It all started a little more than a year ago in my dull home city. I was selling my apartment and moving my things. When people asked where I was going to, I answered, “everywhere”. Surprised, they wondered “what about your start-up?”. I pointed to my backpack, “Colnect is coming with me, right here”.
I ventured out into the world with a laptop, a smart phone, four Colnect T-shirts in four different colors, a box full of advertisement fliers that resemble dollar bills enough to make them a popular attraction almost anywhere on the planet and a puppet frog named Frognector. To date, I have been through 13 countries, camping around Iceland, hitchhiking through continental Europe, seeing the Orthodox Jewish New Year celebrations in Ukraine and shortly after attending Israel’s much less orthodox naked festival, staying in desert caves in Jordan, lying on the beaches of Goa in south India, settling for a while in the Tibetan refuge city in the mountains of north India and drinking fresh coconuts in Thailand. All the while running my start-up.
My name is Amir Wald and I am an entrepreneur. Colnect is a unique website for collectors, available in 60 languages, that I built and am continuing to push forward. From any place that has an Internet connection, I keep managing hundreds of volunteers who help make Colnect the greatly needed service it is for the hundreds of thousands of people visiting it each month.
The Traveling Office
Every month, week or day my office door opens to a completely new place. The globe turns a bit, grinding beneath the floor tiles and comes to a screeching halt. The office room itself changes in the process as well, but what the heck, as long as it has a decent bathroom. This time the office door opens to a quiet green village in the mountains of Northern Laos, infested with plenty of unreasonably fairytale-like big butterflies. My breakfast is a fresh pineapple shake. My lunch and dinner are in a restaurant that is actually the bamboo home of a sweet elderly Laotian couple that put a big English menu on their door. They seem to really enjoy feeding me giant sizzling dishes. No coworker chatter, just laughing Laotians drinking Beer-Lao and the occasional Western tourists. No credit cards accepted here. Some of the chairs are replaced by pillows and hammocks. Although at the bottom of the mountain, it feels like the top of the world.
Laos, both the Land of Million Elephants and the most bombed country in history, is now also the safe haven of tranquility in Asia, at least for foreigners. Compared with its neighbors, Laos has mostly green surroundings and a wholly relaxed vibe to offer. Recently Laos has begun to catch some of the 3-week-tourists that come for a combo trip of Thailand – Cambodia – Vietnam. The newly adopted attitude of Laos towards foreigners visiting is now best described by their slogan – “Stay Another Day”. In Thailand people come and bake on a single beach for their entire stay. In cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai the local residents are already used to the white faces of the many foreigners (“farang” we are called) that situated themselves there as a “home base”. In comparison, Laos doesn’t know what a long term tourist is. It just hopes you stay another day and buy one more thing. To me personally, the tourist approach of rushing to cover more places is much less appealing. Almost any new person I meet over lunch is gone by dinner.
Perhaps this will all change soon enough. In Luang Nam Tha a young Laotian bus-company owner, another young entrepreneur, was eating noodle soup at the same noodle-soup-lady-table as me. He mentioned that, “in 2015 we will join ASEAN (the Asian equivalent of the EU) and start being a proper tourist destination”. I hope that, if it is successful, Laos will manage to keep its calm atmosphere. As for me, I will be moving on soon as well, to China.
“Of course, if I could live this way I would”. Almost everyone I meet on the road, local or tourist, gives me a version of this sentence. In everyday life, traveling is usually associated with either a vacation or strictly-business business trips. There is something about the combination of the freedom that real traveling affords with personal progress and career building that mostly rings as great and unattainable at the same time. I am here to show that combining the two is not only within reach, it creates mutual benefit between the two areas, and is immensely fun.
Moving gives you freedom from some of the every day life’s pressures, and cultivates satisfaction and excitement. Those enable creativity, lightness and efficiency to be an integral part of your work process. You have no idea how much time and worry you are wasting on your routine. The break down of the routine releases a lot of spare time and work space.
Travel-working isn’t always a smooth ride. When the server farm hosting Colnect’s servers in Germany had a long outage, I was online and worried in a remote gas station in Iceland. Throughout India, it seemed the country was adamant on making it hard to get a mobile Internet connection running smoothly. Professional programmers are not easily found in the villages on the banks of the Mekong river in Laos. However, all these issues are pieces of oily puffed rice cakes when considering the benefits of traveling, and are fairly easily managed. I will tell you what you need to know to start your own Traveling Office. The only real question remaining is would you want to do it. Give it a thought as I take the bus to China. I will let you know how it goes.
A nomadic entrepreneur, Amir Wald, 33, is the founder of Colnect.com, a unique platform for collectors available in 60 languages and currently visited by over 333,000 people a month. During the last year, Amir has traveled in 14 countries and continued to develop Colnect from quite unlikely locations. Among his other hobbies are guitar playing, scuba diving, language learning and deep meaningless conversations.