Can You Achieve Personal Growth Through … Travel and Outsourcing??

Even the most frugal people have to admit time is more valuable than money. That's why outsourcing is worthwhile. I can enjoy travel more. That's priceless.

personal growth through outsourcing workGreetings from Boston! I’m visiting for four days to make a speech at a blogging conference.

The past few months have been a whirlwind: Jamaica in June, Paris in July, California/Boston/Nevada in August. I’ve been earning my living entirely from a laptop, barely home before it’s time to leave again.

“I lived at your house for two weeks before I met you,” my new roommate mentioned the other day. When we first met, I saw him in the living room and greeted him with: “Hey, do you live here? Me too!”

My travel schedule shows no signs of slowing. October brings trips to Washington D.C., Charleston and St. Louis. November heralds Thailand (unless I defer that to February), and December brings Las Vegas. I’m on track to reach my 30-by-30 goal.

This lifestyle is made possible by two things:

  • Finding laptop-based work
  • Outsourcing like a mo’ fo’

I’ve written a number of posts on the benefits of developing an entrepreneurial mindset – even if you’re an employee, you’ll be more secure in knowing that you could fend for yourself if you needed to. And if you’re going to be working from your laptop, even if it’s for another company, you need the motivation and focus of someone who runs their own show.

But I won’t delve further into that in this post. Instead, I want to chat about the second quality, outsourcing – a skill that’s critical regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee.

The Frugal Worker’s Dilemna

Like many self-employed people, I’ve always struggled with outsourcing. I’m frugal in nature; I dislike paying someone to perform a task that I could do myself.

But time is more valuable than money. That’s not just a cliché. The laws of economics support it. Time is a finite and scare resource. Once spent, it can never be resupplied. Money is near-infinite (at least for our purposes) and renewable.

Limited supply (time) vs. unlimited supply (money). The choice is clear.
Like many entrepreneurs, I remind myself that just because you can do-it-yourself doesn’t mean that you should. My time on the planet is limited to 100 years or less; why spend it stuck in an Inbox?

Of course, digging out of the Inbox is easier said than done. That’s precisely why I travel so much.

The Benefit to Changing Your Surroundings

When you remain in comfortable surroundings, everything serves as a trigger for your existing habits. The alarm clock buzzes; you hit snooze. Your laptop powers up; you immediately check email (or the news, or whatever you’ve habituated into doing first). Humans are creatures of habit.

Step into a new environment, however, and those triggers disappear. When we’re no longer surrounded by familiar cues, we’re forced to re-make ourselves.

That’s a golden opportunity to weed out our bad habits and replace them with something better.

Lately, my bad habit is that I remain stuck in the “Do Loop,” performing repetitive tasks that I could hand off to others at minimal cost and with minimal workflow interruption. This is the failure to use money to purchase time, and it’s a common character flaw among frugal enterpreneurs.

Fortunately, travel is an effective remedy. Nothing is more frustrating – and more motivating – than yearning to explore a new city, but feeling stuck in your hotel room doing HTML formatting tasks.

When you hit that point, you realize the insanity of constantly executing non-critical tasks. You start to hire. You start to offload. You start to perform only the most crucial work, and eliminate or delegate everything else.

And then something weird happens: you start to grow. Not just as a business, but as a person. You learn your own worth. You establish firmer boundaries. You fiercely guard your two most important assets, your time and energy, and reserve it exclusively for the most exciting projects.

Sometimes those projects happen at work; sometimes they happen at home. And sometimes, those “projects” are nothing more than strolling the streets of Boston in search of delicious Afghani food.


I imagine that people reading this will fall into one of two camps: You’ll either understand exactly what I mean, or you’ll think that I’ve completely fallen off the rails.

“You’re growing as a person, just because you hired someone to backup your blog?”

Yes. Yes, I am.


  1. says

    “Step into a new environment, however, and those triggers disappear. When we’re no longer surrounded by familiar cues, we’re forced to re-make ourselves.

    That’s a golden opportunity to weed out our bad habits and replace them with something better.”

    Love this part right here because it hits exactly where I am in my military career. I had an oppurtunity to go to Japan, but to due misfortunes I lost those orders and am now in the middle of nowhere California. Instead staying down after the ordeal, I slowly picked myself back up. Realigned my priorities and each day head towards my “Afford Anything” journey.

    • says

      That part really stood out to me, too. And that’s been both good and bad for me on this trip – some days are for experiencing and sightseeing and eating, some are simply travel days (in transit) and some are ‘work’ days where I’m inside on my computer.

  2. says

    I think this thinking completely applies to those of us that are employed, as well. Whether it is physical surroundings or the projects we are working on, I think it is so important to continually “shake things up” to avoid falling into patterns and habits.

    Thanks for a great post!!

  3. says

    “…feeling stuck in your hotel room doing HTML formatting tasks.”

    Yes, yes, and YES! I am (slowly) so coming around to this method of thinking. So often I would have people say, “Oh, why pay your web designer to do you websites when you can do them yourself with a little time and patience.” Well, I am in short supply of BOTH of those when it comes to anything around technology; therefore, I’ve never quibbled one bit paying for my (most awesome web designer in the world) developing any of my sites.

    I know me. Something that takes John about 15 minutes to complete would take me about 10 hours…clearly a poor waste of time, when I could be doing something important for those 10 hours.

    The one thing that has been more difficult for me (but I’m learning from you Paula) is to outsource. I know that it is the only way for me to grow my businesses. It’s going to be tough, but I’ve made a goal to hire a VA (virtual assistant) next January. I believe this will make ALL the difference in my business ventures.

    Have a blast in Boston! I haven’t been there in about 3 years, but I always enjoy eating my way around there too…

    Happy travels!

    • says

      @Chante — I love your goal of hiring a VA. My advice: take baby steps, and outsource one task at a time. You’ll slowly gain the experience of learning how to teach a VA to perform a task, how to give the right amount of instruction and oversight, how to evaluate the VA’s work, how to manage without micromanaging. A few months ago, I set a goal of outsourcing one new task per week.

  4. says

    It’s interesting (to me, upon reflection) that I outsourced my personal life long before I outsourced my business life. I had no problem hiring a house cleaner or the yard guy to free up time but refused to hire a bookkeeper or a web design ninja in my last company until we have significant seven digit revenues, and even then, the menial tasks were clawed out of my death grip. So, I spent money in my personal life to be able to be hyper frugal in my business. Hello, mental accounting!

    I love Afghan food. There was an amazing, authentic Afghan restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I haven’t found a replacement since moving to Texas. :-(

  5. says

    Two sentances JUMPED out at me:

    “Money is near-infinite (at least for our purposes) and renewable.”

    I have lived with a lack mentality for so long that this mindset is quite a revelation for me. I am currently trying to sell my furniture in preparation to move in 2 weeks, and and I am stressing over what happens if I don’t sell. I have finally realized what hasn’t sold will be donated; I have PLENTY of money in the bank, and PLENTY of opportunities to bring more in.

    “Step into a new environment, however, and those triggers disappear. When we’re no longer surrounded by familiar cues, we’re forced to re-make ourselves.”

    Remake myself – that’s what my move is all about. Not only am I moving to a new city, I am going from employee to self-employeedr. And I want to be very conscious that the new habits I develop are in line with the life I want.

    There is no coincidence, only synchronisity. These words came exactly when I needed them. Thank you!

    • says

      @Gladys — “There is no coincidence, only synchronicity.” I agree 110 percent. “Synchronicity” is one of my favorite words. (Is it strange to have a favorite word? Oh well; I do.)

      I’m so glad you read this post at the right time. :-)

  6. says


    Timely article for me! Who do you outsource to and more specifically, can you recommend a person by name who would be able to help me set up a blog. (I know – should be easy – but hey – dealing with a mostly blind person here!! Nothing is easy.)

    Jen, and hens.

  7. says

    I’ve been considering outsourcing work via a VA for a while but I’m still not sure about it. It would be good to free up some time for other projects I have in mind but it’s hard because I don’t really want to pay for something I could do myself. It might be worth considering doing though.

    • says

      @Mo — Try it for 1-2 months. What’s the worst that could happen? You’d spend a couple hundred bucks. What’s the best that could happen? You’ll free the mental space and creative space to launch an incredible new project, or to exercise more and become healthier and happier.

      It’ll take you 1-2 weeks to properly instruct the VA, work out all the kinks, learn how to manage and lead and give direction. Plan on the first couple of weeks being a “learning curve.” Once you’re smooth at that, let the experiment run for another few weeks so that you can see how much time — and how much mental space — you save. If your experience is like mine, you’ll be shocked by the results.

  8. says

    I believe that travel is an essential part of self education, and the internet has certainly freed up plenty of possibilities of travel while you work or work while you travel. I have not been “back home” since 2000. My view now is home is where you are now, even if it is only for one day.

    By the way, it might be a good idea to shift the Thailand visit to February. In SE Asia the wettest time of the year can drag on into November.

    Enjoy your travels. Your experiences can never be outsourced!

  9. says

    Good post as always, Paula. I completely agree about outsourcing the mundane to free up resources. As an employee, I delegate certain tasks to the team, or else lose my mind. 😉 By the way, welcome to Beantown! Perhaps you’ll let us know if you’d be open to a meet up with Afford Anything readers in the future. It would be a great pleasure! Plus, I’m curious about this Afghani restaurant.

  10. says

    Paula, I have to say this such an awesome post. I believe we should not limit ourselves and if traveling is one of your short term goals that you need to achieve then go ahead. Outsourcing can be a painful experience but once you obtain the right VA, holla! Everything looks simple and easy just like Henry Ford saying ‘Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement’.

  11. says

    Thanks for this, Paula. I’m frugal too, and paying someone else to do something I can DIY goes against every cheapskate bone in my body. I’m not at a point where I can afford paid help yet, but I’ll keep this in mind.

    • says

      Deia — The beauty of it is that if you build your side gigs, and reach the point at which you can outsource most of the work, then you can live on that passive income while you travel. It’s pretty beautiful. :-)

  12. says

    So many find themselves stuck in a rut, whether it is at work, home or school. It is great to see people really aligning their priorities and making the most of things.

    “When you remain in comfortable surroundings, everything serves as a trigger for your existing habits”.

    I don’t think I have ever read a truer statement! Sometimes the key to changing things in your life is shaking things up a bit! Sometimes there is a lot of good in the unknown, not only new opportunities but an ability to break away from habits that hinder your growth as an individual.

  13. says

    “But time is more valuable than money. That’s not just a cliché. The laws of economics support it. Time is a finite and scare resource. Once spent, it can never be resupplied. Money is near-infinite (at least for our purposes) and renewable.” I can’t stress enough how important that statement really is. I think people need to understand that time is limited and they can always make more money later. It makes people consider things that are really important in life.

  14. says

    It’s great to see a lot of comments here that are pro outsourcing! It’s true that outsourcing can help a lot of professionals grow and also, save time for themselves and have leisure time. Individuals who outsource are probably so thankful of a lot of online outsourcing platforms that are available online today. It’s easier to manage!

    • says

      @Alleli — I’m definitely grateful that I live in the “Internet era,” which makes outsourcing so much easier than it was before the advent of the web. And every year, the resources to hire/train/manage virtual assistants just keep getting better.

  15. says

    I really like Jason’s point about outsourcing our personal life but not our business. We recently hired a housecleaner because we figured out that it takes my wife 7+ hours twice a month to clean the house. She does the books for our properties (22 units) and is really overwhealmed as she’s a stay at home mom of 3 kids under 3 years old. We figured something had to give. I was thinking of hiring a bookkeeper. I have tried multiple times to hire professional property managers but it just hasn’t worked. We have focused on making our system efficient, personal and professional. In doing the math, it just doesn’t make sense to not hire a house cleaner. Saving 14 hours a month is an unbelievable relief. I never thought I’d be a guy who says it doesn’t make sense for me to clean my own house, but the numbers don’t lie. I have a great handyman who has a Lowe’s credit card, keys to all properties, tenants are instructed to call him directly. All rents are collected electronically, an unbelievable difference. Tenant placement is outsourced (huge time saver!). Outsourcing, no matter what it is, is everything which ties in with Paula’s statement about time as a finite resource. It always, always pays off. Does anyone have any suggestions for a good VA resource?

    • says

      Hi Geoff –

      Re: Recommendations for a good VA Resource — The most popular are Odesk, eLance, GetFriday, TextBroker, Fivrr, … and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      Personally, I’ve been using Odesk for about a year and I love it. It’s user interface is intuitive and easy-to-navigate, which is important for a not-technical-person like me.

      A few words of advice if you go the Odesk route:
      — Give ultra-specific instructions!! Seriously, go overboard with the amount of detail that you provide.
      — Give them a time limit for each task — e.g. “Spend no more than 2 hours on this, then message me. I’ll check your work, give you feedback, and then afterwards you can spend another X hours on this.”
      — Don’t hire cheap freelance writers unless you’re willing to do a LOT of training and editing. You’re better off doing the writing yourself, or paying super-top dollar for ultra-high-quality writers.
      — Do a phone / Skype interview with anyone who you’re hiring to make phone calls on your behalf.
      — Lavish them in praise. Seriously. People appreciate being appreciated. If you have to criticize any of their work, “sandwich” that criticism between two pieces of praise.

  16. says

    Very well put. I’m getting itchy feet again after being in the same location for 5 years. Time to travel and get more productive again.

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