Why I just moved to a country I have never been to before

“I think you’d be surprised if you knew how much time I spend thinking about Rome,” I said to my friend as I perched on a barstool in her kitchen, “I really do love it there. Italy is definitely my soul country and I think about it all the time”. So if I love Italy so much why have I just moved to Montenegro – a country I had never previously been to?

That, my friends, is a very good question!

Anais Nin that “Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.”

A few people have said that I am ‘brave’ for moving abroad but to me, there is no other way to live other than with courage. To me, living it with anything less is to squander it.

We can’t let obstacles or fear (which is really just the unknown) stop us from making the most of our one wild and precious life. It’s over far too quickly not to do whatever the hell we want with it

And I want to have adventures.


** Four months after writing this post I realised that, while I loved Tivat and Montenegro, I didn’t want to use it as a base to travel from, I just wanted to travel!

So I decided to embark on a nomadic adventure. I now live as a Digital Nomad working from my laptop while living in Airbnbs around the world. Follow my journey on Instagram.


Why I decided to leave the UK

I moved to Brighton when I was 23 and, although I adore the city, most of my friends have moved away and the few who remain are restricted by childcare – which means I rarely see them.

I actually have tons of friends and could talk to them all day long on the phone, but to meet them regularly for a film or coffee? Not so much.

So while I adored Brighton, after 27 years, I knew where every road went and the city no longer held any surprises for me.

I was ready for a new chapter.

I’m not going to go into politics here but I should be honest and say that a big reason for my decision to leave the UK was Brexit.

I voted to remain in the EU and after the 2016 vote, I remember saying to a friend “something has changed for me. I don’t know what this means yet but I feel differently about this country now.”

I knew I wanted to leave but I didn’t know where to go so I spent more and more time travelling until eventually, the longest I was in the UK between overseas trips was around two weeks.

Then one afternoon while having lunch under an ivy-covered pergola in a sun-drenched square in Rome, mourning my imminent return to Blighty I started writing some lists.

I wrote down what I liked about the UK and what I didn’t, the pros and cons of living there and the pros and cons of moving abroad, and what I was looking for in a home.

I’m not going to use this post to slag off the UK but, among other things, I felt it was too expensive, it was regressing rather than progressing, and the rhetoric was a bit too right-wing for my liking.

On my wish list was:

  • Clean air
  • Fresh, quality food
  • Liberal community of like-minded people
  • Seasonal weather
  • A low cost of living
  • My “tribe” which to me, means people who run businesses and who are familiar with the concept of remote working
  • Good internet speed

Overall, I wanted somewhere with a low cost of living and high quality of life to travel from.

But, while I knew where I didn’t want to be and what I wanted from a home base, I still didn’t know where that was. So I continued to travel and look for it.

And then Covid happened.

Yeah, it turns out that there is nothing quite like a global pandemic and being forced to stay in a place you aren’t a huge fan of to crystallize your thoughts about what you want from your future!

I decided that as I was only using the UK as a (very expensive) base and I could work anywhere, I needed to seriously start looking for a new one. And, to be brutally honest, I’d reached the point where pretty much anywhere else would do.

Why Montenegro?

It may look as if my move to Montenegro (MNE) happened suddenly but my journey actually started in 2019.

During one of our calls, I mentioned to Janet Alexandersson (the international contract lawyer who wrote my VA legal contracts) that I wanted to leave the UK but didn’t know where to go. 

She suggested I speak to a guy she knew called AJ whom she had met when they were both living in Gran Canaria. AJ had moved to MNE without ever visiting it before on the recommendation of an Australian friend of his and Janet felt his relocation criteria were very similar to mine. 

Janet introduced me to AJ online. We had a couple of chats and I made vague plans to visit him for a couple of weeks in the Spring of 2020 to do a recce.

We all know what happened next.

My plans to visit were shelved but the reasons AJ moved to MNE closely matched my own, and I felt it was a possible option for a new base. After a few more conversations and a lot of research (I’m a VA – we LOVE research!), I decided that it was a strong contender.

Montenegro not only matched my criteria but, more importantly, there was also a low barrier to obtain residency so I could stay longer than three months – because the 27 visa-free countries I could have easily relocated to previously were now off the table.

My original plan was to come to MNE for around six weeks and then return permanently after the summer if I liked it. And, if I didn’t like it or decided it wasn’t for me then I would just go somewhere else instead.

Why Tivat?

As a coastal person, I wanted to be by the sea and I narrowed the region down to Boka Bay on the Adriatic. The three contenders were Tivat, Kotor, and Herceg Novi.

On paper, Tivat appeared to have everything I wanted but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a decision until I arrived.

I was right. Tivat is a perfect fit for me.

  • It’s right by an airport and within a short drive of two others.
  • It’s ideally situated to explore the rest of the country. While absolutely stunning and closer to Dubrovnik in Croatia, Herceg Novi is a little too isolated for my requirements – it also has lots of steps! Kotor is gorgeous but can be a little gloomy in the winter as the sun struggles to rise over the mountains.
  • It has a coastal breeze while some inland cities such as Podgorica can reach over 50 degrees in the summer.
  • It’s a new town and the upmarket Porto Montenegro provides access to many conveniences that I enjoy.
  • It’s a comfortable size and mostly flat. I can get around easily and people are starting to recognise and know me.

Why not Italy?

While Italy is my favourite country there are a few reasons why I didn’t relocate there.

  • I literally love every single Italian town I’ve ever been to and I don’t think I’d be able to pick just one place!
  • Brexit has made it nearly impossible for me to get residency there. Even as a nomad, because the UK is now a ‘Third Country’ I can only stay in the entire Schengen Zone for 90 days out of every 180 then I have to leave for 90 days before I am allowed to return.

What I love about Montenegro so far

Under 14,000 square kilometres and with a population of around 623,000, MNE is small but packs a mighty punch. I’ve only been here five weeks but I absolutely love it.

The landscape is stunning

As you can see in this video, MNE is many countries rolled into one. You have mountains and skiing in the north, lakes in the middle and beautiful beaches to the south. It has the second largest canyon in the world and huge national parks.

It’s a country on the up

Montenegro has come a long way and is progressing quickly in multiple ways. Tivat is set to become the next French Riviera and the Boka Bay area, in particular, has a lot of potential.

Montenegro is an undiscovered gem that won’t stay hidden for long.

It uses the Euro

This is more of a perk really, but I like that I can use Euros here. I have a Starling card which, once opened, allows me to easily add a Euro account to my Sterling one.

UK only, Starling is owned by Mastercard, there are no fees and when I tap to pay for something it automatically takes the money from the correct currency account.

It’s safe

Crime is almost non-existent in Montenegro. Petty theft increases in the tourist season but assaults, rapes, robberies and burglaries are rare and women who have lived here for many years say they feel safe to walk alone at night.

The cost of living

While imported food is expensive, other things such as travel and accommodation are really cheap. Depending on the location and season, apartments range from €300 per month upwards and my new friend from Liverpool who has a two y/o son said her monthly childcare is €40!

And what I am finding a bit of a challenge

No place is perfect and many of these challenges were anticipated. In fact, I wrote a kind of SWOT analysis outlining things I knew from years of travel that I may struggle with and what I could do to mitigate them before I arrived.

Food

This is probably the biggest issue for me. I don’t enjoy cooking and it turns out that most of the things I ate in the UK are either very expensive or not available here.

Aside from fresh fruits and vegetables which are only available seasonally, most of their other food is imported. I think that food is just incredibly cheap in the UK and so it looks as if it’s more expensive here. I remember being quite surprised by some of the prices in Italian supermarkets as well.

I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this but since I’ve been here, I have not cooked once.

There is plenty of cheap fresh produce, but it’s often far cheaper for me to eat out or to ask a restaurant to make a large salad for me to take home than it is to buy the ingredients needed to make it myself.

Language

At first, I felt a little daunted because I had been learning Italian for some time and the language here is very different. It’s very consonant heavy and there appear to be subtle differences between Serbian Croatian and Montenegrin.

What actually helped was when a local told me it was a very hard language to learn and so because most people speak or understand English here, I decided to not put too much pressure on myself.

I made my own flashcards, practice daily and I’m picking up new sentences all the time. My aim is to be able to navigate routine interactions with locals and then build on that.

Polako učim… I am learning slowly!

The heat

Along with the language and mosquitoes, this was another challenge I had anticipated so I was kinda prepared.

Well, you can never be 100% prepared for something, but I did my best!

As I know I overheat quite quickly, I’m very aware of my environment, what I wear and when I do things. Tivat can reach over 40 degrees  in July and August which someone from the UK just isn’t used to

So I stay inside during the hottest part of the day, wear a hat, carry my UV umbrella and stay hydrated. I also have aircon in every room if I need it.

Mosquitoes

I’m allergic to mosquitoes so the area swells up and I have to take antihistamines. I do like to wear black (which mosquitoes love and it’s not the most practical thing in the heat) but I’m not sacrificing style for those little b*stards!

I brought a big mosquito net with me and put it up with a no-damage Command hook. It’s perfect for when I’m travelling and staying in an Airbnb as well. I also have fitted nets on all of the windows and the balcony door.

Smoking

There is hardly a single person in Montenegro that does not smoke. As a non-smoker, it’s pretty disgusting to find yourself downwind of someone fagging away while you’re trying to eat, but I guess there is always a comfort tax to pay wherever you live.

So, will I stay here?

While I cannot say with any confidence that I will be staying here forever, I plan to stay for a while at least.

I may move to Italy one day, I may continue to use Montenegro as a base, I may stay here forever, I may fall in love with another place entirely or I may decide to up sticks and go nomadic.

That’s what I love about being completely virtual. 

Your life is your own and you get to decide how – and where – you want to live it.


 

Feeling inspired?

If you’d like to take your VA business on the road then register your interest in my upcoming travel course.

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18 Comments

Saadia

I read all through your website in 1 afternoon. Such nice read, every single post from VA advice to personal.
Wishing you all the best in your new place, and hope everything works out just fine even with the little mosquito monsters.. 🙂
I have to say we have had quite a taste of a heatwave this year in the UK (it was around 30 to 35).

Reply
Shani

Wishing you the best of luck with your new life, Jo. This is something I hope to do one day, leave the UK behind.

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Tracey

What a great read…and totally get why you have done this…its not so great in the UK of late. I wish you all the best and will look out for the retreat deets when you publish them. So happy you have started on a new adventure and you are loving it.

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Sarah Haler

Love this, Joanne. If it wan’t for my family I would definitely have left the UK long ago but especially post-Brexit! I am a fellow Italophile and (long, long ago :D) spent a year studying in Bologna as part of my degree. I also spent a lot of time in Rome (as my then boyfriend had a family home there) and spent the entire summer in Ravenna only returning to the UK at the end of Freshers week of my final year (I was very tempted not to return at all)! The plan was to finish my degree then return to Italy but somehow I ended up working for Italian companies in th UK and never quite made it back except for my honeymoon tour of Italy and once for a friend’s wedding. Montenegro sounds wonderful; I used to live by the sea and miss it and I really hope to go on one of your retreats in the future. Wishing you well, Sarah

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Joanne Munro

Thank you so much for your message, Sarah. I’ve been to Bologna twice and loved it there. It was absolutely gorgeous at Christmas. Last time I was there I went to Ravenna for the day to see the mosaics which were simply stunning. That was a lovely little town as well and I bought my favourite cream teddy bear jacket there!

I’ve been to Rome seven times (so far!) and I think it’s my favourite city; there is a wonder around every corner. I wouldn’t believe a place could be some incredible and I can’t wait to go back. Let me know when you can come to MNE and we can discuss all things Italian!

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Maria

Love this! One of the main reasons I began considering remote work was the freedom to travel. I feel this story is both a big win for you and an inspiration for those who want to do something similar.
PS Can we come to the retreat even if we’re not as active as we’d like in the handbooker/rockstar community? I do hope so 🙌🏼

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Joanne Munro

I am so happy that you were inspired to create a virtual business. LIfe really is too short to live it in the little boxes we/society create for ourselves. The boxes are actually made of tissue paper but we think they are made of stone and can’t be escaped from.

The retreats will be offered to my Rock Stars (trainees and graduates of my DIY VA course) first I’m afraid but any Rock Star can attend however active or inactive they may be!

Reply
Toks

Wonderful blog post! Very insightful! I’m looking forward to coming to one of your retreats 😃

That’s wonderful that you’ve made lots of friends already. Where did you find them? 😊

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Joanne Munro

Thank you, Toks. I know you want to travel and I look forward to seeing you here in Tivat and telling you more about how I work and travel. I found my friends through a Facebook group called WoM – Word of Mouth – Montenegro Expats & Visitors Club.

They often arrange meetups and I went to one the first night I arrived with AJ who had come down from Podgorica to meet me (we had never met each other before). He knew about the meetup so we joined about 10 others for drinks. I then went to a couple more meetups and then last week, I arranged one of my own.

I met my real estate agent at that first meetup. She found me the perfect apartment and we have since become good friends. I’ve actually struggled with work deadlines this month as I decided to prioritise building my social life. It was my top priority as a dwindling social life was one of the main reasons I decided to leave Brighton.

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Nancy Benn

Your body will likely adjust to mosquito bites Jo!
My hubby used to have a really bad reaction (& I have some horrendous photos) however, within a couple of years of living in Spain, although the bites itched, they didn’t swell & blister in the same way.
Enjoy Montenegro, it looks a wonderful place to live 🙂

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Jo Jenkinson

I love this and this is something that I would love to do. Covid has obviously put my plans on hold for a bit. One thing though, how do you find out if there is an expat community in the areas? Are there facebook groups or did you know someone who put you in touch with people?
Thanks
Jo

Reply
Joanne Munro

Great question – I actually joined a few Montenegro Facebook groups months before I arrived to get the lowdown and to arrange to meet people for coffee when I arrived.

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Emma Peradon

Well done Jo, your experience so mirrors mine, and the reasons I decided to settle permanently in Portugal (thankfully getting residency pre-brexit). Quality of life is so important and the UK offers less and less of that these days! I salute your get-up-and-go attitude. A VA’s earnings go a lot further in these locations too 😁 x

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Joanne Munro

I remember when you left the UK in your van – off on an exciting adventure! I think you wearing a captain’s hat or something in one of your photos? I’ve not been happy in the UK for some time now and I do like exploring and change (that I instigate, obvs). Looking forward to you coming over for a visit although I am more than happy to come to Portugal!

Reply
Sue

Wishing you well Jo with you new life, new country and new business. It’s refreshing to hear such courage and confidence to make such a radical change.

Reply

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