Ryan Murdock

The Expat Life

By Ryan Murdock, OP Columnist and Editor-at-Large

I live on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. I didn’t know anything about the place before we moved here, just the name. I flew over with my wife to look at rental places, fell in love with this 400-year-old palazzo, and moved three weeks later.

It isn’t the first time I’ve changed countries, or even continents, on a whim. Before that it was Tokyo, with just two weeks’ notice.

But moving to the Mediterranean was a goal I’d set eight years before. I first touched the Mediterranean through the writings of Lawrence Durrell. He was a novelist, with a painter’s eye for landscape. And at first I was amazed by the richness of his prose. Then I came to envy his amazing life.

Born in colonial India in the foothills of the Himalayas but sent to boarding school in England, Durrell hated the buttoned-up lifestyle of the North. When his father died he saw an opportunity to escape. Somehow, by some incredible art of persuasion, he convinced his mother to pack up their entire family—four children, of which he was the eldest—and move them all to the Greek island of Corfu.

They lived a crazy island life, with eccentric locals and writers dropping by—people like Freya Stark and Patrick Leigh Fermor. And in between visits he plugged away at his typewriter and mastered his craft.

I was living in Tokyo when I discovered his books—the farthest place you could imagine from what he was describing. In a tiny apartment where I could reach out and touch both walls, shaken by passing trucks, I read about the spirit of place, and how everyone has a personal landscape. A landscape that resonates with them on some deep tuning-fork level. That’s where your thoughts are most lucid, and for a writer it’s where you do your best work.

I had a feeling that the Mediterranean was one of those places for me.

Something spoke to me in the stony white islands set in a translucent sea. That magical quality of the light. The wine and olives and strong hard cheese. And the slow pace of life. I was drawn to the cafe culture and wine-soaked intellectual stimulation, with its hint of past empires and layers of civilization ghosted over everything.

In a sense it felt like going home.

For many years my life was somewhere else, in a place I didn’t want to be. But I imagined myself living in a quiet old house among olive trees and vineyards, eating heavy bread and drinking coarse local wines. Swimming naked in the velvet sea. Talking to old men in shabby coats and berets over early morning coffee and anise. Simply soaking up the spirit of place.

Today those things are right outside our door.

They’re seeping into my consciousness through the taste of the wine. Through the smell of the streets after the season’s first rain, when the smothering summer world is washed clean and reborn. Through the quality of the light, that has a clarity here like no place else. And I hope they’ll seep into my writing too.

In Malta, sun shines for all but two months of the year. The sea is clear and clean. And life drifts along at a slow sunny island pace.

This is a great location for a travel writer. On the fringes of Europe, just south of Sicily. But in many ways closer to North Africa than Europe.  

There are daily flights to hubs like Rome, Frankfurt, London and Dubai, so we’re within two or three hours of all the European art and culture you can shake a critic at—and well placed for off-the-map desert travels in Africa and the Middle East, too.

It took me eight long years to alter the course of my life enough to make this goal a reality. But I didn’t waver. And three years ago, I finally hopped a flight to a country I’d never been to and left Canada for good.

I don’t know how long we’ll end up living on the island before setting out for some new geography or culture. Five years at least, maybe a little more. Definitely long enough for me to write an island book in the spirit of Lawrence Durrell.

Living on a Mediterranean island may not necessarily be your cup of tea. But I bet there’s a landscape or culture or climate that speaks to you too. A place where you feel most alive and in touch with your muse. 

That’s what The Expat Life is all about! I’m going to tell you how to set up this exotic travel lifestyle for yourself.

I want you to know that you really can go to that place and carve out a life there. Our time is too short to do anything else.

Have you ever lived as an expat? 

Did you leave your country of origin to try life somewhere else? 

Do you move from country to country and use the world as your playground? 

Please share YOUR experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.

Ryan Murdock is Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost, and has written several features over the past decade for Outpost—on France, Jordan and Namibia, to name just a few. He’s also author of “Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America,” and you can see more of Ryan at www.ryanmurdock.com, and twitter.com/roadwisdom. Stay tuned for more of his columns on The Expat Life!


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