I’ve been reflecting on the year that was 2018 and what I’ve learnt from it. I’ve put together a roundup of the things that have made the biggest impact for me, and the lessons I felt that l’ve learnt from each one.
In 2018, I’ve not done a ton of travelling, but managed to visit about 13 cities around the world; Kuching, Kuala Lumpur, Miri, Budapest, Cluj, Sibiu, Sighișoara, Bucharest, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, London, Leeds, and Manchester. I still think that’s one of the best things about being location independent, if you like a place you can stay a while, if you don’t like it, move on to the next place.
It was a good year for me full of interesting experiences; I got to try out one-bag travel, I got to visit a traditional Iban longhouse and celebrate Gawai, I got to explore central Europe, saw friends get married and celebrated birthdays in far-off locations, ate some amazing food, hung out with great people, and found something I’m passionate about and love doing. I learnt some stuff on the way.
This is a post for myself as much as it is for you, but hopefully you can get some value from my experience, or it helps you make decisions that can help you to adopt the location independent lifestyle. I wrote a post like this in 2016, and I don’t post a ton of personal type stuff on this blog, but hopefully you can relate to the points in this post.
6 things I have learnt while travelling in 2018
- Travelling the world is great, but you can’t take everything with you
- Non-stop travel is bad for me, slow travel works
- Carry-on only travel sucks
- Romania is amazing and could be a good nomad base
- Do what you love even if it’s not cool
- Side projects are a lot of fun, killing them can be good too
Of course, I want to hear your thoughts, so feel free to post a comment.
1) Travelling the world is great, but you can’t take everything with you
I really enjoyed having a home base to come back to in 2018. I spent a majority of the year in Kuching (check out my digital nomad guide to Kuching) and it was fun – I was productive, there isn’t a lot of distractions, I read a lot, the food is good (but kinda unhealthy, cutting down for 2019!). I love my apartment here and I bought a coffee machine, an oven (rare to find in Asia), got a big TV and got to indulge in stuff that I forgot I love to do – namely making great coffee at home, cooking more and watching Netflix shows.
Living on the road for a few years makes it really easy to go from one apartment to the next and never settle long enough to buy the stuff you can’t take with you. It’s easy to not have such “simple” things like a decent coffee machine (an Aeropress is great, but come on, it’s not an espresso machine!) or a decent kitchen with utensils. Sometimes you get lucky with a good AirBNB, but not often.
I get the same feeling whenever I go back to my apartment in London. It’s fun to be on the road, but you can’t always take everything with you, and some of those things give real comfort.
2) Non-stop travel is bad for me, slow travel works
I spent 3 months of summer in Europe – 3 months, 3 countries, 9 places. 1 month per country. Averaging 1.5 weeks per place. It was super fun and great to explore – I checked out Budapest, loads of places across Romania, then back to the UK to visit friends and family.
I was supposed to be working as I travelled, but it turned in to more of a three month holiday. I was super unproductive. Work was at the back of my mind. I felt like I was just trying to acclimatise constantly wherever I went.
Where am I eating, how do I speak the lingo, where am I going to work, am I being ripped off, how do I get there, do I need to go shopping, the internet isn’t working, I need to do laundry, oh my god it’s so hot etc.
It was tiring! And every time I got to a new place it had to repeat.
The experience made me super grateful for Kuching and my daily routine, and also glad for places like Chiang Mai/Thailand where the nomad culture is so strong there is an answer and an easy quick way to do almost anything you need to do.
I remember reading a blog post from Joel Gascoigne (Buffer) in 2015 when he visited “11 cities in 3 months” and I commented “You’re doing it wrong, dude! Take it slower!” and it’s only taken me 3 years to prove myself right. Slow clap.
3) Carry-on only travel sucks
So, I spent 3 months of summer in Europe – 3 months, 3 countries, 9 places. With 1 backpack. Never again.
I literally don’t know how anyone can live like that. I’ve never washed my clothes as many times as in that 3 months. I’ve never been so ill-equipped!
“But you save money on the flight” – do you? Do you really? I have to re-buy nearly all my toiletries every time I arrive somewhere. Plus a few of the cheap airlines in Europe now force you to pay for a “priority” seat so you can keep your bag with you instead of putting it in the hold. Where’s the saving gone?
“But you save so much time” – do you? Do you really? On a few flights I took, I had to queue up and get on the plane first to make sure my bag would fit on the plane. I didn’t want my laptop going in the hold. If my luggage is in the hold, I’d board the plane last and spend the boarding time having a coffee and working.
“But waiting for luggage takes so long” – maybe I’m just lucky, but my luggage turns up on the belt within 5-15 mins normally. Often my bag is there waiting once I’ve cleared immigration and then freshened up. So what’s up? Maybe it gets lost. I’ve only ever “lost” one bag, and it was couriered to my apartment 6 hours after I arrived.
And don’t get me started that you have to carry everything you own. Suitcases with wheels didn’t get invented for fun.
I’ve never had so much anxiety when I am packing my bag, every inch really does matter (huh-huh).
I’ve never been so nervous when queuing to get on a plane, and that they would spot my bag is dangerously overweight and bulging and that I would need to sacrifice something I own, on the spot, to be let on the flight.
I just don’t get it. Carry-on only forces a certain way of living and it’s one that I’m not sure I want to pursue. I can see how carry-on only could work if you spend you life in Asia on the beach, but even then it’s pushing it. Just put stuff in the hold and enjoy your life.
4) Romania is amazing and could be a good nomad base
Apart from Bucharest, I loved all the places I went to in Romania. Don’t get me wrong, Bucharest was still cool, but it’s a big, dirty, hot (in August) city, where people are heads down and (I hope) earning money (like most capital cities I guess). It was interesting and varied, but also lonely and expansive (like most capital cities I guess).
Cluj, Sibiu, Sighishora; these were the gems of the trip. Cluj particularly. Cluj is often called the “Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe” – the people are clever and interesting and doing cool things. There are a ton of coworking spaces. A ton of big tech companies are there. It’s a university town. Things are happening, there is a buzz. Out of the 3 month trip, I got the most work done in Cluj too.
Generally, I found Romania beautiful to look at; rolling hills, amazing landscapes, wonderful weather (going in summer helped eh), olde worlde buildings and architecture, lots of history, monuments and relics of the colossal failure of communism and socialism, beautiful little restaurants. The people have experienced so much hardship, but as a complete contrast to the unsmiling closed-off attitudes I experienced in Budapest (Hungary), the Romanians I encountered were friendly, inquisitive and lovely people.
And the food. Wow. I love simple fresh food – and I had some of the best food of my life in Romania. BBQ meats, pickles, vegetables, gallons of amazingly good wine. And it was all very affordable. They can keep the Palinka though.
I could easily see myself living in Cluj, but there’s a few more places I am eager to try out too (Brasov, Timisoara, Constanta and maybe a trip to Maramureș). Fast internet, great food, cool people, affordable living; Romania should definitely be on your list of places to visit.
5) Do what you love even if it’s not cool
While everyone around me is trying to get away from charging time for money, looking for passive income and to scale their businesses, I’m doing the complete opposite.
I’ve decided I want to be a coder.
What is this, 2001? Why?
Well, I enjoy it.
I started coding when I was about 7 years old (BASIC), made my first website in 1996 (it was about computer games), and have kept the web as a hobby and for side-projects ever since. I’ve made some great money out of it and even won a few awards.
But my degree was all about marketing. The jobs I got were always about marketing. I am a marketer. Sure, digital was part of marketing, so I always kept up with what was happening in the industry. I love genius marketers, like Seth Godin, and I want to create marketing that matters. I really am passionate about it!
But most businesses don’t do marketing properly. They add it on as an after-thought. They don’t want to pay for it. They hate not seeing instant results. They hate trying new things with no guarantee they will see a return.
Finding companies/clients to work with who think like that is difficult, draining and tiring. I don’t want to work on something when it’s not going to be done right.
So for the last few years, I’ve been working on my own projects, and getting more and more freelance work as a developer. Coding and creating, learning new stuff, making things work – and turns out not only do I enjoy it, I’m pretty good at it.
Coding is full of daily small wins and hugely enjoyable big wins – projects actually complete (unlike marketing where it’s a constant uphill struggle), and they work (a website works, or it’s not a website, unlike a marketing campaign that can easily fail after months of work), my OCD is happy (it’s up to me how well something is done or not), I can follow best practices (rules and order! Awesome!), I am constantly learning (Every. Single. Day), and every day comes with a problem and challenge that needs solving. By me. It’s a lot of fun.
What I’d like to do is keep learning more stuff and build my own software. I have a ton of ideas for websites and programs; real tangible stuff made out of code I’ve written. That sounds super exciting to me. In the mean time, I want to work with agencies and clients that will push me to learn and up my game.
But what about passive income? What about the dream?
Passive income is pretty boring.
I’ve had an Amazon FBA product that has ticked over nicely for 2 years without needing more than a few hour per month spent on it. I’ve spent the best part of 7 years working on Amazon stuff, dancing to someone else’s tune. Yawn. My AirBNB property takes a few minutes per month to manage (I use a management company – let me know if you want an introduction). Simple. I have a few hundred designs on Amazon Merch, and I still design t-shirts when I feel like being creative, but I’m not a designer, I’m simply not creative enough. Next. I have a few affiliate websites that tick over and earn decent money, but I last spent time on them a year ago. Done. Is it any of it fun? No. Money on its own is not fulfilling.
If all the cool kids are doing it, doesn’t mean it really is cool, it’s good for you, and you’ll enjoy doing it. So do what you enjoy. Do what you love. It’s going to be better for you that way.
6) Side projects are a lot of fun, killing them can be good too
One of my side projects is an internet radio station. When I say to people I run a radio station, they always give me that weird eye “whaaat?” look. But yeah, I run a radio station. Started it in 2004, it’s going to be 15 years old this year. Last year I thought about killing it.
One of the DJs on the station messaged me and said “Yo, what are you doing with the station? I love it. Don’t let it die!” – how many startups would kill for feedback like that?
I spent April working and improving on the station and relaunched it. Three months later the station held a relaunch party in London and I got to meet a ton of the DJs and listeners on the station, people from all over Europe who came together because of my project. What an amazing feeling. One month after that the station was named as one of the best dance music internet radio stations in the world. Project worth keeping.
Another side project was a coffee subscription business. Was a great passive income, I did little work for it. But it wasn’t growing. I wasn’t that interested in running it. Couldn’t scale it as it was. A few buyers wasted my time kicking tyres. Then the coffee plant started having problems. Kill it. Feels good.
I really enjoyed running a series of retreats for entrepreneurs. But it no longer fit in with my plans. A few buyers wasted my time kicking tyres. Kill it. Then someone wanted to take it over. Gone. Feels good.
What have I learnt? Well, apart from that selling businesses is hard, it’s also that a side project can be a sail or an anchor. So if you’re not getting fulfilled by working on it, if the users don’t love it, and if you’re not making money from it, ignore the sunk cost, kill it and spend your time on things that matter.