London and Manchester fall down cost of living rankings because of Brexit

Thames and London Eye

Eyeing a move to Britain? London has fallen 18 places down the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living index. The 2017 report shows the UK capital at its lowest position in two decades, to now rank 24th – and Brexit is seen as the cause.

It’s a seismic and symbolic difference; 20 years ago the nation was entering a new era through Blair and Britpop (make of that what you will). Manchester showed an even bigger fall in its cost of living –  the biggest registered in the report – of 25 places to 51st. This may or may not influence foreign players mulling over a Premier League move (the city’s rain might be more a decisive factor).

Singapore meanwhile remains the most expensive city of the 133 measured worldwide by the EIU survey. This makes it marginally more expensive than regional rival Hong Kong and a whopping 20% pricier than New York.

The little red dot and Hong Kong are joined by other Asian cities in the top 10, with Tokyo and Osaka moving up because of the yen, and Seoul continuing to climb the rankings. Incredibly, the Korean metropolis was ranked 50th for Cost of Living just seven years ago:

However, the report also showed that not all Asian cities suffered the same fate. Five cities in China – Beijing, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Dalian – were among the leading ten cities with the biggest fall in ranking over the past 12 months.

As for the opposite end of the scale, Kazakhstan’s Almaty is the cheapest city in the world. The bottom 10 in cost of living includes four cities in India: Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi.

While several of these inexpensive locations are also popular expat destinations, for example Mumbai, the EIU glumly notes that “cheaper cities tend also to be less liveable”.  Statistically speaking, that may well be true, but not all situations are equal. Mumbai is known for its inequality gap – it’s very liveable for some.

Denmark loses happiness top spot to Norway

Norway fjord

It’s official: Nordic countries are the happiest nations in the world, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report 2017. Is it something in their water? Do they “like” more inspirational quotes on social media than the rest of us? Apparently not.

Norway is the world’s cheeriest, ahead of Denmark (Danes may or may not be happy to lose their contentment crown, but I’m sure they can cope-nhagen), a country famous in recent years for its hygge. In third and fourth are Iceland and Switzerland, respectively. All four ranked favourably on caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

Notably, fourth-ranked Switzerland also produced three top 10 cities in the latest Mercer Quality of Living survey: Zurich, Basel and Geneva. You really can’t go wrong if you move to the Alps. Ok, the high cost of living perhaps.

The report explains that the other countries making up the top 10 scored well in income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust:

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden

The report, ranking 155 countries by their happiness levels, was released to mark the International Day of Happiness on 20 March, inconveniently falling on a Monday this year.

Inconvenient, because the report states that work is a major factor affecting happiness, whether it’s caused by unemployment or the quality of work while employed. Among other conclusions, the report reveals that work-life balance makes for happier workers:

Work-life balance comes out…as perhaps the strongest workplace driver of an individual’s subjective wellbeing. This turns out to be true across the board, in terms of people’s life and job satisfaction, general happiness, and moment-to-moment emotional experiences.

Location independent workers will be satisfied knowing that autonomy is also an important factor:

individual autonomy in the workplace is a significant driver of happiness: having control over how the workday is organized as well as the pace at which the employee works is positively correlated with higher wellbeing outcomes.

The report was published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and supported by a grant from the Ernesto Illy Foundation. I’m smiling as I write this, as coffee definitely raises my happiness levels…

Vienna offers the world’s highest quality of living – again

Horse and cart in Vienna

We’ve Wien here before. Vienna once more tops Mercer’s annual Quality of Living survey, for the 8th year in a row, coming ahead of six other European cities in the top 10:

  1. Vienna
  2. Zurich
  3. Munich
  4. Auckland
  5. Dusseldorf
  6. Vancouver
  7. Frankfurt
  8. Geneva
  9. Copenhagen
  10. Basel

According to Mercer, the data was largely analysed between September and November 2016. Regionally, Vancouver is the city with the highest quality of living in the Americas, Singapore is top in Asia-Pacific, and Dubai is highest in Africa and the Middle East.

Alongside the 2017 survey, a city infrastructure ranking was awarded that assessed things like access to electricity, phone and mail services, as well as public transportation, traffic congestion and the rage of international flights from local airports. Singapore – also a sovereign state, as well as a city –  was named best worldwide for infrastructure. This might not be a surprise:  Changi is announced year after year as the world’s best airport.

Looking at the top 10 list, all of these cities have something in common…but I can’t quite put my finger on it. They have smaller populations (London, while not enormous, is 40th for Quality of Living) and are relatively unhurried. Could it be the presence of mountains? Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany and Canada, all with snow-capped peaks, have cities in the top five. (I’m only half-joking.)

They also offer a degree of consistency. Barring disaster, Vienna will be the world’s best in 2018, and cities in Nordic countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will again show high rankings. European cities will continue to dominate the rankings, even amidst political and economic turbulence.

Hack Horizon seeking applicants for hackathon in the air

If the usual hackathon doesn’t get you excited, how about one that takes place  11 miles up in the stratosphere (meaning, yes, you might have to talk to the stranger whose knee is touching yours)?

As lofty as it sounds, this is what the organisers of Hack Horizon are offering. Over 3 days, 32 successful applicants will be invited to build new products that can make travel simple, safer, cheaper and fun – and the highlight of this “journey” is a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to London. It’s digital nomadism on steroids, passing through the air space of China, Mongolia and Russia, among other states.

Of course, there is an underlying purpose to all of this. Through experiencing a journey end to end, participants will be able to test their  assumptions on other customers, while presumably proceeding with caution in the air, as few people would like to be interrupted by a wide-eyed product designer while watching Iron Man vs King Kong Part II.

As Hack Horizon explains on their website:

Hack Horizon will completely immerse you in the travel experience and give you access to real life customers to test your assumptions right off the bat. What’s more is, that you will be granted special access to some of the best travel technologies and APIs out there as well as have the support and mentorship of leading industry experts.

The trip furthermore continues beyond touchdown. From arrival at Heathrow, Hack Horizon participants will spend the afternoon and evening working from TravelTech Lab in London, once they have discovered the joys of the capital’s transport system. They will then spend another day of hacking and final preparations before pitching before entrepreneurs and the media at the London Transport Museum.

If you are reading this far and have applied successfully for Hack Horizon, here are my gripes thoughts as a regular traveller – these are problems that simply won’t go away, no matter how many times you flush:

  • Airline websites. Many are incredibly frustrating to use
  • Airline food. It was bad before. It still is bad, irrespective of class
  • Reclining seats in Economy. No longer a good idea
  • Manners. Passenger etiquette seems to have been sucked out of the window in recent years
  • Retail. Would airports please stop treating me as a shopper? I’m a passenger trying to find my gate, sometimes as quickly as possible
  • Gimmicks – travel is full of them, from priority boarding to the mobile boarding pass
  • Airport security, a borderline humiliating experience. This has to improve

And here are things we don’t need –  so don’t even think about it:

  • Another novelty in-flight safety video featuring hobbits, football players, or whatever else springs to mind after a caffeine-fuelled sleepless night
  • An in-flight social network
  • An in-flight messaging app
  • People yabbering on their phone in the air

Good luck to all applying. It sounds completely bonkers – but whatever it takes to make flying an experience we can all look forward to again.

How do you succeed abroad? A GSOH helps, says cut-e

Emotional man

Working overseas isn’t always a bed of roses. A bad day can be pretty rough (and you won’t necessarily have Marmite and Eastenders to look forward to at the end of it). A stoic mindset and not taking things too seriously can help make life a lot easier. You’ve made it further than most (literally), so cut yourself a bit of slack.

A recent report into expat behaviour by cut-e confirmed that a sense of humour, among other factors, can make the difference between sinking and swimming.

The study of 35 returning expats, as well as their managers, peers and subordinates, looked to see if personal characteristics could predict success abroad. Feedback was collected on each expat’s performance, their personal success, their communication ability and how well they integrated into the local culture.

And the results showed the following character traits:

  • emotional stability
  • openness to change
  • cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity
  • an ability to adjust to different customs
  • perspectives and business practices
  • strong interpersonal skills
  • flexibility
  • resilience
  • respect for diverse viewpoints
  • a high level of autonomy and
  • a sense of humour.

Based on experience and observations, I’d say that cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity are critically important. Get these wrong and the repercussions can be far-reaching, as evident here and here. While a new culture can be a bit of a minefield, publicly slagging off your hosts is an obviously bad idea.

Some digital nomads, who naturally choose their location, are acutely aware of this and make efforts to connect meaningfully with the local community. Steve Munroe of Hubud in Bali described this as “co-giving“.  Similarly, entrepreneur Stuart Jones revealed how Coworkation was working with Bali Children’s Project to provide tangible assistance to those needing it most.

But not all foreign workers are digital nomads, and cut-e recommends that international assignees at least take a personality questionnaire covering values, motives and interests in advance.

Better still, in my opinion, would be to get out to the destination in question and take a few weeks to interact with the culture – you will have an inkling soon enough if it’s right for you (trust your gut), and perhaps avoid this fate: