The Northern tip of Koh Lanta

We’re moving our family to a Thai island

Comfort kills ambition’ so the saying goes. Well, I’m not sure we’d describe our life — 3 children in 3 years and startups a plenty — as quiet, but we reached a breathing moment this summer where we thought, why not change it up?

(Read my wife’s slightly different version of the decision making process).

The push factors in the decision weren’t strong but they were growing. We were struggling to sell our house and so had no fixed plans of ‘where next’ might be. Our eldest daughter was due to start school, but none of our children are yet immersed in their education. I am still enjoying my work helping people start their businesses at Escape the City but the programme is now in a strong place for others to take it forward (and my late nights and weekends in London aren’t so popular at home).

But the moment the idea settled in my mind was on holiday this summer. Two weeks into a digital detox and I was clearly getting withdrawal symptoms whilst scrolling through my wife’s instagram (it wasn’t my phone so it didn’t count)…and I stumbled across this:

Escaping Escape!

Either the team were trying to get me to quit through an indirect coded message (unlikely I hope!) or I needed to pay attention to the message I’d been spreading for the last few years: Good things happen outside your comfort zone.

So what was uncomfortable about the idea of ‘escaping escape’ and doing something different? Leaving behind a financially secure income, a job I know I can do, a great team and community, a lot of fun, autonomy in how and where I work and so on. So lots, really.

But…BUT…BUT…enter stage right Mr Mark Twain:

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did.”

The idea of stepping away felt uncomfortable but also appealing because of the power of ‘What if….?’

If I wasn’t committed to running the Startup Accelerator programmes in London over the coming year and we don’t sell our house and Isla wasn’t tied into a school…then where and what might we do together? And that’s where the real fun begins.

What were our decision making criteria for our family escape?

  1. Fast Wifi: Sounds funny to put this as a priority but it is! With fast wifi so much is possible. Something that was particularly challenging when we first started Tribewanted in Fiji (I used to have to run up a hill with a blackberry to answer all the emails). Now it’s different as you can quickly narrow down your digitally connected destinations.

We searched Nomad List (Generation X’s ‘Lonely Planet’), Google Earth and our own travel experiences and came up with three possibilities:

Back to Bali: great for startups, adventures, and the amazing Green School but felt like it might be too busy (and distracting for my work) > ‘too big’

Southern Sri Lanka: surf, yoga, and schools but wifi too slow and not much non-city startup communities > ‘too small’

Koh Lanta, Thailand: a village-feel international school, a great co-working community, and an island and cultural adventure > ‘just right’

The remaining criteria that made Koh Lanta the most compelling:

2. A Local, International School: The Global Village School Lanta is a small, friendly and welcoming community (from our experience chatting to the teachers and parents online so far). It’s somewhere where we hope both Isla and Mali can enjoy their educational adventures!

3. Lots of Nature & Adventure: So many places to explore…but being just off the beaten path of the popular Thai-Andaman sea and with the Mu Ko Lanta National Park to discover, Koh Lanta feels like the right balance of well-connected island life and exciting local expeditions.

4. Affordable: Although life in Thailand will be cheaper than the UK, we have factored in costs for 5 of us for travel (flights, new passports, visas, immunisations, insurances), a local vehicle (not all of us can fit on a moped), school fees and some expenses to cover at home. Living on Koh Lanta will cost us about half of what it does in the UK but with these other outgoings factored in, it will be, we’ve forecasted, about 20% less. We’ll keep you posted if it’s dramatically different!

5. Endless Summer: Will it be sunnier and warmer than a long English winter? Good, we’re on our way.

6. Cultural Change: Although the island is clearly a tourism destination (which we’ll be part of even though we intend to stay longer than 2 weeks) it appears to have retained a lot of the local culture and pace of life. It will be interesting to see if this remains the case during peak season (December-March).

7. Safety: Good communications, clinics and hospitals, access to town/airport etc — is important to us with young children. Koh Lanta appears to have it all setup.

Other factors for going now…

Exit before Brexit: The news bubble is like a grey cloud of confusion hanging over our country. Everyone’s mixed up in it, whether they want to be or not — so we realised the only way to lift the fog is to escape for a while (plus I’m curious to see how the human, economic & technological growth in South East Asia is panning out).

We are the lucky ones: More positively, it never ceases to amaze me the huge variety of opportunities we have today to live, work and travel. The risk is we don’t take them.

Telling Isla, Mali & Jack we’re moving to ‘an island’ with a little help from Moana & Maui (I know, not totally culturally & geographically accurate but it helped them understand/get over-excited)

So what about work?

A lot of people line-up ‘the next job’ before they quit their previous role, let alone book flights to the other side of the world for their whole family. I tend to find that a little (or a lot) of commitment to the next stage helps you focus so much better. The danger, otherwise, is that you entertain the idea without ever going for it. I’ve felt that at times too.

Anyway, now I’m focused (we’re leaving on October 2nd) and so here’s my project plan for life on Koh Lanta:

Rebel Book Club: A side project I’ve been running with a friend I met in Bali in 2015. We’ve built a wonderful little community of 300 ‘rebel readers’ in London (and now in Oxford) who read one non-fiction book a month (we’re up to 40), and meet-up to enjoy a book-inspired cocktail and discussion.

Tribe Builders: A new project to help founders maintain momentum post-launch. All too often, great ideas and hard work stall after the initial excitement. My plan is to build a membership community supporting each other to complete their monthly tasks and feel like they’re part of a bigger team. Apply now for our first batch of memberships (being released October 2018).

Alongside this I’ll be coaching/mentoring entrepreneurs through Virgin Startup, THNK & Zinc.

The Remote Family: Considering setting something up here to help other families do what we’re doing. I think we need to have the experience first!

Other Projects: I’m interested in collaborating and helping (remotely) on new opportunities too: startups, education, social impact. Get in contact if you think I can help.

Escape the City: Although I won’t be working on Escape projects in London in the near future, we have a fantastic new startup team in place to help lots more people get their ideas out into the world. Escapees, you are in the best hands with Skye Robertson, Jonny Miller, Matthew Trinetti and the team for the next round of accelerators. A big thank you to Dom, Skye, Mia and all the ‘escapees’ I’ve met for a really fantastic few years. You’ve inspired us to do this! I know you understand this decision more than most.

Reiki: My talented wife and co-pilot in life, Susannah, has recently qualified as a Level 2 Reiki Practitioner. When not caring for, feeding, or nurturing our ‘Keene Beans’, her interest in holistic and natural medicine is something she hopes to explore more of in Thailand.

Beach School: Isla & Mali’s new classroom

Join us

We leave in early October and plan to stay in and around Southern Thailand for the next 9 months to see how Isla and Mali get on with their new school and how we get on living and working as a family in a different part of the world.

We hope people will say hello if you’re heading to that part of Thailand or even better, make an excuse to come out over the European winter.

I will be sharing the ups and downs of the experience (family life, remote work & travel etc..) on this blog and instagram.

เจอกันใหม่ (hopefully on Koh Lanta)

Resources, so far, for our great big escape:

Escape the City — the inspiration to practise what I preach! (You haven’t got rid of me forever though)

Nomad List

Choose Life: The Tools, Tricks, and Hacks of Long-Term Family Travellers, Worldschoolers and Digital Nomads by Daniel Prince

Google Earth!

Facebook groups on Koh Lanta & Kohub