Hi, yes hot air is definitely a time saver. But it’s totally doable with an iron. I do a lot of SMD most of the time I use hot air now, but when i’m not in a rush I enjoy to do it with an iron. I find it pretty relaxing.
There’s a lot of projects around which are a good starting point. Ornament & Crime and Temps Utile are nice to built cause most of the passives are 0805 and there’s only one Tssop IC on o_C (the expensive DAC). The Korb DVCA and DLFO or the Atumbra Rot8 are also nice projects to start with 0603.
What you need is a good iron with a small chisel tip, some no clean flux (gel is better for me), isopropylic alcool to clean the flux (cause you will use a lot of flux !), some tweezers and a magnifying glass. Most of this equipment can be found for cheap on eBay. And yes the EEVblog videos are full of good tips.
Anyway, if you’re into DIY, learning SMD is a good move. You will have access to a lot of great projects.