Cold wind bites at my face as I forge forwards through the snow, pushing deeper into the mountains… Gargantuan towers of ice-smothered rock dwarf the entire landscape. I feel tiny in the huge embrace of this ancient valley.
This is the first time I have travelled for over 16 months.
That’s a long time for somebody who is used to being on the road.
I pull my jacket tighter around me, squinting against the glare from the glacier ahead and trying to focus on the faraway dot of the century-old stone shepherd’s hut in the distance. I know here we will pause to start a fire and quench our thirst with some piping hot chai.
The cool, quiet, utter stillness of the mountains brings me peace and perspective. Troubles and stress melt away even as I struggle with the harshness of the landscape, falling ungracefully into a hidden hole and flailing about a bit before I free myself, I chuckle and, smiling, push forwards towards the promise of a hot cuppa.
This is Pakistan, and it’s unlike any place you know.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit this magical place many times over the last six years. The mountains are one thing that draws me back, but it’s also more than that. Some of the people I care about most in this world live in the small village of Ghulkin, a stone’s throw from epic treks, magnificent glaciers, and the motorbike haven of the Karakoram Highway, my favourite road in the world.
Whilst in Pakistan, I had the mental space and time to unpack everything that has been happening in my life over the last 16 months.
It has been a wild ride. A lot happened in my personal life in 2020. This is my attempt to share the lessons I learnt, to share a glimpse into what it’s like to run an online business during Covid and to share for the sake of sharing – because it can be therapeutic.
- Let’s Talk about 2020 <Groans Internally>
- The Will Hatton Story Abridged
- COVID-19: A Blessing in Disguise?
- The Business Side of Things
- My Goals for 2021
- What Did I Learn in 2020?
- The Best Things About Travelling Again After 16 Months of Being Stuck
- What Do Us Broke Backpackers Have to Look Forward to in 2021?
- One Last Thing: Covid in 2021
- It’s Gonna Be Good!
Let’s Talk about 2020 <Groans Internally>
Every January, I write my year in review post (this year it took me five months to finish this post). This is a time where I share the lessons, wins, and losses I have experienced working online as an entrepreneur over the last year. This year is going to be a little bit different because hell – 2020 was a year unlike any other!
SO MUCH HAPPENED IN 2020. Bear with me friends because I want to recap just a LITTLE bit of the craziness we all lived through this year before I move onto the juicy business updates and lessons learned part of the post. So, let’s kick it off. In 2020, we all lived through…
- First, there was the assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani which had the very real possibility of kicking off another major conflict in the region.
- Then, Covid truly got out of control.
- Hot on the heels of Covid, misinformation spread like never before with normal folks all around the world falling prey to QAnon / 5G / Bill Gates / microchip / Covid-is-a-hoax conspiracy theories. Everybody is of course entitled to their quirky opinion until that opinion starts to damage our society – that’s when it’s gotta be reigned the fuck in. More on that later.
Then there was the murder of George Floyd, kicking off widespread unrest around the world. There was also a civil war in Ethiopia, which most people have already forgotten about. And all the while, world leaders largely ignored the real crisis looming just around the corner – climate change.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though friends. Let’s not forget that in 2020 we saw:
- Unprecedented and devastating forest fires in California and Australia.
- Saudi Arabia continued to facilitate the world’s worst famine in Yemen.
- China forcibly interned over a million people from the Uighur population and there have been harrowing tales of systematic rape and torture.
The Devil’s favourite cunt (Bolsonaro, the Brazilian dictator) opened up the Amazon to gold miners and cattle ranchers (his cronies) whilst simultaneously debunking Covid as a hoax. Boris Jonson nearly walked away from a Brexit (still a great name for a cereal) deal over fish… Fucking fish? They’re full of plastic anyway: leave the fuckers be.
Basically, world leaders and oppressive governments alike continued to balls it up and make us wonder ‘What the hell is the world coming to?’.
It was a year which would strain each of us mentally. I think it’s safe to say that almost everybody has had their lifestyle, income and stress levels affected by Covid over the past year. Many of us have been stuck in one place for a long time, unable to move around the world or even our own town as we would normally do.
People this year have spent more time than ever with themselves. They’ve had to learn about themselves, listen to themselves, and manage their mental health during a pandemic.
There’s been more fights, divorces, suicides, conflicts, and political turmoil happening universally than possibly ever in our lifetimes. For the first time in the ENTIRE HISTORY of humankind…
We’ve actually all been in this together.
We can’t come out of that without some sort of shift in the collective consciousness. Change is coming in a BIG way – for the individual, the community, and the planet as a whole.
The year was stressful friends, it was a time where mental health problems had space to thrive. Many of us went hard into unhealthy distractions – alcohol, porn, excessive gaming, cheese puffs – it was all right there at our fingertips and it became horribly easy to fall into addictive and unhealthy patterns.
It was also, however, a time that offered an incredible opportunity for personal growth (and I’ll be talking about this later on in the post). For me personally, 2020 was a pretty rocking year as I used it to evaluate where I am going in my life and dial down habits and routines to ensure I get there… more on that in a bit though.
I guess my point is – it ain’t all bad! Can I get a hell yeah!?
So About the Good of 2020?
In 2020, we gave the environment a much-needed break. With the sudden shutdown of all transportation, greenhouse emissions plummeted. For the first time in just about forever, the Himalayan mountains could be seen from New Delhi and dolphins were even seen swimming in the canals of Venice. For travellers (at least those that are concerned about the environment), moments like these were both heartwarming and inspiring.
Perhaps most importantly of all, 2020 was the year where we were all forced to stop and to spend some time with ourselves, like it or not. This was a time where we could no longer hide from ourselves. It was an opportunity to reassess what’s really important to us – be that our loved ones, pursuing our passions, knitting willy warmers, or travelling the world.
And then there’s democracy. Just when we thought it was as dead as disco, people answered the call and proved that sometimes politics still works. Trump is out, and that’s all I’m going to say – I will not waste my time, energy or thoughts on him.
He is done. It is over.
I guess my point is that 2020 truly was a year unlike any other. This was a year that dramatically affected everybody.
For the first time in a long time, all of humanity had a relatively shared shitty experience. We all had to come to terms with dramatic events that are out of our control. Hopefully, this shared experience will bring our society as a whole to a more empathetic, kind, and forward-thinking destination.
I want to start off by saying that whilst I’m going to be talking about some fairly hectic things I experienced this year (such as the end of my marriage and the evaporation of my life savings), this is not going to be a pity party. Every cloud has a silver lining and hell, we are now in a new year, things are getting better, and there is lots to be excited about for 2021! Personally, I’m beyond stoked for the next few months and feeling enthusiastic, ambitious, and grateful for the year ahead.
The purpose of this post is for me to download the year. I find this really therapeutic and I enjoy sharing with you guys insights on my life as a digital nomad, a lifestyle which I know interests some of you.
Let me recap my journey so far real quick.
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The Will Hatton Story Abridged
Many moons ago when I could barely grow a beard, I hit the road with just a backpack, a battered tent, and a few hundred dollars stuffed into my socks. I did not have a phone, a laptop or a kindle. I did have a journal and a few good travel reads: that was all I needed.
I spent two years in India finding myself. It sounds cliche, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t finding myself in ashrams or temples or any of that jazz.
I was finding myself through hard, uncomfortable, difficult and extremely rewarding broke backpacker travel.
- I camped, I couchsurfed, I slept at railway stations.
- I met and befriended local people.
- I ate the same food nearly every day. I hitchhiked, I picked up odd jobs, I volunteered here and there.
- If something broke, I fixed it.
- I washed my own clothes, I filled my own belly. I learnt how to fully take care of myself.
- I navigated with a fucking map.
- And, slowly but surely, I became less shy and awkward and more confident and capable.
I developed into somebody with self-awareness. There was a lot wrong with me, but I could see for the first time that it did not define who I was. My actions defined me.
Every time I screwed up and learnt from my mistake… Every time I mustered up the courage to approach a stranger in a cafe and say hello… Every time I solved a problem MYSELF, I grew a little bit more.
Moving down south, I had a plan. I sold t-shirts in Goa (and marijuana – I was sometimes a bit of a naughty boy). I saved up some money, bought a hundred leather Indiana Jones-style satchels from the sandcastle city of Jaisalmer, got them back to the UK, flipped them at a hippy festival for a 1000% profit and BOOM! I was back in business, and back on the road…
And all the while I scribbled away in my journal, making notes of just HOW the hell one can travel on $10 a day, writing about the people I met, the lessons I learned, and my experiences travelling as a broke backpacker. I entered a random travel writing competition and to my surprise, I won. I started this blog, as a hobby really, and it slowly grew.
I travelled to far-flung places like remote corners of The Philippines, into the mountains of Venezuela, and the northern tip of Myanmar. These were places that didn’t get much travel coverage. They were raw, mysterious, exciting, and sometimes there was a bit of a risk.
To travel in this manner is to be on your toes, to be aware of your surroundings, to truly see the landscapes and to breathe in the smells, the sounds, the very atmosphere. It made me feel alive. It made me feel free. It was powerful.
I learnt a lot of lessons during my initial travels as the OG Broke Backpacker but perhaps the single greatest lesson I learnt is that personal development truly begins at the edge of your comfort zone. By pushing myself constantly out of my comfort zone I levelled up as a person multiple times.
Sure, it was sometimes fucking miserable traveling broke in places like India. There were soul-crushing moments. But if you don’t give in, if you push through, if you find the humour that’s always just around the corner, you grow.
The Broke Backpacker Grows
Slowly but surely, The Broke Backpacker grew into a large website with a small family of adventurers and pathfinders working together to put out REAL, raw, fucking useful content. Before Covid, we would often hit one million unique visitors a month. We felt that we were crushing it.
I probably would not have found the motivation needed to do the work if I had not met Nina in Iran. We had fallen madly in love, gotten married without really knowing each other, and instantly been forced to grow the blog into an actual business that could support the travels of two people because heck, neither of us had any money and my casual gigs as a seller of whatever I could get hold of was not exactly a reliable or scaleable source of income.
My goal has always been to make travel accessible to everybody. When I was a kid there were no resources for ‘broke backpackers’ and it seemed like only those with a large disposable income got to travel.
I like to think of The Broke Backpacker as a force for good – we create jobs for adventurers, we create jobs for our friends in Pakistan, we frequently donate to climate-related causes, AND, perhaps most importantly of all, we provide free, experience-driven, guides on how to travel with limited funds.
My hope is that these resources inspire the next generation of broke backpackers to hit the road in search of adventure and to explore the world in a respectful manner. If you are new to the site and think ‘Hey, this site is pretty cool,’ then please do me a personal favour and read our guide on reducing your plastic footprint whilst travelling. It’s a subject very close to my heart
I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again: I had no rich benefactor, no mentor, no idea what I was doing – only elbow grease. It got me somewhere pretty amazing, and I passionately believe that hard work and smart strategy can allow anybody to build the lifestyle of their dreams.
Towards the end of 2019, I’d finally paid off all my debts and I truly did feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when my ventures turned a corner and the risk of going totally bankrupt no longer loomed over me.
In December 2019, I was in an exciting place. I was loving living in Bali where I am busy building the first Tribal Hostel with my good friend Mark, but things were not all peachy, because life is not a fairy tale.
In 2020, my five year relationship with Nina came to an end.
Sober Endings and New Beginnings
I can truthfully say that it was the best and the worst breakup I’ve ever experienced. We mostly gave each other time and space, and whilst there were, of course, tears and fears from both sides that such a monumental chapter in both of our lives was coming to an end, we handled it mostly with love, patience, and respect. Nina continues to live in Bali and is doing good and worthy things with her life. I will be forever thankful that she came into my life.
I will admit however that at the time, right there in the thick of the breakup, I struggled. My businesses seemed to be collapsing around me on account of Covid and I leaned hard into Modafinil (Ritalin basically) and other, more illicit, uppers in an effort to drag work out of me when all I wanted to do was feel sorry for myself. It was a learning curve.
In this post, I will share lessons I have learnt as an evolving entrepreneur and human over the year as well as the wins and losses I have experienced. Working for yourself can be extremely rewarding. It can also be lonely, scary, boring, and challenging. It can bring untold riches, and untold risk.
2020 was a year that highlighted all of this to me and forced me to make difficult decisions regarding the future of my businesses and my team. There were times I felt truly gut-punched as setback after setback rolled over me; it had not been what I was expecting for the year.
For me, 2020 was a year that I was deservedly very excited about. I had a lot of epic things planned, not least of all was that FINALLY we would be opening the first Tribal hostel in Bali – a project that has been a dream of mine for nearly ten years. I was convinced that 2020 was going to be MY year. I had spent 2019 working my ass off and in 2020 I did expect to work a little less and to spend more time with myself.
Instead, in 2020, I lost a lot of money. My marriage with Nina came to an end. I had some serious problems with addictive behaviours again. I doubted myself frequently, I hated myself occasionally.
And yet, looking back at it now… I can truthfully say that 2020 was one of the best years of my life. The second half of the year in particular. I was forced to slow down, take a breath, and to think about where I want to go and how I am going to get there. I learnt a lot, and I’m excited to share what I learnt and what I have planned for the year ahead.
Buckle in friends and let’s get to it. It’s time for…
COVID-19: A Blessing in Disguise?
Covid, more than ever, has highlighted the mental health challenges currently going on in the world. This is a time where many people have had their normal routines thrown upside down and are now largely confined to their homes with nothing to do (or so it may seem) than surf the web. Under these conditions destructive, addictive behaviours thrive.
Today, I want to run you through my own strategies and tactics for strengthening my mental health, building healthy habit stacks, and reducing my anxiety.
I’ve got a lot of experience when it comes to anxiety. I’m actually a pretty anxious person although, like a fine wine, some shit has changed with age and I feel more comfortable now than I used to. I’ve come up with a lot of strategies over the last few years to reduce my anxiety and invest in my mental health and I’ve found some things that have REALLY worked for me – I’ll be sharing all of them in this post.
2020 highlighted to me how incredibly important it is to actively work on strengthening one’s mental health and working towards becoming the person you want to be. Because it won’t magically happen: you have to put in the work. And that means you need to start by putting measures in place to ensure you do NOT fall pray to the 3 BIG risks of Covid…
What are the major dangers of Covid that I’m talking about? Most of it comes down to TWO main things – instant gratification and the desire to distract yourself at all costs. Many folks are on their devices all day; this is not healthy.
In my opinion, the three biggest dangers of Covid to those of us stuck inside are…
- Alcohol and drug abuse.
- Pornography addiction.
- Fake news (conspiracies) and mindless social media surfing.
Here’s the thing friends – Covid CAN be a positive opportunity. It’s really all about how you look at it. Right now is the time to actively invest in your mental and physical health. Now is the time to learn new things, to practice new skills, and to reconnect with old friends.
Without freedom of movement, with so much uncertainty in the world, if you are not actively working on your mental health, it will deteriorate.
This past year has been exceptionally challenging for the vast majority of folks in the world and I have also struggled. Again, this is not going to be a pity party, but I am going to tell you where I was at over this year. It was challenging in ways I have not experienced before, and from these challenges I learned some things which I want to share.
I am going to share the strategies, techniques, and resources I have used over the last year to work on myself, decrease my anxiety, improve my productivity, and dial in my goals. I believe I have stumbled across some true nuggets of gold that could be useful to somebody – perhaps you.
WARNING: We About to Get Real Personal
I have some issues. You do too. Y’know how I know that?
Cause everyone has issues.
Over the last twelve months, I’ve had to slow down for the first time in my life. No more am I able to outrun my shortcomings by bombarding myself with new sights, sounds, people, and events. I have sat, mostly alone, in the same house in Bali for over a year now.
It was, at first, extremely terrifying for me to be alone with my thoughts. I have successfully been distracting myself with work projects, exciting travels, and a busy social life for most of my life. When Covid hit, that all ended.
My income dropped by 97%. I was making a loss of over $20,000 a month just keeping my team employed. I was no longer taking a salary and my choice to invest my life savings into a backpacker hostel and the dwindling state of the hostel life now seemed like not such a smart idea.
My year of exciting travel plans was blown asunder, and whilst I had plenty of projects to work on, the reality of the matter was that almost everything I was planning on for 2020 (launching a backpack I’ve been working on for two years, getting the first Tribal hostel open, growing The Broke Backpacker to a monthly audience of two million users) simply ceased to be possible for this year.
Many people leaned on me during this period for support; it was honestly pretty overwhelming. I was at risk of falling into despair. Suddenly the cracks in my character loomed large once more, I could no longer ignore my many perceived shortcomings.
I felt lonely and inadequate. Tumultuous events from my past haunted me. I started to have nightmares. I began seeing a psychiatrist but the match was wrong and it didn’t help.
And then, as has always been my way, I started to numb myself with alcohol and drugs. I was not able to show up as my best self and after many arguments, many of which were likely my fault, my romantic relationship with Nina, my wife, partner, and friend, came to an end. I must say though, I’m mostly proud with how we both handled the transition; reading the book Conscious Uncoupling certainly helped.
Without the reassuring presence of Nina around, I began to drink more heavily. I am, and have always been, a high functioning alcoholic – I can work, and live a mostly normal life, whilst also getting drunk five nights a week. Likewise, I can take drugs pretty consistently without it really interfering with my ability to get things done. This is a blessing and a curse.
After nearly a year of following the NoFap lifestyle, I started to watch porn again. This was very disappointing to me as I am aware that, for me anyway, porn poisons my expectations of intimacy and general attitudes towards women.
It doesn’t matter what your intentions are, the fact of the matter is that you can accidentally end up in some pretty dark fucking places once you start clicking away on the interwebs.
I can honestly tell you that I truly believe porn to be absolutely fucking toxic and after a brief foray, and with some difficulty during moments of temptation, I keep away from it again now.
I grew increasingly anxious in social settings, worrying constantly what people may be thinking of me. I’ve always been sensitive about how I look following a truly not-so-fun childhood filled with much skipping of school to avoid a group of kids who gave me a hard time. I’m a short guy and for reasons beyond my understanding, short jokes remain one of the last bastions of acceptable passive-aggressive behaviour. I would be an asshole for making a fat joke, but it’s fine for folks to make a short joke – I don’t get it but anyway, I digress.
On the surface, I am jovial and sociable, but that conceals a rather sensitive person inside and my whole life I have had people body-shame me, leading to much self-doubt. In the past, I had healthy strategies for dealing with this. With the crumbling of my primary relationship, I began to compensate heavily with alcohol and drugs. It quickly became a problem and soon I found I was uncomfortable in social settings without it.
People wanted to hang out with me, but I felt withdrawn and I needed time on my own. It was a really difficult balance to try and maintain – keeping friends in my life when all I wanted to do was be alone, and ensuring that the alone time I did get was well spent rather than wasted on things that were not good for me.
I also found myself increasingly leant on for support by what felt like a lot of people. It was an exhausting time; at times, it felt like I was trying to keep a castle made of sand built by sand upright in the face on an oncoming tsunami. And that was most of my 2020.
Still With Me? Thanks for the Therapy
Boom, it’s done now. Wow. OK so, I felt that I SHOULD share the above even if makes me uncomfortable because guess fucking what: growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.
As discussed, amigos, there’s a lot to talk about in this post and I PROMISE it will not all be my trials and tribulations. There’s going to be some juicy business updates, wins, and losses like normal, but bear with me (or don’t, click away, it’s cool) because it’s always important to me in my annual review that I try and give an accurate and honest assessment of the year just gone and crucially share what I learnt.
2020, for me, was a huge learning curve and challenged me in ways I had not encountered before. I have been so incredibly bored. Finding ways to alleviate that boredom that do not damage my mind, body, or soul has been a challenge. And yet, my friends, I have discovered some truly incredible tools and strategies that have helped me get out of a rut and work on stepping towards the person who I would like to be.
I’m happy to report that as I write this, I feel pretty damn good. I haven’t watched porn for months, I’ve been enjoying dating again and I met a very special someone who I’m stoked to take to Pakistan in September. I’ve been mostly off drugs for a while, and it’s important to remind myself that this year (January) I successfully did 45 days without a single gosh-darn alcoholic beverajeeee (that’s how you say it if you want to sound sophisticated).
And so friends, I want to start by sharing five EASY hacks which you can use to get more out of your day, feel healthier and more fulfilled. These work for me anyway…
5 Epic Hacks To Be More AWESOME!
- Drink more water.
- Meditate for ten minutes a day.
- Journal about how you feel; just get it down (brain dump) on paper and let it go.
- Name five things in your life you are grateful for: find some new things every day.
- Exercise (or at least stretch) for 20 minutes or more a day.
The above steps are EASY. But if you’re feeling a bit stuck at the moment and need to start from somewhere, this is a good place to begin.
Towards the end of this post, I’m going to talk more about the lessons I learned this year and how I build habit stacks to make my life better. I’ll also be sharing my number one technique for giving your life purpose, direction, and affirming your goals and values: writing your own manifesto.
Ultimately, building a healthy routine is such an incredibly good investment and there are some simple tools and hacks (like using static whiteboards – the best fucking thing ever!) you can utilise to keep yourself on track.
But we’ll come back to that at the end because I’m sure by now you are keen to find out exactly how the blog did in 2020…
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The Business Side of Things
Man, I thought 2019 was a rough one – that was the year The Broke Backpacker lost nearly 40% of its traffic due to an enormous Google Core Update (damn you to hell Google!!!).
I won’t lie, I thought it couldn’t get much worse…
And then there was Covid… (Ragefully shakes curled fist at an uncaring universe.)
The impact of COVID-19 on my business was dramatic. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I lost 80% of my traffic on The Broke Backpacker and over 90% of my revenue.
And it’s not as simple as travellers no longer buying things. Many companies slashed their commission rates overnight, which lead to a panic in the affiliate marketing world. Amazon practically cut their rates in half – at a time when their stocks were about to skyrocket – making them the most hated platform in the industry. A lot of webmasters threw in their cards and decided to cash out…
But rather than curl up into a ball and pray to the Gods, I was resolved to push on and take action. We doubled down on spending and began a MEGA overhaul of the site.
I made the tough decision to tighten the belt. That meant cutting back unnecessary expenses, making new deals, and, most nerve-wracking of all, having to ask my team to go on pay-caps. I was delighted and humbled, but not surprised, when my entire team insisted they would continue working their asses off full-time to get this show back on the road, regardless of when they get paid for the extra work. I truly have a great tribe at my back. I have since managed to pay back all owing wages to my team.
By taking these steps, I was able to reduce my costs by about 50% from $30,000 a month to more like $15,000 a month. (On The Broke Backpacker; I have additional expenditure on other projects to factor in.)
I kept publishing regular content, commissioned a bunch of aging series to be revamped, and even decided to redo the website theme COMPLETELY from the ground-up. It cost me a small fortune and took over 6 months to complete, but in the end, it all paid off…
The content on TBB has never been better. Following the theme overhaul, the site is 700% faster (and looks damn sexy for that matter). And here’s the real beaut: website traffic is up 150% since the December Core Update!!!
That’s a remarkable gain! Just when I thought Google had abandoned us, it goes and saves the day.
Granted, search volume is still way down across the board due to Covid but I’m now more hopeful than ever for 2021. Every day, we’re seeing traffic increases and peaks we haven’t seen since pre-Covid times. We’re well-positioned for the future and I think there is a lot to look forward to.
BONUS CONTENT: If you’d like to hear about we overhauled The Broke Backpacker and made it the speed demon that it is now, I just published a case study on my personal blog Ditch Your Desk.
There’s also content incoming on my practices of self-development and overall mental health management, so stay tuned!VISIT DITCH YOUR DESK
My Goals for 2021
Every year on the afternoon of the 31st of December, I take time to reflect and to plan out my goals for the coming year…
Forward movement is the name of the game! There are a whole host of projects and personal goals that I’m pumped to achieve this year (and, of course, share that journey with you).
For me personally, there is a lot to be excited about in 2021. I will FINALLY be fulfilling a decade-old personal dream and opening my very own hostel here in Bali: Tribal Hostel. It’s coming soon, amigos!
I really cannot wait to share this with you and welcome you here 🙂
I’ll also share some of my other goals for 2021 with you as well because why the bloody hell not!?
Launch Neco Backpacks!
THIS YEAR, a top-secret project shall finally be unveiled!
Introducing, Neco Backpacks – a slick, sexy and environmentally friendly backpack for nomads on the road…
For three years now, we’ve been designing, testing, and perfecting our 40L travel backpack, and after more than 25 prototypes, we have finally reached (near) perfection… The backpacks will be available on Kickstarter soon so keep your ears open, friends – I’ll be hoping for your support!
And here’s the thing – not only is this backpack super slick, functional, and practical, it’s also eco-friendly… We worked our absolute asses off to design and produce these packs out of recycled ocean plastics. It’s tough, durable and recycled!
Even better, we put a whopping 10% of EVERY SINGLE SALE back towards protecting the environment, developing rural communities, and taking more fucking plastic out of the ocean! 10% of each sale goes directly to Classroom of Hope, an incredible initiative in which trash is taken out of the ocean, formed into bricks, and used to build schools.
We have also hired a couple of hip young gunslingers to do weekly beach cleanups in Bali so we can work towards our goal of eventually producing our backpacks out of the materials we collect, giving us control of the ENTIRE process. That would be incredible as we aim to make the backpacks carbon-negative!
Neco pledges four things:
- To take trash out of the ocean.
- To create EPIC products from recycled materials.
- To PREVENT more trash from entering the ocean.
- To do it’s part to save the gosh-darn world!
And it’s gonna be a damn-fine backpack too. Stay tuned!
Revitalise Epic Backpacker Tours
I’ve mentioned before that Epic Backpacker Tours is more of a passion than a profit project. We do make some money out from the tours but we’ve always focused on paying our staff well and providing affordable adventures, rather than making loads of money.
EBT was hit hard by COVID. We made the choice to still pay our Pakistani and Iranian partners even though we couldn’t run the planned trips.
We also had to issue close to $100,000 in refunds to Epic Backpacker Tours customers where we have had to cancel their trips – this was a serious dent to the coffers. But am I worried? Hell no, my friends…
I am so proud of all the amazing work EBT has accomplished with local communities in Pakistan – it’s time to get the ball rolling again! EBT ended up going deep into debt in 2020 in order to pay our local partners as well as provide food packages to a village we work with closely, I am proud of how we behaved as a company.
I believe it shall be paid back in Karmic dividends from the Gods of Backpakistan themselves! We’ll see ya on the trail. 😉
Embark on an Epic Trek into the Mountains
Something new, something challenging, something solo. There are still a lot of amazing parts of the world, pure and raw, where I wish to get lost in the wilderness.
This vagabond’s got an itch in his boots.
I’ve been on a strong health kick for a few months now, working out hard and consistently while dialling in my sleep and nutrition. I’ve vastly cut back on my drinking and in 2021; I planned to only drink twice a month. I’ll be honest, I sometimes did not succeed with this goal, but overall, I’ve cut back my drinking and that’s a win. As somebody who freely admits to having a problem with alcohol and substances, these steps that I’ve taken make me feel more confident about the future.
In January, I accomplished 6 weeks sober. I am finishing and publishing this blog post (which overall took me five months to write) from Madeira, of all places, where I am currently spending 2 weeks on an annual best friends retreat – a group of four of us who all get on well. It has been an active and action-packed – but admittedly party-drenched atmosphere – here!
When I return to Bali, I plan to do 3 months of no drinking as this coincides with the hostel opening and I feel like it’s the right move for me.
It’s amazing how much better I do feel when I cut back my drinking. Christmas in 2019 was fucking MESSY. Christmas in 2020, in which I had just two glasses of wine, was simply better.
Get a Gosh Darn Six-pack
I have visible mothertrucking abs for the first time. Soon, I shall live out my dream of a brick of cocaine hitting me square in the torso and forming into perfect ready-made lines.
Seriously though, I’m more committed to my fitness than ever before and have recently built my dream gym on my balcony (it’s a big fucking balcony) overlooking glorious emerald paddy fields marching away into the distance…
Neco is coming and so are my goddamn abs!
Spend Time With the People I Love
To be (more) real, I believe that’s one of the greatest tragedies of Covid: it’s separated us from the people we love. Our friends, our families, and even all our travel buddies from the good ol’ days.
In 2021, as the world increasingly opens up, there’s a lot of people I need to see. There’s a lot of people I need to hug. And just sit down for a cuppa with.
And tell them that I missed them.
That’s just a few of my goals which I am able to share with you, I seriously encourage you to make your own goals for the year, it’s a powerful process! Remember, folks:
Don’t be a passenger. Take control of your destiny and make 2021 a kick ass year! Get out of your comfort zone.
What Did I Learn in 2020?
For most of my adult life, I have been caught up in a whirlwind of activity. I like to be busy, I like to be active, but sometimes this can come at a cost. 2020 forced me to take a step back, take a deep breath, and soak in the present moment – something I had not done for a while.
Here’s a few things I learned throughout the year…
Writing Your Manifesto
I first came across the idea of writing one’s own manifesto on The Art of Manliness (an excellent site by the way), and over the past three years, I have re-written my manifesto at least once every couple of months so that it reflects lessons I have learned and my ever-evolving priorities.
I strongly recommend taking the time to write out your own manifesto where you figure out your main values, your goals, and how you will ideally behave in the face of adversity. They could be your 12 rules for life or your 40 rules on how to not be a shitdick, but I guarantee you that writing your own manifesto will give you some clarity on what it is that matters to you and just WHO you want to be.
When the roads of life become dark and overgrown, it’s the values and the character that you previously constructed that sees you through.
In fact, this year, I wrote The Broke Backpacker Manifesto! It incorporates a lot of my own personal manifesto as well as some contributions from my team too. And the topic?
How to Be an Epic Traveller and an All-Round Kickass Human!
Travel isn’t always just sunshine and doobies. Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, it can even fuck with your head.
And on those days, you could just jump on a plane and go home. But that wouldn’t be growing.
On the darker and lonelier days in your travels, I want you to sit with those feelings. And breathe. Keep breathing: you will know what to do.
Let your heart lead the way; read your manifesto or ours; remember what it is that drives you. 2020 might have been a real kick to the teeth for all of us, but there’s something very important that I want you to remember on your darkest days.
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
You are more loved than you can ever know.
And this too shall pass.
The Best Things About Travelling Again After 16 Months of Being Stuck
It finally happened, amigos! After all that time in Bali falling in a rut, clawing my way back out, and restoking my passion for life, I finally got to travel again. To Pakistan and to my soul-family and soul-home.
There are a lot of reasons to travel again in 2021. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and think these things will never happen, but slowly slowly the world is re-opening. People are travelling again and rediscovering what makes it so damn magical.
Here are mine.
1. Seeing the Family
I first stayed with Rehman, Sitara, and their incredible family six years ago on my very first backpacking trip to Pakistan. They live in the mountain village of Ghulkin in the Hunza Valley and have been an integral part of both Epic Backpacker Tours as well as my individual journeys in Pakistan.
Over the years, I’ve visited many times and spending time living, playing, and joking around with them is always the highlight of my trip.
I truly feel like I have family in Pakistan, and it’s a great feeling. Getting the chance to see kids grow up has been honestly amazing. Every time I return, they’re a bit older, a bit bigger, and a bit more rambunctious.
I’m almost inclined to order a couple of mini-Will clones from the catalogue…
2. Playing Cards With Other Backpackers
A couple of weeks into my trip, I met two solo female backpackers, Samantha and Kat. Both are fucking BADASSES.
Kat bought a motorbike in Karachi, without knowing how to ride, and ended up rocking up to Hunza a few weeks later. Kat also rolls some of the most incredible joints I’ve ever sampled.
Samantha is a skilled travel writer who has spent a boatload of time in Pakistan and has just returned for a solid 3-month trip. (Check out her blog at Intentional Detours PLUS some new content from her incoming on The Broke Backpacker very soon.)
Playing Shithead whilst smoking joints in the evening was an absolute highlight of my trip. I’ve missed backpacker shenanigans, meeting new people on the road and swapping travel tales around the fire. It was good to be reminded that being on the road gives you a great chance to make new friends.
3. Driving the Shimshal Valley Road
Shimshal Valley Road is commonly referred to as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. To be honest, whilst I did have a few wobbles and skids on loose gravel and deep silver river sand, it was manageable.
I absolutely love a good challenge and riding this road on my trusty hog was a lot of fun and truly invigorating.
4. Exploring Chapursan Valley
Chapursan Valley is the most northern valley in Pakistan and borders the fabled Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of what is technically (but not culturally) the Afghan territory that separates Pakistan and Tajikistan.
The scenery up here is UNREAL, and it’s a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time. This was also a fun ride on the bike across loose scree and with dizzying views off the side of the road to the valley floor below.
I met Alam Jan, a mountaineering legend, whilst staying in his small village. Sitting by the fire sipping chai whilst being regaled with his tales of daring travels was both awesome and inspiring.
More than anything, being so disconnected and so far from signal and reliable electricity – firmly in the grip of the mountains – felt extremely grounding. I journalled up a storm whilst staying in Chapursan…
Look, I love goats.
I love petting them…
And I love eating them.
One night on this trip, we had a fresh goat BBQ…
It was delish.
6. Some Time for Self-Reflection
Being in the mountains, away from connectivity, is an important ritual that normally I undertake every year. Last year, it wasn’t possible and I certainly noticed the difference.
Being back in my happy place gave me some insights into where I want my life to go, what I want to achieve, and what I need to be working on right now.
7. Reconnecting With My Wanderlust
Adventure flows through my veins. I like to be uncomfortable. Growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
Being back on the bike, tearing up dirt tracks, hiking across glaciers, camping out whilst soft snow patterns against my tent… these were all amazing experiences that instilled in me a genuine sense of wonder for the world, and travel, once more.
At times, I felt like an 18-year-old on the road for the very first time again. Everything was just so raw, so real, so beautiful, funny, and INSPIRING. It was absolutely brilliant to travel again, and I can’t wait to do more this coming year…
Again though, one of the highlights of the trip was meeting new people. I am so stoked that Tribal Hostel in Bali will be opening its doors in the next couple of month!
I’m pumped to welcome the tribe; I hope to see you there. 😉
Epic Backpacker Tours is Back, Baby!
And we want YOU to come join us for an EPIC TOUR (with backpackers).
We run affordable adventure tours to places you just wouldn’t go otherwise. We run our tours with our local on-the-ground partners to take you to places you’ve never heard of. We take care of them and you on some of the most off-the-fucking-charts adventures you’ll ever have.
Our next star tour to run will be The Ultimate Karakoram Adventure deep into the heart of Pakistan’s fabled Hunza Valley in October this year. It’d be suitably epic if you joined us.
It is, admittedly, hard to travel there right now, however, it IS possible. With or without EBT, one thing is true: you need to go.
Alternatively, you could just keep reading my blogs about the unfathomable magnificence of Pakistan. But the best things in this world?
They have to be seen to be believed.CHECK OUT EBT’S PAKISTAN TOURS!
My Thoughts on How to Make this Year Fucking Awesome
The hardships and challenges I encountered on my travels have been the most important part of my personal development. There can be no growth without pain. The problem with this Covid-Malarky is that it’s made it hard for us to get out of our comfort zone. For many of us, our comfort zone has actually shrunk.
Whether you are still in lockdown or not, now is a good time to think about where you want to go in your life, to build a routine, put in the work, and to start surrounding yourself with excellent people.
So, continuing on from my life-hacks earlier, let’s move on to the next steps which personally I’ve found super fucking useful this year for reducing my anxiety and staying focused. I’m going to assume you’re already meditating, practising gratitude, drinking enough water, and doing some exercise Instead…
- Meditate! – Yeah, I know I covered it before, but I want to cover it again. It’s all about simply showing up. Committing to just ten minutes a day, sitting or lying down, and focusing on your breathing: that’s all you have to do. The simple act of committing to showing up to the practice will improve your willpower and foster a sense of discipline. Insight Timer is my favourite meditation app – there are some great meditations on there from this chick called Sarah Blondin (she has a 10 day course I really enjoyed) and another real good one called ‘Warrior Spirit’ that I recommend.
- Set goals – Who do you want to be in five years time? Where do you want to go? What skills do you want to have mastered? Work these goals into your journal practice or write them up into your manifesto.
- Track your habits – The single best tool I’ve discovered over the last few years is static whiteboards. I use them for planning projects, reinforcing my goals and values, and recording my habit streaks so I know how I’m doing with my goals each month. Regardless of whether you use a static whiteboard, track your habits – it keeps you accountable.
- Get out into nature – Simple, easy, effective. Go for a hike.
- Invest in your fitness – Look, I know it can be a challenge but commit to something – maybe just 20 minutes a day if you’re starting from zero, but make sure you move! Stretch out, do a couple of TABATA workouts (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, 8 rounds – choose 2-4 movements and cycle between them) to get the heart pumping. You will feel better for it.
- Expand your comfort zone – For me, this year I learned to free dive and it was a really awesome way to push myself. Whatever you need to do, make sure you are constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
- Reduce numbing behaviours – Take time to learn to be present with yourself, alone, without the need to numb your reality with alcohol, porn, drugs, or whatever your Achilles heel is. Acknowledge and own problems you may have so that you can deal with them.
- Habit stack for success – Use the power of habit stacking to build a routine and supercharge your day, I strongly recommend you read Atomic Habits. My morning routine, which I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking to get it just right, is below in case anybody is interested…
Here’s my morning routine starting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first thing in the morning. And on the mornings I don’t feel so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed… Well…
I bloody well do it anyway!
- Up at 6 am, smash a cold coffee
- Skincare, brush teeth
- Meditation for 10-40 minutes
- Lie on cork block (for spine realignment) and clear phone (I do not go on my phone until this moment)
- Put my phone away in a box
- Journal with coffee in a different zone
- Drink some water, look over day goals (pre-written out the night before)
- Play chess / play pool / read for 20 minutes
- Exercise, cool down
- Big breakfast – breakfast with bone broth
- Start work (do not open laptop or inbox until this point)
And here is my evening routine, which I usually manage to stick to about 5 nights a week…
- 5:30 pm start: mobility work and yoga whilst listening to a podcast
- Journal and tea with sunset
- Downstairs for 7 pm
- Foam roll
- Phone goes away in a box at 7:30 pm
- Record habits hit on my whiteboard
- In bed reading by 9 pm
Yeah, it’s kinda boring… But it’s healthy, allows me to spend time with myself, and I get shit done.
And Last Tip: CONSUME THE RIGHT MEDIA
You already know my thoughts on porn, but don’t waste your time watching or listening to shit that only entertains you but does not also improve your knowledge.
Do you want some epic book, podcast and movie recommendations? I got you…
- Palm Springs
- The Gentlemen
- Baby Driver
- Blades of Glory
If you want my whole list, you can check it out here.
Hardcore History (start with King of Kings).
- Online Entrepreneurship 101 (on Ditch Your Desk)
- 73 Lessons from 9 Years of Travelling
- Blazed Backpackers: Doing Drugs on the Road RIGHT
- Travel is Back! | Reasons to Start ravelling Again in 2021
- CASE STUDY: Is Budget Travel Ethical?
- Why I HATE Instagram
- The Realities of Travel Blogging During COVID
- 18 Epic Reasons to Visit Pakistan
- Hiking in Madeira: The Best of the BEST
- Backpacker Traps and the 11 Mistakes Travellers Make
- Top Places for Living the Digital Nomad Dream!
What Do Us Broke Backpackers Have to Look Forward to in 2021?
2020 is behind us. Let’s look forward to 2021 and all the possibilities it holds!
Why is 2021 going to be the best fuckin’ year possible?
For one thing, we’re gonna travel again!
Yeah, the whole industry and community might have taken a beating, but it’s going to get better. Already in 2020, we had numerous countries reopening to tourism and finding ways of making travel possible again mid-pandemic.
I’m not saying Covid is suddenly gone or that it’s going to be an easy climb back to the top. But the vaccine news does seem positive. It does really seem like REAL travel will be returning sometime in 2021.
And that couldn’t be more fucking exciting.
It’s going to take time to repair the world, but we’re travellers! Fear is not something we’re used to letting us hold us back. Life in a cage is not life at all. The time is approaching to break free from the cage we’ve been put in after the challenging times of 2020.
For another thing, digital nomadism has never been more possible than now! It started as a movement and now, thanks to Covid, it’s practically a necessity.
Almost suddenly, the entire world realized that remote working or smart working is totally viable in a modern business environment. Corporations, companies, pretty much everyone seeking to make a dime in 2020 was forced to employ everyone from home And guess what?
The world is ready for remote working and, by the transitive property, digital nomadism to become the new norm. More and more countries are creating special visas for digital nomads and are opening their borders to them. Greece, Portugal, Croatia, Georgia, and many more surprising candidates are all set to be the newest digital nomad hotspots.
2021 will be the year of the digital nomad. If you’ve dreamed of becoming one, now is the time to pursue it.
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One Last Thing: Covid in 2021
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the ongoing shitshow that is COVID-19.
Listen, we all thought – or at least hoped – that Covid would quietly disappear by 2021 and the doom and gloom would lift. But it didn’t.
Europe is still in shambles, and the US has a long road to recovery ahead. India is outright fucked. Hopefully, Pakistan will not be as badly affected as India…
There is good news though! At the moment, there are no fewer than three approved COVID-19 vaccines on the market and many Western countries are expediting the vaccination process, or at least trying. Herd immunity is in humanity’s crosshairs and soon, hopefully, we’ll all be rid of this blasted virus for good.
I believe that travel will be possible again in wider and wider scopes in late-2021. It may not be the kind of travel that we’re used to, but it will be travel nonetheless. There’s just going to be an adjustment period.
How Travel Has Changed
This is a quick summary of the main changes that I have noticed:
- A huge decrease in tourism numbers. Hopefully, the impact of mass tourism has indeed been positive for the environment.
- Huge focus on new sanitisation and hygiene practices. This is the new norm people, so get used to it.
- There are heaps more bureaucratic hoops to jump through and travel has become, admittedly, more tedious
- Masks. Carry one on you at all times.
- On the plus side, outdoor activities have BOOMED. 2021 is the year of camping and hiking.
- A huge new focus on domestic tourism, particularly travelling in a van, RVing, and road trips. And the vanlife is sick. 😉
- The chasm of disparity between developing and developed nations has only widened – this will affect the travel experience in backpacker-favourites.
But it ain’t all bleak – there are definite upsides to all of the above points! Travel is in just an awkward pubescent growing phase, and primarily, we need to remember our place in that transition…
Remembering the Ethics of Travel
Travelling during the coronavirus outbreak was and still is an ethical dilemma: while you might be young, healthy, and at low risk to be seriously affected by it, you’re still very able to pass the virus along. Safety isn’t, and never is, just about YOU.
If there’s one thing that travellers have to comes to grips with during this pandemic, it’s that they are not alone in this world nor can they travel without having some sort of impact. We have to take into consideration those around us, especially those who are more susceptible like the elderly or immuno-compromised.
I often talk about responsible travel as it relates to the environment, but I think we have to hold ourselves morally accountable in a situation like this as well. If we can go romping all over the world without endangering anyone, then more power to us. If, on the other hand, we are putting others at risk by spreading this disease through our travels, then that’s about as far from responsible as you can get.
Travelling in 2021 is more realistic than in 2020. And many of us will be chomping at the chains to get out there and stretch our restless legs again.
BUT WE MUSTN’T FORGET TO RESPECT THE SITUATION. Just because a country is open to visitors again, doesn’t necessarily mean that coronavirus will be a non-issue.
So get ready for travel again in 2021, HOWEVER, do it right: start making plans, get your ducks in a row, and choose your next backpacking destination!
But let’s not undo all the hard work we did to keep the virus at bay: keep your mask, check local travel restrictions, get tested when necessary, and, as always, wash yo’ filthy hands.
It’s Gonna Be Good!
This year is going to be better – I promise. Because you have ideas. And projects! You have dreams you’re chasing and a virus ain’t going to stop you anymore.
And this year, you’re creating change for yourself. Sweet, glorious, and sometimes frightening change. The kind of change that makes your heart go beat-beat-beat.
Maybe it’s finally high time you got that start-up you’ve been envisioning off the ground. Or confessed your true feelings to your best friend. Or, whether you have or haven’t yet, you could travel NOW – pandemic or no.
Because life is all too goddamn short, and that’s something 2020 did teach everybody.
And that beat-beat-beat?
It reminds us that we’re alive.
So are we going to let 2021 beat the shit out of us as 2020 did? Are we going to get thrown around the ring and let 2021 do whatever it wants to us, like a bullish Mike Tyson? HELL NO.
We’re going to stand up, face the monster, and throw our own punches. With perseverance, we’ll triumph over anything.
Stay frosty and grateful, amigos. Thank you so much for riding out 2020 as a part of The Broke Backpacker tribe.
This was a mammoth post and a lot of my heart went into it. If you’re still reading now, then I do earnestly appreciate it. The last 18ish months have been wild, tumultuous, and, at times, crushingly dark.
But in the darkness, light shines brightest. And we will get through this. Together.
So find your favourite humans, fuck the pandemic off for a second, and hug them tight. The kinda hug where you keep squeezing, and you bury your head in their shoulder, and all the shit that’s been welling up inside of you just comes out. The kind of hug where you never want to let go. It’s alright if a couple of tears sneak on out; that happens sometimes, and I’ve learnt that it isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Remember that you are free. And you are strong. And that being strong doesn’t mean that you never get knocked down.
Being strong means that every time you DO get knocked down, you pick yourself up and get right back in the ring. And you come back swinging even harder than before.
Every single fucking time.
Because, amigos, to quote a beloved poet – In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:
It goes on.
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