Travelling in my own town – Tips to avoid the post-backpacking blues25th Jan 2018
My year-long sabbatical from work to travel the world was over. Finished. The End. It was time to return to London and back to ‘the real world’. However, my new version of ‘the real world’ would be very different from the one I left prior to Tunnocks World Tour.
Let’s just analyse that phrase for a second – ‘the real world’. What does it mean to you? Google tells me it’s “the existing state of things, as opposed to one that is imaginary, simulated, or theoretical”. That seems reasonable. However, I think to most people it is a lot more restrictive. ‘The real world’ means traditional.’The real world’ means conventional. ‘The real world’ means conformity.
There are rules in life that society has brought most of us up to believe in. Get a good education. Go to University. Get a good job. Buy a house. Have a family. This ‘real world’ for many people is just great. Indeed, I’ve taken part in quite a few elements of that way of living myself and had plenty of joy doing it. Sometimes though, it’s good to jump sideways and try something else.
It’s a well-worn maxim that travel is a great teacher. The biggest lesson I learned while away was that ‘the existing state of things’ is just the existing state of things. It can be changed. Changed to allow yourself more freedom and opportunity. Changed to stimulate more interest and engagement. Changed to suit however you want to live your life. During the final months of Tunnocks World Tour, I got busy imagining many different ideas and concepts regarding the state of things on my return.
Here are some building blocks of my existence that I knew I’d come to love:
- Living light
- Location independence
- Exploring new places
- Having more free time
Having more free time
Let’s work from the bottom up. Having more free time is inextricably linked to my working situation. I was intending to return to the Fire Service which keeps me busy for 4 days out of 8. For my entire adult life, I’d also had the commitment of playing or coaching rugby. It was a commitment I loved but the combination of regular training sessions twice a week and matches on a Saturday meant that my usable free time when combined with a Firefighters schedule, was next to nothing. If I wanted more free-time then something had to give.
Exploring new places
I’ve always enjoyed travelling to new places. However, I wasn’t aware how much bandwidth I had for exploring before spending a year on the road. I anticipated getting over-run with data at some point and just thinking that getting home and not having to move would be a blessed relief. But that moment never came. I got travel-weary, sure. Sometimes, I just stayed static for a few days and did very little, hibernated. But, the urge to venture out again returned very quickly and usually with even more available RAM. I was in a state of almost constant stimulation whether it was city or wilderness and it’s now a pillar of happiness in my life. I’m a travelling super-computer.
Being location independent is very closely linked to having more free time and exploring new places. I spent a great deal of Tunnocks World Tour living day to day. I had a broad idea of where I wanted to go and things I’d like to see, but essentially for large swathes of time, I was just making it up as I went along. There are definitely pros and cons to this approach but overall, having the ability to pivot at a moments notice if an opportunity to do something incredible arises is invaluable. I probably wouldn’t have had my incredible experience at The ATM Cave if I was tied to a pre-arranged schedule.
Living light has become a passion. I intend to write more about this in a separate post, but suffice to say, I value having fewer things over having everything. I started my trip with a 75L bag rammed full of everything I thought I needed. Travelling around, packing/unpacking every few days means that you become very aware of the things you aren’t using. I discarded or passed on all the items that were surplus to my everyday needs and felt great about it. Everything in my bag had a purpose. There was no fat to trim.
So, that was it. I knew how I wanted the state of things to be, now I just had to make it happen.
Returning to a job
Chances are if you’ve left a job to go travelling you weren’t particularly happy in your vocation. Finding some way to change this on your return is therefore paramount. I was lucky enough to be able to return to my job as a Firefighter but I needed to feel like something had changed. I needed to feel like I was moving forward. Being fortunate to work for a large Brigade I had the opportunity to request a post at a new station. This was granted which meant a move to a new area in the leafy suburbs. This ticked two boxes as along with feeling like I was moving forward, I also had a new area to explore and discover. This concept of change and starting a new chapter was vital to me continuing the feel-good factor following world travel.
There is usually something you can alter in any job. Think outside the box and get creative.
The next big decision was not to return to rugby. It’s the sport I love and has, without doubt, provided my greatest achievements and accomplishments in life. It is intertwined with my sinews and defines me like no other. In fact, rugby was so much a part of the state of things that it was only on the plane home that I first considered that it may possibly be holding me back. It was a breakthrough moment. Suddenly all my desires for flexibility and freedom were accessible. Rugby had been my Tuesday, my Thursday and my Saturday for over 25 years but the decision not to return to that world came very easily once the thought had entered my head. It meant my commitment to time and location were greatly reduced, allowing me the freedom to continue the lifestyle I’d quickly grown to love.
Everything in your life is changeable. Stay open-minded about what benefits you get from things you’ve done for a long time. Also be aware of how those things may be restricting you.
Where to live?
This was a real conundrum, but as luck would have it, the solution ended up arriving in my inbox by pure chance. I’d pondered several different options in the countdown to my return which resulted in me loosely arranging to stay with a friend who had a spare room. This was good. It was a nice flat in a great location and I’d get to live with one of my very best friends who I’d cohabited with for 4 years in my twenties. But something didn’t feel quite right. I didn’t want to be tied to one place, the idea of a routine and being in a comfort zone wasn’t sitting well. I’d grown comfortable being uncomfortable, so I didn’t want to be in the comfort zone again.
It was a couple of weeks prior to my return to the UK that I got an email from a friend asking whether I would be interested in looking after his house for him whilst he was away on holiday. I would get somewhere free to live and he’d have the peace of mind that his house was less likely to be burgled and his darling hydrangeas would be well watered. The timing was ideal so I jumped at the chance.
Staying flexible is key to being able to take opportunities when they arise.
Whilst enjoying my three weeks in a 3-bed house in one of London’s urban villages I wondered if anyone else I knew might like me to do the same for them? Your network is your net worth and I’d spent over 20 years in London gathering friends and acquaintances in all walks of life. If this idea was beneficial to enough people I might be able to do this permanently.
I posted the following on my facebook profile to see if there was an appetite for my newly launched House Sitting service:
My quasi-comical delivery caused plenty of people to question whether this was a genuine proposition, but I also got a good number of serious enquiries. People kindly liked, commented and shared to such a degree that I got messages from individuals that I didn’t even know. The initial response was so good that I even had two or three households asking about my availability for the same dates. Ok, this was proof enough for me. I would not look for a permanent residence, I would become officially, a full-time House Sitter.
This allowed me to continue to live light, gave me great flexibility and promoted my desire to explore new places. In my first six months, I have enjoyed house-sits in Blackheath, Muswell Hill, Battersea, Clapham, Wembley, Chislehurst and Camberley. It’s a fantastic way of living and I’m thoroughly grateful to all the people who have loaned me their homes. If you’d like me to look after your place I have set up a Tunnocks House Sitting page on facebook where you can read some reviews and get in contact with me.
If you find something that works for you, go for it, with everything you have
There is no question that this accommodation arrangement isn’t for everyone, but for now, at least, it suits me and my requirements perfectly.
I spoke to many people around the world who had never visited their own local main attraction. There was a common thought that it would always be there and as such there was no urgency to visit.
Take Maria, for example. I stayed in Maria’s AirBnb in Valladolid, Mexico. Maria had lived there her entire life. Half an hour down the road is one of the new 7 wonders of the world – Chichen Itza. Maria had never been. This was true of people everywhere including, on introspection, me.
I was entirely aware that the UK has many amazing places that I’ve never visited, but like the people I’d met on my travels I’d shown no urgency to go and see them. These places would always be there, right? Probably, but I was now highly motivated, especially since my decision to undertake The Ultimate Travelist Challenge, to travel and explore in the UK.
Therefore, the fact that I didn’t always have a house to sit was a positive. It pushed me to continue my travels via short trips to some wonderful places that were relatively on my doorstep. My desire to explore was being supported, maybe even driven, by my flexible living arrangements. Talk about win-win.
I am also lucky to have relatives who are happy to have me visit on a regular basis as a happy by-product of this highly flexible lifestyle. Having been out of the country for a year it is fantastic to be able to hang out with the fam more often than I have done for some time. Win-win-win.
What if flexible living isn’t for me?
Before I set off on this course of action I sat down and worked out some worst case scenarios. What would happen if the lack of stability got me down? What would happen if living light and travelling often became too onerous? It was possible, after all, that it wouldn’t be as much fun in the UK whilst being committed to a full-time job. I quickly realised that if those feelings arose I could just simply revert to the traditional course and find myself a permanent living arrangement. Essentially, I saw no downside.
Evaluate worst-case scenarios before making a decision. In the event of the least favourable result, how much pain would that cause, for how long and would you be able to recover?
Location independence in my own town
As things stand, the new lifestyle is going well. I’ve lived in and got to explore six new areas of London. I’ve travelled extensively including a 3 week trip to the USA in order to return to Burning Man. Destinations closer to home included Malta, two trips to Wales, Ireland and a weekend exploring the Neolithic stone circles of Wiltshire. Another huge benefit is my radical reduction of costs which has enabled me to save money for future adventures such as an impending trip to India. I’ve remained nimble and flexible for future opportunities. I have succeeded in taking the best elements of my travelling lifestyle and applied them to life with a full-time job. I genuinely feel like I’m a tourist in my own town and I’m loving it!
So, Tunnocks World Tour is over. Finished. The End. Except, as Frank Herbert said, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” Well, the story still seems to be ongoing, so I guess this isn’t the end of Tunnocks World Tour, maybe just the start of the 2nd chapter.