Right now John is in The Philippines
and it's sunny and awesome!

Taking Stock


I ‘ve been pretty quiet for the last month or so. In fact I realised a couple of days ago that this is the least I’ve even used Twitter since 2008. From an average of about 900 tweets a month, I dropped to just 176 in November… and only 12 so far at the mid-point of December. So what’s going on?

I’m not depressed – far from it. Being on the road for almost three months now, a lot of things have changed.

I expected a lot of things when I started traveling, and most of them ended up being accurate. One thing which I didn’t expect, or plan for in any capacity, was just how drastically my general outlook on the world would change following the removal of material possessions. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, really, cause it’s something that’s written about frequently. Prior to departure I’d absorbed countless articles discussing the sense of freedom from giving up all one owns. But I’ve never really been that attached to “stuff” – and I had no reservations about giving up mine – so I didn’t really see it as a big deal.

The shift in perspective doesn’t really have much to do with the things you own owning you, as such. It’s a state of mind. Whilst living a “normal” life, even as a relatively non-materialistic person, I was always thinking about the next “thing” to buy, or pay for, or do. I had absolutely no appreciation for how much time my mind spent locked into this rut of: earn money, buy something, do cool things with it, earn a bit more money, buy another thing.

Now that’s all gone. Not only do I have no “stuff” – but I can’t buy any new stuff at all unless I’m both able and willing to carry it on my back inside my hand-luggage-sized backpack around the world. Which is an extended way of saying: there’s nothing I want or need to buy, and even if I did – I couldn’t.

There’s a frustratingly large gap in my head where a bunch of things which I used to care about once resided.


Right now I’m in Sydney, Australia – staying with some friends over here after speaking at WordCamp Gold Coast last month (which was excellent). As soon as I got here, everything settled down. Between October and November I travelled something like an average of 5,000 miles a day with an average of 2 days in each place. From Lincoln to Seoul, to Amsterdam, to Dublin, to Bristol, to Bournemouth, to London, to The Gold Coast… and finally Sydney. I hadn’t had time to even think up until I got here.

Then I started noticing this shift in outlook, and I started trying to fill this large (and growing) gap in my head. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but I found that I started questioning my goals in life… my dreams… my ambitions. What is really the point of anything I’m doing? Will I look back on what I’m doing *right now* in 10 years time and say, “those were good years – you really accomplished something.”

When you have nothing else to think about, nothing else to even occupy your idle mind with, those types of questions run riot through your mind.

That’s also the reason that, despite my best intentions, I haven’t been posting on this blog much. Because the question of “who gives a fuck about what I’m writing as I travel around the world?” is haunting me. I’m not sure what the purpose of this blog is yet, and it needs one. I’ve always posted journal-type-entries on my personal blog… and I’ll continue to do so. But it needs to be more than that if I’m going to invest a lot of time into it. I’m still trying to work out what the best angle for that is.

So I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions, I’ve been looking for a lot of answers, and I’ve been diligently continuing work as normal – but taking a step back from the social side of things for some reflection.


A few days ago I was talking to Rob, and he mentioned how many industry fights I’d missed over the last couple of weeks. Then I turned on Twitter today to find another stream of personal insults aimed at me from one particularly agressive American web developer who likes to ram his neo-liberal political views down everyone’s throat and then attack them if they don’t agree with him. These, both things which I usually would pay lots of attention to and get involved in, suddenly seem desperately pathetic.

That latter argument I don’t even have the energy for anymore. The former argument is so well rehearsed that I needn’t even have looked at it to know what it was about. One web developer points out that another (more famous) web developer is talking shit. A day of destroyed producitivity for hundreds of people ensues as everyone takes sides. Again.

As always, it is far easier to criticise something than to build something. As always, those who’ve built something take the criticism personally. Nobody wins.

I guess I’ve realised that really I don’t care. To survive in the web design bubble (or any online community bubble), you either have to embrace it and conquer it – or you have to get the fuck out, because you’ve realised that this has become a far too accurate depiction of your life:


I’m choosing the latter.


I’ve made huge changes to my life in 2011, so I guess now it’s time to make some changes to my work – too. I’m going to start transitioning my skills and my experience to apply my knowledge and expertise to my own ideas and my own projects. I started a website called Travelllll.com a few months ago. It’s doing rather well. Over the coming months I’m moving into a much more active role on the site, to build a business and a product which I can have some fun with.

I also have a couple of other ideas that I’m working on – ideas which came from my month of introspective questioning – ideas which I think matter. I’d like to explore those, too.

I’m still doing client work, but I turn down about 75% of the enquiries that I get at the moment. If you’re a great WordPress theme developer – leave me a comment – I’m running out of people to refer clients to.

What I’m really realigning, is my activity in the web design community. Technology has so many exciting applications to industries which are drastically lacking behind. There are far too many talented people squandering their time arguing over whether or not an <a> tag should always be inside a <p> tag, rather than using their powers to instigate positive change in both the web… and the world.

For me, it’s time to get outside my comfort zone and try new things. Again.

The Most Heavily Guarded Border in The World: The Korean Demilitarised Zone
New Office: Boracay Island, The Philippines

18 Responses to “Taking Stock” Subscribe

  1. Andrew December 12, 2011 at 06:38 #

    Hey man, just wanted to let you know that some people actually value these posts, it’s really inspiring to see a fellow developer who has the balls to pack his life into a small backpack and travel around the world, since most of us are just lazy farts. I’m still a teenager but I plan to do this once I have enough money and I’m done with school, so please keep these coming, it’s really awesome to see you winning at life, gives me hope. Cheers

  2. Dave Fowler December 12, 2011 at 07:34 #

    Ditto Andrew’s comments..

    I travelled a lot with my former career and did business in some former soviet cultures which really opens my eyes to the subject of possessions..

    This insight is really well articulated and should be read by more people.. unfortunately I doubt that the people it SHOULD affect are the very people it won’t.. but c’est la vie, we don’t really care do we, let them continue with the in-fighting ;o)

  3. Dave December 12, 2011 at 07:50 #

    Hi John, I think a lot of people in the web community have started noticing a shift in their own priorities, and they don’t like all the bullshit that’s floating around at the moment. You’ve taken the decision to do what most of us can’t, and for that I envy you.

    On another note, seen as I can’t quit the rat race, feel free to push some of those WordPres dev enquiries my way.

    Best of luck with the new venture.

  4. Gilbert December 12, 2011 at 09:30 #

    Hey man. A “humblingly” honest post. Great to hear that your experience is helping you focus on what really matters in life.

    And for what it’s worth, I love reading about what you get up to on this blog.

  5. Phil Barker December 12, 2011 at 09:37 #

    I don’t really have anything constructive to add.

    I spend waaay too much of my time working to earn money I don’t need, and even more of my time sitting around trying to thinks of ways to spend the money on things I don’t need.
    But I think if I gave all that up and had more time to reflect on life – I’d just hate people even more

    Anyway. It’s really good to hear your still alive and well, I’m gonna have to drag Rick out to come and meet you next year – miss your cheeky face :)

  6. Paul December 12, 2011 at 09:58 #

    “I found that I started questioning my goals in life… my dreams… my ambitions. What is really the point of anything I’m doing? Will I look back on what I’m doing *right now* in 10 years time and say, “those were good years – you really accomplished something.””

    Believe me – travel definitely does this to you. I left on my travels almost 6 years ago in a mundane job that I was good at but hated.

    12 months out made me question what I was doing and when I did return I retrained to be a web developer and I started a job that I enjoy and still enjoy 5 years on.

  7. Dzikri December 12, 2011 at 11:49 #

    “who gives a fuck about what I’m writing as I travel around the world?”

    I do :)
    Your posts are always inspiring, so please, keep ‘em coming.

  8. Emiliano December 12, 2011 at 12:17 #

    Dear john, what you’re experimenting some call it “enlightment” there where the possesions lack of power and all that is left is you and the world, and nothing more.

    We dont know each other in person (in fact, im far from where you are, Argentina, to be accurate) but it really makes me happy to see what kind of path are you walking on right now…

    The role of the web devs SHOULD be and CAN be different, it doesnt matter how you make something work, it only matters if it helps people (after all, the web without people is nothing)…

    as i like to say, we should “try to change the web to fit its own ideals”…

    Hope to read more from you,


  9. Chelsea December 12, 2011 at 17:09 #

    Question: What did you end up keeping? Anything else besides laptop, camera, and clothes?

  10. Tracey December 12, 2011 at 19:27 #

    This is the great thing about traveling. Losing all the clutter and figuring out what really matters. A new perspective.

    Great to meet you at wcgold, John and glad you’re enjoying your time over here.


    Ps. feel free to steer WordPress theme clients my way :-)

  11. Bronson Quick December 13, 2011 at 11:46 #

    He IS alive!!! Glad you are alive still I was getting worried that the dropbears had their evil way with you! :)

    Epic post Squire! I love the ballsyness in your honesty. You touched on so many fabulous points. I am a firm believer that most people are used to the same old ‘earn money, buy new gadget’ kind of mindset and I too used to be a lot like that but starting my own business changed that cause it was bootstrapping and using sweat equity…and I’m a much happier man nowdays than I was back then!

    I couldn’t agree more about how many people on the internet like to pick fights with people in the industry just to shit stir and grab their attention and 90% of the time they are all talk and can’t back things up with anything they’ve done.

    Boy I’d love to have room to take up some of your WordPress leads but we’re in the same boat up in Brissy. The demand for people wanting WordPress developers at the moment in Australia is freaking insane!!! We’re getting leads from all over this fine country. I think you’ve come to the right country to be able to pick and choose your WordPress work as well cause we keep upping our prices and too many people keep saying yes!

    On a side note, I’ve been post-processing the WordCamp Gold Coast videos. 120 gig of footage that has shit quality video and shit sound. I’ve become a master in both video and sound noise reduction in Premiere but there is still an insane amount of rendering to go. The videos will probably surface in Jan on this stage. We’re even getting harrassed by the wordpress.tv peeps to get them up cause they are keen.

    Keep blogging Sir!

  12. John Wilson December 13, 2011 at 13:56 #

    Hey John,

    Ahhh, the memories. Home is where you leave your hat and a different home every couple of days. It’s takes me back.

    Great post and I think I know what you mean. While I was travelling earlier this year, I actually found it a relief to distance myself from the web community, although perhaps not so much the possessions. Every Apple store I went in, i was planning on my next purchase :-)

    And, even though I continued to work while I was away, making the most of the intermittent WiFi connections in Vietnamese hostels, I quickly gave up worrying about what articles I was missing, or what people were saying on Twitter.

    It was great just to focus on what we were doing for the now, where we were. Everything else kind of just went on and we didn’t care. That freedom allowed for some great thinking time & idea’s which hopefully will lead to some more exciting times in the future.

    Now that I’m home, I tend to keep nothing more than a casual eye on what’s occurring, and just focus on doing what I enjoy, which coincidently is WordPress development.

    Keep the posts coming & enjoy yourself!


  13. Kirsten December 14, 2011 at 17:35 #

    *raises hand* in response to question “who gives a fuck about what I’m writing as I travel around the world?”

    Also, fighting is part of any industry and it is always wiser to walk away and build something instead of engaging in ceaseless debate.

    I don’t know what it was like in the Netherlands or Philippines when you were growing up or even what it is like now with regards to work and family and a definition of “normal” life. In the US, we’ve gone from the American Dream of 2 kids, a pet, two married (straight) parents living in their white picket fence in the suburbs while dad commutes to a job in the city and mom stays home — to a freedom like we’ve never had before and yet a reality that so many here still build their lives around what they are told they should do by advertising. And that usually still revolves around possessions or romantic relationships with any gender. Most here will never leave that circle jerk. I didn’t for a long time. I am trying to now and finding it harder than I thought. Yet, I am inspired by your journey to continue the progress.

    I think the best, most honest, and ultimately – rewarding, thing you can do right now is exactly what you’re doing: trying new things, striking out and building a life by your terms without the things that once defined your life for you. The life you build, whether it remains largely contained in a backpack or whether you do pick up more possessions or relationships or connections, will be one that’s not superfluous if for no other reason than that you bothered to go through all this questioning.

    I don’t know that this part of your site needs an express purpose beyond documenting all of this change and journeying. People are already inspired by following what you’re doing. More people can find hope (and hopefully be inspired toward change themselves) in what you share if you keep sharing it. Maybe in your own head it seems to lack a point. But that doesn’t mean it actually is, pointless.

  14. Japh December 17, 2011 at 00:30 #

    Mate, your posts are always worth waiting for. There may have been a gap, but this post is brilliant and insightful.

    I’ve had similar thoughts and feelings while travelling, and even though it wasn’t so long ago, it’s great to be reminded of them. Focussing on what’s important and striving to work on things that really matter.

    Also, speaking of travel, I’m still trying to think of a way to get you to come visit down here! I want you to meet our kangaroos and climb our mountain :)

    Miss you, mate. Happy and safe travels.

  15. Rob Hope January 1, 2012 at 21:37 #

    Keep blogging John! Really enjoying your posts as a digital nomad and I get loads of value from them.

  16. Gavin Elliott January 10, 2012 at 13:28 #

    Bloody brilliant read, and very refreshing.



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