A travel writer’s take on the

A travel writer’s take on the challenges and rewards of expat life in Europe

Travel writer and blogger Elizabeth Joss shares her thoughts on “Mc Donald’s travelling”, finding your feet overseas, priceless experiences of being a South African expat in Europe, and her baby, ‘The Museum Times’.

A travel writer’s take on the

Elizabeth Joss always knew she had a story to tell. In December 2012 she left South Africa for the museums, art and culture of Italy. In April 2014 her passion and talent came together in the form of The Museum Times, a niche site for arts, culture and museum lovers, showcasing the latest museum and arts and culture news from around the globe. A seasoned traveller and South African at heart, Joss shares the secret to experiencing Europe and living outside one’s comfort zone.

Please tell us more about The Museum Times, where did it evolve from, where do you hope to see it go?

When I left South Africa I continued my work on a remote basis for a South African company (while living in Rome and in Barcelona). As a Senior Content Manager I was responsible for client websites but also a number of travel blogs. While blogging for others, I realised that I also have a few things to say and that I needed my own space in which to do so. I was eager to document my experiences of living abroad. So I first begun blogging under my own name. I then quickly realised that I loved blogging mainly about cultural experiences and I enjoyed making stories out of the trips I did. And so I created a more niche site called The Museum Times as a means to document these cultural experiences. I write a lot about museums (as the name suggests of course) but it’s not limited to museums. I’ve also been sent on a few travel blogging trips as a result of my blog which was a very rewarding experience since I met so many people like me too. A fellow South African and friend of mine from my university days, Kevin Myer, is a guest blogger on the site too, writing about museums in Scotland (where he currently lives) and museums in other European countries he visits. So the site is open to those who love art, culture and museums and we have readers from all over the globe — mainly the US, Brazil and Russia. But I hope we’ll get more South African readers in 2015 too.

Where is “home” for you and why?

Home is where I am. But it’s also a melange of places. Of course home is mostly Cape Town where I grew up but it is Rome, The Hague and Bournemouth too. I believe home can be anywhere in our global, ever-changing world. It’s what you make of it but it’s also important to maintain one’s roots and visit one’s real home frequently.

What is the most unusual thing that has happened to you while travelling/being in a foreign country?

While living alone in Barcelona and working remotely for a South African company, the company went bust and I had to find another job and very quickly at that! I didn’t want to leave Europe so I applied for positions all over the continent, got a job in The Hague and the rest is history. That’s where I’ve settled now and I must say I love the place – things happen for a reason.

What is the funniest reaction that you have got to being a South African overseas?

I was living in Rome for three months in a very Italian suburb where hardly anyone spoke any English and I mostly used hand gestures which was highly entertaining. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment and the other bedroom was up for rental as my flat mate was moving out. A young Italian guy and his girlfriend came to view the apartment. When he found out I was from South Africa he smiled from cheek to cheek and although he couldn’t formulate a proper English sentence he blurted out two names, “Die Antwoord AND Oscar Pistorius!” and then he said something like, “Si, si, no?”. I have never laughed so much in my life (and nearly cried too!). But after my surprise was over, it made me think about what South Africa is known for around the world and it also made me want to really challenge those ideas.  

What would you recommend as must-do experiences for South Africans in Europe?

I think every single person has a different idea of what they want out of travel. As South Africans living in Europe we’re in an advantageous position to be able to be able to fly to a completely different country and culture in a matter of hours. I think you need to do what you want to do and what you want to experience; there is no right or wrong and certainly no bucket list for Europe because we all have our own tastes. However, I do think that there needs to be a movement whereby people don’t just do ‘McDonald’s’ travel — where they have a taste of a country in a single day. They need to go beyond that and really stay in a country for longer periods to better understand those cultures. It makes for much more rewarding travel experiences especially when you really interact with locals on a deeper level.

Are there any special words that you live by?

I strongly believe in Picasso’s quote: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” I love this quote because I feel that it’s important to challenge oneself – to do things outside one’s comfort zone. If I didn’t challenge myself I’d never have had the experiences I’ve had. I’d be sitting at home, dwelling on life and doing the same things over and over. You’ve got to go beyond what you know and do in order to shape yourself. Not only in terms of travel but also in terms of career and a myriad of other things too. We live in a great age where we can do all that if we really put our minds to it.

What is your greatest achievement to date/something you are most proud of?

One of my greatest achievements (but also one of the biggest challenges I had) was moving abroad. It’s difficult to leave everything you know, your family and friends and move to Europe alone (I was 27 when I left). But I did it (with a single suitcase!). I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given along the way.

For more on The Museum Times visit: themuseumtimes.com