In this post series, I will interview creative people who are expert in their field. I will have honest conversations with them about their working process, struggles, successes and their inspirations. I hope you’ll find my first conversation interesting, as much as I did.
Ever since I understood what minimalism is, I’ve followed Colin Wright and the work he is doing. I was curious about how he manages to travel so often and at the same time stay remarkably productive. I’m honored that he accepted my invitation for an interview and really inspired by our short conversation.
Before we see the questions and answers, let me make a short introduction:
Colin Wright traveled probably half of the world and he has written more than a dozen books. The interesting part is that the countries he visits are determined by a vote of the readers of his blog. Along with his personal blog, called Exile Lifestyle, where he talks mainly about minimalist living, he also runs a weekly podcast and speaks at local events. Actually, he is currently on tour. But that’s not all. He’s also the co-founder of a publishing company called Asymmetrical Press.
Part of his success I believe he owns thanks to his simple way of living. He owns very few things and he’s intentional in how he consume stuff. The other part? Let’s see what Colin Wright will tell us himself:
Interview with Colin Wright
Q: How did you get started with what you do? I mean, being full-time traveler and writer? How it all started? I’ve watched your TED talk about your battle with a t-shirt, which it’s awesome by the way, but I wanted to hear your short story.
I found myself in a situation in which I was successful according to some standards (professional prestige, money), but not others—and I came to realize that those others I was setting aside were actually the important ones.
So I realigned my life in such a way that I could enjoy more freedom of time and work, focus more on my health and relationships, and spend a great deal of my time learning and producing things I think are valuable and interesting.
That pivot led to me hitting the road, and writing my blog, Exile Lifestyle, is what led me to start writing books. I had written journalistically before that, but had always been a book reader, not a book writer; so it wasn’t something I ever thought I would do professionally. Once I got started, though, while living in New Zealand, I realized I’d found something I could gladly do every day.
Q: What is needed to get into this type of business, sort to say? What type of knowledge and skills do you need?
There’s not just one way to do it, and everyone I know who does something similar has taken a different path, and has a different background.
What helped me was getting a lot of experience writing and communicating early on, along with my propensity for reading. I also started my first business at age 19, which helped—mostly to learn how not to run a business—and I managed to pay off all of my debt before I left LA to travel full-time, which allowed me to make better, me-centric decisions along the way.
It doesn’t hurt to be friendly and helpful to other people, as well.
Q: What kind of business was that and what did you learn not to do?
Q: How many years you do what you do and how your process improved over the years?
I’ve been writing full time for nearly 9 years now. And along with a confidence in my work, my process is a lot simpler and more concise these days; it takes me less time to do things. Though I’d also say I spend more time editing than I used to, and I’m willing to spread out my writing over many days, rather than trying to do it all at once. That allows me to live well and sleep regularly alongside writing, rather than writing for 30 hours all at once, like I did when I started.
Q: How did you manage to make your writing process simpler? Can you give us some hints? Also, how do you handle distractions?
Part of simplifying my process is just understanding where I’m at—knowing what it feels like when it’s time to step away and go for a run or take a walk, or when it’s time to sit and just keep going until I’m done.
That confidence that grows over time also helps, as it allows you to steamroll forward, rather than questioning each and every step along the way. Knowing that you can polish things up and sand down rough edges later, but move forward steadily in the meantime, is useful; and that knowledge comes with experience.
As for distractions, I set expectations with the people in my life that I may not be available at all times, or all days. I keep all notifications on my phone turned off (including vibrations) so that I reach out into the world and have that connectivity when I want it, but not when it might prove to be a distraction. And I’ve gotten good at recognizing when I’m feeling distracted so I can take 20 minutes to read a book or play a video game, to use up that distracted energy, before coming back to whatever it is I want to get done, refreshed and ready to dive deep.
Q: How long you needed to make this your main job – traveling and writing? Was there a period where your 9 to 5 job was overlapping with your side hustle and how did you overcome this? Was it hard?
I was able to start writing full-time after about 8 months, though I’d run several companies by that point, and had other options in terms of income along the way. And the writing worked best alongside the online presence I’d built for myself, the speaking I did, and things like that. Few people are able to write a book and suddenly make a living from it. And the majority of people who write even several books will never earn more than $100 from their work. Which is a sad state of affairs, but it’s important to recognize: it’s got to be something you do because you love doing it, not just because you think it will help you change your profession.
That whole process was difficult for me, absolutely. There was a lot to learn, and ebooks were a new thing, so not even the experts knew what they were doing at the time. I like learning new crafts and fields, though, so it was difficult, but also enjoyable for me.
Q: People who visit your site and your Instagram page think your life is super exciting. I myself think so. Will you share more about what one typical working day of your life looks like?
Honestly, there’s no typical day. And every day I work on a variety of things.
I wake up whenever I wake up—I stopped setting alarms when I started traveling full-time.
I typically read a bit when I wake up, and exercise a little. I don’t eat breakfast, usually: I do black coffee all morning while reading and working out and getting some work done, whether that’s writing a book or working on a talk or preparing that week’s podcast episode.
Lunch is usually sometime in the early afternoon, then I go for a run after I’ve digested a bit. I don’t drink caffeine after 3pm. I most of my important work done in the morning, but I’ll do a bit more, less-focused work later, before dinner. I prepare all of my own meals, and have for two years—it’s been wonderful.
Sometimes after dinner, I have a longer workout routine I perform, and I’ll usually read or write a little or catch up with friends.
It’s really pretty variable, though. I work out and drink coffee and prepare my meals and work most days, but not all days, and the timing of things is rearranged depending on what I’m doing, where I am, who else is around, and so on.
And when I’m exploring a new town, it’s very different: I’m usually out with new friends, visiting a museum, exploring the neighborhood—things like that.
Q: What are the basic physical things, stuff, you need to do what you do? And what are the things you can’t live without?
It’s handy having a laptop and a smartphone. And a bag to carry my stuff in. Some clothes. A solid microphone. A passport. My guitar.
I’m sure I could figure out a way to do what I do without any of those things, though. And everything else I’ve got just allows me to do more things, cook more types of food, record better audio, etc. It’s value-adding stuff, but not vital. I don’t have any possessions I can’t live without.
Q: Let’s say that a person wants to start doing what you’re doing – move to a different place every four months or so and write for a living. How would you advise him? What are the first few steps?
Before you do anything else, figure out why you want to do it. What are you trying to achieve? What do you hope to gain from traveling? And what skills and experience do you have that will allow you to pay for it?
From there, build your ideal situation and backtrack from that, eventually identifying the first step you need to take to arrive there, eventually. Take that step as soon as you can.
I wouldn’t advise that anyone try to live someone else’s life, though. The way I do things is perfect for me, but wouldn’t be ideal for most other people. Traveling full-time looks sexy from the outside, but it’s hard work and discomfort most of the time, and you really have to love it, and know why you’re doing it, if those downsides will be worth it to you.
Q: What are some of the difficulties you face each day and how do you overcome them? I guess there are a lot of obstacles giving the fact that you travel and write for a living.
Hmm, honestly, nothing really stands out.
I’ve been doing this long enough that most difficulties kind of blend into the background, and I just sort of handle them when they come up, and don’t let them bother me.
Most of the more troubling ones probably revolve around figuring out how things work in a new home, and doing my best to find a decent apartment in the right part of town, making my initial group of friends, things like that. But even that’s a process I know well, and have experienced in many different ways.
One of the better ways to overcome any obstacle, I would say, is to recognize that it doesn’t benefit anyone if you get upset or frustrated or angry about it. Stay calm, be confident in your ability to make it work, and don’t fixate on perfection. Perfection isn’t a realistic goal with anything you do. Simply making it work is an excellent goal to aim for much of the time.
Q: Is there a difference between the life you live and the one you would like to live? Let me clarify: do you feel happy, satisfied doing what you’re doing and would you change something if you could?
I absolutely love what I do and how I live.
And I do change things regularly. In a month or so, I’ll be going on tour around North America, living full-time in a 1985 Holiday Rambler Imperial motorhome, speaking to audiences in a few dozen cities, trying out a new way of life.
It’s similar in some ways to things I’ve done before, but weird and scary and way different in most other ways. So this is a continuation of how I’ve done things since 2009, but also a variation on it. And my life is filled with such variations, to ensure I’m always encountering new valuable frictions that help me grow, and to ensure I don’t get lazy or bored.
When I want to make a change to my life, and have some new type of life, I go do it 🙂
Q: Did fame and all that attention you are getting in the last few years changed you? Did these things made you more anti-minimalist?
If anything I’ve become more myself, I think. I have more means of communicating with people, and that gives me the opportunity to interact with more types of people, learn more, have more opportunities, and make smarter decisions about what I do next.
Definitely not anti-minimalist; that’s not something most people do, once they understand what minimalism really is, I think. It’s not about denying yourself stuff, it’s about having exactly the right things and nothing more than that. I still have exactly the right things, I just have different things, based on my current needs.
Q: What’s the one advice you will give to someone who is looking at “Becoming who he needs to be?” I read that this will be your latest book?
That’s my most recent nonfiction book, yes. And it’s a big part of what I’m speaking about on my upcoming tour.
My advice would be to figure out who you are so you can make decisions that help you build a you-shaped life. And as you grow, sand down some of your rough edges, and sharpen others. Don’t be afraid to change as you grow, but don’t be afraid to refine you who are, either. Tailor yourself and your lifestyle to suit your ambitions, and do your best to help others along the way.