A year of being homeless.

Posted on April 27, 2014 by Fraser Doherty

For the past few years, i've been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling (50+ countries), it's my favourite thing.  I don't really like sitting in one place for very long.

So one year ago, I wondered what it would be like to get rid of all of my stuff and just travel all the time, working from my computer wherever I went, hopping from city to city.

My first surprise was how easy it was to make such a big change.  It took like a couple of days to get rid of everything, hand in the keys to the old house, book the first stop and get on the plane.  

I filled a van with all my stuff and drove it to Oxfam.  I sent a few boxes of sentimental things to my parents' attic and packed the rest into a suitcase.    I think people thought I was being a bit weird, and I didn't know if it would last myself.

My first stop was Berlin, where I rented an apartment in Neukoelln for a couple weeks - "where the bars look like living rooms and the living rooms look like bars".  Nobody really does any work in Berlin but it was a fun place to start and I enjoyed trying to guess which of the locals were homeless and which were hipsters..  

After that I went to beautiful St Ives in Cornwall, mystical Avebury in Wiltshire, seaside-ing in Barcelona, a couple weeks in gorgeous Stockholm, a little trip to Luxembourg, a couple weeks in my friend's mannequin factory in Brussels & canal barging in Amsterdam.  

I like trying alternative methods of transport and, as well as hitchhiking in Wales, I tried out blablacar.com - a cool service that hooks you up with an intercity ride in a stranger's car.  I paid £3 for a lift from Brussels to Amsterdam with a Rastafarian drug smuggler; he was one of the most charming strangers i've met and, thankfully, we didn't get stopped at any borders.


I think some of my friends marvel that I have successfully got on about 70 planes this year, only missing maybe three or four; i'm pretty absent minded when it comes to dates and times and places.  Anyway, I also leave stuff lying about and got my suitcase stolen in Copenhagen..

... which was pretty cool!  They even took my passport so for a few hours I was homeless, stateless and had only the shirt on my back to my name.  I felt like Gandhi! 

Once i'd got a new passport from the embassy, I went on to Istanbul, which was beautiful but I didn't quite have enough time to get beyond the fanny-pack American tourists.  I did however get asked to leave a 'gypsy bar' for not drinking alcohol, which was quite funny given that I am actually a gypsy.


I got to spend a couple of weeks in South Korea after that, where I was presented with an expensive mushroom, told frequently that I resemble Mr Bean and got my first sight of North Korea, through binoculars.

I spent a few days traveling around the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, a place so remote that it felt as foreign to me as any of the other places i'd visited.  I was even interviewed on Gaelic television.

I caught up with some of my favourite people in the world, in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Australia is one of the places i've been where I was tempted to just not get on the plane home - its so easy to make friends and find your groove there, and the weather, coffee (Allpress) and ice cream (Messina) helps too.

I went back to Copenhagen after that; my favourite spot is by the lake in Christiania, the massive hippy commune in the middle of the city.  Then gave a talk at a chef conference in San Sebastian, Spain - where there is the highest concentration of Michelin-star restaurants in the world, quite delicious, although too much meat for a veggie like me.

I went to Paris a couple of times, including Disneyland, obviously.  Unlike Australia, France is not an easy country to turn up in and start a life - the language is like a big wall that keeps outsiders out.  But, once you've got some friends there, you see a whole new side to it.  The standard of food in Paris is however the worst of anywhere i've been, hands down.  Patisserie excepted.

After a few more European stops, I was back in Korea.  This time, I was forced to sing Jammin' at the company party..  Being there during cherry blossom certainly made up for the embarrassment.  By this point, i've gotten down to a small backpack of essentials and moving from place to place is pretty effortless.

I just spent some time back in Berlin, where it all started out.  We had a picnic in Treptower park (an abandoned airfield) and cycled around Prenzlauerberg.  

After a year, I don't have any plans to stop living like this, if anything I feel I haven't been adventurous enough.  I'd like to go around South America and catch up with friends in America this year, i'd also like to visit Taiwan, Burma and see more of Africa.  

People ask me why i'm doing it and I don't really know, it's just fun.  

Some other things people ask me, in order of frequency are:


1) Where do you wash your clothes?

A: Where do I wash my clothes? wtf.  I just buy new ones when they get dirty.

No, if you seriously want to know (and people do ask me all. the. time.) I mostly use washing machines in the Airbnb apartments i'm living out of or if I get caught short, a hotel bathtub.


2) Where does your post go?

A: Gimme a break, post?  Who do you think I am?  Who gets post?  


3) How do you afford to travel all the time?

A: OK I do earn a good living from my company but actually living this way isn't any more expensive than how I lived before.  If you book Airbnb apartments for a couple of weeks at a time, you can negotiate for a rate that is similar to normal rent.  I'm also very fortunate in having friends who host me in a lot of the cities I go to.  


4) What have you learned?

A: I won't be pretentious in saying i've learned a lot.  I have however realised how much shit people fill their lives with and how much of their time is spent looking after it.  I basically never do any cleaning, shopping, gardening, waiting in for plumbers, car-maintenance... and I don't do much cooking other than for fun. 

There is no perfect place - you only have to stay somewhere a couple of weeks to realise its just as full as problems as any other place.  One day, maybe we'll live in a homogenous pix n' mix of all of the cultural best bits of each country, but, until then, you have to physically move around to experience them.

When you limit how many belongings you're willing to have (2 pairs of shoes), you think pretty carefully about which ones you want.  I've ended up buying much less, but better, things.


5) How exactly does the company work if you're not in the office?

A: We have a really nice set up where everyone I work with does so remotely, the manufacturing is outsourced (in the UK) and I can do what I do from anywhere.  Most of the places I am visiting are to promote SuperJam or give talks so i'm not exactly holidaying.


6) What things do you have in your backpack?

A: Apart from the obvious, like pants, I have a Popup Office from O2, which lets me get online wherever I am, pretty cool. I used to spend a lot of time asking for wifi passwords.


7) What online tools do you recommend for doing this kind of thing?

A: HolidayPirates, SkyScanners, SecretEscapes, Airbnb, Blablacar, Zipcar, HotelTonight, Meetup...


I hope this has been useful to any would-be gypsies.



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