And so this is Christmas
And what have we done?
Another year over
A new one just begun
I’ve always loved John Lennon’s anti-war ode to the holiday season. It’s a sign Christmas is coming, with all that entails, and the lyrics get me thinking about what’s happened in the last twelve months and what lies ahead.
It’s been coming for a while, but here at the start of 2015, I find myself at a bit of a crossroads. Here’s why.
I’ve been on the road for over three years now, and the continual movement is starting to lose its luster. I talked about this a few months ago, and even though I had a wonderful six weeks in Myanmar, Taiwan and the Philippines at the end of last year, the feeling hasn’t changed. Living out of a backpack is fine, most of the time — but I no longer enjoy repacking it every few days, or falling over it every two minutes in a cramped guesthouse room.
I’m staying in a lovely Airbnb place this month — so lovely that it does, finally, make me want a base again. Somewhere to hang the winter clothes I’ve ended up, with a kitchen I can cook in and a desk I can work at. A place where I can get to know the neighbours, the guy that runs the corner store, the regulars at a local pub.
Not a permanent base, but a sometimes-home, a place I can dip in and out of for weeks or months at a time. Somewhere small and low maintenance, with just enough wall space to hang up a few photos and a sofa bed to start repaying the favour to everyone who has given me somewhere to sleep over the years.
And a coffee machine. Because that matters.
The funny thing is that I don’t think I’d travel less if I had a base like this. Not really. Lauren and I already try to alternate between “real” travel and staying somewhere for a while to work and recuperate, so things wouldn’t change much. We’re already trying to find a place to stay for another month or two in London before heading to Spain, but either way we’re looking for longer stints in fewer cities this year. And who knows, if we find a little place we like, somewhere we can afford, we might even try to buy it, or at least rent it long term. Now there’s a crazy idea.
It’s hard to be away from friends and family at Christmas, and it’s pretty much the only time I ever feel homesick these days. It wasn’t a problem this time around, with Lauren’s family adopting me as one of their own and filling me with salmon and chocolate, but the previous one in Mexico was particularly tough.
We were in a tiny, unheated room up in the hills of Guanajuato during an unexpected cold snap, and it was miserable. With all the restaurants closed and temperatures dropping, the day consisted of huddling under the covers, eating leftovers and Skyping with a family hanging out together and doing neither of those things. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to giving up and heading home, and I didn’t feel right for weeks afterward.
Maintaining relationships with the people that matter is hard when you rarely see them, and moving every few days or weeks makes it difficult to forge lasting friendships. Travel can be lonely, and we’ve both noticed the huge difference it makes being in the same place as people we know well — London right now, and Chiang Mai a few months ago.
There was a great little group of us that hung out all the time in that northern Thai city, whether it was grabbing dinner at the night market, sharing wines at the bar or just working together at a coffee shop in companionable silence. We all happened to be in the right place at the right time — a rare, wonderful alignment of travel schedules — and nobody wanted to leave.
A few weeks later, one of those friends asked me if I missed Chiang Mai as much as I’d thought I would. “No”, I replied, “but I do miss you.” It’s the people that make a place, even if they’re just as transient as you. I’m a natural extrovert, and not having friends and family around for long periods doesn’t do good things for my state of mind.
I’m going to be an uncle again any week now, and that, as much as anything else, reminds me I need to spend more time with friends and family this year, and give myself the opportunity to build new, lasting relationships along the way. Having a real base will help with that, and I’ll be making it a priority when figuring out travel schedules as well. I’m feeling positive about this change — now I just need to make it happen.
My catalyst for starting this adventure three years ago was hitting $1000/month in self-employed income. I finally did that shortly before my work contract finished, and chose to board a plane to Thailand rather than renew. It was the right choice in every possible way. The thing is, though, that my income goals didn’t stop there. My lofty plan — rarely spoken out loud, certainly never in public — was to ultimately replace my six figure corporate income.
That hasn’t happened. Nowhere near it, in fact.
Making money from travel blogging is tough, especially if you have a conscience. I’m not interested in putting out e-books and courses that sell a false dream of this lifestyle, and I’m definitely not interested in taking money and freebies from tourism boards to promote their destinations with gushing blog posts. If I wanted to be a PR person, that’s the career I would have chosen. Getting paid to go on press trips seems to be the next big thing in travel blogging, but the idea turns my stomach — especially since it’s rarely mentioned that cash has changed hands and opinions have been bought. It’s just not for me.
Avoiding the travel blogging underbelly is good for my soul, but not my bank balance. If you’ve been coming here for a while, you may have noticed how rarely I posted in the last twelve months compared to previous years. Let’s put some numbers around it: in 2012, I posted 152 times. In 2013 it dropped to 106, and last year, a mere 23. Instead, I’ve been focusing on other things.
Too Many Adapters has been growing well, and is finally starting to make a little money. Emphasis on the little, though — I still haven’t taken a paycheck, three years in, but can at least pay others to write for the site. This year, I should even be able to pay myself.
The site has also acted as a surprising portfolio — I’d long avoided freelancing, but it’s actually where much of my income came from last year. Several other publications asked me to write for them on both a one-off and ongoing basis, and I seem to be getting a reputation as “the travel tech guy”. I also self-published a guide to tech for digital nomads, which has done reasonably well. So that’s all good.
Still, when I sat down to do my taxes a few months ago, it wasn’t pretty. I made less in 2014 than the year before, and in neither case was it enough to live comfortably in the more expensive parts of the world. That’s not where I saw myself ending up, three years ago, and it’s not where I want to be three years from now either. I turn 40 this year, and have little desire to back myself into a financial corner for the rest of my life. Things need to change — but I’m not quite sure how.
It’s unusual for me not to have a big project in the back of my mind, but at the moment, I don’t. I need to update my book, I’ve got several different ideas for the future of Too Many Adapters, the freelance work seems likely to continue — but none of it feels like something that I can really scale and grow to six figures.
Does that matter? Maybe, maybe not … the $100k number is purely arbitrary, and more than I need. Still, to give up on that goal feels like failure, and I still think there’s a business out there I can really get behind, that can scale, genuinely help others and put real money in my back account at the same time. I just don’t know what it is. It’s a strange feeling.
So that’s where I’m at. Surprisingly, perhaps, I’m not sad about any of this. Far from it, actually. I know what a great life I have, and that despite the hiccups and hurdles, I’m still in a much better place than if I’d never got on that plane three years ago. Striving for perfection — or at least a better tomorrow — seems to be what I do, though, and that’s unlikely to change.
I know I’ll never get there, that I’ll always be moving the goalposts, but that doesn’t seem to stop me trying. In some ways, I’d almost prefer complacency — it’d certainly be an easier option — but I’m just not wired that way. Some things you just can’t fight.
A very merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
Here’s to 2015. I’ll be doing all I can to make sure it’s a good one.
Lennons image via Wikimedia Commons