Update on my life :)
Hey guys, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog so this is going to be a long one :).
I would like to backtrack a tiny bit, and also explain what’s happened to me between this past winter (living in Siberia/ice biking/ice diving) and now (I’m currently in the UK).
Let me backtrack a bit…
My goal, since the last time I quit the “job-game” was not really to travel around the world, it was to do something more meaningful and important with my life. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, that could be, but I knew that I had to separate this goal from any means of making money (in other words, I needed to minimize the amount of time I spent trading my time and energy for money). So I lived off of my savings and didn’t search for another job, I traveled a bit and looked for something more interesting and important to do with my life.
I ended up joining the Venus Project (TVP) as a volunteer point of contact for the Russian speaking team and I also started this blog. Later, I found out about TROM, started volunteering for them, and I also decided to write a book about my life story, ideas about the world, TVP, TROM, etc.
This past winter, I isolated myself in a small village on Lake Baikal to concentrate 100% on my book. I rented an old house for about $5/night and managed to live on about $10-20/week of food. The house didn’t have running water and it was a bit chilly when it got down to -37° outside, but I managed to keep myself warm with hot tea and the right clothing. I woke up each morning, got straight onto my laptop and started writing. I’d write for 4-5 hours before I finally got so hungry that I had to drag myself away from my computer. I cooked (mostly cabbage and buckwheat), ate, wrote some more, then took a break by riding a bicycle on the frozen lake.
I loved this :). I had a bike with spiked tires that allowed me to explore every corner of the southern end of Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. I rode this bike over crystal clear, cracked and sometimes bubbly meter-thick ice, I found enormous icicles, climbed mountains and watched the sun set over the frozen lake.
Then I came home and wrote some more :).
I wrote about 150 pages while living in this village, which I estimate to be about 2/3 of my book. This is what I’ve written about so far:
-Hawaii (2017): Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai
-Road trip through the East Coast (2017)
-Traveling through Russia (2017)
-My story with TVP and TROM
-Troubled teenage years
-Driving across the US (3 times) to Whistler, Canada
-Traveling the West Coast of the US and Canada
-Living with Mormons in Utah
-Living in NYC
-Living in Switzerland
-Backpacking Italy and Turkey
-Living in Sydney
-Studying ‘International and Global Studies’ at Sydney University
-Quitting university, traveling through New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, sailing in NZ, hitchhiking across the US, traveling to Mexico and back to NZ
-Back to Sydney University (2012)
That’s where I finished writing, but after 2012, there was a lot more traveling. I still want to write about: Thailand and Cambodia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Morocco, Outback Australia, South Coast Australia, Lake Tahoe, St. Maartin, Aruba, Gili Trawangan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Hawaii 2015, Eastern Europe, Slovenia, Austria, Russia, Nicaragua (2017)… and then we’ll see if I leave it there or bring it back to today. I never know how my writing will unfold until I’m in that moment :).
Throughout my traveling stories I also write about the problems I’ve faced with society and the things I have learned about the world. Some subjects include climate change, sustainability, trade and other global problems; I will tie these subjects together with TROM, TVP and ‘trade-free’.
I would have stayed in that small Russian village to finish the entire book if I didn’t have bigger plans ahead.
Change of Winter Plans
I left the village in late February, when my buddies Alfie and Nico flew in to Irkutsk for an ice diving adventure. You can read about that here if you missed that blog. We spent about two weeks learning to ice dive and taking underwater (and ice) photos and videos, and another two weeks or so filming the beautiful spots that I had explored while bike-riding on the frozen lake.
Luckily, I didn’t have to spend any money on any of this, since this trip was sponsored by the companies my friends were filming for. Actually, I even got paid for it because I was their fulltime translator, guide and dive “model.” And translating an entire diving course from Russian to English is not as easy as it may sound…
So, Alfie and Nico flew out at the end of March and I had new plans:
Get to Spain!
Tio, the founder of the TROM project, had organized a meet-up for TROM volunteers in the north of Spain in May. This would be the first ever TROM meet-up and there was no way in hell that I would miss such an event, so I planned the next part of my life around that.
Unfortunately, the ice-diving gig didn’t pay a whole lot and my savings account was looking a bit skimpy (after over two years with no job), so I had to figure out a very cheap way to get from Siberia to Spain (9,000 km).
I packed up all of my stuff and bought a one-way railway ticket from Irkutsk to Moscow ($60, 4-day train ride, about 5,200 km closer to Spain), then I hitchhiked from Moscow to Spain. I had a fun time hitchhiking as I met many people along the way, visited friends and saw some new places. I filmed some of the rides I caught hitchhiking and posted these clips as Instagram stories. You can view some of them as “story highlights” here.
After about two weeks of hitchhiking, I made it to Spain! There, I finally met Tio and about 10 other TROM volunteers. We rented a house overlooking the sea and the cute little town of L’Estartit, and spent the next three weeks getting to know each other, bouncing around ideas, and just having fun.
We went swimming, hiking, running, played music, watched documentaries, filmed some videos, had BBQs and talked a lot. One night, we took Tio’s telescope to a beautiful lookout and observed the craters of the moon, the storm lines of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. It was absolutely amazing. Then we watched the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea and walked back ‘home’ down L’Estartit’s beautiful bushy, seaside hills.
Everybody I met in this meet-up was inspiring in one way or another. They were all so bright, enthusiastic and interested in this world. This was the first time I met so many people that were on the same line of thinking; meaning that we could all have interesting conversations without having to explain simple things or fight against “normal” (fucked up) values. The 12 of us were from 9 different countries, so that was interesting as well.
Everybody in this meet-up was inspiring, but Tio struck me on a whole other level. I had read his story before- that he struggled throughout his life as he worked on TROM and TVP. He had always worked for free, so most of the time he didn’t have enough money to support himself, but he kept on going- researching, learning, writing books and articles, making videos and important tools- putting them all out for free, no matter how shitty of a situation he had to live in.
He couldn’t afford his own place, so he lived with his parents who didn’t understand a thing about what he was doing. I knew all of this before, but when I saw the room that he worked and lived in, I just felt like my heart shattered a bit.
It was a small, stuffy room with a bunk bed and a gaming chair, but not enough space for a desk. Instead of a desk, he used something that resembled a music stand. There was no air conditioning and heating was extremely expensive, so it would get very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Sometimes, the neighbor’s dog barked non-stop, making it almost impossible to concentrate. He spent most of his time in this room, just hopping between sleeping in the bed and working in front of his computer (working like 15 hours a day).
Tio explained that this was actually a much better room than the one he had spent most of his time in. For most of his years, he lived and worked in an even smaller room in the same house, where there was a bunk bed and no space for anything else. It was even stuffier than his current room and he got extreme back pain from having to work from within this bunk bed.
He made TROM Documentary from the set up you see below (computer pinned to the ceiling above the top bunk)-
From these extremely uncomfortable conditions, he managed to write, review and design dozens of books, create a 14-hour long documentary, customize a trade-free computer operating system, create a documentary website, a music website, and countless of other useful tools such as curated news, curated videos and more– all for free! So that others can use them trade-free! (Not to mention all the stuff he did for TVP when he volunteered for them…)
You might think, “oh but maybe he just doesn’t mind living in such a place”- but that’s not true. He hated it and all he wanted to do was move out, but again, he couldn’t afford living on his own because his only income came from donations and that wasn’t enough for his own place.
So naturally, I wanted to help him. I didn’t have a whole lot of money left, but I still had some. Spain was quite cheap, so if we rented a place together, it would only cost about 150-200 euros a month each. That was affordable for both Tio and me. I figured that if I bought nothing else but very cheap food, life in Spain would cost me only about 300 euros a month. So I decided to stay in Spain and rent a flat with Tio.
I wasn’t sure how well we would get along while living together or how long I could manage to legally stay in Europe, but I decided that I will help him no matter what, whether he liked me or not and whether I could physically stay in Spain or not. I had enough money for my portion of the rent for the next 6 months, so I wanted to use that on a shared flat regardless of whether I could actually live there the whole time or not.
So at the end of May, everybody else left L’Estartit and I stayed with Tio and looked for a place to live. It wasn’t so easy to find, since this town is dominated by mass tourism in the summertime, but after a few weeks, we managed to rent a great (and cheap) apartment thanks to Tio’s sister. This apartment had plenty of space for a comfortable “TROM office” with a big desk :).
Life in L’Estartit
Tio and I spent over a month living together in this nice apartment, being together almost 24/7. I talked to him about everything, and I felt like every day that I got to know him, I liked him more and more. He’s so fucking smart, so hard-working, and so humble; his work is extremely underappreciated, but this doesn’t get him down. He’s extremely passionate and has a deep fascination with the world. I love his appreciation and love of science. I think it’s sad that so few people understand and appreciate the significance of science, yet Tio not only appreciates it, but grows my curiosity for it, and inspires me to want to learn about everything. He’s so interested in everything.
Tio’s also very creative and helped me enormously with my website. Almost everything you see now on my site- from the style to the photos of my crap and me, to the polaroid theme- was all his idea and creation. I think he spent more time working on my website than on his own :). We both put a ton of work into my site while living together and finally managed to release it the day before my flight out of Spain.
I had to leave Spain because my Schengen visa expired in mid-July. I didn’t want to leave but I didn’t really have a choice- by law, I can only spend 90 days in the Schengen zone out of every 180 days. So after 3 months in Spain, I have to spend 3 months outside of Europe before I can return for another 3 months. That’s the kind of bullshit society we live in, you can’t just live on Earth without being subjected to tribal laws.
I didn’t know where to go. I wasn’t going to go back to Siberia, since that was so far away, and I haven’t had a “home base” for about 12 years. I considered going to Cape Cod, Massachusetts; I’ve never been there before but a friend had told me that this place was a gold-mine for making tips in bars and restaurants. I thought that perhaps this could be a good opportunity to re-stock on money. But the more I thought about going to some random American tourist location, to slave for some restaurant and serve food and drinks to East Coast vacationers, the more I just wanted to kill myself.
I tried to be strong and convince myself that going to Massachusetts was a good idea, but one day, I just broke down as I was looking at a map of Cape Cod on Craigslist :D. I just started crying at the thought of walking around aimlessly, looking for restaurant work. Tio noticed this and stopped everything he was doing, calmed me down and started looking for solutions.
“The main problem is money,” he concluded, “if you have enough money to live on, you don’t have to go to the US. You can stay closer, finish your book and then sell it. After three months, we can solve the visa issue, now let’s figure out what else we can do about this money problem.”
I felt extremely disappointed in myself for breaking down like this. The last thing I wanted to do was stress Tio out about money, he already stressed a lot about his own money situation since he barely makes enough to cover his living costs (even though he works over 12 hours a day, without any long breaks, holidays or weekends). The one thing I wanted to do was help him with this money situation and now I was failing at that myself.
Why did I do that? In the past, it was quite easy for me to just pick up and go, find a job somewhere, save money, quit, then move on. What’s so different now? I don’t know. I still don’t know, maybe it’s that I really want to finish my book, or maybe it’s that the last time I worked in a restaurant, I told myself that this will be the last time I ever work in a restaurant (although I say that every time I quit a restaurant job :)).
Then Tio came up with another idea- to make a fundraiser for my book. He said that he would help me with everything, all I had to do is explain my story on video and send him some nice footage. I agreed to give it a shot.
Meanwhile, I had to figure out what my other options were.
‘The UK is outside of the Schengen zone… I can’t work there legally but I can stay there for 6 months without a visa… I have a good friend in Bristol- Kristina, she visited me in Siberia last summer and I distinctly remember her inviting me to her place :)’
I called up Kristina and she told me to come to Bristol and not to worry :). I looked up flights and found one for only 15 euros! I booked that flight then started working on my campaign video. I realized that I really don’t need that much money and that if working in a restaurant makes me want to kill myself, then I shouldn’t do it (at least not until I finish my book). I would love to have a few thousand euros so I could feel “safe” for the next few months and concentrate on my book without stressing, but maybe I don’t need that much. If I just eat rice and cabbage every day, I can (maybe) survive on $300/month. So if I have $1500, that’s 5 months. Maybe I can finish my book in 5 months. After that, we’ll see, I’ll figure something else out.
I was still a bit disappointed in myself (for being so weak :)), but I felt like I was doing the right thing. Tio, again, helped me enormously by putting together this video:
We worked on the video all night, didn’t sleep at all, but managed to finish it just a few hours before my flight to Bristol. Once in the UK, I was able to release my new site and fundraiser. And don’t worry, I didn’t leave Tio to pay the rent for the entire apartment all alone, I left my portion (although he tried to refuse it and now says that he will give it back to me :P) and another TROM friend of ours (Aaron) moved into the house before I left, so it’s still affordable.
Theen… (I told you this will be a long blog, right? :D) about a week after my arrival in Bristol, Kristina wanted to go on a road trip to Scotland with me and another friend. I told her that I would love to see Scotland but that I was broke as hell, but can probably still afford it if we do this trip the cheapest way possible. Most people don’t actually enjoy traveling “Sasha style” (the cheapest way possible) but Kristina and her friend Millie were happy to camp, couchsurf, and cook all of our meals, so this was still affordable even for me.
We spent 10 days driving around Scotland, hiking, camping, seeing some beautiful places and staying in some bothies (small huts you can sleep in for free). The trip was really fun despite the fact that the weather wasn’t ideal (I don’t think you can ever get ideal weather in Scotland for 10 days though :)). It rained quite heavily the first few days, and when it didn’t rain, we were attacked by huge swarms of midges (small flies that bite like crazy). There were so many of them in northern Scotland that we couldn’t even hang out outside without walking or running.
We did some beautiful hikes regardless and didn’t pay for a single night of accommodation even though we slept indoors for more than half of our trip. It was great to experience trade-free accommodation, both through bothies and couchsurfing. I’ll write a separate blog about bothies soon.
Once we returned to Bristol, I needed to deal with getting a new US passport (don’t ask :D). So I stressed a bit about getting together all of the documents and paperwork I needed for a new passport, and then I had to go to the US embassy in London.
The bus tickets between Bristol and London were cheap and I took the opportunity of being in London to meet some very nice TZM people and to go to the Museum of Natural History- which was awesome.
So! I got that done and came back from London a few nights ago and now I can finally figure out what to do with my life :D. I will definitely come back to Spain as soon as my visa allows me to (early October). I raised 765 euros through my fundraiser so far, which is very nice, thank you so much to everybody that donated! -That will probably cover about 2 months of life on Earth. I still have maybe $1000 in savings. -So that’s 5 months altogether before I hit absolute zero in my account :D.
Maybe I can finish my book in 5 months. Maybe not, but I think it’s worth a shot. I think I will try to concentrate on it at least until I hit absolute zero (or negative since I do have a credit card! :D). For some reason, I feel like that’s the right thing to do, so that’s what I’m going to do. I just have 3 more blogs that I want to publish (one on bothies, one on language and one on TVP, TROM and trade) and then I will get back to my book. Fuck the money, I’ll just eat rice and cabbage :D.
Thanks again to everybody, and enormous thank you to Tio and Kristina for your amazing amazing help, I don’t know what I would do without you guys!
Whew that was a long one! :D