Wait – shouldn’t this be the January round-up?! Well, I can’t believe how long it has taken me to post this, but as it turns out, working three jobs simultaneously is much more time consuming and exhausting than I thought! More on that in my January round-up, which will be posted shortly. I hope you don’t mind two round-ups in a row, but I feel like both of them explain a lot about the silence on the blog in recent weeks.
December felt like the longest month. Was that because I so desperately wanted the year to be over? That it felt like it was dragging on forever? I couldn’t wait for New Year’s Eve, and the party I was going to attend.
Where I’ve Been
I spent the entire month in New York City, as I had predicted in November, and it was a welcome change from the previous travel-heavy months of October and November.
What I’ve Been up to
December was supposed to be a quiet month, but as so often happens, life had different plans for me. I started the month by worrying about making enough money to be able to cover all my costs, because the last two weeks of the year are traditionally very slow on the freelancing front, since everyone goes on vacation. However, as I was finishing up my last projects of the year, I got some exciting news about a side business I’ve been trying to launch since the summer, and I ended up working more last month than any other December – and without taking a single day off during the Holidays.
December had another big surprise in store for me: the coldest weather I’ve experienced in my entire life, except for a visit to Chicago in December ten years ago, when I thought my face might freeze off. The last month of the year started with beautifully warm weather, and I remember still taking pictures of the fall colors on my runs. Only a few days later though, the first snow storm of the season hit New York, unseasonably early.In the past, the couple of times I happened to find myself in New York during the winter, I was always lucky to be there during a mild December and to leave in January just before the first blizzard hit. This year, I got to experience another unseasonable December, however, instead of breaking records for the warmest December ever recorded like I had witnessed in 2015, cold temperate records were broken this year.
Unfortunately, the business I was finally able to launch (see below) happens to be outdoors. So not only did I get to experience the coldest temperatures for a New York December ever, but I also had the pleasure of being outside in this weather for up to five hours every single day, the coldest day being -6 Fahrenheit/-21 Celsius. I felt like winter was laughing right in my face and was paying me back for all the winters I escaped in the past. Well, I’ll be laughing right in winter’s face next month when I board a plane to a hot and sunny destination, leaving snow and freezing temperatures behind for a while.
I started to feel a bit blue about not spending the Holidays with my family, but as soon as I started my new side gig (see below), I had absolutely no time for any kind of winter blues anymore, because I worked every single day.And luckily I made the most of the month while I still had the time to enjoy myself: I went to see the fabulous Yayoi Kusama exhibit before it closed, I forced my friends to meet me at various vegan restaurants (going vegan can be seen as somewhat anti-social, I’ve learned – see below under Challenges!) and attempted baking my first vegan Christmas cookies (because I was vegan all month – and they turned out pretty well!), and I frolicked in the snow when the first blizzard of the season hit on 9 December.
I also went to a Christmas party and ended the year with, not one, but two New Year’s Eve parties, and I went to various Holiday Markets here in New York (even though, admittedly, they don’t come anywhere close to European Christmas markets).December was also the strongest month for my pet sitting side business, thanks to it being the holiday season. When I opted to spend Christmas in New York instead of flying to Germany, I decided to open my calendar for potential dog and cat sits, and not only did I get booked by previous clients, but also by a number of new clients, which meant I got to spend a lot of time with cats and dogs this month, including several new furry friends.
After housesitting for free for years (and co-authoring a book about it) it feels good to finally get paid for it, even though it isn’t a lot. But thanks to these sits, I was able to get gifts for my nephew and nieces and siblings without putting a huge dent in my bank account.
What Went Right
Finally Launching My New Business
As mentioned above, December saw me finally launch a business I’ve been waiting to get off the ground for the bigger part of the year, and I hinted about it in several of my monthly round-ups this year, but wasn’t able to share any details – until now!
Back in May, I applied to become an Experience Host for Airbnb, which basically means running a tour in New York that was conceptualized by me, and is something that can’t be offered in this form by anybody else. Little did I know back then that Airbnb had received over 1,000 applications for the launch of their New York City Experiences – which is why I was ecstatic when I got a phone call that my tour had been chosen to be one of the inaugural experiences offered in New York. The bad news was that the launch wouldn’t happen until late September, and unfortunately I wouldn’t be in New York then, but walking across Spain. Talk about bad timing.However, with some delay, my tour went finally live this month! I would be showing tourists who were interested in visiting Brooklyn four completely different sides of New York’s most populous borough on my Faces Of Brooklyn walking tour. I didn’t expect much traction in the first few weeks or even months after the tour went live – after all, it is winter, which isn’t prime season for walking tours, and it was also hard to even find the tour on the Airbnb website among around 200 other NYC experiences.
That’s why I was shocked when bookings started pouring in only a few days after the tour was officially launched, and when after only one week, I sold out every single tour! While it was unfortunate that the tour was launched in the winter, I got to benefit from the Christmas Holidays. At first, I had blocked my tour calendar for Christmas and New Year’s, but when I saw how many bookings I was getting for the Holidays, I decided to open my calendar. If I wasn’t spending the Holidays with my family in Germany, I might as well take some tourists around Brooklyn – especially solo travelers who were spending the Holidays on their own, like me. I was astonished when my tours slowly but surely filled up, and I even had to turn people away, since the maximum group size is ten guests.The reach I have – particular when it comes to people who want to visit Brooklyn/plan a trip to New York – can in no way compare to the marketing tools and influence of a big company like Airbnb, which sent me more customers in a single day than I had in my entire summer in New York, when I was running the tours on a much smaller scale, still tweaking them for Airbnb, and I feel incredibly lucky for being accepted as a host by them.
The unexpectedly strong start of this side business, which pretty much turned me into a full-time tour guide (see Challenges below for more on that) helped me get out of a bout of December Blues which had started on my birthday and that I was having trouble shaking off. The great feedback on the initial tours and the continuously strong bookings fueled me with a boost of energy that I hadn’t felt in months. I hope I can maintain the enthusiasm for this new side business now that I am running tours every day – I will occasionally share updates on my new life as a tour guide in the coming months.
The Side Hustle School Book Event
If there’s someone I can credit for getting my tours off the ground, it is Chris Guillebeau and his daily Side Hustle School podcast. I started listening to it while I was in Ecuador in March and hearing inspiring success stories of people starting side hustles in all kinds of different ways was the catalyst to start my own side gig. It took only a few weeks of hearing Chris’ mantra ‘Inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is better’ day after day until I was ready to take action myself and submit a tour proposal to Airbnb. While my target start date of 1 June was missed by a long shot – at least with Airbnb, which was beyond my control – I don’t know when I would have sat down to get the ball moving on this project, which had been put on the back burner for ages, had it not been for Chris’ encouraging stories of other side hustlers on his podcast.
So when I found out he would be in Brooklyn for a book event to promote the Side Hustle School book, I immediately cleared my calendar to attend the event. Being surrounded by dozens of others of aspiring and/or successful side hustlers was just as motivating as the daily podcast and made me determined to make at least $500 a month with my side hustle as soon as possible. Mission accomplished – thanks, Side Hustle School!!
What Went Wrong
(Another!) iPhone Fail
I bought a new iPhone last month and you may remember that I don’t have a lot of luck with phones/electronic devices. Of course with this new phone it’s no different. I didn’t even mention it in last month’s roundup, but my phone started acting up only a few days after I bought it, and I had to go to an Apple store as soon as I got back from Southeast Asia. Apple tech support downloaded new software onto the phone and deleted everything I had added to the phone so far – including all my apps and notes. Instead of downloading that version of my phone from the Cloud, he set it up as a completely new phone – which meant I spent hours trying to remember which apps I had on my phone and re-download them. I was livid, since I hadn’t even been given a warning. I swore that I wouldn’t set foot in an Apple Store again anytime soon. But of course my phone had other plans when it fell and the screen shattered into a hundred little pieces. Luckily I had invested in Apple care when I bought the phone, which meant the screen repair cost me only $30. An unnecessary $30 nonetheless.
The Citibike Incident
I love Citibike, New York’s public bike sharing program, and I’ve been using citibikes almost on a daily basis ever since I signed up for an annual membership last May – even though I have my own bike, too. It’s just so convenient to take the bike from a subway station to my final destination when there’s a bit of a walk involved, and not having to worry about locking it up – you simply dock it in one of the stations (there are more than 600 all over New York) and that’s it. Until that day when I tried to dock my bike and it just wouldn’t lock. And I had to go to work and started panicking because I tried twelve different docks and none worked. And then I rode to another docking station, where the same thing happened. None of the docks worked. And then I was on the phone with their customer service for nearly half an hour and almost lost my shit because I knew I was gonna be late for work, and of course this all happened in sub-zero temperatures (Celsius, but still).
I was told to leave the bike unlocked, in a way that it looked as if was broken, and no charges would appear on my credit card.
But guess what appeared on my credit card? Charges for a lost Citibike!
The whole ordeal took up way too much of my time, but I want to say that it has now been resolved and that I was using Citibikes again the very next day after it happened – I truly love them and I am even a Bike Angel (which means I am a frequent rider that gets rewards for certain things).
Going vegan in December was the last one of my monthly ‘get-out-of-my-comfort-zone’ projects I’d challenged myself to in 2017. After successfully challenging myself to daily yoga and daily running and other things I found difficult, and going caffeine-free, booze-free and chocolate-free – among other things – it was time for me to go dairy-free in December.
For a quick minute I thought I might stay vegan after this month-long experiment, but only five days into my plant-based month, I knew there was no way that I’d continue living without dairy and eggs after the month ended.
A week into being vegan, I was already over it. Of course I didn’t give up, and finished December without consuming any dairy or eggs, but I was missing cheese, I was craving pizza, and I found myself daydreaming about shakshuka (my favorite egg dish).
However, as with all of my monthly challenges this year, there were some interesting takeaways and insights.
- I don’t need as much dairy as I thought. For example my morning yogurt – never missed it and haven’t had any since December, even though in theory, I could’ve gone back to having yogurt & cereal for breakfast.
- I eat almost entirely vegan when I am cooking for myself – I noticed that I never buy milk, and cheese is a treat that I rarely buy. I never have butter (or margarine) in the fridge, the only non-vegan thing that I usually have in the house and sacrificed this month were eggs.
- I truly don’t like vegan cheese. I tried cream cheese, vegan mozzarella and a fancy $12 Brie-style cheese but I didn’t like a single one of them.
- Vegan means weight loss – at least for me. After struggling with my weight pretty much all year long, always feeling like I had a few pounds to lose, this happened automatically when I started eating vegan. On the very last day of 2017, I finally felt comfortable in my body again, having lost my belly and all my pants are fitting loosely. Since I don’t weigh myself, I can’t say how much weight I actually lost, but I felt my belly slowly disappearing over the course of the month. My skin also looked great – and breaking out shortly after the cheese farewell party I threw for myself on Thanksgiving makes me think that too much dairy probably does have an effect on my skin, something I always thought wasn’t the case.
- Veganism can feel quite anti-social. When I announced my vegan month to my friends, several of them told me ‘See you next month then!’, especially since I was also resolute about only consuming vegan-friendly wine (learning that most wine isn’t vegetarian-friendly was the most disturbing thing I’ve learned in a long time), cutting out most wine bars and dinner dates. I am thankful that there were still enough friends who were willing to try vegan restaurants with me and who supported me in succeeding in my vegan challenge.
After doing these monthly challenges for an entire year, I’d like to keep doing something similar going forward, but I am not sure if I can come up with twelve more challenges. 30 days without sugar, a challenge that had been on my list all year and which I didn’t get around to doing before the end of 2017, will definitely happen at some point in 2018, but I’ll have to think about something else I can do to get me out of my comfort zone, because I definitely got something out of each of my monthly challenges. Suggestions?
(Accidentally) Becoming a Full-Time Tour Guide
This was an interesting development this month, as I’ve detailed above. When I started this ‘side hustle’, I never expected this to turn into a full-time gig!
Funnily enough it was less the tour guiding itself that presented a difficult transition, since this seems to be something that comes to me naturally, or maybe something I’ve grown into thanks to all the practice runs and private tours I’ve run previously, but it was the sudden daily exercise that exhausted me completely. On tour days, I log eight to nine miles, around 20,000 steps. Combined with the cold weather, I often found myself completely worn out by the end of the day, unable to even open my laptop to check my email. My creative juices were dried out by the end of a four hour tour which involved me talking… for basically four hours straight, and connecting with ten strangers. I usually found myself just wanting to sit in silence after coming home from ‘work’ (it is still funny to me to call this my ‘work’ or my ‘job’ because it doesn’t feel like that) and it took me quite a while to find the energy to go out afterwards, and to fulfill writing obligations for freelance clients.
I found that the ideal way to map out my day was to start by doing writing and blog-related things, then run the tour, and then socialize, but I am still adapting to this new life and need to make sure to add some break days to my calendar, which I haven’t done yet, due to the high demand for the tour over the Holidays.
What’s Next For Me
I’ll be spending all of January running tours, which, amazingly, are still completely sold out for the first few days of 2018, even though the Holidays are over. I’ll also be launching a second walking tour, if everything goes according to plan, and hopefully will find some time to catch up on blogging and most importantly – booking a flight for my February winter escape, so stay tuned for that.