Five years: backpacking to branding
Last week was the five-year anniversary of the fateful, frigid day I first arrived in Europe.
I still remember being picked up at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, barrelling through ‘orrible traffic in the tiny car of friends and feeling absolutely frozen while exploring the city, since my travel attire was based on the somewhat romantic notion of ‘Paris in the springtime’ being something other than biting cold.
Five years on I appear to have learned nothing, as I sit here warming my fingers after mid-April Berlin snowshowers.
But a little introspection while waiting for my fingers to defrost has me questioning this notion.
A person can come a long way in 1826 days..
Year 1: The lazy life of a backpacker
Pure contrast to my non-stop march into school, university, Antarctica and print journalism.
After a surf trip to Morocco, I settled into a new world of working in Dutch hostels, using the Netherlands as a base to backpack around Europe when I had the cash and a bolthole when this (more often than not) dried up.
I sensed it might be an idea to put the rainy days (every second day) to good use, so I started a Dutch expat blog called Into The Netherworld, which I find quite amusing to read now and then.
Year 2: The search for a new home
With my Dutch working holiday visa having expired and no desire to return home just yet, I hit the road.
After a brief UK stint, I hitchhiked from Calais to Barcelona, where I started this website while sleeping on a friend’s roof, hitched up to Sweden for midsummer, Denmark for Roskilde Festival, fell in love with Stockholm, hit a visa wall and hitchhiked to Berlin on the advice of many. Within two months, I had a visa, somewhere to live, a job working with an online language school startup and a newfound admiration of German efficiency.
Year 3: Living la Vida Startup
Much learning, much responsibility, much stress and as many weekend trips around Europe as I could fit.
My basic Dutch slowly morphed into basic German. By the end of the year, it was pretty clear that I had to make a change, and soon I was no longer startup-bound. I travelled back to New Zealand for Christmas, already planting the seeds of freelancing.
Year 4: The freedom of the freelancer
After a shaky first few months of experiments, anxious peering into my email inbox and first clients, it was all go.
Suddenly I could work at home in pyjamas, work while travelling, work 10 hours in a row without stopping for anything, or not work at all and go climbing instead.
Plenty of pent-up travel and travel articles ensued, as well as one for Innovation Stories, a social entrepreneurship article that led me to finally get involved with Berlin’s social innovation scene through Impact Hub Berlin.
Year 5: Having an impact
I’d managed to get a freelance visa, German fluency and paid work writing about science, technology, social entrepreneurship and travel, but also fitted in some experiments in digital nomadism, as part of a year of many journeys which crossed 15 countries, including a 3.5 month trip back to NZ via Thailand and Laos.
But eventually, the fairly lucrative brand copywriting contracts subsidising some of my other work had to go. It was time for new challenges and more positive impact in my work.
The job title I was looking for didn’t exist, so I invented one: freelance writer in innovation communication.
Year 6: Only Everything
So here I am now, putting in the hard yards to make a living from innovation communication — journalism around sci/tech for good, responsible tourism and social enterprise; as well as work on the occasional brand storytelling project, including website rebrandings and lately, TEDxKreuzberg.
This year’s goal? Only everything.
Fulfilling projects, plenty of learning, finally paying off my student loan and travel aplenty, yet also the discipline to stay present and enjoy the moment.
And, as I take the time to look back on how far five years has brought me, I’m still kinda stuck in trying to fathom how the next five might look.
But if you’re curious in seeing where the journey leads, I’d love to have you along for the ride!
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