For the fifth year in a row I’d like to recount the areas where I progressed over the previous twelve months, as well as the spots I could improve upon. The reasons for doing so are as follows:
1.) to think back to all of the things I am grateful for that happened during the past year,
2.) to brainstorm some of the ways I can improve myself, and
3.) to publicly set quantifiable goals for the next 365 days.
I started off 2017 with just a single main goal in front of me–to build up my companies (in particular, my safari company, Pamoja Safaris).
So, how’d I do? Read on to find out!
In 2017 I continued the trend I had put into motion in 2016 of putting work before play. This drastically decreased my travel plans for the year, but on the inverse skyrocketed my productivity (who would have thought!).
Through this continued focus on business I was able to launch projects that I had put off developing or finishing for years, in some cases.
In order to build routines and increase output, I prioritized staying in single locations for longer lengths of time–especially spots that I had:
- a.) been to before (thus my innate drive to explore would be less of an issue, and getting set up would be less of a hassle),
- b.) had fast, stable Internet connections, and
- c.) were moderately cheap and convenient to live in.
Because of this, much of the year was spent either in the U.S., Japan, or Thailand (see “Travels”, below)–all places I had been to a dozen or more times, felt comfortable in, and spoke the language of (well, I know enough Thai to get around and perform basic tasks).
More and more, I’m coming to a realization of how important it is to have a few basic things in my travel/work life, such as easy access to nutritious/delicious food, a comfortable bed, sunlight in the living space, a proper desk and chair as a part of the workspace, etc. When you bounce around to dozens of locations every year, it quickly becomes apparent if even one thing is off, and that one thing often decreases one’s productivity or comfort. When looking for long-term accommodation (usually through AirBnB), I can now quickly eliminate any spots if they don’t have any of the aforementioned amenities.
I’m happy with my choices for the year, and plan to largely repeat the same locales again in 2018. If it ain’t broke…
Travels: 74 Locations in 10 Countries (2 New) on 3 Continents
Starting off at the end of a three-month stint in Bangkok–the longest I had been based in one place in at least half a decade–I headed back to the U.S. for my first dead-of-winter visit in a few years. My time there was spent visiting friends and family in Detroit, taking a road trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, visiting my friends and family in Dallas and Austin for the first time in five years, and a quick jaunt to NYC to see the crew.
In early March I headed off to the far east, as I usually do, to lead my semi-annual Eat Japan culinary trip. Due to a couple of last minute cancellations this year’s trip ended up only being myself and two others, but we made the most of it and were able to hit up some amazing spots, which would have been difficult with a larger group. After twelve days of feasting I headed off for a solo trip to Hachijojima, a remote volcanic Japanese island in the middle of the Pacific, where I hiked and enjoyed some down time after nearly two weeks of guiding and translating. I visited an awesome abandoned hotel there, which I wrote about here.
Following that I headed off to a spot I had spent a lot of time searching on Airbnb for: a private house, near the beach and mountains, that had a good Internet connection, and didn’t cost too much. Upon arriving I was very pleased to find it was everything I had hoped for–a perfect spot to get some work done and enjoy the Japanese spring (see below for more on that).
From Japan I took a flight to Madagascar, where my friend Kym Pham and I co-led an awesome group adventure. This was one of the few trips I’ve ever led without first having been to the destination, so it involved a ton of pre-planning and logistics on our end to make it happen. We canoed down rivers, camped on beaches, played with lemurs, hiked spiny rock ridges in Tsingy National Park, fjorded numerous small lakes in our Jeep, did a photoshoot at the famous Alley of the Baobabs (twice), and met some amazing people to boot. It really couldn’t have gone any better, and we’re looking forward to doing another trip there in 2019.
Post-Madagascar I took my usual week-long solo retreat to recollect myself, choosing to spend a week just north in the Seychelles islands. Although best known as a luxury resort spot and honeymoon destination, I opted to stay with a local (via Airbnb), and catch buses around the island to explore as much as I could. I ended up hiking the interior, visiting a ton of beautiful beaches, touring a rum distillery, making friends with some expats from the U.S. and Bulgaria, and stuffing myself with seafood every chance I got.
My summer was spent exclusively in the U.S. There I put my time to good use, not only getting a ton of work done, but also exploring parts of my home country that I had always put off in favor of visiting more exotic locales. From Detroit I drove to North Dakota, setting up a base of sorts in Dickinson (a town of 20,000 in the west of the state), while taking frequent side-trips to sightsee as much as I could. Destinations included Portland (where I participated in the Gambler 500 rally), Washington, Idaho, Banff, Mount Rushmore, Montana, Badlands National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wyoming (to see the full solar eclipse and visit Yellowstone National Park), Reno (to attend Burning Man for the fourth time), and Lake Tahoe. In all, my road trip encompassed a distance of 12,800 miles (20,600km).
In September I drove back to Detroit via Madison and Chicago, and soon thereafter headed off to Thailand to set up shop for the month of October, as I usually do around DCBKK (the Dynamite Circle entrepreneur group’s annual conference in Bangkok). There I attended DCBKK for the fifth time in a row, reconnecting with friends and colleagues from all over the world during one (particularly hectic) week in the middle of the month.
November was spent in Tanzania, where I did my first ever Pamoja Friends and Family safari. We had 11 people sign up for the week-long adventure, and judging by their feedback, we more than delivered the experience of a lifetime to everyone. Besides seeing all of the animals one would hope to see on a safari–elephants, lions, antelopes of every kind, cheetahs, leopards, buffalo, etc.–we had a fully-grown cheetah jump on our roof at one point! A bit surprising, but we were all OK in the end (cheetahs are not known to be aggressive–he just wanted a better view of his surroundings). It was a diverse group–ranging from people in the 20’s to those in their 60’s, but everyone got along awesomely. We had an excellent time doing it–so much so that we will be doing TWO trips in 2018, one from November 3rd-10th, and another from December 1st-8th (with an optional Kilimanjaro trek from December 10th-17th).
If you’re interested in joining us and want more details, click here. (Act quick though, as signups are already open, and we only have 11 spots available for each trip.)
Nearing the end of my month-long stay in Tanzania, I ended up running a full marathon (with only a few days of training), and lived and hunted with the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe in the country, the Hadza. I’ll write about each of those separately at some point later this year.
December was spent back in Thailand, where I continued working on my to-do list, along with attending the Wonderfruit Festival in Pattaya and the 808 Festival in Bangkok. On Christmas Day I headed off to India for my third Rickshaw Run charity rally. But, that is a story for another time…
Believe it or not, this year counted as quite the minimal travel year, despite the fact that I moved between 74 locations (defined as sleeping in a different location to the prior night)–most which were racked up during the extended road trip during the summer. My new country count was reduced to only two–Madagascar and the Seychelles–during a single trip in May.
It’s hard to scale back the fun and adventures part of life, but I think the year ended up with a decent mix of both in regard to what takes precedence in my life at the moment.
The Japanese Countryside
My Airbnb–a three bedroom, two story house–was a three minute walk to the beach. Although still too cold to go swimming at, it was a peaceful spot to walk along in the mornings and evenings. I had some small mountains just north of me, and I took the ten minute walk to get there and go hiking a few times during my stay. There were no restaurants or delivery services around, so I had to cook nearly every meal for myself, which made me learn a few new Japanese recipes. The only grocery store was a half hour walk from my house, so it was a bit of an ordeal to go shopping, having to lug all of my groceries back by hand (especially when buying things like rice, canned goods, etc.). There was only one convenience store in town–a 7-11–and lucky for me it was only a five minute walk away from me.
The interesting thing about the town I was in–Shirahama–was that there was no train station! This is almost unthinkable based on my past experiences in Japan, going all the way back to 2001, where I relied on trains to get just about everywhere. The closest station, Tateyama, was a 30 minute bus ride away, and the buses finished around 8:30pm. There was, however, a long-distance bus that stopped near the grocery store, which terminated at Tokyo station. I used that a couple times to get to and from Tokyo, at a cost of $25 each way and a three hour journey.
There wasn’t much socializing for me that April, and that’s just how I wanted it. I’ve found it’s easier to change one’s surroundings than one’s habits, and knew that an enforced period of time in such a remote location, where it’d be a big commitment to go anywhere, would lead to me spending most of the time on my computer, getting stuff done.
I enjoyed my time in such a quiet, natural location. The walks to and from the grocery store passed by small plots of land where the locals would plant flowers and vegetables, and it was cool to see the season change from early to late spring, and the crops be harvested and re-planted. People would say hello to me as I passed, and even though I was only there for about a month, I felt like I was a part of the community. The owners grandmother would sometimes stop by and give me food, or take me in her car to see the local sights. I befriended an American English teacher who lived next door to me and taught at the middle school across the street, and she introduced to me her friends that taught in the surrounding areas. We all went out for dinner, or to see the blooming cherry blossoms, a nice respite from days spent by myself in front of my laptop.
Interestingly, I found I took advantage of the surrounding nature and open space less than expected. I went for maybe a half-dozen beach walks, and only went hiking three times. Once I woke up and followed my morning routine I was already in work mode, and didn’t want to “squander” my precious time on anything other than work or other necessary tasks. This was a bit of a surprise, as when I spent three months in Bangkok just prior I had frequently wished to escape the city, and longed for clean air and a spot to get some exercise outdoors. There were definitely a few times where I considered–and even researched–renting a motorbike and driving in one direction as far and as fast as I could (the time and monetary costs always discouraged me in the end). Perhaps simply being out of the big city, and close to nature, was enough.
Well, the goal was to get work done–while being closer to nature than I was during my time in Bangkok–and it was the perfect location in which to do that. I’ll be back again in 2018.
Business & Finances
I scheduled in long blocks of a month or more to just get work done, including Japan in April, much of the summer in the U.S. (in between the random road trips), and the last three months of the year in Bangkok and Tanzania. Of course, in between all of that I was also working, but I found that I was at peak productivity whenever I had a few consecutive weeks in a row in which I could work consistently.
At the end of the year I finally launched the new Pamoja Safaris website, which although still in development, was a relief to publish after three years of building/prioritizing other things. Coinciding with the launch we decided to make our first large charitable donation–to Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Cup tournament, in the form of a safari package for two to their charity auction.
So, in the end, did I succeed in my goal?
Yes–but with a caveat.
I in fact managed to 16x revenue, and 22x profit versus 2016. Not too shabby, of course, but it’s not quite as impressive as it seems on the outside. The thing is, since last year was the first time that I really buckled down and got to work on Pamoja, I had a lot to catch up on. Because of this, 2016 was not on par with what it could have been, say, if I had started on this road year earlier (although it wasn’t too far off of 2014 and 2015’s revenue).
2016 just set par for 2017, in my mind. I think the real test will be my growth in 2018 versus what I accomplished in 2017.
Regarding the financial side of things, I continued 2016’s habit of tracking spending, with credit card spreadsheets on my PC, and purchase logging on my phone.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I’ve made much of a dent on the financial side of things, but since I have all of the numbers, I can now check the data and see that progress is indeed being made. Not as fast as I’d like, but I knew it would take some time to build up momentum.
At this point I would say that half of my income is coming from Pamoja Safaris, with much of the rest being made up of income from my custom WordPress website development and support company, Brothers Design (which I run alongside my younger brother, Kyle). This is also supplemented by the trips I do a few times a year, such as my Eat Japan trip or the Madagascar adventure, but it is negligible overall (especially seeing as I can’t scale those tours efficiently).
Going forward it looks like the most scalable and profitable avenue will be to focus on Pamoja, as I’ve been doing the past couple of years. However, that doesn’t mean I can let everything else sit on the sidelines, so it’ll be a careful balancing act until the point when I can largely automate and delegate much of my current responsibilities in the company (one of the major goals of 2018).
Based on the progress we are seeing with Pamoja Safaris alone I have no doubt that things will continue to go in the right direction as long as I put in the effort.
Goals Recap & 2018 Goals
I also had a goal of writing one blog post a month–that one didn’t go so well. The issue is that when I have a to-do list miles long, writing–which I do not profit off of directly–takes a back seat to just about everything. A post such as this takes hours to write and format, and I often decide that that time is better spent on other endeavors.
The other goals included:
- Start an email list? Check.
- 10x profit? Destroyed it, at over 22x.
- Successfully complete my three group trips I had scheduled for 2017 (Japan, Madagascar, and Tanzania)? Definitely.
- Finish the Pamoja Safaris website before the end of January? No, but it was made live a bit later in the year.
- Get Brothers Design up and running to the point where I didn’t need to invest more than an average of 10 hours a week? Ongoing.
All in all, not a bad scorecard for the year. Definitely room for improvement, but I’m happy with the amount of effort I put in and what I got out of the time invested.
For 2018, my goals are to:
- Finishing the Pamoja website completely by March
- Starting a Pamoja Safaris email list by April
- 3x’ing Pamoja revenue over 2017 numbers by the end of the year
- Enter the luxury safari market by the end of the year (separate website, tour itineraries, etc.)
That should keep us busy!
My ask of anyone who is reading this is to please pass along any friends or family that are interested in a safari to the Pamoja Safaris web site at PamojaSafaris.com for more info. If you or a colleague needs a website created or redone, or needs help with their WordPress site, please send them to BrothersDesign.com (or just contact me directly).
Appreciate the help–if you’re looking for any assistance on your big goal(s), please let me know and I’d be happy to assist in any way I can.
I actually had a few group adventures planned for the first few months of the year that were cancelled–a South African safari with my friend Chase, a snowboard+yoga retreat in Hokkaido Japan with my friend Jules, and of course, my semi-annual Eat Japan trip in March. Circumstances were different on why each of those were cancelled, but the overarching theme is that I need to create longer blocks of time in single places in which to finish up with my work backlog.
May onward is open, but I’ll most likely attend Burning Man at the end of August, as usual, and try to make my way to Bangkok in October for DCBKK.
And of course, I am again putting together a special discount photo safari in Tanzania in November and December through my company Pamoja Safaris.
Each trip will be eight days in length, with six full days of safari, and there will be an option to summit Kilimanjaro after the December leg (which will add another week to the trip). I’ll personally be leading the groups, along with my co-founder Josh, who has twenty years of experience in the field and an amazing breadth of knowledge about the ecosystems of the area.
We will have room for 11 people on each trip, and the ground cost will be $3,290 per person, all-inclusive with lux accommodation (not including the Kilimanjaro portion, which will add another $2,790 to the total).
See the full details, or sign-up, here.
I’m currently in New Delhi, India, preparing for my third Rickshaw Run charity rally across India. This time we’ll be doing the Jaisalmer, Rajasthan to Kochi, Kerala route–3,000km+ of craziness on Indian roads in a tin can with a lawnmower engine in it. Good times.
Upon finishing this third route I’ll be able to say that I circumnavigated India in an auto-rickshaw/tuk-tuk, which is amusing to me for whatever reason (and an item on my Bucket List). We start on January 2nd–wish me luck!
Post-India I hope to finally make it to Sri Lanka, a country I’ve wanted to visit for some years now.
After that I’ll just be focusing on work for the next few months, both in Bangkok and Tokyo, before heading back to the states in May sometime. After that…?
So friends, without further ado, Adventure On!