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Field Guide to World Travelers

After slowly investigating and integrating myself into the world-traveling community for a few months, I finally have a fairly good sense of the people involved, the methods available and the lingo that is used in this culturally rich and quickly growing community.

One aspect of this (dare I say?) movement that I find absolutely fascinating is the semantics involved; what people choose to call themselves and what they do. When I first started thinking about traveling the world as part of my day-to-day, I would tell people that I was undertaking a project that would involve my living in a different country every four months. I thought this was a pretty simple explanation. Boom. Done. Send it to the PR people and turn off the lights on your way out.

The deeper I get, though, the more I realize that a lot of people in this field actually have much better, in some cases one-word explanations for what they are doing. It’s boggling, really, and I want to do a quick run-down here of some of the major categories of world traveler for the uninitiated.

Backpacker: generally considered to be one of the cheapest forms of travel, backpacking involves packing up just the necessities of survival (plus maybe an iPod and laptop…you know, for blogging), cramming it all in to a framed backpack and wandering around, usually on a pretty small budget (the key here is spend less, see more). Backpackers are known for their fondness of hostels, ‘roughing it,’ low-cost airlines, meeting locals and avoiding tourist traps. Some great resources for backpacking are: Backpacker Magazine, Ben’s Backpacking Travel Blog and Go Backpacking.

Flashpacker: this term usually refers to a backpacker that is carrying a bit more money, more technology and in some cases more luggage (though not much more — they are still very much into the minimalism). This breed of backpacker will usually make more use of gadgets than backpackers (though the line blurs a bit here as portable electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops become more widespread and cheap). Because of Flashpackers, more and more hostels are springing up around the globe that cater to a slightly higher-budget clientele, offering amenities that aren’t usually available at hostels. Another common trait you’ll find in Flashpackers is that they work while traveling and sometimes travel IS their work. Generally the means to this end is travel writing, photography, travel hacks and tips and advertising/product revenue (from their websites/blogs). Some Flashpacking websites include: Nomadic Matt, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding and The Flashpacker Guide.

Gap-packer: this group is typically made up of students in Europe who are backpacking during the gap year between school and university. They tend to move at a fairly breakneck speed through several countries and also tend to move in larger groups than regular backpackers. Resources for this group include: GapYear.com, GoGap.com and The Gap Year Guidebook.

CouchSurfers: usually members of the popular (and free) online service CouchSurfing, people in this group travel cheaply through what’s called ‘hospitality exchange,’ wherein members share their couch (or extra bed or sleeping bag) with other members who are visiting from out of town. It’s kind of a karma-based system where you share your space and time, knowing that there are thousands of other people on the site who are just as willing to do the same for you when you travel. CouchSurfers are know for building thriving communities (they exist in 232 countries and territories, at the moment) and their ranking system (so you know whether or not the person coming to sleep on your couch might be an axe murderer). Find out more at couchsurfing.com.

Location Independent Professionals: sometimes referred to as ‘Digital Nomads’ or ‘Technomads,’ this quickly growing demographic likely got its name (and if not, definitely its popularity) from Lea and Jonathan Woodward of LocationIndependent.com. People who fall into this category are professionals of any age who are able to work and operate professionally from anywhere in the world (so long as there is an Internet connection or other means of communication to the world at large). There is a definite emphasis on freedom, choice and flexibility in this group, and there is no shortage of entrepreneurial ideas and websites involved. Some other location independent professional websites include: MineYourResources.com, ThrillingHeriocs.com, EpicSelf.com, FreePursuits.com and Technomadia.com. Location Independent also has a swiftly-growing social network through Ning called the Location Independent Clubhouse.

Families on the Road (FOTR): this growing group of mobile families touts the benefits of traveling the country (or the world) with their kids in tow, roadschooling, and living a mobile, RV lifestyle. Sites like Families on the Road are incredible resources for this group of travelers, and SoulTravelers3.com is a great example of a family taking this idea international: two unique parents raising their daughter with the world as her classroom. There are dozens of other families living this lifestyle listed on the FOTR families page.

Also: The lovely people over at Technomadia have just published an excellent article entitled “Digital Location Independent Lifestyle Designing NuNomads” in which they also break down the types of travelers and lifestyle designers out there. Definitely worth a read!

What genres of travelers and websites within these categories have I missed? Would you use a different definition? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Update: April 23, 2016

The most interesting thing about this post, to me, is seeing how many people mentioned are still in the game, and how many aren’t. A lot of the folks I hung out with (e-hung out with?) back then have moved on to other things, either because of practical considerations or because they didn’t enjoy the lifestyle. Others have changed their trajectory but continued to travel (myself included), and still others have continued unabated, still enjoying the things they enjoyed seven years ago.

There was a lot of focus at this time — in this corner of the blogosphere, at least — on expanding one’s network via guest posts, link posts, and things of that nature. If you mentioned someone else in a post, they felt compelled to mention you or reach out, so the best way to grow was to help others grow. I like such mutually beneficial systems, and though I don’t involve myself in that game anymore, it did make for a super-friendly and tight-knit community to grow up in, as a blogger.

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Burn Your Résumé

The Setup

I was recently asked by a friend from college for a copy of my résumé so that he could get some inspiration before updating his own. I paused for a moment, choosing my words carefully, before politely informing him that if he’s going after a job that requires a résumé, he’s likely going to be unhappy with that job.

The Argument

Here’s why: résumés represent an age where standardization at all levels of corporation is key. Everyone uses the same color Post-It notes, the same brand of paper and adheres to the same dress code. Ideas and motivation stagnate in such environments, and in most cases the really groundbreaking ideas come from outside help; consultants brought in to spice things up. I can pretty much guarantee that the consultant that was brought in at 5 times your hourly rate didn’t have to show a résumé to get the gig.

When you are asked to show a résumé, you are really being asked to show how well you play within the rules. Did you put your purpose statement at the top? Did you use solid numbers instead of ranges? Did you account for any time between legitimate, salaried positions? I certainly hope you wrote down an impressive list of hobbies, because it would be a shame not to show some of your personality in a document that exists only to cookie-cut your professional life into a neater, more stackable shape.

It’s not fair, perhaps, that I’m attacking the vaunted résumé in this way. Historically, it has actually been quite good to me, helping me get all but one of the jobs I’ve ever applied for, which allowed me to pick up new skills, experience and paychecks with great ease throughout my college career. My professional life actually looks very good on paper, and I would likely not have too much trouble returning to the fold and reinserting myself into the ‘legitimate professional world,’ working for paychecks, being paid to be somewhere at a certain time, and generally having a much easier time describing what I do for a living to people.

That being said, I’m incredibly happy to stay far removed from that lifestyle; the one that is documented in minute detail by the résumé. I now engage in a professional life that would be much more difficult to format on a single sheet of paper, one that is composed of projects and investments rather than jobs and meager savings. My time is my own: sometimes I’ll work 80 hour weeks, and sometimes I’ll take a month off from paying work, instead focusing on my own projects and whims. Despite my over-abundance of good, paying work, I’m about to leave the country because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do: that is something that would be very difficult to explain on a résumé.

‘So,’ you may be asking me, ‘if I have to burn my résumé, how will I get work? How will people know what I’m all about?’

The answer is networking and doing good work. Tell people about yourself, your skills and your experience. Talk up what you’re doing now and what you want to do. If you are a plumber, make sure that when anyone you know thinks ‘That pipe needs fixing! Who am I gonna’ call?” they call you. Soon, their friends will do the same. And then their friends.

A connection from a friend of a friend is a lot more personal than an interview with a résumé as the centerpiece. In fact, I would hazard to say that you are already in a bad spot if you find yourself involved in such an interview, because it means you weren’t able to make a connection with the person on the other end of the table through someone you and they know, so you are engaged in the equivalent of a cold call. They hold all the cards and you hold…what? A list of things you’ve done in the past. Yay?

I was caught off guard when my friend asked me for my résumé partially because it’s been so long since I’ve even heard of someone using one. I’ve built my company on word-of-mouth recommendations, my portfolio and networking, and most of the people I meet with regularly do the same. While it was once practical to frame your work experience in the résumé format, the project-oriented lifestyle that I and most entrepreneurs and young professionals now live does not fit within those parameters. How would I explain in a résumé that I took a certain small project that was below my usual price range and not something I would probably put in my portfolio because it allowed me to practice building websites with Joomla? I couldn’t. But I can tell you about it, and you can tell someone else.

Doing good work will also take you far, reducing the need to keep a detailed list of your exploits. Any really good company will judge an employee or contractor by the results of their work, not by the number of years they worked at their past job or what their last salary was. When I first started my company, I did a lot of ‘advertising’ on social networks and was careful to keep my online portfolio up to date. Now, a year later, I seldom even have to point people to my online portfolio, as most of my clients come to me because of a recommendation from a past or current (and very happy) client.

The Other Argument

While writing this article, my girlfriend and I got into a fairly heated debate, with her playing devil’s advocate in favor of résumés while I argued against them. She made a very valid point that for many people, résumés are still the best way to communicate your skill set and professional experience, especially when you are not a big networker, are trying to finagle your way into a new field in which you have no contacts, or are simply looking for a job in an area that IS résumé-driven. She brought up acting (a field that she has a lot of experience in) as an example of a profession that runs on old wheels. If you try to change the way it operates, you are ignored completely (actors must submit their headshots and résumés in a very particular format, size and quality to even be considered for a role; those who innovate are shaved from the pile without consideration).

I would argue that, yes, some professions do still rely on antique methods to operate more than others (just look at the DMV! Somebody buy those people a computer built in the last decade!), but even those fields would greatly benefit from an upgrade, and being pulled, kicking and screaming, might be the only way to finally make that change. If enough talented actors started printing their headshots on 4″x4″ paper instead of 8″x10″, or even doing away with printed headshots completely and instead delivering their photos completely online (which is already being done by a large number of actors, but it could become more of a standard than it is), the industry would be forced to change within a few years (or face extinction due to their cold-shouldering of the best among them).

The Conclusion

So even though résumés may be practical for some, the real path to getting work (or creating work) that you really enjoy and are rewarded fairly for is to ditch the résumé, make connections, talk up your work and make use of projects that can slingshot you toward more opportunities.

Update: April 23, 2016

Looking back at this post, I still largely agree that, in an ideal world, and in most industries, we have better ways to show who we are, what we stand for, and what kind of work we can do than a traditionally structured résumé.

That said, reading it today, I agree more with my ex who argued that there are many industries that require something more formal, something that is more quickly perusable and filterable. This concept still galls, because a lot of what the people on the other end are checking for are irrelevant pieces of trivia. University degrees, for instance, are typically not as valuable as real-world work experience for many industries, but they’re used as a filtering mechanism because otherwise the person doing the interviews would be inundated with candidates they don’t have a good way to judge on paper.

So it was an imperfect system and still is, but I can understand it, particularly for fields that are more easily quantified in that format. I would still argue, however, that it’s almost always better to get a job (or a client) through alternative means, because then it’s more likely you’re being chosen as an individual, rather than one name in a pile of names.

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5 Ways to Sustain Your Lifestyle

A lot of people are going to read the title to this blog and think “Uh-oh, here comes farmer Colin to tell me about planting a vegetable garden on my roof and that I should only wear pants made of hemp. Cut your damn hippie hair and get a job!”

I will then explain “No, kind Sir/Madame, being sustainable doesn’t mean living in the forest and composting your own bodily waste. It means reducing your unnecessary consumption, increasing your productive output and generally not reaping what you can’t sow. It’s creating a personal ecosystem that functions without unbalancing the world around you. You don’t even have to ever touch dirt or see a bug if you don’t want to!” We’ll then share a carton of French Rabbit wine. Cheers!

Sustainability is not a dirty word or the savior-incarnate, as vocal proponents from both ends of the spectrum would have you believe. It is, however, an important component to absolutely anyone’s lifestyle, which is why you should include it in your lifestyle design regimen.

1. Sustain (sus-tain) to support, hold, or bear up from below

A life full of the richest foods, rarest wines, most expensive cars, and most luxurious travel would be great, but without putting in the effort required to pay for it all, it isn’t likely that you’ll be able to keep it up for long. To be sure that your lifestyle is sustainable, you’ll have to be bringing in at least as much money as you spend, and if you want your lifestyle to be steadily increasing in quality, you’ll be needing to increasing the scope of what you do in order to produce more value (more value = more money). If you cannot sustain your lifestyle, it will come and go and be something else completely: a vacation.

2. Sustain (sus-tain) to bear (a burden, charge, etc.)

You can plan on working 80 hours per week to achieve your goals, but unless you have the tenacity of a coke addict and the durability of a cockroach, you’ll start to fall flat all too quickly, no longer able to enjoy the rewards that you are working for and slowly poisoning your health, your sanity, and your plans (I’ll leave it up to you to determine which is the greatest tragedy). Make sure that the lifestyle you are designing can continue to operate past the first few weeks, otherwise you may find yourself crawling away from the crater that was your master plan with less than you started out with.

3. Sustain (sus-tain) to support (a cause or the like) by aid or approval

Most of the really successful people I know (and know of) make a point of including something bigger than themselves in their lives. Sometimes it’s a charity, sometimes it’s a grand goal that doesn’t yet have a physical manifestation, and sometimes it’s as simple as helping out a young sibling who’s had a rough time. Whatever the case may be, having a larger goal in life, even beyond your own personal massive missions, can sustain you when things are looking grim. It has been shown that people who have a cause (are really into their work, religion, or a pressing responsibility) live longer, even when on their deathbeds. Having something epic and separate from yourself to strive for can be a great burden, but sometimes it can be all that’s holding you up.

4. Sustain (sus-tain) to uphold as valid, just, or correct, as a claim or the person making it

Everyone – from Mother Theresa to the villain in a Disney movie – has a sense of good and evil. It may be naive to use such black and white terms (considering that everyone has a different definition for what these two words mean) but it’s important for the healthy continuation of you and your chosen lifestyle that you know what you believe, ethically. I’m not saying that you need to go out and chain yourself to trees or picket abortion clinics, but you should be aware of your own opinions, make sure that they stem from facts rather than inferences, and know that these beliefs will be impacting your everyday life whether you consciously think about them or not.

You will also have opportunities to take advantage of certain situations and elevate yourself at the expense of others. If you could make your planned lifestyle a reality by royally screwing over someone else, would you? I, personally, would recommend not, but this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, knowing that in general what goes around comes around, and by trying to sustain your lifestyle in one way, you might become unsustainable in another.

5. Sustainable (sus-tain-a-ble) Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment

Back to the word that started this whole conversation! To have a sustainable lifestyle can mean lots of things (as illustrated above), but the end result is that your impact on the planet, on others and on yourself should be such that you can continue to live your life forever, without worrying that you’ll run out of trees, money, energy, momentum, or friends. It does, ideally mean that you will not consume more than you produce and that you will do your best to waste as little as possible, but that is just one small part of what sustainability encompasses.

To lead a sustainable lifestyle is to stand up and proudly say, ‘I care about the world and myself enough to want both to keep going for as long as possible. Also, I like expensive cars and rich foods, so here is a widget I invented that I’ll be selling on my website. It will increase everyone’s lifespan by 2 years. Paypal accepted.”

Design the life you want and then live it. Sustainably. Anything else is just vacation.

Update: April 23, 2016

“…the tenacity of a coke addict and the durability of a cockroach.” Probably my favorite phrase of everything I’ve written up to this moment.

I was focused on the idea of sustainability at this point, partly because it was what I was known for in terms of my design and business sensibilities, and partly because it was a term that was trending heavily, and prevailing blogger wisdom was that you should try to own keywords because that will bring more people in from Google.

Which is true, and still is today, in a sense. The modern internet is more about recommendations and legitimacy than keywords, though. The pervasiveness of ‘clickbait’ and ‘content farms’ has led to many algorithm shifts over the years, and today, at least, more Google-juice is given to sites that people seem to like, rather than those that are loaded with the right code. There’s no doubt still ways to trick the system to some degree or another, but those of us who write because we enjoy writing tend to build a site that handles that side of things for us so that we can focus on writing about tenacious coke addicts and durable cockroaches.