In this episode, Lee McKenzie tells the story of

– leaving Manchester
– traveling the world
– figuring out life hacks
– building his passion project of designing bespoke playing cards for magicians and card connoisseurs
– and returning to Manchester.


➤ Where are you right now? 

I am in the Greater Manchester – Bury.

In this podcast I have featured people from Manchester who are currently living around the world and in my mind you still qualify just because you’ve been away for so long and then you recently moved back. So tell me what year was it when you first left and why did you leave? 

So it was 2009 I think and pretty much the year before, I met my now-girlfriend Megan, she’s a Burmese girl and we met in Edinburgh and then we got together since then and she had the world in her sights. I was always someone who thought I would want to go and travel and experience all the kind of adventures you’d see in movies. I had a friend who did it and I just kind of felt like I was telling his stories all the time. But this was my opportunity to start telling my own instead and I felt like, as scary as it was, I just had to do it. 

So we set our sights on Vancouver. We went there for two years then we went to Australia for a few months, then Thailand six months, then Spain three months, back to UK for a little while and eventually back into Australia for seven years or something. I got my Australian visa in Thailand which is difficult to attain, you know, not speaking the language and things.

But finally got it and then stayed there for seven years until last year – no, year before last – we decided to come back, originally planning on going to the EU to live over there for a while. But then everything broke up, Brexit happened, we came to the UK. My friends and family are here so that’s good. It’s giving us a second chance and see if we can make a little go of something here and that brings us to today, really. 

So you came right back into Covid.

Yeah by the time we got ourselves a place it was like, ‘Okay, stay indoors.’ So we’ve literally only recently had a chance to explore our new life here. 


So take me back to 2009. Why did you choose Vancouver? 

First of all, I knew that Megan had a good friend she met in London a few years before and lived in Vancouver Island. So her visa was coming up to the end of her stay [in the UK] and she was thinking that [Vancouver] would be a possibility.

So I started researching as you do trying to get a feel for it and found out Canada was like voted number one most livable country in the world, or top five at least, for quite a few years so I thought, ‘Okay this is it! What better place to go as the first excursion!’ It was English speaking so that would have been helpful for a new traveler plus she knew somebody there plus I mean just why not?

It never would have crossed my mind otherwise but it’s those things that pop up sometimes that don’t come from your own brain. And you think, ‘Ah I never would have thought about that but now it’s here, what are you gonna do? Are you gonna stick to the same old decisions you normally make? Or are you gonna try something new?’

And I honestly think that’s the split in the road where you come up against something that scares you but you know you want it but you’ve just got to figure out, does it matter enough for you to take that leap? Does the fear of it become less than your curiosity about finding out? So you can actually take that step and that’s ultimately what happened. 

We sold my car, sold my motorbike, only had maybe £3000 on me which when I told my boss when I was quitting, he laughed at me. When I told him how much money I had, he pretty much presumed I’d be done in six months. I’d be back. So that if anything that was fire to go, ‘You know what? This is gonna happen whether I have to eat noodles every day to make it work or not, I’m going to make it work. I ended up eating noodles everyday in Thailand anyway.

I was gonna say, if you have three grand wouldn’t it have made more sense to head to Asia because that’s where the digital nomad community would be. I mean £3000 will last you a while but Vancouver is not known to be the cheapest place in the world. 

Here’s the thing about that. At the time Asia was not even on most most – well I won’t say most people’s but my radar at least. In 2009 was the pivotal moment when I came across the idea of what people called being a digital nomad. There wasn’t even a term for it. Back when I learned about it, I just learned about marketing and websites and this and that and people can travel with their laptop and I was like, ‘Wow!’ 

That laptop lifestyle; before it was what it is now – I mean you’ve just got to see YouTube now and you just drown in this but back then barely anybody was interested in this. There was barely any wi-fi in Asia anyway. We came across a book called The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss- 

Yes! The book that started it all.

Yeah! He mentioned about his mini retirements to places and the idea of geoarbitrage, you know earning a strong currency, spending it in a place that costs less and how that gives you freedom. 

But you chose Vancouver!

We chose Vancouver before we had this idea in our head of what the future held. That was like our base camp. We went there, now we’re free. What do we do? Right, where do we go? That was where we became ourselves and started fresh.

Did you read 4-Hour Workweek before or after you left?

Literally landed in JFK airport before we transitioned to Bermuda for a few weeks and in that airport I picked up the book there and then. 

Did you know about it or did you randomly pick it up? 

I’m not sure to be honest. I had a book already with me called Your Portable Empire – that was our first link into it and I saw [4-Hour Workweek] and I was like, ‘I’ve heard about this! I’m sure of it.’ So I bought it and we transitioned to Bermuda, started reading it.

I bought this little bracelet that said, ‘Once this bracelet is off, it reveals your destiny.’ I thought, ‘Oh that’s a fun little thing.’ And then I was in the ocean the next day and it broke and i just looked up across Horseshoe Bay, I was like, ‘Wow! This is my life!’ and I was fulfilled with that.

Like, ‘I’m gonna make it work. This has got to happen.’ So yeah, I became freelance as a graphic designer and literally started working on my little entrepreneurial venture in 2010. So that was the birth of this whole life lifestyle of freedom and independence and dreaming and traveling.  

You were a total inspiration to me, man and the only reason I couldn’t follow the same path was because of kids but this part might get edited out but yeah – you’re a total inspiration to me. 

I mean there’s a lot of people who inspired me, like I said before, my friend was doing this – not the laptop working for yourself thing – but he was traveling in South America and all sorts and I was just so inspired by him and I just felt weird like a traitor to myself; I kept telling people his stories, super excited for him and I was like, ‘What is it? Why do I feel this weirdness about me retelling these stories?’ because I felt like I belonged in them. And that was the tension inside me that growing, like an awareness for an opportunity, awareness for I don’t know what it was but I became hungry for it at that point. 

And then somehow things align. When you focus on something, you keep it forefront in your mind so you see opportunities that benefit that. And then you’re able to act on it whereas if you have no clue, you don’t really know what matters to you, it’s more difficult.Yyou have to notice things. 

Yeah it’s important to just have a general idea of where you want to go then the universe will show you. You’ll start noticing specific tactics if you have a general strategy. 

I literally came up with a plan, it’s like a little formula to which I called it my little formula to achieve anything. And I first started this journey, I was so amped up about how all these decisions came to be that I thought, ‘Okay this is the formula!’ 

It’s literally three steps. The first step is, decide what it is that you want. 

Yeah and that sounds simple but it’s so hard. 

Yep. Number two, make sure every decision that you make from now on serves that purpose. So if it requires a lot of money then you need to be more aware of your finances and find ways to make more. 

And then step three is literally take action as much as you can, every single day towards getting there. And it’s those three steps that sounds so simple but they literally move mountains and that’s kind of what I felt in simplistic terms.

(Conversation continues…)