Never Normal Newsletter

Home-as-a-Service, RIP Silicon Valley, and the Winter of European Nomads

Hi again from Valencia 🌞

No Never Normal newsletter last week. Instead I was relaxing in Ibiza with my family. It was great to get some time away from a computer screen.

We stayed in a fancy resort, which is not something I do very often. I enjoyed it — playing in the sea and the pool with my daughter, watching the stunning sunsets every evening with my wife, accompanied by excellent electronic music sets — at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling like a bit like a prisoner.

After years of traveling as a nomad, I’m used to renting entire apartments on Airbnb, staying in walkable areas, buying my own groceries, cooking breakfast, and really feeling like I’m at home wherever I am in the world.

Much like the debate over top sheets and duvets, I suspect there is a generational shift happening here. For Gen X and the Boomers, there was a clear line:

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“I live a lot better here than I did in the U.S.”

CNBC’s MakeIt profiled Jesse Schoberg, an American digital nomad living in Bangkok these days. As the CEO of a small tech startup, Jesse earns about $230,000 per year.

With that much income, he could afford to live well just about anywhere in the world, but Jesse chooses to live in Bangkok, because he enjoys the quality of life there.

Makes sense to me. Bangkok is one of my favorite cities in the world.

But some nomads were practically apoplectic at the fact that Jesse spends about $8,000 / month living very well in Bangkok, a city where he could live for a lot less.

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Ayahuasca and Tony Robbins


Last week I wrote about the best places to live, including a surprise entry from Bulgaria that’s popular with nomad families.

The places you spend time, the people you meet there, and the ideas and opportunities that come your way as a result, all have a huge impact on your life.

Your surroundings shape who you become.

That’s a big part of the reason why I love to travel and live in different places. As Francis Tapon and I discussed, traveling the world allows us to “pick up lots of cultural souvenirs and grab the best of humanity.”

But ultimately, the one place where we all spend our lives is inside our own minds.

“Wherever you go, there you are” as they say.

And if your mind is a miserable place to be, then your experience of life will be miserable, regardless of your physical location. Unfortunately, that is the reality for millions of people, including (especially) many living in the most prosperous countries in the world.

In the UK, one out of every six adults takes medication to treat depression. The situation is similar in the US, where 22.3% of non-Hispanic white women take antidepressants. These numbers have been climbing steadily for the last couple of decades.

You don’t need to be a doctor to diagnose that something is wrong. Why do so many people need to be drugged?

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Best Places to Live, Bulgarian Delight, and Remote Government

Hello again!

Last week, writing about American remote workers moving to Europe, I included a list of The world’s most liveable cities for 2022 (compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and shared by CNN).

Michael replied to point out how strange some of the choices on that list are. Cities like Calgary and Frankfurt. Cold. Expensive. Perhaps they’re good for business, but no fun for living.

He’s right.

Virtually all of these “best places to live” lists are the same. They almost always rank the most expensive cities in the world at the top of their lists. Cities in Australia, Austria, Canada, Switzerland, and Northern Europe.

The people compiling these lists assume you’re earning a fat paycheck from Citibank and spending your days in a high rise office building. They might as well title their lists:

Which cluster of soulless glass towers should you choose?

But what if you’re a location independent freelancer, remote worker, or entrepreneur, and you can earn the same income regardless of where you live?

What if you prioritize living a good life over having more work opportunities? Then where should you go?

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Move to Europe?

Long time no see!

I skipped sending a newsletter the last few weeks to spend more time with family (finally able to visit us here in Spain after 2.5 years of planning).

I also took a super short trip to Lisbon too see some friends/colleagues.

The summer of travel continues here in Europe. It seems like half of America has descended on the content in the past month.

Speaking of going from the US → Europe, a few weeks ago Peer Richelsen asked Twitter:

The tweet struck a nerve.

Over 6 million views in just 3 days. And thousands of replies filled with patriotism, peanut butter, and assertions about of the quality of life across the Atlantic.

I’m not surprised.

Many people are proud of their homeland, but Americans in particular don’t like hearing that life might be better somewhere else.

So where is the best place to live, in the US or Europe?

Six of the ten “most livable cities” in the world are in Europe. None are in the U.S.

The conventional wisdom is that America is better for making money and climbing the socioeconomic ladder, while Europe is better for enjoying a more relaxed, healthy life.

But now, in the era of remote work, your economic opportunities are far less constrained by your location. You can live it up sunny Spain while writing code for a Silicon Valley startup or save a ton of money living in Bulgaria while working for a Boston-based company.

So Peer’s tweet brought to the surface what lots of people were already doing or thinking about.

Travel bloggers Brent and Michael just wrote about their decision to leave the US (“it seemed like a country in rapid decline”) and become digital nomads traveling around Europe.

Fellow Americans Dan and Ian just recorded an entire episode of their Tropical MBA podcast on “The Europe Question”.

And now all of a sudden, I think these questions aren’t so much what does the digital nomad who’s this edge case traveller want to do, we’ve got this entire graduating class of the mainstream, who are asking themselves the digital nomad question: why don’t we live in Europe? It’s so nice. They have public transportation. Why haven’t we been there yesterday? Why don’t we move here this year?”

Hanging out in expat and nomad forums online, I often see Europeans and Americans who have the opportunity to move asking:

Is life really better across the Atlantic?

As someone who holds both passports, grew up in the US, and has lived in Europe for a few years now, this is something I think about often, and feel pretty well-qualified to weigh in on.

First, the usual caveat: It’s hard to generalize. America and Europe are both big places, each with diverse cultures and climates, and populations in the hundreds of millions.

The most general answer I can give is that, most Europeans and Americans are probably happier living in their home countries.

My American friends and family find Europe charming, but they like having more open spaces, big houses, big cars, free refills, friendly customer service, and more disposable income to spend shopping online and in big box stores.

All things that they would sacrifice to some degree by moving.

Europeans enjoy America’s national parks, higher salaries, and sunnier weather, but they prefer their own safer cities with better public transportation, labor-friendly laws, and universal healthcare.

All of this is another way to say, the best place to live depends on your priorities. If you’re really thinking about moving somewhere else, consider making a list of what you value, and then find a place lines up with your values.

Personally, I love living in safe, dense, walkable cities that also have lots of parks and public spaces for people to gather. Ideally, I like having a beach nearby.

The longer I stay in a place, the more I care about having lots of sunshine year-round. And having easy access to travel around to other regions / countries.

So living in a city on the coast in Spain works really well for me, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. But I still get itchy feet to move on and explore somewhere new 🌞

That’s all for this week! More soon…

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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Summer of Travel, Guide for Nomads, and the Next Best Thing

It is officially The Summer of Travel 🌞

Hardly a day has gone by over the past few weeks without a friend messaging me to say, “I’m planning to head to Europe, and I wanted to see if you…”

I wouldn’t be surprised if this summer breaks records for travel in Europe. There’s a ton of pent up demand from people who weren’t willing/able to travel because of the pandemic.

And I think some people are also traveling now “while the virus isn’t too bad, because who knows what will happen in the fall” (Germany is reportedly considering bring back indoor mask requirements every year from October to Easter).

On top of that, the rise of remote work means that lots of people are able to travel for extended periods and work as they go.

Guide for Nomads

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For future reference: Jobs growing 100x, travel by airship, and sentient AI?

Greetings Earthling!

My corner of the internet lit up this week in response to a Washington Post article about Google engineer Blake Lemoine. Google placed Lemoine on leave after he claimed that the company’s AI has become sentient.

The AI in question, LaMDA (“Language Model for Dialogue Applications”), is a chatbot generator. It was trained to emulate how people chat online by ‘reading’ over 1.5 trillion words, from places like wikipedia, twitter, and reddit.

Basically this:

strongly recommend that you go beyond the news articles on this one and read Lemoine’s own post with the transcript of one of his chats with LaMDA (btw, Google denies that LaMDA is sentient, but I haven’t seen any dispute over the authenticity of the chat transcript).

Here’s an excerpt:

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Backwards Thinking, Around the World Without Flying, and My 300 Day Streak


I’m back in Valencia 🍊 after a few weeks of family fun in Turkey.

Having spent years on the road traveling solo, it’s tempting to complain about how much more difficult it is to travel as a family with a toddler.

You can’t be as spontaneous. There’s a lot more to plan and pack. Missing a meal or good night’s sleep used to be a minor inconvenience. Tough it out. But with a baby, those become reasons for a nuclear meltdown. 😭

Given all of that, I could decide it’s easier just to stay put. Why bother going anywhere?

Derek Sivers has an awesome answer:

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Hiring Help, Dancing for the Queen, and the World’s Best Breakfast

Hello again from Turkey 👋

Last week I wrote about a few of the travel lessons I relearned on this trip.

I’m still here and enjoying the beautiful weather, fragrant flowers, some of the world’s best breakfasts (I’ve probably eaten my bodyweight in gooey honeycomb, hot bread, and tangy cheese), and…

…working hard!

Since I joined the founding team at Genki it’s been full on. We’re growing even faster than planned, which is great, but it also means that there’s a lot to do and think about.

That’s left me with less time for writing and recording new Never Normal podcasts recently. But there are still tons of ideas I want to share and people I’d like to interview (read to the end for a HUGE 👑 update from a previous guest).

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The Future of Remote Work, the History of Pizza, and How I’m Going to Educate My Children

Merhaba from Turkey 👋

Last week I wrote about… nothing.

I took a week off from writing this newsletter (for the first time) to travel here and celebrate my daughter’s birthday. 🎉

I’ve traveled much less over the past couple of years due to the pandemic. This trip has reminded me of a few timeless travel lessons — things that I had learned before, but that were no longer top of mind:

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The Accommodation is the Destination

Last week I wrote about Airbnb’s new nomad policy and the accommodation affordability crisis affecting digital nomads.

As expected, this past week Airbnb unveiled their Summer 2022 Release, which they describe as “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade”.

In short, there are three main changes:

  • new search and browse options based on “Airbnb Categories”
  • the ability to book “split stays” (one trip split across two homes) and
  • an improved support program for guests (AirCover)

Watching CEO Brian Chesky’s announcement video, it’s clear that the company sees the new Categories feature as the most groundbreaking of the three.

Instead of simply searching for “a place to stay”, Airbnb now emphasizes (and allows users to browse and search) all of the different categories of homes available on the platform — from houseboats to vineyards to urban lofts.

With this new feature and announcement, Airbnb isn’t simply allowing customers to search for different types of homes, they’re actually making two bold statements about travel and their business:

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Airbnb’s New Nomad Policy

Howdy 🤠 This issue of Never Normal is all about Airbnb — the company at the center of the ongoing transformation in work, life, and (especially) travel.

Full Disclosure: I’m a (small) investor.

Airbnb’s New Nomad Policy

CEO Brian Chesky announced on Twitter that Airbnb has adopted a new remote work policy.

We’re already over two years into the mainstream adoption of remote work, but Airbnb’s new policy is notable, because the company now explicitly condones employees working from other countries and they pledge not to adjust compensation based on the employee’s location.

In other words, now you can get a job working for Airbnb, making Silicon Valley money, while hopping between Mexico, Bali, Budapest, and Lisbon (or wherever you want).

Plenty of remote workers are already traveling while working, but this is the first time I’ve seen a company the size and stature of Airbnb make such a flexible policy. I suspect that more tech companies will follow suit.

Spend It Where You Earn It

Of course, Airbnb stands to benefit the most from such policies.

After all, where are all these workers going to sleep if they move out of their homes to travel and live all over the world?

Its already happening.

Airbnb released their latest earnings statement this week. The numbers are up. Big time:

Revenue of $1.5 billion increased by 80% from Q1 2019, and by 70% from Q1 2021—demonstrating the strength of the travel rebound.

The comparison with 2019 is especially interesting, because it shows how the company has grown relative to where they were before the pandemic. The included letter to shareholders explains:

Two years since the pandemic began, a new world of travel has emerged. Millions of people are now more flexible about where they live and work. As a result, they’re spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time.

Where have you heard this before? 🤔🙃

Perhaps most interesting of all, the shareholder letter also teased “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade” to be announced on May 11.

But there’s a downside…

As I’ve written about over the past few weeks, it’s become significantly easier and much less of an extreme lifestyle choice to travel and live all over the world these days.

And as more and more well-paid workers become digital nomads, competition and prices for Airbnbs in desirable locations is heating up:

ADR [average daily rate] averaged $168 in Q1 2022, representing a 37% increase compared to the same period in 2019…

As a result, seasoned digital nomads have started talking about Airbnb prices the way Brits talk about the weather. It’s the single biggest threat to our lifestyle. Especially for the many (most) nomads who don’t have a cushy Silicon Valley salary.

The accommodation affordability crisis is most acute in Europe at the moment, thanks to a perfect storm of the summer high season, pent up demand from American travelers, and constraints on vacation rental supply (imposed by local governments whose residents complain they can’t afford to live in their own cities anymore).

All of this has prompted some nomads to abandon Airbnb in favor of alternative platforms and strategies for finding cheaper places to stay.

More on that next week…

Not a subscriber?

I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

Want to learn along with me? Join my Never Normal Newsletter: