Simon Akers is the founder of Archmon, a marketing consultancy that helps businesses create strategies for growth through media. In 2017 he headed to South Africa in pursuit of a remote-working lifestyle dream; three months later, he returned to London with a fresh perspective on work–life balance.
In this interview, he discusses the travel experiences in South Africa, his personal mental health challenges, and the power of slowing down.
Simon is now in the process of launching a podcast, The Busyness, which will bridge mental health and entrepreneurship.
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What were you doing before you moved to South Africa?
At that point, I’d been living in London for four years; that’s when I decided to make the move. I had been working in digital marketing at media companies and agencies.
However, since travelling the world in 2008, I always had a thirst for travel, and was fascinated by how I could weave it into my work. The feet got itchier.
What was your original plan when you made the move?
Go for a bit, just three months initially. I called it a test. A test of my own resolve and how I could really apply to it. Obviously, I blame The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.
Would this inform a new future? A future of a bit of smart work and taking the afternoons off? Being single and no commitments, it felt like an apt time. There was also the element of unknown, although I had friends from South Africa and others who were living there, so that eased the move.
How did your friends and family at home react to your decision?
They were unsurprised to be honest. I was kind of known for switching jobs and cities.
At what point did your business move turn into a travel break?
Embarrassingly, day 2. I discovered how good and cheap Ubers were, and that, combined with the proximity to Constantia wine region, was a challenge.
However, the plan was all going well. At first, when I was there in February, there was a two-hour time difference, so I could get up at 7am for coffee and cereal in the sun-drenched yard, start work at 8am, do four hours work, and by midday on the Cape it was only 10am back home, and most of the key tasks had been done.
That definitely offset my guilt of reprioritising my life as a novice sommelier!
“They say reading a book slows you down, but being around new scenery is the physical equivalent”
What did you get out of your travel experiences in South Africa that you could never have found at home?
Fresh air. A slower pace of life. Beautiful scenery and the fresh Atlantic breeze.
They say reading a book slows you down, but being around new scenery is the physical equivalent; a kind of wind-down of the brain, helping you reassess what is important.
Was there a stand-out experience or memory of your time in South Africa?
Honestly, there were certain things I found jarring. Without going into too much detail and entering a big conversation, recent political and social history does still linger and society still bears the scars; having said that, the majority of people are compassionate, and blend fun and pragmatism like nowhere else.
I must say, I felt very welcome and had some amazing food and wine. I think the highlight was a trip to a lodge at a ‘big 5’ game reserve, and I took a short flight to George on the Western Cape. Life is about making memories, and it is something so pure I will never forget it.
Why did you decide to move back to the UK?
I was always planning on maximising my 90-day visa. It was something for me to do as a test, to see how I would like it.
By day 60 or so I decided I was not going to stay, and the faff of negotiating with the country’s Home Affairs was not appealing. However, it was always a litmus test for remote working and my mental health.
“I was ready for the new world. I came back refreshed, slimmer and tanned.”
Did your travel experiences have any immediate impacts on your life and career?
Mentally, yes. I was ready for the new world. I came back refreshed, slimmer and tanned. I felt like I had truly lived the new remote-working dream.
Alas, looking back, I was too quick in looking to get back to normal with a job in London…
And have there been any long-lasting impacts?
Absolutely, it changed my gears. I was always 100mph. The slowdown put me into 4th gear.
I had some personal mental health challenges after a burnout in a job (a big job I took post South Africa). The combination of conversations with friends, therapists and my own introspection led me to summarise: the experience changed me.
Without going too deep into my own cognitive journey, it is about accepting how experiences like travel change you, open you up to a pace of life that does not have to be as frenetic, and finally accepting that you can not necessarily go straight back to how things were before.
If you could go back to before your South Africa journey, would you change anything?
Great question. Yes, but I try not to look back and regret, as trust me when I look back at my life I do lament some of my more bizarre decisions.
But what it did teach me was how to slow down, enjoy what was around me, and realise that each country, culture and nation, however globalised, has its nuance that is there to be enjoyed only there, and in that moment.
What advice would you give to people who are considering taking time out of work to travel?
If you are half considering it, or you have any inkling, that is a sign in itself. You HAVE to do it. You only ever regret the things you DON’T do, never the things you do.
Also, it is worth bearing in mind the current situation, and that when this is all over, travel will spike, and with it likely the costs, so you may as well pre-plan as much as possible. Have a loose itinerary, look at typical exchange rates, time zones, the freelance communities. What’s stopping you?
You can find more inspiration in our full series of career break travel interviews.