A Life-Changing Trip to Japan

P1000569 P1000617 P1000571 IMG_8045 P1000188 P1000408 japan-235 japan-265 IMG_9814 japan-67.jpg IMG_8198 japan-322 IMG_9805 IMG_9748 DSCF1162I’ve been meaning to include Japan in my wanderlust series for quite some time but I’ve travelled so much there and have so many photos, I’d have to split it up into several cities. Japan is the first place where the travel bug really hit me and was a trip of a lifetime for more reasons than you may think.

My first real job out of university was working as web manager for a high school. As well as developing and redesigning their website, they had grand ideas for creating some kind of online learning curriculum and wanted me to develop educational games and materials for that. Sounds great right? Well I thought so too and I was thrilled when i got the job, beating around another 10 people at interview.

The reality, unfortunately, was quite different. This was a troubled school, put in ‘special measures’ by the government and it didn’t take long to see why. The kids were out of control and the staff were not much better. As with any school, there were some great kids and some excellent teachers but the majority won out to create an atmosphere of depression and chaos.

I started with great enthusiasm but this soon dissipated when i realised nobody was interested in what i was doing. The atmosphere was toxic and I hated being there. I used to wake up feeling physically sick at the idea of turning up to work another day. One day I had a brick thrown through my office window.

Things improved slightly when I moved to share offices with the IT and science staff – there at least I had people to talk to and we could complain together about how bad things were and how much we wanted to escape. I tried applying for other jobs but had no luck – I think my confidence and state of mind were so affected, I had resigned myself to my fate.

One day I decided enough was enough – I had to get out before this place dragged me down with it. I marked a date on my calendar for leaving, with or without a new job, circled  it in bright red pen and booked plane tickets for a 3-week holiday in Japan with my boyfriend at the time.

Those of you who have only known me for a few years won’t know that I used to have quite an obsession with Japan. I loved everything about it – the language, the culture, art, food, cherry blossoms. I’d been studying Japanese language for a while and dreaming of the day I could walk around Tokyo, hearing it in reality.

Well dreams are just dreams until we do something about them and booking that ticket was an important lesson for me. I know now that we attract good things into our lives by putting positive thoughts out there and following our hearts.

Japan was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. We arrived in the midst of cherry blossom season and the little pink flowers fluttered around us as we explored the streets of Tokyo and Kyoto. We walked up the steps of ancient mountainside temples, soaked in the lights and sound of Shibuya, took photos of the cosplayers in Harajuku, walked through bamboo forests and sped all over the country by bullet train.

We packed as much as we possibly could into those three weeks and every single day was like a dream come true. Of all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve seen, that first trip to Japan is still one of my most memorable and best travel experiences.

Just to top things off, I came home to a new job, working with a group of amazing and creative people who became some of my best friends. I worked in this job for several years before I decided it was time for another change and set off on my travels again (this time on the trip that would culminate in me ending up in Bali). I am 100% convinced that if i hadn’t just set a date and bought those plane tickets, I would have never escaped from that awful job and been open to the other opportunities that are out there.

Travel really can change lives and I urge everyone to take that trip of a lifetime before the years slip away. Don’t waste any more of your precious life in a dead end job or with people that make you miserable. Buy that plane ticket. Plan that trip. Just go!

This article has been written to recognise the author´s contribution to travel and tourism by Avis Car Hire (http://www.avis.co.uk/) on the A-List Awards 2013

Escaping the 9-5: Building an emergency fund

Escaping the 9-5: building an emergency fund

There is a balance to be kept between staying in your going-nowhere job for years because you’re scared of making the leap and leaving suddenly, with no plan. I have to say I cringe a little when I read about people who are planning to quit their job next month to start their own business or work online or whatever and they have no backup plan, no safety net, nothing.

If you’re planning a big career move, into freelancing or even just into another job, I think it’s very important to have an emergency fund in case everything doesn’t go to plan. In fact in today’s economic climate, I would recommend that everyone have an emergency fund. Nobody’s job is safe these days.

You can minimise risks by moonlighting alongside your day job while you’re trying to build up your business but I still think it’s a good idea to have several months of savings that you can live off if everything goes wrong. Basically there are no guarantees in this world so your business could be going great and then the next month you find you have no clients. Or maybe you get sick or have an accident and find yourself unable to work.

The cushion of savings you need depend on your personal circumstances. If you’re supporting a family and have a lot of bills and outgoings each month that you can’t easily get out of, having a 6-month backup fun would be ideal. Many people will probably be fine with 3 months. The idea is to take the pressure off slightly so that you’re not suddenly penniless if your business doesn’t get off the ground or you can’t work and to give you time to make other arrangements.

There are many different ways of saving money and the speed at which you can create your emergency fund will basically depend on how desperate you are to leave your job. If you’re dying to get out then it may well be worth cutting out social activities, wearing lots of layers indoors instead of using the heating and generally living a bit of a miserable existence for a few months so that you can save some cash quicker.

Some people will be earning plenty from their day job with enough left over at the end of the month to save and in this situation, it’s simply a case of being careful with your spending and making sure you have a proper savings account set up.

If you’re already freelancing or running your business on the side, it makes sense to use some of this extra money towards building up your emergency fund.

However it is often the case that you spend most of your monthly pay cheque as soon as it comes in and there is not much left over for saving. If this is the case, there are lots of other ways to make money that you can consider.

I’d first suggest having a big clear out. We all accumulate so much junk and you’d be surprised at how much you can raise by selling off the stuff you don’t really need. When I left the UK I sold nearly everything I owned and it provided a big chunk of my travelling funds. You can sell books you never read, burn CDs to mp3s and sell the originals, or try selling old games. I had a bunch of Final Fantasy Playstation games which ended up being a lot more valuable than I ever would have thought.

Clothes are another thing that can hold value, particularly if you have some designer labels and they’re high quality. There are lots of websites set up for clearing out your wardrobe now and you may even find that you get more back for some items than you originally paid.

You don’t need to sell off everything you own like I did but I think most people would be surprised at the amount of junk they have lying around that they never use. Box it up and head down to a car boot sale (or have a yard/garage sale), simplify your life and make some extra cash at the same time!

As well as selling off stuff you want to minimise your outgoings so look for ways you can cut back. Think cable tv, gym memberships that you never use, website memberships, switching your phone to a cheaper contract etc. This doesn’t necessarily have to be forever but it can be a good way of saving some extra cash for a few months and if you find you don’t miss it then don’t sign up again!

If you’re not doing it already, now is the perfect time to start bringing some jobs in after work or at the weekend. There’s no need to leap into freelancing full-time from the start and in fact, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s much better to get some clients and build up your day job while you still have the security of a regular pay cheque to fall back on.

You don’t even have to do jobs in the field you want to work in longer term. For example, if you are setting up a business that will probably not start making money on it’s own for several month, you may want to supplement with some freelance writing or data entry.

This is all common sense stuff but I think it is often overlooked and it’s really worth planning ahead a little to protect yourself from potential financial disaster.

Escaping the 9-5: A productivity experiment

IMG_0807.jpgOk, so we’re only two weeks in and I’m already veering off topic but it’s related, I promise, so bear with me.

If you’ve been round here for a while, you’ll know that I struggle with the whole work life balance thing. Working and earning enough money to support all of us, supplemented occasionally with Made doing some driving our tour work, kind of seems to require a lot of hours. I’ve said here before that I would only work mornings – that hasn’t really happened. I never seem to get enough done and there’s always more work to do so I work more. I’ve been totally failing at getting up early recently so most days I’m at my desk from about 8am until at least 1pm, but usually till 3 or 4 (with breaks). I then inevitably spend most of the evening after the kids have gone to bed on my computer too ‘working’ but generally not getting much done.

I feel like I’ve been working hard the last few months, I’ve got some regular clients and enough work. Well more than enough work sometimes. Ideally I would like to not be at my computer for most of the day so I can spend some time with the kids. Ideally, Made would like this too. I feel like my lack of time has just reached ridiculous proportions recently. I’m running around like a headless chicken and accomplishing nothing. Well not nothing, but not enough. Just as a couple of examples I have blog interviews from months ago sitting in my email inbox that I haven’t had chance to fill out yet and I haven’t even started using the new computer my mum got me for an early birthday present and I’ve had for over a month because I don’t have time to set up all my programs in it. See? Ridiculous.

Anyway this all stems back to what I mentioned before – there is always more work. When you’re in a regular 9-5 job, it’s usually pretty easy to switch off as soon as you step out of the office. Yeah there may be occasions when you have to work late or take paperwork to finish at home, but in general, work and home life are two separate things. When you work for yourself, you don’t have the luxury of this. The work is always there and you never get to the bottom of your todo list – as soon as you finish one job, another one pops up.

I’ve been tracking my working hours over the past few months and I’ve actually only been averaging about 4 hours of real work a day. So what am I doing for the rest of the day? Emailing, browsing jobs and pitching for new work, reading blogs, taking breaks, filling out spreadsheets, planning. A lot of it is necessary and I’ve really cut back on procrastinating and ending up reading blogs all day instead of working, but I still have a habit of treating myself to a read after I’ve finished a piece of work and a 5-minute break can easily turn into a half hour one. Plus the fact that it’s not really a break as I’m not leaving my computer.

I was (ironically) writing an article for a productivity blog yesterday and came across this blog in my research. It makes for some fairly interesting reading, particularly the monthly experiments into productivity. Some of these are pretty extreme and unrealistic (like working only one hour a day) but it has rather inspired me to do an experiment of my own.

So if I’m only working 4 hours a day on average, I figure there should be no loss in limiting my hours ‘at work’ to a strict 4 hours, or rather 5 for a bit of leeway to allow for breaks. At the moment if I don’t finish something I just keep working but I’m going to try and use these set hours just like I would if I was working for someone else – when I clock off, that’s it.

It’s a common phenomenon that most people spend as much as they earn and the same is true of work and time. If you give yourself a month to do a project, it will take a month, but if you give yourself a week, you’ll get it done in a quarter of the time. Of course this has to be realistic – trying to cram several weeks worth of work into a few days obviously won’t work, but I hope having the pressure of a time limit will push me to get stuff done faster.

I started today and I have to say it really seems to work rather well. Rather than putting jobs off, I’m keen to get through my hours for the day so I just want to get on with it. I had 4 jobs scheduled for today and  I finished 3.5 of them. Normally if I didn’t finish the jobs on my list for the day, I would sit around trying to make myself do them until I admit defeat and push them onto the next day. Now I’ll simply work through my work list and get as much done in the time limit as I can.

I know I’ve said that I’m going to reduce my hours before but I’m actually really excited about this plan. Putting it into definite numbers gives me a real goal and I know that i have to be as productive as possible within those 4 hours or risk not earning as much as  I need to.

Now the 5th hour I have decided to devote to personal projects, ala the 80/20 principle. I always have plans and business ideas that I want to work on but I don’t because they don’t make me instant cash. Somehow I just never have the time to get started. Well now i am making time by giving myself that one hour a day to work on my own stuff. That includes this blog and some other website ideas I have in the pipeline. This is the bit I’m most excited about of all and I think it could really pay off, give some time.

Ideally I would like these hours to be in the morning as early as possible. I’ve been failing miserably at the getting up early thing, mostly because I’ve been going to bed too late but also because my phone broke and i don’t have a reliable alarm now. Must try and get a new phone soon. Anyway, if I could work only between 5 and 10am, leaving the rest of the day free, that would be perfect. I’d really like to get out and do more family stuff during the day along with other personal stuff like improving my Indonesian and it’s just not happening at the moment.

I plan to stick to this new work schedule for the rest of the month and then see how things are going. I’m hoping this could be the start of my work-life revolution.

Sorry if I bored you to death completely with this post! This stuff fascinates me and I admit, I’m writing it mainly for me. More cute baby pictures tomorrow!

Escaping the 9-5: Designing your dream career

designingyourdreamcareerA lot of my friends both online and offline have children with similar ages to Maya and Kiran and a common struggling point seems to be going back to work after maternity leave. I think a lot of women are actually quite ready to get back to work by the time their baby is turning one, as a year of looking after a baby with lack of adult conversation and intellectual activity is enough to drive anyone crazy. However, many more would really rather stay home and enjoy the time with their kids, or at least go back to work only part time.

It is a real wrench having to leave your kids after spending 24 hours a day with them for so long. Many people have expressed envy at the fact I can work from home and seemingly have the best of both worlds. Well to get one thing straight, working from home certainly isn’t the easy option. There are definitely some (many) days when I wish I could pack up and go off to an office and forget about home life. The idea of having an uninterrupted 8 hours each day in which to work sounds glorious… However it is great having the flexibility to work when it suits me, take breaks when I’m not achieving anything and spend time with Maya and Kiran through the day. So I thought I would start this little blog series to be published every Monday (when you need it most!) with tips for how you can make the move to working for yourself.

I repeat again: this is in no way an easy option (at least for those with children) but the advantages are huge and I can’t really imagine myself going to work for somebody else in an office/classroom/shop/whatever any time soon.

Anyone can work from home

Lots of people have told me I’m lucky for having skills that translate so well to working from home, or working while travelling, or working anywhere really. Well maybe, but I think anyone can find some way of working from themselves. You don’t have to have skills that you might associate traditionally with freelancers. There are a million ways to make money working from home these days, the possibilities are endless. I remember hunting for work at home jobs 10 years ago and there were nowhere near the amount of opportunities available that there are today. The internet and the global workforce have changed things forever and I think we’re going to see more and more people starting to work for themselves over the next few years.

One of my best selling eBay items - handpainted tshirts

One of my best selling eBay items – handpainted tshirts

I started freelancing when I was still at university, doing web design jobs on the side for a software company that my boyfriend at the time worked for. Before that I sold stuff on eBay – starting with my own second-hand clothes and eventually importing products for resale from China. During the peak of my eBay selling, Japanese street fashion was very popular and I made a fortune selling CDs containing PDFs of a Japanese street fashion magazine called FRUiTS (highly illegal – don’t try this at home kids!) I continued picking up jobs here and there through university and while I had a full-time job as a web developer. When I left my job to travel, this helped bring in a bit of extra cash and when I settled in Bali, I actively sought out some new clients, who I still work for today.

In the last couple of years I’ve been moving away from web development and while I still do a few jobs, nearly all of my income now comes from freelance writing. I’ve always loved to write but if you’d told me a few years ago that I would be making a living from it, I would have laughed for a very long time.

There are so many money making ideas out there, you just need to think out of the box a little. It doesn’t matter what your job is now, you can do whatever you like when you work for yourself – there is nobody interviewing you based on your education or experience, it’s all down to what you do. You don’t need to do a special course unless you need it for accreditation in the field you studied. I did a degree in Computer Science, but 90% of what I learned at university, I never used. My web development skills all base from the html and programming I taught myself when I was 16.

Don’t think, for example, that you can’t be a writer because you’ve never done a writing course. This is one of many things you can train yourself in through reading and practising. Recently I’ve been doing some work for a talented photographer and she questioned my use of the word ‘photographer’ in the copy I was writing because she hadn’t studied photography at university. You are not your degree (or lack of it!) anyone can teach themselves to be an artist, photographer, writer, coder, videographer, whatever… it just takes time and effort. Natural talent helps too but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be born with talent. You’ll be amazed at how the more work you do, the more talented you become.

There’s certainly no need to pay thousands to enrol on an expensive training course in most cases. There are so many free educational resources on the internet these days like the Khan Academy and MIT OpenCourseWare. Add youtube and podcasts into the mix and realise that we really are spoiled at the educational opportunities that are just there for the taking.

Finding a business idea


Working while travelling, in Malaysia

Working while travelling, in Malaysia. As Starbucks look the same everywhere in the world, you’ll just have to take my word on that..

So lots of people know what they would do if they decided to make a go of it on their own. Maybe you’re working in-house as a graphic designer and you want to start finding your own clients instead. It’s pretty easy to make the transition from in-house designer to freelance designer in this case.

However if you don’t really like your job and have… (this post just interrupted by a small earthquake)

Ok so where was I… so yeah, if you have no wish of doing the type of work you do now on a freelance basis or setting up your own business in a similar line of work, you’ll have to find a new idea. Some people have an idea in their heads of their dream career – if you’ve always dreamed of being a writer or illustrator then it doesn’t take much of a leap to decide what to base your career on.

Others will have no idea where to start and this is where brainstorming comes in. Write down any idea that comes into your head, however ridiculous – you can always cross it off the list later. Write down what you wish you could do when you’re at work, what you want to do but think you can’t get paid for, what you wanted to do when you were a kid. I distinctly remember writing an email to a friend when I was supposed to be studying for my A-levels saying “I just want to get paid for messing around on the computer all day!”, which is pretty much what I do now, so I win!

Once you have your brainstormed list, have a browse through some freelancing and outsourcing websites and see what jobs people are actually paying people to do. You could try Peopleperhour, elance, odeskfreelancer.com and there are many other. You can also try looking on a site like Fiverr.com to see what services people are offering and Etsy for homemade items that people are selling. You’d be amazed at the things people are willing to pay for. Here are some of the more unusual jobs and services I found on Peopleperhour:

For a bizarre peek into what people sell and buy on etsy, check out regretsy.

There is also blogging, internet marketing and the whole making money online niche, which I’ll cover in another post.

Do what you love, or love what you do?

My first home office, here in Bali

My first home office, here in Bali

Everyone says to do what you love and I agree to some extent but I think if you spend your whole life trying to make it big off your passions without actually going where the money is, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I think it’s good to focus on what you can do and do well, rather than what you’d ideally like to be doing, at least when you’re starting out.

I love writing but I don’t love business blogging. I like making websites but I certainly don’t enjoy spending hours making them work in obsolete browsers on a client’s request. We all need to make a living and there’s a balance between doing it for the love and the money. I have some jobs that I adore but don’t pay so well and others that would bore me to tears if i had to do them all day but pay me a decent hourly rate. Eventually I’d like to tip the balance a bit more towards interesting jobs but my main concern at the moment is paying of my debts.

Focus or specialise?

There is also no need to decide you are going to do one thing and then do nothing else. My work is made up of blogging, copywriting, editing, web development, web design, SEO and social media strategy. It does help to focus on one area so that you can improve yourself and build up your portfolio for example, but there’s no reason not to take on other work if you can do it.

There is a good argument for specialising in one area but i think there is no harm in using whichever approach suits you best and I don’t think you are missing out on clients if you decide you’re more of an all-rounder. Yes, lots of people would prefer to hire a specialist but having one person who can take on many different tasks is equally useful (ie your typical ‘handyman’ who may on different days work as a decorator, carpenter, plumber or electrician).

I think it takes time before you can settle in the right career for you so dipping your toe into a few different areas and seeing what takes off is a sensible strategy.

I obviously have a lot to say on this topic and brevity isn’t my strong point so I’ll leave this for now. I’m planning to publish a new instalment every Monday covering topics including freelancing vs setting up a business, how to find clients, time management, work life balance, marketing and much more. Hope you enjoy it! Feel free to share with others if you find it helpful and inspiring 🙂


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