Hot tips on how to escape the 9 to 5 and travel the world for a living…

When many people – be they teens about to jump into Real Life, twenty-somethings stagnating in the rat race or a mid-lifer yearning for an overdue sabbatical to finish off that book they never got around to writing – are asked what their dream life would be, you often hear ‘world travel’ involved. As that has been my recent calling, from the rough-and-tumble of west Africa to the sun-soaked beaches of the Caribbean, from the sweltering heat of the Middle East to the lush scenery of the south Pacific, I have got a few tips to help make it a reality:

1. Use social networks to make contacts before making the plunge

Before travelling to India couple of years ago, I kick-started a conversation on LinkedIn with professionals who worked in similar industries or inspired me. I used Twitter and Facebook, too, and concretised the relationships I developed. A few months’ later, it was now or never. With enough confidence that I had done sufficient research to make the trip worthwhile, I booked a return ticket to Mumbai. A day or two after landing, I called a LinkedIn contact and jumped on a local train, to the bafflement of onlookers, unaccustomed to seeing an expat use public transport. Navigating my way through the suburban streets of Mumbai was some experience. The chaos liberated me!

I soon sat down with my contact in his third-storey office, overlooking the din of Mumbai, still pinching myself I had put the plan into action. We bandied around ideas about India as a potential destination for work and discussed its huge potential. Some weeks later, I was offered a job…

2. Income

Get a contingency plan in place. If you want to travel the world and see amazing places, then you will need at least some savings to fall back on because living out your dreams on the road will mean your funds will soon start to dwindle. But by carving out temporary opportunities as you travel – be it freelance journalism or bar and restaurant work – you will more than likely perpetuate the eye-opening experiences you will have.

3. Meet locals

This is invaluable. Once you’re on the ground, you must immerse yourself in the local culture. This will not only endear you to locals for taking an interest in their way of living, but will help you to settle in, make business and social contacts – and may lead to that all important job offer to ensure the world remains your playground.

Use Twitter as a search tool to uncover potential new business and social connections; for example, typing ‘British Business Forum meetup in Dubai’ should elicit like-minded people who will be attending the event and thus fuel a conversation. They could become great friends or be the social butterfly you need to create your new life.

Sites such as Inter Nations, which boasts communities in some 390 cities worldwide, will pave the way to learn about how expats have succeeded in-country. And Meetup.com is also another useful resource, where you can find weekly activities from sport to connecting with start-up entrepreneurs; its strapline is ‘find your people’.

Local journalists are also great contacts to have, as they are often well-connected, both socially and professionally. Plus journalists love to talk, so pick up a local newspaper and invite a columnist out for a drink and tap into their infinite wisdom.

4. Never stop learning

I have predominantly worked in English-speaking global markets, but have teamed up with bilingual specialists who have inspired me to start learning new languages. Just as reading up on local history will benefit you, so becoming skilled in even the basics of a language – or dialect – will help open doors.

Trinidad & Tobago was a great case in point. Because of its proximity to the Americas, I found a wealth of Spanish speakers which fuelled my desire to later take a Spanish immersion. Sign up to an evening course at the Venezuelan embassy, for example, or use sites such as Conversation Exchange to meet an endless queue of eager people interested in brushing up on their English.

5. Start branding yourself – NOW!

Not everyone gets to do what you’re about to embark on, so let people know. Again, start using your social networks to make connections; reach out to inspirational digital marketeers, podcasters who have beaten the odds and are inspiring the world around them, bloggers, authors et al. Set up a blog to document what you are doing, give speeches at local schools, as I have done, which in itself will start to trigger new opportunities for yourself.

Lifestyle entrepreneur Tim Ferriss is a great case in point. He wrote a hugely popular book called the 4-Hour Work Week, centred around leaving the 9-5 work cycle and travelling the world to realise your dreams (if this is what you want, of course). His book is packed with anecdotes of established professionals and self-starters who took it upon themselves to live out their dreams whilst travelling. He turned his 15-month, action-packed adventure into a New York Times bestseller.

*Having just read Tim’s book, there’s a wealth of practical advice in there that doesn’t relate to globetrotting; much of it will help to transform your current life, from eradicating spam mail to hiring virtual assistants.

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24 hours in the world’s greatest city?

24 hours was never going to be enough. No, not this city. From its frenetic nightlife to its anime-emblazoned, high-rise buildings to its mouthwatering food: Tokyo is a blast.

I used AirBnb to find a downtown apartment close to the bustling Shinagawa district – small and cosy; around £50 – whose owner was a free agent for the night so accompanied me on an epic, eight-hour nocturnal tour of the city, into Tokyo’s beating heart and soul.

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Health-conscious commuters on the Tokyo Metro

We started at a cafe called ‘Me Dogenzaka’ (translated), feasting on miniature dishes of octopus, fried cheese balls and cheese-melted fish, washed down with a tasty Japanese beer. The reek of smoke, puffed by chain-smoking hipsters, was a shock to the system for a European used to the ban on smoking in public spaces, but the funky ambience and affordable food neutered the effects.

Infamous for its kitsch night scene, Rappongi’s ‘allure’ proved too strong, however, and my companion Keita said it would be bursting with English-speaking locals and expats. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. Apart from the fluorescent lights and the sight of giggling, scantily-clad locals, it really could be any capital hub and the seedy ubiquity of over-the-top nightclub promoters was enough to steer us towards a whiskey bar beyond the din not long after arriving. Empty, as it turned out, so we happened upon a private holiday bash next door. Boy, do the locals know how to party!

Not yet sated, we headed to the famous Womb nightclub, voted as one of the top 10 clubs in the world by the UK’s DJ Magazine. French electronic music label Kitsuné were toasting to the release of DJ Gildas Kitsuné’s Season’s Greeting Mix, as he expertly spun a mix of electro house on the decks to a packed dancefloor.

One differentiator to other ‘super clubs’ I’ve come across, which screamed Japanese efficiency, was the locker system for clubbers’ coats and bags. The entrance fee of 3000Y (around £18/$30) proved well worth it.

Taxis are everywhere in Tokyo and flitting between neighbourhoods was pretty efficient, although I was helped by having a local guide. Prices can tend to be on the high side – about 3,500Y (£20/just under $35) for a 10k journey – hence the infamous mad dash for the last train home between 12 and 1am, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. As many cab drivers speak piecemeal English, be prepared with a map.

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Tasty Japanese dumplings and soup

As a new day dawned, refuelling was a must, so we checked out another cafe called Korakuen Dougenzaka (translated); heaving with locals, we sampled a blend of tasty dumplings and Chinese noodles to doff our caps to a great night.

With my journey home approaching, I headed to Tokyo’s famous electronic district, Akihabara. You can snap up discounted digital goods, from duty-free iPads to Android phones and beyond. A word of advice, though: always bring your passport with you, as there will be administrative forms to sign. A note will be made on your visa page and you will be given a tax refund. You can get unlocked phones and tablets with around £50-£60 knocked off RRP, but there are few bargain basement offers to be had. IOSYS has four stores in the area, which are worth a look.

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Akhiabara (秋葉原), Tokyo’s electronics hub, at night: all high-rise, anime-emblazoned buildings and bargain hunters

Having travelled to 12 countries in 2013, Tokyo was one city whose energy and sense of fun left me wanting more, reverberating around my head long after take-off.

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What does living in an emerging nation during The Holidays feel like?

The sound of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas plays as the humid air and 30-degree heat mingle incongruously together. Living in an emerging nation at this time of year can be disorientating: far away from home, altogether different time zones – so much so, you have to do a Google search every time you want to make a phone call – and the feeling that it really should be bucketing down with rain or sleet outside.

I feel lucky, yet the hotels are emptying of international businesspeople and the friends you made have disappeared, hopped as they have onto transatlantic flights taking them home to loved ones.

‘The Holidays’ are oft renowned as a time of abundance: gifts, family and lavish displays of love and affection. But when you’re thousands of miles away in an emerging nation, there is little obvious sign of any of this and, instead, it is replaced with patent signs of poverty, from gritty streets to corrugated huts, and a clear sense of people just trying to get by.

These images – sights of people with pleading, haunting eyes; of lives touched by less, much less – tease out gratitude and appreciation when, back home, the vacant commercial crush continues apace.Image

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From surf school to Spanish class, living la pura vida in Costa Rica

There are few better ways to start your week after a tiring weekend when, upon arriving at school, your teacher tells you, with all the unadulterated joy of a five-year-old opening their first present on Christmas morning: it’s time to go surfing! But in this case my weekend had been spent zip lining 40ft-high above canyons, my teacher was the ever-enthusiastic surf instructor, Luca, and school was the Costa Rica Surf Institute (CRSI) in the beach town of Tamarindo, on the country’s Northern Pacific Coast. And, in any case, this was not your typical week.

As Luca and my surf companion, Thomas, set out for our first foray into the water, we got a crash course in how to catch our first wave. In his inimitable Italian accent, Luca told us: “Ok, ok. Lie on your board, point your toes to the edge of the board and, when you see a wave coming, paddle, paddle, paddle, then jump up!” With more than 20 years’ experience surfing, he lived and breathed waves. And just a few minutes later, we were doing the real thing ourselves.

As I lay on my board, sneaking a peek over my shoulder to prepare for the next wave, it was a breathtaking vista to behold: the sun bouncing off the Pacific Ocean, the unpopulated waters enriching the experience. “That’s your wave,” Luca screamed, upping my adrenaline levels. Surfing is definitely not for the faint hearted and as I got beat up by the unforgiving ocean time and time again, it would have been easy to call it a day. But, buoyed by my German surf buddy, Thomas, who took to it like a pro, I clambered aboard again and again, eager to catch my first wave.

Tamarindo hugs Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast and is a surfer’s dream. The central beach suits mainly beginners to intermediate borders. On a more adventurous day, we ventured on a forty-five minute walk down the beach, struggling with my surf board, towards Playa Grande, just north of Tamarindo, where the surf and a strong wind made conditions difficult for my amateur enthusiasm. Ryan, an intern and surfing aficionado at CRSI, beamed with gusto as we strolled along the beach. Taking a shortcut across the estuary mouth was a heart-in-mouth moment, as crocodiles have been sighted here. “They don’t like the waves, don’t worry, man!” Ryan assured me, as I paddled nervously. It’s highly unusual for crocodiles to be aggressive towards humans in Costa Rica and coming across a croc in the ocean is a rarity – and we didn’t have any problems that day.

After wrestling with my surf board for two hours every morning, I feasted on some traditional local food: arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) and black beans was delicious, which you can pick up for 2,000 colóns from a local food stall a few hundred metres from CRSI.

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Tamarindo’s small commercial district also offers an array of options to eat and refuel ahead of the afternoon’s Spanish classes. A smoothie from Pura Vida Smoothies & Fresh Fruits, packed with oats, banana and honey, energised me for afternoon lessons while homemade pasta dishes, tasty toasted sandwiches and tropical salads are also available at the various eateries.

With my energiser drink gulped down, I was raring to go for my first class. Tired of listening to my Spanish-speaking friends chat amongst themselves whilst I smiled and nodded amiably, it was high time I got my act together and immersed myself in the language.

One of the great aspects of CRSI is that your teachers will always try and tease out your Spanish, however elementary. The ever-smiling Henry, one of my teachers, will get you started, probing about your weekend or what you have been doing in Tamarindo, to kick-start a discussion. Germans Isa and Thomas were my course buddies and, with the sound of the waves and rhythmic, funky salsa music mingling together outside, it was easy to get motivated as we tussled with irregular verbs, challenging pronunciation and the dreaded Spanish ‘r’ sound for English speakers. You can also opt to do a one-on-one class with a teacher to hone your burgeoning language skills, but given it was off-season, maximum class sizes were limited to three people.

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CRSI will also throw in three sessions of yoga if you sign up to any of their surf programs. It was the perfect way to eradicate those strains and aches from a week’s surfing and, despite the odd amusing glance from passers-by, watching the stunning sunset whilst meditating on Tamarindo Beach was serene bliss.

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I lived in a homestay with a local Costa Rican family in the rustic village of Santa Rosa, just 20 minutes outside Tamarindo, which gave me an insight into how the peaceful village’s residents live. CRSI organised a pick-up every day from my house for the week, and drop-off, via one of the local teachers, so it was easy to get into and out of town. My host mother, Jeanette, happily cooked me breakfast – typically bread, eggs, bacon and rice with juice – and hearty evening meals. I was treated as one of the family and she beamed from ear to ear every time I broke into basic Spanish.

Waking up to the sound of exotic birds and sunshine was a nice variant to Tamarindo, or to use its colloquial name, beloved of some of the locals, ‘Tamagringo’, for the large numbers of tourists that populate the town.

In between the surfing and Spanish, there was still time to enjoy a one-day adventure tour at Rincón de la Vieja. The day started with horseback riding up hilly mountainous terrain through the 494-acre ranch trails, taking in some jaw-dropping views of the surrounding area, before a drive through the forest to the waterfalls, where we jumped into individual water tubes and descended down the Rio Azul rapids on a 45-minute, thrill-seeking ride. This was followed by a buffet lunch at the lodge – a medley of salad, rice, beans and chicken and fish – and a marathon zip lining tour through the Rio Blanco Canyon, above water falls, huge acres of tropical forest and steep canyons.

Finally, we had earned a mud bath and a dip in Rio Negro’s thermal hot springs, deep within the forest. Cover your body in volcanic mud clay and then wash it off in one of the six hot pools, bubbling with natural, crystal clear water. The adventure activities, combined with the beautiful landscape, helped the nation to attract 2.34 million tourists last year – an historical record – and will be some of the activities the developing nation will promote across 26 international tourism fairs in the next four months.

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My ten day-course was nowhere near enough to master Spanish, of course, but in surroundings as amazing and fun as these, it’s easy to see why Costa Rica is billed as ‘one of the happiest places on earth’. I’ll definitely be coming back; not least to conquer that Spanish ‘r’ sound.

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“You’re in heaven right now…”

Gazing out over a mountain of tropical rainforest and sinking into a chocolate bath with floating marshmallows, it’s easy to believe that my friend had it right when she told me: “You’re in heaven right now”.

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There are some places you come across which evoke such a feeling of serenity, that you just don’t want to leave. Or, rather, in the case of the 5-star Los Altos de Eros spa – part of the 8th best hotel in the world, according to the Tripadvisor 2011 Awards – they whisper it.

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Unwinding in a chocolate bath with floating marshmallows whilst breathing in the sublime scenery, was a breath of fresh air after the heady whirlwind of Tamarindo; it was just the treat after so many twists and turns on Tamarindo’s waves – or ondas, as they see here.

I got picked up from my Costa Rican homestay at 9am and whisked up high into the mountains, where the buzz and din of the Saturday night before, was a distant memory.

I was greeted by a kindly masseuse who showed me the way to the treatment room: the oak wood room fed onto a jaw-dropping panoramic view.

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The 90-minute massage, enjoyed to the sound of tranquil, soporific music, teased out the aches from the surfing, and went by in a flash.

This was followed by a medley of honey and cucumber and lime, smothered on my face.

As I digested my gourmet lunch in the jacuzzi, it was easy to see why people call Los Altos de Eros the best spa in Costa Rica. My smiling therapist even had to encourage me to leave to catch my ride, but it was the perfect end to my own dose of pura vida.

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Learn It, Live It, Give It!

So I wrote this next post on the plane back from Trinidad & Tobago, in between lucid sleep, and then lost my notes but, since arriving back in London and trying to shake off jet lag, felt encouraged to start penning it from scratch.

Last week I bumped into a ‘life coach’, someone whose job it is to inspire other people to turn their dreams into reality. It was random – and very interesting – given I had only a few weeks earlier been watching one of his videos online about how, according to his mantra, to live the life you love.

As I traipsed past Sharkys bar in the beach town of Tamarindo, Costa Rica – a sports and rock n’roll haunt – I found myself drawn to a character walking casually in shorts and t-shirt; somehow I knew him and, before I could properly articulate what I was thinking, said: ‘Robbins? Jairek Robbins?’ ‘Yeah’, he responded in his US drawl.

I told him I watched one of his videos recently, in which he speaks to an audience about implementing a formula to inspire the world to live the life of their dreams. I was inspired!

Learn It, Live It, Give It, the formula goes. In Jairek’s own words, it gives insight into why so many people truly haven’t reached their potential in life and business and inspires them to take action.

Chatting about our respective travels, I told him I was immersing myself in Spanish, surfing and generally experiencing a new place, new activities and meeting amazing people. Jairek said he was living in Tamarindo for a month. He had just been volcano boarding in Nicaragua  – essentially snowboarding down a live volcano, reaching speeds up to 80mph. How cool, I thought? Living in a foreign country for a month, doing some exciting, adrenaline-inducing activities, with someone he adores.

It dovetailed with a question-and-answer session on the social network Quora I came across recently. The series of responses was prefaced by the question: ‘What are some of the most powerful life quotes’? I came across this from John Lennon:

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It could be anything, from travelling the world to kicking back with your friends to owning your own apartment. In the midst of reading a cataract of other life quotes, it made me smile; it was simple, yet a lesson that is often forgotten.

The more I traverse emerging nations, the more I meet people who have less – sometimes much less – than their counterparts in more developed economies, and yet – and yet – seem a lot happier. Back in London, where the rain beats heavily down on the streets, in a city of extraordinary wealth and with more super rich than anywhere else on earth, ‘Learn It, Live It, Give It’ seems a philosophy we can all aspire to.

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‘The happiest place on earth’

The scenic route from San Jose to Tamarindo

The scenic route from San Jose to Tamarindo

So they call this place ‘the happiest in the world’ – and the phalanx of cab drivers waiting outside for me were certainly friendly enough: ‘taxi amigo’, they beamed, as I meandered towards the more interesting option of the bus – but as I descended the staircase off my 6am flight and took in a mishmash of images bespeaking Costa Rica’s green credentials and tourist essentials, from scuba diving to horse riding to surfing, I told myself I really should have experienced central America sooner.

It’s been more than a month since my last blog and I don’t want emergingnations to be one of those blogs. What better way to fuel content than to immerse yourself in the language on a Spanish immersion and twin it with some surf sessions, intermingled with a spot of yoga and an array of sporting activities.

A cursory check revealed that Costa Rica ranks 5th in Latin America, behind the behemoths of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, and ranked 19 in the top 20 overall pantheon of emerging economies. It’s now attracting inward investment for more than just its natural beauty and picturesque landscapes; it has one of the highest social and economic development indicators throughout Latin America.

Getting to the beachside town of Tamarindo was a little trickier. A six-hour, USD$6 bus ride from Costa Rica’s bustling urban capital, San Jose, shook off my sleep-deprived mind quickly enough; the lack of toilet facilities and breezy air conditioning, needing a jacket to complete the journey, heralded a wry smile.

As I rocked up at my Spanish language school, a bronzed surfer greeted me in heavy-accented local lingo: I knew it was time to experience a little pura vida…

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