Lessons From Moving Home After Living Abroad

Did you know our security guard in Fiji used to earn $2 an hour?

That’s two Fijian dollars. If you do the math, I’m pretty sure you spend three or four times that on your daily latte.



Just over 12 months ago we made what could be considered a life-changing decision.

We packed up our life in New Zealand to take hold of an opportunity.

That opportunity was to move to a tropical island for eight months. Fiji became our home. Island life was our new norm.

Moving home after living abroad: was it all a dream?

© Juliette Sivertsen


Twelve months on, it’s hard to believe that our life in Fiji has already been and gone, and we’re back in New Zealand, trying to figure out our future plans once more.

It’s been one heck of a journey.

It’s also our first blogiversary – 12 months since we launched Snorkels to Snow travel blog. Originally designed to be a blog about scuba diving and skiing, it quickly became a story of our life in Fiji too and other adventures. We feel lucky to have this online album of memories of our time in the islands.

I knew there were things I would learn about myself in this time abroad, but it takes time to reflect on the journey.

It’s only now, a few months after reintegrating back into New Zealand life, now that the Fiji journey has ended, that I can start to talk about some of the lessons I’ve learnt – not necessarily from living abroad, but from coming home.

Reflecting on life at Auckland's Muriwai Beach

Reflecting on life at Auckland’s Muriwai Beach




Life back in New Zealand initially felt strange and foreign. Overwhelming. 

Soon it felt like Fiji had never happened in the first place.

How can life go back to normal so quickly, after all our experiences abroad? All the people we met, the encounters we shared and the pain we felt at various times throughout our journey?

We lived a pretty simple life over in Fiji, compared to NZ. We didn’t live it up like rich tourists and spend thousands of dollars on island hopping and fancy cocktails. We didn’t drink away our expat earnings – although it would have been easy to do. 

We tried to buy local and live an as authentic life as possible, as much as you can do, when you are still clearly earning and living well above the line. 

It’s funny how all of that now feels like a distant memory. How quickly you revert back to old habits after travelling.

I don’t think either of us had any life-changing experiences. Our experience living in the islands will no doubt shape certain parts of us, but I don’t think either of us are fundamentally different to who we were before we left.

What I do know, is less about change, and more about what I’ve learnt about myself.

Here are my lessons from moving home after living abroad.


East Coast, New Zealand | © Juliette Sivertsen

East Coast, New Zealand | © Juliette Sivertsen



Connection and belonging are so important. While in Fiji, I struggled to find my ‘place’. We had a reasonably social time over there and I made a couple of close friends, but I never really felt like I belonged to a particular group.

All my life I’ve been involved in a working or office environment, sports clubs, music groups or community groups. I loved living in Fiji, but I can’t say I felt like I belonged anywhere in particular. My strongest network was my online network of travel bloggers and other digital nomads (a great network, might I add!).

I didn’t know I needed that network and those connections until I returned home to New Zealand.

I re-started figure skating and doing a little coaching work and instantly I remembered what it was like to belong to a club, another family, and just how important that was to my wellbeing.



By extrovert, I don’t mean that I’m the loudest person in the room. Or the person attracting dozens of people at any given moment.

It means that I’m energised by people.

In contrast, John is more of an introvert than I realised, in that he draws energy from solitude.

I never realised how much I missed my social circles until I came back to New Zealand. 

I’m also the youngest of five siblings so I’m used to always having people around. As my sister said on recent visit to see me, hanging out with family is ‘better than therapy’.

As much as I loved Fiji, and I wouldn’t change anything, the truth is, I was also terribly lonely at times. Not that I realised that at the time. 



I’ve always been the outdoorsy type, but never a thrillseeker.

Again, John is the opposite. If you’ve followed our adventures, you’ll know he’s the Chief Adventurer, the Never-The-Let-The-Heart-Rate-Drop-Below-120bpm type.

If it wasn’t for him, this blog would not exist. Or at least not in this current form. He’s the one who got me into scuba diving, who encouraged me to take up skiing.

He’s the one that pushes the boundaries and would rather be four-wheel driving up a cliff than lying on the beach.

In Fiji, I often wished for a quiet relaxing Sunday afternoon. But the reality was usually some giant adventure in the middle of Viti Levu with no cellphone reception and no idea where we were actually headed for and a good chance of getting lost.

If I’m really honest with you, I miss those adventures.


A secret spot we discovered on an adventure in Fiji | © Juliette Sivertsen

A secret spot we discovered on an adventure in Fiji | © Juliette Sivertsen



As much as I love adventuring, I also know my limits.

And I’m okay with not pushing beyond certain limits. I don’t feel the need to prove myself on every single activity I touch, only the things I’m truly passionate about.

John and I are both exceptionally driven, we are goal-setters and highly motivated to succeed. But I’ve also learnt that it’s okay to not push yourself past the goalpost in every situation.



I don’t need to explain this one too much. I love family. They’re my people. They’re my support network. And out of everything in the world, they were the ones I missed the most in Fiji. 

When you spend any extended time away from family, you get used to not having them around. And when you come back, and get to see them more often and talk to them more frequently, you wonder how on earth you coped without them.

Especially when you get together with your big sister and do silly poses in front of the camera:

Moving home after living abroad: Family is awesome

Sibling madness: having fun with the big sister | © Juliette Sivertsen



I come from a long line of tea drinkers.

Cups of tea helped me through a lot.



I’ve always been a coffee drinker, but one of the weird things about living in Fiji was the lack of fresh milk – let alone any milk alternatives such as soy or almond milk, unless you were happy to sell your left kidney to pay for it.

I had been relatively dairy-free prior to moving to Fiji and used to have almond milk in my flat white coffees. In Fiji we only had the choice of using UHT milk. We began to crave fresh milk.

Coming home and enjoying coffees made with fresh cow’s milk was  a dream. I don’t care about the dairy-free thing anymore, even if it doesn’t always sit well in my tummy. Just give me all the milk and cheese.


Moving home after living abroad: enjoying a fresh milk flat white

The Kiwi Flat White



I loved my time in Fiji. I wouldn’t change it; I’d do it all again. 

But I’m not going to lie – living abroad with your partner, in unfamiliar circumstances, without your usual support crew, can be really tough at times.

Because we are two humans. Two imperfect humans trying to create a perfect marriage.

Ridiculous, when you think about it like that.

We had our fair share of conflict. We had some great times and have some amazing memories, but we’ve also had some doozy arguments, exacerbated by our circumstances. 

When your spouse is your everything, what happens when your heads are clashing?

It’s one hell of an expectation and pressure for your other half. So if you’re both struggling to cope with things, expecting your spouse will be everything you need simply doesn’t work.

And looking back on my time in Fiji, John was my everything. I was reliant on him for so much of my journey in Fiji. And that’s a huge load for one person to carry. I wish I’d had a little more independence.

A lot comes back to connections. Your sense of belonging.

Where do you belong when you are travelling or living abroad?

Who are your connections when you are away from home? 



In Fiji, we were high income earners. We were wealthy. Local wages could not come anywhere near what the expats can earn. It doesn’t seem right that foreigners can come in and earn significantly higher wages and salaries, often with housing allowances.

Many people assume Fiji is made up of pristine beaches and luxury resorts, with small pockets of poverty and basic island living.

But it’s the opposite.

Many people live in little shacks, many without electricity or access to clean water or sanitation. The tourist images of Fiji are just in little pockets.


Moving home after living abroad: what do you take for granted?

Island living can be very basic | © Juliette Sivertsen


After living in Fiji, I thought we would never take things for granted again. People in Fiji express wonderful gratitude – so we learnt to be a heck of a lot more grateful.

But how easy it is to quickly return to old thinking.

Our complaints about the price of avocados in New Zealand! Or not being able to purchase our dream home. Frustrations over the electrician not turning up on time. And money. Why we don’t have enough. Why we need more. The fight to earn more so we can have a more comfortable life.

Where did our gratitude go?

We apparently left it in Fiji.




While living in Fiji I was determined to write a book about my experience there. Every day I witnessed new things I wanted to write about.

But I couldn’t seem to really get stuck into it. The inspiration was there, but the words did not come.

Perhaps it was because the story was still unfolding. Can you start writing a story when you don’t know how it ends?

It’s only now remembering and reflecting on this journey that I feel like I can finally start to write down our experience. Maybe I am now learning what I was supposed to learn.

Maybe now the shape of our story is complete enough for me to begin.

I will write the book, the memoir. It might take some years, but I will write it. I have to.

Because I refuse to ever forget our journey.





DISCUSS: What lessons have you learnt from moving home after living abroad?


Lessons from moving home after living abroad: Does travel change your life? Or just reveal more about yourself?



Wanderful Wednesday

Suitcases and Sandcastles


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  • Natalie Tanner

    What an amazing adventure! We think about taking a year off to live abroad and have a totally different experience….these are interesting topics to consider. Food for thought!

    • It’s been quite a journey! We totally recommend a year off abroad. It might not change your life but it broadens your horizons and fills up the memory bank.

  • Going home is never my favourite part of an adventure. That adjustment period kills me a little inside. It feels like you’ve been grounded after having all of these possibilities open to you. I know that’s all in my head. #WanderfulWednesday

  • Totally with you on not making your partner your everything. Still learning about that! And I also wanted to write a memoir of my time in Slovenia and now that I know how it “ended” I would love to share things about my time there. But I just went back to visit my husband’s family with the baby and boooom it hit me, I still havent closed that chapter of our lives yet. Also that or could just be that I’m paralyzed by the idea of actually start writing!!

    • It’s a hard one to learn – especially as woman, we still have a bit of a hangover from the older days where your husband WAS everything. I would love to read your memoir! Let’s encourage one another!

  • Mariella Molestina Noboa

    What a beautiful read! These are the life lessons traveling the world teaches us, world travelers, to appreciate everything and be grateful for the life we have. Living abroad might not change your life drastically, but it does change you. I am definitely not the same person I was three years ago when I started traveling the world. I am looking forward to that travel memoir you plan to write! great work. – Mariella

  • Lisa Rivera

    A beautifully written and very honest post. I think a year in Fiji sounds amazing, but I can imagine it got lonely at times. Sometimes the paradise setting is an illusion and when reality hits, it hits hard. Still, you’re right about taking things for granted, we all do, and I wish it’s something we could all try and stop doing! Excellent post.

    • Thanks Lisa. It was a wonderful experience and we would do it all over again if we had the chance. I didn’t really know how lonely I had been until I came back to NZ though.

  • Stacey Gilkes

    Sounds like a great adventure. You learnt so much and I agree with all of them. My family would be the hardest thing to leave though 🙂

  • Shashikala Rathnayake

    Amazing. I loved reading this post so much! Fiji might have not given you life changing experiences but it sure has made you understand a lot of things in life. And that’s how beautiful travelling is. Good luck for the book! I hope you write it and if you do, let me know!

    • Yes, it has broadened our perspective on things. I guess recognising our own thinking is the change, as previously perhaps we were unaware. Thanks for your encouragement about the book! I have a few bits written but it will take some time.

  • Untold Morsels

    What a beautiful read Juliette and oh so timely. We are heading home to Melbourne in the next couple of months after 3 years in the UK. I am excited to go home for many of the reasons you mentioned. We’ve had an adventure but you cant underestimate the pull of your roots. Love the video of you skating – I would love to be able to do that. Thanks for joining #FarawayFiles

    • Thanks so much. Wow – that will be a huge change after three years. But it will be exciting. There’s something special about home.

  • Love this Juliette because I had the same experiences when returning to the US for the first time after 2 years spent in SE Asia. Checks across the board 😉 But I also have been back over a dozen times since, and have learned: I love traveling, and I love being at home. I can make friends traveling, like at home, and I can sprint out of my comfort zone at home, like when I travel. Life just teaches me to love things the way they are, wherever I am.

    PS….we lived in Savusavu for 4 months in 2014. Loved it!!

    • Wow you lived in Savusavu! If we were to ever move back to Fiji we would return there. A lot of people want to retire there! What brought you over that way? Glad you could recognise the same sentiment with your experience. I think that’s it – we love travelling and we also love being at home. Great ethos you have!

      • We landed a 4 month house sit there. Right on Savusavu Bay.

  • What a journey! It’s nearly been a year since we came back home to Belgium from a year of travelling the world full-time. I can certainly relate to a bunch of the things you mention. I too was very surprised how easily you fall back in your home routine and how quickly that amazing year seems like such a long time ago. People adapt pretty quickly I suppose.
    We promised ourselves to keep travelling the world, but now from our home in Belgium. We bought an apartment, because we needed a place to call home, close to our friends and family. For know we’re honouring that promise and hoping to be able to keep it up!

    • We also planned on continuing our travels but for now, we are going to stay put for a bit longer. We are about to build a house. But hopefully in future we can take time to do some more travel but for now it will have to be part-time. Glad this post resonated!

  • What a great insightful article! We emigrated permanently from the Netherlands to Australia and lived in the Australian Outback for 3.5 years. Totally different to what we are used to at home, just with the two of us, my husband and I. I recognise a lot of your story. Hope one day you will publish your memoir! Would definitely love to read it!

    • Wow the Outback would be quite a change from the Netherlands! A great story and what wonderful memories you have created. Thanks for the encouragement – I must spend more time writing it than writing about it!

  • It’s so true how quickly everything normalizes again and your life experiences seem like a distant memory. It’s great that you have these memories to hold on to and one way or another they have shaped you and changed your life a little even if it’s not so clear now. Glad you will take those memories and write a book of your own.

    • It’s bizarre isn’t it, things slowly fade but at the same time memories can feel so vivid too. I guess our perspective on a lot of things has changed. And we will no doubt keep learning lessons from this in years to come.

  • Roma

    Forst time visitor to your blog, we’re expats too (Aussies in London). What was the catalyst for you moving to Fiji in the first place?

    • Welcome and glad you could stop by! It was very unexpected to move to Fiji. We were there on holiday in May last year but we had been planning a move to the UK too. But while on holiday my husband got in touch with a construction firm there and was offered a job by the end of the week! We thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up, even though it wasn’t really part of our plans.

  • Elaine J Masters

    I’ve been diving in Fiji three times over the years and only visited local villages a couple of times. I’m so grateful to have tagged along on my partner’s underwater photo journeys but it always rankled me to only have the tourist experience. You were fortunate to live like a local for awhile. Sounds like the lessons learned on your return will be with you a long while. My six months on the road in my twenties changed me forever.

    • Diving in Fiji is pretty awesome! The island life is quite special, it really is amazing to get into the local villages and begin to understand the local culture a bit. I am sure we will continue to learn some lessons as time goes on. Sometimes you don’t know until much later!

  • What a beautiful and thoughful article Juliette, I loved every sentence. Your Fijian experiences will remain with you for ever no doubt. #FarawayFiles

  • Skye

    I absolutely relate to you on many of these points. Living overseas particularly for a year as I have done a few times now changing you, but in the best way. It obviously brought out your adventurous side and your personality. I think it pushes you to do that. That’s one of the things I love about travel but particularly living in a different country. Thanks for sharing.

    • So glad you can relate! It certainly pushes you to do or try new things. Broadens your perspective on life.

  • Julie

    Hi Juliette, it is great to read your moving home post as well and from different perspectives. I agree that a great time with family is better than therapy, and I missed my family tons after returning home and move abroad again. I think the older we get, the more we understand what a family means to us. There are also many things I have taken for granted when I was in Hawaii – frustrated over the price of the milk, gas and high cost of living, and even the cold, like we complaint about wearing long-sleeves because it is 17 Celsius. Now I have to laugh at myself about these ridiculous complaints because I see people live far less and far happy in Colombia. I’ve also thought of writing my memoir about my life in Hawaii, but just like you, I feel the words will never come to an end. Are you planning to return to Fiji to visit sometime?

    • Hi Julie, thanks so much for your comment. Missing family was tough at times, especially when my Dad got sick and we were still in Fiji and we couldn’t visit him in hospital – those are the hard moments. Funny how much we take for granted though! Life in many ways is far less complicated when we travel to other countries. Gives a lot of perspective. I hope you get the chance to write a memoir too, I’m sure you would have some fascinating insights. We would love to visit Fiji again, but I don’t think to go back and live there – not at this stage in our life, perhaps later. But I’d love to go back to holiday there! Especially to escape this cold New Zealand winter!

  • Jennifer Riley

    Travelling with your partner can shed light on all sorts of things, good and bad. I can imagine living abroad heightens that even more. I’m glad to hear your adjustment back home went smoothly and you will carry forward your experiences.

    • It sure does! Throughout it all, it strengthens your bond though, when you have those shared experiences.

  • First off, how incredible that you lived in Fiji for eight months! I’ve never been and have always wanted to visit. Your beach photos are spectacular. I’d agree with your point of not taking things for granted. I’m always reminding myself of that when I find myself of complaining about trivial things.

    • It was a great experience! We truly enjoyed it and made the most of every day. But it sure is easy to return to old habits once home again.

  • Paige Brown

    I love that you guys lived a simple life when in Fiji and really took advantage of living life there. Great reflections on your time abroad and good luck to what’s ahead.

  • Miranda Knudtson

    I love that you and John balance each other out in various personality aspects. Also, no fresh milk in Fiji?? I live in Wisconsin in the US, and there are farms everywhere… (literally everywhere, I work in the suburbs of my smallish town, and I pass cows on the way to work haha) I couldn’t imagine otherwise! Guess we take some of those things for granted.

    • I think we compliment each other extremely well – some might call it clashing, we prefer to say balance! Ah yes, no fresh milk. We drove all around the highlands and farmlands to try and find a farmer who had some dairy cows to try and buy directly off one, but no one was selling it. They don’t produce much dairy over there – the local cheese often tasted too much like a cow!

  • Clare Thomson

    It is so true that you often can’t properly reflect on a situation until after it’s over and you’re taken out of that environment. Looking forward to reading more about the next chapter in your lives, Juliette. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles

  • So beautifully written! I think its great that you guys moved to Fiji and experienced a different culture for that long! There are definitely lots of things that are different, and lots that we take for granted! Do you think you guys would love on Fiji again?

    • Thanks guys. We had a wonderful experience, and we wish we could have stayed longer. But now that we are back in NZ, I’m not sure if we would go back to live there. Too many other places to choose from ha ha! Never say never, but I think it would be later in life to do that, like a retirement plan!

  • Amy Butterfield

    I love that you worked hard to live authentically, and that you not only learned about a country, you learned so much about yourselves. I love the honesty in it all, and that you recognize that it’s not all glitz and glam…the way of us envision living in Fiji would be! Some of the basic facts simply put things into perspective, especially making one see the fortunate foreigner vs. local aspect.

    • We really wanted an authentic experience there, not to live in the little bubble of wealthy expats and tourists. It seemed a bit superficial and it is a shame that most tourists only see that side of Fiji – beautiful as it is with all the gorgeous beaches and resorts, there’s so more to Fiji than just that. The layers run deep.

  • It was a great reading: honest and thoughtful. After years of slow traveling (i.e. spending 3+ months in one location), I did experience some of the things you described when I came back to the US or Australia. BTW, I am still flabbergasted why Australia felt so similar to the US, my home country, even though the first time I came there was less than a year ago. First couple weeks felt strange, and the environment that once was “mine” seemed somewhat hostile. In about a month I was fully “acclimatized, ” and by the end of the 3rd month, I was ready to hit the road being fed up with routine comfort and lack of change.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad you can relate to some of this. Interesting how Australia felt much the same. We do quickly acclimatise to new places, especially when we are experienced in travel. It may be harder for first-time travellers. But then when you return to home base you remember what you missed!

  • Jenna

    Sounds like such an amazing experience living in Fiji! But I know what you mean, travel isn’t always easy and it certainly makes you learn a lot about yourself. Glad you left the island with some amazing memories and hope you are enjoying New Zealand again!

    • We had a great time, with plenty of challenges and new perspectives. And I guess that’s why we travel – to broaden our horizons!

  • Clare

    I have lived abroad in NZ, Colombia & Mexico and I am about to move to Peru. I loved NZ though it was hard to keep in touch with family and friends because of the time difference. For me the UK no longer feels like home, its the place that my family lives but I can’t ever see myself living there again. I think travelling the world has certainly changed me and makes me appreciate little things more. I just find it really hard to fit back in now when I do visit the UK.

    • Hi Clare – glad you enjoyed NZ but it is hard being on such a different time zone to the rest of family. In Fiji it was only ever an hour’s difference at the most which made it easier to stay in touch, although the dodgy internet connections made it hard at times! Funny how what is home no longer feels like home. Travel does change your perspective. But I guess you have to find a new ‘home’ in each place you visit, and leave behind the previous home base otherwise you would miss it too much and not enjoy your new experience.

  • Fiji was incredible. Different living there to holidaying there but awesome nonetheless. Island life was pretty easy to get used to.

  • Thanks! Exciting to have thought we have completed one year of this blog. Certainly an eventful one! It is interesting how we create a new home elsewhere and it becomes the norm. I miss the daily drive from our place to John’s work. Strange how we settled so quickly over there, but also just as quickly returning.

  • Kerri McConnel

    A very true and honest account on “life”. It’s not perfect and there are always those moments where we wish we had done better, been better, made more of an effort etc. We’ve lived overseas too and even now when we travel we do our best to fit in locally, learn, appreciate, bring back thoughts that will make us different and more accepting and also more appreciative. I can be really tough on my husband sometimes because I just have such high expectations on everything – unrelenting sometimes, which can make me an absolute pain to live with. I appreciate everything I have and everything we have worked for but when I come home it’s easy to forget the quality of my life. No one in Indonesia, or vietnam or countless other countries in the world would ever complain about the shit I complain about in my house for eg. Another great reminder that I need to work harder at this.

    • Thanks Kerri. Life certainly had plenty of ups and downs and lots of eye-opening moments. It’s really interesting to hear about how you have such high expectations – and even when we experience situations which make us grateful, it’s easy to fall back into what feels ‘normal’ for us as soon as we are back in a familiar environment.

  • Ivana Leturia

    I feel you. I’ve lived in Canada and after coming back home to Buenos Aires, Argentina it seemed Canada never happened. It was a journey I will never forget, I learned a lot. I think writting the book now is a great idea, good luck with it ! 🙂

    • What a great journey and adventure you have had! But it always seems strange when you wonder if it really happened. Thanks, I’ll let you know how the book goes!

  • Loved reading your experiences and feelings. Somewhere I can connect with the time when I had to move to another city for work for few months and then return home.

    • Thanks, hope you enjoyed the piece. It’s an odd feeling when you create a new home, only to leave again after a few months.

  • I love your honesty, thanks for sharing your journey. And I love tea too 😉

    • Thanks I’m glad you enjoyed the post – it took a while to process everything. And yes, tea fixes everything!

  • megan_claire

    Congrats on your blogiversay! And congrats on your year living abroad – I do think reflections are so important after one chapter of our lives end and we move onto the next. I’ve lived abroad a couple of times, so I can totally relate to that feeling of home being foreign, but then all of a sudden it switches, and it’s so normal it’s like that year you spent could well have just been erased. But we cherish our different travels and periods as an expat by hanging frames and photos as reminders of our time 🙂

    Welcome home! Looking forward to following your next big adventure 🙂

    • Thanks Megan! It’s been an exciting year for sure with lots of ups and downs, wins and non-wins ( I don’t want to use the word failure!). It’s good to be able to reflect – writing this post brought about a bit of closure, I guess, as we left not wanting to come home. It’s funny how you adjust so quickly to different places. Glad you could relate! I must print off some photos…

  • great post!

  • Juliette I loved reading this! I completely zoned in on your story and loved every bit of it. Gratitude is so important, isn’t it? I was just recently complaining about the heat in LA and how everything is so far away from each other. Then I saw on my TimeHop app about how I wanted to live in LA to be in a big city and enjoy sun all year long. I decided to be more grateful after that! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday! Hope to see you again this week! xo

    • Great Kana, really glad you could relate to this and understand where I was coming from. It’s funny how quickly we get used to new places and environments and forget about what we had in a previous time!

  • Janine Good

    This is so true! I felt this way after living in the UK for 2 years then finally coming home. Off topic, but where did you get that uber FAB kiwi foamed art latte? I need that in my life. Thanks for coming to Fly Away Friday! I hope to see you this week!

    • Oh the foamed latte art was a random little cafe in St Heliers in Auckland. I had never been there before, it didn’t look like much from the outside but it was so lovely to receive a very Kiwi latte on my first week back in the country!

  • Punita Malhotra

    What a wonderful post…because everything you wrote, came from your core. I relate very well to the point about connections and belonging. Travels are great, but only when you take a pause, and restart. For the in-between times, there’e home.


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