One year ago I decided I needed a change. I’d spent the majority of my life in Dunedin, a small city in New Zealand. I’d flown internationally once and it was to Australia which I’m not sure even counts. Basically, I was living in a bubble.

Thailand

I decided to go on an adventure. But where? I wanted to go somewhere that would push me but not be too overwhelming for a first time traveller. Eventually I decided Thailand fitted the bill perfectly. The culture and language barrier were completely foreign from anything I’d ever experienced but it’s also a country which is welcoming to tourists.

I went to a travel agent and bought flights for a month in Thailand and the first two nights in a hotel.

At the time I had no idea how important this trip would be. I thought I was doing this to explore the world and have a good time. What didn’t realise is it was really myself I was exploring and I was entering a sort of freelancer/entrepreneur boot camp which would prepare me for the journey ahead.

These are my professional takeaways from my time in Thailand.

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Survival is the only option

When I arrived at my hotel on the first night I was hot, sticky, tired and so overwhelmed with culture shock. I soon found out that not only did the hotel not have my booking, but they were full for the night. What do I do? I had no idea where I was and I didn’t know anyone. Do I just fly home?

At the time, situations like these suck but in reflection, it was actually really exciting. I survived that night by staying in a hotel called “Lucky 7” and promptly found new accommodation the next day. After that night I thought “OK, that’s probably as bad as it’s going to get and it wasn’t even that bad.” Knowing I can rely on myself and handle any situation that comes up gives me a huge amount of confidence. I still travel in a similar fashion, favouring flexibility over planning.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco for work with only a few days notice. I probably would have been hesitant to go if not for my Thailand trip; I had a better idea of what to expect and jumped on the chance straight away.

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People matter

I love travelling solo because it gives me ultimate flexibility, the downside is it gets pretty lonely. At least once a week I would go to a different city and have to make an entirely new group of friends which gave me a lot of practise building relationships from scratch. It’s amazing how fast you can become close with others if you’re sharing everything and spending all day together.

Friends

One of my favourite moments was interacting with a local boy who spoke no English. I had an English to Thai translator so I tried to start a conversation by typing in “hello”, “how old are you?”. He smiled but didn’t respond. Eventually I opened a “fail video” on YouTube which is basically just 10 minutes of people hurting themselves. His eyes lit up and for every single 10 second clip there was uncontrollable laughter.

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At the core of it, business is about people and relationships. Now I’m much better at understanding someone’s motives and interests, while being more open and vulnerable.

Negotiating

Be prepared to be ripped off if you don’t barter in Thailand. Good bartering is all about having good data (i.e. knowing the real price of something), being able read the other person and negotiating well. All these are great skills in business. At the beginning of my trip I was terrible at bartering. At my worst I paid 2000 Baht (around $60USD) for a 10 minute boat ride, a ride I later found my hotel offered for free. My best was paying 300 Baht ($10 USD) for a pair of Havana jandals (Flip-flops). Those jandals have taken me across Thailand, San Francisco and New Zealand!

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Discipline

Discipline is so important for freelancers. There’s no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re actually working or telling you to come in over the weekend because there’s a deadline due. My ultimate test of discipline was on Ko Phi Phi island. Ko Phi Phi is a tropical paradise with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (it’s where the movie “The Beach” was filmed). I had a deadline for contract work I was doing so I spent two days inside a café coding while everyone around me was having the time of their lives. While it sucked working inside in such a beautiful place, that discipline has stayed with me as I’ve been travelling the world for business.

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Something changed in me when I went on this trip. I feel like I came back a different person. For a couple of thousand dollars spending a month in Thailand is an awesome investment in yourself. If nothing else it’s an excellent excuse to explore this beautiful country.

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For anyone looking to do a similar trip I’d recommend travelling alone as you’ll really get to know yourself, meeting as many people as you can and keeping an open mind.

Has anyone else unexpectedly grown professionally by travelling?