10 November 2017

Frank and Gabrielle Yetter

Frank and Gabrielle Yetter

Frank (Skip) and Gabrielle Yetter are an expat couple who lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Frank is originally from Massachusetts, USA, while Gabrielle was raised in the Persian Gulf and lived in South Africa before relocating to America. They moved out of the United States, noting that they were tired of workaday, consumer-oriented lifestyle. “Also, deeply troubled by the eroding system of values in America and what it meant to us and our futures as residents,” they said. The pair lived in Cambodia for three years, but is presently house sitting around Europe and visiting new places.

When asked about their most difficult experience as expats in Cambodia, they noted that it involved learning the language and the culture. “Once we mastered Khmer basics, however, it opened up a wonderful world that is closed to people who do not speak the language,” Mr. Yetter said, adding that he can now converse with the locals in Khmer. The couple noted that their communication experiences when traveling to other locations such as South America, Thailand, China and Vietnam varied as some countries were easier to communicate than others. The couple also expressed the need to get out of a comfort zone, advising other expats to learn the local language and culture. “Go where expats do not,” they said, adding that “a little effort brings an incredibly enriching, educational experience that will blow your mind.”

Expats who go abroad may feel homesick and may be inclined to gravitate towards their fellow expats. Like Mr. and Mrs. Yetter noted, it can be an enriching experience to befriend locals too, and expats who wish to do so can make use of clubs and associations to socialize. These clubs can give expats the chance to improve their language and conversation skills as well. Furthermore, expats who travel as often as Mr. and Mrs. Yetter may want to consider obtaining multi-trip travel insurance which can keep expats covered when unexpected events such as baggage loss, medical needs and cancelled flights occur unexpectedly.

Find out more about Frank and Gabrielle’s experiences in their full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Gabi is from England and Skip from the U.S.


Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: In 2007, we spent two weeks in Thailand on our honeymoon. We fell in love with the gentle, inexpensive lifestyle of Southeast Asia and decided it was a place we’d like to spend more time in. When we returned home, we began the process – researching ways to live there, selling our home and eventually quitting our jobs and giving away most of our belongings. We had also grown weary of the endless quest for more - money, things, experiences - that is so ingrained in western culture. Having experienced a gentle, easier lifestyle on our travels, we decided to give it a shot. Two years after leaving the US, we wrote a book about our experiences titled Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure. It includes interviews with people like us from all walks of life who similarly pursued alternative paths outside of their native countries.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We initially moved to Cambodia as we were accepted for volunteer posts with NGOs in Phnom Penh. After living there three and a half years, we decided to spread our wings again and spent three months travelling around China, India, Vietnam and Thailand before taking the first of many house-sits in 2014. Since then, we have been serial house-sitters and have spent time in France, England, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize and southern Africa. We write these responses from a mountaintop home in central Panama we are looking after while the owners are away, looking after four dogs and a home with an infinity pool and hot tub overlooking the valley and the Pacific Ocean.


Q: How long have you been living in your host country?

A: Since we’re nomads, we don’t have a host country. Our temporary homes range from ten days to six weeks.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: We travel as a couple. At first, Gabi had some challenges settling into life in Cambodia but that only lasted a few weeks. Since then, we have both been on the same page—loving the opportunities provided to us and supporting one another if one needs more time with a family member or wants to explore another region. We have benefited greatly by being global citizens. Both writers, our travels and experiences have fed our work and given us a wide range of subject matter. In addition to Just Go!, Gabi wrote a book about traditional Cambodian desserts and a travel guide to moving to Cambodia (The Definitive Guide to Moving to Southeast Asia: Cambodia) as well as two children’s books; Skip published a cookbook featuring family recipes and dishes he has learned around the world and his first novel, Rilertown, which was released in 2016. Both of us are presently working on final drafts of novels.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: We both have our times of missing family. Gabi’s family lives in England and Skip has two daughters and two grandsons living in the States. We keep in touch as much as possible through social media, and make it a point to visit both countries at least a couple of times a year. Friends and family have also visited us in some of the places we have visited: Cambodia, Vietnam, Ecuador, Turkey, and England.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: In every country we have travelled, we’ve been met with kindness, friendliness and acceptance. In Cambodia, where we lived the longest as expats, we fell in love with the people who are among the warmest, sweetest people we’ve ever met. We both believe travel opens your eyes to understanding other cultures and brings people of all races, creeds and colours closer together. It helps to speak the language...even a bit. We struggled to learn Khmer – the language spoken in Cambodia – but became proficient enough to communicate with locals wherever we went. Speaking the local language opens doors that otherwise would have remained closed to us.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in your host country? How did you manage to find a social circle there?

A: When we moved to Cambodia, Gabi made it a point to create a social circle. She attended classes, joined organisations and networked among the local and expat community. We also had a small group of fellow volunteers from the organisation that placed us in Phnom Penh which we socialised with. Skip had a number of Cambodian friends—mostly colleagues at the NGO where he worked—so we had a wonderful mix of friends from around the world.


Q: How does the cost of living in your host country compare to your home?

A: Using Cambodia for this example.


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Between 50 cents and $3.00, depending on whether you go to a local place or an expat coffee shop

Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: At our favourite local haunt, the Chinese Noodle House, every dish costs less than two dollars

Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: From $20 to $50 for two. Skip is an evolving chef and loves to cook and shop in local markets, so we tend to eat at home wherever we go, often making dishes that include whatever is freshest and most available in local markets, and that reflect the local cuisine. He speaks only basic French, but enough to learn a fantastic recipe for eggs, wild asparagus and local black truffles from a chef in a market in southern France who was buying stock for his restaurant. The best experiences start by approaching strangers.

Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine isn’t cheap since it’s imported, though you can usually get local vintages that can be awful or downright unpalatable. We once bought a carton of local white wine in Ecuador, following our “how bad could it be?” motto. The answer: Terrible. Undrinkable, in fact, and we used it to clean the drain. No idea about cigarettes since we don’t smoke.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in your host country?

A: Check local banking regulations and ask around. Most countries have an expat forum (in Cambodia, it was the Yahoo Group Cambodian Parents Network, which was a crucial forum for tips, advice and warnings.) When we arrived in Cambodia, we needed a letter of reference from the NGOs we were working for to open an account. You also should check banking agreements between your host country and the US, as US regulations impose restrictions on transfer and access to your money in some countries. We use ATMs wherever we go, and have had no problem accessing funds. Tips: Be sure your ATM won’t expire while you’re travelling. We got a shock when we tried to withdraw money in a remote village in Morocco and learned that our cards had expired. It pays to pay attention.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Visas are fairly straightforward and simple. We check the regulations in advance of travel and simply follow the procedures. Some countries can be more complicated than others. India and China visas required considerable documentation, and the process through which we obtained our Indian visas was an interesting experience in cultural differences. We went back and forth to the Indian embassy in Phnom Penh several times before we finally got our visas – the day before we were to fly to New Delhi. As for work permits, it pays to keep an eye on changes wherever you’re living, as regulations tend to come and go and change with a moment’s notice.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in your host country is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Skip seems to attract whatever local disease is prevalent, so we have considerable experience accessing local health care. We use private clinics wherever we travel and generally find the healthcare good – in some cases excellent – and much more affordable than in the west. We visited clinics in Cambodia when Skip contracted dengue fever (twice), flew to a hospital in Bangkok when he contracted a double dose of malaria in India, and saw an internal medicine specialist in Belgrade, Serbia who diagnosed a minor digestive issue that had nagged him for months and previously gone diagnosed. In January, he had a total hip replacement at a private clinic in England after searching his medical options around the world. It was a fraction of the cost of a replacement in the US and – much to our surprise – 30% less than two excellent hospitals we know in Bangkok.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or host country? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: At first, our volunteer organization provided us with health insurance. After we were no longer volunteering, we registered with WorldNomads which we continue to use. We are both believers in health insurance being an essential ingredient when it comes to travelling or living abroad. Basic healthcare is often cheap and affordable in many of the countries we visit, but we want to make sure we’re covered for anything substantial that may occur. World Nomads is travel insurance – not technically health insurance – and does not cover pre-existing conditions. We carry it to protect us from accidents and serious injury, and have found their coverage and service mixed but acceptable. It’s important to read the fine print to fully understand what is covered.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to your host country? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: Our decision to leave the US had a more permanent feel to it, as we expected to be gone for years, not months. At first, the process of reducing – selling our possessions or giving them away – felt imposing. Then it became fun, and we took pleasure in finding new homes for our things. Giving away possessions became part of our daily life. An antique ice box wound up in a friend’s home in Maine. My nephews and nieces got our furniture and snow blower. Our kayaks went to a friend who’d always wanted a pair. One friend came for dinner and left with a print she had always admired And so on. We rent a small storage unit in Massachusetts were we left keepsakes, heirlooms and our golf clubs. Some items are too precious to give away.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Changing priorities. Being away from family, and experiencing distance from close friends. Several friends died since we left, which makes the separation seem further, more final. Dealing with surprises. If you’re rigid and uncompromising, life on the road will eat you alive. Best to smile, roll with the punches and wait for the 12:15 bus that will finally arrive at 5 p.m. Take a walk. Enjoy the local scenery. Slow it down.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in your host country?

A: Mostly positives. Freedom, choice, having access to new countries, cultures and experiences. Having the time to explore, get lost, take some chances, and learn to truly trust. The world is a lot friendlier than many believe. It’s easy to meander. We write about our experiences on our blog, www.themeanderthals.com. Negatives are mostly transient. We’ve had a hard time finding things occasionally, but have learned to adjust or do without. At first the lack of choice was difficult, but simplicity soon became an essential ingredient to our lifestyle that now suits us well. We live out of suitcases and backpacks – one each – and manage just fine around the world.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Ask the locals, and follow the crowds. We have had countless memorable experiences by simply trying something new and different. Drive or walk down a dirt road. Follow the sign to the waterfalls. Try the local food. “What’s the worst that could happen?” is one of our daily mantras. Gabi wrote a comprehensive article about living in Cambodia for Transitions Abroad (which awarded her second prize in the writing contest): http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/living/articles/moving-living-in-cambodia.shtml


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: We are constantly on the move. This year, our house sits have taken us to Panama, Belize, England, Greece and Italy. No plans to move home in our future so far.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Keep an open mind. In Cambodia, we realised that expats never really understand the culture of the country, and we were constantly amazed by the world around us—and loved being in the heart of it. Cultivate a sense of humour—things will go wrong. Open your heart and your home to local people—it’s the way to broaden your circles, and your experiences of life. Learn some of the language—it will endear you to the locals. Make the most of local opportunities—it’s why you moved to another part of the world.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: We try to capture our experiences on our own blog at www.themeanderthals.com and monitor travel websites for tips, ideas and deals. We use www.trustedhousesitters.com and www.mindmyhouse.com to keep us posted on available house sits, and both have been important components to our global experiences. For Cambodia, we use Travelfish and follow local publications such as the Phnom Penh Post.