Tag Archives: Digital Nomad

Living In Transit

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Finding happiness on the road all depends on which road you take!

What’s a week away from home when you’re homeless (houseless) anyway? The past week has brought home to me the difference between travelling and “living in transit”. I’ve been away from Exeter, the main city I nomad around, for a trip which included work, play, misc and a total of 3 cities including London.

Travel is a word that usually refers to a temporary trip, during which normal life stops and another sort of world takes over. In contrast, living in transit involves taking even the mundanities of life on the road, and our careers or life paths keep developing as we go along. Unlike gap years or extended holidays, there is no “I’ll do it when I get back”.

The question I asked myself before the week started, was “how can I come up with a sustainable method for travelling? How can I avoid getting exhausted or burnt out?” By the time the week was out, I’d realised there was no such thing as a sustainable “method”, only a sustainable “approach”.

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Yup – I’d got that tired again that this was the only way I could guarantee to get off the train will all my stuff

I’d intended to set boundaries to make sure I didn’t end up working intensely long days, with hours on public transport thrown in, get too hungry, or exhausted. The reality was, that too many factors were out of my control for this to be possible. I did work long hours, get overtired, skip meals, sleep in weird places and get a crick in the neck, but I also managed to take opportunities along the way to recover. The only full day I had to myself in London, I slept rather than seeing the sights, because I knew I couldn’t return home tired when “home” means “moving from sofa to sofa”.

The key is, to make the best of every opportunity, and find what you can do right this moment, rather than focusing on what you can’t do.

One thing I love about this approach is the constant presence of mind it requires. To move through the world in this way, I need to be constantly paying attention, and making the most of the opportunities each moment provides. For example, on the morning before my train back to Exeter, a great opportunity came up for my friend and I to cut each other’s hair, which turned a task which is usually a hassle, into a beautiful chunk of time to be close with them.

What did work beautifully was my new bag and kit setup. I’ve put so much time, thought and money into this system I was beginning to wonder if it was just another distraction or excuse. I mean surely you don’t need kit you just need an adventurer’s spirit, right?

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…and yet the rule is, no matter what bag you have you’re going to try and max it out beyond capacity.

Well, an adventurer’s spirit is good, but the right kit has been a real game-changer for my travelling. It’s saved me time, pain, and money*. Check out my gear post. 

This trip didn’t require any recording kit, so I had plenty of extra room in the bag to pick up groceries or carry food/drink. I was carrying more weight than ever, but with no back and shoulder pain, due to the more comfortable backpack. One place I stayed at required me to clear the room I slept in every morning. This was dead easy because my new bag is clamshell meaning you can access its contents without “unpacking” it. So moving rooms was as simple as zipping it closed.
So what’s my new approach to life in transit? To abandon ideas of routine, dicipline, making plans or forcing my will, but take available opportunities to meet my own needs, give to and connect with others. I’ve discovered that being willing to explain my needs makes people feel more comfortable with me in the long run. At the same time it’s important to be physically prepared with the right kit, and mentally prepared for lots of changes of plans. Something little like always having an extra snack handy and all my devices charged is enough to get me productively through a couple of hours of unexpected transport delays and come out fresh as a daisy.

In a nutshell, be mentally flexible, physically prepared, sleep when you can, and try your best to let go of anything else. Lastly, be present: it’s the best way to make every minute count.

-Kimwei

*Actually I have no idea yet if buying kit has saved me money or just improved my experience. Probably both: investment in clothes that need washing less often, saves money on laundry; bigger more comfortable bag allows me to carry food and drink which is cheaper; lighter load means never having to pay for luggage when flying or get a locker; electric toothbrush saves on dentist fees (and pain); and so on…

Related posts: My Houseless HerosMy Year of Travelling as a Digital NomadHow To Pack Light For A Week’s TravelDigital Nomad Tips – Work, Play, Travel

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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Digital Nomad Kit List 2017: What’s in the bag? (Video + rationale)

I’m always trying to improve my one-bag-travel set up. I obsess about clothing vs music kit. It’s a constant struggle to get the right balance. This is the only time in my life when how many clothes I carry is directly linked to how productively creative I can be. More clothing = less music kit so less creativity. Less clothing = more music stuff so constant laundry issues. Lots of clothes AND music kit = bag too heavy.

Alternatively if I had loads of money I could buy lightweight versions of everything I’m currently carrying… ok forget that.

So, what are my aims for my ultimate setup? Well, as teenager I really enjoyed the freedom of weekends. I’d ball underwear and a toothbrush into a pair of socks each Friday morning and drop it in my school bag, so I could end up anywhere on Friday night, and usually did: road trips, nights out, sleeping on random friend’s floors and sofas. My main subject was art and my sketchbook filled up on these adventures, making it seem like I’d gone to exciting locations to do “extra coursework”. I loved the freedom of having a little ninja package with me that had me ready to say yes to opportunities.

Guess that’s what I’m seeking now: to be able to be freely creative on the road. Trouble is, as a digital nomad and musician, I need lot more kit than I did as a sketching artist.

Previously I’ve tried I’ve travelling with a 19ltr backpack and guitar, or even just a laptop bag (no guitar). The effect: I don’t have enough stuff either clothing-wise or creative-wise; definitely not enough for semi-permanent travel. There’s no room for snacks / my jacket, plus travelling without a guitar is unacceptable. When I carry my 30ltr backpack I have almost enough stuff, but it’s too heavy for comfort.

My solution to all this problems is: to increase my luggage (shock, horror)!!

Ol’ faithful next to shiny new shiny-ness

I’ve just bought the Osprey Farpoint 40 (litres): the only “Digital Nomad” backpack I could try on in a shop. It’s brilliant: more space than my old 30ltr 1970s hiking backpack, plus a much better strap system so more weight doesn’t really feel heavy. When you live out of a bag, changing the bag could change your life.

Now what to put in it?

This is the functionality I’d like from my kit:

For my body:

  • Clean, weather and occasion appropriate clothes every day.
  • Toiletries
  • Snacks and drinks

For my work and creative mind:

  • Kit to make and upload decent quality video for YouTube (and photos too)
  • Kit to record and produce high quality audio.
  • The electronics needed for my Digital Nomad teaching role.
  • Pens and paper for notes and sketches.
  • Enough instruments to keep me happy: will settle for guitar, penny-whistle and kazoo (if it’s a really good kazoo)

Ideal Weight limit =10kg

Turns out:

A: It’s not possible to keep it under 10kg

B: I can live with that

In the end managed to get down to 12kg (minus snacks and drinks), 2kg over target. I can try it for a while and over time, decide what to shed, or where to invest money in order to lighten the load. Plus, my next few months will be a mix of van living and travelling van free, so for short trips away from the van I could take less. The kicker is my recording studio kit (3kg) but it would cost over £1000 to buy a lighter version of that, so sod that!

In my experience, yes, 12kg will affect my independence a little, but it’s workable. With guitar added, that’s 16kg, so I’d find myself wanting to get a locker or take the bus rather than walk. That’s a shame, but it’s a work in progress.

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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What I’ve Learned From a Year of House-Sitting: A Practical Guide

I’ve house-sat here and there since 2012, but 2016 is my first year of pretty much full-time house-sitting. The longest stint in a property has been 4 months and the shortest 2 weeks. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Note: This is a post about the practicals involved in living in someone’s home whilst they’re away, how to take care of a house and logistically deal with frequent moving. It doesn’t cover the host-sitter relationship or how to find a house-sit.

BTW – I’m travelling HEAVY for a house-sitter, since I have a van, but many of these tips will apply to one-bag travellers too. It also might help university goers, since what I’m doing also resembles the frequent house-moves students must undergo. Travelling heavy is a no brainer if you have a vehicle as you can move with your consumables instead of throwing out and re-buying them every time.

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My personal stuff, minus bike and bike kit, which is usually stays in the van as “breakdown cover”

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My music stuff (shed-loads I know, but with a van, I can)

Moving Tips: The Load-In

After months of moving from property to property and unpacking at each place, I finally realised it was much simpler never to unpack. Instead, I organise my stuff in bags in such a way that everything inside each bag is accessible. I don’t hang my clothes in a wardrobe but keep them in packing cubes. I even keep my cupboard-food in crates so when it comes to moving out I can just grab the crate as it is.

Not unpacking has several advantages:

  • Whatever house I’m in, I always know where everything I own IS, because it’s in the same bag as always, not in an alien drawer.
  • Hosts live in their houses, so they may not have empty cupboards for your things too (exception pictured below).
  • It makes the load-in and load-out incredibly easy.
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Everything stays in bags

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Portable food cupboard

House care: What Not To Touch!

The trickiness of what to touch and what not to touch has always foxed me when it comes to house-sitting. In a longer house-sit, it’s practical to move a few things, or easy to wash up dishes and put them back on the wrong shelves by mistake. In theory this is ok, and most hosts will be fine with you moving anything you like “as long as you put it back”. The problem is, 3 weeks / months later it’s quite hard to remember what you’ve moved and where it came from. Getting it wrong could irritate your host for weeks to come, not because they mind the relocation of objects on principle, but because they can’t find their cheese grater / dish cloths / particular book.

I’ve tried several strategies to combat this problem. I used to take over 50 photos of a property before load-in, but both the photographing and the “returning to factory settings” at the end of the house-sit just proved too time consuming; turned out I’d moved so many objects without knowing it.

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Tip: If a host says “read any books”, always half pull out the book below/left of the one you’ve taken so you can see at a glance where it came from.

I called a friend who’s house-sat for years and asked him how he dealt with this conundrum. Giving equal weight to each word he said slowly “I NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING!” The oracle had spoken. This became my next strategy. However this felt too restrictive. For example, in one cold house I wanted hot tea in bed before rising in the mornings, so a friend suggested moving the kettle into the bedroom. My immediate reaction was: “out of the question!” since “I never touch anything”, but reason persuaded me that the middle path was to give in. After all, I was unlikely to forget that the kettle came from the kitchen. Now I move a few things if needed, but write it down; you think you’ll remember, but you won’t!

Other tips on this matter:

If a host says “don’t use this”, seriously don’t. Integrity aside, it’s not as simple as “they’ll never know”; sod law dictates that if you do use it, it will break and then you’ll have to explain yourself. It could ruin your house-sitter-rep, which, as we all know, is worth more than gold.

On the subject of breakages, own up to every single one for the same reason. You can plan not to break anything, since you’re a careful person, but it’s not that simple. For example, in one house, two glasses were smashed by the chimney-sweep who, rotating his 10ft flue-brush into position, knocked them off the dish dryer! I’d never have seen that one coming. However, good precautions include avoiding the use of unique or hand-made crockery, and glass lamps. I also practice using fewer things within a house (e.g. one mug, one towel), since that’s fewer things to clean and remember where to put back. Having a van, I can also bring some kitchen stuff, and bedding. This really takes the stress out of it for me.

Keep all your stuff in one place/room. Don’t be tempted to hang your coat on the coat rack, or put your keys on the shelf by the door. It may seem ludicrous, but trust me, it’s better in the long run. Dotting your stuff around the house is the quickest way to get it mixed up with your host’s stuff and risk forgetting it on load-out. It also ruins your travel habits.  If you really need a dumping ground, pick a totally clear surface and use that.

House Care: How To Clean Up

Cleaning is one of the hardest things for me. I both dislike it, and have no natural aptitude for it. In fact, I rejoiced at the idea of Digital Nomad-ing as I expected that travelling would result in having to do less cleaning. How wrong I was; the properties I take care of are much larger than anywhere I’ve ever rented, and it’s necessary to keep them much cleaner. I spend a lot of time on cleanmyspace.com and boy has Melissa saved me time over all!

Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way:

Keep it clean. At first I’d imagined I’d clear up all in one go at the end of the house-sit, and do as little as possible during.

This doesn’t work.

Although less overall time is spent cleaning, it’s hard to predict how long that final clean-up will take, causing stress or rushing. Also, what happens if a neighbour pops in the day before you move out of a 2 week house-sit, and sees 2 weeks’ washing-up piled high? Well, they are likely to tell your host that on their return.

Contrary to my instincts, it’s actually better to keep the place looking as much like a show home as possible (which means daily attention) throughout the house-sit. This results in immunity to “drop-in’s”, or host’s early return. It also shortens the final clean-up; at my last 2-weeker it took under an hour.

Finally, try and leave the place cleaner than you found it, by choosing something extra to attend to… in some cases this is impossible. In most cases I find I can at least tidy kitchen cupboards, and sort through the fridge. By the way, with careful planning and strategic eating it is possible to eat down the contents of the fridge and cupboards and move with almost no food. Do this if you can; it’s much easier.

Moving Tips: The Pack-Down and Load Out:

If you’re me there’s hardly any pack-down, since everything’s already packed. If you’re a one-bag traveller, even less. But what about the things you’re using right up until you leave? Do you pack then clean, or the other way around?

One idea, which works in a safe area, is to pack an overnight bag, and load-out everything else to the vehicle a day in advance.

However, I find that the minimum disruption is to clean the room nearest the front door first, move my bags to that room, then keep cleaning (as pictured at the top of this post – my move-out-formation of luggage). That means everything is accessible right-up until the clean-up is finished, but isn’t in the way. Need a snack? Finish early and fancy playing guitar? All is possible with this method. Finally, before the 10min load out, I like to prepare the van’s front seat with accessible snacks and a thermos of tea.

One of my favourite tricks, since I bring my own bedding, is to transplant the whole thing like this.

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Hope this unapolagetically long post has helped you in your house-sitting/travelling/nomadic lifestyle. Do please send me more tips, especially any on housework!

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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Confessions Of A Minimalist – Getting Rid Of Stuff Hurts!

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Powder pack – check! Carpet bag – check! Talking umbrella – check! All set!

You may be surprised to know that although I’ve been a minimalist for most of my life, I do find it really hard to get rid of stuff. Putting my sketches from school and uni in the recycle bin this morning was a real wrench (even though I’ve scanned them). Giving away books I can’t get digitally and would prefer to read again is tough too. It’s also a real pain having the feeling of wanting to play an instrument that I’m not travelling with, or don’t own anymore.

So why do it? Well, I’ve always said I prefer real books to e-books, but I prefer e-books to a mortgage. Many people say that they couldn’t do what I’m doing because they have too much stuff. Less stuff = more freedom.

Initially when I moved out of my yurt in 2013 I had no idea that I’d still be without a permanent dwelling 3.5 years later. I was not prepared for the transition. I had too much stuff, and no real way of dealing with it. It was a kicker taking furniture I’d hand made to the dump to be smashed up. 

Recently I’ve been brainstorming places to travel to after France, and some of them can only be reached van-free. I’d like to be prepared this time.

If I can make my life work on a day to day basis with what can be taken on a plane, I’ll be all set for international travel. I should be able to go abroad for a few months at a time, with no van, and still live my normal life with no disruptions.

So: 

  1. Clothes
  2. Phone
  3. Laptop
  4. Guitar

Ideally the top 3 would fit in a carry on bag (I also own other music stuff and bike stuff, which I’d store because it’s too expensive to sell and buy again when I get back).

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Originally Bly was told she would never be able to do such a trip. Why? Because a woman would need too much luggage?!? As you can see, she managed with just one hand-satchel. See: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/bly/world/world/html

 

I’d like to get used to this early, so it becomes second nature. This means going through another purge, some aspects of which might seem extreme – learning to cut my hair with scissors and ditch the buzzer, learning to exercise barefoot and get rid of trainers, and chucking all sentimental documents (once scanned) in the bin.

 

I want to say at this point that this is tough. This purge not only includes things I actually use, it means saying goodbye to things that I psychologically depend on as constants since my surroundings change so frequently.

Down to a point, discarding can be fun and a good release. It can mean letting go of the weight of things you don’t need. However, I feel already way below that point, and it’s destabilising. Technology is on my side – all media can be digitised, but only the information content of a document can be captured in a scan. There’s no substitute for the real letters of a loved one, or the CD signed by your hero. Goodbye to those. 

Dave Bruno touches upon this theme in his 100 Thing Challenge, in which he purges some things which used often, were irreplaceable and meant a lot to him. Overall, it was worth it because of the personal developments he achieved by fulfilling his challenge. 

So, the question is, is worth it to me? Every time I come back to the same answer – I’d rather enjoy the freedoms that I have with less stuff, than reach into the recycle bin and draw out all my old letters. Every day I’m thankful for the life I lead and daydream about where I’ll travel next.

I’m part of a new generation of people who are nomads rather than holiday makers. We’re living normal lives, but moving location often. This being the nature of my life, I have to constantly let things go. In many ways that’s a good thing, and feels like a more natural way to be.  Doing so is good reminder that there’s more to life than stuff, and that nothing can truly be held onto… but this post acknowledges that it still hurts a little. 

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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We’re better off together believe it or not…

https://www.yahoo.com/style/does-anyone-borrow-cups-of-sugar-from-neighbors-85225150926.html

When’s the last time you borrowed a cup of sugar from the neighbour, and then hey, you got chatting, turns out they’re single and so are you, so they invite you in for a cuppa, and hey, the rest is history? Never? Guess why – because there’s a 24hr store selling sugar just down the road, so why ever speak to your neighbours?

My last post on The Pros & Cons of Being a Digital Nomad mentioned this theme, which both has links to travelling and to non-monetary interactions.

When I saw Mark Boyle (Moneyless Man) speak a few years ago, he pointed out that money allows us to have transactions with people without even seeing them – it disconnects us. It also means that we can use money to distance ourselves from each other – if we’re rich we don’t need favours.

There are a few alternative ideas, such as a barter economy, or a gift economy. A barter economy returns us to having many communications and negotiations with a number of people in order to exchange something we can offer for something we want. A gift economy on the other hand, relies on people giving away their surplus stuff and doing favours. The idea is that if everyone acted this way, no-one would be in lack.

In many ways, I can see why people were relieved when money was invented – it meant all the faff of all these negotiations could be over. But what’s also lost along the way is the necessity to have a lots of interactions. In our current “Isolation Age”, isn’t more interaction what we need?

But how to start? My £0 Challenge in 2014 made it public that I was open to more barter and gift type interactions, but many people don’t have a doorway in like that. My first instinct is always to try and offer someone a favour or a gift, but people are so unaccustomed such things that this often freaks them out.

The key is to be the one asking for the cup of sugar. Believe it or not, asking a favour feels more vulnerable, so people are less willing to be the first to do it. I’ve noticed that many people are much more willing to give first and ask second. Asking someone for help actually creates quite a strong bond, but only if they feel they’ve genuinely helped rather than been taken for a ride. It can be the doorway to creating more barter/gift interactions in your life and this can lead to all sorts of new and unexpected connections and even friendships.

One college housemate I had used to knock on my door once a week to borrow my washing basket so he could do his laundry. I had no idea why he did this when we lived on the same street as Poundland where he could have easily bought one, but nonetheless, every week, he borrowed mine instead. Maybe he was skint? But you know what? – as a result of those weekly laundry basket encounters, we talked more. We got the idea that it was ok to knock on each other’s doors.  Of everyone who I lived with in college, he’s the only one I ended up stayed in touch with.

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

facebook.com/kimweidotcom

Music @:

kimwei.com

youtube.com/kimweidotcom

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Exercising Whilst Travelling But Avoiding Worms

Yoga public

Thanks Stephen for asking me to write about how I keep fit on the road. Obviously I cycle, but I haven’t had the circumstances to cycle regularly for a couple of years now.

When I first became so nomadic that I had to get rid of my free-weights I was pretty gutted. For years weightlifting had been my favourite way to work out. I felt at sea having neither a cycle routine, nor any other kind of exercise routine. I couldn’t believe how rubbish I felt travelling whilst being unfit. After just a few weeks, aches and pains appearing, shoulders so tight you can’t concentrate, period pains twice as bad. Yet I now manage to keep up a very good level of fitness and do strength training wherever I am, with no equipment and no gym.

How?

Using bodyweight exercises of course. However, I’m not expert enough to design myself a program, so I use exercise DVDs. Yes, that’s right – I take my laptop to the park, stick it on a bench and work out in front of it – I don’t care how mad I look. Other workout locations have included underground car parks (when it’s raining), living rooms, supermarket car parks and by the sea.

The best thing about it has been that when I’m travelling so much I’m sleeping in a different place every night and getting stiff on long train/van journeys, I can get myself back to feeling normal even by doing half of one of the videos. Even on my tightest schedule I’ve been able to fit this in at least every 2-3 days. When I do get to ride my bike, I’m still fit for cycling, in a way I wouldn’t be if I’d focused on running rather than full body calisthenics in the mean time.

The key to doing bodyweight exercises that simulate heavy lifting for muscle gain is to leave the ground. When you land, you seem heavier. As such, much of the exercises involve jumping or leaping from foot to foot. As a result, I’ve discovered that you can’t really do it upstairs, especially at a friend’s house. You also can’t do it on grass, since the worms feel the vibrations and come up from the ground in hoards, leaving you squashing a worm per minute with your feet – yuk!

So, that’s how to stay strong and fit on the road whilst still avoiding worms – stay on the road! Jump up and down by all means, but make sure you do it on concrete not grass!

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Pros, Cons & Unexpected Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad

I get the impression that many people think being a digital nomad is like being on a never-ending holiday… which is sort of is, but sort of isn’t. The transition has been a huge learning experience for me, even though I’ve not been touring the globe. I work as an online tutor on a music BA and have travelled in the UK and rural France.

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Here are some of the pros, cons and unexpected outcomes of living this lifestyle.

Pros:

  • No more travelling to work: Actually, it’s likely you’ll still spend a lot of time travelling, from one city or one country to the next, but this feels more meaningful than running back and forth to the office every day.
  • New experiences: When you do new stuff, it leads to more new stuff. Meet new people, see new places. It’s said that people who try new things are happier, even if they don’t always like what they try.
  • Work from anywhere: I’ve had some completely amazing experiences whilst still maintaining my teaching schedule work hours. If I had a regular job, I’d be waiting till the holidays for these opportunities and even then they might never happen. I even rejoiced at being able to help my friend in Wales insulate her living room. Instead of having to say “sorry I’m working that week”, I simply ducked out to change my shirt and do a couple of tutorials.

Cons:

  • Reliant on Internet: At first I’d envisaged myself as a permanent van traveller but that’s not possible because mobile-internet isn’t strong enough for my needs. Getting to a fast connection, in a quiet room, preferably where I can Ethernet connect my laptop is a restriction. I believe you should NEVER let a nomadic lifestyle compromise the service you provide in your work, so I worry about arriving in a house, only to find the router is unreliable. Having said this, it hasn’t happened yet.
  • Constantly moving my stuff: Some people are psychologically rattled by constantly having to move. I’m not really, but it sure is a pain moving all that stuff! I’ve obsessively read one-bag-travel blogs to see if I could cut down to that, but I just can’t without giving up music, which I obviously won’t. Having said this, I’ve already minimized more than I ever thought possible, and realized the existential value in that, as well as the logistical flexibility. Many people purge quickly, but I find it takes me time to learn to live without something.

 

Unexpected benefits:

You’ll get your work life balance sorted!: Many over-workers comment on how much they would love my relaxed lifestyle, but guess what – you take your baggage with you! If your work life balance is off, making your own schedule will only accentuate it. The good news is, being a digital nomad and designing your own timetable can give you the opportunity to examine this and change it.

I’m a recovering over-worker, and my big challenge is to be able to relax and do something else even if there is still more work to do that day, or even that week. At first I tried to do the week’s work (apart from scheduled online tutorials) the start of the week, but this plain didn’t work. Now I do a little every day AND do something creative every day.

For me the key is FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS – to be truly working when I’m working and truly playing when I’m playing. I never force myself to do anything anymore, I simply wait until I’m excited about it and then get started. The result is, I’m much more productive in everything I do, and enjoy it more, which was a complete revelation!

IMG_0123Overcoming feeling displaced: Although I don’t really experience displacement, that’s partly because I’ve got some strategies to combat it. It helps that I’ve got a van – a mini-room in itself which can feel like my own space. It’s not big enough to live in, but it’s a constant.

Since I have few possessions, I interact with them often and they become my portable environment, which helps me feel grounded. It may surprise you to know, that even as a minimalist, when possible I travel with my own knife, spork, mug and bowl, because these little things help me feel at home anywhere. If I’m on a shorter trip with just a backpack, I still bring my meditation mat – my smallest portable environment.

Coming out of my shell: Although the requirement for a strong internet connection stops me from buying a big van and moving in, it’s forced me to seek housesitting opportunities, which has led to meeting wonderful people, seeing more new places and generally being out in the world more. What I’ve learned is that although it seems like we might be safer and happier keeping ourselves to ourselves, in my experience the opposite is true. This is a big topic (which I’ll do a full post on soon) but it stands to say, a nomadic lifestyle challenges your ideas about what you’ll need in your life to feel safe and happy.

So that’s it. For me, the pros clearly outweigh the cons, and the unexpected benefits can’t be measured. However, I wouldn’t say it was easy – I welcome the challenges because they are part of my choice to live this way.

Kimwei

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The Wooden House

 

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Wooden House living room

I’m writing from a farmhouse in the Loire Valley, just having completed a 10 week house sit in a beautiful self built eco Wooden House just 30mins from here. Our host and friend arrived yesterday for a handing over of the keys, welcome meal and an afternoon’s unpacking and rearranging before we headed on, van packed to the gills.

 

At 10 weeks, this is the longest house sit yet, and although I’ve been calling it a “sit” that’s not truly accurate, because I don’t honestly think this friend needed their house occupied for that time period – it was more of a favour/exchange. It’s been the most ambitious house sit yet, being abroad in France where I don’t (yet) speak the language plausibly. It’s also my first try at being a true digital nomad, in that over 95% of my income for the period was from online work (Skype teaching).

DSC01545.JPGAs you can see from the pictures, we have been exceptionally lucky with a gorgeous location and beautiful house, however I wanted to write mainly about the challenges presented by a longer house-sit abroad and what I learned from them.

Van: I travelled without breakdown cover, because it would have cost £200 and I was advised that in France garages are plentiful. There were two problems in 10 weeks (that’s the type of van I own!). One non-starter – the local garage came to fix it, and one flat tire – I actually managed to drive to the tire-shop without creating further damage.

IMG_0056.JPGHaving no cover is quite high risk and I do still feel uncomfortable with it. Because I didn’t speak French, it took me two weeks to get the van fixed in the first instance, meanwhile cycling 14miles back and forth for food shopping. My bike was my “breakdown cover”. If you’re thinking of travelling without cover, it’s best with spare food, a bed and a bike in the van, not to mention never leaving the house without your phone and wallet. I learned that the hard way.

DSC01573.JPGHouse Care: With a longer house sit, it’s much more difficult to remember to put everything back in its original place. You might move furniture, or hide away precious ornaments you feel nervous about. I took reference photos, but even then it was tricky – which cupboard was that cheese grater originally from? I’d also ended up leaving my own stuff in many different places in the house without even realizing – a pain for packing up. If I did it again, I’d be stricter! I also wish I could travel with less stuff:

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My things. Music stuff on the left – recording studio, keyboard, guitar, flutes, live kit including amp. On the right, my personal possessions including cycling stuff (bike in van). May not seem like a lot but feels that way when you have to keep moving it. Sadly I’ve actually used all of it, so what can I discard?

DSC01578.JPGBeing in a house for longer there’s also more chance that something might break. I’d never broken anything during a house sit, but this time there were two broken glasses, a joint snapped on a chair and the plumber needed calling out when the toilet leaked. This panicked me! I prefer to leave a house just as I found it if not better, often cleaning, clearing or sorting some corner as a thank you to my hosts. Although we did plenty of that, I was still terrified. In the end I just had to accept that these things will happen from time to time.

IMG_4483.JPGFrance: The house sit was located in rural France, meaning that for the whole stay I really only spoke to 5 people besides shop staff. Although I wasn’t lonely, I felt very exposed, lacking the recourses of a more populated area. If I needed something, it wasn’t always possible to buy it. As a result, I joyfully found that the few neighbours were extremely collaborative. One picked me up from the rail station an hour away(!), after my train was delayed and the busses had finished. Another neighbour I took to work when her car was totalled. A culture of lending and giving freely was engendered by this isolation, despite the language barrier. Amazing!

Being a Digital Nomad: Focus focus focus! Many people must be imagining me leading the French lifestyle, a man of leisure, never having to go to the office. Whilst it is pretty idyllic, of course I go to the office, or rather the office comes to me. IMG_0087.JPGRight now, this is my view, sat in my van working. I’ve just had a Skype call with a colleague discussing a student’s essay draft, and look forward to writing up my lesson reports this afternoon, and preparing my tutorials for the evening. My schedule is different every week, but the most important thing is to be focused – both to be working when I am working and to play when I am playing. I’m still learning this and will write a post on it soon.

Hope this post has been useful to anyone thinking of trying house sitting, digital nomading, or other alternative lifestyle ideas.

-Kimwei

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Make Your Dreams Reality (By Playing Yellow Car) Part 1

I’m writing this post from a beautiful 4 bedroom wooden house in rural France. It was lovingly built by its owner and I’ll be here until spring. This marks my first outing as a digital nomad. I’ll be mentoring on a Music BA over Skype through the blended learning project AMBA. It’s a dream come true and I’m very grateful to everyone who helped it to happen!

DSC01595So how did I get here? Many people make the transition by going independent in the same job they’ve had for years, such as photography or journalism. Others simply ask their employer if they can work remotely. Since my income came from music performing, teaching and lecturing, as far as I knew, there weren’t any options for working from home.

I brainstormed lots of ideas, including becoming a busking minstrel, running a mobile recording studio (which I still do, and am currently making albums with 2 clients) and working as an illustrator.

Then, quite out of the blue, a company I used to teach with called me up and asked if I would be the main Skype Mentor on a blended learning Music BA they was setting up as a new venture. I was in the middle of the £0 Challenge at the time and was therefore totally unemployed and free to take up the offer. I’ve now been working with that project for a full year and have never enjoyed a teaching role more! Lucky? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

There are many “how to” guides out there on how to become a digital nomad, and lots of advice on how to “make it happen”. This may just be my personality, but trying to make things happen doesn’t work for me. The way I see it, everything exists somewhere on the planet, so if we tune our minds to it, we start to spot it. The path of my life has come to me by focusing on what I want, then allowing it to happen by saying yes when opportunities come up.

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By co-incidence I do actually have a yellow car, which came to me when I was housesitting in rural Devon and noticed a neighbour washing it in his driveway. He said he was preparing it for a Gumtree ad, so I bought it on the spot.

It’s like the game Yellow Car. I’m sure you’ve played it – spotting this rare car colour on a long drive. Although yellow cars are unusual, it’s amazing how many you see when you’re looking out for them. Someone might ask “How many yellow cars did you see today?” and you’d be able to tell them easily. But, if asked “How many red cars did you see?” I doubt you’d have a clue.

I believe the same can be true with opportunities. We can set our yellow-car-lense to “digital nomad” or “free firewood” or “size 14 denim jacket”. It doesn’t necessarily mean these things will immediately appear, but once we are tuned up to look out for something, we can’t miss it when it comes along. On the other hand, if we’re not focused on what we want, those opportunities could whizz by like red cars without us even noticing.

That’s the overview, but there are other stages to this process too (there are even more stages/aspects than list here so I might do a follow up article).

Really figure out what you want.

It’s important to boil your dream down its key components. When I was a kid, my dream was to earn a living backpacking through the lake-district as a watercolor painter, selling my work to local galleries. As an adult, I’ve boiled that dream down to a few key things – freedom, creativity, needs met, sense of adventure, and gravitated towards opportunities that offer me that.

BUT many times I’ve had to let go of a dream because it no longer brought me those things. Two years ago I planned to busk around Europe in a van, but so many restrictions appeared that I abandoned it. I widened my dream to “I want to have new experiences whilst enjoying earning my living”, which has led me to where I am now.

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My space in the wooden house, mezzanine level.

If your dream is to own an expensive sports car, boil it down to what you want. You can do this by asking yourself what you would experience if that dream became reality. It might be simple: “I’d enjoy driving a fast car. I’d feel exhilarated.” Fine – save up and buy the car, or if your priority is purely driving, you could hire one. If you can afford neither, you might have to give up your attachment to the racing car but might find exactly what you need by seeking other experiences that you find exhilarating.

But if your immediate answer is “I’d be accepted by my peers” or “I’d feel successful”, some further digging could lead you towards a deeper dream. You might be lacking a circle of close friends who don’t judge you on your income, and could re-orientate yourself towards cultivating that. Then you could buy the car anyway if you still want to.

Our true dreams are usually fearless and naturally draw us to be giving towards others.

If it’s not working, do something different.

There’s no point looking at the world through your “yellow car” lens if you’re not even near a road. Sometimes it’s not obvious whether we’re in the right place for an opportunity to come to us. My approach is: if in doubt, do something different.

A new experience or approach has merit simply because you’ve not done it before. You could meet someone new, gain a new skill, see a new place and this could be the key to getting you onto the road and finding your “yellow car”.

I often hear people say “then I was sat next to this guy on a train, and it turned out he had a flat to rent/cocoa farm for sale/kitten who needed a home, and it was just what I was looking for!” Sounds like a co-incidence, but in a way it’s not that far fetched. When we focus our yellow-car-lens, we think about our yellow car all the time. When we talk, we can’t stop talking about our yellow car. Soon, all our friends know we’re looking for a yellow car, and they might mention it to their friends, one of whom might just have a yellow car. But if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. We just keep on talking about that yellow car to every new person we meet, until eventually someone says “hey, I’ve got a yellow car – do you want it?”

-Kimwei

Follow up article: Make Your Dreams Reality Part 2

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Design 2 – My Dream Small Van (Part Time)

The 2nd in my series of Dream Tiny Home designs – A small van for part-time living.

This is what I’ve chosen for my current lifestyle – a vehicle I can sleep in at a moment’s notice and live in comfortably for a few days at a stretch without any planning, but that isn’t suitable for full time living.

A bigger fully self-sufficient van is useful for weeks on end in nature or an urban life in which the van essentially acts as a full time home. You can stand up in it and it has enough room for a wood burner.

View From Rear Seat

Interior of my last big van, with mini woodburner.

Unfortunately it’s also easy to spot and invite hassle, on account of the chimney, long and difficult to park. Having such a low MPG, it could be prohibitively expensive to drive.

Alternatively, a moderate sized van can sleep two, may not have enough room for standing or for a burner, but will be as economical to run as a large car. It’s a better choice for a lifestyle in which long distances are covered, and cooking/sleeping in the vehicle fill the gaps between using indoor spaces. The money saved on fuel can be spent on the occasional cheap accommodation, or using coffee shops for office space.

The nightmare comes when you need a live-in vehicle that you can also drive long distances…I haven’t found a solution for that problem yet.

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My current setup – quite similar to my ideal design but with less storage space

 

So, I’m currently running: a short wheelbase VW Transporter. It’s a squeeze. I’m continually pairing down my possessions. My pet gripes with this lifestyle are that it’s not possible to set up my studio speakers in a van so small, and I have to store most of my instruments in a friend’s cupboard. It’s too cramped a space to act as a useful practice room, so I’m sad to say I’ve practiced less since having a small van.

My dream small van represents how I’d upgrade my current van. To summarise, I’d double the cupboard space and buy more sports bags and packing cubes.

Van Top viewOver time I’ve come to love the simplicity of my current van furniture – one bed and one kitchen cupboard set. I wouldn’t do much to change it. At first I was frustrated with a few things but soon discovered they were symptoms of having a small van not design flaws in the furniture

  • IMG_2569The bed is too low to fit boxes underneath, but if it were higher I couldn’t sit up in bed.
  • The bed is too short (5ft), but I’ve got used to it now and lengthening it would only eat into the living space.
  • There’s no bike rack, so I have to take my bike out of the van and lock to a lamppost literally every time I want to use the back space. But actually, a rack would cost £200 and then it would keep costing by decreasing the van’s MPG, so I won’t bother.

Other things that you may have to deal with in a small-van:

  • No heating: The gas stove can be used in short bursts but that’s it really. Fortunately such a small space warms quickly, but having no wood burner can result in damp just from breathing – air your van regularly.
  • Limited kitchen: I currently have no running water and no fridge, but re-fill water bottles whenever docking. If I started spending more days in my van I’d upgrade, but currently it’s better to have more cupboard space than to have a fridge sitting empty half the time. Most foods except meat keep ok in the kitchen cupboard and I don’t mind eating tinned food for when needed.
  • No toilet: This hasn’t been a problem so far. In urban areas toilets are often available, especially when docking in a driveway. I’ve also a funnel and some piss-bottles (emptied when facilities appear). In nature, a trowel enables bears to shit in the woods.
  • Low headroom: Bad weather during a trip can mean being shut in a tight space with no room even to stand up for days on end. Solutions are to buy a bigger van, just deal with it, or go to cafes. In an ideal world I’d get a pop-top – currently out of my budget at £3.5k

Having accepted all this, until recently I still found my van too small for all the stuff I needed to carry to make my life function. I pared down hugely, but was still stuck. Then I discovered the key – It’s not about how many cupboards you’ve got, but about what’s going on IN the cupboards.

Van Side ViewCupboards with stuff chucked straight in don’t work – once filled to only ½ their capacity, everything starts to fall out whenever you open a cupboard after a rocky drive. Boxes are better, but you lose a lot of space around the box since it needs to be smaller than the cupboard opening in order to get it in and out. Stuffing cloth bags in can provide more space, but it’s hard to see what’s in them.

Recently I’ve solved these problems using packing cubes – mini nylon suitcases with transparent tops so you can see what’s in them. Sounds pretty basic, but moving over to using a combination of sports bags and packing cubes has doubled the storage capacity of my van – yes that means I can keep twice as much stuff in the same space! To give you an idea, the majority of my clothes fit into 3 medium sized packing cubes, but I estimate that at least 50 cubes of the same size would fit under the bed.

When I first got my van, I started collecting rectangular nylon sports bags because plastic boxes were too tall to fit under the bed. I’d previously thought that boxes were best, but sports bags showed distinct superiority: they could be folded away if empty or squashed into a smaller space if only half full.

Whenever I stay somewhere even for just a night, it’s easy to take most of my possessions inside since all the bags have convenient handles and shoulder straps. Valuables come inside even if I only stay somewhere for an evening, but I never pack and I never unpack.

The main improvement I could make on my current van is to add another set of cupboards to the right of the bed that reach up to the ceiling, and a small set of cupboards to the left of the bed, high up (as shown in both drawings). With my new packing cube system, I don’t even need that extra space  – it would just be for “visitor” luggage.

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The Dream Yurt was 113 sqft (10.5 sq metere) and was about the right size for a modest living space. Designing a a small van will ultimately be a compromise – trading off features against each other because with less than 4 sq meters (43 sq ft) of floorspace, there simply isn’t enough room for everything. Rather have a short bed or a folding bed? Rather have a full kitchen or more cupboards for luggage?  I’d rather be able to ride my bike than give it up for the sake of more space, so I’ve gone for packing my van to the brim and packing smart. This system really shines when I’m working. It’s wonderful being able to pull my portable amp out, strap it to my bike and go for a day’s busking, or to go to a country house with one bag and set up to shoot a https://www.youtube.com/embed/b07rbdJ-UpA” target=”_blank”>music video like this one.

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