I’d been in Hong Kong since 2011; it was my home. But if I wasn’t working there and couldn’t get a sponsored visa, I’d have to move back to the UK.
But… I don’t want to live in the UK. In fact, the idea of having a home that I’m away from most of the time seemed ridiculous.
So I gritted my teeth and jumped in at the deep end: the obvious solution is not to have a home.
My job is awesome: I travel the world and teach some of the smartest young adults around how to do the job I’ve been doing for ten years. I spend all my time on my feet doing what I love – talking! I work in two stretches of fifteen weeks every year – and the rest of the time is my own. When I’m working my accommodation is covered, and on top of that I get paid. I work with smart, kind-hearted people who share my values.
In short, it’s a dream. All the downsides are ridiculous first-world problems that you can’t tell anyone about because nobody is sympathetic – and nor should they be.
But I have learned a bunch of stuff about this kind of life. Nobody really does it. I’m not going to call myself a digital nomad because that makes you sound like a twat. But because there’s no runbook for doing it, I knocked up a quick list.
So, in no particular order, Sam’s 13 things you should know about living out of a bag:
1: Your life is now a game of bulk and mass. I live out of a 60l backpack, so whenever I buy a pair of socks I have to throw away a book. I don’t have a list of what’s in it, but I once went home to the UK and forgot to bring trousers, so don’t do that I guess.
2: Hit the gym, don’t get fat. This isn’t a holiday or a work trip – it’s your actual everyday life. You have to build routine into a deeply disrupted life. Go to the gym, eat a salad, don’t go wild at the bar. This is the rule you’ll break first.
3: Jetlag is a thing and sleep deprivation is no joke. There are no tricks, no hacks, you just have to ride it out. 1 day per 1h20m difference for westbound flights, 1 day per 40 minutes difference for eastbound. I’m writing this in Bangalore at 5am.
4: Your mates are important and you won’t bump into them any more. So you need to explicitly manage relationships – get on whatsapp, skype, facetime. Same goes for your family.
5: Any flight is business class when you have valium.
6: Make a plan for your days off, even if your plan is to do nothing. Start with a goal. Mental health is important; ticking boxes is a cheap dopamine hit.
7: Meetup is awesome. Buy a local SIM. Settle in the local currency. Get a travel scale for your bag.
8: Hobbies are weird now. You probably need one individual and one group hobby, neither of which require much equipment. I sketch (badly, rarely) and haven’t figured out the second one yet. You probably can’t schlep around football boots or a hockey stick.
9: Airbnb is my jam. Be a good citizen and write positive reviews. You can negotiate on price, but competition in cities is high so don’t be a jerk.
10: Have a project to work on in your downtime. Learn a thing, write some code, do some charity work. I spent two months in Argentina last year without a goal and nearly drank them out of Malbec. Don’t be like me.
11: Don’t bring it if you couldn’t bear to lose it. Throw it away if you don’t need it.
12: ABC: Always Be Charging. Phone, laptop, battery pack. Always make the most of a power outlet when you can.
13: Finally: You’re not gonna die just because you missed your train. Or if you eat at the wrong restaurant. Or if you can’t find a room for the night. Most things will be fine most of the time, and for everything else, there’s MasterCard.
Finally, I recognise that I’m deeply, incredibly, wonderfully lucky and that I live a charmed life. I sometimes joke about being professionally homeless, and whilst this is meant in jest I do recognise that some people fell through the gaps or their luck ran out. To this end I made a small donation to charity when I posted this. Please consider doing the same!