Leaving places where everything is right "just because."
I just arrived in Beijing. The air is cold and crisp, the pace is fast, people are wearing suits and carrying briefcases and the general vibe here is I'm on a mission.
I hate cold weather except in small doses, and I haven't spent more than two weeks in a cold-weather place during a cold time of the year since... I don't know when, it's been a long time. A few years.
I forgot how the cold makes people move fast, crisp, not dally, not lounge about... it's refreshing. I feel like I'm in New York a little before Christmastime, which (shitty cold weather aside) is one of my favorite times in one of my favorite places in the world.
But let's about traveling (and life) mistakes. The biggest mistake I've made, by far, is leaving a place where I'm very happy or productive or I've got a good workflow. Occasionally, everything is just right somewhere... and when everything is just right, I'd recommend you milk it for all it's worth.
I can pick out a few times in particular. I was in Barcelona in November 2008, I think it was, and I was so happy and productive there. I was staying near Placa Gracia, I was waking up at 4AM every morning when it was still dark and going to have breakfast in a smoky late night bar that was open and served food - while others were getting their last round of drinks and trying to hydrate to prevent impending hang-over, I'd eat a Spanish tortilla omlette with eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, have a strong coffee, and a read a book until my gym opened at 6AM.
I was the first person into the gym - it took me a while, but I found a really nice gym at a low price - their showers, in particular, were amazing. The whole gym was comfortable to be in, modern, new... and pretty empty at 6AM. I'd do quite a bit of relatively low intensity cardio while reading more, and then I'd hit the weights and eat again. There was free coffee, tea, and light snacks (mostly junk food) where I was staying, so I'd have a third very light meal at breakfast-time. It was fantastic - at 10AM, I'd been up for six hours, reading, thinking, doing cardio, lifting weights.
I worked in the morning, had some calls or meetings in the afternoon, and I'd met some nice people and we'd hang out in the evenings. An English guy I was working with was a huge football (soccer) fan, and I saw my first match seeing Lionel Messi play for FC Barcelona. My English mate warned me that football was lowering score than American sports, but then the match was nuts - there was something like 8 goals total, with Barcelona winning 6-2. Messi kept feeding the ball to their striker Eto'o, and the atmosphere was insane - Barcelona fans take their team seriously, and people are shouting, chanting, singing, and playing war drums at the match. An insane environment.
I met an American real estate developer who was traveling Europe with his son who had just graduated university. His son wound up meeting a really beautiful Czech girl and Dad gave him his blessing to run off and ditch pops, and we wound hanging out at the same bar in the evenings and talking about business and philosophy and all sorts of things. Learned tons from him. Actually, he's the guy I indirectly mentioned in the "Advertising Works on You" post who'd owned some El Pollo Loco restaurants.
I also got some very healthy and sometimes intense games of Nintendo Wii tennis in with various friends and colleagues.
After November, I had some things happening in London, but a lot of it fell through with the financial crash. So there I am, coming off a fantastic month in Barcelona with no particular reason to be in London, and it's cold and wet and rainy and miserable and it's just decidedly not like Spain.
Don't get me wrong, I love London, it's one of my favorite cities. I've had amazing experiences there. But I wasn't feeling it at all this time around.
What I should have done is immediately grabbed an air ticket back to Barcelona to see if I could get back into the routine and keep the magic going... but I didn't, I kind of fell into inertia and lived at a lower level than I'd like to in all ways. I'd say my quality of life, productivity, reading, learning, socializing, doing meaningful stuff levels - they were 10/10 in Barcelona, and then 4 out of 10 10 in London.
That was the tail end of my first attempt to live on the road, and I gave up Europe for a while and went back to America in January 2009.
It's interesting for me to consider what would have happened if I'd arrived in London, saw I had no business there, saw the vibe wasn't good, saw the general atmosphere was kind of not right for me at that time, and then immediately gotten back on a plane for Spain.
I mean, why not? It makes total sense in retrospect.
But people don't do that, for some reason. Especially people with my kind of temperament, where it's all about staying in action, keep moving forwards, etc, etc.
I've made similar mistakes where I'm super happy and engaged in a country, but I take a return flight to somewhere I don't have to be just because I've already got it booked. This is doubly stupid when the costs are lower wherever I'm at, so I could push my ticket back a month and actually save money in the process.
Yet, I've made this mistake again and again in my life.
I was in Taipei in January 2010 and it was fantastic. Then I went to Bangkok and wasn't feeling it... it was just too insane for me. I took an overnight train to Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand was okay, but really, I should have just headed back to Taipei. It's an amazing place.
Likewise, I was in Guilin, China - now also one of my favorite cities in the world - in summer of last year. I left back to Beijing just because that's what my itinerary was - which was stupid in retrospect. I should have stayed by Lake Shan and really just engaged with the place.
Finding somewhere you've got the right mix of work, productivity, quality of life, culture, weather, where you're at, the atmosphere of the place... it's rare these all line up. When you get it right, stay. It might take a little money or a little planning or you might have to reschedule or work to be there. But when you hit the rare 10/10 in all categories, do whatever you can to run with it as long as it lasts. It's a rare and beautiful thing.
The flipside error is not moving on fast enough when a place doesn't suit you, but that's another topic for another time. I tell you, this sounds obvious in text, but isn't obvious at all while you're living it. We're so used to drawing a plan up and then rigidly sticking to it without evaluating whether it still makes sense. I tell you, if you start looking around the world for where to live, keep this in mind -
Do not leave places where your life is at 10/10 in all categories "just because."
Sounds obvious on paper. Harder to keep this in mind during life - but much more prosperity and quality of life awaits if you can.