‘The boss says it makes the company look cool’: American Dev Team Manager on his 4-year trip around the world with his school bag (and falling in love with Ukraine)
I had an interview with Matt (he prefers to hide his real name) online, while I was in Kharkiv, and he was somewhere in Albania (he visited Ukraine earlier). He told me he has been on his trip around the world for 4 years now and was not going to stop. And since he is not just a traveler, but also a data analyst and a development team manager in a US software company, I decided you should read his story.
I was really excited not just about his travels but also his thoughts on work and life balance. But no spoilers, let’s go!
This is Matt’s story in his own words.
Like all good stories, this one begins with a girl
I had plans to meet her again in Bali. Long story short: me and her did not work out, but she became the most important person in my life. How so? Let me explain.
I was born in the US but I never actually lived there in my childhood. Since my father worked as a diplomat, we moved around a lot and most of my childhood I spent in Thailand. Later, I studied in a US university but still, it was not a home for me. Neither is Thailand. I mean, I don`t look like I belong there. I look so in America — but don’t feel it.
What I am trying to explain is that traveling and belonging to every place in the world was my usual state of mind. But graduating from the university I started my job as a data intern in a company, making real money for the first time — and becoming very settled.
But was I happy? I don’t think so. I was becoming a consumerist because I had nothing to do and I had no free time — but I had income. So I was going online to look for some stupid things I convinced myself I should buy.
But this girl, in Bali, reminded me how much I loved to travel. I was like: ‘Oh my god, this is who I am!’.
It was in October 2017, just before my birthday, and this is also nice because now I count years not from January 1 but this date.
I am grateful to her. If things worked out between us, I wouldn’t be a traveler.
I owed not only to her but to my boss as well
When I remembered who I am, I was still working for that company I mentioned before. It is a small company with a lot of opportunities to grow. So as a data intern I was guided into the role I currently have — data analysis and engineering management.
I also didn’t want to quit — I really loved working here and I love it now too. I enjoy being a part of the team that makes the environment better: we do energy efficiency engineering and have US federal government contracts (hospitals etc). We perform energy audits, study buildings and count how we can save electricity, gas and save money after all. We use data to perform calculations and give this as a report to our clients. So half of my work is analyzing this data and helping the engineers to perform calculations.
And the other half is managing the development team and supporting our clients. I give developers instructions on how clients want to see our software, I test their work and I consult clients about the software if something goes wrong. So I am a bridge between my boss, developers and customers.
Anyway, my boss not only wasn’t against my decision to go on a trip around the world but encouraged this lifestyle. He says that this makes the company look cool. This is another benefit for working in a small company — personal relationships with each other.
I travel with my school bag
I packed it with some things I thought I needed and I started going. I had seven pairs of shoes, three jackets, etc. But I realized very quickly I do not need any of this. When you carry all your life in your bag you realize how little you actually need.
So now I travel with my school bag from university. I have a space there for a laptop, five days of clothes, my headphones, hairbrush, hygienic stuff and that is it. I stopped carrying my camera because I was not using it. Also sometimes I had 1-2 books. In Ukraine I had 3 and I did not turn a single page because I was so in love with the country I had no time to read.
No real planning behind my trip — I improvise
I just choose where I want to go and if tomorrow I decide to be in Peru I could. And this is an incredible feeling to have to realize you are able to live this way. Every day is a realization of my dream.
I did not really count how many countries I have visited. But I have a map of all these places. It covers most of Europe, North Africa, Nepal.
I also don’t plan on how long I am going to stay. I have this freedom because I make money every day so I spend money as I earn money. I don’t have a rent or car, I just have my daily expenses. So I usually try to stay longer in the country and see everything, get to know people, culture and language.
Some places I fall in love with (Ukraine was one of them) I stay longer, some — not. In Marocco I spent the whole 3 months of my visa and I was crying on the day I had to leave. In Ukraine I spent my whole 3 months as well. But other places did not move me. It is a personal thing. Still, I usually stay at least two weeks. That’s the time to visit the main cities.
American passport opens a lot of doors
So I take advantage of this opportunity. I have never had strict visa problems. Most countries that I`ve been to have visas on arrival for an American passport. Few countries like Turkey require a visa in advance. But this is a very simple process — an online application in most cases. Thailand requires a visa too, so does Nepal. So for these countries, I usually do my research.
Besides visas, there is always a question about finances. I would recommend calculating how much money you need for emergencies. For example, if there will be problems with health (have health insurance for this) or if you lose your job. You need to have money to come back from your trip.
Other expenses depend on your lifestyle. Just make sure your daily income is no less than your daily spending. For that, you can choose cheaper countries like Asian countries. In Nepal, you can spend only a few dollars on your meal and you are eating well. And for a room, you’ll pay less than 10 dollars per night.
Thailand is more expensive but still not so much. 10 USD per day for meals and 15 USD rent per night. And all this to explore unique Asian culture!
Food is also very inexpensive in places like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia (less than 10 USD per day). And it is delicious — except for Egypt, in Egypt you eat just to stay alive 😀 The rent is affordable too — up to 25 USD. But it’s been a few years, so check Airbnb.
You also can save some money by going to a cheap country and then spending it in a more expensive place. Keep the balance.
And talking about balance, I also try to keep the balance between price and amount of time to spend on a trip. So I can use the bus, train, plane — any kind of transport.
Besides, you have options: at the beginning, I was mostly using Airbnb, it is cheaper than hotels, and I usually rented a guest bedroom. I loved that style. It was so fun to interact with hosts! Now, when I am older, I usually rent private apartments.
Work and life balance works perfectly for me
I’m still working US hours 9 am till 5 pm. I hated it while I was in the US because I hate waking up early. But now, in Europe and Africa, I need to work from 4 pm till 2 am and this is perfect for me. Now my personal time comes first.
Like I said before, I love my work. But it is not my passion. Still, my work is working for me and it is a very beneficial relationship. So I really love that I can focus on myself every day and then have work hours. While in sunlight, I can explore cities which I visit or do some activities. And then when my body is tired, I am ready to work — my mind is still active.
With such a schedule, my work becomes my daily routine like eating or cleaning myself. I do it to stay alive. I come to work so grateful every day because I know what it is giving me. I know exactly what I get from it because I am living it every day.
I don’t have evenings free but I am an introvert and too old to go to clubs or parties so I prefer to sleep 🙂
But sometimes it is challenging. Last days I was in Albania and I was hiking so I needed to work in the mountains and sometimes I was just physically tired. Luckily, my schedule is flexible and I can skip one evening and work more the next few days.
Still, I do not know what I would do if I was not working. I would have so much extra time! I would feel lost. Every day I would have 8 hours free and I would not know what I would do with myself. I can’t imagine traveling the other way.
For me, the greatest challenge of my trip is loneliness. I don’t feel it until I stay in one place a little longer. I make new friends and I see how quickly my roots grow. And then I realize how much I miss my relatives and family. But the thrill of discovery and travel keeps me going. I can`t ignore it.
I don’t know when I’ll stop travelling. But in 4 years I’ll turn 35 and I think I’m going to decide for myself whether I want a family or not, what my passion is and how I can make the world a better place. Yes, ask me in 2025 🙂
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