Several years ago I was invited to a client ‘do’ at a winery two hours from home. To be honest I was 50-50 about driving all the way up there to spend a sober afternoon with a bunch of people I didn’t know, but I’m glad I did. My unexpected key take-away? Clarity.
I parked and walked towards the entrance, and a couple of ‘meet and greet’ types looked me up and down, smiled and tentatively enquired, “Derek?”.
“That’s right” I replied, shook several pairs of strange hands, and so the day unfolded; light snacks, a few (small) sips of wine, industry discussion and a couple of speeches.
But to be honest I couldn’t wait to take my epiphany home with me. Here I was among clients and industry peers – people I had completed dozens of projects for over the last 5 years – and I’d never physically met any of them. A mental check of my client list told me there were others in the same boat. It wasn’t like it was personal, we weren’t deliberately avoiding each other, it was because it was just ‘business’. We were all professionals, we knew how to plan a job, allocate and complete tasks, and we didn’t need to be in the same room to do it – ever apparently. Without noticing it I had become part of the ‘remote’ workforce, otherwise known as the ‘pyjama army’.
The possibilities were endless.
Gap year – yes, it’s a thing
A few people I met along the journey have marvelled at the concept of a Gap Year, openly suggesting that I was either rich, stupid, or brave, but actually I’m none of these. The idea came to me not long after the client-do-epiphany, when I read (well, skimmed) a life-changing book by a guy named Anthony Ferris called “The Four Hour Work Week”. I had already concluded that it was a monumental pile of wank, and the only people who would ever try to buy into such a concept were delusional morons looking to get rich without having to actually work, or trust fund drop-outs with zero responsibilities (beyond perhaps an email address), and no worthwhile relationships outside their Instagram account.
The same goes for many self-help books really. Some might offer inspiration, but to the average person with every crevice of their life packed full like expanding foam filler in a piece of piping, they’re pretty much useless. From watching TV I, like most of us, had accepted the notion that money, a big house and a flashy car were the only tangible outcomes of a ‘successful’ life, but I’ve learned over time that each of us are capable of revisiting this version of ‘success’ and measuring it (if we really need to) against more personal goals.
And so with that in mind, I gave my life over to Airbnb for one whole calendar year. The plan was to hit almost 30 countries across 3 continents – yes it was going to be expensive – and give new meaning to the word ‘remote’, earning while I was roaming.
12 months and dozens of apartments, villas and country farmhouses later, with my perspective and bank balance well and truly running off in opposite directions, I reflected on the cities I’d seen, hosts I’d met, and stairs I’d climbed. From those experiences I created my own Airbnb awards, the “Airbees”. Grab some popcorn
Given this is often the most important factor in the decision making process, so it turned out to be the hardest category to pick a winner. The glowing red hills of Sedona, Arizona or the fabulous Bosporus Strait that separates European Turkey from Asian Turkey? Ultimately it was the naturally pure, perfect view of the fjord from the balcony of our apartment in Flam, Norway that swayed me.
Most helpful host
‘Jane’ our host in the Rhone region of Southern France, gave us a little handcrafted guide to the region’s towns, castles, markets and restaurants. Along with a bottle of red and some Trappist ales – which she and her partner Bernd helped us drink – and backed up with daily sticky-notes, this information proved the perfect way for us to plan and enjoy our week.
Having a kitchen is a great chance to save some money on the road. Eating out every day does become a drag believe it or not, and considering a bowl of soup can set you back $35 in an average Norwegian eatery, cooking ‘in’ provides some relief for both stomach and wallet. Stefan, our host in Bergen, was a chef, and owner of a popular local restaurant. His kitchen didn’t disappoint, from the stainless steel bench tops to the Global knives.
I could live here forever
Spring in Paris is a wonderful thing. Our corner apartment in the Marais was a charming third floor ‘walk up’, two blocks from the Seine, and Notre Dame. Sun streamed in the classic Hausmann windows in every room, and our view down each busy street was of neighbourhood shops; boulangerie, boucherie and chocolatier. I left a small part of my heart in that place.
Sometimes you pick a place more for location than anything else, as was the case on an almost unplanned stop in the port town of Split, Croatia. Our host Vana met us and walked us through a maze of streets to an apartment which she had completely undersold in her listing. Sure, the photos of the interior looked cute and clean enough, but what they didn’t reveal was the sunny balcony with a magnificent view of the town and port. Coupled with a cool neighbourhood bar/restaurant with an outdoor chef roasting all kinds of meats, and a back-side beach with a great cafe, Split became the Croatian highlight rather than the afterthought.
Vitto, our jovial host in Stockholm just couldn’t help himself. His sunny loft apartment had great views, but it all looked like he’d just stuffed some clothes in a suitcase and bolted to his ‘other’ apartment downstairs, leaving unwashed laundry and his kid’s mouldy science experiments on display. “Hallo?” he’d call as he entered by key – without knocking – each time he needed something different that he’d forgotten; a shirt, some shoes, his sunglasses. Er, privacy? He did leave beer in the fridge though, with instructions for us to help ourselves. Being Sweden it was light beer (anything stronger must come from an official liquor seller) but hey, beggars can’t be choosers – and Australians are all beggars in Scandinavia!
Well this is dodgy!
Kraków Poland, and a locked door stood between us and our apartment. While we waited for a code via SMS, we were greeted by a cheerful, but very drunk young man who came far too close for my liking, and leered at my wife and daughter whilst spraying out some gibberish in Polish. Think John Belushi in the Blues Brothers: “How much for the women?” I stood between them and pointed out to the fellow that it was 9 o’clock in the morning and he’d best be on his way. He looked only slightly disappointed, but thankfully trudged off.
Next time, spend the extra
A wise man once advised me that one of the keys to financial happiness was to avoid the cheapest and most expensive items, but instead to buy the best quality you could comfortably afford. Why, oh why did I stray from the path Uncle John? New York has thousands of apartments, and making a decision can be complicated. Four minutes into our Manhattan month and I realised I’d made a big mistake. The apartment wasn’t too bad, despite the plastic wrap over the windows and bad wallpaper, but the ‘other’ apartment, albeit hideously expensive, was magnificent.