Nomad City Recap

From 20-25 September 2017, I was privileged to attend Nomad City Las Palmas, which is a conference for digital nomads held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It was the first conference like this that I’ve attended, and was also my first speaking engagement since going into business for myself, so I was really excited to check it out.

The excellent team at Nomad City kindly set me up with a loft share with some of the other speakers. It was a perfect place to explore Las Palmas for a few days.

The view from Loft Canteras. Really. Walking distance to the beach, naturally.

Overall it was an amazing experience, and it’s an event I will continue to follow and hope to be a part of again in future! I really can’t recommend attending an event like this highly enough. The networking opportunities were amazing and it was so much fun.

The organisers of Nomad City deserve a ton of credit for putting on such a high value and well-executed event. I’ve summarised my thoughts on the various components of the conference below.

 

Meetups

Each day there were both daytime and evening meetups organised for attendees and speakers. Due to when I arrived, I only made it to the after-work meetup on Thursday, in the Mercado del Puerto for some drinks and tapas. The market has a cool vibe, with really good tapas and drinks at great prices. It was so much fun to socialise with the other attendees, and people were all super friendly. It ended up being a late night with some new friends!

New friends!

Workshops

The workshops were on Friday, at the INFECAR conference facilities in Las Palmas. First off, the facilities are really world class. They are sleek and modern and allowed for a nice collaborative atmosphere.

Listening intently to Sergio’s workshop

The workshops themselves were primarily 1 hour sessions with various experts, and were really informative. Of the ones I attended, I really got a lot of value from Sergio Sala’s session on how to attract better clients and earn more as a freelancer.

Another cool part of this day was getting professional headshots taken, which was set up as a drop-in session, open throughout the afternoon.

There were free beers flowing as well, which was much appreciated!

 

Talks

Getting set up for the talks

Saturday was the talks, one of which was mine! There were so many amazing sessions, it would be really difficult to pick a favourite. The talks ranged from the future of remote work, to AI, to lessons learned from sailing across the Atlantic, to coliving, to yours truly giving a brief overview of tax issues for digital nomads.

Suzanne, the Oceanpreneur!

The only small tweak I might make to this format for next time, would be to give each speaker a bit more time, and perhaps to break this up over two days. By the time we got to the end of the day, it might’ve been a bit of information overload.

They used Slido for taking questions from the audience, which worked really well. It would’ve been nice to have a little more time for questions, though.

I got great value from all of the speakers here, and there was some chance for networking on the breaks between the talks.

The littlest Nomad.

 

Social events

I attended two social events in connection with the conference. First, on Friday evening there was a gathering for speakers and sponsors, at the rooftop of an amazing coliving space in Las Palmas (called, appropriately enough, The Roof).

Sleek interior of The Roof

This was a super fun evening with great food and drinks. And the coliving space itself looked unreal. It’s so well designed, with a huge wraparound rooftop and lots of nice, inviting spaces. Places like this will make Las Palmas especially interesting to digital nomads.

The second event was the wrap party on Sunday night. It was also our chance to bid bon voyage to those continuing on to the Nomad Cruise. It was on the rooftop of the Hotel Cantur in Las Palmas. Once again, this was a really fun event. There was a real festive atmosphere and it made me wish I was going on the cruise as well! I can guarantee those guys are having an amazing time right now.

The Nomad City wrap party getting started

 

Las Palmas

If you’ve never been to Las Palmas, book a trip immediately! It’s in the Canary Islands, so of course the weather is amazing, and the beaches are top notch. But beyond that, there is a super friendly, relaxed atmosphere, plenty of great food, and really good value compared to much of the rest of Europe.

I’d seriously consider spending more time here, and I definitely don’t think 5 days was nearly enough! Las Palmas is positioning itself to become a major digital nomad hub, with coliving spaces like The Roof, and a surprising amount of choice in terms of coworking spaces.

I had perfect cell coverage and 4G/LTE data connection everywhere we went, and the city is really easy to navigate on foot, by bus, or even by reasonably-priced taxis. It goes without saying, but of course since the Canary Islands are part of Spain, they’re on the euro which makes life easy for those of us based in Europe.

I can see a lot of advantages to the Canary Islands, in particular Las Palmas and Gran Canaria. There’s ease of access to Europe, and the opportunity for a really great lifestyle on a reasonable budget.

I learned there are also certain advantages for residents of the Canary Islands, in terms of discounted travel to mainland Spain. I haven’t investigated this fully, and it might not be of much relevance to digital nomads, but nonetheless it’s an interesting feature.

 

As you can see, this was a great experience. I can’t thank the organisers, Nacho in particular, enough for this opportunity. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone considering it. I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for future conferences like this, and hopefully attending Nomad City 2018!

Frugality and flexibility are freedom

 

What if there were a tool that could enhance your freedom and improve your life more powerfully than mere monetary wealth? I read, write, and think about money and personal finance a lot but I’m a firm believer that money is far from the most important thing in life. Certainly, if used wisely, money can be a tool that increases access to the most important things. But there are other tools in our arsenal that can be even more impactful, when wielded intentionally.

I find a lot of value in the principles of minimalism, but I’m aware it doesn’t appeal to everyone. While many aspects of minimalism might in fact be more broadly applicable than is sometimes assumed, there are two related concepts that I do think can be employed by everyone, regardless of their position or circumstances. These are the complementary practices of frugality and flexibility. If taken as practices, to engage with repeatedly and continually, these two ideas can transform the way you live, travel, and move throughout the world and towards your goals.

Frugality

Thanks to excellent bloggers such as the Frugalwoods, the concept of frugality is enjoying something of a revival. The word used to carry a sort of dour, joyless undertone, but that’s an unnecessary association that’s quickly dissipating. I consider the concept of frugality to be centred around appreciation and mindfulness of value. And that definition of value should be expansive enough to include value as measured not just in money, but also in time, focus, energy, and attention. No matter how much or how little material wealth we may have (and that itself is always a relative matter), we can all practice avoidance of wastefulness and excess. In fact, the practice of frugality is one of the most freeing aspects of minimalism. Best yet, one needn’t identify as a minimalist to enjoy the freedom-enhancing benefits of frugality.

For me, one of the most important elements in a practice of frugality is an honest assessment of value, and of one’s needs. This assessment is uniquely personal to each individual, but it does require a high level of self-honesty to be used to its full effect. For example, should the frugal traveller, be she a vacationer, an expat, or a digital nomad, take a taxi or the local public transport to and from the airport? My personal vote will almost always be to go for public transport, but someone who suffers from severe motion sickness might make another value assessment. I’d caution, however, that if the full benefits of frugality are sought, enduring or even seeking out some level of discomfort could become an occasional practice. I genuinely enjoy discovering both how resilient I can be, and, much more frequently if I’m honest, how little discomfort is really involved in making the more frugal choice.

But how, specifically, does this practice translate into greater freedom? It’s simple: the fewer resources you need to consume, the freer you are. This is especially true for the nomadic. This means you’re free to go more places, do more, experience more, without the shackles of many expensive (in terms of money, time, or otherwise) self-imposed ‘requirements’. If you build up your frugality muscles, you’ll simply need fewer resources to sustain your travels. You may find you are just as happy in a small, modest accommodation as in an expensive hotel, just as satisfied by local fare, stumbled upon while walking around the neighbourhood, as in a pricey, top-rated restaurant. It’s not that those experiences don’t have their place, but with no baseline concept of frugality, it’s all too easy to allow them to greedily take over, and subsume the other experiences. Too much luxury is an expensive prison. Frugality unshackles us from that prison, and opens up ever more of the world for us to explore.

Flexibility

Closely related to frugality is the practice of flexibility. Not necessarily in the yoga sense of the word (although that can be a good metaphor), I see flexibility simply as openness and adaptability to a variety of circumstances. It means not clinging to preconceived notions of how we think things are or should be. It means adapting to change or to the conditions we find ourselves in with grace and good humour. And it means practicing putting things in perspective. With a little effort and intention, it can be an incredibly powerful tool in your freedom toolkit.

Firstly, the more flexible and adaptable you are, the easier your practice of frugality will become. But perhaps even more important is how it improves your experience of the world in general. When you practice dealing with delays, setbacks, unexpected challenges, and disappointments with a positive attitude and a sense of humour, you are building up an incredibly valuable skill. It allows you to move through the world much more freely and confidently. You can start to see everything as simply another interesting experience, when you know you’re adaptable enough to make the best of it.

How do frugality and flexibility improve location independence and financial independence?

Both frugality and flexibility are tools that serve those pursuing location independence and/or financial independence especially well. For one, travel requires both, and provides plenty of opportunities to put both concepts into practice. And so does being mindful with money. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that those who want to enhance their location and financial freedom could find no tools more powerful than frugality and flexibility combined.

It makes sense to approach both frugality and flexibility as practices to continually incorporate into our lives, as opposed to unreachable ideals that are met with either success or failure. When we cultivate a practice mindset, then success is simply defined as returning to the practice. Then, all the results that come with the practice are just more interesting bits of data. In that way, we can avoid both judging ourselves to harshly, or being too self-congratulatory. And, as with a yoga practice, for example, there won’t always be linear progress, and that’s OK.

Even once we become location independent or financially independent, we can continue these practices. The person who has meticulously planned their 4% withdrawal rate might incorporate a bit of frugality and flexibility should they encounter a market downturn in their early years of retirement, for example. And if they’ve spent some time getting accustomed to the practice, they may be able to flex their plans, and to be a bit more frugal, and avoid too much unnecessary stress and worry in what might otherwise be a rather stressful time. The person who’s planned a few stops ahead as a digital nomad might reassess based on changing personal needs, or changing conditions in their current or future locations. The key is being willing to re-evaluate and adapt, ideally with a smile.

Even those who don’t identify as minimalists can benefit from incorporating more frugality and flexibility into their lives. It will continue to open up more doors and enhance your freedom, and your overall experience and enjoyment of life.

Tiny wardrobe tour

In advance of moving out of my flat here in Dublin to become more nomadic for a time, I’ve been taking inventory of my physical possessions. They’re quite limited, in fairness, but when faced with the prospect of taking everything you own with you in a few bags, each individual item really needs to deserve its place. One of the biggest and weightiest categories is clothing and shoes. As I take inventory and interrogate each item to assess its worth, I thought I’d offer a glimpse into one example of how a minimalist, travelling wardrobe could look.

I love when other bloggers offer this kind of voyeuristic view, although I’m sure my contribution to the genre will be underwhelming. I keep things pretty basic by nature, both out of personal preference and laziness, so I mightn’t have much more even if I was going to be in one place for a long time. As it is, I know this can and should be cut down significantly, and I’m hoping the exercise of photographing and cataloguing everything will help weed out the unnecessary items.

I’ll go through the categories as follows:

  • Shoes
  • Coats
  • Real clothes
  • Yoga clothes/lounge clothes
  • Underwear and socks
  • Accessories (scarves, gloves, hats)
  • Bags

 

Shoes

I have a grand total of 10 pairs of shoes, including a pair of flip flops. This is too many and is more than I use on a regular basis.

  1. Short black boots: versatile and comfortable, keep.
  2. Tall black boots (slight heel): I could probably get rid of these but they’re handy for being slightly dressier. They’re also really comfortable. Similar here.
  3. Tall black boots (waterproof): I don’t wear these often but they’re useful for lots of rain or snowy conditions. Similar here.
  4. Tall brown boots: I wear these all the time and love them. Keep.
  5. Tan flats: These are my everyday shoes for non-rainy conditions. Keep.
  6. Black flats: These are excessive and I should sell them.
  7. Runners: These are Merrell barefoot runners, which I really like. Similar hereKeep.
  8. Nude patent heels: I don’t really wear heels unless under duress. I’ll probably get rid of these, or maybe leave them in the location I’m most likely to need to attend a wedding in next.
  9. Sandals: Keep.
  10. Flip flops: Keep.

That’s down to 6 pairs of essentials, which still seems like a lot to bring from country to country. Ideally it seems like boots/flats/runners/sandals would be an essential core of 4, but I’ll see how it goes on the road.

 

Coats

I tend to live in places that require a lot of coats, so this is a major category. Also, it’s something you wear every day for most of the year, so it’s best not to hate your options. I like these options well enough, but I could cut down one or two.

  1. Leather jacket: This is real leather, so it keeps out wind out really well, and I like how it looks. I’ve probably had it for close to 10 years. Keep.
  2. Navy trench coat: This is a nice coat but it’s a bit too big on me. I might replace it or see about getting it taken in. Keep for now.
  3. Black trench coat: This is lighter than the navy one, so it was functioning more as a summer commuting coat in Dublin. I probably don’t need both it and the blue one.
  4. Black puffer jacket: This is packable, and yet it’s sufficient to ski in, and it packs into its own little zipper pouch which can double as a pillow. Keep.
  5. Black rain shell: This is a little too sporty/tech-y looking for me to really feel comfortable in, but it packs down to nothing and is super waterproof. That said, I’ve worn it approximately twice in two years. I’ll probably get rid of it.

That’s 3 definite keepers. I can see that being perfectly adequate.

 

real clothes

The category can be broken down into subcategories of tops, bottoms (hee hee, bottoms), and jackets/dresses:

  • Tops:
    1. Sweaters: two knit jumpers and one zip yoga jacket, plus 2 cardigans: 1 black, 1 blue.
    2. Blouses: What a weird word. Two long sleeve, two short sleeve, two button-downs which I don’t really love and will probably get rid of.
    3. Tank tops: a smattering (I think 6) which can be dressed up or down and don’t take up much space.
    4. T-shirts: These are questionable in terms of being “real clothes” and are proof that my mum loves shopping at The Bay. But I do love throwing in a little Canadian pride.

  • Bottoms:
    1. Jeans: 1 blue, 1 black.
    2. Non-jeans trousers: 1 black.
    3. Skirts: I like skirts. I usually wear skirts and tights for about 75% of the year. Still, 6 is too many. I’ll cut this down to 3-4, max.
    4. Shorts: I don’t really wear shorts in Ireland, but I try to remind myself that there are places where people do wear them. 2 pairs, which I may cut down to 1.

  • Other:
    1. Blazers: 1 black, 1 blue. This should be limited to 1 at the most.
    2. Dresses: 3: 1 black long sleeve, 1 red cocktail dress, 1 printed summer dress. This seems adequate for a full year’s worth of dress-worthy occasions.

 

Yoga/Lounge clothes

I don’t really wear pyjamas so this category includes whatever t-shirts and shorts I sleep in. The yoga side consists of two pairs of yoga pants, 4 pairs of yoga shorts, 4 yoga tops, 2 regular tank tops, and a sports bra. All my yoga stuff is from Lululemon because it lasts for ages and looks great after many repeat washings. The sleep stuff is usually just downgraded yoga stuff, so it’s a pair of shorts and a few t-shirts.

 

underwear and socks

Exactly what it says on the tin. I just keep what I use in a week or so, and replace as needed. No picture needed, I think.

 

Accessories

I do like scarves, and they’re small and useful, so I have a few of them. 9 is probably too many, though. I also keep 2 toques and some mittens/gloves on hand for colder weather. I guess jewellery counts as part of this category too. I have a little collection of necklaces etc, which goes in a small pouch. Oh, and I have a couple of bikinis too.

 

Bags

Bags, from smallest to largest:

  1. Small bag for going out: doubles as a wallet in a pinch, small enough to justify the rare usage. Keep.
  2. Tan cross body bag: Every bag and travel day bag of choice. Keep.
  3. Black cross body bag: Excessive and I don’t use it much, although I do like it.
  4. Longchamp Le Pliage: Weekend bag of choice, and it’s packable. Keep.
  5. Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30: Best bag ever. This would be the single bag I’d keep if I only kept one. Love. Keep.
  6. Rolling carry-on suitcase: I might keep this for making medium-term moves. This plus the Tom Bihn could probably be carried on most airlines, or it could be (ugh, shudder) checked in a pinch. Maybe keep.
  7. Big rolling duffle (not pictured): I bought this used to move to Ireland. If I’m not using it for storage somewhere I’ll ditch it.

 

I combined this with packing for my next trip (Nomad City in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria! Where I’ll actually be speaking about tax issues for digital nomads. Craziness).  So it was useful in terms of identifying what I did and didn’t want to bring for just a 1 week trip. Based on that I’ve a few items in mind for the next charity shop run.

So that’s all the things I own, in terms of the things you put on your body, head, or feet, or use to carry those things. Even being a semi-minimalist, it’s amazing how quickly those things can pile up. Any suggestions for what I should get rid of? It’s certainly nice to remind myself that I absolutely do not need to acquire anything additional at this juncture, and donating stuff is fun, so suggestions are very welcome.

 

 

Staying and going

Change tend to provoke strong reactions in people. Those strong reactions can come not only from ourselves, but also from those around us who may experience some of the impact from a change we initiate. But when it comes to changes in our physical location, do we need to justify moving any more than we need to justify staying?

Recently, a few examples have come up that have got me thinking about the typical responses to moving. One of my favourite podcasts is The Minimalists, and on a recent episode they announced they’d be moving cities, from Missoula, Montana to Los Angeles, California. It’s a few states away, which is a fairly large physical distance (because America is so huge) and a significant cultural change from a smaller city to a large, sprawling coastal metropolis. They had sensibly predicted the questions that would arise from their listeners, and had a list of sensible reasons for the move. And of course, making a change involves some motivation to do so, and people will naturally be curious as to what prompted it. But one of the questions was simply: “why?” Which left me wondering, why don’t we tend to ask why people stay, but expect a carefully thought-out answer at the ready when asking why they’re going?

Another example was a friend who, like me, had also left her job recently. Because she’s amazing, she was offered a great job in another, very high profile city. What a rock star! And yet she said that instantly the well-meaning yet apprehensive comments and questions started flowing. If she’d stayed in her previous job, as unhappy and discontented as it was making her, no such flurry of questions would’ve been prompted. Of course, the people in our lives, or sometimes just interested observers, want to know our rationale behind a big change. They want to know that we’ll be ok, that we’ve thought it through. Even though rationally, there’s no inherent safety in staying the same, and both staying and going are choices we make, whether we actively acknowledge them as such or not.  

Loss aversion

Fear of change and loss aversion are powerful motivators. Loss aversion is the concept in behavioural economics that predicts that avoiding losses is a more powerful psychological motivator than pursuing gains. This isn’t entirely rational, especially if we risk too much in our attempt to avoid or recoup losses. I think this can go some way towards explaining why we might stay in a job, or a relationship, or a place, longer than we perhaps should. We’re hesitant to cut our losses, and afraid of losing what we already have. I’ve experienced this many times myself.

But what if we evaluated both staying and going as equally possible choices? And invited them to convince us of their merits a little more dispassionately? Well, for one thing, we might look at the cost/benefit analysis of each choice more honestly, rather than doing what I suspect comes more naturally: that is, to nitpick the perceived costs of change, and inflate the perceived benefits of inaction. In other words, maybe we should stop grasping to avoid losses when we may be missing out on potential gains slipping through our tightly closed fingers.

Opportunity costs exist either way

Another lens through which to examine the choice to stay or to go is to think in terms of opportunity cost. This is simply the concept that when one choice is made, the benefit of the choice not taken is the “cost” of that decision. But as we can never have both the choice we make and the forsaken alternative at once, opportunity cost is a fact of life, and we can’t let it paralyse us. And I think it’s helpful to remember that choosing to stay static carries its own opportunity cost. We don’t get to escape the unavoidable reality of opportunity cost by pretending we’re not actively making a choice.

Everything is a choice

I like to remind myself that everything is a choice. I chose to stay in Seattle perhaps longer than I really needed to be there, and it was in part because I’d convinced myself that change was too big, too difficult, too scary. But as individuals with agency, we are making choices every day. My goal is to be more intentional with my choices, and to fully own the risks and rewards of them. I chose to stay static when my heart was calling me to make a change. And now I’m choosing to work on creating a life that’s more in line with my values and how I want to spend my time.

 

I think being intentional about our choice of location is one of the most powerful tools available to us, but it comes with a lot of questioning and trepidation, both from within ourselves, and from those around us. One of the ways to soothe these fears is the stories we tell ourselves and each other; the ones that sound obvious when stated aloud, and yet are both necessary and true. We can always move back/go home/start over if we hate it/fall flat on our face/*insert other worst-case here. All of those things remain both necessary and true if we stay in one place as well, of course. We’ll face moving/changing/starting over in one guise or another, whether we embrace it or run from it. But it still feels good to say it before making a change, even one we sought and crafted intentionally.

 

So that’s what I’d say to The Minimalists in advance of their move, and what I remind myself before making big moves of my own. And yes, we’ll still need those carefully crafted answers to the inevitable questions that will arise. But perhaps we can comfort ourselves, at least, with the help of some behavioural economics.

An ideal day

Since quitting my corporate job to claim back some time, space, energy… life for myself, I’ve been considering what constitutes an ideal day. Historically, I’ve tended to think about time in terms of larger chunks: months, seasons, years. I’d typically have an answer at the ready when asked what I’d like to accomplish or experience in the next few months, or in the next year. But what about in a single day?

Part of living, working, and travelling intentionally means being the authors and architects of our own time. It’s a responsibility I relish. I think some people experience a degree of trepidation at the thought of designing their own schedules and being fully responsible for their own time. I can understand that, but I haven’t felt that way myself. Instead, it’s more like returning to sanity and civility after far too much time spent in the opposite conditions.

So I’ve given a bit of thought as to what an ideal day would include. Obviously not every day incorporates all of these elements, but when many or most of them are present, I consider it a day well spent. Interestingly, if unsurprisingly, none of these are expensive as such, and all can be done from anywhere in the world.

Elements of an ideal day

  • Wake up without an alarm

  • Unhurried breakfast and coffee

  • Write something

  • Read something

  • Create something

  • Learn something

  • Practice yoga

  • Walk and/or do something outdoors

  • Prepare and eat healthy meals from whole ingredients

  • Interact with people I care about

It’s reassuring to observe how simple this list is, and how much of it is entirely possible and within my control most days. I won’t beat myself up on days that don’t contain as many of the ideal elements, but I know I can continually come back to the things that bring me joy and satisfaction, no matter where I am. I suspect many people’s lists are also filled with simple, mindful endeavors. Things that probably don’t cost much money, and are best savoured slowly.

No matter where you are on your journey, I hope you incorporate some of your own personal elements of an ideal day, into your day today. What are some of the elements on your list?

Nomad budget

While I’m still in Dublin, and still have my apartment here, I’ve been thinking ahead to my plan after I give it up and become more fully nomadic. Being something of a personal finance geek, and given that my income is now highly variable, the topic of my monthly budget has been top of mind. I have no intention of blowing through too much of my savings on this experiment/adventure. So I’ve been considering how to plan and forecast to ensure my financial goals are being met, as well as lifestyle ones.

I believe the digital nomad lifestyle can be even more affordable than living full time in many expensive cities, even when some of our untraditional costs may be higher than is typical in many budgets. So I’ve been planning, running some numbers, and researching the options. I like to keep things simple, so I’ve minimised the categories to the extent possible. But I think it’s still realistic and includes room for both the things I value, and for emergencies.

 

Monthly budget for digital nomad in Europe

Budget for Europe nomad-ing:
Rent (including wifi/heat/electricity) 650
Food 200
Phone 50
Flights (yearly average) 250
Local transport 50
Entertainment (including Netflix & Spotify) 50
Insurance (World Nomads estimate for a year) 50
Yoga 100
Total 1400

Process:

  1. Determine the required line items
  2. Research
  3. Think both best case and worst case

Most of the line items on my budget are fairly obvious. I don’t have a lot of must-haves, and yet as I look at it, I see luxuries built in at every turn. The rent budget is sufficient to stay in Airbnb’s all to myself in many cities in Europe, when booked on a monthly basis. If I had to I could easily find cheaper accommodations. The food budget is has plenty of room in it even here in Dublin, and in many places in Europe food is much cheaper. Yoga is something I really love to do, and is important enough that I include it in the budget, even though it’s a total luxury. I could practice on my own, but I really love finding local studios to practice with a teacher and in a group setting. So that stays on the budget, knowing it could be cut if necessary.

My research has consisted primarily of checking Airbnb, sites like Expatistan, NomadList, Numbeo, and Teleport. I also monitor Google Flights and Skyscanner on a regular basis so I’m pretty comfortable with how much I’d spend on flights in a year.

However, the flight budget is a good example of what I mean by thinking both best-case and worst-case. If I go back to Vancouver twice a year, without any trips booked on points, and with trips at some of the more expensive times of year to fly, that could be €1,400 in flights on its own (worst case). That would leave €1,600 in the yearly budget for flights to and from everywhere else. With any flexibility and advance planning at all, I think that’s very doable, thanks to some of the low cost carriers operating in Europe. It’s important to me to be able to both go back to Vancouver regularly, as well as spend time in regularly Dublin, to be with my boyfriend. So in the best case, I might very well spend less than €200 in any given month. But if I spend €3,000 in a year, it won’t be a disaster.

Plan:

  1. There’s never a “normal” month, in any budget
  2. Lows will help offset highs

A universal truth in personal finance, regardless of whether we’re settled or nomadic, is that there’s no such thing as a normal month. The only true constants in my budget seem to be the cost of Netflix and Spotify. Everything else is in a constant state of flux, and it’s useful to be aware of that so the fluctuations aren’t perceived as stressful or unexpected. A good budget can and will flex and adapt to accommodate these perfectly normal, abnormal occurrences.

For example, I’m very much hoping that my housing costs may average out to be less than €650 per month. Some of the cities I’m eyeing up have really nice Airbnb offerings for closer to €500. But the trick then will be not to increase spending in other areas, because I see that extra “room” as being like built in insurance for unexpected increases in other areas, like if I’m somewhere that I need to take an expensive taxi, or if I need to replace any clothing.

Periodically assess:

    1. Revisit plan vs. Actual on a regular basis
    2. Adjust accordingly

Planning is nice (and I do mean that, although I do get that not everyone enjoys it as much as I do), but the reality can only be assessed in hindsight. That’s why I will go back and revisit the plan vs the actual spending on a regular basis. I think quarterly is the right frequency, as it’s not so granular that a single month could cause too much alarm, and yet it’s often enough to allow for course corrections throughout the year as needed. And, crucially, I’ll have to be open to adjusting based on those periodic assessments.

Starting out with a plan, as well as an expectation of variability and the need to be flexible and adaptable, seems like a balanced approach. If the plan is reasonable and within the boundaries we’re comfortable with, then we can move forward without fear or regret. And as always, rigidity is the enemy of frugality.

This budget accounts for yearly spending of €16,800. Depending on your perspective, that might be very lean indeed, or represent a princely sum. I think it’s enough to live well in many of the areas in Europe that I’m interested in right now. Stay tuned for my quarterly updates throughout 2018 to see how that looks in practice.

Tiny apartment tour

I’ve been thinking about housing options lately. Becoming location independent can give us beleaguered millennials a much-needed leg up in a housing game that can feel rigged against us.

Refusing to play by rules that aren’t fair is a perfectly rational response. But what does that actually look like? In the interest of transparency, I thought I’d give a glimpse into my current housing solution. As I transition into alternatives, I’ll continue to share how those options look and evolve over time. It is and will continue to be an exercise in compromise and is but one possible path among many.

*Not my apartment building

Current location

I’m presently in my apartment in Dublin. I chose it for its proximity to my former office and it’s served its purpose well. It’s the smallest space I’ve lived in to date, and I have very few complaints in that regard. I wasn’t given the exact floor space when I moved in, but I’d say it has to be less than 300 square feet. It was mostly fully furnished, but I had to buy all the kitchen stuff myself.

I’ve had overnight guests stay on an air mattress twice now, for multiple nights each time. It worked fine, and that’s about as often as I hosted overnight guests in a year even when I had much more space.

Without further ado, here’s the grand tour:

Entrez-vous

The entry, as seen from the front door. To the left is the bathroom, to the right is the bedroom.

 

Living space

The living space, comprised of the kitchen to the left, and the seating area to the right. That vast expanse of floor space in the middle is exactly big enough for a queen size air mattress… if you move the storage ottoman/coffee table aside, that is.

 

Seating area

Desk and chair to the left. The set of drawers on the right contains the wifi modem, my yoga clothes, and a few extra pairs of shoes. A large canvas duffle bag is stored under the loveseat, containing some extra winter clothes.

Kitchen

This actually functions really well! I’ve been able to cook everything I’ve wanted to here. There’s enough counter space for chopping, and the dish drying rack doesn’t take up too much of the more useable space. Sometimes North Americans balk at the under-counter fridge. But I’d say for a household of 1 or 2, it’s perfectly sufficient.

 

Kitchen stuff

Here’s all my kitchen stuff. The more eagle-eyed may note there are no drawers in this kitchen. I just keep my cutlery in that orange rack, and other utensils in the bamboo holder to the right of the sink. No junk drawers here! The cabinets contain all crockery, glasses, pots & pans, and miscellany. There’s plenty of space.

 

Bathroom

This is really just to show the very limited footprint of the bathroom! It’s entirely possible to brush your teeth from the hallway. No space to keep many toiletries in here so it’s a good thing I have a pretty minimal routine.

 

Bedroom

Bed is tucked away in the corner, but it’s nice having it separate from the living area. That’s a luxury in the Dublin rental market!

 

Wardrobe/”vanity”

 

Tiny wardrobe

Inside the wardrobe, a minimalist amount of clothes. That black tote bag functions as the laundry bag. Yes, that’s Estonian on the canvas tote on the shelf. I’m delighted you noticed.

Because I enjoy being a voyeur on other people’s tiny wardrobes, I’ll do a tiny wardrobe post soon. It’s really more clothes than I need and I’ll probably pare it down before I move out of this flat.

Trade offs

It’s not fancy or terribly modern, but I pay €300-400 less per month than many people I know, even people who have flatmates. That’s €3,600-4,800 less per year. That’s a lot of travel and/or savings. For that, I don’t mind doing my laundry in a weird, dark, spider-webby shed. Yeah, that’s why you don’t see a washing machine anywhere.

I’m very glad I’ve had this experiment in small space living. I’ll definitely seek out a small, minimalist living space again in future. And I’m really exited to see what other, lower cost options await in the rest of Europe.

Would you give small space living a try?

Housing can make or break you

Housing is a hot topic for everyone, especially millennials. In many cities around the world, prices are rising faster than wages, home ownership feels out of reach for many, and even renting is becoming unsustainable. As though that weren’t stressful enough, it’s also the single biggest line item on most people’s budgets. That’s why it’s such a huge opportunity. Yeah, yeah, I know. But stick with me.

No matter your situation, I think that optimising your housing choices is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal to improve your finances and your life. There are a number of variables you can play with, depending on what matters most to you. More flexibility will result in more options, so I think with the right mindset, anyone can improve their situation by carefully examining this one, crucial choice. We tend to have a lot of emotions and preconceived notions wrapped up in our housing choices, but taking a step back and approaching it intentionally, as a deliberate choice, will dramatically impact your life and your goals.

Church ruins are an adventurous, if unconventional, choice

When you are location independent, a lot of the standard personal finance advice may not apply to you. I’m thinking of things like debates over whether to pay off your mortgage early, etc. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may not make sense for you to buy a property at all. And, don’t despair, because there are plenty of smart people with good reasons why that may not be a bad thing. However, when you don’t own your home, you constantly have to (aka: get to!) reconsider and reevaluate your housing situation.

Broadly, I think of housing consumers (that’s all of us, for the most part!) as fitting into three main categories, depending on how long we’re going to be staying in a given location. Most personal finance advice I’ve seen tends to be tailored to those who will be staying put for the long(ish) term. In my mind, that’s more than around 5 years, which might not seem very long to some! For the location independent or digital nomad communities, we may find ourselves looking at more the medium term (say, 1-5 years) or more often shorter term (1-12 months). Thusly, I’ll focus more on the latter two of the below categories:

  1. Long term: when you’re staying put for a long time (5+ years)

  1. Medium term: when you’re staying for the time being (1-5 years)

  1. Short term: when you’re testing the waters or just passing through (1-12 months)

In any of these situations, however, I think the main competing variables to consider are as follows:

Variables:
  • location

  • cost

  • size/privacy

  • fanciness/amenities

  • specifics (i.e. large kitchen, outdoor space)

  • commitment

Generally, the more flexible you can be with each of these variables, the more options you’ll have. One of the advantages of being location independent is the freedom to play with the first variable as much as you like. It’s the factor that I think is the single most powerful, and gives you the most choice within each of the others.

Beyond location dependence

A large part of why housing markets can suck so badly is that they traditionally have you as a fairly captive consumer. You have to live in a particular area because of where your job is, so you’re stuck with very little latitude on perhaps the most important variable. By becoming location independent, we remove that condition. Instead we can come to view it as a competition of where can offer us the best combination of variables based on our particular values and needs.

Looking at each of the above variables in turn, I think we can make some deliberate and intentional choices about what really matters to us, and what will ultimately make our lives better. Then, we can apply some creative thinking and find housing solutions that work for us rather than against us.

Location

This is a real estate cliche for a reason. But as digital nomads we can think about this beyond neighbourhood and commute time. Considering location, we can expand our search across cities and countries, and then narrow it down to our ideal neighbourhoods. Looking beyond the area you’re in can dramatically improve your options. You can choose less expensive cities and countries for part of the year. You can choose areas outside those adjacent to the CBD of a particular city, if you won’t need to be commuting into city centre every day. However, you may be more concerned with finding a walkable neighbourhood, or somewhere within easy reach of the nearest major airport.

Some of the high cost of living cities around the world don’t offer great value for money. Dublin, where I’m currently based, is in a full blown housing crisis. If I don’t need to compete with thousands of others for overpriced, substandard options, why would I? Then, when I am evaluating a location, I can narrow my search to locations that offer the lifestyle I’m looking for, and be a bit more stringent with the next, and next most important, variable.

Cost

As cost of housing rises, we have to either earn more to keep up, or accept that a higher percentage of our current income gets eaten up by this greedy line item. I prefer to set a maximum percentage of my take-home income that I’m willing to spend on housing. I think 30% of take home is a reasonable maximum. And yes, I’d want to be firm on making that 30% after taxes and retirement contributions, or in other words, 30% of spendable income. If that’s not possible in a given location, I’d have to concede that that location may be temporarily off the short-list. Or maybe it’s a location to work into your plans in shorter increments, or by utilising some unconventional options (some examples of which are briefly noted below).

Location and cost are of course very closely linked, and are the most important variables. If you’re going to be very picky on either of those, you’ll want to be quite flexible indeed on the below, secondary variables.

Size/privacy

In many desirable locations, having housemates is a very common solution to rising costs. If you’d rather more privacy, you’ll likely want to be very flexible on the size of your accommodations. I’m quite happy in small spaces, so that’s an easy one for me to concede. I’d happily accept less space for a location and cost I was happy with.

Fanciness/amenities

If you’re going to be a digital nomad, and sampling the housing offerings of many different locales around the world, being quite flexible on this will serve you well. I personally don’t derive much life satisfaction from expensive finishings or lots of fancy features. Sure, those things are nice to have, but if they become deal-breakers, you will find your options severely limited. Clean, safe, and functional are about as fancy as I personally need. Plus, if you’re looking for somewhere for a shorter term stay, it can be an interesting quirk to practice living without certain things you may have become accustomed to. You may find they’re less essential to your happiness than you thought!

Specifics

This is where you can tailor your search to the things that really do provide you with life satisfaction. I’d want a place I could cook in, in most places if I was staying for longer than about a month. Reliable wifi is probably another must-have. But what makes you happy? Do you crave outdoor space? A quiet street? Enough floor space to bust out a few yoga moves? Or space to host friends and family when they come through town? For me, once I’ve been sufficiently flexible with the categories that matter less, I find I can devote the appropriate level of attention to those few areas that matter most. And then keep experimenting, because they can and will fluctuate over time.

Commitment

As a shorter term housing consumer, you may wish to avoid signing year-long leases. This is easier to pull off if you don’t have a lot of stuff you need to move around with you. I think the default assumption is you’ll need to pay a lot more for the luxury of less commitment, and this is very likely true in many expensive cities in the West. A cursory search on Airbnb reveals at least a dozen attractive cities where a month-long rental is far less than I pay now on my year-long lease in Dublin. And that’s including wifi, heat, electricity, etc. If the conditions are right, I think this is another variable that can work in favour of the location independent.

Unconventional ideas

I’m going to be experimenting with a few untraditional options, such as month-long Airbnb rentals, coliving spaces, and some newer sites that appear intriguing, such as GoGo Places. I  think the options will only continue to increase as more and more people adopt a location independent lifestyle. I’m excited to see this space develop and what other creative solutions people come up with.

 

What does housing mean to you?

Ultimately we each need to decide what really matters to us. Is housing just a place to rest your head, or do you need your home to be your refuge, your nest, a reflection of your taste and personality? I don’t think there are any wrong answers, but examining our answers honestly can help hone our housing choices. And those choices will drastically impact our ability to progress towards our other goals, like financial independence, contribution, and travel.

What does it take to be happy? I believe that the fewer “must-haves” on our list, the greater our access to contentment. And the more flexibility we allow into the most expensive line items on our budget, the better. When approached as an opportunity to be flexible and creative, you can avoid being a victim of the housing market and instead continue to advance towards your goals.