What’s In Your Bag?

Bag lady, you gon’ hurt your back, draggin’ all them bags like that. I guess nobody ever told you all must hold on to is you.
Erykah Badu

Remote Year ended for me in mid-March. Though the program was officially over in January, I continued to travel with my fellow Battutas, keeping the dream alive (and the cult together) for as long as we could. As I packed my bags to depart from Bali, it was apparent that I couldn’t continue to tote this much weight. My last two trips required me to remove items from my checked baggage to avoid fees. In assessing what should remain, I realized the excess baggage as much mental as it was physical.

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I thought I’d make it the entire time with these bags.

So after 14 months, what did I end up putting down?

* Two cars, a house full of possessions, and the very idea of “home”

* A ridiculous Russian nesting doll of bags starting with a 120L duffel used to carry a 90L duffel, 35L duffel, a wet bag and a tote bag.

* Ideas about who I was and my place in the world. Some were inherited, others were freely accepted over time but all were occupying the space needed to forge a new direction.

* Past hopes, mistakes, disappointments and missed opportunities. Continually beating myself up over these things was a waste of mental space.

* Relationships that didn’t work or weren’t healthy. Some of these were hard to let go of but essential to moving forward.

* Fears about changing at this point in life.

It’s important to periodically take stock and make sure that what you’re carrying is essential for your journey.

Excess baggage is costly.

So pack light (oooh, oooh)

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January 2017 Earnings Report for The Cocoa Nomad

Consulting: $0

I did pick up consulting work in January but because I use cash basis versus accrual for accounting, it won’t show until next month. I was able to do some work for a former client who is finally shutting down the project but needed some final artifacts delivered. There may be additional work via referral in February as well but I’m not counting on it. I’ll keep networking to pick up some small projects to sustain me while I work on my primary apps.

iOS App Store: $10.77

A further decline in sales for my neglected apps. Fact is, I absolutely deserve this. I’m contemplating a shift away from paid apps to freemium or ad-supported, a decision that pushed back my release of the Capoeira Songs update. Team Tryouts update is also on hold.

Amazon: -$7.17

First the Falcons lost in the Super Bowl, now this. While I didn’t expect to recover all of the sales from the previous month, I never expected a negative. It’s a dead period for shopping in general and toys in particular (I guess the kids haven’t broken those Christmas gifts yet.)

Total: $3.60

Ouch! I went from pocket money to couch cushion money. Actually, I’m more bummed about the Falcon’s loss than my earnings. I’m back to working on a steady basis after the final month of Remote Year. New products are coming soon and I’m still excited about the future. There may be a new category for the earnings report as early as next month.

What About Expenses?

After the last earnings post, I was asked why I didn’t include expenses. The primary reason was that I just wasn’t thinking about it (it’s an earnings report not an income statement). The secondary reason was that I didn’t want to skew the expenses with the Remote Year costs (avg. $2041 month in program costs, much higher that what I will be spending going forward). Now that my gap year is over, I can provide a clearer picture of what it actually costs me to live and build my leveraged income streams. Those costs will be included in the Feb 2017 report.

A Remote Year of Fitness

Staying in shape is a challenge regardless of your living/travel situation. It becomes even more difficult if you are constantly changing locations. One of my goals this year was to at least maintain the condition I was in when starting Remote Year. fat_boysTrying all of the local cuisine (and beverages 😉 )throughout the year , I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I could easily eclipse my pre-RY peak of 202 lbs (aided in no small part by my inner fat boy’s love of chicken & waffles and large country breakfasts).

 

 

Keeping It Simple

Despite gyms in every city we lived in, I needed an even simpler option. I’m simply not that motivated to go to a gym on a regular basis and paying for something that I won’t use is a non-starter. My goto exercise needed to be simple and fast, hence my preference for HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and walking.  I used the 7 Minute Workout  and Pedometer++  apps as my baseline. Confident that I had everything I needed to maintain this regimen wherever I went, my basic goals were to walk 10,000 steps each day and do the 7 minute workout 3 times a week. Everything beyond that was a bonus.

South America

Everyone was keen to get the year of to a good start, so there were lots of informal groups formed around fitness such as football, running, basketball or general fitness workouts. I tried to participate in as many as possible to supplement my basic routine. Fellow Battuta, Anton was a boxing
enthusiast and we began a boxing workout that img_5747included a run to/from the parks where we would train. This definitely helped kick things up a notch and we were pretty consistent until months 3 and 4, when we moved to the higher altitudes of Bolivia/Peru. We did finish strong as a group by starting the Insanity workout program in the 4th month using the high altitude to take our fitness to a new level.

Europe

The workout routine that I developed in South America was disrupted by the departure of a number of remotes. I began month five in London with a daily 5K. Runs along the canal were a nice break from my cramped living quarters. I managed to make the best of it by successfully continuing the 7 Minute workouts in my room.img_5761 I reasoned that if I could do the exercises in such a small space there was no reason I couldn’t to them anywhere. Europe was also the place where I started playing football. Full disclosure: I’m crap at football but I enjoyed being part of the group.
Don’t underestimate the positive aspects of a social group for maintaining a fitness routine. I took this to heart and created a boxing club for those who wanted to learn the basics and add a little variety to their workout routine.

Asia

The first month in Asia was similar to the other first months of the previous legs. Getting adjusted took time and I reverted back to my 3x a week basic workout of 7 Minutes plus a basic boxing routing (sans heavy/speed bag). Because the first 2 months provided pool access, I decided to add a bit of swimming. img_0316It’s definitely something that I will keep as a part of my routing when available. It’s a great full body workout. The highlight of this leg of the trip was by far my ability to train Muay Thai in Thailand. I don’t have many things on my bucket list but this was one of them. While in Koh Phangan, I truly thought I’d achieved fitness nirvana. I rode my bicycle 30 minutes each way to train for 2 hours. Despite my excitement, injuries did slow me down. I sprained my foot while training Muay Thai after executing an almost perfect counter leg sweep. This began the downward spiral that would be the theme of my Asian segment. My football career ended sadly on a pitch in Phnom Penh, much like my basketball playing days in Prague. By the final month of Remote Year in Vietnam, I’d racked up shoulder, knee and foot injuries that would reduce me to simply walking for exercise.

RY Results

In spite of the injuries, this year was epic from a fitness standpoint. I had fun working out with others and participating in the various fitness programs and sports. I ended up about 15 pounds less than I did when starting the year, halfway to my target (170 lbs). I’ll spend the next the few months with the base routine and a focus on diet. I’ve spent the last 12 months eating and drinking pretty much whatever I wanted and I need to reduce and improve my intake. Now I can spend time recovering from my injuries in preparation for more training while in Asia. I’ll also be a including a lot more preventative measures such as stretching, yoga and wearing ankle and knee braces.

Uber Drivers Are Side Hustle Inspiration

In the past year, I’ve used many modes of transportation. While the opportunities to speak with pilots, bus drivers or train conductors are rare, Uber drivers are frequently open to conversation. Typically our talks are about our respective hometowns, what the city is like, tips about venues to see and me constantly checking the route to see if we’re going the right way. The best rides are when the conversation moves beyond the basics. More than just what jobs we have but why we do them. While it’s great to travel the world, it’s not a permanent vacation for me and I’m curious about what other people are doing to make ends meet. For most of the drivers that I meet, Uber isn’t their only job. In fact, it’s usually their side hustle.

My most recent encounter was with Alonzo, a driver in Charleston, SC. His story reminded me of my grandfather, who for many years in New York simultaneously worked at a hospital, drove a cab and had a dry cleaning business. Alonzo told me about his various gigs outside of Uber: a full time job at a local college, a fragrance business, a truck detailing service and selling on Amazon/Ebay. Once we discovered that Amazon selling was something that we had in common, we started sharing our respective experiences and swapping tips. I realized that I was missing some very profitable categories in retail arbitrage and he learned about the advantages of Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA).

I’m not only nomadic in my travels, I’m moving fluidly amongst my roles in pursuing business opportunities. At any given time, I am a mobile app developer or a market researcher or shopkeep. Getting comfortable with the frequent transitions has been helped by my experience in moving from country to country. The languages and customs change with each venue but in gaining confidence in my ability to navigate the world, I am more prepared to face the myriad challenges in making my new life work.

My Retail Arbitrage Experience

I’ve now gone out three times to find products to source for retail arbitrage (RA) via Amazon FBA. I’d heard about it on a few seller podcasts/YouTube vids and wanted to see firsthand what the experience was like. I’ve decided to provide some answers to questions that I had when I started. Perhaps they can help you.2016-10-19-16-20-21

Is it hard to get started? No. I created an Amazon Seller account and in less than 30 minutes and was listing my books and electronics. I had boxes, tape and a printer to package what I needed. I didn’t even have to pay the UPS shipping costs up front. I’m currently doing RA from the road and do my label printing via available business centers (hotel/apartments). Unlike the books I originally sold, I only needed to print a shipping label for each box.

What is your game plan? Each day, I map put an area of town that has a number of retail stores (Walmart, Target, Kmart, Big Lots, Toys R Us). My main focus has been toys as I heard it was a great category for bargains. Some tips:

  • Set a target value for the day. For example, try to get $400 (sale price) worth of  products per day. You can always go over but this gives you a good baseline
  • Set a profit target per item. I’ve heard various opinions on this one. Some people want $10 per item. Some are happy with $5. Others simply want products they can sell for 3x their acquisition cost (approx. 1/3 of that will go to Amazon/shipping costs).
  • Scan each item if you find similar items that are a different color/size. I bought a bunch of markers only to find out that Amazon won’t let me ship the yellow ones (the green and orange are fine). I’m sure it’s a bug but it was a reminder of the old carpentry adage: measure twice, cut once.
  • Upgrade to Pro Seller Account if you think you want to keep doing this. I missed out on many deals simply because I was restricted from a category based on my account type.

How much time do you spend doing this? I try to spend no more than an hour per location and sweep through the clearance sections. After about 4-5 hours, I’m usually ready to call it a day. I’m sure a more savvy shopper could come right behind me and fill a shopping cart with deals that I didn’t think to investigate. Total time in 3 trips was less than 15 hours (including shipping).

How much does it cost/Is it really worth it? I can’t say what the actual ROI is for my time/costs until the products are all sold. Through 3 trips, I’ve spent about $520 for products that should sell for about $1418.

Will you keep doing this? No, as I will be returning to SE Asia in a few days. It’s a fun activity I do each time I’m stateside but I’ve already accomplished my goals in doing RA, namely:

  • Learning more about selling on Amazon
  • Provide first hand experience to anyone interested in trying it for themselves
  • Getting product ideas for private labeling, online arbitrage, wholesaling (all of which I may try at some point)
  • Breaking out of my comfort zone by doing something else to make money.
  • After using existing tools available for doing RA, I now have an app idea to pursue. I constantly joke that my motto is ABD (Always Be Drinking) but in reality it’s ABT (Always Be Thinking of new product/service ideas)

Overall the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s basically a real life scavenger hunt game show with real cash and prizes awaiting you in the end.

Thinking of a Master Plan

I left my job of 3 years in April to focus on developing my own apps and exploring other ways of making a living. I was burnt out and needed a sabbatical. Six months later, I’m looking to pass the mantle of President of Team Hangout to someone else on Remote Year and get back to work. When I left for Belgrade 60 days ago, I assumed that I wouldn’t need to return. I sold most of my possessions. I left someone I trusted in charge of selling my house. I assumed that I would be gone for at least another 6 months, yet I find myself back in the United States.

So What Happened?

The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew

During my presidency, I spoke with a fellow Battuta who is making a living selling private label products on Amazon. I was familiar with drop shipping from an entrepreneurship class in grad school but hadn’t given online selling any serious thought since.

I decided to dip a toe into by creating an Amazon account and selling my books/electronics. While most of the items that I owned were not worth listing, I found a few gems that fetched a decent price, like a chord book of Prince’s The Hits that sold for $100. After watching my sales for a few weeks, I was hooked. The only problem was that I was out of inventory.

So What Now?

  • I’m sourcing products for retail arbitrage for FBA while I’m stateside. I’m both excited and nervous because I’m not sure if this is going to work. I’m currently packing the first shipment of items to send to Amazon. I’m still researching private label products.2016-10-16-12-55-14
  • I’ll continue working on app development (more app-specific posts to come). I haven’t lost my love for creating things, I just needed to diversify my attention (and income sources).
  • The house is still not listed for sale. The situation is further complicated by the effects of Hurricane Matthew. My house sustained damage but thankfully it’s not as bad as the countless others who have been displaced.
  • My tentative plan is to remain in SE Asia after the conclusion of Remote Year. It is inexpensive, the food/weather/people are awesome and there are communities of remotes that are working on both types of businesses where my focus lies.

 

Where Have You Been?

When I started this Remote Year, I thought that I would be frequently blogging my experiences, keeping everyone updated on my travels. I also thought I would still be working at my job, and returning to the States at the end. It’s amazing how much can change in a year.

In an effort to reignite my blogging efforts, I’m going to start by trying to simply capture my travel life so far, borrowing from a post by Thirty30Courtney

A: Age you went on your first international trip: 26. I took a trip to Toronto for a conference.

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where: I’ve had so many great beers while traveling, it’s nearly impossible to choose. One of my favorites that comes to mind is my first Hofbrau at Oktoberfest. It’s so good that even my domestic beer loving uncle became a fan.

C: Cuisine [favorite]: Thai, hands down. So many flavors.

D: Destinations: Favorite– Spain (Malaga, Barcelona, Sevilla and Cadiz)

Least Favorite – Belgrade. I still had a good time but there has to be a least favorite.

E: Experience that made you say wow: Riding the Death Road in Bolivia. Tearing down that 15,000 foot descending tiny rocky road on a mountain bike was sheer joy! IMG_2323.JPG

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Train. Despite the constant delays and occasional fire (I’m looking at you, Amtrak), I still love riding the rails.

G: Greatest Feeling While Traveling: Freedom. It’s the reason why I do it.

H: Hottest place you’ve ever traveled to: Kuala Lumpur has been the hottest in my international travel but it’s still not as bad as Miami/New Orleans/Atlanta

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced: Home cooking class and dinner in Montevideo img_1745

J: Journey that took the longest: Tie – Cusco, Peru to London/Split, Croatia to Kuala Lumpur. The second was had a long layover in Doha, Qatar so I was able to go into the city and do a little exploring/eat.

K: Keepsake from your travels: I tend to keep money from different countries that I’ve visited. Not big bills but I find the difference in currency interesting. (On that note: Brits, cut it out with the arbitrary coin sizes! You’re better than that)

L: Let-down sight, where & why: While I definitely like some places more than others, there hasn’t been a let-down sight for me yet. The most underwhelming has to be the Sistine Chapel. As a counter, I had much more fun in Croatia than I imagined I would.

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel: My first trip to Europe. I went with no real plans other than visiting a friend in London, seeing an exhibit in Glasgow and going to the French Open. I ended up staying 3 weeks and had some of the best experiences of my life. From there, I was hooked.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at: Poshness is wasted on me but I once got a free upgrade to a suite at the Beau Rivage for a poker tournament. The room was massive and for one night I felt like a whale.

O: Obsession:– what do you take photos of while traveling: Great street art and small streets always catches my eye.

P: Passport stamps:– how many & from where: 24 (not counting duplicate entries) – Croatia, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, The Netherlands, The Vatican, Malaysia, Singapore, Qatar, Singapore, Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Not sure it qualifies but the Witches Market in La Paz had some oddities.

R: Really frightening- a place where you felt unsafe or uneasy: The bus ride to our hotel after riding the Death Road. That was far scarier than riding the bike.

S: Splurge- something you have no problem spending on while traveling: Food and drink. One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying new dishes and libations. Thankfully, the best stuff is typically not expensive but I’m willing to spend if its a great experience.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: Hop on/Hop off bus tour in Barcelona. Turned out to be a great to get a lay of the land.

U: Unforgettable Travel Memory: Portugal Road Trip with my roommates in Malaga, Spain. 5 guys crammed into a tiny car. We had no itinerary but one goal: get to Lisbon. Along the way, we shared stories about our lives, partied, ate great food, slept on the beach, clubbed all night to avoid getting a hostel.

V: Visas- how many and for where: 1 visa for Bolivia. 2 more upcoming for Thailand and Vietnam

W: Wine- Best taste of wine while traveling and where?: Malbec in Argentina is my new favorite.

X: eXcellent view: 3 day hike to Machu Picchu had some of the most incredible views I’ve ever witnessed. I highly recommend taking a few days to go through the mountains before arriving at the city. img_3319

Y: Years Spent Traveling: 18

Z: Zealous sports fans and where: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, Manchester United

The Hardest Goodbye

As my departure date quickly approached, my stress level increased as did my apathy for preparation. I’ve never been big on planning but I’d become even less so as it became clear that I really just wanted to leave my old life behind and start fresh with a new journey. But before I could embark on a new adventure there were loose ends to be tied and goodbyes to be said. I traveled to Atlanta to clean my storage unit of the remnants of my life there. Having to transport so many possessions made me realize how long I’d been away from my home city and how much old baggage I was still literally carrying around. I’d gone through boxes of things that I should have sold, given away or discarded years ago. When you make a decision to move on, it’s best to just deal with it then and not let it linger.

Before I left for a year, I also wanted to spend time doing what I love most, hanging with my friends and eating good food. I made the rounds in my normal hangout spots in Atlanta, Greenville and the Triangle. I even took a detour down to Orlando to play golf with my golf crew for a few days. It was so good to see everyone and share with my excitement for my upcoming travel.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete without sampling some of my favorite foods and squeezing in some new spots before leaving. I mixed visits to old haunts (Grady’s BBQ in Dudley, NC and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in Atlanta) with new discoveries (Dame’s Chicken & Waffles in Durham, NC and Filipino Cuisine in Angier, NC). Needless to say, I packed on the lbs before leaving, justifying it with the knowledge that I’d walk a lot more once I started traveling.

I ended up doing a better job of packing my belly than my bags. Last minute changes and procrastination got the better of me and I was scrambling to make final decisions an hour before I was supposed to leave. I even made a last minute trip to buy more pants that I thought I’d need for the trip (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t).

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With my bags finally packed, my mom over to help me get my place cleaned up, and my uncle on the way to take me to the airport. I was finally ready to go. All of the goodbyes leading up to this day were fairly easy. Except for one. The hardest goodbye.

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Gramps and I enjoying one of our many coffee and bacon rich breakfasts.

Since relocating to North Carolina, I have spent more time with my grandfather than anyone else. It wasn’t until I got to know him as an adult that I realized how alike we are. After a serious illness two years ago, he has bounced back and with that knowledge, I was finally able to even consider a trip such as this. It’s been an absolute joy to be there for him. I’ve been with him for everything from doctor visits and shopping to travel/dining with him and his girlfriend (yes, at 87 he’s still got it). It was so difficult to leave my “running buddy”, but we were able to share one last breakfast and a final tear-filled hug before sending me off. His life has been an amazing journey and I’m grateful that he’s shared so much history and wisdom with me. I’m looking forward to returning the favor with amazing stories of my own.

 

Context Switch

It is the end of a calendar year and normally I would post a list of places in the US that I intend to visit in the coming year: conferences, festivals and other events that attract my interest. In less than 30 days, I‘ll be embarking on a journey that will take me to at least 12 countries over 12 months.

In computing, a context switch is “the process of storing and restoring the state of a process so that execution can be resumed from the same point at a later time”. As the departure date approaches, I am putting old things aside and making room for new ones. I will be placing my essential belongings into a couple of backpacks, shutting off unneeded services and preparing for life on the road. I’ve been asked by many people, “What are you going to do with your house?” which is reasonable considering the distance and duration of my trip. This house has stood for well over 100 years and like the many unfinished projects within it, will be here if/when I return. This past year has been full of unexpected and unwanted change.

In the coming year, I remain hopeful without the rigidity of expectation. I don’t pretend to know how this next year will transpire. I’m just open to seeing what happens.

Feb – Montevideo, Uruguay

Mar – Buenos Aires, Argentina

April – La Paz, Bolivia

May – Cusco, Peru

June – Istanbul, Turkey

July – Prague, Czech Republic

Aug – Belgrade, Serbia

Sept – Cavtat, Croatia

Oct – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Nov – Koh Phangan, Thailand

Dec – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Jan – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam