My year travelling the world with a cluster of digital nomads.

I’m several weeks into living as a digital nomad in my home town, Melbourne Australia.

As can be seen from the blog calendar, I’m successfully hacking the city, numerous times a day. Even if it isn’t strictly “digital”.

(All that matters is that it’s being blogged about. In certain quarters ‘that counts.’ It’s proof of digital life.)

For those of you who haven’t kept up, I spent 2017 and the first half of this year, traveling the world with some self-styled ‘digital nomads’, researching the future of work; ‘learning by doing,’ ticking off the bucket list and seeing and doing All of the Things.

Whilst I was out of the country, I’m reliably informed that I was ‘that friend’ on Facebook, the one with the status updates that leave you full of envy, and make you wonder how on Earth can they be doing this? So that was nice to learn when I got back.

No one ever tells you, when this is happening, that it’s going on. I’m not sure whether finding out I had an audience would have prompted me to get onto Instagram or not.

I don’t quite see the point of Instagram. I have a place I show pictures and a cloud where they are stored. We are done here, surely?

You only have to see my snaps from Venice; London; Budapest, Prague, Vietnam, Chiang Mai, Cuba, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Morocco and Peru to know that I had a wonderful time; (how could I not?) and that the worst part about this list, from your perspective anyway, is that it’s only some of the 23 countries I visited.

Hahaha. Yes. I am rubbing it in.

Across the year I learned:

  1. life is too short to worry about a little old redundancy, and the problem that you will never own a house in Australia.
  2. there’s a big difference between April and May in Cuba in terms of the weather and that difference is: torrential tropical rain;
  3. one month in any given place, is barely enough time to find out all there is to know about a city that you want to, and ‘live like a local’ but you don’t know that when you first embark on this kind of a thing, and it seems as good a starting point as any.
  4. Five weeks is enough time to:
    • work out how to catch public transport and whether Uber is available;
    • see the art and the streets of the city, and the shops if you want to;
    • work out a regular route for walking to and from home and the workplace;
    • have at least one deep and meaningful with your flatmate/s and one shared meal that you all cook together.
      • N.B at these events, it is important that you try to hide how weird you find it that they share so many details that you never wanted to know about their “Tinder date/s” (which is not what I am used to calling a one night stand);
    • see and do all the things on your list and perhaps meet one or two locals before it’s time to pack up again.
  5. I have a gift for packing. It is a rare gift. Not something that many people share. This was unexpected, and the only people to rival me and my 32 kilos of consistently maintained weight are all of the men living out of their carry on sports bags, and wearing a selection of high rotation outfits consisting of one bathing suit, one hoodie, three t-shirts and the same number of pairs of underwear, socks and shorts. If you are not good a packing and would like packing lessons. I am available. I’m a big believer in things having a place for everything and a good reason for going. It’s BroElle. For luggage.
  6. It is really nice having someone who makes your bed and cleans your house and does the laundry for you, and even more exciting to learn that this costs about the same per month as it would cost to be living at home in a share house with no such amenity. I want to thank all the people who provided these services.
  7. the Neon Museum in Vegas was worth it;
  8. there is nothing more Colombian than stumbling across an abandoned gram of coke on the footpath on a rainy night in Medellin, and the satisfaction of leaving where it lays, wondering whether you just avoided a police trap, to gladden the heart;
  9. I would rather stab myself in the eyeballs than give up my time:
    • to write or read just or yet another travel blog; or
    • be in the company of any more woo-preneurs, for any reason*
  10. Peruvians take their food very seriously, and they have a person whose job it is to count the three thousand varieties of potatoes that they like to boast of growing.
  11. I did not get to the Amazon, but I did go to Central restaurant, Machu Picchu, and I did stand up paddle board in a gorgeous national park, in a science fiction landscape in the company of a sea lion, and I nailed it, as they say. I didn’t fall off, not once. I did that all on my own, and that is how you side trip. It is what they are for.
  12. Hoi An in central Vietnam is the only place outside of Australia that I’ve visited more than once, and that I would visit again in a heartbeat. Yes, it has changed. A lot. It’s a lot busier, a lot noisier, and the tailoring is more expensive than it used to be, despite how many more tailors there are (and for that I blame the Europeans,) but there is an art to enjoying crowded places, and I find it easy to find peace and quiet and amazing food, if you want it.
  13. If anyone would like to join me in Hoi An in June 2019 for a professional development travel workshop nomad trip: fifteen days of beach, sea, architecture, tailoring, cooking, biking, ruins and Agile, get in touch!

My message to you if you are in my shoes, and you are sans kids, sans job and sans mortgage:

Go for what’s achievable, especially if:

  • that thing is the only thing left on your bucket list to do;
  • work has always stood in the way of you getting it done, and suddenly, through the miracles of restructure, that’s no longer a problem, (with a lump sum to fund it); and
  • it comes with the added bonus that it can help you find a new home.

Hello Mexico City, Hoi An and Kuala Lumpur. I am looking at you!

On the dark side:

There is a certain amount of patience that’s required to deal with living at close quarters with a variety of people.

 

People have different expectations, and I am no different.

Or am I?

I wouldn’t say that I’m wilfully contrarian, in as much as it isn’t something I cultivate, (I don’t think, others may have a different view,) but I do find it really hard to just do what everyone else is doing, if it makes no sense or brings me no joy.

This latter idea is a concept the Japanese apparently practice and it forms the basis of Konmari, a decluttering practice in which the joy that something brings you is the measure of whether it should stay or go. (I think it’s wider implications: for life and people, are fairly evident but I need to write a book and call it BroElle. I am never going to write that book or read Marie Kondo’s stuff.)

The thing that I appreciated most about the year of travel with my nomads was that my apartments were all well appointed, fairly new and really comfortable; that when I landed, there was someone to hand me my key, my sim card, a bottle of water and take me straight to my home, with its bed, drinking water, towels and toilet paper ;and someone to book all of my flights, which is something I spend a lot of time doing, to ensure I get the best deal, sometimes at the expense of half a day seeing Venice, (for example). Then there was the friendships that I made with ‘the people like me’. This was more of a challenge.

The ‘people like me’ (or at least not wildly, unlike me, to the point of having nothing in common,) were seeking authenticity and honesty in their relationships and their own version of a great experience packed with whatever highs and lows, content, experience and personal and interpersonal challenges the day, the location or the month might bring.

The people not like me, made it really very hard for us to find one another. On the one hand, that’s OK. We were the odds ones out. But it took months of all of us tending to keep to ourselves, because we found it so hard to enjoy being in the bigger group.

The whole group consisted of mainly millennial, mainly Americans largely working in jobs that they didn’t seem to enjoy very much. They had every right to want to form a tribe.

But.

I have a thing I call “festival face.” It’s a face full of anticipation that’s searching in the distance for the fun at a street festival, while its wearer determinedly weaves, eyes fixed, through a crowd of people, who are also walking, but in the opposite direction, and all of whom are wearing the exact same expression. Festivals are mainly excuses to drink and eat in places that you’re normally not allowed to; to walk where cars would normally be, and that’s about it. But a festival is meant to be fun. And there’s the rub. How many of you are in the moment, right now, with your friends, having fun and how many of you are looking ahead, paying no mind to what is happening here and now and dragging your companions along a boring, busy determined path that you don’t know what’s at the end of it, or whether it’s worth it, in the expectation that if we all just keep moving forward then the fun will eventually present itself?

Examples of things that bring others joy, that I have to admit I just don’t enjoy, include following any kind of sport or sports team.

I don’t mind you having your passions, but it doesn’t or shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment that people around you don’t share them. The same as it doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t like what I like, it is OK that I don’t enjoy watching sport.

But most of my tribe weren’t like that. They took it personally if someone didn’t “participate,” by which they meant follow the crowd in all of its things, all of the time. Bear in mind. This is a crowd pinging between excessive drinking, poor diet, the gym, one night stands, Netflix, selfies and all night dance parties.

I like art as much as most people like sport. My interest was sparked because I think I felt a bit sorry for art. As though not enough people like art. Compared to sport, it’s an underdog. My liking art reflects that I think it’s treated poorly. I think.

Now imagine a world in which art was discussed as often as sports is, and you will have some idea what it’s like for me to be around people who want me to like sport.

Why try to force the issue? I do understand that they probably just want me to share something they care about with them. And that’s great. It is. But here’s an idea: let’s find something that we have in common. Unless you’re robust enough to discuss what I don’t like about sport with me, knowing that I don’t enjoy it in which case, please proceed.

Ain’t nobody got time for catching up on twenty years of not paying attention to sport.

Returning to the subject to hand, I haven’t got the benefit of a lifetime growing up in America, with its weird social pressures to overshare, about some things, and stay silent about others.

I only have TV to go on, and obviously that would be sit coms, which are very instructive, but hardly complete in what they prepare you for.

(Did you know, for example, that it is more socially acceptable to tell someone the intimate details of your sex life, than to instigate a conversation about women’s rights, machismo, ethical volunteering, religious beliefs and practices, politics or cultural differences? By which I would mean, important things. interesting things. Things worth talking about. )

I loved traveling with the program, for its flexibility around my leaving my stuff while I wondered out into the world to do my own thing; and for taking care of the time consuming administrative stuff that left me free to fill in the gaps; and for the small number of organised group activities we had to choose from each month: hot air ballooning, sand surfing, cooking and cocktail making amongst them, but when you’re radically unlike the majority in a group and the group is plagued with people pulling festival face, I am going to notice, and call it as I see it.

I am paying for this once in a lifetime experience too, and I want what I paid for.

At times I had organisers demanding that I “participate” without defining what they meant by that. I asked. They didn’t clarify. If I did participate they seemed equally dissatisfied. Picture this: Day one, someone yelling “Woo!” a lot and expecting many of them back in return, when it’s 7am; I haven’t had coffee, and I have literally just recovered from three days of food poisoning (during which time not one of them enquired after my well being). Yeah. You can betcha I am going to shoot daggers at you.

I admit I did laugh when I was offered krav maga lessons from a short man with a faux hawk. Ha! No.

If I can see people using coercion in a workplace, to create an atmosphere of artificial, TV advertorial fake happy clapping; or else it’s clear to me that if I pause to pay attention and take the temperature of the room, there are people around me, who are faking that they are happy and in agreement, and having fun when really they’re not: it matters.

I weigh up my preparedness to join in, against what I am really feeling and what I can see is actually happening, and I respond accordingly and proportionately. Unless I haven’t had coffee. Then it’s just “a hard no” to most things until priorities have been taken care of.

Being two decades older than most of my companions (but by no means the oldest) and one of three Australians, in a group primarily made up of Americans, as well as someone used to traveling solo, who enjoys spending time in my own company, I expected to have to compromise.It’s only fair and reasonable and right.

It isn’t up to me to say one way or the other that I did or didn’t do compromise or come to the party enough, but I found myself keeping an eye out for risks that other people were taking enough to know that my goal of not taking responsibility for other people I didn’t have to was a good goal to set for me.

I travelled with young Americans, and unlike the Bowie song they seem to believe that aiming to be in an unnatural state of constant positivity is required of them, as without it they cannot be accepted or approved of. They won’t have friends and they are not likeable.

When we started drilling into feelings, at about month four, it transpired that a lot of them had not lead uncomplicated lives, in which nothing had ever gone wrong for them, that they should always have to be happy, and yet they saw this as something that was wrong with them that needed to be repressed, Exorcised through exercise, podcasts and colouring books.

What I found was a group of people perfectly willing to demand positivity, while bullying anyone not like them; who required everyone to think and act and speak a certain way; who couldn’t face reality if it was not nice or worse, if it was actually, very bad; and who lived their lives with blinkers on, censoring some things, but not others, out of fear of being disliked or judged and found wanting if they didn’t conform, and who spent time and energy pressing and coercing others into also self censoring and joining the pack, because if they didn’t succeed in this act, then they might have to face the consequences of their own choice to allow peers and authority figures to force them into being something they weren’t.

My peeps know who they are, and just because the whole group wasn’t whole, does not mean that anyone did anything wrong.

Unless it was before 7am and I have not had coffee…

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What is a woo-preneur?

*A woo-preneur is a special type of man made disaster.

A human black hole, whose self-development arrested when they were pre-school aged, or possibly even, a baby, (if we’re being Lacanian about it.)

Generally, they “sell” something that nobody needs, and more often than not they are not actually generating any income from the work that they “do”.

They invest all of their energy into coming up with strategies and plans for duping the gullible into letting them have the things that they want, no matter the cost to the mark.

A fool and their money are soon parted is their modus operandi.

A woo-preneur drains other people’s wallets, time, resources, attention spans, and their will to live. They punctuate the schtick they spew, with an excited, cheerful and unjustified woot! No matter how at odds with what they’re really saying or feeling “woot” actually is.

They’re individuals who’ve convinced themselves that the only point to existence; the main reason we were given a life to live; is to take things that don’t belong to you, without any thought for whether you should, or could earn them, the way that your victim has; or any mind for the harm you may be doing.

There is no sense of your needing to be a better person than the worst person you can possibly be, as long as that person is self satisfied.

Woo-preneurs love neurolinguistic programming, (am I right? Do you know what I mean?) and Tony Robbins is almost always cited as a role model, (although the Kardashians are probably as big a template.)

They don’t seem to grasp the point of charity, or the concept of deserving-ness; what a work ethic is, or the idea of needing to earn the things that they want.

They aren’t lazy, because it takes energy to be this awful, but they do create the strong impression that they weren’t made to be self sufficient, fully formed, or politely ignored. Annoyingly, there is no amount of attention that could be paid to them, that they wouldn’t want more, but like Narcissus in front of the mirror, the most annoying thing about this ‘look at moi’ behaviour is that when you give them your attention, they do nothing with it. Once it’s paid to them, the fact of it seems to be enough.

They’re people whose aim is to have every relationship serving their needs: financial, emotional and physical, without reciprocity.

And some are better than others at playing the game.

And here is me and righteous Ronald Reagan in Hungary. I am also, not quite sure why.

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