At first glance, Forest doesn’t seem to fit the profile of a successful entrepreneur and world traveler.
He grew up in a working-class neighborhood. He dropped out of school at age 16. He endured a tragedy in his early 20’s.
But our early life doesn’t determine our future. Forest is living proof.
He’s been traveling the world nonstop since 2007, and he runs an independent graphic design business from his laptop.
How did he succeed? And what advice can he offer to aspiring location-independent entrepreneurs and world travelers?
In this interview, Forest shares his story with the Afford Anything tribe.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity, but otherwise the story is told in Forests’ own words.
#1: Tell us about your early life.
I grew up in Plumstead, a very working-class part of South East London. Back then, budget airlines and such things were not around. Taking the whole family abroad was well out of the financial reach. We did go on vacation, though, but mostly to the beaches within a few hours drive of London. I was lucky to see Wales on a few occasions.
As a young child, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I knew all the names of my toy dinosaurs and the names of sites around the world where a they had been dug up. My earliest memories include wanting to travel to far-off deserts and join the dusty dig sites, looking for a glimpse into our world’s past.
Then along came Jurassic Park. I HAD to see it, and my mother took my best friend and I to our local cinema for my 12th birthday. We had to queue around the block early to get our tickets.
As soon as the dinosaurs came onto the screen — I wanted to know how on earth they created that effect! From then onwards, I decided to get into movie special effects.
Four years later —
I left school at 16. I did very well up to that level … but I honestly wouldn’t be able to pay for higher education without going into serious debt.
However, I had other ideas.
I found a 6-month apprenticeship in Graphic Design. The pay barely covered my weekly travel card, but it would give me a foot into the industry. I planned to work in graphic design for a few years and then hop over to “moving images.”
I never made that hop! As it turned out, I enjoyed graphic design. My career and pay were doing reasonably well by the time I turned 18. My best friend and I would talk about traveling the world together.
But in late 2002, everything changed.
On my way to work one morning, my phone rang. I remember staring at the phone for a few seconds before answering. For some reason, I had a strong sense of foreboding.
The caller was my best friend’s brother. He told me that my best friend had passed away in his sleep. My best friend had terrible asthma. At least once a year, he would get carted off to the hospital due to an asthma attack. This time, his luck had run out.
My best friend was almost 21. I was 22.
We never got to travel the world together, but I carry his memory with me each and every place I go. I miss him dearly.
For about 6 months, I sat around feeling sorry for myself. But I slowly started to kick myself back into shape. The idea I could just – “not wake up” — played on my mind.
I couldn’t mess around anymore. I needed to embrace each day.
Shortly after that, I flew on an airplane for the first time.
#2: How did you decide to quit your job and travel the world?
My first flight was to Guernsey, an island off the coast of the UK. Even though I hadn’t even left the UK, it felt foreign! I loved every minute of it. I knew more than ever I had to travel the world.
Over the next few years I took trips to France, Andorra and around the UK. In 2005, I traveled to Banff, Canada. I had never felt so far away from home, never felt such cold temperatures, never seen such high mountains. It was exhilarating.
I knew that “one day” I wanted to live somewhere foreign.
But “one day” still seemed far off. I had a very high paying job and I felt pressure to buy a house and “settle down.”
So in 2006, I purchased a flat in London. I spent the maximum I could afford. I laid down a tiny deposit and started to settle into the life of being stuck with an overblown mortgage for an undersized living space.
Just a few months later, I started to get itchy. My mortgage payments were huge, and I wasn’t happy within my high-stress job. I felt like I was being squeezed by a Boa Constrictor.
I realized I wasn’t enjoying London as much as I used to. And I did not enjoy home ownership one bit!
A good friend of mine was living in Montreal at the time. I decided I was going to do something crazy and just move there. In 2007, I quit my job, left the UK, and spent the next two years living in Montreal and Vermont.
#3: How much money did you save before you took the leap?
Unfortunately, I left without preparing financially — This is NOT a model I want anyone else to follow.
I struggled for the first two years. I had no savings.
I worked at an Irish pub in Montreal, washing dishes. (I was later promoted to a sandwich cook.) I rented a small basement apartment, which I shared with a few other people.
During this time, my mindset changed dramatically. I learned to relish being frugal.
Back in London, when I had a well-paying job, I spent too much money and lived beyond my means. Traveling changed my mentality about money.
These days — even when I have money — I still tend to live modestly. I have a basic level of comfort, but nothing extravagant.
#4: After Canada, you went to … Egypt? How?
I thought Canada might become my new, permanent home. But my partner (whom I met in Montreal) decided to enroll in graduate school in Cairo, Egypt, and she asked if I wanted to move there with her.
I said yes without hesitation.
Living in Egypt was so mind-blowing that I realized I’d probably never want to stay anywhere permanently. We had to evacuate from Egypt during the Arab Spring revolution in 2011.
Since then, we’ve lived all over the world – we spent a year in New Zealand. We’re currently in Budapest, Hungary.
#5: How did you start a business from your laptop?
I wasn’t sure how to make money. In London, I’d worked as a print designer – not an online designer. So I didn’t think I could work in online design.
I started a small blog and learned web design and WordPress basics – just to get myself set up. People started asking me who designed my graphics. When they learned that I created my own designs, they asked me if I could do the same for them. I started accepting small graphic design jobs.
As time went on, word-of-mouth spread and my client list grew. I learned new skills as-needed (and I continue to teach myself new skills, to this day)!
I have never advertised my services. I’ve always gotten word-of-mouth clients. On occasion, I’ve asked my current clients if they know anyone who needs design work — that’s the most “marketing” I’ve ever done.
#6: You call yourself a “slow nomad.” Why?
Living in a place for a while enables you to soak up the zeitgeist. You get a kind of feeling that you ‘get it,’ you understand this new setting, culture and people. You make friends that often stick for life (I hope).
You find out things you never would have understood in tourist mode, and you get an insight into the aspects of life help you more deeply understand the world.
#7: You say entrepreneurship and travel requires “Multiple Leaps of Faith.” Elaborate?
One of the reasons I didn’t travel for so long is that I seem to have inherited “the worry gene.” I worry things won’t work out, worry that I won’t have enough money, won’t that I won’t be happy, blah, blah, blah.
It’s taken me years of battling to pin this little devil down. Of course, the worry rears its ugly head at times. It’s a constant fight!
No matter how much preparation you do, its always different than you expected. That means you’ll always experience a tiny bit of doubt … but you have to promise yourself that no matter what, you will make it the right move. With this mindset, everywhere is a good place to go!
#8: Tell us about your message, “Anyone can travel.”
I think most people have the ability to rearrange their life so they can save enough money and get out into the world. Once you start talking with travelers, you meet people from every corner of the world, from all kinds of backgrounds, all political leanings, all religions. Literally anyone with any background or mindset can benefit from travel.
Traveling away from home has taught me a lot about the place I grew up. I now approach London as a destination, like any other. I can experience people, cuisines and music within the city, and feel like I am traveling without moving far at all.
Travel can happen by walking down a street, attending a cultural event or reading a magazine or website. Anyone can open their mind to transcend their own bubble and see the world around them.
You can read Forest’s story at EverydayNomad.com