The last couple of months have been completely life changing. Oddly enough, they were always supposed to be, but in very different ways than I expected. I’m sure most people could say that right now, but being in 6 countries during that period really turned things up to the next level.
What was supposed to be a very deliberate personal and career growth focus period spent working in Bali quickly turned into something completely unpredictable and much much wilder.
Ultimately, I ended up in the Philippines, Indonesia (Bali), Australia, Mexico, the United States, and Canada within a roughly 6 week period...
I'm back in Canada now self isolating. I'm only just starting to be able to fully process everything that has happened since I left at the beginning of February 2020.
Originally, I decided to quit my full time job - the best job I’ve ever had - to pursue building my own consulting agency and side projects that I hoped to turn into real businesses. My idea was to cut my cost of living and surround myself with inspirational people in Bali while working hard. Leaving the Canadian winter didn’t sound half bad either.
At that time, coronavirus was a relatively minor concern for almost every single person in my life and no one thought it should ever stop me from getting on the flight I had purchased several weeks earlier when the word corona evoked only thoughts of beer.
In retrospect, I've had massive personal and professional growth - but not in the ways I expected at all. I pushed my physical, emotional, and mental capacities to their absolute limits. The loneliness was overwhelmingly crushing at several points. Even if the most impactful global event of our lives hadn't been rapidly developing, the journey itself still would have been the craziest period of my life.
I drove motorbikes, hiked through the jungle, swam in waterfalls, surfed A+ waves, slept in airports, and met every type of person imaginable. Some stuff straight out of a Hunter S Thompson novel.
I've been one step ahead of this pandemic at every point. Several times I've narrowly avoided being trapped alone in foreign countries. I know at least a couple of people who were stuck abroad and it didn't sound fun. What a ride.
Here's (some of) what happened:
On February 4, 2020 I left snowy Toronto on a 36 hour journey that took me through Manila for a day before arriving bleary-eyed in Bali, never having been to either of these places.
Things were pretty awesome in Bali. I stayed in Canggu, which is a too-cool surfer town home to a ton of other digital nomads working remotely. My good friend Steph was also in Bali and helped me to integrate with the community there. I was working, exploring, surfing, meeting people, and generally having a great time. At this point, my main debate was whether to extend my visa by another 30 days or do a visa run to another low COL place before returning. Within the first week of getting to Bali, people around me started leaving because of coronavirus concerns. The entire country of China went on complete lockdown during that time. I mostly ignored the concerns given that I had just arrived and the issue seemed fairly restricted.
I worked out of the Tropical Nomad coworking space mostly every day, shown below.
As the month of February progressed, things became sketchier and sketchier with coronavirus locking down South Korea, Singapore, and other nearby places. I started considering the thought that I very much did not want to be stuck in Bali without a way home if necessary.
Browsing through Twitter one day, I became aware of Founder Summit - a conference organized by Tyler Tringas who I consider an inspiration. The guest list looked awesome, filled with people working on building their own digital businesses sustainably. This was the kind of community I was looking for! Serendipitously, I found out that Steph would also be attending. What were the chances? It felt meant to be. Couple of tiny issues - the conference was in Mexico City in a little over two weeks and it was invite only...
With nothing to lose and expecting absolutely nothing, I sent Tyler (who I had never met) an email telling him my story and asking if he would consider extending a last minute invite to Founder Summit. Here's the response I got.
Holy shit. I decided not to extend the visa.
I had originally planned to stay in Bali until the conference. By that time though, March was rolling around. I was already somewhat losing my mind as most of the foreigners that I had met there had left Indonesia to go home. Expats still there were a little on edge, unsure how things would go. Many people considered Bali a time bomb because of the high population density and minimal medical infrastructure.
On a whim I decided to book a flight to Australia. It's a highly developed country with an above average medical system. I had a few sleepless night the last few days in Bali, feeling as alone as I ever have.
Landing in Melbourne was great. It felt incredibly relieving to get somewhere less hectic. Also I was excited to explore Australia as I had never been there. I booked a flight to Mexico City from Sydney for the conference.
The global coronavirus situation kept deteriorating while I was in Australia. Every day, I would hear some news of an outbreak somewhere else. It was pretty unsettling. I reminded myself that I'd at least be in Mexico soon, way closer to home if shit hit the fan. The rest of the time in Australia was awesome. What a country. I got lucky and had an old friend reach out, even offering to let me stay at her place in Melbourne for a couple of nights. I flew to Sydney and played tourist for a few days there - also awesome. Finally the time had come to say goodbye to Australia and head to Mexico City. I packed up all of my life belongings (which fit in a 46L backpack) and went to the airport to fly across an ocean.
Shit hit the fan. Less than 30 minutes before my 14 hour trans Pacific flight, I received this email.
Panic ensued. Should I get on the flight? Should I get off during the layover in Los Angeles? Should I head straight home? All of these questions and more flashed through my mind while frustrated gate agents ushered me towards the plane. My gut told me that I should still get on the plane. I did. The next 14 hours were long and very uncertain.
When I landed in Los Angeles, I learned that many of the other conference attendees were also either already in Mexico City or en route. I figured that at the very least, I could meet some of them and make the most of the situation. I got on the connecting flight.
By the time I landed in CDMX (as the locals know it), my world was very weird. I had never even been to Mexico before. I checked my phone to see that the NBA season was cancelled, Justin Trudeau's wife had COVID, and so did Tom Hanks - in Australia. Coronavirus had caught up to the mainstream world. The situation was progressing very quickly at that point. Borders were closing around the world. Suddenly I had friends messaging me urgently to see when I was coming home. What an experience to arrive for the first time in the biggest city I've ever seen while alone as a non-Spanish speaking gringo in a jetlagged and emotionally volatile state while the severity of a global pandemic sinks in for the world.
To make things even weirder, I had previously accepted an offer from a generous stranger who was also attending the conference and had offered to let me stay at his CDMX apartment. Without knowing what to expect, and frankly completely fucked up mentally, I got in an Uber to the mystery apartment. Upon arriving, I realized that I had caught a break as Dan (apartment offering stranger) was actually a really nice and normal non-murderous guy. We talked for a bit. Then I went and ate a street taco while contemplating how the hell I had gotten myself into this situation. When I got back Dan told me he had made a last minute change and was planning on leaving to go back to Atlanta early the next morning. I would be alone in the apartment for my time there. I don't think I slept at all that night.
There ended up being a decent amount of people who were already in Mexico City for Founder Summit and more arrived over the next day. I got to meet many of them, including Tyler. Kudos to the organizing team for making the most of things, I know it was a very difficult situation for them. We had a few impromptu events, including exploring ancient pre-Aztec pyramids. Very cool. The global situation was still sketchy though. Everyone I talked to was on edge and uncertain. Many of them booked earlier flights home and left as quickly as they could. I felt really alone again and desperately wanted to be with some familiar faces.
Here's the best taco I've ever eaten, photo taken while dining alone and in mental crisis.
Once again, I booked an earlier flight out of Mexico City to join my girlfriend and her family in Fort Meyers, Florida. If I could only get there, it seemed, things would be alright. The last night in Mexico City before the flight, the Founder Summit attendees and I went to a luchador match downtown. This shit was surreal. One of the oddest things I've been witness to in the strangest possible circumstances. Olé indeed.
At the airport the next morning, I almost wasn't allowed to board the plane as I had a recent Indonesian visa in my passport. After a terrifying few minutes, I got through. Finally arriving to Florida felt like a huge relief. Getting a little bit of normalcy back was exactly what I needed. In fact, it seemed like coronavirus didn't even exist in Florida. The beaches were packed with spring breakers ready to get their party on. They definitely weren't ready to let some "flu" stop their fun. We had a few relaxing but uncertain days there while keeping tabs on the situation.
Eventually, Justin Trudeau started calling for Canadians abroad to return home ASAP. The border was close to being closed. We made the hard decision to pack up and head back home early. Originally we had flights booked to fly back for the next week. Land borders seemed to be a more sure bet though. We ended up driving back to Ontario over the next 2 days through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan in a mad dash for the border.
When we got there, I wasn't sure if they were going to let me in after everything I had been exposed to. Luckily the land border bet was a good one though and we were waved through painlessly.
Looking back, it was an incredible experience. I don't regret going at all. I answered so many questions that always would have otherwise been sitting in the back of my head. I've gained an incredible appreciation for my home - the beautiful and sensible Canada. I've met incredible, inspiring people and forged stronger relationships with those with who I shared parts of the journey.
Needless to say though, I'll be staying local for the next while. I've had a pretty intense experience to say the absolute least. I'm ready to continue trying to build what I originally set out to do. Watching all of this unfold first hand has given me some perspective on where things are heading and what might be different going forward.
I absolutely need to thank so many people without who the last few months would have been much much harder. The generosity of several individuals who opened their hearts and homes to me was shocking and humbling. You know who you are - thank you.
Having experiences like this is a double edged knife. The thrills are addicting and despite the lows, the desire for more adventure doesn’t go away. It only gets stronger. I'm sure we'll look back at this time one day and everyone will have a unique story to tell. This one was a little wilder than I expected but thanks for reading.
Until next time.