Looking Back Over Our First Year of Living Abroad
I am a few months late posting this, but we made it through a whole year of living in Cape Town!! I thought it would be fun to share my highlights and lessons that I have learnt along the way. Hopefully this will inspire you to follow your dreams and buy a plane ticket to that country you've alway imagined yourself living in.
Highlights of our first year in South Africa
Finding a home
The first big milestone when we got to Cape Town was finding a new place to call home. It was a fun process of exploring all the different neighbourhoods of Cape Town and trying to decide where would suit us best. We took a liking to Big Bay, so that was where we focused our house search. We had rented an Airbnb for a couple of weeks to give us time to view properties and check that we liked the location, but in the end we never left our Airbnb! It had already started to feel like home and we couldn't find anywhere else that ticked all the boxes as well, so we asked the owners if they would consider renting it out long term... It was a yes and we're still here today! Funny how things work out sometimes.
Buying our car
You can't get around Cape Town very easily without a car, it's sort of an essential if you're someone who enjoys getting out and doing lots, so it was very exciting to choose a car and begin adventuring around properly. We planned a mini road trip to the Cederberg the first weekend we had it- filled it up with camping gear a food- and gave it some good off road test drives. Later in the year, on our Norther Cape trip, we turned the boot into a bed and spent half the trip sleeping in it. It's surprisingly spacious- bigger than the bed on our boat that we spent months at a time living in! South Africa is a vast country and having a car gave us the freedom to explore it.
Having the beach so close
We really appreciate having a beach so close to us. Just a three minute walk down the road and we get to Big Bay beach- a long sandy beach with reliable surfing waves. Whenever the weather allows it, we'll pop down to the beach for a dawn surf, swim or run before work! It's the little things like this that make you appreciate where you live.
Table mountain view
It was, and still is, really cool to wake up and see the iconic view of table mountain everyday from our balcony. It's also one of the nice things about living a little bit out of the city centre.
Exploring new places and mini getaways
Since moving here, no weekend (apart from the ones spent in lockdown) has been boring! We always have a list of new places that we want to visit or activities that we want to try. I really enjoyed making the most of planning lots of short trips away this last year and it was a great way to see more of South Africa. Once our lockdown restrictions were lifted a bit we were allowed to travel around the country and we made the most of it whenever we could. Our trips so far have included- Cederberg, Robertson and Montagu, Swellendam, De Hoop, Norther Cape (Augrabies and Kgalagadi), and Durban to Cape Town (Drakensberg, Glen Gariff, Plettenberg).
Ticking off as many hikes/trail runs as possible
You could quite literally spend an entire life in South Africa and never run out of new hikes to do. Most weekends we have done at least one hike or trail run and they never fail to amaze us with stunning views. Most of our hikes have been close to Cape Town, but it was also great to find some completely different trails on our trips away.
A snow weekend
This was one thing I really wasn't expecting from Cape Town! A snowy day in the mountains was just what we needed after being in lockdown for weeks and weeks. Just an hour away from Cape Town, in Franschoek, and we had snow up to our knees! The views were incredible and it almost felt like we had flown over to the Alps for the day. I hope we get a few days of snow again this winter.
This was one of the top reasons that we wanted to live abroad for a while. It would get to the beginning of each English winter and John and I would always wish we were somewhere warmer. The weather here hasn't disappointed so far! The summer is of course hot and sunny, but even the winter (minus the few snowy days!), stays fairly mild and I remember having a few beach days in the middle of August.
I have so many amazing memories from our first year here, but it wasn't all perfect! Of course moving aboard comes with its own challenges, you just have to find solutions and make the best of the situation.
Lessons that I have learnt this year
Pandemics and moving abroad don't mix
Don’t move abroad during a world Pandemic- especially when the two countries you wish to travel between are South Africa and the UK. It has made being away from family and friends a lot harder because we can't plan when we'll next see people, or if we do make plans they get cancelled! It also meant that we spent a few months of our first year being completely locked down in our flat and unable to see the country, which isn't ideal when our main reason for moving here was to see and do as many new things as possible before we moved back to the UK. Having said that- if I could go back in time, I wouldn't change what we did!
Expect to spend money on medical stuff
Medical insurance is expensive and bit confusing when you’ve never had to do it before. We definitely took the NHS for granted in the UK and I miss it now. Budget in the cost of paying for medical insurance every month. Sadly, it is unlikely to cover everything (unless you choose the most comprehensive, expensive one) so also be prepared to spend more on top of that! Get used to emailing, phoning and generally chasing the insurance company up for money that they owe you. Our experience is that they are very unhelpful and fight hard not to pay you your claims back!
Load shedding is annoying
Load shedding is when your power gets turned off! It seemed so odd when we first moved here, I thought ‘how can this possibly still be a thing in a first world country!'... and then you quickly come to accept is as normal. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't annoying each time it happens. You just have to get used to planning your day around when you have power!
Cape Town is always windy in the summer
John and I already knew this from holidays, but when you live here all the time you really realise just how consistent it is throughout the summer months. We do also live on the West coast which I know makes it worse too! You have to get used to waking up early if you want a surf or a swim without getting blown away.
A house without any central heating gets very cold in the winter
This was something that I wasn't really expecting from living in Cape Town. We had only ever been to South Africa in the summer before, so didn't know what the winter weather was really like. I spent many evenings lighting the fire, drinking hot chocolates, and wearing lots of layers of clothes! Often the inside of our house was colder than the outside temperature during the day. This is a great design for summer months, but not when it is only 8 degrees outside!
Not knowing what’s next is okay
After telling people we were moving to Cape Town, one of the first questions was usually, “How long will you stay?”. Our usual response was, “probably 2 years, until my visa runs out” because we didn't quit our jobs and leave the UK to come here for just a few months! Our plane ticket was one-way, and at the moment we don't have a definite leaving date in mind. Sometimes it can be scary not to have a plan in place, but it’s also exciting not knowing exactly what the future holds. We don’t know what we're doing next weekend or in a couple of years time, but that okay. That’s part of the adventure!
We had a great year filled with plenty of highs, but also plenty of challenges to keep us on our toes. 2020 was an odd year for everyone, and it seems like 2021 is following suit- but moving abroad definitely added a fun twist to things! We always say how glad we are that we went for it and made the move. It was something that John had spoken about since I first met him way back in 2012, so it really feels like a fun achievement that we are now living here.
I wonder what I will be writing in another years time!...
Safe travels and adventures.