After a year of world travel

Friends ask me to write a book on it, and I think I could. But there are other books which wait to be written. And I also think the current bibliography of travel books is already quite oversupplied. Traveling the world for a year is these days the standard repertoire of many young lives, and it is a “must” before enrolling into a University. How often did I meet young lads from all over the world in Australia working in a bar or harvesting a field? But I am going to be 50 years old next week. So, I was not going on that kind of trip.

Also, I was not hating my job, looking for a meaning, wanting to make a change, give back to society (blabla). Neither was I stressed, suffering burn out, getting gluten intolerant or anything which could fill a self-help book. I was also not bored. But I was starting to experience a shift in my interest. So, I spent three months training up my successor, and left my office. Shortly after, my wife Feibai and I left our home in Beijing and embarked on our journey.

Let me not summarize what we did during that journey, because it is already covered in this blog. But do let me share some things, and write a few lines for those who are considering an extensive journey themselves. It goes without saying that Feibai made different experiences, and if you read Chinese, you may have a look at her website:

I started preparation about a year before actually leaving, as I had twelve months notice period with my employer. Perhaps it is interesting to know, that I did not have much of finding period before I resigned. But as I had the experience of a sabbatical before, I was very sure that I will figure it out and manage. So, I regard my resignation from Volkswagen as the first milestone and the start of the process itself. I told myself: if I can’t figure it out in a year, then I would be an idiot anyways and also useless for the company. Some colleagues told me, that there are smarter ways to leave and negotiate a more “golden handshake”. First of all, that’s not my style. And secondly some of them are still negotiating while I read of them in the Financial Times and hear from their lawyers.

Today I would say, starting planning a year before is too much. The reason is, that you have to work with other people’s schedules. And they simply don’t plan that long ahead. In my case, I wanted to spend my time in the academic community of different Universities around the world. And before they have made their plans for the academic year, there is not much concrete you can plan together. For the academic engagements, it was of course very useful that I have been able to split my time between corporate and academic activities since 2005. It would be impossible to start this from a “cold call”. So, if you will, I have laid the foundation for our journey already during a period of a decade before.

I remember one evening at our home in Beijing in 2014 with our dear friends rObin Golestan, Curtis Schmitt and Felix Sommerville-Latte. Beside dinner, the question was: where would you go if the world is a village? This was a great starting point, with the character of a brain storming. But the world is not a village and we narrowed it down very quickly. To travel the whole world, one year is not long enough. A good pace is, to stay a month in a place. Two weeks is the absolute minimum. Otherwise you are just packing and traveling again and never arrive. I found that a week is a very human time unit to think in: arriving a week, staying two and leaving one week, makes a month already.

The idea to do it all on one “Around the World Ticket” looked as a tempting budget option, but was not feasible, mainly because Feibai holds a passport of The People’s Republic of China. Visa and residency rules make it virtually impossible for her to travel the world in one go. And on the way, I also figured out that it would be very hard for me (holding a German passport) to do so. It is not just that you get the right of adobe in a country or territory. But it becomes quickly a very complicated mosaic of visa types, work permits, insurances, taxation rules and residence permits. Most of them are results of national legislation, bi- and multilateral agreements, protection of local employees, national interests in skilled workforce, protection of intellectual property and more and more unfortunately also national security. It is a mess. And the information on it is not clear either. Try the Internet? Great thing to book tickets and accommodation. But for most things beyond that, it is overrated.

We did not really need to fix a travel budget. But still I decided to follow our cash flow in an Excel sheet. After we left from China to our starting position in Germany in December 2014, we were unlucky enough to find our inventory which was shipped from Beijng, was destroyed by sea water. This was a bit of a shock. The insurance settled our claim with a bulk sum and we decided to add this to our travel budget for 2015. Quite often we heard the comment, that we must be “very rich” that we can afford a year of travel. Luckily we prefer a traveling style which is modest and we do not like staying in hotels. This is why on the cost side of a year of travel, it adds up to the equivalent of the purchase of a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Not sure, whether all these deciding for that car are “very rich”. It is just a different choice made.

There are quite a few changes you have to make during the transition from an automotive manager to a traveling scholar. Power corrupts. As a small preparation exercise: why don’t you pick up your secretary’s office phone for an afternoon and pretend to be her holiday substitute? Yes, that’s all the “rubbish” she is dealing with. Soon you will do all this yourself. You will feel surrounded by idiots. You may want to “fire them all”, but you can’t. People might not even pick up the phone when you call them, they will not respond, they will come late. Students will play with their phones and computers while you talk to them. You will think, they do not give a shit who you are. But that’s not true. That’s just who you are. And that’s how they are. Live with it.

Finally, because I want to keep the initial promise not to write a book: what happens after the travel? Will you start splitting your days again in 15-minute time slots again go back to “meetings”. No, but now I do the things we actually like doing myself and don’t delegate the fun part to somebody else. And we both have a full project list for 2016. It will be a year with more reflection and less exploration. There are a lot of things to write up, except the book on the travel of ourselves. We keep that until we retire. And I guess, if so, it will only make a chapter in something else.

Again, if you like to browse through more of what we have seen during 2015 and beyond, have a look at the entries of or And then when you really want to do a journey like this yourselves (and not just talk about it), then you are welcome to get in touch for any practical advice.