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10 Lessons from a Mini-Retirement in Rome

Soul is one of the first true supporters of Escape the City way back in the recesses of 2009 when the Esc website was nothing more than a blog.

Soul’s professional career pre-escape went as follows: “Worked as a strategy consultant for Capgemini Consulting for 5 years. Prior to that worked as a financial consultant for 1 year, in an internet start-up for 1 year, and in investment banking for 6 months. I also studied for and passed my ACA and CFA exams in 3 years, instead of 6 years, which gave me a very strong financial education.”

He completed the 25th Esc Hero interview: Esc Hero #25: I can run my businesses from anywhere in the world. He was the special guest at one of our very first Esc Wednesdays: 10 things we learnt at ‘The Answer to the Money Question’. He has just returned from a mini-retirement in Rome and has been kind enough to write down 10 things that he has learnt.

I hope you find this informative and inspirational. We certainly did and are planning to use this advice when we make our own escapes from the UK and take Esc on the road…

1. Go to your passion

I’m not talking about members of the opposite (or same) sex here (although I wouldn’t compain either!) I mean go to a country or place you are already passionate about. For me this was Italy, and Rome. I had already been to Rome 6 times before the mini-retirement and loved the place. You’ll need this passion to get over the tough times. Yes, it’s wonderful to travel like this, but it can get lonely at times. Your passion will get you through this – remember why you chose this path.

2. Making friends is easy! (Within an activity)

Most people worry about making friends when they go abroad for long periods – I was most people. Play it too cool and you’ll spend a lot of nights alone with Skype friends for company, try to be too keen and you’ll come across the next Talented Mr Ripley.

Relax, it happens, often faster than you think. I made some very cool friends but these were always within doing some other activity. Mine were at language school and at capoeira classes. Doing an activity together gives you something to bond over, a shared experience which underpins the friendship.

3. Learn 1,000 words before you go

And I don’t mean just profanities and cheesy chat-up lines. This accelerated my language learning massively. I was able to skip 5 weeks of beginner classes – why? Because at the beginning vocabulary is more important than grammar. Learn the following categories: Adjectives; Adverbs; Foods; Household; Meals; Moods/Emotions; Numbers; Pronouns; Superlatives; Time; Important Verbs.

Use a program which has a spaced-repetition learning option. I used AccelaStudy on my iPhone.

PS: Learning profanities does actually help…

4. Take Risks

“The solution to every problem you have lies outside your comfort zone”. I’m not sure who said that, but it’s true. Make sure you take risks. You didn’t make this trip to act small, but to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. Talk to people you don’t know, or wouldn’t normally talk to. Don’t judge people on appearance. Ask to join in. I did these things and make some great friends, and went on some great road trips around Italy with people I had only met a few weeks before. I really learned not to judge on appearance, something I tended to do a lot in London.

If you’re feeling really daring try out some of the challenges from the Four Hour Work Week. In the space of 3 hours, I managed to lie in a public place motionless for 30 seconds, ask a total stranger out in the street, and not break eye contact with everyone I saw until they did. (Although I admit I did fail when a late middle-aged “working girl” smoking in a doorway locked eyes on me and just wouldn’t break eye contact… I made a sharpish exit…)

5. Take your partner (even if only for a short-time)

If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend take them with you if you can. If you feel you want to do this by yourself, as I did, then work out an agreement with them. It wasn’t easy making that decision and working through it, and I won’t lie, it was almost the end of us. We came to a compromise that I would come back for a week every month, or she would come to Rome, and that we would not spend more than 3 weeks without seeing each other.

Plus make sure that you at least spend the first week in the new location with them and do as much of the things you would normally do with them. This helps them feel a part of your adventure, and also know people and places you go to. Share photos. Not doing this is dangerous. Otherwise for example guys, if you say to your girlfriend you met a really cool girl at language school your girlfriend will probably imagine this girl has the face of Angelina Jolie, the body of a Victoria’s Secret Model, and the sexual morals of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct… of course if this girl does I don’t know what else to say apart from can you introduce me…? And yes girls, vice-versa it’ll probably be visions of horny but oh-so-nice-and-friendly athletic Brad Pitt look-a-like with a six pack… easy now ladies…

6. Learn one intellectual skill, one physical

This is a tip from Tim Ferriss in the Four Hour Work Week. A great way to spend your time is learning one intellectual skill, usually language learning, and one physical skill – for me this was capoeira. These will keep you occupied, grow as a person, help you make friends, and give you new skills to bring back. Plus people will think you’re cool! Kind of…

And if you can, definitely learn to cook, especially from a native of that country. My flatmate’s mother taught me how to make some delicious food, including a mean Melanzane Parmigiana!

7. Keep track of expenses – especially those phone bills

You will spend more than you think… WAY more! I budgeted for £1,000 a month all in, but found that I spent more on food and going out than I thought. Plus I hadn’t budgeted for language school, which I wasn’t planning on attending originally.

And phone bills, oh, the price of having a partner in another country. Let’s just say my phone bills almost came to half my rent per month! I had to juggle using my UK and Italian SIM cards. If you both have iPhones get Viber (free calls over the internet) and use a local SIM card to connect… or hack you iPhone for Skype (I never told you that…)

8. Take less than you need

You don’t need a lot of clothing. I mean in terms of a wardrobe, not walking around the city in bikinis and speedos. If you can use adventure clothing from companies such as North Face and Patagonia – it’s awesome. They look smart, are quick to dry and keep you warm. If you forget something you can always buy it when you get there.

Apart from clothing I also took one pair of hiking shoes/trainers, one pair of smart black shoes, football boots, a Macbook Pro, iPhone, old Nokia phone for an Italian SIM, a rucksack, a notebook, and a few favourite books. That was pretty much it.

9. Live near a Metro Line

I made this mistake by moving in with two friends who lived only on a tram line, which was not great for late nights or hot days, as it only ran till 10:30pm and wasn’t air-conditioned. The metro however ran as late as 12:30 and with full air-con. Plus generally living near a tube line tends to be safer.

10. And finally remember: Most people won’t understand

Most people won’t understand why you are doing this. Really. And it will often be the people closest to you. When you do something daring, something new, it causes people to question there own choices, and can leave them uncomfortable with the answers they find. So they will often try to justify their choices by attacking yours. Expect it, and have compassion. You won’t be able to argue your view across, but let them see what you do, and more importantly, who you become and who knows, it may just inspire them to step outside their comfort zones and do something they have always wanted to.

I’ll just finish by saying that I don’t consider myself a master exponent of the Escape lifestyle by any means. I make mistakes, I have ups and many downs when I question exactly what it is that I’m doing and why, including many times on this mini-retirement. But whatever happens in the future I know that no-one can ever take away from me what I have experienced and the magic moments I’ve shared and what I’ve contributed. At the end of the day, isn’t that all we ever have?

Soul

Resources:

The Four Hour Work Week: Tim Ferriss

Vagabonding: Ralf Potts

iPhone Learning App: www.Accelastudy.com

Accommodation (these are sites for cheap accommodation / house shares): www.AirBnb.com, www.Couchsurfing.com

Rome Language School – www.italiaidea.com

Making calls – www.viber.com (iPhone); www.skype.com

More photos to follow tomorrow when I have a chance to upload them…