I want to share what I’ve learned over the last nine months living in New Zealand, travelling the world and working remotely. We’re very nearly at the end of our trip now so I thought it would be a good time to get some thoughts onto “paper”.
I know a bunch of people who think about travelling and taking a sabbatical, so I thought I’d share my experience in case it helps someone else decide if it is for them. Some of this is a little hard to write about and admit openly, but I find it helps to get my thoughts into writing. It may also help others decide if it’s for them.
I am planning on another post soon which will be more focused on practical tips and things we’ve learned whilst travelling that may be helpful to others. This post is more about personal stuff.
Sidenote – I often refer to “we” during this post, if you don’t know, that refers to Ellie and myself She is responsible for all the amazing photos in this post, including this which is one of my favourites of Queenstown:
She also filmed this amazing Queenstown video which you should take a look at.
You’ll regret not doing it
I genuinely feel that travelling the world is one of the best life experiences you can do and if you’re considering it, I’d say do it! Most people who I talk to about what we’ve doing react the same way by saying something like “oh I’d love to do something like that” or “oh I wish I’d done that when I had the chance.” I always find this kinda sad and my reaction is to ask why they haven’t / didn’t do it. In reality, there are good reasons why you may not be able to do it which I understand, but they can sometimes be overcome and I’d encourage you to try to overcome obstacles and travel, even if it’s just for a month or two.
For me, I’m lucky enough to work for Distilled who supported my ambition to travel. Some company owners may not appreciate me saying this, but I feel that if you work for a company who don’t support you if you want to take a sabbatical, I’d consider whether they’re a company I’d want to work for. The desire to travel and see the world is one that I wouldn’t try to suppress. If you’re a boss who is dead set against supporting your employees and their ambitions, you’ll end up with employees who resent their job, the company and you.
I find it hard to switch off
One of the main reasons that many people take a sabbatical is to switch off from their jobs, take a total break and enjoy time away from their usually busy lives. This wasn’t the main reason for me.
The main reason for me is that I’d always wanted to experience living in New Zealand after my last trip there in 2009, and always wanted to do an extended period of travelling. I felt I was at a point in my career when the time was right to try and achieve this ambition, things were going well overall but I was far from wanting to “get away” from everything and cut myself off from it all.
I think it is partly because of this that I’ve struggled to switch off from my job. The other more obvious reason is that technically, I was still working for Distilled because I’d been doing a small amount of work a month helping to grow DistilledU through new modules. This gave me reason to keep in touch with people, check emails and generally be very aware of what is going on inside the company – and sometimes poke my nose in
In fact, I think it is more accurate to describe me as working remotely rather than being on a sabbatical.
The thing is, I’m not sad about this and don’t regret anything about the last six months. I love my work and the idea of being able to do it whilst exploring the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, is a dream.
There is also the small issue of money too which I’ll talk about shortly, but basically, if I hadn’t worked for the last six months (and neither had Ellie) then we’d be flying straight home after New Zealand instead of going around the world first.
Working remotely 24/7 isn’t for me
The idea of not worrying about 9-5, working from home whenever you want and travelling the world is a dream to most people. But the reality is very different. I’ve loved every minute of the last nine months, however it isn’t something I want to pursue as a lifestyle choice. I’ve read about lots of people who live the way we’ve been living for many years, working on the move, earning money as they go and having no fixed routine or commitments. I admire them for having the balls to do it, but it isn’t for me.
I like having a weekend where I know it is time to chill-out and switch off. It is only writing this that I’m realising how not having a routine has tied into me not being able to switch off easily. I need some kind of trigger to switch off and when I was in London, I had these. I’d go home, cook dinner and relax. I’d spend the weekends with Ellie doing something fun. I’d go for a pint or three with the guys from work. I did work during my spare time but it felt like it was more on my terms and an active decision to do so. Even then, it wasn’t proper work, it would be doing a few emails and catching up on reading, very rarely would I do client work at home unless it was a bit of freelance stuff.
I didn’t have much of a routine in New Zealand which meant that there was no clear switch off time. Whilst I don’t feel like I’ve been working 24/7, I do feel like I’ve been far busier than I intended to be. This isn’t to say that all we’ve been doing is work, we still took advantage of not having big commitments by taking random days off, going out for long lunches whenever we want and generally not clock watching. Get a flavour of what Queenstown is like with this Queenstown video.
It has led me to the conclusion that I actually prefer some kind of routine, which isn’t the nicest realization to have because we all like to think that we’re free spirits and enjoy doing what we want, when we want. But as a lifestyle choice, I prefer a little bit of structure around me.
I’ve become fitter
Shortly before I moved to New Zealand, I was a bit concerned about my weight. I’ve never struggled massively with my weight and have always been reasonably active physically, but I got a knee injury early in 2012 that stuck around and took a while to clear up. I also saw myself on video at MozCon and wasn’t happy with how I looked.
This really hit home when I arrived in New Zealand, weighed myself and found I was nearly 15KG heavier than the last time I was here three years ago. If I’d weighed this last time I was here, I wouldn’t have been allowed to skydive. This made me feel pretty shitty to be honest, so whilst in New Zealand, going the gym and running as much as I could become an important part of my lifestyle. I fully intend to keep this going when I get back to London and am keeping my fingers crossed that my knee injury doesn’t return! In fact, I’ve signed up to do a half-marathon in October which will certainly force me to step things up and keep the running going!
I actually wore the jeans I wore at MozCon a few weeks ago and they were falling off me, which I’m pretty happy about. Whilst my knee getting better played a big part in becoming fitter, I’m confident that coming to New Zealand has helped massively because it forced me to make time for exercise, I plan on doing the same when I get home.
Favourite city (so far) is Sydney
We went to Sydney for New Years Eve and had a great time, we flew back to Queenstown and both said that we really, really liked it. We then returned to Sydney in April where I was speaking at SMX. Despite the weather being pretty bad, we both really seemed to connect with Sydney the second time around. Not that we didn’t the first time, but on our second visit I really felt like I loved the city rather than just liked it.
It was also on our second visit that we were able to spend some time hanging out with Jon, Geraldine and Rand. We had a great night in the city which finished with a walk about the harbour. This was probably one of my favourite moments of our travels so far because the Habour Bridge and Opera House looked spectacular:
We also found a great little bar called Grandmas. We were a bit suspicious at first as Rand led us into what appeared to be the basement of a residential apartment block! It turned out to be a great cocktail bar where I felt kinda bad trying a Macallan (10-year old) based cocktail but it turned out to be really good.
Kindness from strangers is amazing
This became more apparent to us when we started travelling around Malaysia and Thailand where English is spoken, but not to a great level which means it isn’t always easy to ask questions and get your point across. We received help from random strangers a few times who could obviously see we needed it and gave us a helping hand. It is such a relief when this happens and you hear a friendly voice speaking to you in English.
Living in London, I’ve had my fair share of questions from tourists and am always happy to help them. However I’ve always tended to keep walking if I see someone who obviously looks lost but isn’t asking for help, Ellie is different here and will happily walk over to them and help. I’ve never been like that but I will be from now on because I realise from this experience how nice it feels to have a random stranger give you a helping hand.
We saved up really hard before we left London, so much so that we actually thought that the first few months of living expenses in New Zealand would be taken care of.
We were wrong.
No matter what research and planning, spreadsheets and budget calculations you do, there will ALWAYS be more costs than what you expected. We were very surprised by the cost of food in Queenstown, a weekly food shopping trip probably cost us twice as much as it did in London – and London isn’t exactly cheap! We didn’t splash out that much either, we got the basics. Checkout this Queenstown video for some idea of what there is to eat in Queenstown.
It is a bit strange because other costs, like going the pub for a drink, having lunch or eating out in the evenings is probably about the same as London. We took a big liking to Flame who do the most amazing ribs we’ve ever tasted:
But food shopping is more expensive for some reason, even local produce is more expensive which I find a bit strange. I mean, you can literally see the sheep farms from the supermarket!
We haven’t struggled but if we’re honest, we probably haven’t been able to do everything we wanted to in terms of weekends away or day trips. The thing that evens this out is the thought that any money we saved was going towards our travels after New Zealand which was comforting!
If you’re considering travelling or taking a sabbatical, work out your costs, round everything up and then add 50%, at least! It will make for a much more comfortable trip. Also consider if you’re able to do work whilst travelling, even a local bar job can help put some money away – and help you make friends. If you’re able to work remotely, even better because you can earn a decent wage and not work crazy hours.
Travelling can be hard work
I wasn’t sure whether to include this bit or not. The main reason being that I don’t want to sound ungrateful for having the chance to travel the world, but I also want to be totally honest.
After leaving New Zealand, the average time we stopped in one location was around 3-4 days. In Australia we did six coach journeys, two of which were over 12 hours long. Since then we’ve taken a flight every few days.
These travel days can take their toll and are part of the reality of travelling. It is this part of the reality that many people (including us) don’t think about that much in advance. They are of course necessary, but these travel days can be hard work when you also think about things such as checking in at the airport, carrying your big bags every few days, getting taxis, getting shuttle buses, it all adds up.
There is something else too, you’re actually really busy when you travel! We have ended up doing something every single day and not really taking a rest, when you combine this with the travel days, it actually means that you don’t have much down time. Again, I wouldn’t change this and of course, you take advantage of the delights of each and every location you visit. But remember to build in some time for literally not doing anything – this isn’t wasting time when you’re on a long trip. Sure if you have a one week holiday somewhere, you’ll cram as much as you can into each day. For a few months travelling the world though, it’s fine to give yourself a free day here and there!
Your relationship is tested
If you travel with your partner or friend, your relationship is tested.
Ellie and I hardly ever argue, in fact I don’t think we’ve ever had what I’d call a serious argument. We’ve had the odd spat here and there but it only lasts a few minutes. We make a point of sorting stuff out quickly and not letting it drag on for hours.
I can honestly say that the last nine months with Ellie have been amongst the best of our relationship and have given us some truly special moments together that we’ll never forget. This being just one of them:
I knew travelling together for nine months and living together (without our usual jobs or circles of friends) for six months in a new home would be hard at times. Aside from the odd few hours here and there, we’re together pretty much 24/7. It can certainly test your relationship when you’re together so much without your regular non-relationship distractions around.
But it is a test that we’ve definitely passed and I would do all over again in an instant.
I think the same applies if you’re considering travelling with friends, it is very different going on holiday with someone compared to travelling with someone. When you book a holiday, pretty much everything is taken care of in advance and it usually lasts no more than two weeks.
When you travel, a lot more can go wrong and unexpected challenges can be thrown your way which can make you think on your feet and expose weaknesses that you’d usually not like to show in front of your friends or partner. It can make or break your friendship (or relationship) so I think so you need to carefully consider how you will get on with someone and try to honestly look inwards and be aware of how you may annoy someone else when you’re with them 24/7
All in all, I’d advise anyone to spend some time travelling and I feel passionately that it is one of the best life experiences you’ll ever have. It isn’t easy, it can test you, but I think when you get home, you’ll be stronger in so many ways.