choices

Lifestyle: Redressing The Balance (and the budget!)

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Five months ago we set out our intentions for how we wanted to live after our amazing long-term travelling experience. It’s easy to say what you want to do, but actually doing it is a totally different matter and It’s safe to say the last few months have had a strong sense of ‘back to life, back to reality’! Returning to our old lives was a shock; mortgages, bills and high cost of living has been tough. Knowing that our outgoings are so high has definitely pushed us to make some big changes so that we could still afford to live in London, but with a significantly different lifestyle and outlook.

Our summer holiday, a week long wild camping expedition in the Lake District for £150

Our summer holiday, a week long wild camping expedition in the Lake District for £150

Luckily I was able to pick up a 4 day working week teaching at my old school. I wanted to spend the extra day off starting a new project with Ali, a new business we’d spent months dreaming about. Ali decided not to return to work applying her full focus to developing products under our Studio Mali name. With only one of us in employment, we’ve had to look to new ventures for cash and to rein in our spending, planning everything from our daily diets to what we can afford to at weekends. Luckily, London is full of free things to do and we both cycle to reduce our travel costs but planning food has been a lot more challenging.


Beans; surely the cheapest, healthiest, food source one can buy? To cut costs on food we’ve taken meat out of our diets and only had butter and cheese for treats. Those beans I mentioned are prepared in large batches which feed us for 2/3 dinners and lunches and are super healthy. Along with beans and pulses, we have been eating loads of whole grains and fresh fruit and veg, not only because is it healthy but it’s loads cheaper, especially when you do your fresh food shop at Aldi! We bulk buy long lasting food in a big monthly online shop, which is delivered for free during the day. Our luxury item is coffee that we buy in large batches so its cheaper, we have 4kg of coffee beans in the cupboard! We’ve been trying hard to avoid the pub, which has been a doddle in the warm summer but so much of what is special about the British winter happens in pubs, so we’ll likely have a little splash out during the darker months.

 
Ali’s weekly sourdough…It takes 3 days but it’s so tasty and made from just flour, water and salt!

Ali’s weekly sourdough…It takes 3 days but it’s so tasty and made from just flour, water and salt!

 

We have had to invest some of our savings into the business to buy a laser cutter, materials and to start organising the admin.  But with that equipment we managed to create 6 products and develop the shop on our website, build an Etsy shop and sold a few in markets, whilst also stocking some in a shop in Stoke Newington, the Design Store. Creating all these new objects has been a steep learning curve. From developing our brand, to how we market it and how we tell our story across social media, there’s literally always something to do. Ali has been exceptional in the amount of research, development and pure grit she has put into Studio Mali, maybe we should rebrand as Studio Ali!

One element of home life that has linked back with our travelling times has been Airbnb. It’s been a total revelation, we’ve loved having tourists, students, house-hunters and even wedding guests come and stay with us. Our visitors always teach us something new and love the fact we can always help them get the most out of their stay, we’ve been fully booked all of September and October! If you’re in London and you’d like to stay with us then here we are. Airbnb has given us the extra income to take risks with the business, we’d recommend it for both fun and finances!

 
We loved meeting Jiayi and Yuan through Airbnb. Discovering that we visited Yuan’s home town of Dali last year!

We loved meeting Jiayi and Yuan through Airbnb. Discovering that we visited Yuan’s home town of Dali last year!

 

So…. redressing the balance, life now feels very different to our 2017 pre-travel lives. A little more random, a bit riskier and certainly more exciting. The balance has come from assessing what we wanted from London life; to be more creative, to inspire others to make changes and to have some more adventures ourselves. Well we’re doing it, we’re poorer but happier and I truly don’t know what our lives will look like in a years time. Once the business kicks off a little, we will be able to get away a bit more often, even a weekend out of the city would suit us nicely. I imagine this might read like hell for some, but for us it’s bliss.  Bring on the beans! 

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Minimalism: Is Less More?

Travel Changes Perspectives

Three months into our trip and having spent a week on a train and the best part of three weeks in a van the mind has had some time to wonder. Ali and I have been reflecting on what we've seen and learnt so far, we have become sponges to all the cultures and people who we've met. Many of our conversations have centred on changes to lifestyle and how to find a healthy balance between work and play.  What has been surprising is that most travellers above the age of 30 have the same dissatisfaction with works dominance over their lives. Many travellers we have spoken too share this growing concern that our modern lifestyle is inherently imbalanced. We'd like to share some of our thoughts, experiences and changes that we have learnt and implemented into our lifestyles

It is possible to fit your whole life in a backpack!

It is possible to fit your whole life in a backpack!

Inspiring Folk We've Met On The Way

On the train out of Berlin we met a German lady in her 50s who was very much a free spirited holistic person. She spoke of an outdoor lifestyle that consisted of her and her partner taking only sleeping bags out to the wild to connect with nature, her dreams were always better around nature. They often embarked on long walks with just a wild camp under the stars as their roof. When I asked of rain, she said they would knock on the door of a stranger, sleep under trees or walk into town and 'sleep rough' as she put it, often relying on the kindness of strangers for food or shelter. Her freedom and openness seems to come from the absence of material things and not fearing what's around the corner. A very inspiring lady, we have since had nights where we could see the stars from our sleeping bags. Her lifestyle certainly got us thinking about a more natural lifestyle in the future.

We met another inspiring person on a plane, Harminder was his name, and he understood the value of play over work; choosing to work for only half of the year. He spent his free time creating art and advising young entrepreneurs on the options available to them. Similar themes came up in conversation, the ideas of openness and creating a lifestyle for pleasure rather than money. He never took a job if he didn't believe in its outcome, regardless of the money. Which is the opposite mantra we were brought up to believe. We were always told to work hard, get a degree then and good job and work for the rest of our lives. This got us thinking, if we work for money, what do we need the money for? How much is needed for a happy lifestyle? And indeed the most important question, did the money we earn in our careers necessarily make us happier? I'm not sure we can answer all those questions, but we'll try!

Saving cash by cooking our own grub

Saving cash by cooking our own grub

The World And It's Objects

Things, if there is a common thread that is easily spotted across the 9 countries we've visited is that each are entangled in global consumerism. Each have there fill of corporate food, drink and clothes outlets, advertising keenly promotes the large global companies. We commonly spotted people ordering stuff from amazon on the way to work by smartphone, as is the norm at home. Even the pricing of certain goods are the same across Europe, irrelevant of Pound, Euro or Ruble. So, it occurred to us that perhaps people feel trapped by purchasing, as if earning money is earned for spending on objects almost forgetting there are better things out there. The impulsiveness of technology goes hand in hand with brains reward system for pleasure and risk. Shopping unites both, especially when an object you want is a mere click and 24 hours away.

Life on the road keenly reminds us how out the capitalist loop we are. Especially as we have been travelling through both socialist (and post socialist) countries for the last 2 months! Our main concerns are pretty simple; what will we eat and is it cheap? Where will we stay and what shall we do tomorrow? Carrying only the objects that we need. Everything has a purpose; from the pots and pans to the penknife. We have barely spent anything on objects bar provisions. Perhaps one T-shirt bought from a second hand shop for 2 euro. If travelling teaches anything it's that living with less is satisfying, pretty sustainable and shines a spot light on the excesses of our working lives back in London. It's not that we didn't enjoy that lifestyle because having disposable cash allows for a nice life and an easy life. But in contrast to the places we've seen and the people we've met on the way we are starting to rethink our life choices.

Free fun with a campfire

Free fun with a campfire

Other travellers we have met have also made changes that are balanced towards life experience over salary. Dennis, who we met on the Trans Siberian, has the option to trade in an extra months pay for 20 days of holiday, giving him a total of 50 days off a year. He uses this time to travel the world, continuing from the last place he got to the previous year. Another guy, Ville, runs a building contractor firm in Finland for 6 months of the year and then travels for the remainder, working as chef in Buddhist retreats in Myanmar and learning meditation techniques from the monks he cooks for. Both share a similar idea that life experience is more important than things. Therefore they live with less, save the money they make, and then enjoy a balanced lifestyle. Although Ville did point out that his life works so well now because he hasn't started a family yet. 

Mark in the same clothes (he wears everyday)

Mark in the same clothes (he wears everyday)

Broadening The Horizons

Travelling inherently pushes you into a new life where freedom, openness and experiences force you away from a lifestyle of comfort and objects, to live minimally. It has forced us to live a pared back existence where objects are functional, waste minimal without any wanton purchasing. We have cut spending by asking existential questions, like what do we really need to be happy? We pondered this question and decided for us to be happy on this trip we only needed each others company, some decent food and a beautiful place to look at. We have cut our spending to around £15 a day for a balanced diet and for accommodation we try to camp when we can, this normally costs around £10 -£25 per night or free when we wild camp. We have some luxury items like a laptop and a camera but most of our stuff is pretty basic, certainly compared to other long term travellers.

Little Changes

Even before we left for a new life on the road we had made changes to our spending.  We started counting the takeaways and what they costed us. If you then add them up over a month and a year it's a lot of money. At least a days work per month. So would you rather work less and save money or have 4 takeaways a month? Those thoughts can save you a lot of money, or a lot of work! 

Camp life surrounded by nature 

Camp life surrounded by nature 

The Simple Life

What put all of this into perspective was our trip through Mongolia. If you want to see what makes Mongolians happy it's all the right things! Friends, family, visitors and travellers are all the same in Mongolia. People freely walk into each others gers (yurts) and are fed and watered, even if they only required directions. These felt like long lost traditions the rest of the world has forgotten. My grandad used to tell us of a time before locks when neighbours freely visited each other so it must have been the same in UK once. Mongolians live like this because they have so little and every nomadic person is in the same boat, it's actually a lot like a socialist system in that sense. It works so well here because nomads want no more then they have and know no more than the traditions they were born into. 

The simple Mongolian life

The simple Mongolian life

What's Comes Next

Perhaps a lifetime chasing the perfect job and the most money is going to feel far less appealing when we remember how little the rest of the world lives and survives with. For Mongolians they face real hardships like a harsh climate, surviving off the land and lack of money. We feel these hardships actually bring people together and makes their lives less focussed on what they have and only about what is needed. We have learnt a lot from this mentality but we have had to travel across the world to see this ourselves. That less is so often more.  

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Minimalism - Is Less More? by Studio Mali
 

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