In this post, I will go through the biggest realizations gained in my Euro tour. I know it's a cliché thing to say, but trips like this grow you as a person. Spending a month outside of your comfort zone leads to realizations you might not otherwise have.
It's not the easiest point of life for me as I'm struggling to find a sustainable direction. It's a similar crisis like the one I had early on but on a different level. It's a crisis of identity. Having a business that runs is nice, but maybe there's more to life than that.
There's the never-ending battle of finding a good niche for your business while managing the personal side. These two go together, and some balance is needed. You cannot be an all business person and forget about the personal side. I guess in my case the business reflects my personality. No way to avoid that.
I saw the trip as an opportunity for a change of pace. The last few months were filled with webpack book related work, and I was fairly tired by the end of it. The trip itself came with responsibilities of its own, but at least it was something different.
I ended up giving twelve sessions around Europe within the span of a month. It sounds much, and it is. Interestingly enough I got used to the life of touring by the end and will miss it.
Monetarily the trip wasn't a great success, and I ended up making a solid loss, but despite this, I believe it was worth the investment. You cannot measure everything as money. It was the experience gained that was valuable for me, and it is possible I'll cover the losses regarding new opportunities.
Half of the trip was sponsored and arranged by Reactive Conf. Thank you for your invaluable support. They also interviewed me.
I prepared three presentations for the trip:
- Re-imagining webpack - 15-20 min short talk about my love story with webpack. How I found it, what I did with it, and where it's going.
- Webpack - From apprentice to journeyman - First half of the book summarized.
- Webpack - From journeyman to master - Second half of the book summarized.
Given I had already written a book and given an earlier presentation about the topic earlier, my challenge was to convert all the information as slides. As it happens, this was hard to achieve.
What Went Right#
I considered my first week in Oslo as training. In addition to giving a public talk on the topic of "Re-imagining webpack", I managed to arrange a couple of free private sessions (one on one and a group session with a company). Doing this gave me a good chance to benchmark the content against people and improve the content.
I managed to find a speaker out of myself by the end of the tour. I enjoyed especially the Vienna session, and we had real interaction going on. I still made a few mistakes, but it was the most relaxed session for me and also the most enjoyable one. The irony is that once you find your pace, it all ends!
I think I made the right decision in splitting the main presentation into two halves. The first one took around 45 minutes while the latter was designed around 30 minutes. I implemented a ten-minute break in between the sections early on as otherwise, it's a little much to endure.
Another thing that went right was allowing questions within the presentations. I structured the parts of the presentations so that they map to the book and allowed questions after each. I think this is a good way as it gives you a lot of chances to interact with your audience and even clarify your thinking. Sometimes the same question comes by multiple times across different audiences, and you can improve your answer!
What Went Wrong#
I made the mistake of including too much content on my early presentations. As presentations went by, I dropped more and more points while increasing focus. I did a special version of the "From journeyman to master" set for my last few presentations to keep it terse. It wasn't perfect but enough to give some idea of more advanced scenarios. The slides online contain more ideas than this special edition.
I got bitten by my native language. Finnish and English don't go well together, and that leads to problems with comprehension. By the end of the month, I had adapted to English quite well and even struggled a bit with Finnish by then. To resolve this fully, I would have to live abroad as otherwise, I won't get training. It looks like you have to choose between the two.
Without a fault of my own, there were technical difficulties along the way. I learned I struggle with traditional mics a lot. You have one hand less to code with and one more thing to worry about adding to the stress. There were also times when the mic just broke, and we had to replace it with another one a few times. I guess the lesson to learn is that if you are serious about touring, bring equipment you trust.
Another lesson to learn was that you should always have backup plans when it comes to the presentation itself. On one occasion the HDMI connection just wouldn't work, and I had to use someone else's Windows laptop. Even though challenging, it worked out somehow in the end even though I could not live code. It's good to make sure your presentation material is available online as you never know when you need a backup plan.
Sometimes issues beyond your control like these will affect you. Technical problems lead to rush and rush leads to poorer results. Maybe the lesson here is to keep your calm as there's not much you can do about technology above a certain point. Rushing will only make it worse. For this reason, it's a good idea to cut the amount of content you want to present as then there's slack in the schedule.
I was interested in having more free sessions in Berlin, but I probably didn't push that enough as there was no response to my initial tweet. But on the plus side, I had time to explore the city and its possibilities.
The trip itself was amazing. I spent time in a lot of cities and learn about different cultures. Being outside of your culture allows you to understand it better. I understood I've been taking things like clean air, water, sauna, solid internet connection, and honesty, for granted. It's not the same everywhere, and there are always trade-offs.
I also understood how expensive place Finland is. Only Norway was worse in this regard, and the other countries were cheaper, sometimes greatly so. A good example is a pasta dinner at Berlin which included appetizer, main course, dessert, and a drink for 7.5 euros. The comparable offering would cost between 20 and 30 euros in Finland while not matching the quality.
What Went Right#
When you go abroad, you can forget certain axioms about yourself. Instead of being shy and reserved, as most Finns tend to be, I decided to be open to experiences. Sometimes this meant chatting a bit with another traveler or going to meetups. Doing both opened an entire world to me and gained experiences I would have missed otherwise. How else could you get a private underground tour in Berlin or get to see the quarries of Czech and end the day with a stunning dinner?
It seems to me that if you are open to experiences and willing to get out of your comfort zone a little, a lot of magical things can happen. The realization was perhaps the most mind altering of the trip for me. It's easier to build connections once you find a common interest let it be touring, hiking, or something else.
It's amazing how deep you can go in discussions when you find the right person. Maybe it's a form of therapy as you get to discuss topics you would otherwise skip in fear of losing face. I'm not the type of person that connects well so it was refreshing to see that I can do it given the right environment and courage.
I wasn't much of a subway person before this trip given my home town doesn't have one. This trip showed me how convenient it could be. I was particularly impressed by the systems of Oslo and Prague. Berlin worked too, but it felt complicated in comparison. The trick is to buy a day ticket or longer as this will save time and make your stay less stressful as you don't have to buy tickets all the time. It also gives you a degree of freedom.
Google Maps routing worked well in most cities. If you go to Vienna, you should install qando Wien as it works much better than Google's offering. To discover trekking routes, you should use mapy while in the Czech Republic.
Investing in good shoes before the trip ended up being one of the better decisions I've made. I bought an expensive pair of Mephistos by chance just to see if expensive shoes make a difference. Apparently, they do. I didn't have any significant problems with legs or feet despite walking roughly 200 km during the month. As a result, I'm in a better shape now and feel like running again as walking doesn't do the trick anymore. I also shed some winter weight while at it. Big win overall.
What Went Wrong#
I made quite a phone bill at Norway by forgetting to disable data on my phone initially as modern phones are data hungry. On the plus side, I figured out the right way to deal with this problem while in Germany. I bought a prepaid SIM for 15 euros and used it solely for data. Even with 1 GB cap, it was enough for my purposes, and I bought another one in Austria.
If you travel in multiple countries, it is important to buy the right SIM. I think the cheaper one was constrained to Germany alone. The EU legislation will change and make this easier. I should be able to use my unlimited LTE connection without any extra costs starting from June.
I managed to lose my hat on a plane. I simply forgot to pick it up when leaving. Fortunately, this wasn't a great loss, and it gave me a good excuse to buy a nicer one. In short, anything that's not stored properly will likely get lost. I also had a little pocket issue with certain pants. Wear only pants with good pockets as otherwise, you are asking for trouble.
I should have spent more time researching restaurants and places to visit beforehand. Now I relied on tips by locals and intuition but perhaps doing work beforehand wouldn't be a bad idea. Sometimes you find the best places by exploring on your own, though.
It would have been a good idea to bring earplugs and a sleep mask to help with sleep quality. I did get sleep, but I could have done better in this department.
Even though not perfect, I think the trip was a personal success. I have a better idea on how to focus my energy and what to do next. Wheels are turning, and you may see me in more significant parts of Europe again sometime soon, but I'll announce the news separately with more details.