Recently I was asked this question quite publicly and persistently by a friend on Facebook. It really got me thinking because behind the practical stuff of how much my lifestyle actually costs and how I earn the money to pay for it (which is certainly a topic within the remit of this blog), there are some much more interesting things going on.
Photo: Endless champagne and nibblies in ‘Première Class’
This blog is ostensibly about Alternative Lifestyle Design, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that someone thought I had a ‘lifestyle’. We all do, of course, but I was surprised because that term, lifestyle, and lifestyle design especially, is caught up with wrong headed ideas of luxury and excess and using virtual assistants on the other side of the world to outsource annoying errands like booking your own taxi.
I’m trying to explore and write about alternatives to this nonsense, while taking the good bits from the design side of it to create awesome, cheap, and ethical lifestyles that are full of freedom and love and creativity. I’m basically an organised hippy.
So how did my friend get the idea that I have a ‘lifestyle’ that needs ‘affording’? The answer, of course, is Facebook, Photoshop, and social media generally.
Here’s one version of my lifestyle
When I’m not in the field in amazing places doing incredibly exciting explorer type stuff and therefore living under a tarpaulin or tent, I live in hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and other similar accommodation.
I spend lots of time in exotic locations (Indonesian Borneo, Thailand, India, and Singapore within the first 2 months of this year) doing exciting things like big expeditions, climbing holidays, Himalayan treks and so forth.
For the majority of this year I have had almost all of my meals prepared for me, mostly in restaurants, or as room service. For the past month I’ve had breakfast in bed almost every day.
I choose the hours, the weeks, and even most of the months that I work, and I work as hard as I like. I also work on what I like, and have lots of different ideas for how this year could pan out, let alone next year.
I get to travel a lot and this year even flew Première Class and was swooned over and drip-fed champagne, brandy and anything else I could dream up by lovely air hostesses for the whole flight.
And here’s another version
Worthwhile expeditions are incredibly hard work and can be very stressful and tough on the mind as well as the body. The rest of the time I’m often in very cheap hotels because I’m travelling so much with work, which means being on my own a lot and away from the people I care about as well as often feeling tired and unhealthy from all the crap food I end up eating.
I haven’t seen my parents or many of my friends in about two years, and often spend 3 months at a time away from my partner, sometimes twice in one year.
Jayna is an awesome cook and I’m not bad and we both really enjoy cooking and eating good veggie food. Eating out, on a budget, every meal, every day, is not healthy, gets quite boring, and actually takes longer than cooking.
I’ve had breakfast in (or on!) my bed because the room I am staying in right now doesn’t come with a kitchen and is really quite small, so unless I want to eat at my desk (I don’t) I’m most comfortable perching on the end of my bed to eat my overcooked lentils, boiled eggs and spinach (very healthy if badly made!).
I choose my hours which means that, just like every self-employed ‘creative’, when I’m stressed or overworked or feeling guilty for not having done as much as I wanted to or think I should do, I can end up working late nights and weekends and cancelling planned trips and so on and so forth.
I missed a flight due to traffic caused by the protests in Bangkok and had to book a flight for the next day. The only available ticket was in Première class which cost me an extra £200. Fun, but not worth it.
What’s the real version?
The real version is some kind of mixture of the two. The bad comes with the good. I love my life, but there are certainly downsides to it. The problem with Facebook and the like is that we don’t share the bad stuff. It’s natural of course but all we ever see of our friends’ digital lives are the absolute best bits, and often those best bits have been enhanced by clever little instagram filters.
I think we probably all know this on an intellectual level but our brains are hard wired to do a lot of weird and powerful things unconsciously. In this instance, whether we like it or not, we are incredibly influenced by social pressures, and especially so by our peers. So between us we are creating this almost entirely fictional virtual reality where we all look fantastic and happy and surrounded by friends in beautiful settings all the time, when the reality is that a lot of the time we look a bit crappy, feel a bit low, and find ourselves in our usual humdrum routines and on our own. Feeling crappy and lonely now and again is normal, but Facebook makes it feel not normal. Facebook is not normal.
I worry about this stuff because it seems to me that it’s changing our perception of what reality should be like, supercharging our needs to keep up with the Jones’ or, rather, supercharging our needs to keep up with the Photoshopped version of the Jones’ lives that we think all our friends are living. In terms of accepting and loving ourselves and finding peace and happiness in our lives, this is bad stuff. And while these pressures, so effectively used by advertisers and social networks, can be used to pursue more moral environmental or sustainable agendas, it’s a dangerous game (although #nomakeupselfie seems to have been incredibly successful so I might have to revisit that).
But social media-induced misconceptions about what my lifestyle actually is, the question remains a good one.
So how do I afford my lifestyle?
I find it odd… mind-spasm-inducingly-odd, that people who live in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, or any other wealthy country for that matter, think that travelling around and living in Asia is something they need to afford.
One of the biggest reasons for me being in India right now is the fact that I can live in a nice (albeit basic) guesthouse in a part of the country that I want to be in (by the Himalayas), eat three good meals a day, have a mobile, go to the cinema now and again, and splurge on wine from time to time, on a budget of around £5-7 a day.
Trekking in the Himalayas is free if you have you own kit and know how to navigate. Managing my projects is fine as long as I have wifi. Running is free. Reading is free. Learning the djembe costs £3 an hour. Getting an awesome massage costs £10. Doing a week long massage course costs £70. A good meal for two with wine can cost £70 in the UK!
The point is my lifestyle affords my lifestyle. I choose to live here in no small part because it means I can afford to live the way I want to live.
The amazing truth is that my ‘lifestyle’, which isn’t really awesome but is really quite pleasant, will cost me less than £5,000 this year, including flights, holidays, courses, and personal non-work adventures.
It’s through design that I am able to afford my ‘lifestyle’.
How do I pay for my lifestyle?
I think this might be the real question that was being asked, and it’s a really valid topic that I will cover in more detail another time. But for now…
I used to use credit cards. Don’t do that. The hangover lasts way too long.
Right now I get most of my income from expedition management, but I want to start to earn more from writing and public speaking. I could have done it through sailing, teaching, diving… Christ I was offered a job as a climbing instructor while I was in Thailand last month. Last week I met an actor who works in the UK for 6 months and lives in India for 6 months of every year. Yesterday I met a couple who teach diving a few months a year and travel the rest. There are a thousand ways to earn enough money, but there are a million ways to spend it on crap that doesn’t matter. I can teach you if you like, I’ve tried most of them. The crucial bit is figuring out how not to spend your money.
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