This article is the last in a three-part series. Read the previous one here.
We had now been on the road for two years, and had spent a large portion of 2018 in cold countries and climates. Finally fed up with wearing five layers each day we headed for the surf town of Huancacho, Peru.
The beach was dirty, and there was only one cafe with good wifi, but it was hot enough for shorts and we had something important to do. We finally launched our side project Leave Me Alone - a service to easily unsubscribe from spam emails, on Product Hunt!
You can read about our hectic launch and the lessons we learned from it here https://blog.squarecat.io/successful-product-launch.
Narrowly avoiding burnout
The successful launch of Leave Me Alone was incredible, but as that project was taking off we were still doing client work to keep travelling. We calculated that if we took on the extra work then by March we would have earned enough money to keep us alive for the rest of the year. Three months working and then nine months off sounded great!
We finished the work but not without sacrificing our physical and mental health. We hadn’t taken on more than we could actually complete, and we had enough time, but working on so many projects affected our productivity, sanity, and even impacted our relationship a little.
We had to remember a lot of information about each project and switch between them often which takes time and effort, and it’s not an efficient way to work. We also worked longer hours than normal and did client work on the weekends, which would normally be reserved for passion projects. This meant that we were both mentally tired, irritable about skipping work on Leave Me Alone or MakerAds, and had less patience for each other. Nothing too serious, but we had shorter tempers and didn’t have time to enjoy the places we were visiting.
In addition to stacks of work, for the first time in a while we had a travel deadline to adhere to which added to the stress. We needed to be back in Europe for the first weekend of April (for a wedding) and now had to decide which places to visit, and which to skip, as well as plan our journey back cheaply.
Our breaking point came at the end of February. We were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to meet our 2019 goals and James had his own goal of launching one product a month. We didn’t really have time but James wanted to launch MakerAds so we made a launch plan, created the assets, and went live on Product Hunt on February 28th!
The launch went really well and we were overwhelmed with the positive response. Launches are exhausting and in the days that followed the amount of ad submissions surged and it became too much to cope with. I was also worried about the reduced number of Leave Me Alone sales impacting our revenue goal, and struggling to find time to write two blogs and read two books. Even though we were super busy neither of us was doing enough physical activity and we were struggling to sleep!
We recognised that we couldn’t carry on working this much or this hard without following the unfortunate recent maker trend of burning out. You’re supposed to work smart, not hard, and we were failing at this. If we hadn’t taken a step back then our work and mental health would have suffered even more. Leaving ourselves untreated (where treatment can be as simple as taking a break) could have affected our capacity to work for much longer, lead to missed opportunities, and further impacted our overall health.
We wanted to scuba dive in Honduras before flying back and decided to take two entire weeks off work and spend them doing some serious rest, recovery, and reflection before starting a long journey to Europe. Our clients were understanding about our break, it’s easy to forget that even remote workers take holidays.
Lots of diving in Utila left little time to think about work and the internet was so bad that we couldn’t have worked even if we wanted to!
Our vacation was much needed and helped us narrowly avoid the dreaded burnout. We left Utila feeling refreshed and excited to code again.
Several makers have suffered burnout this year and it’s really important to step back and take note of your health. We all pushed ourselves hard in the last quarter of 2018 and set a lot of goals for 2019, myself included. Goals are great but they’re only worth pushing for if you’re not going to hurt yourself doing it.
I’ve found that my key to success is setting measurable and achievable goals. I have a 2019 goals dashboard on Airtable which allows me to see my progress, provides motivation when I see I have already completed some of my goals, and gives me encouragement to keep going. The most important thing is to realise I do not fail if at the end of the year I haven’t completed everything. Having meaningful goals and making progress towards something you really want to achieve is valuable in itself.
It’s easy to see other makers success on social media and compare. I was tweeting about another successful launch, posting blogs, and seeming to have it all under control. I tried to remain open and share the downs and bad days too to avoid becoming part of the problem. Your health is more important than a shipping streak. That project, goal, and community will still be there if you take a break. Plus you’ll be more focused and productive when you return! I’ll be taking more of my own advice from now on!
Quote - “Having meaningful goals and making progress towards something you really want to achieve is valuable in itself.”
The importance of wellness is starting to be recognised by developers. Sergio Mattei, the creator of Makerlog has recently added wellness features into the platform which encourages makers to take a break without worrying about losing their streak. Anne-Laure Le Cunff created a browser extension Teeny Breaks which provides mindfulness tips and encouragement to take a break.
It would be great to see more of this attitude as we all struggle to keep a work-life balance trying to find time for the things we love, and still earn money from the things some of us don’t, in an ever more connected and demanding world.
It’s you and me, babe
Not only are James and I a couple that travel together, but we also work together. We are each other’s solace, drinking buddy, emotional support, and sounding board. We agree that we are each responsible for our own happiness, though we still provide almost all of the support we need for various aspects of our physical and mental health to each other.
I am incredibly grateful to have met someone with whom I can share every aspect of myself, and experience this amazing lifestyle. Some people think that because I am the extroverted and loud one that travelling was my idea and I dragged James along for the ride.
The truth is quite the opposite. Before we even started dating James began questioning his life and started drawing conclusions about how to be happier. When we met he shared his ideas with me and I immediately came over to the dark side. We didn’t want a mortgage or to climb the career ladder, we wanted to sell everything we owned to travel and work for ourselves.
Travelling with your significant other comes with its own set of challenges. We argue very rarely, and arguments only really happen when we are both hungry, especially for breakfast! James becomes indecisive about where to eat and I develop this need for us to agree before we enter a restaurant. This results in us wandering between places, snapping at each other over the not quite perfect menu choices, and adding anger to the hunger. It’s a deadly cycle! We have now learned to recognise this happening and we rush into the first place we find without looking at the menu. Once we’ve had some coffee and eggs we both cheer right up!
Understanding and identifying each others’ needs and emotions has been absolutely key to our relationship success on the road. It sounds cliché, but we really do talk about our problems before they become an issue.
Now, this isn’t a relationship self-help book (subscribe to be notified of my upcoming e-book release haha jk), but it really is that simple. For want of a better description, James is an extroverted introvert, and I’m just a big ole extrovert. I do a lot of thinking out loud, but a lot of social interaction will tire James out and he needs some recharge time. It’s important for me to realise this and give him that space because otherwise I’ll just keep on mindlessly talking through my thoughts at him and it causes tension between us.
Conversely, I do need to be able to vent some of my thoughts. When James’ batteries are full he gives me additional time and attention so that I can feel satisfied that I’ve shared what’s going on in my brain.
Understanding each other better has improved our emotional intelligence, sharpened our perceptions, and had a positive impact on our ability to socialise - on those rare occasions we spend time with other people!
You’ll learn as you get older
Two and a half years on the road has taught us so many things about the world, allowed us to experience different cultures, and provided plenty of opportunities for self-reflection and realisation. Here are a few things I feel are worth sharing.
F**k everyone else
Not literally, but it’s so important to do what is of interest to you, and not everybody else. There are hundreds of travel blogs, Lonely Planet guides, and people in hostels who will assure you you’re missing out if you don’t do x, y, and z in that city/country.
Recommendations are excellent ways to find awesome things to do or the cheapest way to visit an expensive tourist attraction, but if you’re not interested in museums, don’t go to a museum just because someone told you it was great.
James and I aren’t into hiking and don’t like the cold, so despite it’s incredible beauty in photos and recommendations by many people, we didn’t visit Patagonia in South Argentina because we knew wouldn’t enjoy it. For the same reason we took the bus to Machu Picchu instead of the five day hike because we hate camping, couldn’t afford to stay in hotels along the way, and it was the rainy season in Peru - no thanks!
This recommendation extends to our nomad and remote work life too. We have tried co-working spaces in a few locations and each time the experience confirmed that we prefer a constant change of environment - it helps us stay productive.
Do what you like, not what you think you should like!
You don’t have to be a tourist
There are so many places we have visited where we stayed for anywhere from a few days to a month without visiting any of the tourist attractions. That is ok. Sometimes we stay for a month to live in a nice apartment, recover from travel, and get some work done.
This is an important part of the way we travel. Constantly moving can be tiring, so to combat travel fatigue we travel slowly and we like to “live” somewhere, buy groceries, cook dinner, watch some TV, and drink some cheap wine. When possible we use our free time to learn and develop our skills but sometimes an entire Saturday watching Netflix or playing video games is needed to recharge.
Do what you need to do to make long-term travel viable and sustainable for you - even if it means spending a day on the sofa like you would have done “back home”!
Sticking to a budget is important to make your money last and so that you have some idea of how much more time you have before you really need to take drastic action - such as flying home and getting a “real job”!
I have a much loved spreadsheet where I track all of our daily expenses to make sure we aren’t spending over our budget of €50 a day. Sometimes we spend a little more, but that’s ok so long as it evens out at the end of the month.
If you’re as excited by spreadsheets as I am, or just want to have a nose at our expenses you can see our current 2019 budget here, and if you’re interested check out 2018 and 2017 too! We’re quite over budget this year with higher cost of living in South America, expensive flights and lots of scuba diving, but we will get it back under control when we’re back in South East Asia soon!
That said, it’s definitely okay to treat yourself occasionally and spend over budget, or make big purchases. After all, what’s the point of working hard if you can’t spend some of that cash sometimes?
South America tourism and excursions cost us a lot more than we anticipated (several hundred dollars more), but we decided it was worth the cost for the one-off experience. A visit to the Amazon and Machu Picchu were experiences we would likely not get the chance to do again, so we decided to accept the extortionate cost.
Something we definitely don’t begrudge spending money on at all is scuba diving. On our vacation to Utila, we did loads of diving and completed our Rescue Diver certification! We learned that we are much happier spending hundreds of dollars being under the ocean on a tropical island and will be spending more money diving in the future :).
You can’t phone home
Long-term travel or the remote work lifestyle is a different mindset to even the longest of backpacking trips. You’re not packing for a trip, you’re packing for your life.
It’s easy to forget the little things you take for granted, like next day delivery from Amazon and Uber in every city! Every time we are back in Europe I order a bunch of stuff online and restock my essentials from cheap clothes stores but if we weren’t in Europe we would have survived and found the same stuff in the countries we were in. You can almost always get what you need, or something close enough, regardless of your location.
We are about to downsize our two bags each to one carry on per person. We are sick of hauling a backpack and day bag around - I am beyond excited! In preparation for this change, I’ve been watching a tonne of minimalist packing videos on YouTube. While these are great inspiration, it’s important to remember that you can pack whatever you want if it fits in a bag you’re comfortable carrying around.
The optimal packing list is great on paper, but we know the things that we can’t live without. I’m sure Merino wool is fantastic, but I prefer my $2 t-shirts, especially when the Vietnamese laundry places seem to enjoy losing my clothes.
Also, who on earth honestly travels with only 1 or 2 pairs of underwear?!
The lesson here, is pack whatever you need in order to live comfortably and be happy.
Save water, drink beer (in moderation)
James and I like to experience the local culture by tasting the food and drinking the beer. Sometimes we drink too much beer. This tends to happen to me significantly more often than James.
Not much of a lesson here! Hangovers definitely get worse with age and if anyone else has a solution to this then let me know!
We intend to travel for as long as we still have the money, capacity, and desire to do so. We will keep working on our passion projects, shipping new features, and opening them up to new markets. We are not ramen profitable yet but we made $470 last month (March 2019) and so far this year we have averaged over our goal of $1000 a month.
Cheese and craft beer are our most missed consumables when we are away from Europe so we are super excited to be spending a month in Budapest. We have only been here for two days and we already have six different types of cheese in our fridge!
Our plans are never definite but we are desperate to head back East to cheaper prices, our favourite foods, and the best scuba diving. You’ll probably see us in Thailand and Bali this summer. We’d love to grab a beer with you so send us a DM!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I have loved writing it. It’s been really fun to reflect on our entire journey. It’s been valuable to remember the good and the bad parts, and the effects travel has had on us, both physically and mentally.
The best thing we’ve done is to join maker and remote work communities and be open about our experiences with a group of passionate people like us! We look forward to many more years of travel and hopefully, there will be enough excitement to write another blog series!
This article is the final in a three-part series. Find the first previous one here.
Originally published at makermag.com on April 12th, 2019.