How My Husband and I Traveled the World and Wound Up Calling Bali Home
Photo Credit: Amirah Cook

Living abroad is a life changing experience for many reasons. You don’t know what you don’t know, and until you see how differently life can be lived, your scope will always be limited to the examples you have witnessed.

Traveling abroad is great, but fully immersing yourself in a culture requires time. That belief was the catalyst for the type of travel my husband Jarrell and I embarked on in 2013. In what we like to call our indefinite honeymoon, we traveled across the globe, visiting over 75-cities in 35-countries over the course of 5-years. What was so different about our journey, was how slowly we traveled.

It’s typical to see as many places as possible, rushing from one country to the next to add another stamp in your passport for bragging rights. That was never goals for us.

We wished to create the lifestyle we wanted, but felt extremely limited in experiences. Before our indefinite honeymoon, neither of us had ever traveled abroad.

Starting in Central America, where we spent 6-months traveling to every country in the region, we tried to embrace the differences we discovered. Identifying what we liked and disliked, we began to comprise a list of characteristics for our dream life.

First up on the list? Year-round summer. Central America was hot and humid and I loved it. Next, we traveled to Europe, where we lived for 18-months, staying in most destinations for at least a month. The emphasis on family was huge there.

Siesta culture in Spain, where the entire family convened for midday lunch, was unbelievable. Watching children play late into the evening, throughout a Greek mountain village we resided in for a summer, was confusing. When we asked newly made friends why the parents weren’t concerned for their safety, they countered with questions I still don’t have answers to.

“Why is there no safe space for children in America? Your children cannot even play at night in the community you live in? Why is that?”

After leaving Europe, we added to our list. We knew we wanted to find a home somewhere that valued family life, but the brutal winters were less than ideal and the cost of living too high. Europe was where I learned to acknowledge a privilege I’d never felt – I was American. Not Black, not African, just American. I didn’t feel American until I left America.

Next, we moved to Morocco, living in a desert oasis in the south of the country. We were back in the warmth, but there was another sentiment that felt good, one I hadn’t noted in Central America. I loved living amongst brown people. Of course, I wasn’t Moroccan (though locals often thought I was), but I felt a connection there I had not experienced in Europe. The people, combined with the weather, palm trees, and affordable living, made for an incredibly serene environment I fell in love with.

Fresh food was also a major change in our life. Everything we ate was locally grown and organic, sometimes too fresh for our liking. When we purchased chicken from the local market, it was from a coop, and we waited outside as it was prepared. It prompted us to cut meat from our diet.

After three months in the desert, we headed further east with a longer list – warm weather, family oriented environment, safe community, low cost of living, high quality of life, fresh food, surrounded by brown faces.

Asia was a game changer, the most culture shock we’d ever experienced. Each stop was filled with new lessons. In Tokyo, I learned the value of kindness. Ho Chi Minh City taught me how much I did not enjoy the grit and fast pace of urban living. Bangkok introduced me to alternative medicine, and the healing powers of natural herbs.

By the time we decided to settle down and find a permanent home, our list of lifestyle characteristics was plentiful. We’d been living abroad for five years, and when we flew back to the states, we were less burdened, lighter versions of ourselves.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find any locations in our home country to accommodate the list we’d accumulated around the world. So, in 2018, we decided to expand our horizons in the search for a new home.

After narrowing it down to Bogota, Colombia, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Bali, Indonesia, we chose the latter. It checked off nearly every desire for the life of our dreams.

As a writer, I need a tranquil and peaceful environment to create my romance stories. Our home in Bali is partly outdoor, and the nightly rainstorms are unbelievably calming. The cost of living is low, with a high quality of life. The people are brown and extremely kind, welcoming us from the day of our arrival.

Like many cultures around the world, generational families live together in Bali, where family and tradition are extremely important. While the rainy season can lead to short spurts of rain throughout the day, the weather here is usually hot and humid.

A typical day for us starts with sunrise meditation at our villa, and maybe a quick swim. Afterwards, we journal and read before our breakfast is delivered with locally grown fruits. When we leave for afternoon yoga, our apartment is cleaned daily, with any clothing we set aside laundered and returned the following morning.

Our life is simple and inexpensive. Surrounded by nature, we can focus on our art without many of the burdens we used to carry full time. It is a life we created through experiences, although five years ago we had no idea it existed.

Travel, in that way, is developmental through exposure. The more we saw, the more we dreamed. As our dreams became clearer and more descriptive, we made it our reality.

You can follow Amirah’s journey on her blog Cool Young History or on Instagram.

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