12/30/2010 04:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

From Accidental Tourist to Purposeful Resident, Impromptu Moves Abroad

In the film A Good Year (based on a Peter Mayle novel), a London investment broker discovers that he has inherited a chateau and vineyard in France from his late uncle. After arriving in Provence to arrange for the sale of the property, fateful events convene to alter the course of his life and residence.

In a similar vein, in Under the Tuscan Sun (based on Frances Mayes' memoir) a recently divorced writer takes a trip to Tuscany and by pure serendipity finds herself confronted with the villa-fixer of her dreams, which she ultimately buys and renovates.

If one is to believe what one reads in books and sees in films, moving abroad is often the product of one or more happy accidents -- from blissful temp-to-perm holidays and unexpected vacation romances to inherited properties, and short-term work projects that turn into geographical happily ever afters.

My own history of travel and moves supports the aforementioned theory. I had no plans to make Amsterdam my home when I took off for my winter holidays there with a friend one year, en-route from Paris. But I fell in love... with the city that is. And love makes you do crazy things, like move to a country in which you know no one.

The temp-to-perm move is in fact a lot like love in that it happens when you least expect it, takes you by surprise. It is almost as if that level of life-altering activity can only be orchestrated when you're operating from your gut and in an "intoxicated state."

On another occasion, I conversely made a strategic decision that I was going to move to London. It was purely based on logic and reason: I have dual British/U.S. citizenship, London is an English-speaking publishing capital, and I know many family friends there as my parents and I used to live in London when I was little.

This sort of choice -- using my aforementioned amorous analogy -- is similar to when a person decides it's time to get married and settles for a convenient and "good enough" partner instead of waiting for the proverbial soulmate.

So I made the loud proclamation to my LA friends that London was good enough, and I was moving there. I packed up my stuff in boxes, gathered my contacts, and set up meetings. I found a short-term residence in a smart neighborhood. My landlady was an uptight, Chanel-suit wearing grand dame whose charm was only surpassed by the experience of sucking on a lemon.

Fast forward a month later and I found myself sobbing on the phone, typical unrelenting London rain pounding in the background. I was telling one of my Yank friends that I'd made a terrible decision and that London and I were not a match (not in such polite terms though).

I have since toyed with the idea of moving back to Europe. I know friends who talk of moving to South America and Asia. We all seem to find ourselves in a similar "neither flight nor fight" state. On the one hand, there's a reluctance to over-plan such things -- and that difficult-to-shake fear of making such a bold and decisive move. On the other, waiting for that unexpected thunderbolt moment that parts the seas seems reactive.

In 2010's anticipated-but-flopped film Eat Pray Love (based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir), the main character travels to Italy, India and then Bali on a quest for wholeness. She falls in love in the latter. So her partner proposes an unusual (but more and more common these days) arrangement in which they spend part of their year in New York and part of it in Indonesia -- a plan for the unplanned, a meeting halfway. Cosmopolitan living is of course the easy answer for the wealthy.

But perhaps it is the right answer for those of us brave and innovative enough to turn a holiday into a multi-faceted and rewarding real life.