How I learned to stop worrying and be my own boss

It’s been two years since I turned to my boss and said “you can take your job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more!” (or words to that effect). Since then I’ve been working as a self employed freelance writer, working remotely and travelling the world. Well. Europe.

Coincidentally, Giff Gaff are running a campaign that celebrates people who are their own boss. I’ve had a bit of blogger’s block recently, so I decided to join in and tell you all about how my life got flipped turned upside down when I ditched a lifestyle that wasn’t working for me and went in search of one that does. You can read more about the campaign over on their blog, and you can read all about me being the bossy-boss right here!

I handed in my notice two years ago this month!
I handed in my notice two years ago this month

Working for a big corporate company was very different from the media agency where I cut my teeth. They say your friends make your workplace bearable, and unfortunately there were only a handful of people that I was able to gel with. So when I read The Four Hour Work Week during a holiday in the Algarve, I made the decision: I was going to become my own boss!

James agreed that this was an excellent idea, and we decided to use the opportunity to travel. We started putting the plan into action in October 2011. We decided that we wanted to stay in Europe, but that can be pretty dear. Since we weren’t sure where our money was going to come from, we had to look at cheap living options. That’s when we discovered house sitting. In exchange for minding people’s homes and pets, you get to live in their house for free. All the comfort of home, without a staggering rent bill. Perfect! We signed up to a couple of house sitting websites, applied for a few assignments, and set a date for leaving Edinburgh: the 25th July 2012, two days after my best friend’s wedding.

One of our first house sits involved a farm of alpacas!
One of our first house sits involved a farm of alpacas!

Did I plan carefully? Did I heck! While James beavered away for months laying down the ground work for projects that would earn him money while we were travelling, I just kept putting it off. I was working all day, after all, and wanted to spend my down time doing fun things like eating chips with my flatmate or drinking wine with my pals. I had some vague notion that my blog would make me some money, and at one point I was going to set up a hen party planning website and do a bit of drop-shipping. In the meantime, I did a bit of freelance writing. Just to tide me over…

…and funnily enough, that’s what stuck.

I started out with two clients: the hip media agency I used to work for, and the awesome travel start-up that one of my friends worked at. I also did a bit of writing for Bite Magazine, although that was unpaid (unless you count the free food and drink, which was certainly a perk!). Once we made it to France, I started picking up more clients and before I knew it I was working eight hour days again. The difference was that I wasn’t having to drag myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 8am to catch a horrible bus into an office that I hated. I could now wake up at a time that felt natural to me, and work until I was done: instead of until the clock said I could go home.

No Nescafe for my coffee break, thanks.
Coffee breaks are better these days, too.

One year in, James and I were both making enough money to ditch house sitting and go back to renting. Don’t get me wrong, house sitting is great, but it’s hard to concentrate 100% on your own projects when you have dogs to walk, cats to entertain, and gigantic lawns to mow. It’s also nice to have your own place, however temporary. Although I do miss those alpacas…

The thing about being your own boss is that you have to be strict with yourself. At first I was a terrible boss and didn’t crack the whip. I’d find myself lazing on the bed reading A Song of Ice and Fire when I should have been building that bloody hen party website. I’d find myself taking afternoon naps in the sunshine with Stephen King instead of trying to monetise my blog (which, by the way, I still haven’t done). Instead of being like “what are you doing?! Get back to work!” I just shrugged my shoulders.

Once I started gaining more clients, roughly two months after going freelance, my boss skills started to kick in. The problem was, I was a bit idealistic. There was no routine: “Let’s start work at 5pm and spend the day reading!” “Let’s work on Sundays and take a day off mid-week!” No. That’s silly. It’s 9-5, Monday to Friday, for a reason.

And that reason is clearly Pina Colada Fridays.
And that reason is clearly Pina Colada Fridays.

It took me a good six months to realise this, but once I injected some routine into my life I wondered why I hadn’t done it earlier. My clients all work standard hours, and if I do too it means that I can respond to their requests right away. Nothing beats that Friday feeling, and by making the decision to work Monday to Friday I got my weekend back.

The difference that being my own boss has made to my work ethic is amazing. I always thought I wasn’t a very motivated or proactive person, but these days I’m totally committed to sitting down and getting on with it. I take pride in what I do, even if most people I know don’t fully understand what being a freelancer means. I think most of my friends think I’m just gallivanting around Europe having a whale of a time, when most days are spent typing away and working my butt off just like they are. The difference is they’re doing it in an office, I’m doing it at the kitchen table in Tarbes, Lisbon, Berlin, or wherever I happen to be.

In this case, Brighton (Hove, actually).
In this case, Brighton (Hove, actually).

Basically, I feel really lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I took a leap into the unknown and landed on my feet. My only regret is that I didn’t take control of my life sooner.

48 Hours in Lisbon

I lived in Lisbon for six months, and during that time I fell head over heels for the city. I loved everything about it. Colourful buildings, ancient trams rattling along, and the omnipresent smell of barbecued meat and fish. One of the best things about Lisbon is the laid back vibe, so different from capital cities like London where everyone’s in a hurry. Lisbon simply invites you to sit back, kick up your feet, and enjoy people watching over a strong espresso.

aLisbon1

You really have to scratch the surface to get the most out of Lisbon, but if you’ve only got a couple of days in the city you might not have enough time to hit all the best bits. I thought I’d put together an itinerary for weekend breakers. While this list doesn’t include all of my favourite places, I reckon it’ll give you a good feel for the city. So here it is: my itinerary for the ultimate weekend in Lisbon!

Friday

6pm: Drop your bags in your hotel and get ready to watch the sunset with a pre-dinner cocktail: in a multi-storey car park. I’m not nuts, honestly. What looks like a normal multi-storey car park on Calçada do Combro is actually one of the city’s trendiest rooftop bars. Jump into the dodgy wee lift up to the fifth floor, then walk up the stairs to the sixth. Instead of a desolate roof, you’ll find yourself in a trendy bar with excellent views over to the west. Treat yourself to a port and tonic (my new favourite) and enjoy the atmosphere.

James demonstrates how it's done
James shows us how it’s done

8pm: Once you’ve finished your aperitif, wander up the hill to the Bairro Alto and get yourself some dinner at Blend on Rua da Norte. This is one of my favourite places to eat in the city centre. It’s tapas style food, combining some interesting flavours that you don’t find anywhere else in the city. Try the fuul (kidney beans with peanut butter) and the ceviche. Yum yum.

The desserts here are also delish, but you’ve only got a couple of days to spend here and no time to waste. Cross the road to Tease: the rock ‘n’ roll bakery. Grab a seat on one of the sofas and choose a nice decadent cupcake. I like the ones with half a chocolate seashell sticking out the top. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a big glass of wine!

What a tease

11pm: Now you have two options. One, you can go home (boo!) or two: you can wander deeper into the Bairro Alto, where the party is just getting started. The winding streets are packed with wonderful bars, most serving up great value cocktails in plastic cups so you can stand outside and join the street life. There are some nice wine bars too (I like the Old Pharmacy) but for something different pop up to Mezcal, a wee hole in the wall bar that specialises in the Mexican spirit of the same name. Mezcal margheritas: does it get any better? If you’re lucky, you might even get offered the worm.

Saturday

10am: You’re pretty hungover. I know. Mornings after a night in the Bairro Alto are never good. Pop into your nearest bakery for a bica (espresso) and a pastel de nata (custard tart) or two and you’ll be right as rain: just in time for the 11am Sandeman’s free walking tour, leaving from Largo de Camoes in Chiado. These tours take three hours and cover some of Lisbon’s best sights, as well as filling you in on some of the city’s interesting history. I’ve done the tour myself, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My buddies and I getting ready to walk
My buddies and I getting ready to walk

The tour ends in Praça do Comércio; just in time for lunch. Avoid the touristy restaurants in Baixa and head past Rossio to Praca Martim Moniz. This is the multicultural heart of Lisbon. Named after a hero knight who died in the siege of the castle, the square is now home to loads of street food kiosks. You can get everything here, from sushi and ceviche to hot dogs and pizza. Grab yourself a bite to eat (and a hair of the dog) and sit outside, enjoying music from the DJ/live band/opera singer/whoever happens to be performing that day.

My favourite square in Lisbon: Martim Moniz
My favourite square in Lisbon: Martim Moniz

After lunch, you’re ready to hit the attractions that the walking tour missed out: the castle and Alfama. Instead of walking all the way up the hill, duck into the Pingo Doce supermarket and jump in the free lift. The castle offers some of the best views in the city. It costs money to get in, so if you’re tight fisted like me just climb the walls outside and admire the view from there.

Alfama, the medieval neighbourhood surrounding the castle, is great for a wander. Walk along behind Lisbon Cathedral and you’ll soon find yourself in the back streets. Pick up a souvenir or two; a tram fridge magnet, or a painting of Lisbon done in coffee and red wine. Alfama is where all of Lisbon’s fado houses are, too. Fado is Portugal’s mournful folk music, and it’s definitely worth taking in a show over dinner.

Unfortunately I didn’t get round to seeing fado in Lisbon (although I managed to catch it in Coimbra and Silves) so I can’t make any recommendations here. I say choose whichever place looks good and enjoy a traditional meal with traditional music surrounded by traditional tourists. Order the porco preto (black pork) if they have it. It’s divine.

Sunday

Get up bright and early: today we’re hitting the historic neighbourhood of Belém, out to the west of the city. Catch a Tram 15 (if you’re lucky it will be one of the old streetcars) and jump off outside Jeronimo’s Monastery. You’ll know it when you see it. In Portugal, the national monuments are free to enter before 2pm on a Sunday so it’s the perfect day to hit the cloisters of the monastery, the Torre de Belém, and the Coach Museum. But first: breakfast.

Belem

Remember that custard tart you had yesterday? Well, there’s a shop, Pastéis de Belém, that lays claim to the best ones in the city. There’s always a queue, but take it from me: it’s worth standing in it. Grab a nata or three and sit in one of the rooms, tiled in traditional azulejo tiles. Or if it’s too busy (or you’re not for queuing), try Chique de Belém (conveniently next to the coach museum). James insists that these are actually the best natas in the city: and they have an outdoor seating area, too.

Now do the monuments. Just go in and ask for a ticket: because it’s Sunday morning you won’t be charged. I recommend hitting the coach museum first, then the cloisters, then wander through the cute flea market and go under the subway to the riverside where you’ll find the tower. It’s worth going in, but if you don’t like crowded spaces I highly recommend avoiding a climb to the top.

Belem tower

 

The stairwells are only wide enough for one person at a time: for some reason the 16th Century architects didn’t account for hundreds of tourists tramping up and down all day. There are traffic lights, but people do ignore them. It can be a bit of a crush going up and down. We ended up trapped on the roof for about ten minutes: not fun.

Once you manage to get back down to ground level, it’s time for a nice 2km walk along the Tagus riverfront. You’ll pass the iconic Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), which features some of Portugal’s most iconic golden era figures. Just keep walking alongside the water and you’ll get a great feel for Lisbon life. People fishing in the Tagus, dog walkers playing with their furry friends on the grass, children cycling their bikes, and fitness fanatics like myself (cough) going for a run.

Riverfront

Walk under the Ponte 25th Abril (twin to the Golden Gate Bridge) and you’ll reach the Doca de Santo Amaro: my favourite place for a sunny lunch in Lisbon. The restaurants here are all nice, with outdoor seating areas. Lisbon is famous for its fish, and for good reason.

Head to 5 Oceanos and get a table on their deck, overlooking the dock. When your couvert arrives (bread, butter and olives) be sure to order some cheese. It’s lovely ooey gooey awesomeness, you won’t regret it. Browse the specials, or try something traditional. Bacalhau (salt cod) is the national dish. Don’t be put off by the name: it’s not salty at all. Dourado and robalo are also popular, so if you don’t fancy eating the heavy bacalhau con natas (cod with cream) opt for some grilled dourado or robalo instead.

Skip the dessert menu and head back along the river. Cross the footbridge into the Alcantara neighbourhood. You’ll pass the conference centre on your left: once you get to the main road (with the trams) turn right. Wander along for a bit, then once you reach Rua Rodrigues Faria turn right. Turn right again, and you’re in the LX Factory: Lisbon’s hipster hang out.

aLXFactory

Once a massive factory complex, the old industrial area has been completely transformed. It’s now full of trendy cafes, quirky boutiques, and great restaurants. There are loads of great places to grab some dessert here. Bola da Marta, in the beautiful book shop Ler Devager, does a fine cake. As does Cafe Na Fabrica, another of my favourite haunts. But for the best chocolate cake in Lisbon, it has to be Landeau. One ‘fatia’ (slice) is enough to feed two. It’s seriously rich.

After eating all that food you’ll probably want to head back to your hotel for a well deserved ap, and I wouldn’t blame you. But if you’re still up for partying there’s always the pink street in Cais do Sodre (Rua Nova do Carvalho). People spill out of the bars and clubs clutching their beer until the wee small hours of the morning. It’s got got an awesome atmosphere, and is a must visit if you’re a party animal.

So have I tempted you? Go on, book those flights to Lisbon now. You won’t regret it!

Hotels4U Infographic

City breaks. You love them, I love them: in fact I love them so much that these days I tend to spend six months or so in nice cities because I work remotely and why the heck not? Anyway, Hotels4u got in touch to show me this new infographic they’ve done all about city breaks and I thought it was worth sharing.

It also has some stuff in it about beach holidays, but I’m going to ignore that because I’m living in Berlin all summer and pretending the beach doesn’t exist is the only way I can deal with being so land locked.

Hotels4u - Infographic (1)

I think it’s pretty awesome that we Scots spend the most money on city breaks. Who’s tight fisted now, eh? The Welsh, obviously. I also think it’s quite uninspiring that Paris is one of the top three city break destinations. Come on people, Paris sucks. There are so many nicer (and more romantic) cities in the world to visit. My top choices would be Seville and Lisbon, but if you really must go to a French city make it Toulouse.

Before y’all start calling me a sell out or whatever, this isn’t a sponsored post. I just haven’t updated for a while and thought this infographic was interesting enough to get the ball rolling again.