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The rain spat at the car as we drove down the grey motorway through thickening traffic towards the airport. The thermometer was reporting temperatures of 5ºC outside and as we stepped from the warm steel cocoon and into the harsh air, we felt winter’s icy fingers burrowing their way through our skin to touch our bones.
Twelve hours, three movies, two meals and a taxi ride later, we collapsed into bed. As I fought a migraine brought on from the oxygen deprived airline air, we gave in to the fuzz of tiredness clogging up our brains—that exhaustion particular to the traveller that makes even the most threadbare, rock hard bed seem like an inviting cloud of heavenly comfort—and fell into the heavy sleep of the walking dead: deep, dreamless and very black.
The next morning, we woke to find ourselves in a hip little apartment in South Beach, Miami. Outside, the glorious Florida sunshine warmed the world to a most acceptable 25ºC. Stepping out into a world of Art Deco architecture, string bikinis and sidewalk cafes—a million miles from the cold we’d left behind—we felt that rush of freedom that has not dimmed in the 1,000 days we’ve been doing this.
It’s a peculiar sensation that sneaks up on us when we least expect it. Hanging out the washing and and gazing over the morning Myanmar mist, watching the world wake up, you’re suddenly aware that everything is exactly like it should be. That the world is perfect in all of its imperfection.
Csikszentmihalyi labeled this sensation flow: Often felt through focused activity, it’s a feeling of oneness with the world, where time moves differently, the ego dissolves and you are a part of something larger than yourself. A moment of peace amongst the chaos and confusion of survival.
It’s a feeling of deep satisfaction; a “Holy shit, this is my life!” moment. And it’s wonderful when it happens.
But it doesn’t happen every day.
In Which An Ugly Truth Becomes a Beautiful Reality
The fact is, those moments are earned. They come as a result of many hours of planning, decision making and facing up to our very real failings.
Our lives are not what you may consider perfect. They are certainly not the advertiser’s version of perfect. We don’t spend the day lying in hammocks sipping margaritas. We actually work very hard—often 12 hour days for weeks on end—the key difference being that we work on the things we choose to work on, to the point that it’s almost impossible to call it work without laughing at the absurdity of it.
But if we do find ourselves doing work that we don’t like, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. We can’t get angry at our boss, or the company, or the world in general. It was our choice and is our responsibility.
We frequently fight with our often crippling indecisiveness because of this total control. There is nothing quite so debilitating as knowing that absolutely anything is possible. Like an earth-sized pure white canvas waiting for colour, where should you make the first stroke?
Before, it was possible to go days without deciding anything—from the breakfast we ate, to the road we took to work, to the work itself, to the TV we watched when we got home—all of it happened out of a mixture of habit and order.
For us, the most difficult thing we’ve faced in our first 1,000 days is not the practicalities that we worried about before we left, but the self doubt. It’s the not knowing what the right thing to do with our business is, deciding on which risks we should take, and facing up to our financial situation (if you graphed our income and outgoings, it would resemble the Hulk Coaster at Universal Studies, loops and all).
But somehow it all works out.
And then there are those moments.
Is It Worth It?
Unequivocally, yes. But it comes with costs.
If you decide to go down this road—whether that’s as a long term traveller or as a digital nomad—you will do so much more than you have ever done before. You will find yourself in situations that are difficult, crazy, comic, awkward, challenging, exhilarating, and enlightening.
This freedom is intoxicating but it changes you, which only makes going home harder. Old friends will move on—marriage, kids, new careers—or, worse, they will not have changed at all while you will be someone totally different. Most won’t even be that interested in your travel stories and you’ll struggle to fit back in.
The people you know will think you’re crazy, even if they don’t say anything to you directly. This is an unconventional path, and it breaks unspoken rules and traditions. You’ll certainly find out who your real friends are.
The perspective we’ve gained is invaluable. We’ve become aware of our own misplaced outrage and we see how so much of the world is constructed around the need to blame someone for something, itself rooted in feelings of powerlessness. When we own each decision, we’re in control and these feelings of helplessness are replaced by those of determination.
You’ll gain a broader view of humanity, a more accepting disposition, and a realisation that we all take this fleeting and futile fight far too seriously.
Finally, you’ll never want to work for anyone else again.
Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum
We have wasted so many hours worrying about things that turned out not to be a problem. Everything we have worried about has worked itself out, one way or another.
We’d tell you not to worry, but you will anyway. Just know that almost everything can be sorted out abroad and that the important thing is to get out there and find out for yourself what things you should be worrying about (it’s never the things you are worried about).
You’re not your job.
The modern Western world builds its identity around the work you do. How many times have you asked or have you been asked: “What do you do?”.
It’s never: “What excites you?” or “When was the last time you felt truly alive?” or “What would you do if you didn’t need to earn money?”
This is fine if the same answer works for all these questions, but if it doesn’t and you decide to become a Digital Nomad or a Travel Blogger, you may feel an existential lack of identity. We still find it hard to explain what we do to people who aren’t like us because we do a little bit of everything.
Going out of our way to meet others in the same situation helped us feel part of something. Being a Digital Nomad is a thing. Running a travel blog is a thing, even if many people don’t get it. The mutual reinforcement of finding others making their own crazy choices work can be very reassuring.
Welcome to the asylum.
You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.
Pack light and go for quality over quantity. Make sure that the things you do buy are the very best you can afford, especially your work gear, but remember that your stuff is a tool to be used.
Ask yourself if you really need it and if you don’t use it regularly, ditch it.
Deadlines and things make you creative.
Creating while constantly moving can be difficult, so our pace has slowed in the last 1,000 days. It’s possible to maintain as we move around, but to really create and move the business forward, we found that we need to stop for a while and focus on the work.
I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
In 1,000 days, the worst thing that’s happened to us is that we were pick-pocketed and lost $30.
The world isn’t that scary and people are generally good. We can’t count the number of times random strangers with nothing to gain helped out these two dumb, lost-looking gringos.
Our moped broke down three times in Thailand. In each case, someone popped up out of the blue to help us out (we also left the keys in it multiple times and it never got stolen, but don’t tell the rental agency).
The Next 1,000 Days
Here’s a question we get asked a lot: “Do you plan to settle down?”