Category Archives: Lifestyle Design

My View of the Rat Race Four Years After Leaving It

It’s been four years since I left full time employment and embarked on my true life journey. The one to discover the real me, to be the real me. To be honest, it’s been one hell of a ride — at times like a roller coaster. Three years ago, one year after I’d left the rat race, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of ditching a career and hitting the road. I recently looked back on that article to see where I’ve come since then and I thought it timely to provide an update and reflect on those comments I made three years ago.

Adam in Morocco dressed like a Berber
Adam in Morocco dressed like a Berber

The strange fact that project opportunities beg you to go after them – Yep, it’s still the same. I have so many business ideas running around in my head that I can’t possibly complete them all. I do survive financially by doing a bit of Travelfish work, but I also get a little bit of money for a couple of web side projects. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been thinking about setting up an AirBnB in recent times, but I just need to find some time to do it!

A break in the monotony of 9-5 routines – This has been massive. There’s two things about this that are interesting. Firstly, without a boss and without a 9-5 routine, motivation becomes a big issue. But once you understand that, you can start focusing your attention to whatever project you want at whatever time you want. If you don’t feel like doing something at that time, no big deal. Just deal with it later.

And this is also where problems can arise. With no day job to keep you motivated, it’s very easy to waste your time doing nothing. And this OK for a while. But not forever. So you surround yourself with tasks you genuinely enjoy, which keep you motivated and ensure you don’t end up in a vegetative state doing absolutely nothing.

Being able to go to cafes and supermarkets on non-busy days – I now live in Indonesia and the cafes are generally the same throughout the week except maybe on a Saturday night when it’s date night. The thing I have been basing my life around recently has been traffic. If I need to go somewhere, I make sure I schedule it when traffic is least problematic. But this is one area of my life that I want to change. Even though I minimise the traffic in my life, I still find myself in it for at least a few hours a week and it’s too much. I’ll be changing that soon.

The very occasional thought of how sustainable this lifestyle is financially – This one has sorted itself out. I still have as much money now as I did when I left the rat race. Slightly less after this 4 month journey through Europe. How have I done it? I’ve lived quite frugally and have done some work for Travelfish. That’s about it really aside from a short consultancy gig I did. This life is easily financially sustainable — you just need to find your own sources of income and live in a cheap country!

The difficulty of meeting people who are travelling along the same path meaning that friendships are harder to make and keep – This is an interesting one. I still long to make real connections with people. Since I wrote the first rat race post, I met a girl and got married in Indonesia! That’s pretty cool. But I still long for friends to hang out with — that’s extremely difficult when you move around a lot. I hope to sort this problem out by moving to either Vietnam or Thailand later next year.

Not having a place to call home is sometimes unsettling – you generally end up finding a home. Everyone I know that calls themselves a nomad does settle down somewhere. Or reverts to a favourite city when feeling burnt out. It’s natural.

The lack of routine can sometimes be unsettling (I’m getting used to it) – I’m now used to it and it feels good.

Being self-consciousness of people thinking you are a bum (ego is still important) – Don’t care any more. 🙂

And then there are a few more new observations about this whole thing. I really does appear that there are two worlds. One where people are trapped in the 9-5 and one where people have escaped. I can and do travel wherever I want, whenever I want, wake up whenever I want… and life is grand!

I have no dreaded deadline hanging over my head. I feel no sickness in the pit of my stomach on a Sunday night about going to work the next day. That’s pretty cool.

My time is my own.

I don’t think having kids would change this whole equation to the point where I’d have to go and get a proper job and a real life.

I’ve settled into this new life quite comfortably now. I don’t fear not having enough money as I have about 50 business ideas buzzing around in my head waiting for an opportunity. I just don’t see any reason why anyone wanting to escape the rat race wouldn’t just do it! If that’s you, it might be time to call it quits and hit the road. It’s a pretty cool life.

PS – I think it would be remiss of me to leave out one important fact of my life since escaping the rat race – I ended a 12 year relationship and got divorced. That’s significant and wasn’t something to be cheering about at the time.

Writing a guide book

Starting in September of last year, I was on assignment for Travelfish updating their online guide to Laos. It was an epic adventure which only just ended and I’m now trying to process it all! It included perhaps the worst month of travel I’ve ever experienced, a 2 month break due a family emergency and some excruciating days when travel just wasn’t fun anymore.

Scenery on the Thakek Loop
Scenery on the Thakek Loop

The thing is, everyone expects that writing guidebooks for a living is the best job in the world. Every traveller I meet has a little chuckle and says something along the lines of “so basically you get paid to travel”. And you know what? It’s true. I do get paid to travel. But the joy of travelling is not just about seeing things and ticking off lists. It’s also about relaxing, having the choice to change plans at the last moment, meeting up with other travellers and joining in on their travels, delving deep into the local culture and coming up with your own mini-projects such as trying as much local food as possible or blogging and tweeting your way through a country.

This is how it feels sometimes writing a guidebook
This is how it feels sometimes writing a guidebook

When you’re a guidebook writer, you need to have your work face on all the time. And I do mean all the time. Rather than waking up lazily at 10am, stumbling across the road for some rice porridge and then heading back to the hotel room for some relaxation, a guidebook writer is constantly thinking about how all of these experiences are going to fit into the guidebook. Waking up at 10am isn’t an option as there is work to be done. So when I generally wake up at 7am, I start writing up my notes from the previous day’s research and start thinking about what research needs to be done in the coming day. So I’ll head across the road and have that delicious rice porridge just as I might have had if I hadn’t been a guidebook writer. But I don’t really have time to fully experience the stall — chat to the owner at length about the process, observe the kids running around. I’m more likely to try and get a bit of info from the owner about the place, eat my soup and write my notes up. Sure, I do have a great experience eating the soup, but it is just not the same as if I am a regular traveller. My mind is elsewhere.

Rice porridge still tastes good when writing a guide book
Rice porridge still tastes good when writing a guide book

Writing a guidebook is work. There’s no two ways about it. I have deadlines, a boss that has requirements I need to meet, I have to get out bed whether I feel like it or not and I have to push myself every single day. It sucks sometimes to be honest. Just like when you were in high school and your parents forced you to get out of bed and go to school even though you couldn’t be arsed. But if you want to travel and get paid for it, writing guidebooks is a great way to go about it.

Waking up to a spectacular view over the forest in Bokeo
Waking up to a spectacular view over the forest in Bokeo

The plus side is that I saw more of Laos in those 4 months than 99.99% of visitors to Laos. I did experience the culture, the food, the people. I did ride a motorbike over 2000km across some of Asia’s worst roads (aside from Bandung in the wet season), I did fall into the Mekong and ruin my new iPhone 5 and get Dengue Fever. Oh, I’m moaning again. Sorry. Back to the positives.

Gratuitous rice shot
Gratuitous rice shot

So what is good about writing guidebooks? You are forced to go to places and do things that as a regular tourist you are so unlikely to do because of the hassle involved. But it’s ‘crappy adventures into the jungle to find a half ruined Buddha’ that actually stick most firmly in the mind. You know those places listed in the lonely planet at the end of a section that say XYZ temple is 56km by motorcycle from the centre of town and is little more than a pile of rubble? Well, those places on their own are crappy tourist attractions. But getting to these places is usually quite fun! And when you’re there, you are generally the only foreigner there meaning silence. And you do come to appreciate the quirkiness of such attractions. A couple of favourites of mine were the Prince Souphanouvong Bridge which was bombed by the US in 1968 located 30km along a dirt road from a town (Salavan) that gets virtually zero tourists and the Russian-made missile located about 30km from another town (Attapeu) that few tourists visit. They were craptacular, but fascinating all the same. When I compare these B-grade attractions to the headlines attractions of Laos such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, for me there is a clear winner.

Prince Souphanouvong Bridge - a strange attraction
Prince Souphanouvong Bridge – a strange attraction
Missile made by the Russians, used by the Vietnamese, located outside of Attapeu
Missile made by the Russians, used by the Vietnamese, located outside of Attapeu

I made a conscious decision to take on this latest Travelfish task. I didn’t do it because I needed the cash. I did it because it once again adds to what I want my life to be: Interesting. Those who have been following along for a while know that I quit my regular 9-5 job in 2009 not only to escape the rat race, but also to lead a more interesting and more purposeful life. I think this latest guidebook update fits into those categories nicely and at the end of the day, I’m glad I did it. Just don’t tell me that I have a dream job or I might just have to go all Muay Thai on you.

If you’re interested in knowing what a dengue fever patient looks like, check out this video of me in Luang Prabang “hostpital” (death camp).

Tanah Airku – Indonesia

I guess the title of this post is a little misleading, but it’s representative of the way I feel about Indonesia. It feels like my home country. I don’t know why I love this place so much, but I feel comfortable here. The people, the food, the innumerable cultures — all of this stirs a passion inside me which I’ve rarely felt. It therefore integrates perfectly into the philosophy of the new me. You beauty!

This video is an advertisement for instant coffee, but it does a pretty good job of summing up my passion for the country. It’d be a fantastic tourism advertisement as well, but I’ve never seen one of those for Indonesia — that’s another story.

The Real Me

I was just reflecting today on a few things. Well, one thing really. About what my natural self looks like in terms of motivation to work, creativity and general life activities. Yeah OK, that doesn’t really mean a lot, but I put it in those terms because if I was still in a normal job, it would go something like this… “What sort of worker I am – creative, hard worker, willing to stay in one career for my whole life, etc”. But since I don’t have a regular job, the things that fill the main hours within my day are the things that keep me going. What those things are is becoming clearer.

This freedom has given rise to the emergence of my passions. Things I really couldn’t identify with prior to giving up full time work. Further, I’m now starting to identify my natural behaviours in the big bad world now that I have the freedom to do whatever I want. And it’s very interesting and totally not what I expected. When I was working a proper job, I was happy to stay put for years and years on end. I was going to die in that job. I was comfortable. I was in a routine. So when I quit work,  I feared I’d miss that routine (I did) and I feared that I would end up vegging for years on end, doing nothing. Quite honestly, that happened for about 9 months. Most of that 9 months was spent travelling.

Since that time, I’ve been flitting from one project to another (not always paid) and it has been a rollercoaster ride like no other! What is so interesting about it is that I realise my attention span on certain activities lasts about 3 months and then… no I don’t bored, I get inspiration for a new plan, a new trip, a new project. It’s crazy, because I’m loving learning Indonesian at the moment, but there are a bunch of other things on the horizon that are getting me very excited — even more than the learning Indonesian thing. I’m going to force myself to stick with the Indonesian thing whilst dabbling in the new projects, but it gives a very interesting insight to the type of person I am when the shackles have been thrown clear.

The other thing I think is interesting is that I find it much more difficult to be free in Australia. Basically because everything is geared towards people not being free despite the glossy brochures. I feel free in Indonesia like I have never done before. That’s not to say I don’t love Australia — I do. But it is such a refined, productive society that opportunities for great projects are difficult to come by and are usually extremely risky. Here in Indonesia, opportunities are everywhere and the risks are minimal. I’m loving it.

For some people, this will make perfect sense. I have a feeling, though, that this might not make sense to the vast majority. Make sense? Or absolute load of rubbish?

Agitate for Change or Die

Aside from all the tales of travel, a major theme of my blog has been about escaping the rat race and finding the spark that everyone had when they were in their teens – and had no real responsibilities. I harp on about it to anyone that will listen and quite often people just don’t get it. “Everyone has to have a job. Everyone has to do things they don’t like. My circumstances are different – I can’t do that.”

OK OK, say what you will. But this is how life turns out if you don’t agitate for change.

A New Chapter – Off to Java

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Learning Indonesian in Java. Well, the days and weeks roll on and I’m on the cusp of departing Australia for an unknown period of time. On the 16th of June I’ll be boarding a plane to Melbourne where I’ll hang out for a few days catching up with old friends and eating some good food. Then on the 19th, I’ll be catching a flight to Singapore where I intend to give this city nation a second chance.

I first went to Singapore in 2009 and really didn’t like it. This time I’m heading to Singapore because that’s where I could get a cheap flight to. My first thought was to burn through there as quickly as possible, but I’ve thought about it a little more and this time I think I’ll stay 4 nights. I’ll walk as much as possible, try to find top eating, decent walking trails and basically do everything I didn’t do last time. If they had a mountain, I’d climb it — but they don’t. So eating and walking will have to do.

Avenue of Lanterns in Singapore
Avenue of Lanterns in Singapore

After Singapore, I’ll head to Kuala Lumpur by bus and then fly to Bandung in Java late in June. I’ll have a couple of weeks to kill in Java before my language course starts and I’ll probably use this time to nick up into the Dieng Plateau and see a few of the natural sites that this part of the island has to offer.

But more importantly than all of these tangible activities, this signifies the start of yet another chapter for me. A quite significant chapter ended for me last year when I headed off to Bali to research and write for travelfish. That was the culmination of a long-term relationship and the start of forging a new path on my own. On reflection, the chapter I have been living over the past 9 months has been transitionary and I met some great people and did some great things along the way such as a fantastic Australian roadtrip. But when I leave Australia this time, I don’t feel like I have a home to come back to (even more so than last time) and that gives me a sense that I may well be away for much longer than the 3 months that the language course will go for — and this means a new chapter is beginning right now.

People on a Mountain
People on a Mountain - One of the wonderful experiences from the last chapter

With that in mind, I look forward to exploring what comes next — hopefully it is filled with happiness, adventure and self-improvement. If I can share that with other like-minded people, that would be great too. Here’s to a new chapter.

How Writing a Guide Book Fits in with my New Path

When I decided to give up work and pursue my passions, I really had no idea what I was doing. People always loved the story, but immediately asked what my passions were. And it’s a fair question to ask when it’s the reason that you’re giving up a 14 year career. I had no idea what my passions were. I still don’t have clear ideas, but things are not as impossibly muddy as they once were and fantastic opportunities have now presented themselves.

So I like travelling, I like taking photographs and I like food. I’d say that they’re as close to passions as I’ve ever had and when an opportunity to research accommodation, restaurants and activities, and take photographs for travelfish presented itself, I jumped at it. It was something that scared me, but also was exactly the sort of thing that I would never have been able to do whilst plugging away in an office and exactly the sort of thing that many dream about but never get a chance of doing. I did it and I’m proud of not just what I produced, but also that things worked out for me in terms of following a new path. This is the new path that I knew was possible, but had no idea how it would manifest. This is the sort of thing that could come along that you’d never expect if you decide to give up the 9-5 and pursue your passions, whatever they might be.

So it’s with gratitude that I write this post about travelling down a new path. And a bit of humility. After the most eventful year of my life, including ending a 12 year relationship, I can say that life is good! I’ll be approaching this new year with optimism and taking these sorts of opportunities as they arise.

Travel Writing in Bali!

A little while back I started writing some Bali travel posts documenting my love for Bali and some of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing there. Since I started that process, I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to actually formalise some of my knowledge of Bali by conducting research and writing reviews on behalf of the fabulous company, Travelfish. Travelfish specialise in South East Asia travel guides, primarily in the online world via their website and iphone apps. They have recently expanded their coverage into Indonesia and I will be the writer for the Bali portion.

So I thought this would be a good opportunity to document my experiences travelling around majestic Bali and I’ll therefore be posting some articles about this.

The plan is to spend between 8 and 10 weeks completing this task. I intend to rent a car for most of the time in order to make transport between destinations speedy, but still affordable. I’ve already been through East Bali and I intend to complete a loop of the island before heading inland.

People have constantly been telling me how this is a dream job – and in many ways it is. But I have to keep reminding people that it’s not like some kind of paid holiday. I’ll actually be working the entire time, earning travel writer’s wages and living a fairly isolated existence! But yes, I do feel fortunate to have been given this opportunity, I am passionate about travel and therefore this fits into my general philosophy of pursuing my passions – I plan to make the most of it.

Symbolic Departure

Today I leave Melbourne. Destination Bali to write the Bali edition of Travelfish’s travel guides. I don’t plan to return to Melbourne. I was asked the other day if I felt my journey to Bali and therefore the conclusion of my time in Melbourne was symbolic. Symbolic in that it’s the finalisation of the separation from my wife. I responded by saying “no” because it didn’t feel like it… But now it does. I really do feel like today is the end of a chapter and the start of another and the page turns without even a hint of sadness. Sure, we can all talk of what could have been, but I look forward with optimism and renewed passion for the journey ahead.

So what have I learned through the process? Well, the main things that I have done well revolve around positive energy. I’ve tried my hardest to remain optimistic, tried my hardest to get out there and socialise (not always successfully!), did my best to accept the inevtiability of the situation immediately (ie didn’t hang on with false hope), held no grudges or bad feelings, did my best to not revel in the victim role which many many people would have me be in (they felt pity), and most of all, I got on with my life. I see these as contributing to the emotional place that I am in now and I love it.

I’ve tried to think of things that I could have done better but I just can’t find any at the moment. I really do feel fortunate to have had things turn out as they have.

So it all sounds as if everything for me is beautiful and that this journey was easy. It wasn’t. Introspection, which I think this process necessarily involves, requires complete honesty with oneself, the ability to observe your thoughts and the ability to tame ones ego. I’m no messiah when it comes to this stuff, but I did try hard and it was difficult at times.

So on the eve of a new adventure, I urge everyone to: not judge, reject cynicism, live pro-actively and above all, remain optimistic even when every bone in your body tells you not to be.

Who’s Writing Your Life Story?

Everyone has a story to tell about their life. And we’ve all met at least a couple of people that seem to have had lives filled with all sorts of interesting sub-plots. Two mates of mine in particular seem to have accomplished more in a lifetime than I had ever thought possible. And by “accomplished”, I don’t mean it in terms of making their mark on society or completing some great project or having a stellar career. I mean they have just done such a wide variety of things in their lives and have such amazing stories of adventure to tell that one can only dream of perhaps living just half as interesting a life as they have led.

The problem is that the story of their lives, our lives, everybody’s lives has to be written by someone. Most people, me included until a couple of years ago, choose to have their story written by their careers, their family and other random people. Whilst it’s great to have outside participation in our lives and our stories (we are after all social creatures), we can’t let others be the authors. Contributors maybe, but we have to write our own life story!

I think some slip even further than this into the realms of unconscious passive living. That is, the story is just being filled with a bunch of blank pages because the owner is just driving along, asleep at the wheel, not even knowing that there is a story to write! It’s being written, but it’s empty and they don’t even know it. I want to help these people (if they want help).

So, if I’m writing my own life story, don’t I owe it to myself for the story to be interesting, occasionally exciting, full of wonderful characters, romance, adventure, discovery, self exploration and a dash of drama?

Yes, I want my story to be one of those good ones, where my attention is held from start to finish. Boredom begone! To ensure my story is one of those good ones I have to make the effort to write it myself, write it with creativity and passion and learn not to beat myself up when the story takes an unexpected twist. The twist may just end up being the best part!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.