job for Aaron but it would also allow us to live in another country, something we’ve always dreamed of doing.

So Aaron and I were overjoyed when he received a job offer a couple of weeks ago.  Three days later we bid a bittersweet farewell to Colombia (and our very short-lived South American odyssey) and boarded a plane back to California.  Today we returned to Indonesia’s capital, a city I spent an uneventful few days in back in February of this year.

It’s crazy how things work out.  A month ago I would have never thought I’d be back in California trying to figure out what to pack for another year abroad.  A year ago – as we were setting out on our journey – I would have never imagined that in a year’s time I’d be an expat in Jakarta.  It’s going to be another wild ride, full of ups and downs.  But I am so excited for our next chapter.

I’m sure the next year will be full of posts about what it’s like to make the transition from backpacker to expat.  But I’m also thrilled that I will be living in Jakarta, a city that’s located a short flight away from places like the magical Gili Islands, the temples of Borobudur and the island paradise of Nusa Lembongan.

A gorgeous but stormy day on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia.
One of the hundreds of Buddha statues that adorn the ancient temple of Borobudur, Indonesia.
cliffs from pool
Huge waves break along Nusa Lembongan’s cliffs.

There are also so many other things I want to experience while I have the chance to live in Indonesia, like hiking with Komodo dragons, spotting wild orangutans on Sumatra and trekking to the top of one of Bali’s massive volcanoes.  Life is unpredictable and I’m so excited to see what the next year will bring!

Have you ever struggled with transitioning from long-term travel to the “real world?”  Feel free to share your experiences!

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

43 thoughts on “I’m Moving to Indonesia!

  1. oh wow!! Congrats on having some certainly! Having faced that whole waiting for a job situation, it’s no fun to do it with dwindling funds…and we may finally meet in Jakarta! My best friend is working in an international school there so I visit with her pretty regularly…:) When will you be there?

    1. Hi Sha! I just arrived in Jakarta yesterday!! That would be so cool if we could meet 🙂 I’m also REALLY hoping to take a trip to Singapore. There’s no way I’m going to miss out on seeing it this time around! Do you mind if I ask where your friend teaches? I’m looking for a job teaching or tutoring English and I’m trying to explore all of my options 🙂

      1. Awesome!! I can tell you that there’s always lots of promo sales to singapore with budget flights…that’s why I travel so frequently there to visit my bestie…:)

        I’ll ask my friend but maybe we can discuss this through e-mail? Drop me a mail at lifetomyfullest@gmail.com

        Oh! N I’ll be there on 22-24 Aug…we can meet then!! 🙂

  2. Wow, that’s quite a story Justine! It mustn’t have been easy, especially in those dark moments where things seem bleak and it’s easy to forget all the blessings we have. Congrats on sorting out the job stuff, while keeping alive your dream of traveling and seeing more of this world! I’m sure you’ll have quite a ride in Indonesia. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures.

    1. Thanks Kan. The job search did get frustrating during the past few months. But it’s pretty amazing how things work out. Aaron and I loved Indonesia when we were here during our travels. So it’s fitting that we would end up here 🙂 And I couldn’t be more happy to be able to experience expat life AND be able to explore more of Indonesia! It’s definitely going to be a wild ride. I can’t wait to write all about it!!

  3. Congrats on the job! I’m jealous! I think you will do well in Jakarta! It’s a messy metropolis, but I have found the people to be generally very friendly. And I love how you want to visit Komodo, Bukit Lawang etc…but don’t forget Tangkoko in Sulawesi! 😉

    1. Thanks Lee. Aaron is super stoked on the job. I have to try to land a job before my visa runs out, which is just another facet of my crazy life. We’ve only been here a day but we’re already so glad to be here. Indonesia was one of those countries that really clicked with us. Ha, a ‘messy metropolis’ is right! But it’s true, people are so friendly here which is something I really love about this country. I want to visit every corner of Indonesia! Sulawesi sounds awesome. We couldn’t fit it in when we were here earlier this year but I really want to visit sometime soon! Tangkoko sounds great. I love tarsiers 🙂 Let me know if you have other suggestions on where to go!

      1. Congratulations on Aaron getting that job in Jakarta. I’ve traveled to several countries in Southeast Asia and lived in the Philippines. I noticed you said people are friendly in Indonesia. How do they compare to the Philippines? How does Jakarta compare to Manila? I hope this will be my year in SEA too.

        1. Thanks Brian! I actually think there are a lot of similarities between Indonesia and the Philippines. Both countries are absolutely beautiful and the people are incredibly warm and welcoming. I only passed through Manila very briefly so I don’t know much about it. I’d say that both cities have incredibly bad traffic and really nice malls!

    1. Thanks! It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster ride. Probably more so for me than Aaron 😉 But so far it’s all worked out and I’m just excited to see what the next year brings.

  4. Wow, what a great story! Congrats on the job!! It’s nice when things always come together in the end as long as you keep trying! I’ve never been to SE Asia yet, but it’s at the top of my travel list. Your photos are all amazing!! Can’t wait to see updates about your new life in Indonesia! 🙂

    1. Thanks Michelle! We never stopped trying to get Aaron a job in his field. It took more time than we anticipated but things totally worked out for us 🙂 Now I just have to figure out where I’m going to work! I highly suggest you go to Southeast Asia. I really do love this corner of the world. If you ever need travel advice for SEA feel free to ask 😉

  5. Congratulations to you and Aaron! How exciting to be starting a new life in a vibrant city. You get the best of both worlds, earning some cash whilst exploring your new surroundings. Good luck with your job hunt and keep up the great writing!

    1. Thanks! We are so excited to have the chance to live in Jakarta. It’s going to be crazy!! I must say I’m very happy to finally have an income again. But being able to live and travel around Indonesia is a dream come true. I’m going to be exploring different areas of Indonesia every chance I get 🙂

  6. Aghhhh this is so excitiiiing!!! Colombia will miss you but your new aventure will be so amazing! Congratulations and best of luck with everything!! 😀

    1. Thanks Lucia! I was actually really sad as I was driving to the airport from Cartagena. There’s still so much I want to see and do in Colombia. It was so amazing to get a little taste of Colombia and I know I’ll be back someday very soon 🙂

  7. Hi there! I just found you via another blogger; as you do! Congratulations on your partner getting a job in Asia. Indonesia is such a beautiful country and Jakata must be amazing.

    I’ve only been to Bali once, and in a few weeks we’ll be going to Bali again. I’m very much looking forward to it. 🙂
    Great post.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I’m very excited about our big move. We’ve been so busy moving into our place that I haven’t had a chance to explore Jakarta yet. But I’ve only been here three days so I’m sure that will come with time. Bali is absolutely amazing. I’ll be going back there too 😉

  8. What an incredible journey you have been on over the past year! It sounds an awful lot like the one my husband and I embarked on back in August 2012—I had graduated with my PhD and we decided it was the perfect time to travel, and we’d take a year to see the world. Only, I never started to apply for jobs and I ultimately decided that I would like to start out on a different path beyond the walls of academia… Still, it’s incredible to hear about your own adventures and see that so long as we’re open to changing our paths, life never stops throwing us curve balls that we can smack out of the park (too many metaphors? 😉 ). Really excited to follow along on your transition to expats in Indonesia!

    1. Hi Steph! It’s so nice to hear from someone who can relate!! It has been quite a year. Trying to apply for academia jobs from the road was kind of an insane idea. But in the end it all worked out because we now get to live abroad, which is such a fantastic opportunity for us. So now I’m super intrigued by your journey. I’ll have to go to your blog to see what path you decided to take!

  9. I’m so excited for you guys!!! And selfishly for myself so I can see more of Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia. Can’t wait to see what it has in store for you! 🙂

  10. Wow, that story is really something. It seems that at the end everything fell in the right place. Congratulations for a job and we wish you all the best in Indonesia. Hope that you also manage to get a job for yourself. But surely this doesn’t mean, that you will stop travelling…
    I admire you to take a year off without knowing what will you be doing afterwards. How did you manage to do that? We also had some ideas about leaving everything and start travelling, but there is always a question: what then, when we come back…

    1. I hope I get a job soon too 😉 And, no, being here doesn’t mean that we’ll stop traveling. Just being in Jakarta is an adventure. Plus, Indonesia has a ton of national holidays. And we plan to take full advantage. I will finally get to see the komodo dragons! Your question is a tough one to answer. I should probably just write a full post about why and how we decided to leave everything behind to travel. We had always wanted to travel long term. And when Aaron graduated we really felt like it was now or never. It took me a couple of years to save up to travel long term. There was a lot of sacrificing that went into it and I seriously lived like a pauper to save! I’m so glad that we took the plunge and I don’t regret it in the least. But I’ll be the first to admit that the decision was a risky one and there was always that pressure of what we were going to do when the money ran out. Plus, given that we sold everything, including our cars, meant that we would have to start over from scratch which was pretty overwhelming. Our decision seems to have worked out. And our travels have now led us to living in Indonesia for the next year. So I guess you can say it was life changing!

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