Interview With Steve Rohan About Expat and Nomad Life – The Trip Goes On

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Steve Rohan is an English teacher and world traveller currently based in China. He has travelled to 41 countries so far and prefers to visit the more extreme and obscure places the world has to offer. He manages the blog thetripgoeson.com where he documents some of his travels through writing and photographs.

I grew up in the countryside of Essex in South East England. After school I dropped out of college and started working as an Office Junior, working my way up to Accounts Assistant for a local haulage firm. After that I moved to a larger town and slowly progressed my way up the corporate ladder to Finance Manager of a large insurance company. I found escape from my mundane existence in the books of travel writers like Bill Bryson, Colin Thubron and Dervla Murphy. I poured over the maps that decorated my home and in 2002 took my first solo trip aged 21.

I flew to Scotland and spent three days hiking the highlands. I travelled to Spain, Italy and Norway over the next few years before upping the ante and arranging a trip to Russia and Ukraine with a work colleague. Next came the Trans-Siberian, camping in the taiga of Siberia and then a solo trip around the Balkan countries. I had been firmly bitten by the travel bug and always dreamed of moving abroad. One day in 2015 I happened across an advert for a teacher training program in China and decided to apply. A month later I was living in the wild North-East frontier of China! In the two years I have spent here in China I have travelled widely and seen much of the country. I have also visited several neighboring countries and won’t stop until I’ve visited each county in Asia.

Where are you living now and where did you live originally?
I currently live in the city of Luoyang in China. I spent most of my life in a small town in Essex, South-East England.

How long have you lived your current destination or last destination as an expat?
I’ve lived in Luoyang for 18 months.

How many countries have you lived in as an expat?
Only one (China) but I have lived in two different regions; I first moved to Harbin in the North-East which borders Siberia and reaches winter temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. After 7 months I decided to move south to warmer climes and now live in the temperate/sub-tropical region.

What made you decide to move to the current country as an expat?
For years I had yearned to leave my comfortable, mundane existence behind in search of adventure, but taking the plunge is harder than sticking to what you know. After 15 years behind a desk and growing increasingly bored of what my life had to offer I decided to just up and leave. A chance sighting of a job advertisement for English teachers led me on this path.

What were your biggest fears of moving if any?
About the only thing that scared me about the move was the flight to China (I HATE flying!).

How do you keep in contact with friends and family and do you get to see them often?
Facebook and email are useful for keeping in contact with folks back home. It was over a year before I first managed to get back home for a visit so I have only seen most people once in the time I have been away. I am happy to have some very good friends who have actually come out to visit me, at considerable expense and am very thankful for that. The main reason for not going back as much as I would like is my fear and hatred of flying.

Did you encounter any immigration or visa issues? 
I haven’t had any issues living here, but when I go away and travel I get a lot of problems coming back into China due to visiting countries in Central Asia (the “Stans”). What started off as a minor inconvenience has steadily got worse and now when I try and re-enter China I am stopped at immigration and questioned for a long time, resulting in missed connections and countless problems.

Have there been any visa or immigration issues in any other countries you lived in? 
Coming back into China from Kazakhstan earlier in the year I was questioned so long that the bus taking me between the two countries set off without me. After two hours of aimless wandering and absolute panic, I chanced upon my bus after being driven to the bus station by a friendly Kazakh. More recently I was held up at the border of North Korea and China.

How did you decide what countries or country you would become an expat in?
I initially wanted to go to Russia, as I can speak a little Russian and have an affinity for the place, having spent time there on two previous trips. However, China offers a lot higher wages and it seemed like an adventure as I didn’t know anything about the place. I chose a city on the Russian/Chinese border so I could have the best of both worlds.

 

How do you make you living as an expat in China? 
I teach English at a private school. It pays enough to travel, save and live a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed at how much I get paid for the little work I do. I work a third of the hours I did back home, with a salary that would firmly put me in the highest tax bracket.

Do you live the (nomad life or location independent life – work and travel freely) if so how easy or difficult was it is do? What challenges did you face? 
My work/Travel balance is pretty good. This year alone I spent two months travelling the Silk Road, two weeks in Thailand and Vietnam and a side trip to North Korea. Basically my position has fulfilled the reason for expatriating in that I have been able to travel freely and have earned enough money to do so. My number 1 tip? Do it. Take the plunge.

As and expat in the current country your are living in or any previous countries (did you speak the languages or learn any of the languages) if so what languages do you speak or did you learn? Any tips for people wanting to learn languages (self taught sites etc) or any other tips?
This is the one area I have failed miserably at. I can only speak a few words of Chinese, which is terrible considering how long I have spent here!

What are the approx costs of living where you are now or any previous place you have lived as an expat?
The cost of living is very low here. Basic foodstuffs are very cheap and eating out is a lot cheaper than back home. Public transport is also cheap making it easy to get away for short breaks.

Local bus journey is 1rmb ($0.15) and taxi no more than 30rmb ($4.50) to anywhere in the city

Weekly food shopping
You could eat well for 300rmb ($45.00) per week, but if you want to buy imported goods such as cheese then the bill is closer to around 500 ($75.00).

Health Insurance
Covered by my school.

Internet:
80rmb ($12.00) per month

Phone:
50rmb ($8.00) per month

Meals out:
A good meal for two including drinks and dessert costs 200rmb ($30.00). A simple meal can be had for much less. A meal at a Western fast food chain is 30rmb ($4.50).

Alcoholic drinks 
Imported beer from the supermarket is cheap, around 7rmb ($1.00) but at my local bar is a bit more pricy at 40rmb ($6.00).

Soft Drinks
A bottle of soft drink costs .30rmb ($0.05).

Attractions:
Most attractions cost around 150rmb ($22.00).

How do rate the standard of living in China? 
Living is very cheap on the whole. The only expensive items I buy are imported foods from the supermarket. I recently bought a small piece of parmesan for 100rmb ($15.00) and olive oil is not cheap (over $10.00 per litre). Being as meat and everything else is cheap; this balances out the more expensive items.
What is the tax system there like? (high taxes or low etc) please details if possible.
My school takes care of all tax issues so don’t have any information unfortunately.

What have been some of the pros and cons about living in China or were last in as an expat.
Pros include the ability to travel, more free time, higher wages and lower cost of living. Cons include missing friends and family, and the pollution here!

Do you have any tips for people that might want to visit or move to China? 
China is very safe compared to western countries and violent crime is rare. I feel much safer walking round my city in China late at night than I do in say London.

Depending on where you live in China you will be seen as a curiosity and will constantly hear the refrain: “Laowai” which means foreigner. Some people will want photos with you and may not ask. This happens less in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but in smaller cities people may never have seen a westerner before.

Do you have any future plans here to move somewhere else? if so where are you thinking? why this place?
Eastern Europe or Russia, so I can be closer to home.

Can you give any insights into the local culture / customs where you live as an expat
Chinese culture is very different from my own so it can sometimes be difficult to navigate the differences, but on the whole just remain polite and you will be fine.

Do you travel around from this destination where you are living as an expat? What are some places you have visited from here / any countries close by that you recommend / what are the travel costs like to these places?
I have travelled a great deal since being in China, from exploring the country itself to visiting neighbors such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and North Korea and so on. After visiting family and friends in England, I returned to China along the Silk Road by bus, train and ship.

How is the nightlife where you live? Any recommendations?
The nightlife is a little tame here, but there are clubs, bars and the ubiquitous KTV’s (Karaoke bars). There is a bar and brewery (Iron Horse Tap House) run by an American and his Chinese partner which serves good beer and food and makes for a good escape sometimes.

How do you spend your time off here or at weekends (any day time recommendations)
I spend as much of my free time travelling as possible. Luoyang has great connections to the rest of China so it’s easy to take a trip somewhere new. I also go out cycling and explore the local area.

What is the climate where you live (any specific times to visit)
The climate is warm temperate/sub-tropical with very hot summers and mild winters. The best time to visit is spring when the temperature is around 30 Celsius.

If you have a travel blog or ay other blog:
Please give a short description of your blog and what you cover.
My blog, www.thetripgoeson.com covers some of the extreme and off the beaten path places I have visited (North Korea, Turkmenistan etc).

Where was home prior to you starting the nomad life? Do you still go back? How often? How easy is it to return home whilst roaming the world?
I used to live just outside London, England. Not flying makes getting back for visits very difficult, but I hope to go back again for a visit in January.
How would you describe the term nomad life in your own words?
New horizons.

When did you start the nomad lifestyle and why? How long have you been living this lifestyle? 
I started taking extended trips in 2009 when I travelled to Siberia to work on a conservation project at Lake Baikal. After that it became clear that I wanted to spend more time travelling and look for ways to subsidize exploring new horizons.

What are some of the pro’s and cons of being a nomad?
Ultimate freedom is the biggest pro! Missing friends and family is the biggest con.
What types of places do you stay in when travelling (for example do you stay in countries for a long time or just short stays) etc do you rent or use hostels etc..
Hostels or hotels depending on the country and cost.

The big question everyone wants to know (how do you earn an income to travel full time 
I teach English. I can do this anywhere in the world, so there is no limit to the destinations I can choose. After China I will go to Central Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe and South America.

Do you have any tips for people that want to start the nomad way of living? 
It seems everyone and there dog wants to be a digital nomad in Thailand. Why not have a bit of originality and choose somewhere a bit more interesting? Thailand isn’t the only place with nice beaches in the world!

What types of things do people need to plan prior to starting the nomad life? 
Health insurance is important! I got sick in Thailand recently and sent a lot of money on tests in hospital. World Nomads offer insurance while you are on the road!

https://www.thetripgoeson.com/travel-insurance.

https://www.thetripgoeson.com/single-post/Do-I-need-travel-insurance-when-I-go-away

Have you had any scary or funny experiences whilst travelling?
There have been a few scary moments on my travels. In Russia I had a bear outside my tent one night, was mugged and was fined by corrupt cops in Moscow. In Kosovo I got chased out of a town by angry Albanians who took exception to the Serbian flag protruding from my backpack (I buy a little flag from every country I visit and didn’t really think through the implications).

How many countries approx have you lived the nomad life in? Did you encounter any visas or immigration issues?
I’ve travelled to 41 countries. Obtaining a VISA for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan was a long and expensive process with no guarantee of getting them, but we were lucky and had our application’s approved. They sometimes cause issues coming back into China as the authorities are weary of anyone travelling to the Islamic world.

When you reach a particular destination – how do you find work? Do you have a strategy or do you try ad secure work before you arrive?
I first find a job teaching and then move.

What factors do you consider prior to travelling to a country for the nomad life? 
I want to visit every country so it just depends on which one seems most interesting to me at the time. I’d like to live in Kazakhstan for a time as I have recently fallen in love with Almaty!

Have you encountered any issues with adjusting to local customs or the culture whilst you have been travelling? What about language barriers has this been an issue anywhere?
Some things in China are a little hard to get used to (the spitting for one). I can usually overcome the language barrier with the help of gestures, guidebooks and what not.

Do you travel solo as a nomad? If so what are the pros and cons of this? 
I mostly travel solo but sometimes a friend will come out and join me for part of a trip, like my recent journey along the Silk Road. https://www.thetripgoeson.com/single-post/Brilliant-Baku

Has been easy to make friends and socialise – whilst travelling around as a nomad?
I find it relatively easy to make friends on the road.

Do you have any money saving tips for flights / accommodation? Any recommended sites to book on?
Being as I predominantly travel by train, I find seat61.com an absolute asset! It details how to travel anywhere in the world by train. Ctrip is great for booking trains, flights and hotels in China as it is all in English.

Optional question – : (what equipment do you use for your blog or as part of your nomad lifestyle e.g: drones, cameras, computers, editing software, tablets phones etc)
Just my trusty Nikon S9900 and cheap Chinese laptop. I’ve recently started using Lightroom to try and improve dull pictures!

What country are you in at present? how have you found the nomad life there? 
I’m currently in China. So many places to recommend. Siguniangshan Mountain high in the hills bordering Tibet. Xi’an and the Terracotta Army, the Great Wall. The size of China means you could spend years here and not get bored.

What has been some of your top highlights from travelling?
Travelling along the Silk Road earlier this year was an incredible experience. Highlights include spending time with friends in Azerbaijan, crossing the Caspian Sea by freighter ship and camping at the “Door to Hell” Darvaza Gas Crater. North Korea was also a unique experience!

What is on your bucket list?
Now that I have been to North Korea, the two priorities are to see Mount Everest and visit Antarctica.

How do you see the future of nomadism?
Saturated by too many people.

Has being a nomad taught you any life lessons? If so pease elaborate.
I’ve always been able to cope well on my own and being a nomad has strengthened this.

Please share one life quote or any quote you love.
It is not the destination, but the journey that is important!

The Trip Goes On

Facebook.com/thetripgoeson
Twitter.com/thetripgoeson
https://www.instagram.com/steverohan81

 

 

 

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  • Avatar
    Tyra
    Reply

    Hehehe I’m doing exactly what he is doing, except I haven’t been to most of the places he has been to in Asia. The difference between Steve and I is I studied Chinese in college, so my life is a bit different because of my ability to speak Chinese. I agree it’s much easier to live here and we live a comfortable life as teachers! It’s crazy that there still isn’t that much expats who are teaching English here.

    I’m really enjoying these interviews!!

    • Avatar
      Digital Travel Guru
      Reply

      Hi Tyra, glad you are enjoying her interview series, would love to interview you too 🙂

  • Avatar
    Rahat Arora
    Reply

    That’s an another great interview with another amazing expat and also with another interesting experience to read. Great read.

  • Avatar
    Michael
    Reply

    That’s a really interesting insight into life as an expat. Once I starting reading I didn’t want to stop.

  • Avatar
    Monsieur Victor
    Reply

    Great reading Steve, and plenty of useful information for those with bigger balls than I, who are planning to do a similar thing!

  • Avatar
    Helene
    Reply

    Awesome interview! 41 countries is a lot to visit, especially if you hate flying:P Really interesting to find out what the cost of living in China is etc. Great story:)

  • Avatar
    Aditi
    Reply

    His work-life balance is on point. There’s so much to learn from him. He has managed to see a great deal of the world despite the fact that he hates flying! tee hee.. 😉

  • Avatar
    Travelquartz
    Reply

    The interview series is very interesting. it totally gives an idea what other person has been through and how they faced various ups and downs only to come out as a winner and true traveler. The stories shared as the best and worst experiences are total eye-openers. the Moscow incident was crazy. Glad you teach English and keep up with the nomadic life. truly an inspirational post.

  • Avatar
    lexieanimetravel
    Reply

    Great interview, I really love when he says he was bitten by the travel bug. Knowing that he hates flying that as real courage to fly to China then. It makes me wonder why foreigners encounter difficulties in immigration entering Asia, I thought it’s more of the advantage, on the other hand, Asians do struggles entering other countries. So love his life story, enjoy in Luoyang you deserve it!

  • Avatar
    Ambuj Saxena
    Reply

    I wasn’t really aware what you are doing could be done. I am so intrigued and interested in exploring the opportunity of traveling and teaching after the reading this post. Gotta build up my profile likewise.

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