At the end of 2017 I took time to reflect on the year ending. It was a rewarding experience and I now believe it’s a good idea to reflect on life more frequently than at the end of the calendar year. With that in mind, here we are, more than half way through 2018. Time to think about what’s happened so far and what’s coming up.
The past: 2018, the first half
The first half of 2018 has been a period of extremes. I’ve gone through both extreme highs and extreme lows.
Being alone in Sydney’s no man’s land
Between mid October 2017 and mid March 2018, Erin and I lived in Sydney. “Where do you live?” can be a loaded question for someone as transient as I, but for this time period, the answer was firmly Sydney. We had a lease on an apartment, a mailing address, a familiar running route and a favorite grocery store. We were settled. And yet, we were anything but.
Sticking around too long to relate to backpackers who were just sightseeing, and yet far too temporary to create lasting friendships with any Sydneysiders, I felt like I lived in this Sydney No man’s land between visitor and resident. To make matters much worse, the one person who could relate to my isolation had a very incompatible schedule. Erin and I had very different jobs and often we were like ships passing in the night. Erin would get home from her job at 4 PM after starting at 7 AM. Thirty minutes later I would depart for work, returning home at 1 AM to find her fast asleep. Occasionally I would wake up at 5:15 AM with her so that we could eat peanut butter toast together, but most of the time I’d stay in bed until long after she left for the day.
Our convenient, affordable, crappy studio
I think a critical mistake that we made was leasing a studio apartment. When deliberating over whether to live with roommates, we decided it would be simpler to have a place of our own than play the dating game that is finding compatible roommates. In hindsight, even if we chose to live with housemates who we knew from the beginning would not be our lifelong friends, I would have definitely still appreciated the familiar faces instead of facing the constant isolation of a studio apartment.
Lastly, here’s a first world problem I still want to reflect upon: In the search for housing, one must always choose between price, location, and quality. You can’t prioritize all three. In Sydney we had a great location for a low price, but our apartment was pretty slummy. The passing trains constantly shook our building. The wall-to-wall carpet was ridden with the filth of who knows how many previous tenants. Speaking of tenants, our apartment was infested with cockroaches who grew braver and braver each month. I think if I were hardly home I would have been happy with the trade-off, but given that I spent a decent amount of time in my apartment, it would have been better to choose more wisely. Next time I’ll either spend more or go for a less convenient location, but demand more comfort.
My job at Maze Backpackers
From the last week of 2017 until mid March 2018, I had probably one of the coolest jobs of my life. I was the Events Manager for Maze Backpackers, a 482-bed hostel in the center of Sydney. Despite being a very large and structured hostel, the job was largely mine to make of it what I would. I struggled at first with the lack of structure. There was no one there to train me, to supervise me. No one told me when to arrive at work, when to leave, or what days I could take off. I simply knew the expected outcome. Maze Backpackers wanted me to make sure guests had a good time at the hostel and wrote fondly about the experience on the internet.
Because I had so much autonomy, it was a series of trials and errors. In typical Byron fashion, I over-analyzed at first. I built my own CRM system to keep track of all the guests. My ambition was to document my hundreds of small guest interactions so that I could streamline the process of sending a personalized email to every guest upon checkout. This process got me nowhere and I soon learned to instead use my intuition and invest my energy in guests that would get involved in hostel activities and could be compelled to share their experiences online. Eventually I honed my skills and started producing results. My manager told me I was the best person to ever hold the position and that no one would ever top me.
Let me tell you about a day in my life as Events Manager. I’d arrive at the hostel at about 5 PM in the afternoon. For the first 2 hours of my “day” I would go door-to-door, letting everyone in the hostel know what we were up to that night. Most rooms would be empty. Some people were long-term guests at the hostel and knew the weekly rhythm to our events, so they wouldn’t come to the door. Other residents enjoyed my daily visits and would tell me about their days. The short termers would listen to my pitch and decide whether to join in on the fun or not. Occasionally I’d knock on a door and the person inside would treat me like a traveling salesman. These are the types of guests that mistake backpacker hostels for cheaper hotels and don’t recognize or appreciate the social experience of hosteling.
At 7 PM it would be time for our food events to start. Three times a week, Amy and Marian, our resident German couple and hostel chefs, would serve dinner in the kitchen. Monday was hot dogs. Tuesday was burgers, Thursday was my favorite: chicken and rice! While the backpackers lined up to receive their free dinner, I’d make my way through the queue, letting them know about the night’s hostel activity. Monday was a free drink at either Reef Bar or Side Bar. Tuesday was 2 for 1 drinks at Maloney’s Hotel. Thursday night was the pool tournament at Shark Hotel. After dinner I’d hang around until it was time to take everyone out. On the nights I didn’t feel like partying, my job was simply to round up the troops, walk them down to the bar, then turn around and go home. When I was up for it, the bars would give me lots of drink vouchers so that I could hang around until the small hours without spending what little money I earned at the hostel. Thursday nights were the only one when the job felt like work. At the Shark Hotel I had to orchestrate a pool tournament with as many as sixty participants, pairing each off until all but one winner had been eliminated. It’s hard work keeping track of sixty people in a big city bar.
To the backpackers, I simply got paid to drink and party, but for me as an aspiring hostel owner, it was my job to build the hostel’s reputation. As one single staff member, how can you change someone’s overall perception of a hostel? I can’t control it if the bathroom stinks, the receptionist was rude, and Sydney’s CBD is a noisy place to sleep. Doing what I could to shape guests’ perception of the place was a fun and difficult challenge.
Sydney in the summer time
Sydney is always one of the best places to live, but in the summer the city really shines! During these beautiful long days I’d go for exercise in Rushcutters Bay Park, a barbecue on one of the city’s many free public grills, or a swim at the countless beaches. Sundays meant $2.60 for transport all day long and adventures to the Blue Mountains, or a ferry ride out to Manly. It’s great being in a big city during the summertime as that’s when the events calendar gets packed and every week there’s countless things to see and do. Best of all, this was all just part of my job. I’m not sure that I’ll ever live in Sydney again, but I’m so glad that I was able to live there for a summer.
Our epic road trip
After summer ended and Sydney started cooling down, Erin and I packed our bags, turned over the keys to our shitbox apartment, and hit the road! We spent forty three glorious days traveling more than two thousand miles up the East Coast of Australia from Sydney all the way up to Cairns. It’s the most epic road trip we’ve ever taken; overshadowing our lap around the United States and that time we rode from Hanoi to Saigon on glorified scooters. The trip solidified my love for motorcycles and it taught me a lot about Australia. Big cities like Sydney have a lot in common. It’s when you leave the Big Smoke and start experiencing the countryside that’s when you really get a real feel for a place. Besides being really fun, the road trip felt like an accomplishment. Although our time in Australia did NOT go as planned, this road trip was part of our plan from the beginning. Make the plan, work the plan.
To read all about our epic adventure check out Erin’s blog
the future: 2018, the second half
First, let’s talk about the immediate future
Asia, here we come!
In five days Erin and I will board a flight from Cairns. After nine months, twenty-eight days, and thirteen hours, this will be the end of our “year down under.” Instead of heading straight back to the United States, we’ve decided to take advantage of being on the opposite side of the world and make a couple of stops on the way back. We’re headed to Bali, Indonesia for one week. Afterwards, we’ll meet up with Erin’s sister in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Shannon will join us in Southeast Asia for a couple of weeks, and then Erin and I will spend a few more weeks in Thailand. On July 26th we’ll arrive at JFK airport in New York City, where this adventure began nearly a year ago. During this time in Asia I am excited to experience Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand; three countries that I’ve never been to before.
Homecoming, Summer 18 edition
Once I’m back in New York I’ll spend a month with family and friends. My nephew Codie has probably grown so much since last year that I might not recognize him. Erin and I will both be meeting pets that have joined the family since we left. Mia is Erin’s dad’s new cat and Cooper is Codie’s new dog. My time at home will end shortly after the first of September, when my best friend from the University of Connecticut is getting married!
Besides spending time with all these important people and pets who I’ve missed dearly this past year, I’m also looking forward to indulging in Mexican food and buffalo wings.
Q4: The future begins
In September Erin and I plan on moving to San Diego. Here’s our current vision: Step one, fly to San Diego and stay at a hostel for a week. Our first moves when we get there is finding a place to live for a few months. If you know anyone who is subletting an apartment or a room for a month or three starting in September, let me know. Once we find a sublease, the clock starts on us finding the right opportunities. Erin might find a job working at a backpacker hostel or at a university’s study abroad office. I have learned enough about myself to know that I want to be self-employed. I’m interested in either starting a B2B company that serves the hostel industry, opening my own backpacker hostel, or starting a vacation rental management company. I’ll have to take some time to assess the opportunities in San Diego, but the only way I’d consider going to work as someone else’s employee is if I found a role that gave me autonomy over how I did my job.
Goals for the rest of 2018
- Experience three more foreign countries.
- Be reunited with friends and family after the longest stretch I’ve ever spent abroad.
- Begin the process of settling down in Southern California
- Sign a lease on an apartment
- Establish new sources of income that relate to my interests and competencies