Everything began with a restless spirit yearning for something different, for a life that snapped, crackled and popped with more… More energy, more risk, more reward, more raw experiences. Ultimately, I was looking upon the open road for more experiences, more connections, and more meaning.
This is the story of how a penniless backpacker transitioned from living rough in the Asian subcontinent into becoming a full-on digital nomad serial entrepreneur. A journey that ultimately led to fulfilling a lifelong dream…
The dream of building a kickass hostel in the island paradise of Bali.
So strap on in amigos and join me as we dive into the whirlwind of a decade filled with wins, losses, and lessons learned along the way. We’ll traverse the globe, climb perilous peaks, explore ancient ruins, make romantic connections in far flung lands, take risk after risk, battle bankruptcy, sleep rough, nearly die (a few times), get inspired and surf the waves of the digital realm.
All of which will lead us to the moment when Tribal finally gained form, Bali’s only custom-built co-working hostel for aspiring entrepreneurs and remote workers who need kick ass facilities but want to remain within the backpacker vibe, the backpacker tribe, the backpacker realm…
So, fasten your seatbelts, fellow adventurers, as we embark on an exhilarating voyage through time and continents. This is not just a story; it’s an invitation to dream big, to push your own boundaries, and ditch your desk to create a life that intertwines passion, purpose, and the relentless pursuit of freedom.
I. The Journey Begins
I was once just a shy and awkward kid, like many of us have been at some point in life. My plan was to join the Royal Marines, as I felt like only that could turn me into an actual capable and confident human being with skills. It seemed like a smart investment of my time.
Unfortunately, a serious injury at the age of nineteen crushed my dreams into teeny-tiny grains of sand. I found myself depressed, bedridden, overweight, and severely anxious.
But deep within my restless soul, there was a little spark craving for something else. Something greater than the ordinary. I decided to take big risks, to journey far, to be brave, to put myself so fucking far out of my comfort zone and to either evolve or die upon the road.
Finding just enough motivation to listen to this calling, I was quickly propelled into the world of adventure travel. I had $3000 to my name, spent $600 of those in flights, and set off on a 2-year adventure through India.
And I never stopped.
All it took was a single step—a leap of faith into the unknown. Armed with my trusty Osprey backpack and an insatiable curiosity, I ventured beyond the beaten path, immersing myself in the vibrant tapestry of the world.
I slept in ancient forts, temples, train stations. I surfed over fifty couches across India, meeting with and staying with amazing people, learning about new cultures and points of view. I haggled, I cooked my own food, I made terrible bracelets and sold them for tiny and terrible profits, I learned to talk to anybody…
I frickin’ loved it. Every second of it.
It wasn’t about ticking off bucket list items, oh hell no; it was about embracing the experiences that would end up shaping me into who I am today. It was about challenging EVERYTHING I knew, embracing discomfort, and finding solace in the unfamiliar.
I hitchhiked, I slept in caves, I slept in train stations, I camped, I hiked, I walked for miles to save 50 cents on a tuk tuk ride, I worked in an organic garden project, I did everything I needed to to explore, to grow, to push beyond my comfort zone and grow as a person.
Nothing could stop me—and I was just getting started. I didn’t have a plan… I simply wanted to FEEL something. I wanted to be more confident, more capable, I wanted to turn my anxious and honestly pretty sensitive soul into something that could endure. The road was my teacher, and I was eager, but how could I stay upon the road forever?
II. From Backpacker to Digital Nomad: The Evolution Unfolds
Before my humble little travel blog came into existence, it started as a collection of handwritten notes I’d pass on to fellow travellers. Things evolved, and suddenly we had a small email list of around 40 people that passionately followed along.
People loved my tales of adventure and, as they evolved, I was encouraged to “go pro”. I entered a writing contest, won $100, and spent this mighty bounty to register the domain name.
And so The Broke Backpacker was born.
Initially, it was simply a platform where I shared my own travel stories and reflections on life’s most beautiful intricacies. But as time went on, it evolved into a powerhouse resource for aspiring backpackers, providing practical information on how to travel on a budget and embark on meaningful adventures.
As I delved into the world of online entrepreneurship and started figuring out the different option for how to be a digital nomad, I started sharing my experiments and insights with my readers as well. I always strived to be transparent, documenting not only wins, but also losses and lessons learned.
I wanted others to know all there was to know about building their own income streams to sustain long-term travel and ditch their desks once and for all.
My mission was to prove that almost anyone can travel if they are willing to step out of their comfort zone. I aimed to challenge the notion that travel was only for the privileged few by showcasing exactly HOW one can do it.
And I think I did a pretty good job at that.
III. Wins Along the Way: Milestones and Achievements
Looking back on it, my journey as a travel blogger has been an incredible rollercoaster. There were adventures (oh, so many), lotsa breakthroughs, and key moments that helped shape this path.
I’ll never forget the time I embarked on daring expeditions to countries like Venezuela, Iran, and Pakistan. These destinations not only provided me with unforgettable experiences but also became one of the reasons my blog started to get traction — people were really drawn by my raw accounts of those travel days.
I remember the excitement I felt when some of my stories found their way into renowned sites like the BBC and Daily Mail. Those early backlinks were pure gold, shining a spotlight on my work and attracting a wider audience. It was a clear affirmation that I was on the right track, and it motivated me to push even further.
When the time came that I decided to travel overland from England to Papua New Guinea, that’s when things really started to change. Even though I only made it about half of the way (I’ll be back…), it propelled me into some pretty wild adventures.
I hitchhiked all across Iran, married a Persian princess, discovered the wondrous lands of Pakistan, and decided to test new territories. I launched my own tour company, and took my audience on some exhilarating journeys through Pakistan’s most epic mountains and valleys.
The success of the tour company provided me with the financial means to invest further into The Broke Backpacker. I expanded my team, hiring talented writers who shared my passion for travel and storytelling. Together, we focused on mastering the art of search engine optimization (SEO) and targeting untapped niches. It was a constant learning process, but the results were astounding.
Over time, my humble little travel blog started gaining traction. From a mere 14 users in September 2013, it grew into a thriving community with over a million monthly visitors within eight years. I couldn’t have imagined such tremendous growth when I first started this journey!
As it gained popularity, I quickly realized the importance of building strong content silos. I wanted to offer my readers more than just travel stories; I wanted to provide them with practical information that would help them plan their own adventures – Every. Fricking. Where.
Our backpacking guides, like the mega guide to backpacking Europe, became a cornerstone of our content and a much-loved format around the web. We delved into gear guides, advising our readers on how to choose the right equipment and save money along the way. We made sure to cover topics beyond the typical travel fare, from guides on avoiding travel burnout and strengthening mental health to being a responsible traveller and reducing plastic footprint.
Slowly, slowly, we built a reputation as a trusted source of information, and our audience recognized that our writers were true adventurers with actual on-the-ground experience. This authenticity resonated, and soon we had contributors from all corners of the world, living the broke backpacker lifestyle and sharing their stories with us.
Since then, I’ve expanded my knowledge into a couple other ventures, including a few more sites, and also a dropshipping business, selling backpacker gear basics like quick-dry travel towels and hammocks to our existing audience. Fun and interesting times!
That was, of course, until the biggest shift we’ve witnessed in our lives.
IV. Hard Lessons Learned: Failures and Setbacks
Should we even talk about Covid? Maybe briefly. It was rough in every sense and it was a very tough time to be running a travel blog.
I went from making great money every month to spending five figures a month of my savings (And I’d only HAD savings for about a year as the site had finally taken off in a big way) just to keep my team employed and the wheels rolling.
My gear company, Active Roots, had to be closed up as shipping costs rose by a crazy 400% globally and we had to abandon $20,000 worth of stock, that freaking sucked.
My relationship with my wife Nina, my Persian princess I met whilst hitchhiking in Iran, broke down during this time and I ended up drinking heavily for about a year. During this time, I made some major mistakes and experienced several huge setbacks.
The tour company I founded, leading expeditions to Pakistan, which had been an important step in my journey, struggled really hard during this time but I continued to prop it up financially, paying the wages of the local staff and the partner I had bought in after a couple of years of running it solo to help me grow it and lead the expeditions.
I learnt some big lessons here, I had major heeby-jeebys about the guy I bought in to help me with the project and he was the only person my dog ever tried to attack… I should have listened to my wise adventure doggo because this chap turned out to be extremely manipulative and dishonest.
Long-story short, the business partnership went sour. This was a major lesson and taught me the value of slowing down and not making emotional decisions, taking time to seek outside counsel. Unfortunately, I rage-quit and gave up my share of the company and walked away from it as I had to get this toxic relationship out of my life and at the time, through a haze of poor decision making, it seemed like a good move. It was a terrible move, the worst mistake I have ever made, in fact.
During the very challenging times of Covid I learned once more that success is not linear, there are ups and downs, setbacks, failures, lessons. I guess it’s only ever really a failure if you don’t learn a lesson but I certainly had some very expensive, both financial and emotional, lessons during this time.
I doubled down, strapped myself in and worked hard to position The Broke Backpacker for a comeback…
V. The Birth of a Vision: Tribal Takes Shape
After a good few years adventuring and building businesses on the road, it started to weigh on me the need of juggling all the fun & all the hustle. I still wanted to tap into the best of the backpacker lifestyle, but I was managing several different businesses at this point. And doing LONG hours to make it all work.
That’s when the idea of Tribal came to be. Bali’s first custom-built co-working hostel. My little baby. 🙂
I’ve always wanted to build a hostel — I believe a lot of travellers go through that thought process, it’s only natural. And after so many years experiencing the best and the worst, I knew exactly what I wanted to provide people with.
I also spotted a gap in the market. As a working traveller, I faced numerous challenges in finding accommodations that offered reliable Wi-Fi, quiet zones, and ample charging points. You pair that with great coffee, delicious food, a swimming pool, and an almighty pool table… BOOM, you get a digital nomad hostel haven.
Tribal aimed to create a place where work and adventure seamlessly intertwined. The concept went beyond a mere hostel; it was a vision of a vibrant locale that nurtured both personal and professional growth. There were a lot of stepbacks along the way, so it really became a testament to the power of dreaming big and turning those dreams into tangible reality.
The goal was to design a space that not only provided the essential amenities for digital nomads but also fostered a sense of community and collaboration amongst guests. I truly believe we’ve created something special, and we’re also just getting started. 😉
VI. The Power of Community: Tribal’s Impact
Being a digital nomad in Bali can be a lonely experience. Here at Tribal, we strive to bring folks together and arm them with everything they need to do good quality work whilst also having access to a community…
We have big plans to expand our community offering with movie nights, entrepreneurship talks and perhaps even retreats in the near future. Ultimately, we plan to open several more game changing hostels across Indonesia and beyond.
Tribal is very often fully booked and it’s been amazing to witness so many young entrepreneurs and digital nomads passing through the place, connecting and sharing ideas. We do a lot with the local community, and we have a great team of enthusiastic locals working with us.
We are still learning how best to serve our crowd and adding a whole array of extra goodies: more private rooms, AC meeting rooms to hire by the hour…
There is so much more we wish to do! But you’ll have to stay tuned and check back in, or even better – just follow us on Instagram. 😉
VII. Lessons from the Journey: Insights and Takeaways
Reflecting on a decade of adventure travel and entrepreneurship has yielded many insights and transformative lessons. These lessons have shaped not only my personal journey but I believe there is some gold in here that can serve as guiding principles for aspiring adventurers and digital nomads alike.
Embracing the unknown lies at the heart of every extraordinary experience. The magic unfolds when we step outside our comfort zones. It is through moments of extreme discomfort that we discover our true potential, unlock hidden talents, and unveil the beauty that exists beyond those borders.
The road is not always smooth; challenges arise, plans veer off course, and unforeseen circumstances test our resolve. It is in these moments that resilience and adaptability become our greatest assets, enabling us to pivot, find alternative solutions, and continue moving forward with unwavering determination.
Balancing passion and purpose, whilst remaining curious, positive, optimistic and humorous, is the key to finding fulfillment on this extraordinary journey. The intersection of personal growth and professional pursuits is where true glory is to be found!
My own journey has been a testament to the transformative power of adventure travel, online entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of dreams. From the humble beginnings of a wanderlust-driven journey to the creation of Tribal, this is a story that shows the limitless possibilities that lie before those who dare to chase their dreams.
Final Words of Wisdom
So, my fellow adventurers, I hope my personal story inspires you to embark on your own extraordinary adventure.
I hope it helped nurture the fire within you—the fire that will propel you to seek out new horizons, embrace the unknown, and create a life that embodies the very essence of freedom.
Dream big. Chase your passions. And remember, the journey is not merely a destination but an ever-evolving, exhilarating dance between the wins, the losses, and the invaluable lessons learned along the way.
Until we meet again 🙂