Listening to John

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.

This year is no different. After successfully avoiding winter seemingly forever, being hit by freezing temperatures when I touched down in London was a shock to both body and mind. There’s been a surprising amount of blue sky and sunshine, but most of my days are still spent inside, wine glass in hand, coaxing another couple of degrees out of the central heating. It’s hardly the tale of a tortured artist, but I’m still finding the combination of alcohol and cold weather an excellent muse. Introspection isn’t in short supply.

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.

 

The Travel

Sunset in Boracay

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.

 

The Friends and Family

Family time

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.

 

The Money

Money Dave

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.

Dave on laptop in Belize

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.

Dave, Inspiration Point

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

18 Responses to “Listening to John

  • Oh, I feel you Dave! I, too, made less in 2014 than in previous years and I, too, am still searching for that project that will fill my soul, bring some sense of success, and line my pocketbook (just a little more). We have found that slllloooowwwwiinnnnggg down has helped immensely – you’re right, it’s about the people; we’re enjoying making friends, having a routine, and still having complete control. Good luck in 2015 – I can’t wait to see where you guys end up. I hope our paths will cross again.

    • Here’s to meeting up again somewhere in the world! Are you planning to head back to Europe again this year?

  • The “longer stints in fewer cities” is what we’re planning, too, when we get to retirement (not far away now), so I’m very interested in the places you find. Spain sounds like a fine place to start. If we do this at our age, we’ll have to look for overseas health-insurance plans, too. We always move the goalposts, Dave. I think that’s part of the human condition. Whatever you decide to do, I know you’ll be enjoying yourself. After all, it’s not the goal, right? It’s the journey.

    • Yep, I doubt I’ll ever actually reach a set of goalposts before I’ve moved them… and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d know what to do if everything did actually turn out perfectly! What happens next?

  • I had your Mexico Christmas experience in Ella. It was the 16th day of solid rain and we were both recovering from leech bites. I got about 40 on me the previous day and Christmas day was the most miserable I’ve ever had. Needless to say, I changed all our flights and left Ella the next day bound for the comfort of a proper hotel on Colombo. Of course the rain stopped when we got there, but it was great to know we were heading to some place familiar — Bandung. And I think that’s always nice to know you have somewhere you can run to when you’re spent.

    • Bleurgh, that sounds utterly miserable. It rained a lot when I was in Ella too, but only in the afternoons — as long as I had everything done by lunchtime, it was fine! 😉

      “I think that’s always nice to know you have somewhere you can run to when you’re spent” — couldn’t agree more. That has long been Chiang Mai for us, and if the long term visa situation were easier, it could remain so. Failing that, though, we’ll just need to find somewhere else in the world!

  • I understand that crossroads feeling, as well as wanting to be more connected in real life to family and friends. I missed having a group of friends I could call and grab a beer with when we were fully nomadic. One of the big reasons for choosing Berlin as a base is that we had a good group of friends here from previous visits, as well as it’s just a fun city. I’ve also realized that one’s goals, priorities and what’s really important for the life one wants to live can change over time. And like you said, it’s all about understanding that and readjusting those goalposts. Excited to see how the life journey evolves in the next years!

    • Seeing you guys being so happy in Berlin is one of the reasons that having a base started appealing more to me, I think! You’re right, though, about how ones priorities move and change over time, and what we’re looking to do seems to be a natural progression for many of us who’ve been on the road for a few years. Will it be forever? Who knows, but it feels right now.

      Hope to see you in Berlin this summer!

  • When I was traveling for 13 months I missed routine and having a base and now I have a base I miss the continual moving and excitement of long term travel. It is hard to find a balance. We just have to keep tweaking our lives until it feels right I guess. I hope you find the right balance for you, it sounds like you are on the right track

    • Yeah, I think the secret (for us, at least) may be having a base available, but not actually being in it for more than half the year or so. I’ve no desire to give up the freedom to travel whenever I want — it’s why I started down this path in the first place — but I am happy to give up crappy hostels and cramped guesthouses for at least a few months of each year!

  • It’s an interesting problem that just about every long term traveler encounters in some way I think.

    Blogging provides the freedom, but seldom the income especially if you don’t want to sellout. There’s other services, like what I do, but come with a schedule, a boss, and the need to have good consistent Internet connectivity(less freedom).

    Regarding a home base. It’s expensive to have a place that sits empty 6 months out of the year. The problem with shared tenancy, like a time-share, is that its not always available for your use, which is what you want I think. I reckon a bedroom in your folks place is out of the question at this point 🙂 Also a real-world style traveler house is a little much 🙂

    Maybe that small log cabin on a trailer idea is a good compromise that keeps your burn rate low?

    • Yeah, all very valid points, my friend. I think that if we were to get a long term place, we’d rent it out when we weren’t there — either on Airbnb, or for a few months at a time via other means. Maybe even set something up to rent it to other digital nomad types for a month at a time.

      We tend to have some idea of at least what part of the world we’re going to be in 2-3 months out, so that could work, I think. Hard to know for sure without trying it, of course (plus the fact that we’d probably need to own the place or have very understanding landlords if we wanted to sublet!). The tiny home/cabin on a trailer thing is still an option, but comes with its own set of complications.

      As for the decent income thing, well, I do feel there are many ways to skin that particular cat, but that none of them are likely to be blogging (or at least, not directly). Hopefully I’ll start figuring at least one of them out in the next 12 months!

  • Happy New Year to you! I always make new years resolutions, although some people say they’re useless. I see it more as a time to take stock, and consider what I have achieved and what I would like to achieve in the coming year. So I totally get the feeling of standing at the helm of a new year, and contemplating the future 🙂

  • I’ve just had my 4th Christmas away from home and even though my Mum was here with me it’s still hard being away from the rest of my family, friends and traditions. My boss’ Mum has lived in Australia for 50 years and admits she still gets homesick for Scotland as soon as december begins!

  • Beautiful, thought provoking post. Thank you!

  • Hope 2015 is working out well for you now that we are almost halfway through it (where does the time go??)

  • Darren Hills
    2 years ago

    Hi Dave, im now 2mths into travel now as you know I started in Thailand then hit Darwin and worked my way down to Melbourne, on the way ive met some amazing people and seen great places plus learning to surf, but like you its the sadness of saying goodbye to to great people ive met on this journey, the lonleyness which hits me hardest, and yes it it tiring living in Hostels and living out of a ever growing backpack. My Christmas will be in Perth with my Sister so that should help. Thanks for the blog makes me know we all feel the same
    Darren

    • Yup, being lonely at Xmas sucks. Well, it sucks the whole year, but especially at this time. I think going to Perth to see your sister is a great idea — it’ll definitely help.

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