Life starts at 30: learning languages, yoga retreats and travel

My name is Hamish. I am a 30 year old Australian who packed up my life at the beginning of the year into a small carry on Osprey bag and set off to a place unknown. I turned 30 at the end of 2016 and something changed. I had a dream job, friends and family around the corner, a car, savings, and nothing tying me down at all. Sounds good right? Something was lacking. I missed the unknown and the thrill of diving into new cultures, languages, food and more.

Once I had made the decision to leave my job, I wrote a small list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to visit. The motto for my journey was “simplicity”. I wanted to pack super light, live week by week in basic accommodation and just do what I wanted to do; Yoga, meditation, healthy eating, learn Spanish. Simple right!

I set off for Bali with my carry on backpack and a one way ticket and fresh passport. I stayed in Ubud for three weeks in a little bamboo hut in the rice fields. I walked to yoga every morning, ate super well, met some amazing people, who to this day will remain close friends. Oh and I started journaling every morning. I have always been someone who has chopped and changed my morning routine, but I wanted to establish one that I could stick to, regardless of where I am in the world.


I am a huge huge fan of the Author and Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. Those of you who haven’t heard of him, click here. Anyway, he has interviewed all the most successful people in the world in their different fields and one thing they all have in common is a morning routine which they stick to.

I read a book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. She has a belief we are creative beings in our own way, which is something I believe also. She speaks of these “morning pages”, where you wake up and write three pages of whatever you want. You could simply write “I don’t know what to write” for three pages, feelings, thoughts, whatever! I gave it a go and have been doing it now since the day I left six months ago. Sure I missed a few mornings here and there after a big night or whatever but hey, I’ve done pretty well. It is to this day the best advice I can give anyone, if they want to get rid of thoughts and just connect with themselves for 15 minutes.

After I had spent three weeks in Bali, I flew to Myanmar. In Myanmar I was, and most travellers are restricted to a month’s travel visa. So naturally I wanted to take advantage of this and stayed the full month, trying to adventure and see as much as I could, from Yangon to Ngwe saung, up to Bagan, Mandalay and finally to my favourite place, Inle Lake.

Myanmar is one of those places the rest of the world doesn’t know about. It has only been open to the public for a few years, and you can definitely notice the change in such a small time. Big businesses are going there, the Chinese are investing in a lot of property and tourism is booming. To me this was something I wanted to see before it changed quickly into Thailand, where it is overcrowded with tourists. Myanmar was extremely special. They are incredibly kind, hospitable and always have a smile on their face.

From Myanmar, I thought while I am in the north, why don’t I fly across to North Thailand. Chiang Mai is somewhere I have always wanted to visit and have heard so much about. I flew from Mandalay to Chiang Mai over the beautiful mountain ranges that stop all road traffic into Thailand. Chiang Mai is such a vibrant, busy city with some of the best food you will have in the world. It has such a different feel to the south of Thailand. From Chiang Mai I headed north to an absolute gem of a place called Pai. You have probably heard of Pai from a lot of people. They go and they never return, which is such a common story among backpackers. It is a spiritual and relaxed atmosphere with lakes, mountains, fresh food, farming and a place to really get in touch with your spiritual side. I had no expectations going to Pai and wanted to just see where it would take me. I had a few friends staying there and we lived it up every day on our scooters, visiting beautiful farms, lakes and mountains. You honestly can’t beat this place, it has everything.

After spending a few weeks in Pai, it was time to get to Barcelona to learn some Spanish! Ok, so my map of places to go makes absolutely no sense at all now I look back at it, but at the time it couldn’t feel more right. I had lived in Spain previously in Palma, Mallorca and fell in love with their culture and way of life. Also looking back at it, Barcelona probably wasn’t the best place to learn Spanish as it is the capital of Catalunya and obviously Catalan is their language. But hey its one of my favourite cities in the world so why not! I enrolled into a four week intensive Spanish course in the centre of Barcelona with an amazing school, Camino. On day one, I went in with the confidence I could speak Spanish quite well, having been on Duolingo for a good year, I soon realised that I didn’t know as much as I had thought and was sent to the beginners class. It turned out that this was the best thing that could have happened, so I could learn everything again in such a better way. No English was spoken the whole time we were in class.

After spending a month in Barcelona doing this course, I was confident with my Spanish level at A1, holding my certificate proud and wanted to see the rest of Spain. A friend of mine was setting up a beautiful yoga and meditation retreat just outside of Malaga (River Heart Retreats) so I called her and asked if I could help for a few weeks and stay with them on their property. With no hesitation, she jumped at the opportunity and I stayed with them for three weeks, building cabins, gardening, painting, cooking etc. The retreat is now up and running and has been super successful.

I am by no way a fan of Tinder. I was staying at a hotel in Bali that was owned by a young Costa Rican guy who was giving me tips on what to do in Barcelona. Here I am having a beer with him, writing down sandwich shops, parks, beaches, museums etc. Finally, he says….oh and the women are the most beautiful in the world by the way. I thought to myself, ok great but how am I going to talk to them while I am at a bar or whatever? He was like….good point! Just download Tinder. So I did, having no expectations at all going into it.

On day one I matched with a beautiful Mexican girl who to this day, after six months is my girlfriend and we are looking to move to Canada or somewhere together.

From Malaga, I met my girlfriend in Seville which is just stunning. We used Airbnb and had an interesting experience with a couple that lived there and owned a local bar. I will spare you from the details but it definitely added to the cultural experience. From Seville I then went on to Cadiz, Tarifa, Cordoba and then finally, my last destination in Spain, Madrid! I spent two weeks in Madrid and it is now one of my favourite cities in the world. Its rich history, its architecture, food, people will just blow you away.

My time in Spain had ended due to my Schengen visa finishing up, having only 90 days allowed in the area so it was then onto Las Vegas for my best friend bachelor/bux/stag party and then to his wedding in Los Cabos, Mexico. It was incredible to see my best mates, brother and family in Mexico to see my friend marry a girl I set him up with back in our days in London.


From Mexico, my parents wanted to make a trip out of having come so far, so I took complete advantage of this and traveled with them for a month to Miami, Jamaica, Washington DC and New York. This was definitely a different experience being with the parents, but definitely having its perks. I wasn’t free like I was in Bali, Myanmar or Spain, but I will always treasure any time I have with family.

It was going to happen at some point, where I had to make a decision where I was going to have to “settle”. I was throwing options all around; can I legally work in Barcelona to be with my girlfriend? Can I get a visa for Holland or Ireland to be closer to her? Or… do I follow my heart and the dream I have always had, which was to move to Canada!

I chose to move to Vancouver. I don’t know why, but I think it had to do with the images I had seen of the amazing mountains, lakes and read about the chilled lifestyle and activities like hiking, skiing etc. I got a one way flight to Vancouver and stayed with friends of mine in the most beautiful area here, called Kitsilano. I had a small backpack, a visa, a half written CV and a small amount of money. I was happy! I wasn’t happy to leave my girlfriend in Spain, but I knew that if it was meant to be it will be.

I have now “settled” into Vancouver, I have a flat, no job, but loving it!

I have many many tips to give travelers looking to escape whatever it is they are doing:

  • Keep it simple
  • Do what you want to do
  • Pack light
  • Be open to anything that comes your way
  • Say hi to people
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to do things if you don’t want to
  • Be honest to yourself and others

And finally… just go for it! We live once and you don’t know what is out there until you just take action and do it.


With thanks to Hamish Dowell who contributed his words and experiences to Waddyado! Check out his travels and instragram here.

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