A Really Great Question

I was having an email exchange with one of the applicants to our upcoming program. Lets call her Cassie. As all the best applicants do, Cassie asked some really thought provoking and testing questions, she understood that the application process was a two way street. As well as us making sure she was a good fit for an Edumadic program, Cassie wanted to make sure that the program was a good fit for her.

One of the questions she asked was what we hope our Edumads get out of our programs. This isn’t something we tend to talk much about, so I thought sharing it might give a good insight into the benefits people tend to get out of our programs outside of simply seeing the world.

Below is my response:

“In terms of outcomes for the people that come on our programs, there’s a few major areas we hope people are affected in.

1.

We want people to make real progress in whatever they planned to educationally. Without this there is no purpose in Edumadic existing. Everything else we hope people get out of this program can be gained outside of the framework of an Edumadic program. People achieving their educational goals online while living / travelling in different countries is the way we are going to change the world. As grandiose as that sounds, we honestly believe that if we execute this idea well enough, going on an Edumadic trip, whether through us or independently will be as normal as backpacking in 10 years time.

Although we don’t actively force people to study, we filter applicants with this in mind. It’s quite easy to see whether someone is serious about what they plan to spend their time doing in their application. The time on the program itself is also subtly designed to ensure people spend significant time studying. Participants tend to follow the pace / tone that Program Coordinators set for a program so we always make sure we personally have a good balance between work and play. Also, simply by virtue of staying in one spot for a month at a time means that you would run out of things to do if you didn’t study at all.

2.

We hope that our programs breed independence in people, especially when it comes to travel. We understand that a big part of the appeal of our programs is that we are positioned in this place between organised travel tours and independent travel. A lot of our participants haven’t travelled outside of one or two week holidays. Catching a one way flight to Asia on their own seems completely insane to them and something they would never do. So being able to come on our program and have Program Coordinators on hand, but still have the freedom to spend their days however they want is really valuable. In running the programs we try to breed as much independence as we can so that by the end of the 12 weeks you’d be happy to book that one way flight on your own, and you understand that the world isn’t this scary place that people think it is.

At the start of our programs we give a lot more structure, suggesting lots of activities, inviting everyone to meals, checking up on people to make sure they’re settling in well and being very active in ensuring everyone feels included and isn’t sat in their room afraid to go and do things on their own. But as the program goes on people start to become more independent naturally, venturing off to explore on their own without us initiating things. Once they’ve seen how we navigate the worlds we live in, and we’ve shown them what to look out for, how to stay safe etc., people become a lot more confident, also with the knowledge that we’re still here to ask for advice or pick up the pieces should something not go as planned.

3.

We hope that people understand more clearly their place in the world. One of the most valuable things I have learnt from travelling is that I am one of the luckiest people ever to be born. I fit into that category simply by virtue of being born in a first world country in 1991. I won the lottery at that point, without accounting for the whole boat load of other privileges I was granted that were completely undeserved. If you’ve spent your whole life living in the western world, it’s hard to really understand that, because you have no real reference point to compare your privileges to.

Spending such a long time in developing countries, you can’t help but notice how fortunate we are. If everyone in the world understood this, firstly people would stop complaining about their own lives, and secondly more people would feel inclined to do something positive with that privilege.

This particular lesson comes from just absorbing the world around us during the 12 weeks, but also through the big / deep conversations we have. There’s something about travelling and meeting new people in this kind of setting that promotes conversations about the big things in life, conversations that aren’t often had at home among friends. It’s these kinds of conversations where life changing revelations occur and people grow into new versions of themselves. It’s perhaps a bold statement and maybe a tad arrogant of us to say, but I don’t think anyone that’s joined one of our programs has returned as the same person with the same world views and opinions.”

30 Travel Hacks from 3 Years on the Road

October 31st marked 3 years since I packed my bag and set off to carry out my little experiment of combining online learning with world travel. Although I’ve been home sporadically since then, my existence has been pretty nomadic. The longest I’ve spent at home in those 3 years was 3 months and that was enforced by a broken leg. In fact, the longest I’ve spent continuously in one country has been 4 months in India.

During these 3 years I’d like to think I’ve picked up my fair share of travel hacks. These are all collected from my first-hand experience of traveling both solo and in groups, but never as part of an organised tour (unless it’s my own ;)). The “hacks” I’m sharing with you below are supposed to be novel, ones that you haven’t heard elsewhere and go beyond the simple travel advice that’s usually found online.

Some are long, some are short, some you might think are dumb. Some aren’t really hacks at all. If you’re completely new to travel you might want to supplement this list with other advice, but no matter your experience, hopefully you’ll pick up something useful!

Never admit it’s your first time

This goes for arriving in a new country or location, particularly at airports, train stations, and bus depots. You’re at your most vulnerable to scams and exploitation when arriving somewhere new, and you may notice everyone (particularly taxi drivers) will ask you if it’s your first time here. Maybe this is me being cynical, and may not apply to everyone, but I feel part of the reason they ask this is to know how much they can get away with when it comes to pricing and general scamming. Telling people that you’ve been here before makes them at least hesitant to try and mislead you or charge you something other than the going rate.

Perfect your shoe game

I have for a while now only travelled with one pair of shoes. They are the perfect travel shoe. I can cover all these bases with them:

  • Hiking

  • Swimming / stuff where your feet get very wet but you need shoes on

  • Beaching (is that a word?)

  • Cycling (kind of, depending on the intensity)

  • Clubbing

  • Hot weather

  • Cold weather

Still in one piece! After ~16 hours a day for 6 months in Morocco and India

Still in one piece! After ~16 hours a day for 6 months in Morocco and India

They go with every single outfit in my bag. You can wash them without messing them up. They’re pretty indestructible as they’re made out of leather and are high quality, which comes with a high price tag but I think it’s worth it. They’re the kind of shoes where you don’t have to wear socks which is music to my ears as I have a phobia of them

The only thing I can’t do in them is run / work out, which I’m not mad about. Most places I go have either plenty of hiking, or water sports, or both, to keep me fit. And if there really is neither then I will wear just socks to the gym.

I always buy a pair of flip flops when I arrive. They’re always a fraction of the price of buying at home (~$1). I also spend what many think is a weird amount of time walking around barefoot.

Only problem with this set-up is these shoes are almost impossible to find in developing countries. So if I lose them I’m kinda screwed.

Maybe you don’t want to travel with one pair of shoes, but you should really think long and hard about the shoes you’re bringing with you. They take up a lot of space in your bag. Try to cover as many bases with as few pairs as you can.

Hostel life without hostel beds

Maybe this is a sign I’m getting old, but I’m over sharing a room with 8 to 16 strangers. But I can’t deny that staying in a hostel is the best way to meet fellow travellers. The perfect scenario is booking a private room in a hostel, but these are usually super expensive.

One of my all time favourite hostels to hang out at. Anjuna, Goa.

One of my all time favourite hostels to hang out at. Anjuna, Goa.

So how can you get the social aspect of a hostel without having to suffer dorm living or burning a hole in your wallet? Here’s what I do.

Find out the most social hostel in the area. Make sure they have a large common area and a fully functioning bar. Book one night in the hostel, and in your time there make yourself known to as many people as possible, especially the people that work there (it’s particularly important that the staff like you).

The next day find a super cheap guesthouse round the corner from the hostel. I’ve almost always been able to find a basic private room for the same price as a bed in a dorm at a popular hostel, certainly you’ll be able to find one for a fraction of what a private room in a hostel costs.

Because you’re “in” at the hostel and with the hostel staff, you’ll be able to hang out in the hostel and at the bar even though you’ve checked out. People probably won’t even realise you’re not staying there anymore.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened

Friendships made while travelling tend to be intense. You share so many life defining moments together that travelling side by side with someone for a week feels like you’ve known them for a year. And when they live on the other side of the world from you, the reality of the situation might be that your path may never cross again.

Hammock heaven on a houseboat with some very special people.

Hammock heaven on a houseboat with some very special people.

I used to find it pretty unbearable when I had to say goodbye to these kinds of friends, and sometimes I still do. Nowadays I reframe my thinking to help cope with it. Firstly I always believe that I will meet the people that matter to me again, even if the truth is I never might. And secondly I try to concentrate on being grateful for having met them at all. How lucky am I to have had people in my life that I miss so much? Yes, if I stayed at home I would never have to say goodbye to my friends. They’d always be a short commute away. But then I never would have met all the amazing people I have.

What’s better, to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all? Maybe the jury is still out on that. Maybe at times it feels like you’d rather a life full of average people if it meant they’d never leave. I choose to believe life should be lived at the extremes. For me that extends to people and relationships as well as every other aspect of life.

Protect your time and energy

After a while on the road, particularly if you’re staying in a lot of hostels, you will probably get really good at making connections with people. You might even become somewhat of a social ninja.

I found that there was a point where my outlook on making friends shifted. It changed from “how am I going to go about finding new friends?”, to “How do I make sure I make friends with people I actually enjoy being around and make my life better?”

I found that I could make friends with almost anyone if I made the effort to. And that might sound great to some people, but having so many people pulling you in so many different directions and wanting your energy is exhausting. I started being very selective about who I would even introduce myself to. I stopped asking peoples names until I actually thought this was a person I was interested in knowing. Initial conversations I had with people were about interesting and thought provoking topics, and the more mundane questions that most people start with such as where are you from, how long have you been travelling, and what do you do came as an afterthought, and sometimes never at all!

I think you should be very deliberate about who you allow into your life, not just because your time and energy are finite, but because some people might make your life significantly worse once they’re in it. And they might be hard to remove.

Lockable bags = Portable safes

Most hotel safes can be overridden, which kind of defeats the purpose as the staff at the hotel probably know how to do this. This, along with many hotels and hostels not having safes big enough to fit all my valuables in (or not having safes full stop) is a problem.

I discovered these bags. They’re expensive, but the peace of mind they give you are priceless. I can lock these bags to an immovable object and leave them completely unattended in the knowledge that nobody will be able to steal them or anything inside them. Beyond just securing valuables in my accommodation this allows me to sleep soundly on public transport or generally in public without the worry that my bags are going to get stolen.

Smile and Laugh

This keeps you out of trouble and can also get you out of it. Inevitably you will have reason at some time or another to be upset or angry. But putting this energy out into the world almost never serves you. If you want help, you’re much more likely to get it with a smile on your face and a happy disposition than with a scowl.

And plus smiling is contagious! And how do you feel about people that make you smile?

The secret to negotiating

Recognise where you have negotiating power. It’s all about supply and demand. Is every shop on this street selling the exact same thing? Then the power is in your hands. See something you love that you haven’t seen anywhere else? Most likely you’ll be paying the sticker price or going without.

Where I have the negotiating power, I always employ the same strategy.

  • Look somewhat disinterested.

  • Ask the price

  • Laugh at the price

  • Walk away

The merchant will probably ask you what price you’re willing to pay. I usually ignore this and continue walking. They’ll then start shouting prices at you down the road. I keep walking until they stop shouting. Once I know the lowest price they were offering I’ll go into the next shop and actually negotiate with that price as my upper limit. I think that a good starting point is 50% of that upper limit. If I can’t get a better price than I heard at the first shop I’ll go back to that first shop and buy it there.

This goes with purchasing physical goods (typically at markets) but also other services that are negotiable like transport and tours. This is especially important at airports, train stations, and bus depots. The crucial aspect of this strategy is keep walking. At transport hubs I will usually walk all the way out of the building before I even consider accepting a price, all the while listening for the prices that people are offering to get a good reference point.

Slow down

For 3 reasons:

  1. So you can actually get to know the people you meet.

  2. So you can understand the world around you, rather than just take pictures of it.

  3. So you can do something other than travel alongside travelling! Moving to a new place every few days makes it very hard to have any semblance of routine. And with no routine it’s very hard to be productive.

Ask the right people for help

I usually only ask for directions or general assistance from two types of locals. Both for the same reason that they aren’t actively trying to give me the assistance I’m seeking and therefore probably don’t have a motivation to lead me astray.

  1. Unassuming bystanders: rather than those that approach you and are actively trying to help you. Maybe this is a sad way to look at people but I am always suspicious of people that go out of their way to help when it is not obvious I need it. Why would someone inconvenience themselves on the off chance that you need help? Much better to ask someone who is not trying to help you as they probably have nothing to sell you or overcharge you for, otherwise they too would be offering their assistance.

  2. People I have already given money to: Either by buying something, or consuming their service (ie. taxi drivers, surf instructors). As they’ve already made their money from you they’re usually in good spirits and are happy to give impartial advice. Especially if there is a chance you’ll buy from them / use their service again.

I do this a lot not just for directions but also to find out the price of things. I might ask the waiter how much a taxi to x place should be, which is a far more reliable way of getting a reasonable price estimate than asking a taxi driver. Unless of course the waiter is also a taxi driver.

Perfect your bag game

A huge concern that I had when first going away was how to secure my valuables. I knew that a lot of budget accommodation didn’t have lockers or safes, and had heard many stories of peoples rooms being robbed and also having their valuables taken on public transport either while they were sleeping or by some agile opportunist. I think these things happen much less frequently than it seems like on social media but neverless I wanted to stay safe. I also wanted to keep mobile and pack light.

I honestly think you can’t do much better than the set-up I have with my bags. I will walk you through it now.

Daypack: I discovered pacsafe, a company that makes lockable bags. Their bags are supposed to be theft-proof, which of course they’re not but they make it extremely difficult to be robbed. The daypack I bought from them fits all my electronics and other valuables in with not a lot of space left over so I can just about use it as a carry-on for flights, but it’s perfect for carrying everything I need on a normal day on the road. The lockable aspect of this means that somebody cannot sneakily open it without me noticing it, and in combination with a small lock could not get into at all. Not even if they cut the bag open as it is lined with a steel “exomesh”. If I add a bike lock to the mix, I can attach the bag to any immovable object and leave it unattended safe in the knowledge that nobody would be able to run away with it without cutting through the locks.

Additional lockable bag: This may be unnecessary for most people, but once I started Edumadic, I knew that the amount of valuables I travelled with would increase. And if I wanted to leave some valuables at home and take my daypack out with me then I would have no way to secure them.

So I bought a big “portable safe”. It has a very loose structure (almost like a reinforced shopping bag with a steel exomesh) so can be smooshed down if I’m not using it, and also fits the dimensions required for carry-on luggage. What I often do now is bring both this and my daypack as carry-on for flights, putting the daypack inside the safe. The safe also has rudimentary backpack straps so it can be used as such. This safe has the bike lock aspect that I mentioned before already built in so like with my daypack, can be attached to an immovable object. I usually attach it to my bed.

Actual Backpack: This is a really old 60 litre Backpack I found at my parents place. It’s probably 20 years old and is falling apart in a lot of ways, but having an old bag is deliberate. It looks like you’ve been doing this travelling thing for a while, and might indicate that you’re not the richest backpacker out there. Any potential thieves may just let you pass and wait for the next victim with that shiny new osprey bag.

Importantly, both the bags above fit into this bag, along with all my other stuff. So I can condense down to a single bag should I have a long way to walk with my luggage.

Other bags: I also have 3 other bags that I use to compartmentalise clothes and other stuff. These are basically shopping style bags (that can double as actual shopping bags!) and take the place of packing cubes that a lot of people seem to use. These in my opinion are a complete waste of money when you could literally get the same outcome with a plastic shopping bag.

I also have a drawstring bag that I take to the beach and also take for flights. Once through security I transfer everything that I actually want with me into this bag so I can put the rest in the overhead bins.

Perfect your packing game

Being able to pack in <15 minutes is really useful. This requires a few things:

  1. Not totally unpacking everything and sprawling it across your room.

  2. Having bags big enough that don’t require you to squeeze every last inch out of their capacity. This means that if you’re really in a rush you can indiscriminately chuck everything in your bag rather than folding neatly and systematically to make it fit.

Get a local sim card!

I can’t believe the amount of people I meet that don’t do this, it’s a complete game changer. Having access to Google Maps, and online messaging like whatsapp that you can also call through makes navigating a foreign country infinitely easier. It’s extremely cheap. In most of Asia you can buy a sim card with huge amounts (or sometimes unlimited) data for around $10. Even if you’re only in a country for a week it’s well worth it.

You will need a phone unlocked for international use to do this.

Don’t buy one at the airport if you can avoid it. They’re often over double the standard price found in a phone shop.

Use Facebook groups

I’ve found that for almost every location where there is some form of expat community, whether it’s a digital nomad hub or a more traditional expat hot spot, there’s always a facebook group for that place full of information about it. As well being able to have your questions answered by people that live there that were once in your shoes, you can also search the group for previously asked questions and answers.

Get Tinder Plus

Yes, maybe for that…. But also because being able to change the location your swiping in to your next destination is a great way to find out local info from your matches!

Always post on social media when you’re in a new location

It’s quite unbelievable the amount of times I’ve done this and there’s been someone I know in that location, or coming in the near future.

Even if you don’t know somebody there at the same time as you, you may have friends that can give you tips about the place or know people that are there that they can introduce you to.

Cultivate a functional style

Aka minimise your wardrobe and make it inexpensive to replace.

EXTREMELY stylish, perhaps not that functional

EXTREMELY stylish, perhaps not that functional

On my top half I only ever wear plain white or black v neck t-shirts, and Hawaiian shirts, of which I usually have a couple with me. I also travel with a big hoodie.

On my bottom half I have two pairs of shorts (one blue one beige), 2 pairs of swimming shorts, and a pair of very comfortable black jeans.

Plus a couple of pairs of socks and underwear, that’s all I have! I can mix and match almost everything. And because it’s such a plain style (apart from the Hawaiian shirts) I can wear everything in any setting and any country without worrying about offending people. From the beach, to immigration, to the nightclub, my outfit doesn’t change.

Know the price before you buy!

This goes for taxis, tours, food, and anything else you might pay for later. The big one is taxis though. Always make sure you know the price that you are going to be charged before you get in the vehicle. And try to find out what a decent price should be for the journey you’re about to take before you start talking about price. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t like what they tell you!

Only book 1 night

Or maybe two max. There are so many things that make an accommodation or even a whole location enjoyable or not. So much of which you can’t know until you’re actually there. Maybe the hostel is empty, or all the people are boring, or perhaps the opposite and you can’t get a minute of sleep! You can always extend your stay once you’ve arrived. I’ve found it very rare that I’m not able to do that, and the benefits of not committing far outweigh the risk of the place being fully booked the next night(s) in my opinion.

Side note: If you’re travelling in high season or during a popular festival this might not be a good idea. But you should be able to judge this by seeing how many hostels show up when you search that location on the dates you’re hoping to go, and seeing how many beds they have available.

Always carry toilet paper, and a metal spoon (also hand sanitizer?)

You never know when food poisoning might hit when you’re on the road. In a lot of countries toilet paper isn’t really a thing, and is only available in premises geared towards tourists. You may even be caught where there is no toilet available, in which case you’ll definitely be glad you brought some toilet paper.

I noticed this more in India than other countries but it has also been useful in other parts of Asia. Sometime you’ll buy some street food and not be provided cutlery. Even when you are, it’s good to consider the environment by bringing your own metal spoon rather than using their plastic ones.

The hand sanitizer is for both the toilet situation and eating. In brackets because I actually don’t have any in my bag at time of writing :/.

Top up on credit and bank cards while you still have a steady job

This is for two reasons. First to make sure you always have access to cash and secondly to make sure you have some extra credit lying around if you need it.

You never know when you might need some extra cash. Maybe you have an accident that isn’t covered by insurance. Maybe you are terrible with finances and realise you can’t afford a flight home. Maybe you want to start a business and want to finance it yourself using personal credit cards rather than a business loan or investment.

While you have a steady job and you’re at home you will be a far more desirable customer to banks than when you’re unemployed and bouncing around the world. Plus you are guaranteed to have problems with your bank cards, so the more different cards / accounts you have with you the less likely you’re going to stranded with no access to money.

I now travel with 7 different bank cards which may seem like overkill but running a business while travelling means I need to take extra precautions. I’d suggest having at least 3 different cards that you can access funds with.

This is particularly important for North Americans. Banks in that part of the world sound like a complete nightmare when it comes to dealing with people who travel a lot.

Don’t plan / it’s people that matter, not places

The saddest thing about travelling is saying goodbye to blossoming friendships and romances. Usually what pulls you apart is plans you’ve already made. You’re going north and they’re going south. Especially when travelling alone, these sad goodbyes can be easily avoided, or at least postponed, by being as flexible as possible.

When I was travelling India I made 3 trips up and down the country, visiting places I had already been multiple times. I did this to spend more time in company I enjoyed, and I don’t regret it at all. After a while, ticking that next city, or beach, or temple off your list doesn’t give you the joy that it used to. And what really lights your life up is the connections you make with your fellow travellers. I’d say that now the joy that I get from travelling is 90% the people and 10% the places.

Cross the road without dying

This is particularly important in Asia, where traffic laws seem to not really exist. Certainly in major cities in Vietnam, Indonesia and India, the simple act of crossing the road looks at first glance like an impossible task, but if you know what you’re doing it needn’t be.

The easiest way to cross a sprawling mass of seemingly unpredictable traffic is to outsource the task to someone else, preferably a local who has been doing this all their life. If you find yourself waiting to cross in the company of a local, stand with them between you and the oncoming traffic. Now all you need to do is keep their body exactly between you and the traffic, so that when you’re crossing, the traffic will only see them, and consequently have to only avoid one person instead of two.

If this isn’t an option you’ll have to learn how to cross like a local. The trick is to move slowly and predictably across the road, making eye contact with the traffic as you move. As long as drivers can predict what you’re going to do, they will avoid you. Driving in Asia takes a huge amount of concentration and drivers are constantly scanning for dangers to avoid so long as they can see you from a sufficient distance away and can predict where you will be once they reach you, swerving round you or slowing down to let you pass isn’t the infuriating inconvenience that drivers in your home country might see it as.

Don’t drink the water!

drinking this water is in the top 3 worst decisions of my life

drinking this water is in the top 3 worst decisions of my life

In most developing countries you’ll be advised to only drink bottled water. Listen to this advice, especially in countries where the locals don’t even drink tap water. In my experience it’s usually water rather than food that gets you debilitatingly sick. I know a lot of people who have been hospitalised by drinking tap water or even a salad washed in tap water.

However, I also have a friend who has been travelling through Latin America for 3 years, drinking tap water the entire time and has never fallen ill from it, but maybe he’s not human.

Side note: some people don’t even brush their teeth with tap water. I don’t take it that far and seem to be okay, but it’s your call.

Look your privilege in the face

The most important lessons I’ve learnt from travelling were from Cambodia, Poland, and India. I won’t go into the exact details of each experience here (I’d encourage you to do some googling or better yet visit yourself), but briefly:

Cambodia was the final stop on my first ever backpacking trip around South East Asia way back in 2014. I didn’t know much about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge before arriving in Phnom Penh. Visits to both TS21 and the Killing Fields quickly changed that.

I used to go to Poland every month with my consulting work. On one of my final trips I took a detour to Krakow, which is a beautiful city in itself. But the most important thing about this city is its proximity to Auschwitz, probably the most infamous concentration camp from World War 2. I can’t speak for other countries, but growing up in the UK we had a comprehensive education about the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on Europe, so I was well aware of Auschwitz and what happened there. Seeing the camp with my own eyes and being educated about the minute details of life at the camp by our guide made it so much more real.

An unremarkable street in Delhi.

An unremarkable street in Delhi.

I first arrived in India at 1am, once I’d made my way to my hostel in Mumbai it was around 3 in the morning. Of course I couldn’t check in yet and I’d slept the entire journey so decided to aimlessly wander the streets until sunrise. What I found on the streets of Mumbai that night be considered a humanitarian crisis in the west. I walked for perhaps 4 hours, and almost every pavement was lined with sleeping people. I must have walked past 500 of them. Men, women and children, all sleeping perpendicular to the road, a lot with blankets completely covering them head to toe (they could have actually been dead, I have no idea), but a lot were just laying directly on the pavement with no additional comfort whatsoever. A couple of days later I went on a tour of the biggest slum in Mumbai, which was similarly eye opening. I’m told that 70% of Indians (of which there are 1.5 Billion) are homeless.

Every day I see things that remind me of how lucky I am to be born in the UK. The experiences above really slapped me in the face with it, but similar realisations can be had just by spending time in developing countries and understanding the daily life of people that live there. Realising that the only thing that separates you from the victims of mass genocide or absolute poverty are the circumstances in which you were born might be the cure to all the worlds problems, and at the very least would put an end to a whole lot of complaining.

Now, every time I return home from Asia I am awestruck by the fact I can turn on any tap in my house and drink the water that flows from it. This miracle becomes more and more amazing the longer I spend abroad. I hope this and the other lessons above never leave me.

Live in poverty

The public bus. India

The public bus. India

This is something I first heard deliberately addressed by Tim Ferris. He does this in a few different ways, going long periods of time without eating, wearing the same clothes for extended periods of time, or just living extremely frugally for a number of days. The idea behind doing this is to practice the worse case scenarios that you fear most. What if you lost everything tomorrow? How would you cope? Living as simply as possible, even in poverty, exposes you to that worst case scenario and shows you that maybe it’s not as bad as you imagined.

Travelling gives you a great opportunity to do this on a regular basis. Take the public bus, eat the $0.50 street food. Sleep on the beach. Walk for 5 hours with your luggage instead of taking a taxi. Knowing that you can cope in tough situations is totally liberating, and expands your comfort zone further than you thought possible.

Stay out of trouble

Any disagreement where the person in the wrong is not clear cut, you will always lose against a local. Have a traffic accident? Your fault. And you’ll have to pay damages and hospital fees if you hurt someone else. A local cuts the line for drinks at the bar? Let it go. Find out that you’ve paid triple what you should have for something? Expensive lesson learnt.

Solo road trip around Morocco. Got myself in a lot of trouble, which reached it’s peak later on the day of this photo, when I accidentally had tea with the Moroccan Mafia. Twice.

Solo road trip around Morocco. Got myself in a lot of trouble, which reached it’s peak later on the day of this photo, when I accidentally had tea with the Moroccan Mafia. Twice.

Life in developing countries can be a dream and can fill your life with many exciting experiences. It’s not so dreamy when things go wrong and you come to the realisation that the police in your home country are not so bad after all. If you want the comfort of knowing that you can rely on laws being enforced should your travels go pear shaped, maybe you should stay home, or at least limit your travels to Europe.

Download these apps

  • Google Maps and / or Maps.me: for generally navigating the world. Maps.me allows you to download offline maps so you don’t need internet to use it. I actually just stick to Google Maps. They have a downloadable feature also although it’s not quite as good as maps.me.

  • Booking.com, Hostelworld, Airbnb: For researching and booking places to stay. Booking.com allows you to book places without paying anything in advance so I usually prefer using that over the other two if I can.

  • Skyscanner, Momondo, Rome 2 Rio: The first two for finding cheap flights. I sometimes also use Kiwi.com and google flights. Rome 2 Rio is incredible. It’s an app that tells you how to get from A to B, with links to ticket booking. Literally any place in the world to any other place in the world. I don’t understand how they managed to build such an amazing app.

  • Google Translate: For translating things. it also has language recognition so you can speak into it and it will translate into a different language, and will even say it back.

  • Trip Advisor: I use this mainly for checking out reviews of restaurants.

  • Evernote: Afree notes app that I use rather than the native one on my phone because it syncs to my laptop as well.

  • Uber or it’s regional alternative: Saves you the hassle of haggling prices with taxi drivers or can at least inform you of what a reasonable price should be. Asia has a regional version of Uber called Grab which is almost identical. There are country specific versions also.

  • Xe currency: An exchange rate app to help you figure out conversion rates between multiple currencies. You enter the amount you want to convert and it will show you the equivalent in up to 8 different currencies at once.

  • Your banks app: So you can keep a close eye on your finances.

Read reviews

Read lots of them, and know how to read them. I usually completely ignore 5 star reviews having known a few hostels and hotels that give incentives to their customers to leave them such as a free beer. I usually don’t give much weight to 1 star reviews either as these tend to be people with unrealistic expectations or were victim of an extremely rare occurrence probably out of the control of the staff.

It’s the reviews in the middle that really tell you something. Are the things that the 3 star review said were bad important to you? Maybe they complained about bugs in the room, or the breakfast being lame. Or maybe there was no social life, or the dorm didn’t have lockers. These are all things that might matter to some people but not others, that you wouldn’t know about unless you looked beyond the headline score.

Bury your patriotism

Understand that you are not your country. You are not responsible for the actions of it past or present, and consequently you don’t need to defend it or your fellow countrymen. You are a person, that happens to have been born on a particular patch of dirt.

Similarly you can’t shouldn’t take any credit or be proud of the good things either, for the same reasons.

The longer you travel the less association you will feel towards that place that you plopped out into the universe, and the more you will feel like a citizen of the world, and maybe understand that really we all are, separated by arbitrary and invisible lines on a map and different coloured little books.

Happen to Life

I was talking to a friend the other day about future plans, and something she said made me pause and think:

“I trust that whatever happens is the right thing.”

She’s not the first person I’ve heard say something like this. In fact, I’m sure I’ve said it myself. I understand that having this viewpoint about past events is extremely useful. It allows you to cope with things that don’t go as planned. To believe that the world knows best in this kind of circumstance allows you to accept your previously perceived misfortune as a helping hand from the universe. It’s saying,

“no, you were wrong about your plans. You were wrong about what you thought was best, this change in direction is the better path to take”.

I get that. And I use that belief myself, all the time.

But when you relinquish all control of your life by believing that everything will happen as it should, and not taking deliberate action towards the things that matter to you, I think this is dangerous.

I believe that you should be deliberate in everything you do. Everything should be an active choice. Who you spend time with, what work you do, how you spend each hour. Make it all deliberate. Make sure it serves your purpose. It’s taking deliberate action that has got me where I am today. A place that is far removed from where I would have been by default, or maybe should have ended up. I can see this default destination in the people I grew up with. People that let life take them down the path of least resistance. I can see where I would have been if I hadn’t taken action, if I hadn’t made hard choices that most people aren’t willing to make.

I know where I’d rather be:

Here, on an Edumadic program, “working”.

Here, on an Edumadic program, “working”.

To believe that people just got lucky and fell upon the good life, is not going to serve you. It’s going to make you think you can’t change your circumstances, that you simply weren’t born at the right place, at the right time to live a fulfilling life, or achieve something great, or change the world, or whatever it is that you dream of.

And actually, you know what? Maybe you’re right!

Maybe some people did get dealt an amazing hand, and it was easy for them. And you see their posts on instagram, and they make you angry and sad that you weren’t dealt that hand. But right or not, having that belief is going to do you no good at all.

(Apologies for the boring example) In the early 2000’s, most people thought that Tiger Woods was the most talented Golfer in the world, maybe some still do. Talent falls into this category of chance, good fortune, luck. Talent is something that is given to you, that you don’t have to earn.

Tiger Woods was not the most talented Golfer in the world. Tiger Woods absolutely was the hardest working Golfer in the world. There are many stories of people that had seen Tiger at the golf course when he was not even a teenager, practicing the same drills from dawn until dusk, completely alone. Just him and his sport. 12, 14, 16 hours a day, doing one drill! I’m willing to bet that most people would be masters of their craft if they spent 16 hours a day for their entire life, practicing that craft. When you consider how much time that man has spent striving to be the best, it really is no surprise that he’s achieved what he has. But to say the reason he was the best is because of his talent, and not the devotion of his entire childhood (and adulthood) to mastering the sport, is completely wrong and honestly, an insult.

And yes, maybe he does have a talent for golf, maybe more so than most people. The truth is you can never know, so it’s for you to decide. Was he given greatness, or did he earn it? Which belief serves you best?

I’m sure most at the pinnacle of their field roll their eyes when people tell them how talented and lucky they are. They know, more than anyone else, that their success and achievements didn’t just happen. They know all the deliberate choices and actions they had to take to be where they are now.

And they know that letting life happen to you is going to lead you to a life of mediocrity. A life that looks exactly like everyone else’s.

Things don’t just happen for people. You’re not going to win the lottery. You’re not going to be a Kardashian. You’re not going to get a $1 million dollar investment for your “amazing” business idea.

Stop believing the world is going to give you things. Go out and get them!

Take the risks, make the sacrifices, make difficult decisions. Do things you don’t want to.

Happen to life, don’t let it just happen to you.

Lessons from the Inaugural Edumadic Program

Our January 2017 program was the first of it’s kind ever to run. As such, there were a lot of unknowns for us and the brave new Edumads that joined us.

We were confident that we could organise a 12 week trip for a group of young and fun 20 somethings. That would always be simple for a team that had travelled extensively in the locations on our itinerary.

But what we didn’t know was how best to combine those adventurous experiences with a great environment in which to study. This was the part that nobody had done before, the part that we were pioneering, and definitely the part we learnt most about. Here’s some of the most valuable lessons we learnt:

Education must be the priority

We had an Edumad leave after our first destination, simply because she realised that travel and exploration was her main objective, and education was secondary. The way in which we travel means that if you want to maximise the amount of places you see, then you’ll be left frustrated. Having said that, we do pick locations that have plenty to keep you busy over the 4 weeks we spend there, and you’ll definitely have plenty of opportunity to explore them. But if you want to explore further afield, you’re better off not being tied down to one accommodation for a month.

Stability and routine is vital to productivity

We had brief periods throughout the trip where we were travelling more like Backpackers than Edumads. We were moving between locations and staying in hostels rather than our own private rooms. In these periods our studies essentially came to a standstill. I was aware of this from my own attempt to study whilst travelling, but it was good to know that it wasn’t just my self discipline that was to blame!

Coworking spaces aren’t essential for Edumads

Our approach to study spaces has been experimental on this first trip. The initial plan was to use coworking spaces to study from. They have everything we need, fast internet, desk space and are geared towards quiet productivity. However, they’re also very expensive, and we were unsure how necessary they were for Edumads.

Although fast and reliable internet is important, it isn’t quite as important to us as it is to our Digital Nomad cousins, who depend upon it for their livelihood, so the lightening fast speeds, 24 hour access and back up generators that many co-working spaces boast are a bit of an overkill for our needs. Another reason why coworking spaces come at a premium is the community that they bring together. We had our own community ready made, and didn’t quite fit into the one you find in co-working spaces.

In India and Bali, we didn’t have access to a coworking space so instead used local sim cards, and restaurants and cafes to build our own makeshift ones. These were more than adequate for our needs, and saved us a lot of money.

We’ll speak more about this in the future, and continue to experiment with the perfect solution for us. What we’ve learnt is that we can be flexible with this aspect of our programs, meaning we can take trips to more interesting places, and save significant money, by not using co-working spaces.

In the end, what really matters is the people

As those of you that have travelled extensively in the past I’m sure will agree, as important as the places you travel to, if not more so, are the people you travel with. This aspect of a trip can turn it from an interesting experience into a life changing one that fundamentally alters who you are and the path of your life. I don’t think places can really have that kind of affect on you, but people can. It was a true pleasure to spend 12 weeks with the brave souls who were crazy enough to join us on this journey. Thankyou for being so amazing, and most importantly paving the way for an Edumadic revolution!

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Life, post-Edumadic

So this is the would-be wrap-up of my Southeast Asia travels, something that accurately sums up this epic adventure with sentimental wit and assures you that I’ve reacclimated to American life in a (short-lived) Trump era with a stable job and health insurance back under my belt. But that’s not the outcome of the last few months, and looking back I suppose it was never meant to be the outcome.

I realized pretty quickly into this trip that “going back” to life as I knew it wasn’t an option; every person, place, and adventure that I encountered was rapidly changing how I viewed the world, myself, and how I wanted to live my life as a tiny speck on this magnificent planet. It wasn’t as simple as booking a return flight to JFK and resuming Sunday brunch in the East Village with all of my favorite people — though right about now I would KILL for Yuca Bar huevos rancheros, a bacon-infused bourbon bloody mary at The Wren, a bagel from literally ANYWHERE (jk Bagel Pub or Thompson Square Bagels, nowhere else), followed by a long evening at Royale on Avenue B.
 
As I recently wrote in a testimonial for Edumadic, I went into this experience with a best case scenario — connect with a few people and do as many things as possible so that I would have amazing memories to look back on. I kept my expectations in check because I tend to be a ‘glass half empty’ type of person, and so it was the most pleasant surprise when my best case scenario was shattered and I formed bonds with every single person. No matter the age difference we were all searching for something similar, something that united us as pioneers, as digital nomads, as worldly scholars, and as lifelong friends. Zach Clenaghan had it right all along — none of our personal details really mattered if we were all objectively in the same mindset, and I couldn’t have orchestrated a better group myself; we were all equally crazy enough to take on this unprecedented adventure together.

When I left JFK on a long 24+ hour journey to India, I was in tears as I read letters from my friends offering their encouragement and telling me how much I inspired and amazed them by taking off to follow a distant dream. I ended Edumadic leaving Bali also in tears, because I didn’t know when, if ever, I would be in the same place with all of these brilliant, talented, ambitious, and weirdly hilarious people again in this life. I’ve kept this quote I found from Anthony Bourdain in my mind since then -

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

And I hope I have left something good behind in the hearts and minds of everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and traveling with.
 
The journey for me doesn’t end here; I took the return flight back to the states as planned, to meet up with friends in Los Angeles to spend a few days in the desert at the Coachella music festival. But instead of roadtripping back to the east coast, I took the next flight out to the Philippines to meet up with two people from Edumadic who also wanted to keep exploring. There are far too many islands, too many diving opportunities, and too many cultures to experience in this short life, and I’ll keep chasing them as long as I can! I appreciate all of your continued support and enthusiasm more than you’ll ever know, and if I inspire just one person to explore the world outside their comfort zone, I’ll consider this journey a success. xx

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Is the Edumadic life for you?

Do you see yourself in any of the below? Maybe you’re all three! If you do, an Edumadic program might be a a great fit for you.

THE TORTOISE (WHO WANTS TO BE A HARE)

You’ve got a job that pays the bills, but you’re not passionate about it. You work 9 till 6, most of which is spent watching the clock waiting for the time when its culturally acceptable to pack up and head home. When that time comes, you hop on the train home, sandwiched between the train doors and a man who’s just been to the gym and didn’t bother to shower……

After an hours commute home, you cook yourself dinner, and catch up with your house mates. By this time it’s 9, which is when you can start studying what you’re really passionate about. Maybe it’s web development, knitting, interior design, freelance social media management, anything.

The problem is you’re exhausted. You’ve spent 11 hours living for someone else’s dream so you can live two hours of your own. You tell yourself that if you keep chipping away at your passion, one day you’ll have learnt enough to transition into a career that’ll make you excited to wake up in the morning.

Unfortunately progress is slow, some nights you’re just too exhausted to do anything, others you’ve got an event to attend, or a hot date. Before you know it, a week has past since you did anything productive. This is too hard. Maybe your job isn’t so bad after all. Maybe you’ll just join the 80% of people who don’t like their jobs, for the rest of your life. No one will blame you for that. No one.... except yourself.

You wish there was a way to fast track your learning without forking out the price of a car for a Masters’ degree to do it.

THE WANTREPENEUR

You’re a disciple of Tim Ferriss. You’ve read all his books and listen to every podcast. You follow Gary Vaynerchuk religiously, but he’s sick of you. Leave him alone. You think James Altucher is brilliant. You find his outlook on society and the future both familiar and scary.

You want more than anything to be the master of your own destiny. To do exactly what you want every day. Bob Dylan’s quote is your definition of success.

“A man is a success in life if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants” — Bob Dylan

You thought that playing by the rules was the key to that success. You achieved the best grades throughout your education. You worked hard and did as you were told because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You went into Investment Banking, Asset Management, or Management Consulting and you earn more than all of your friends from school and university. You’re great at your job and you’ve had a couple of promotions, but with these comes longer hours.

You’ve got an idea for a business and you’ve been trying to work on it in your spare time. Problem is in your industry spare time is a luxury that is in short supply. You’re usually working twelve hours a day and often have to go into the office on weekends.

So you sacrifice your social life to try and work on the idea. Gary told you to work in your evenings through to the small hours to make your dream a reality. You try it but you get depressed because you haven’t seen your friends for three weeks and now you can’t work effectively at your job or on your idea because you’re exhausted from having 4 hours sleep every night.

You don’t like Gary’s advice. This is not going to work. You keep making mistakes at the office because you’re so tired and your mind is elsewhere. You’re burning out. You need a break, some vitamin D and perhaps, if you’re feeling brave, you need to burn some boats to make your business idea a reality.

GAP YEAR (POST-UNI)

University is over! You’ve spent the last 3 months in utter disbelief and pure fear that supposedly your future success and happiness depends on your performance in this final set of exams.

But you made it, and now you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re told to start applying for jobs but which ones? You chose a Sociology degree because it sounded interesting when you were sixteen and the entry requirements were lowest at your chosen university. After 4 years of study, as interesting as it was, you don’t think that a career as a sociologist is for you. You need to buy yourself some time to think about what it is that you really want to do for the rest of your life. You figure that taking the first job available is dangerous. First it’s just a job to earn some money for the weekends, next thing you know five years have flown by and you’re still there.

So what will you do? A lot of your friends are talking about travelling, they’ve all accumulated a little nest egg and they’re going to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia for three months. You’ve looked at some travel vloggers on YouTube and it looks like they’ll have more fun than you’ve ever had in your life, all packed into 3 months. You’ve also seen friends leave and return from such trips. The travel vlogs are right, they did have an amazing time. But are they any closer to knowing what they want to do with their lives? No they’re not. All they seem to have done is postpone the decision. They’ll take the first job available, because now they’ve run out of money. They said they’ll just earn enough money to go travelling again, next thing they know five years have flown by and they’re still there.

But travel does sound appealing, you just wish it could be more constructive to your future, rather than being that time when you spent three months getting drunk and kissing strangers on exotic beaches.

Reframing Risk

“Realise that sleeping on a futon when you’re 30 is not the worst thing. You know what’s worse, sleeping in a king bed next to a wife you’re not really in love with but for some reason you married, and you got a couple kids, and you got a job you hate. You’ll be laying there fantasising about sleeping on a futon. There’s no risk when you go after a dream. There’s a tremendous amount of risk to playing it safe.” — Bill Burr

I had a final round interview with one of our applicants the other day. Let’s call him Luke. One of the questions Luke asked was how did I build up the courage to quit my job and pursue self-education and world travel. I didn’t really have much of an answer for him at the time. I just did it. For me it didn’t feel like a courageous thing to do. It was necessary. I looked at where I wanted to be, and the path I was on wasn’t moving me toward that place anymore, so I changed direction. Simple.

Luke was really fighting with a decision that I took with ease. He had a job that paid the bills, and he was trying to pursue his passion in the evenings and weekends without much luck, as is so often the story with our applicants.

He clearly thought attending one of our programs was risky. What if his job wouldn’t take him back when he returned ? What if travelling proved too challenging? What if Edumadic didn’t deliver on their promises? What if it was all a big scam?

Luke’s fear of what might go wrong ultimately outweighed his perception of what could go right. I was hesitant of going into the business of telling people to quit their jobs, so I recommended he read “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers and moved on.

But I think this is a serious issue in our society. People are petrified by fear. They’re overwhelmed with what could go wrong instead of being excited about what could go right.

It’s not their fault. This is actually a biological impulse ingrained in our DNA from the days when being blasé about danger would get you eaten by a Lion or massacred by the neighbouring tribe. 10,000 years ago “playing it safe” (aka minimising risk) was vital to survival. But that’s not the world we live in anymore.

I would argue that the real risk people face nowadays is not living a happy, fulfilling, and successful life, however you define that. The real risk is being on your deathbed having the most common regret of all:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

My greatest fear is waking up at 40, asking myself where the last twenty years went, and not having an answer. What did I achieve? Where did I go? How did I impact the world? Not having satisfactory answers to those questions scares the shit out of me.

One of the fundamental goals that drives me in absolutely everything I do is that I want to be an interesting old man. I want to be sat in an armchair surrounded by a loving family who are fixated on my every word as I recount stories about the life I’ve lived. If the things I’m doing today don’t move me towards that goal I stop doing them. Anything that doesn’t move me towards that goal in some way is risky for me.

So when I have to choose between a steady career that I’m not passionate about, that I’ve stopped growing in, or travelling the world whilst learning something that firstly is interesting, and secondly will move me towards my goals and further from my fears, it’s not really a decision at all.

In my eyes, the risky thing to do was to not do anything. To stay where I was. To collect that juicy pay check every month and tick off the years on autopilot until I wake up at 40 in a king bed next to a wife I don’t really love, with a couple of kids I never see, and a job I hate. It’s too late then, I can’t get back those years, they’re gone forever. And now I’ve got responsibilities, a family to support, a mortgage to pay.

If you’re like Luke, I’d encourage you to start reframing how you think about risk if you want to achieve something extraordinary. A good place to start is Susan Jeffers’ book, but ultimately it’s up to you to change your mindset, nobody else can do it for you.