Mini-lives: how to see the world without taking a day of vacation
Seeing the world is simple: just get on a plane and go somewhere. If you really want to get the full experience in a place, it’s even better to live a mini-life, which is just like living your normal life, but in a different city. It shakes the cobwebs off of your old routines, introduces you to new things, and you return to your home base with a more sublime sense of your self.
So, just drop everything, fly off to a foreign land, and live a mini-life. Easier said than done, right? Most people can’t just take off to another place for a couple of months at a time. We have to earn money, pay rent, or take care of our kids.
So, how can one possibly pull off a mini-life? Once we’ve figured out the basics, how can we make sure we’ve lived a good one?
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I’ve lived mini-lives in Rome, Buenos Aires, Medellin (twice), and Brooklyn. Even though I’ve traveled all over the world promoting my book, my mini-lives have been far more enjoyable and impactful.
Here’s how to make a mini-life happen, and how to make sure it’s a good one.
Don’t make excuses
If you’re totally on board, go ahead and skip this section. If you have your doubts about whether you can pull off a mini-life, read on.
Pulling off a mini-life is not for the faint of heart, and the more tied down you are, the harder it is. But be careful when you start making excuses to stop yourself. The trouble with excuses is that they usually can’t be proven correct – but they can be proven incorrect.
For example, if I say “I can’t live a mini-life because I don’t have the money,” yes, it’s true that you apparently don’t have the money that you think you need to live a mini-life; but, there’s a number of things that could prove you wrong. You could realize that mini-lives can often cost less than your normal life, or, you could start taking steps today that would ensure that you met the financial goals that would make you comfortable. Finally, you could work to change your perception of what is an adequate amount of money.
I made hard decisions for years to finally set up my life so I could easily live mini-lives. I didn’t magically arrive at this point. I had to give myself permission to suck from time to time. If you start today, eventually you’ll get there.
Where there is a will, there is a way. If a couple of details are going to prevent you from doing something, then it’s probably better to just admit that you don’t want it that badly, or aren’t willing to put up with the trade-offs. It’s okay. It’s not for everyone.
So, before you say “I can’t because…” try reading the following with an open mind.
How to make money during your mini-life
The most obvious impediment to living a mini-life for most people is their job. Many people have to be at a certain place during certain times in order to collect their paycheck. Here’s a few approaches for such people:
- Convince your boss: If you can convince your boss that you are productive when working from home, you may be able to convince her that you are productive – maybe even more productive – while away from the office for several weeks. Good remote work habits that you develop while away can also be re-integrated into your everyday, making you and your team work more efficiently. (For step-by-step instructions on getting your boss comfortable with remote work, read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss).
- Get your whole team in on it: If you have a small company, or a small company within a team, a mini-life (or, sometimes called a “workcation”) can be great for deep collaboration on a particular project, as well as a bonding experience for the team.
- Ask for a sabbatical: Some companies already have sabbatical programs that allow you to take several weeks off every couple years. That’s cheating, really, so if your company has such a program, revisit #1 and see if you can do your mini-life while still working.
- Start freelancing: If you’re relegated to only dreaming about the kind of flexibility required to live a mini-life, it’s never too early to start setting it up. You can pick up some freelance work on oDesk, or otherwise try to pick up a client or two who is indifferent about your location. Being successful at freelancing is a challenging road, but there are programs such as Ramit Sethi’s Earn1K that can give you actionable advice that would take years to learn through your own trial-and-error.
- Do it between jobs: This is again cheating on the “mini-life,” and takes you into Tim Ferriss’ famous “mini-retirement” territory, but next time you’re changing jobs—or if you find yourself unemployed—use it as an opportunity to go live a dream life for a little while.
- Flip your career: If you’re someone whose work relies on meeting with clients in-person, or being certified by a government entity – such as if you are a doctor or dentist – then you might have to get creative. If your desire for mini-lives is not strong enough to make you willing to change your career, then you can start finding ways to use your existing expertise in a way that allows you mobility. You can start a blog and work toward writing a book or conducting traveling workshops, or find programs in your profession that allow you to travel (such as Doctors Without Borders or Dentists Without Borders).
- If all else fails, explore your city: If you absolutely cannot leave your home city, you can – at the very least – live mini-lives in different neighborhoods of your city. If you’ve ever wondered if you’d rather live in Brooklyn than Manhattan, or Wicker Park instead of Lincoln Park, try a place there for a couple of months. Your experience of your own hometown can change dramatically just by where you choose to live.
Living a mini-life is a bigger challenge for some professions than it is for others, but if you’re resourceful, and you are willing to make changes – and sometimes be very patient – you can achieve the flexibility you need.
Where to stay during your mini-life
Aside from having money to pay rent, you’ve gotta have a place to pay that rent to. To make matters more complicated, you’re often committed to paying rent somewhere else.
If you have a mortgage that allows you to rent your place out, then there’s not much left to do but tidy up and post your place on AirBNB. If you have concerns, remember that they have a $1,000,000 host guarantee.
If you have a lease, you’re most likely not allowed to sublet under the terms of your lease. Some people are lucky enough to have a landlord that doesn’t mind, and others are willing to simply take the (unlikely) risk that there will be consequences beyond a couple of dirty dishes and some missing Q-tips. (I am not a lawyer, and take such risks at your own…risk).
Finding a place to stay during your mini-life is a little more flexible. Most major cities have a decent market of furnished apartments that can be found with a quick Google search, and HomeAway have places to stay almost anywhere.
One strategy I have used is to spend my first week at a hostel, roam around the city and talk to other expats to get an idea of the best ways to find housing, and then find a place. This is a notably more time-consuming and stressful strategy, but I wouldn’t recommend against it.
If you’re willing to be less selective in your housing search, you can swap homes for free with someone on HomeExchange, but you’re of course limited to the location the people who are swapping with you are in.
Where to go during your mini-life
It all depends upon what you want to achieve during your mini-life (more on that later), but picking the right place to take it can be critical. Here are things to consider:
- Weather: One of the best reasons to go live a mini-life is to escape undesirable weather. I live in Chicago, which is an awesome city most of the time. However, January and February absolutely blows in the windy city, so I’ve skipped those months the past three years in a row. If you live in a similar climate, go somewhere warm in the winter.
- Cost: If you manage to rent your place out and book a flight with miles, a mini-life can actually cost you less than $0 if you pick an inexpensive area of the world, such as Southeast Asia or South America. Or if you’ve dreamed of living in an expensive city, a month in San Francisco is much cheaper than a lifetime!
- Lifestyle: Do you want to party hard, or gain some peace of mind? The place you pick will make all of the difference in the type of lifestyle you lead in your mini-life. You may live in a small town, and just want a taste of big-city life, or vice-versa.
- Business connections: Mini-lives can pay huge dividends if you pick a place with business connections you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I don’t want to live in NYC, but I spent a month there just to do some networking. During that time, I met Ryan Holiday, which lead to this post’s precursor. Check with your accountant: you may even be able to expense your mini-life!
- Language: If you want to work on a new language during your mini-life, you’ll obviously want to go somewhere that speaks that language. But, not all places are created equal in this regard. For example, I found that Argentines have a strong accent, and lots of people in Buenos Aires are eager to speak English, while people in Medellin, Colombia speak more clearly and are more likely to speak Spanish to you.
- Dreams: Almost everyone has them: visions in your head of what your life might be like if you picked up everything and moved to a particular city – maybe even a different country. If you’re a little timid to go that far, mini-lives can be valuable just in quieting that voice in your head that whispers “what if?” I liked my time in NYC, but my mini-life helped solidify that I’m not looking to drop everything and move there.
Have a plan for your mini-life
One of the things people like about traveling is flying by the seat of their pants. That has its time and place, but I like to approach my mini-lives more deliberately. If you have a plan, you can execute it, and finish your trip feeling satisfied and refreshed. Keep these things in mind:
- Length matters: One mistake I’ve seen people make with mini-lives is that they don’t go for long enough. For example, you might think that a month is a long time to go on a trip, but if you’re living a mini-life in a foreign city, it’s an extremely awkward amount of time. It’s too long to distract yourself with tourist attractions, but not quite long enough to really get into a rhythm and make new friends. I recommend at least two months for foreign cities, but one month can be okay for a domestic city or a city where you already have friends.
- Have projects in mind: Mini-lives are a great opportunity to really dig in on a project that you’ve been meaning to work on. You don’t have the distractions of being in your hometown—with all of the loose social connections—and it’s a finite amount of time, so you can plan your work. When I lived in Buenos Aires I worked on my SXSW presentation. In Brooklyn I worked on my free design course, and Other mini-lifers I know have used their mini-lives to write a screenplay, shoot a documentary, or learn to Tango. As mentioned in my previous article, two months is also a perfect amount of time to do the INSANITY workout program.
- Plan your trip trajectory: How many times have you finished a trip feeling like you didn’t do all of the things that you had hoped to do? You can prevent this and leave your mini-life feeling good by simply planning out the trajectory beforehand. I like to just make a bullet-point list of each week of the trip and make a few sub-bullets that loosely describe what I want to accomplish that week. The first week is usually reserved for getting established: checking into the apartment, getting acquainted with local food staples, getting a local SIM card, and making new friends, while the last week is reserved for winding down and planning a smooth re-entry into my hometown life.
- Pack heavy: Many people will violently disagree with me on this, but I love to pack heavy for my mini-lives. Mini lives are already disruptive, so if you can have a few comforts of home it can make it all seem more normal. I tend to have different dietary supplements that are hard to find in foreign countries, and I’ve even brought my favorite blender—and yes, oh, yes, almond butter—along on my trips. Since I have to be productive while I’m away, I bring my ergonomic but travel-friendly setup. I start planning my packing list by brainstorming in Evernote several weeks before my trip. Plus, I still have packing lists from past trips to use as a template.
Kids, dogs, and relationships
Mini-lives may sound like some fantasy only for unattached people with no responsibilities at home; but if you want it badly enough, almost anything is possible.
First of all, if living mini-lives is important to you, and you don’t yet have these things in your life, take this desire into consideration before making those commitments.
But if it’s “too late” then be creative and work to bust down those excuses.
Take David and Carrie McKeegan of Greenback Tax Services as inspiration. They started their firm in 2008, and have since lived all over the world.
Not only did they manage to turn a usually-location-dependent profession into a unique business by providing tax services for other expats, but they’ve done this – along with all of that travel – while having two kids. Listen to the What is the Best Place for Location Independent Families? episode of the Tropical Talk Radio Podcast to hear more of their story.
Start small and dream big
Some people are already living mini-lives, while others are just a few small changes from being able to take off next week.
Even if a mini-life seems like a longshot to you, you don’t have to do a full-blown one right away. Open up a new note in Evernote, and start brainstorming. What would you need to set up? Where would you like to go?
If there are barriers in your way, practice small ways to break them down. It may be just convincing your boss that you can even be productive working from your own home, landing that first freelance client, or seeing if you can find a friend to take care of your dog while you leave for just a week.
Whatever it is, chances are, a mini-life is possible for you. It will be an experience that pays off if you take the right steps to make it happen.
(My latest) Mini-lives: how to see the world without taking a day of vacation http://t.co/PqzYYL69SD
— David Kadavy (@kadavy) March 12, 2014
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