Personal travel hacks on how to move from the US to Serbia. A guide detailing how I drastically changed my life in a short period.
In The Beginning
I wake up, practice some yoga & some quick exercise. I take a shower in this small apartment that’s more akin to a tiny house. I put on my sweater & my jean jacket, call a Lyft.
It’s December… I’m living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I walk into the office around eight-thirty am to start off my day as a web developer for a local corporation.
The day hasn’t started yet, but I’m not looking forward to it.
For many reasons, one of them being that I have almost always worked remotely until I decided to accept this job.
The lighting in the room is what you would expect to illuminate a corporate office.
The cubicles are pretty typical as well. In fact, there is nothing special about this office at all. I wait for the robots to greet me.
The robots to my surprise don’t come because there aren’t actually robots in the office.
There are a few office plants.
A co-worker has a small raisin farm that lines a nearby window sill.
There are common decorations on desks. Some of the decorations are random knick-knacks, small mementos from the company. I begin to sit down at my desk which sits right in front of my boss’s office feet from his door.
My own desk is pretty empty.. why?
The answer is simple. I know I want more. I want to experience new things, meet new people, and get out of my comfort zone. I know this job isn’t going to give me that. Shortly after starting, I made a simple commitment to myself to never get comfortable at this job.
Part of this commitment is making sure to conform as little as possible to office culture.
Growth requires sacrifices.
There are many other reasons as well.
The Day Before the TRavel
I check Outlook for new emails, I log-in to Wrike and look for new tasks, view some existing reports I’ve created.
I sort out a mental list of what my priorities will be for the day. I wait for my boss to come in and send him a quick message to let him know what I’m working on.
To say our relationship is crumbling at this point is an understatement.
In fact, I experience constant dread anytime I have to interface with my boss at all. Many realizations manifested when I first started this job.
One of them is that there are processes in place, that seem to be asking for a disaster to occur.
Our main project is a large Wordpress website. There are only two developers, myself and my boss.
We have no process for local development.
The majority of the work is being completed on a “development server.” The processes are years behind any modern development workflow. Even worse, many times we have to update the live server itself without the use of the development server.
When there are miscommunications I am accused of being a liar.
Positive support for the work I am doing doesn’t exist and there is almost only a large emphasis on mistakes.
All in all, this working relationship is a disaster, to say the least.
This is my first time working in a corporate office. In the United States, it’s considered a best practice to stay at a job for about a year.
I was getting close to ten months and doing my best to stick it out. If I could go back…
I would tell myself to leave sooner.
Life is too short not to be in love with it. There are some upsides to the job as well; There are food trucks, catered lunches, great medical benefits, and the salary is nice.
Never become too comfortable if you want to become more.
Rewinding a bit
Several months before this…
I start a social media marketing company called Boost The Gram.
Boost The Gram has been a great learning experience, to say the least.
One day while scrolling Instagram, researching hashtags.
I stumbled upon a very interesting Instagram account. The account belongs to a woman who also happens to be very into science, has a fascination with physics.
Her content is greatly inspiring to an almost unexplainable degree. I am moved by her obvious passion for everything that she does.
Over time, I begin to realize that no one inspires me more.
She possesses many great, unique qualities.
More than anyone else I know of. On their own, these individual qualities seem like rarities in many people.
As I begin to get to know her more over time, I find out that she grew up in Yugoslavia.
She mentions Belgrade.
I start looking into the city and I notice many of the qualities that I like about her in the culture, people.
The culture consists of many qualities. Compassion, strength, passion for life, integrity, tradition, and intelligence to name a few.
I noticed that gratitude, thoughtfulness, empathy seem to be very commonplace.
I noticed that in the culture itself that the love of money is less, love for family, caring for others is important. I’ve been wanting to travel since I was eight years old.
I begin creating a new landing page using Html, CSS for the Wordpress website. 11 AM.
I take my lunch. At this point, my lunch is mainly protein bars. It’s the quickest way to stay productive.
I begin working on a ReactJS e-commerce app that I’ve been building for a fictional clothing store. I commit my code before my lunch break is over and head back to work.
The day ends.
I go home, I work on the ReactJS e-commerce app more and I start thinking more and more about what I want to do with my life.
The steps I take to make the Journey happen
1. Learn everything you can in a short period of time:
I found every decent Amazon book about Travel Hacking.
I read tons of blog content about Travel Hacking
I offer to help people in the Travel Hacking space with Marketing in exchange for more knowledge and help
I learn about Travel Rewards Cards
I extensively researched the US Credit System and quickly brought my score up to around 700, even scored 741 in some scoring models
I watched a lot of Youtube videos about Travel Hacking, and what it was like living in another country as a foreigner so I could get a good idea of the challenges
2. Begin learning the language
I found two native Serbian speakers to help me learn Serbian.
I feel that it has helped a lot as I am getting more up to speed with Serbian and my biggest challenge now is to become more comfortable actually speaking the language.
If you need help with learning a new language… I really recommend the online platform Italki. It is better to have multiple teachers in case of scheduling conflicts.
3. Make a lot of sacrifices:
I had no social life for a long time. I even skipped lunch with co-workers and barely saw my family because all my free time went to coding, research, planning, and networking
I didn’t have a car. I literally look Lyfts everywhere. It is less expensive than a car in the short & long term, allows more of your time to be used on other activities vs driving
I became very frugal with time. I dedicated almost every waking minute to learning, networking, or coding outside of playing guitar or reading classic literature.
I did sometimes mess up and spend time on Tinder when I was bored or maybe some extra time scrolling Facebook. I even binged the Mandalorian once.
Time, as we experience it during our lifespan in our physical body, is not infinite.
4. Do a lot of networking:
I found many Facebook groups related to Serbia
I started conversations with people before I arrived
This really helped better define some of the challenges that I would run into as a foreigner
I became comfortable with asking questions in the Facebook groups
I spent at least two hours everyday networking through LinkedIn, Facebook.
I created a fictional clothing store application to give me a better chance of landing a nice remote job.
The competition for remote developer jobs is quite high, and this has helped me stand out a lot via Github.
I spent extra time here that probably wasn’t needed. I read three books on packing alone.
I learn all about cramming everything into a carry-on. I read lots of blog posts, books about packing. I tell myself I won’t overpack…
I have so many clothes that I have to leave brand new clothes in the apartment I’m moving out of because they don’t fit.
I bring four laptop chargers, too many clothes, and my carry-on ends up weighing likely 40 PDS. Not only that I still have another bag, my personal item.
You can buy anything important that you can find in the states in Belgrade and likely in any other large city.
They’re not that much more expensive if at all.
When you factor in likely baggage fees, it’s not worth packing more items to compensate for price differences.
If you don’t have a foreign bank account, consider signing up for Transferwise.
It’s a really great service that seems to work almost anywhere and offers better exchange rates than many similar services.
If you are planning on using specific credit cards while traveling, make sure to double-check that the countries you’re visiting currently accept those cards.
You can do this by visiting the card provider websites.
It’s the day of my trip
I leave a couple of hours before my flight. I contemplate whether I will need a new spine after carrying this massive bag.
I am on my way.
Matthew Shaver is a remote web or app developer living in Belgrade, Serbia. Creating, connecting, discovering, learning, and traveling.