Lifestyle: How We Changed Our lives

Mark thumbnail sml.jpg

When I left my job last summer I entered a strange state of loss and lack of direction. After 4 years at my school I had made good friends, was able to help lovely students, my teaching was pretty solid and the job was getting easier, perhaps I was starting to coast a little. All the pieces of a good life were in place; I recently married my best friend and Studio Mali partner of 10 years, had a great group of buddies and the financial stability of a mortgage of a London flat. We could’ve continued with our nice life but we felt it wasn’t right. We were worried about endless work, 30 year debt and wasting away the creative passions we’d had as teenagers, it was inevitable we would continue this life forever.  Or so we thought. After a life changing trip to Patagonia in 2015, we decided on a new plan to make changes to our lives. We are still in the process of making that plan a reality but we believe it’s been the best decision we’ve ever made, yet!

Patagonia 2015, we decided to making a change

Patagonia 2015, we decided to making a change

From the moment we all reach school, expectations are placed on us to work hard, study and get good grades. For some they continue to college or perhaps a degree. If you have a degree you are likely in debt, this was certainly my first experience of large debt. I believe debt is the system that locks us into a life of work. Let me explain my thinking, the government relies heavily on the taxes it takes from it’s citizens and it wants it’s people to work, climb the ladder and progress because it’s more taxable money coming in and consumer spending rises. If you start off your working life in debt, you inherently start working to stop the interest rising and pay off what you’ve borrowed, clever system. The only way to cheat it is not to work or not get a degree.


Graduate debt casts an immediate pressure to get working and earn a pay rise, scaling up to mortgages, credit cards, life insurance and so on. A tightly woven financial tapestry that you must pass through to have a decent life in the U.K. Or so it seemed. We started to question whether the life that was expected of us was an enjoyable one, did it give us joy, would we look back and be pleased with our decisions? When work dominates most of the week leaving you dead on your feet for the weekend the answer is no. So we decided to escape the big smoke, experience more of the world and come back with a plan to re-balance our lives.


Free from work and routine, eating blueberries in Slovakia

Free from work and routine, eating blueberries in Slovakia

So leaving school last summer wasn’t just leaving a job but leaving the life that I expected to grow old living. Ali and I stepped off the treadmill and into the unknown, free from work, routine and a ‘normal’ stable life. We saved as much cash as we could save in a year, combined with gift money from our wedding, boarding a flight to Norway in July 2017. Although it wasn’t the wisest decision to travel to the worlds most expensive country first! From then on, it’s been a rollercoaster of experiences, cool people, foods, sunsets and ideas and we are nearing the end with clear motivations on how to continue this free, happy and inspiring way of life. But how will we achieve this?


Travelling the world on £30 a day for the both of us means you’ll need to live like a local person. That means queuing up to use the same transport, eating in the same restaurants and shopping around for a good price. It’s fun, once you get better at haggling and putting on a front. Ali is much better at doing deals than me! We learnt that to be happy we didn’t need all the luxury we were used to at home. If we could scale down our spending abroad then why not do so the rest of the time? The first part of our plan for balancing our lifestyle is to cut our spending to what we need rather than want. This reduces our day to day costs and ultimately we’ll have to live with less. In comparison to the majority of local people we met travelling, we could see that life at home in London is not balanced, quite excessive actually and sometimes wasteful too. So living minimally is one of our goals.


Next, we want to be more creative in our daily lives and hope that we can return to London and put our creative skills into use. We can’t say exactly how or what this will look like but we’re convinced that if you’re driven to achieve something then it can be done. This attitude has been inspired by meeting so many crafty makers around the world who work so hard at their passion. We left Studio Mali open to grow and so we feel driven to make creative projects the centre of our new life by making objects that we hope people will love!  This goal could have only come from having time to think about it, talk about it and gather the confidence to actually do it.  Travelling has given us that time and led us to people making beautiful products in all corners of globe. We’re not interested in becoming mega rich by selling products, but we want to prove to ourselves that we can survive independently doing something we both love.

We want to make objects that people will cherish

We want to make objects that people will cherish

We setup our Studio Mali blog because we wanted a project to keep us busy on the road, we aren’t chasing fame, more an output to remember our trip by. But now it seems clear, we want to use Studio Mali to inspire others to re-think what they do in their lives. In just 7 months of travelling we feel like new people, excited about what’s next and driven to inspire others to think about changes they can make to their lives. It might be that you want to work less, or explore new places, develop a skill, start a new hobby, return a to sport you once played. These are changes or activities that can help you to be happy, live in the present and grow as people. Is a full-time, debt laden life worth the money that you’re paid? If the answer is no then what can you do to cut down your spending and live with less?


With 2 months until our return day, I’ve been considering what returning to structured life will be like. Ultimately I don’t want a five day working week so my plan is to work three days supply teaching. I’ll be planning to spend less, enjoy free fun like nature more, cook the foods we used to get takeaways of and be active and healthy. Ali and I love seeing our friends but perhaps we won’t meet them in the pub so much, perhaps the park instead. We hope to sell our flat and find something smaller, which is perhaps the biggest irony of our mortgage debt. The flat we purchased 4 years ago seems to have grown in equity in that time. Ali and I may be able to buy something small without a mortgage. We may be able to live a low cost, debt free life where we can concentrate on doing things we love, building a balanced lifestyle in the process. We hope our story inspires you think about what is important in your life, reflect and find your purpose.


Although half our a plan is theoretical, we hope you will check back to see if we can achieve our balance lifestyle goal!



Update April 2018: Our pals over at Minimalism.Life have published a slightly shorter, but just just as sweet and Americanised version of our piece on their website. You can peruse the article from the link then read some of their other awesome journal entries: How Travel Helped Me Change My Life


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Lifestyle - How We Changed Our Life, By Studio Mali

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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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