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8 location independent musings from 2020

It’s an end of year post! And it’s been a while since my last blog post here. I’m not sure why. But I got the urge to write again last week, jotted down some notes, and here we are with a page of location independent musings.

8 location independent musings from 2020

I love doing these reflective type of posts, and I’d urge you to try and write one too (Because “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards“). A year is a long time, but can, especially for 2020, seemingly pass in a flash, and it’s good to take some time to go “hell yeah, I did do some stuff!“.

Flying out of Thailand at the end of 2019, I had some amazing plans set up for 2020. Travelling all over Europe, finally getting to Lisbon, seeing my friends and family in the UK, spending summer in London, going to some festivals, running a few parties, then ending up back in Asia to escape a cold European winter… This was gonna be a great year…

Well you can probably guess how those plans turned out! Still I tried to make the best of it, as we all did. This post is a bit of different to my previous posts, I am not sure if there are many lessons in it or learnings – I think we’ve all learnt enough in 2020 – but maybe my experience is useful to you.

Contents:

  1. Chillin’ in Cyprus
  2. A virus lost in translation
  3. Livin’ la vida lockdown and loving London
  4. Flying post-COVID
  5. Checking out Croatia
  6. Massively reducing social media usage
  7. Getting back in to DJing
  8. Work, business and investments doing OK

1) Chillin’ in Cyprus

In mid-January I travelled to Cyprus looking for the (ever elusive) European winter sun, to check out business and investment opportunities there and to catch up with some friends.

Starting in Larnaca, a depressing dirty port town on the East of the island; it was windy, cold and unattractive. Decent accommodation was hard to find, it had a couple of great restaurants, a lot of terrible ones, and a small community of nomads and friendly locals that seemed to only ever meet at one bar (which I didn’t really like, booo!).

People at a meet up in Larnaca
A JS Meetup in Larnaca at The Brewery on Finikoudes beach. Who says developers aren’t a diverse group? Beards vs Stubble. Beards won.

Just as I’d given up on Cyprus as being a winter sun destination (or any destination, to be honest), we decided to check out Paphos just in case it was any better.

And Paphos was like stepping in to a different world compared to Larnaca.

Paphos has culture, history, art, a beautiful harbour, lots of nature, stunning views, a coffee scene, a great coworking space, and plenty of affordable decent home rentals. Wow.

Paphos is surrounded by mountains which produces a micro-climate of less wind, less rain, and more sun, plus them mountains contain some of the best wineries on the island. I managed to take a vineyard tour with a group of people from the local coworking space.

View from a winery in Paphos
Nope, it’s not Windows XP, it’s the lush hills that surround Paphos

Hügge Space is the only coworking space in Paphos, and the two guys who run it there really seem to know what they are doing. It’s a great space, with talking and quiet areas, a lovely rooftop, decent WiFi throughout, monitor hire, lots of social activities… it’s a great example of a coworking space (almost perfect, they follow most of the rules of the 10 Commandments of Coworking Spaces) and I am super surprised Hügge doesn’t get more exposure in the nomad scene. They are making Paphos a really attractive place to go.

View from the rooftop of Hugge Space
The view from the rooftop of Hügge Coworking space in Paphos

Cyprus is a pretty good place for nomads. You can get cheap flights from all over Europe in to Paphos (mostly only in peak season) or Larnaca (RyanAir, EasyJet and BA) all year round. Hiring a car is dirt cheap off-season (I paid €100 to rent a brand new VW Golf for 1 month).

Around Paphos you can find an apartment long term for €500 per month (start your search on Airbnb). The town is pretty walkable (a big hill to get to the coworking space though!). Eating out is reasonable. I found groceries not amazingly priced – meat and wine is good value, but veggies and some fruits were on par with London prices in the supermarkets (I never worked out where the farmers markets were).

What’s more you can get citizenship after seven years of having a home there (you only need to actually live in Cyprus for 2 months per year!) – not bad if you wanted to try and get an EU passport or pay less tax (not better than the U.K., but better than a lot of EU countries, Germany for example). Cyprus is outside the Schengen zone, so ideal for a pitstop if you need to wait three months before re-entering the zone.

2) A virus lost in translation

While we were in Paphos, things started to go a bit mental. Watching the local news, not understanding much, we kept hearing “China”, “Wuhan”, “virus”. We were seeing people bulk buying food and water. Hand sanitiser all of a sudden becoming like unicorn poop. It felt ominous.

And… then I got ill. Having a minor illness in a foreign country can often be easy to deal with – private healthcare is typically affordable, you can pay for your treatment, get a load of drugs, rest up, get loads of food deliveries, and you’re done. Well damn this was not the case in Cyprus. Especially with the early rumblings of a contagious virus on the loose.

The illness I had was a beast, but probably wasn’t COVID. I really struggled buying medicine that was decent and also not a complete rip-off. It was like I was in some tourist hell, and clearly because I was a tourist and not a local I felt I was some kind of sub-citizen.

My Spidey-sense tells me I was ill
My Spidey-sense tells me I was ill

Pharmacists wouldn’t sell me items that locals were buying. Or they would sell me things that were massively over-priced or not really what I wanted. I had problems with translation or being understood or I was being ignored, I’m still not sure. Meh. It wasn’t a nice experience, and left a bit of a bad impression on me about Cyprus. It felt like us versus them. Never felt that before anywhere else, and hope I won’t feel it anywhere else again.

3) Livin’ la vida lockdown and loving London

I got back to the UK in mid-March to attend an event I was running, and then a week later was due to fly to Lisbon for 3 months. But just a few days later, the UK was put in to lockdown and the Lisbon flight was cancelled. I think this is the 3rd time a planned trip to Lisbon has been cancelled. It’s just not meant to be.

Stuck in London, I decided to prepare myself for a long lockdown. The wonderful Amazon delivered me a complete home working setup the next day – desk, chair, extra monitor, carpet, mousemat. Amazing. Lazada doesn’t do that.

Remote work setup
My remote work setup courtesy of Amazon.

In fact the 6 months I spent in London really reminded me why I love London so much. From March to September the weather was stunning. Beautiful blue skies, hardly a drop of rain.

I travel all over the world and still find London to be just perfect for me.

People moan that every corner has a Tesco Express, but I like that I can buy really fresh fruit and vegetables on every corner for a quid. You just don’t get that in 7-11.

People moan that it’s unfriendly. Every capital city is unfriendly as most people are there to work, but I don’t need a random nutter smiling at me to enjoy my day, thanks.

They moan about the traffic. They should move to Bangkok!

Houses of Parliament shot from Waterloo Bridge
Loving the London vibe! The Thames and Houses of Parliament seen from Westminster Bridge at sunset

London is amazingly walkable. You can relax, zone out and walk for miles without fear of standing on trash or a rat. And I did walk while I was there – as my “daily allowed exercise” during COVID lockdowns. Walking around the City and West End gets even better when there is no-one around. Plus you can stop in China Town and grab dim sum to go. Can’t be bothered to walk home? Jump on a hire bicycle. Easy.

London also has some amazing food choices. Whenever am I in another country there is always one food I really crave which I cannot get, but in London, virtually everything is an Uber Eats order away, or a 20 minute trip out to a specialty supermarket (perfect for an extremely demanding Malaysian girlfriend!). Cravings be gone.

Honestly, I think most Londoners don’t know how good they’ve got it! I really love London. Despite Brexit.

Quick update: Just saw the UK ranked as 2nd in the best countries in the world to work from home in 2021!

London scoring high. New Zealand ranks 14th, just above Singapore in 15th. Thailand is 18th.

4) Flying post-COVID

After 6 months in London, my partner’s UK visa was close to expiring so we were forced to make travel plans. We were feeling a lot calmer about the virus, numbers were dropping hard in the UK, shops and gyms were open again and the airports were running. We took the opportunity to get some sun, so we jumped on a British Airways flight to Croatia.

Naomi in Biohazard gear
I didn’t do a Naomi and go full bio-hazard, but there were a few people like this on the flight.

At the time I think flights had been running for about a month or so after lockdown. But the flight was an excellent experience.

At the airport, it was quiet. You could chat to the agent on the desk without feeling rushed, security was quick and easy, passengers were boarded row by row. On the plane, there was lots of space, free masks and antibacterial wipes were given out, the cabin crew seemed happy – probably as they didn’t have to do a mad dash through the plane with food, drink or duty free. Passengers were deplaned row by row, there was order, it was beautiful.

Honestly it was one of the most relaxing and best flight experiences I’ve ever taken. It only took the deaths of millions to make flying better! Who’d a thunk it.

5) Checking out Croatia

I knew a guy about 10 years ago who raved about Hvar and Split and the Dalmatian coast. It’s always stuck with me and I felt now was the time to visit.

It helped that by September Croatia still had a really low COVID rate, no quarantine was necessary on arrival, and both UK and Malaysian (my partner) passport holders could enter (thanks for the info IATA) and stay for up to three months. So we were eager to check it out.

We arrived in Zagreb. First thing we see is a massive anti-mask rally – people demonstrating about wearing masks. OK, not a good start!

Life in Zagreb seemed like normal – the main street was packed on a Friday night, restaurants bustling. Coming from a quiet and pretty much lockdown and empty London, it was a bit of a shock. Maybe they missed the news about the COVID thing?

Anyway, Zagreb was a strange place. We were staying at an Airbnb up in the old town, which was super hilly, but with lots of beautiful old buildings, some of which had been affected by a recent earthquake. Down in the new town, the buildings are a mix of brutalist and socialist. Ugh. I didn’t really like the vibe. So after a week we hired a car and headed out of the city.

I really wanted to get away from all the covidiots, get some peace, quiet, outdoor space, and have a BBQ for some reason. I managed to rent a lovely old barn conversion for a month on Krk Island.

Gates to the villa we rented on Krk Island
Gates to the villa we rented on Krk Island

Krk is a quiet island, not really a lot going on, very hilly, very rustic. Some beautiful beaches there, lots of hiking and mountain biking. It reminded me of Italy. I learnt later it was part of the Venetian Empire for 500 odd years and I guess that makes sense.

BBQ chicken and red wine
I finally got my BBQ and managed to snag a decent bottle of Slovenian red wine. Cheers

September is already off-season on Krk, but the weather was in the mid 20s and was wonderful. The house had a 4G internet router, which was good enough for everything we needed to do. We found that 4G routers are pretty common all across Croatia and they were always pretty good speeds.

Coast of Krk Island
Checking out the coast of Krk Island

By mid-October it was turning a little chilly in Krk, so we decided to head south to chase the sun. I was keen to check out Split, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in another city. I settled on another villa, this time in the mountains of Podgora, slap-bang in between Split and Dubrovnik.

The nearest large town to us was Makarska, famous for it’s Makarska Riviera, which I am sure is a marketing gimmick to make it sound lovely. And to be honest it is amazingly lovely.

While we were nearby, there were a few nomads in Makarska but we didn’t get a chance to meet them. Makarska is apparently worth checking out as a nomad – things to do, very walkable and affordable. No coworking space yet though.

We also visited Split, which I didn’t really like. Similar to Zagreb it had a mix of brutally dull looking communist-era tower blocks, mixed with a half mile of heritage. Healthy nomad scene though, and the lovely people at Saltwater Coworking can help organise places to stay.

South of Split was where we loved the most. Driving along the coast road there is wonderful. We had a spectacular view from our villa, looking over the channel to the island of Hvar. Everyday the view stunned me. It was beautiful. So beautiful that we decided to stay in Croatia long term – for a year at least. We loved it that much!

View from Podgora
Camera doesn’t do it justice, but waking up to this view was stunning!

But we ran in to lots of issues applying for a long stay visa. Apparently it’s easy to do, but it wasn’t for us at the offices we phoned, emailed or visited. Or with landlords when we needed them to give us a one year contract – all paid upfront.

We decided to move locations, and ended up in Trogir. Trogir is a small island to the north of Split and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s beautiful, but you need half a day to see it all and you’re done. There isn’t a great deal happening there and prices aren’t any cheaper than Split.

Boat in the dock at Trogir
Trogir is a small little town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Worth a day trip but not much more.

We visited the Police Station in Trogir to extend our stay. After queuing up for ages, being ignored, being shunted around from one place to another, with no clue what to do, one of the staff finally said “No, you come with translator only” and kicked us out. OK, but we’d already been told that we will have to visit the station around 10-15 times to get the visa, and each time we need a translator? Forget it.

Croatia is supposed to be launching a digital nomad visa, but I feel the bureaucracy of the communist years there has not yet gone away, so I cannot see this new visa being easy or practical to get. Just enjoy the 3 months stay. It’s outside Schengen too. For now. Croatia want to join the EU properly in 2023, so 2021 is a good time to experience Croatia as it should be, and to possibly invest in property – prices will only go up!

6) Massively reducing social media usage

In 2020 I made a concerted effort to reduce my social media usage. I felt this was important as I was wasting too much time on social media sites and getting very little out of it.

It was also bad for my mental health. Twitter has been my go-to safe place for general news for ages, but even that was taking its toll on me.

With Brexit, COVID, Trump, stocks, startups, elections… every week was a new drama, and everyone was suddenly an expert, using their “data” to prove in 280 characters that their viewpoint was correct, happily arguing all day that the newspaper/party/business/person they believe in was THE ONLY WAY. I just kind of got bored with it all. Rise above and that.

Instagram wasn’t much better. Doom scrolling. FOMO. I don’t know why you need that in your life.

So my first step was simple – delete all social media apps on the phone. Goodbye Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit.

A few additional things helped me reduce even more…

Sort out the Facebook:

  • I blocked the Facebook.com domain on my phone (using the Block Distracting Websites app).  Blocking Facebook on my phone meant that if I want to use Facebook I need to be on my computer.
  • I cleared out my friends on Facebook. 10+ years of meeting people around the world meant I “knew” 3000 people. I cleared out mostly anyone who I hadn’t spoken to properly recently. Down to about 800 people now.
  • Unfollowed friends – I am sure everyone has a friend who posts shite everyday or believes everything The Guardian prints is true. I just unfollowed a ton of them.
  • Unfollow sources – News is depressing, so I just blocked a lot of shared articles in my feed. I highly recommended blocking Guardian, Huffington Post, Independent, Daily Mail, CNN and any other media outlet that makes its money from making readers angry. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click on the small dots on an article and see if it has an option to “Hide all from X”. Sorted.

Fixing up my Twitter:

  • Deleted all my tweets – This was massive for me. 10 years of history, deleted. But it reset my score. Its easier to walk away from the game when you ain’t in the game. Now before I post I think “Do I want this tweet to be my first tweet?”, the answer is no, and I don’t post. Recommended.
  • Unfollowed people who talk about subjects I don’t like. I was always worried what people would think if I unfollowed them, but then I figured if our relationship is that fragile then we have bigger issues.
  • Block or mute other accounts who are annoying but get a lot of retweets (on Brexit, take your pick of a hundred talking heads).
  • Use the mute words list. Honestly I add something to my mute list every week. Politics, sports, whatever movement is big this week. You avoid all of it, and guess what? The world keeps spinning.
  • Use lists – I now add people I originally wanted to follow to private lists. When viewing a list there is no algorithm, no suggested tweets, and you have no follow/unfollow bullshit associated with it.

In 2020, instead of mindlessly scrolling through social, I read a ton more. I read about 40 books in iBooks. For news I’m interested in, I use Feedly for iOS which displays RSS feeds. No adverts, retweets, politics, cat pictures. You control the sources. Awesome. I highly recommend giving Feedly a go.

7) Getting back in to DJing

I used to DJ a lot, but lost interest about 15 years ago. I was never that good at it, although I got to play at quite a few different clubs across the UK. I enjoyed it and loved the music, still do. Anyway, the online radio station I run was hosting a New Years Eve party, and I got roped in to playing a DJ set. It forced me to get myself sorted!

I ended up buying a small DJ controller, creating a small library of tunes and being put on the spot on New Years Eve. Damn, it was terrifying. Had a few “glitches” – stopping the wrong record, rewinding the wrong record, running out of time, ruining some mixes – but in the end I had some fun listening to tunes I love.

The DJ controller I got was a Numark DJ2GO2. It’s limited, but just about does what it needs to. For £60 it’s a steal, and it’s so ridiculously light and small I’m going to start travelling with it. I can see myself busting out a DJ set to myself next time I’m on a long-haul.

Anyway, if you wanna see me DJing, panicking, pointing at things, and sweating (the heating was on far to high!) then here ya go – it’s breaks, beats and bass with a lickle garridge Essex flava in it.




8) Work, business and investments doing OK

In 2019, I enjoyed spending a ton of time coding and learning more tech stuff – I wanted to do much more in 2020 – and I feel like I succeeded. 2020 was my first full year where I was really focused on coding.

Averaging out my hours over the year, I managed to code for about 25 hours per week on projects and contracts, making over 1100 commits to Github. I mostly worked with PHP and JavaScript, but got time to work with React, Gatsby, NextJS, NodeJS, Jekyll and a few other libraries and frameworks.

I’ve got a fantastic client who needs a lot of Enterprise-level WordPress development work done and that’s been fun working on that. I’ve been using WordPress for 10+ years and now it’s adopted Gutenberg/React it’s got a lot more interesting.

Github commits for the year
My Github commit history for the year. Lots of code done! Notice the March illness, and Xmas days off (time to write this!)
Graph of my working hours
Lots of working hours this year. Ooh be careful, nearly did a full months work in May.

I’ve discussed this before, but going from being an entrepreneur nearly all my life to now predominantly working for a client per hour feels like a backward step. But I really enjoy coding. So what do I do? Sure, I can code my own project, but then I am sure business-type things will need to be done that I won’t enjoy (marketing, sales, financials, etc). I can take on bigger or more projects, and hire developers to work with me, but then I’ll just be a glorified secretary / project manager shuffling papers and be back in a place I was a few years ago not enjoying my work.

That’s not to say I didn’t use my coding skills in 2020 to develop some cool stuff. I developed a couple of SaaS businesses, one for a client, one for myself (didn’t end up launching it – maybe 2021). I scratched my own itch and developed a few random tools using PHP and JavaScript that help speed up tasks I do. I am conscious that I love coding the businesses rather than running the business.

My other businesses and projects are all doing mostly OK but definitely less income from them this year…

My Amazon FBA product has been a little slow this year (the product is slightly less important to people during the pandemic), but I only spend an hour or so on it per month. Ad spend and fulfilment costs keep rising each year, and sales are trending down. I find the whole marketing, sales and product management to be totally boring, so I think it might be time to sell the product on. I’ll see how it goes this year.

My Amazon Merch design library has been OK. I haven’t done much to it in 2020, but it turned a decent passive income.

Affiliate income has been strong – one of my projects deals with subscription boxes and that’s had a storming year thanks to the bat flu and people ordering from home.

Amazon affiliate income is pretty dead, I don’t know if they have changed the rules or the percentage of how it’s calculated, but my income is a 50th of what it used to be on there, and I never seem to get income from multiple things in a basket anymore (I still remember the time someone bought a $10 item I recommended along with a $4,000 printer – that was a decent 7% commission from just one click!)

Airbnb in London has been pretty quiet due to lockdowns and no tourists. My property investment strategy was always taking in to account revenues from Airbnb rental, so this has been a bit of wake up and needs a rethink. Although I am bullish of Airbnbs success (Hotels are dead. Yes I bought $ABNB stock on day one) and I’ve invested in an Airbnb Management company in London, I still think they will have a lot of challenges going forward. And as a landlord trying to actively rent via Airbnb, I am not sure what the future market will look like.

Investments have done well – 2020 was the first year I’ve properly spent time on investments and picking my portfolio. I don’t know if I’ve been incredibly lucky but I’ve picked a few winners and seemingly bought the dip. I was shouting about Tesla stock in September 2019, and well… you know the rest. Rocket ship. A shame Robin Hood never made it to the UK, but I’ve found Trading 212 is still the best app for investing.

Bitcoin isn’t really an investment, more like a gamble – I see my BTC holdings like chips in my hand at a casino. Sure you could cash out, but chances are you won’t. I still don’t understand Bitcoin, even if banks and companies are putting funds in to it now, I can’t see it being stable enough for any serious monetary use. A discussion for another day perhaps.

Overall, it’s all generally been OK, so thankful for avoiding any COVID nightmares.

And that’s my 2020. I hope some insights of my lifestyle helps you make decisions or guides you. If not, tell me below. If anything in this article resonates with you, leave a comment to let me know!

About the Author:

Hi, I'm James, a location independent entrepreneur! I travel the world while working on my own businesses, as well as helping friends and people I meet make more money. Follow my journey on Twitter or Instagram.