My second year as a nomad is drawing to a close, and it is time to look back and see how it all went. My new nomadic life began with a day of reflection on New Year’s Day 2011, and I will continue to use the year boundaries to stop and consider the direction of my life. After all, this blog is not just about living a geo-independent life but rather to bravely and actively choose how to live, and it isn’t a one-time decision but rather a lifelong process of reflection and decision-making.
I celebrated New Year in my parental home in Ljungby, Sweden. Over Christmas, a reader of my blog invited me to live with him for a few weeks in Lostorf, Switzerland, and that became my first destination. I spent the second half of January in Lostorf and then moved to Zurich where a friend from school live. After freezing my ass off for a few weeks, I received a kind offer from another friend to come ski with him in Crans-Montana, which is where I ended my Switzerland visit.
My next destination was Buenos Aires, but I took a detour via London and Long Beach to visit friends. I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday having just arrived in a new country, and instead celebrated it in style, dancing country-western two-step in Los Angeles!
I spent five months (mid-March to early August) in Buenos Aires. I found a fantastic place to live which was all mine, and I really enjoyed not depending on the hospitality of friends for a while. Buenos Aires was also a good launching pad to explore other places in Argentina such as Mendoza, Salta, Iguazu (partly Brazilian) and Colonia (Uruguay).
Just like last year, I spent three months (August, September, October) in the United States of (north) America (I promised my South American friends to make the distinction). I spent a bit of time in New York visiting friends, then went to Long Beach to plan for, go to and recover from Burning Man with Don Kendrick and friends. Another kind offer of hospitality drew me to Hawaii for my final two weeks in the US(n)A.
I spent the last two months of 2012 in New Zealand. By now, I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that I went to New Zealand after receiving offers of hospitality from said country. I lived my first three weeks in Auckland with a friend from London, his wife and two kids. I then had an exciting drive down to a less-than exciting Wainuiomata where a friend in London owns a half-empty house. Wainuiomata is a sedate little town outside Wellington, and again, I had a place to myself and used my time to enjoy the solitude and get some work done.
My last two weeks of the year, I’ve spent mostly naked in a clothing-optional farm in Takaka (northern part of the New Zealand south island) where I have worked four hours a day for lodging and food.
One of my goals this year was to start working out and build the kind of physique that I’ve always wanted. For three months in Buenos Aires, I lived in strict adherence to the P90X workout program, and something wonderful happened! For the first time in my life, I got real undeniable results! Some of the muscle I built has faded, but I am still in much better shape than at the start of the year. I continue to work out, although at a slower intensity, and I am confident that I will continue to do so for years to come.
My main reason for living in Buenos Aires was to learn tango. I went to milongas on average three times a week, and towards the end of my stay, I was a decent follower and a novice leader. What really matters is that I was a good enough dancer to really enjoy myself on the dance floor, and I take that as a huge accomplishment. It makes me wonder what other dances I could pick up in different parts of the world.
I’ve written a couple of articles outside of The Modern Nomad that I’m excited about. The first is a short story about my time in the rodeo was published in a book (yes, an actual paper book!) named Travel Means Freedom. The second is an article about using pseudo-elements to create minimum paragraph widths in HTML and CSS which was published on CSS-Tricks. I am quite proud of that one as I figured out a brand new trick in CSS that hadn’t been published elsewhere, a rare thing today.
Surviving another year as a nomad
I did not quit my nomadic life. It doesn’t sound like much, but for me that is quite an achievement.
Most of this year’s issues have been mental ones. Right at the start of the year, I got Blank Canvas Paralysis, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to go anywhere. When the whole world lies open, it is hard to decide where to go. Fortunately, I got the invitation to visit Switzerland and have my accommodation taken care of, and that snapped me out of it.
My next two issues arose in Buenos Aires. The first was when my mind darkened and I shut myself up in an unhealthy seclusion, which gave my mental monsters room to further darken my mind. What helped me snap out of it was writing the blog post about my situation.
My second issue in Buenos Aires was more practical; I ran into the dreaded Language Barrier. I had enough Spanish to live in Buenos Aires, but not enough to feel truly included in conversation with my friends. The frustration built and built. The only solution would be to learn Spanish, but in between the P90X workouts, Tango lessons and blog writing, I just didn’t have the time. All I could do was accept the situation the way it was and make the most of the rest of my visit.
Loneliness is an ever-present potential issue hanging over the nomad’s head like a sword of Damocles. Most of the time, it isn’t particularly bad as I make new friends wherever I go and stay in touch with the old ones through Skype. But occasionally, the thread keeping the sword suspended snaps and the loneliness falls upon me. The trigger can be anything, like a song or, in one case this year, an empty airplane seat.
Rocks, Pebbles and Sand
On New Year’s Day, I wrote an article about setting goals and dividing them up as Rocks (the first thing you should fill your life with), Pebbles (stuff with which you fill the space between the rocks) and Sand (which fills the space between the pebbles.)
This wouldn’t be much of a year review if I didn’t review what happened with those goals. But first, I should review the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand system as a whole. In short, I found it very useful, but only when I took the time to look back at the goals I had set. When I did, it focused my attention and time management towards what was important. But in the months where I did not look back at the list, I would often stray from the path and start wasting time on stuff which, in the grand scheme of things, was not that important.
On to the review of my goals for 2012. Some of this has already been mentioned, so I will make this quick.
- Write a Book — Abandoned
I realised early on that I would not find the time to start this project while simultaneously writing the blog and create a new geo-independent career.
- Get a spectacular body – Done-ish
I completed my three-month P90X program, and I am still working out ~ 3 times a week.
- Keep writing blog posts – Done
I’ve posted a new article every 10-14 days, which was my goal.
- Create web pages for a living – Started but with limited success
I’ve done five jobs so far, six if you count my current client. It is a start, and I think I can make this a success next year, if I focus on it more.
- Learn Tango (late addition) – Done
This wasn’t part of my original list of rock goals, but once I decided to go to Buenos Aires, I added it. I’m very happy with how it turned out.
- Learn Spanish – Fail
I learnt a bit more Spanish, but nowhere near what I would require to call this goal completed.
- The Modern Nomad optimizations — Done
I’ve done a lot of work on The Modern Nomad’s design and back-end functionality. More on this later.
- Become a P3 Planet correspondent — Abandoned
I could never bring myself to put effort into this goal.
- Guest Blogging — Abandoned
After spending so much time writing for my own blog, I simply could not build the motivation to write a single word for someone else.
- Explore where I am — Done
I’ve been mostly happy with the exploration of the various places where I’ve lived. For a while, I felt that I let myself down in Buenos Aires (those damn mental monsters again!) but before I left, my brother and mother arrived for a few weeks and together we saw everything.
Have I lived up to my mission statement?
My mission statement is “To explore how a nomadic life can best be geo-independent, sustainable and eudaemonic.” So have I lived up to my mission statement?
I feel I live up to this part of the nomadic life just fine. My geographic freedom is a bit limited by financial constraints. I don’t feel that I can live in expensive countries unless I can find free accommodation, but I am not rooted to a specific place by work, property, relationships etc.
My current nomadic life is not economically sustainable. As I wrote in my Year Finances, I’m currently nine thousand British pounds in the red from when I started. It isn’t a catastrophe and I believe that I can turn it around, but it has not happened yet.
There is more to this part of the mission statement than just economic sustainability. The pace at which I travel must also be sustainable, and I have indeed found a good pace of travel that I feel I can sustain indefinitely. My energy and motivation is still high and I’m not at a risk of burning out.
Is the nomadic lifestyle conducive to my own personal eudaemonia. Or in less fancy (and less precise) terms, does my nomadic lifestyle make me happy?
The answer is a big fat yes!
The freedom that I have now, and which I could only achieve by sacrificing my 9-5 geo-static job, has opened doors to parts of my life which I now just could not imagine living without. Things change, but at this point, I simply do not see a way for me to return to my old life. I’ve found something so precious in my new existence as a nomad, and I couldn’t imagine giving it up.
(Note to self: remember the revelation in the car. What you had just experienced in the desert would never have happened had you not become a nomad.)
Year in Numbers
- 43,746 words written and 593 comments received across 37 blog posts
- 5 new friends (Yes, friends. Not just Facebook fodder.)
- 21 audiobooks read
- 23 cities visited and lived in 6 of them
- 13 planes, 0 trains, 0 boats, 2 busses
- 7 countries visited and lived in 5 of them
- 1 wallet stolen
- 5 mobile numbers used
- 103 P90X sessions and 15 kilometres run
- 1 day skipped
- 45 is this year’s secret number
The Modern Nomad
This blog has been such a big part of my life in the last two years that it deserves its own special section in the year review.
I did a lot of design and programming work on The Modern Nomad this year. The general design has been streamlined yet still keeping a simple layout. I developed a new navigation system, the Image Wall and the ‘where is Gustav’ feature on the homepage. I’ve moved to a new e-mail subscription provider and installed the new ReadrBoard reaction bar.
Finally, I added the donation buttons at the end of the articles. I wanted to start monetizing the blog, but I didn’t like the idea of adding ugly banner ads to the site. So, I wrote up the donation section which I hope will bring some revenue from my writing while still keeping the design of the blog fresh, funny and streamlined.
Awards and Mentions
The Modern Nomad won Travel Blog of the Year and was a finalist for Blog of the Year in the 2012 Bloggies awards. Later in the year, I also won the travel-edition of Battle of the Blogs.
Without ever telling me about it, the German newspaper ‘Süddeutschen Zeitung’ wrote an article about me which gave me a lot of traffic. I also did a video interview with SIVA which you can see on my About page.
End of good stuff. Time for some grim harsh reality. The Modern Nomad is treading water when it comes to readership growth. I have seen no significant growth this year. This is in terms of both visitors and subscribers.
One explanation of this poor growth is that my readers rarely share the blog or the articles on social media such as Facebook. A normal blog post gets about 2-3 shares, and the number of visitors from these few shares are vanishingly small.
I don’t know if people are reluctant to share The Modern Nomad because the content is not worth sharing or because the content is not the kind that people normally share. When I look at what goes viral on social media these days, it is mostly cats falling into boxes and other light-hearted and throwaway content.
I can’t help but think that there is something wrong with the content too. The rate of subscription is very low. At this rate, I will never have a large readership.
Having said all this, the people who do follow the blog are absolutely wonderful, supportive and engaged. I cannot express enough how impressed I am by the quality of the comments that I get, and in a way, I’d rather have these few insightful comments than a large number of one-line ‘Good post and here is a link to my own blog’ kind of comments that plague many other blogs.
Serving a purpose
I started The Modern Nomad for a few reasons. Time to see if the blog lives up to my expectations.
First, I wanted the blog to be a way for my friends and family members to stay up to date with where I am and what I am doing. So instead of writing multiple e-mails, each one more or less the same as the other, to my friends, I would write it very well once and then let my friends subscribe to these updates. When I do speak to my friends in person, I could then spend more time talking about what is going on in their lives since they already know what is up with me.
The blog has mostly failed to serve this purpose. Some friend do read it, but most don’t. Some have even told me that they actively dislike my desire to use it as a way for them to keep track of me. They hate that I would presume to reduce them to ‘just another blog reader’. Naturally, this was never my intention.
My second reason to start The Modern Nomad was to ‘pay back’ for the many useful articles I’ve read on the internet that has helped me over the years, from how-to videos to philosophical musings. I thought that my experiences as a nomad as well as some life-lessons and practical tips could serve some good.
I have had some e-mails from people who say that I’ve helped them in one way or another, and I’m proud to have been of assistance. However, with a limited readership comes a limited reach. So again, the success has been limited.
The third reason for starting the blog was to grow a large following of readers, which could be useful if I one day publish a book, develop an application or start an online store of some kind.
The effectiveness of this blog as a launching pad to other projects is proportional to the number and dedication of my readers, and as things stand right now, it would be very limited.
In short, The Modern Nomad is not living up to any of the expectations I had when starting it.
Ending The Modern Nomad
It pains me to write this, but I am seriously considering ending The Modern Nomad.
I spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy on the blog. Take the recent Panorama Tutorial as an example. I spent twenty hours writing that article. Those were twenty hours that I did not work, explore New Zealand, socialize with friends or relax with a book or a film.
Not all posts take twenty hours to write, but most lie around that mark. If I add the hours I spend maintaining the blog and marketing it, then I spent approximately 800 hours on The Modern Nomad this year.
Eight-hundred hours, and for what? It would be wrong to say that it has been for nothing, but still. An opportunity cost of 800 hours! That is 2 hours and ten minutes every day. I would probably be economically stable by now if I had spent that time and energy on creating a new geo-independent career as a web-developer or launching some kind of business.
Having done this review, it is clear to me that something has to change. I cannot go on pouring all my resources into a project that isn’t working out. The main problem is that despite all my best efforts, the blog readership is not growing. So what am I to do?
A simple solution would be to admit that I’ve failed, cut my losses and shut down The Modern Nomad. That would reduce the opportunity cost involved with the project to zero. It would also remove the benefits involved with the blog, but right now, I think it would be a net gain. But, I would really miss the blog and be sad to see it go.
I could double up my efforts and push even harder to grown the blog. I would sink even more opportunity cost into the project, but if this is what is needed to realize the success I hope for, then it might be worth it. I can see two ways of doing this. The first is to spend money on ads. The second is to spend time writing guest posts on other blogs or whatever other marketing stunts I can think of. Of course, the risk with this approach is that nothing might come from it, at which point I’ve just sunk even more time, money and energy into a hopeless project.
I could apply the 80/20 ‘rule’ and cut back on the time and energy I spend on The Modern Nomad, focusing on only the parts that ‘work’ (I.e. the stuff that people like the most and share) and drop the rest. I would post less frequently and accept some rougher edges in the writing and design of the articles, but perhaps then I could free up some time for other parts of my life while still keeping the blog going.
I could look for a sponsor and make The Modern Nomad something of a career, but I doubt there is much interest in a company sponsoring me.
This is a year review, and the purpose is to see clearly what has been. Decisions of what to do different in the future come afterwards, but not yet. The 2013 Bloggies Awards is just starting and I’m about to give away my Image Wall Plugin to the huge WordPress community, both attempts to attract some readers. I’ve also installed some analytics tools so I can track my traffic. Over the next six months or so, I will monitor how much effort I spend on the blog, what I could cut back on and how my readership grows. I might also compile a questionnaire to find out what parts of The Modern Nomad is appreciated and what I could do differently to make my articles something that readers would like to share and spread via word-of-mouth.
If you want to help keep the blog alive, the main thing you can do right now is nominate me for the 2013 Bloggies awards! (I’m running for the categories travel, secret, writing, design and blog of the year.) Becoming Travel Blog of the Year 2012 attracted almost 6000 visitors over the course of the year, by far my single largest source of readers.
If you have read this long (looong) year review, then you must be one of the dedicated readers that I have. What do you think that I should do?