As an expat living abroad, have you ever found yourself with a lot of additional free time and no idea what to do to fill your day? Perhaps there’s an international virus pandemic which closed down the business where you work and now you have extra hours each day aching to be filled by something enjoyable. Hobbies. Hobbies are things you can do to fill some of that newly freed up time. I cannot begin to count the number of expats living in HCMC that I’ve met who have been droning on and on about how they’ve got nothing to do, yet endless time in which they could do something. Allow me to introduce you to some simple, mostly inexpensive, hobby ideas that will not only fill your free time, but will also help you to develop and learn more about yourself. Through self-enrichment, we can enrich the world around us. Here are some hobby ideas for you to try out:
External Development Hobbies
Health and Fitness
I’ve come to believe that there are two types of people when the topic of health and fitness is brought up: resistant individuals or obsessive individuals. Most people seem to either despise fitness routines or devote their whole lives to them. This doesn’t have to be such a polarizing topic. We all know of the plethora of health benefits that accompany fitness so I won’t bore you with that regurgitation. However, I will testify to the emotionally up-lifting benefits of implementing an extremely simple fitness routine into my own day to day life. I take 5 minutes every morning and most evenings to stretch my muscles, get in some very quick and light weight training, and then I go about my day. No, I won’t be the next Dwayne (the rock) Johnson, but I’ve found that this routine is enough to wake me up and allow me to start off my days feeling alert and victorious through accomplishing this quick and simple routine. The key is to explore options and find what is right for you. Swimming, running, yoga, finding a gym buddy, Pilates, Zumba, there are so many options available and the best part is that you start where you’re comfortable. An additional benefit to establishing a fitness routine is that it can create opportunities for you to meet new people with similar goals. So, if you’re finding yourself with a lot of unwanted free time alone, this may be the hobby that gets you out of the house and into the friendships you’ve been seeking.
A favorite personal hobby I devote time to developing is cooking. Preparing and sharing food is a great way to connect with other people and to also toss a little flavorful flare into your life. When you cook, you are in charge. You command the ingredients, the flavors, and the uniqueness of each dish. If one day you are feeling fiery and spicy, make a dish that represents that. If on another day you feel simple and sweet, get to baking your favorite treat! Especially as travelers, food is a complex universal language which we all understand. Try out a cooking class that focuses on the flavors and dishes of the local cuisine in the countries you visit. You’ll be able to meet new people, learn new flavor combinations and cooking skills, and best of all, this new knowledge of cooking is the perfect souvenir to take with you whether you’re continuing on your journey or heading back home. To share with others the experience of cooking is to share the flavors of your life.
Whether video games, card games, or board games, games are a great way to find new communities wherever you are. Almost every game will have some amount of a following in most places around the globe. As a Pokémon fanatic and a huge fan of Magic the Gathering (MTG), I have had a great deal of success meeting and connecting with groups and individuals who share these common interests. Even when I do find it challenging to connect with gaming groups with similar interests to my own, I have spent hundreds of hours breeding and building my ideal Pokémon teams and hours upon hours researching MTG deck building strategies to maintain the competitive viability of my decks. Enthralled by my own passion for these games, days have simply melted away. Even so, I still find myself feeling accomplished and positively exhausted because of my absorption into my gaming passions. In living abroad and traveling around the world, you have unique opportunities to learn and share with other gamers all over and you can build lasting relationships through exploring and engaging in the gaming communities that most speak to you. With a seemingly infinite number of gaming options available, you will find something that resonates with your soul and captivates your imagination.
Internal Development Hobbies
Now, if you’re anything like me, you were an avid reader in your youth with a fiery passion for traveling to fantasy worlds trapped amongst the portals of words and language. Perhaps this passion for traveling through fantasies is part of the reason you’ve decided to travel the world. Reading is a magical and uniquely personal experience. In picking up a book and sifting through its pages you learn. You grow spiritually. You expand your thinking and you build up your capacity for empathy. It’s an especially useful hobby for when you’re on the move from one place to another. Whether by plane or by train, by boat or while afloat in an inner tube bopping along down the Skykomish River, when in the midst of travel, unravel the mysteries of your favorite novel. Transform your physical journey into an internal one as well. I can guarantee you that there are books out there for everyone. It may be difficult to find ones that really speak to you, but once you do, it’s like discovering pieces of yourself that you didn’t even know existed. If you can’t seem to find a book you want to dive into, perhaps consider this next hobby suggestion.
Hand in hand with reading, it is so important to explore writing as a hobby. Whether as a novelist, a blogger, a poet, or journaling, writing clears the boggy waters of your mind and soul and is an incredibly enriching hobby. What’s so wonderful about writing is that there are no limits to what you can do with it. Develop the skill so that it can be turned into passive income, or just write for the sheer joy of the experience. There is no wrong way to write. I especially recommend journaling and reflection. As travelers, we embark on journeys that change and reshape our lives. Write about them. Reflect on the lessons you learn and document them to be shared with others. Capture each moment within the strokes of a pen or in the pattering clicks of a keyboard. For those of us with a stern and strict self-critic, writing can be an especially challenging hobby. But part of traveling is growing, and part of growing is learning how to tame your self-critic. You can rework a sentence a thousand times until it reads just right, but a blank page has an ominous way of staring back at you. Calling out, daring you to be so bold as to challenge yourself to grow in the most pertinent ways you need to. Accept the challenge and reach for the starlight.
I’ve combined these two hobbies together because I feel that their root purposes are essentially the same. Capture what you see. Share it with people, new and old. These hobbies are not about going viral or even diving into a new career path – though those are potential possibilities. These hobbies are about training your eyes to look beyond what you see (cheesy Lion King reference, I know, but I just had to seize the opportunity!) As a traveler and an expat living for extended periods of times in far off lands and remote destinations anywhere in the world, you will undoubtedly bear witness to extraordinary views and live through remarkable experiences. Capture these moments to forever remember them in all their vibrant glory. Then practice the skills of retouching, editing, and video splicing. Learn how to extend pieces of yourself into the processing procedures of these hobbies. Explore the depth of your creativity and build the narrative surrounding your experiences to be as honest and raw, or as fabricated and exquisite as you want. Again, when photographing or recording your life, you are in charge of the final product. Use your free time to explore your ideal version of an experience, then go and live that ideal version. Open the lens of your life, get creative, and create something only you can.
Now, I know that arguably writing, photography, and vlogging are all forms of artistic expression. With this paragraph, I’m referring to art in its abundant other forms – primarily painting, drawing, digital art, pottery, dance, music, knitting/sewing, etc. These are phenomenal activities to cultivate into hobbies. Through these models of artistic expression, you have the freedom and ability to build virtually anything from essentially nothing. By allowing your emotions and feelings to flow through you into your creations, you are able to visualize the internal workings of your soul. If you’re angry or struggling with feelings of betrayal, allow them to ooze out from your fingertips and mold your creation to match the emotional muse you’re manifesting. If you’re falling in love or working through feelings of remorse or missing home, put that energy into your creations. Join or start a group to meet other like-minded and similarly artistic individuals to share your inspirations and creations with. Facebook is chock-full of hundreds and thousands of online groups that you can connect with and network through to garner more inspiration from or to release your art into the world through. The possibilities are endless and what’s great about artistic expression is that it isn’t about being the best. It’s about feeling what you feel and showcasing it to the world. Our greatest strength and form of connection is in our ability to create and be vulnerable. Find your craft. Practice it. Then put it out into the world and inspire others through your own inspirations.
I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a few expats about the topic of furthering their education. Some of them told me that they are working towards finishing degrees to make themselves more competitive in the workforce. Others have told me that they are working towards earning certificates that would enable them to advocate for raises and promotions within their companies. Even more surprising were the individuals who simply loved learning and chose to partake in self-studies. Self-studies won’t necessarily lavish you with corporate raises or marketable degrees. Self-studies are essentially free (spare a laptop and good Wi-Fi) and allow you to ask your own questions and to learn about the specific topics that most interest you. There can be a cumulative body of writing in which you organize what you learn and discover. Or you can simply jot down notes to reference later when you wish to share what you’ve learned with others (or whatever other method of saving/documenting your findings that works well for your learning style). Most people do enjoy learning, they just don’t necessarily enjoy the academic structure, nor the inexcusable costs and expenditure of resources, that accompany traditional school-based learning. Whichever educational path makes the most feasible sense for your situation, it’s worth exploring. Learning doesn’t have to be strategic and calculated. It can be fun and structured in the manner which best compliments your unique learning style.
We thrive when we feel connected to something. I think that, for many of us expats, connection can sometimes seem elusive. Especially in moments when we find ourselves drowning in the silent sea of excess time. Hobbies not only provide us with something to fill the silence, but they can also act as the key to unlocking our path to connection. In living authentically through the enjoyment and wonder of our hobbies, we are more likely to come into contact with others who share the same interests and the same need to feel bonded to someone else. Most of us left on our journeys to find, build, and perhaps even reclaim missing parts of ourselves. We seek to learn about the greater world all around us and our harmonic place in it. Though, the most surreal and eternally impactful journey any person will ever embark on, is the journey inward to understanding ourselves. Hobbies are our instruments allowing us to see who we can become and inspire us to keep on moving forward. The more we explore and develop our hobbies, the more attuned to ourselves we become. It is in this process of tuning that we discover our sound. When we discover our sound, we can then crescendo into a ringing orchestral community of like-minded sounds – like-minded people – and find our places amongst the rattling chaos of this grand planet we all call home. And hey, at the very least, you won’t be so bored anymore.