Will and I moved to Las Vegas last week.
When I say this, people often respond in three main ways:
Will and I moved to Las Vegas last week.
When I say this, people often respond in three main ways:
Five years ago, a Canadian woman named Sarah embarked on a series of life-changing steps.
She moved 215 miles away from her hometown. She returned to college (after initially failing a few courses) to finish her degree. After graduation, she landed a cushy job with a pension and plenty of benefits. She got engaged. They bought a house.
To pay for her wedding and honeymoon, Sarah started experimenting with ways to make money online. She tried blogging, freelance writing, even running an Etsy store.
She began earning a trickle of side money. Then more money. And then more. She started noticing that her “hourly rate,” so to speak, from her side hustles was outpacing her pay rate at her conventional 9-to-5 job.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
You can smash almost any limit.
You can escape the cubicle. You can fire your boss. You can overcome your internal self-doubts.
You can sculpt a flat stomach, make dozens of new friends, and speak a foreign language. Heck, you can even learn to dance.
Limits don’t apply to you.
Well, most limits.
Unfortunately, there’s one limit that we can never shatter: our time on this planet. Time is our most limited, and therefore our most valuable, possession.
Yet the majority of us are trading that precious resource, time, for something that’s near-infinite in quantity, money.
That’s unsustainable. Keep it up, and we’ll exhaust our supply of time.
But there is a way out.
You see, money is a renewable resource. It can automatically regenerate itself. Money is self-sustaining.
Time is not. It’s limited, it’s non-renewable, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Rather than trade time for money in perpetuity, it makes far more sense to momentarily trade time for money, and then harness that money into renewing itself.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Soon the money will sustain itself enough that our time becomes fully ours again.
But we can’t quit the time-for-money trade tomorrow. Freedom comes in stages. And that’s why I’d like to chat about three types of freedom:
This variety of freedom is self-explanatory. When you experience Debt Freedom, you don’t owe a dime to any lenders. Screw you, MasterCard!
Many people describe Debt Freedom as the day that they felt a massive, crushing weight lifted off their shoulders.
I applaud them, but I have to admit, I’m also a little bit befuddled by that description.
Because even after you’ve achieved Debt Freedom, you still have the rather irritating responsibility of needing to feed, bathe and clothe yourself and your family. And unfortunately, you must resort to the dreaded time-for-money exchange to achieve this.
That’s why the quest for freedom can’t stop here. Debt freedom is the starting point on a much longer journey …
Location Freedom is the ability to spend your time anywhere on the planet, anytime you have a hankering to travel there.
Want to explore the jungles of Borneo next week? Sip coffee in Paris? Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef? You got it.
You live in the 21st century, you lucky duck, and that means that you possess more location flexibility than any human being at any point in history. You have cheap airfare + ubiquitous internet connectivity at your disposal, and by golly, you’re not going to squander that opportunity.
Location Freedom is a stepping stone. Some people leap from Debt Freedom to full-fledged Financial Freedom without experiencing this intermediate level along the way. They trade a few grueling years of shackled hard labor in order to fast-track a lifetime of passive income.
Other people, myself included, cultivate Location Freedom to make those intervening years more enjoyable. We tend to prefer “multiple mini-retirements” throughout every stage of life.
Financial Freedom is the ultimate independence. You no longer need ride the time-for-money carousel.
At this point, you can do anything you damn well please. If your job is your life’s mission and calling, and you’d love nothing more than to continue working, you’re free to continue working. Likewise, if you want to move to Tahiti and read books on the beach all day, you’re free to do that as well.
Now here’s a head-scratcher: Are these consecutive levels, like you’re advancing from freshman to senior year? Or can you leap from one stage to the other as though you’re playing hop-scotch?
I’ve laid these out as stepping stones that gradually carry you across the freedom spectrum. Like this:
(Yeah, I hand-drew this. Because I suck at Photoshop.)
But some people say all three are independent of one another. You can hopscotch from one stage to another.
Kinda like this:
Who doesn’t love a good Venn Diagram? (C’mon, humor me.)
Who’s right? I’m don’t think it matters.
People can get stuck spinning their wheels about Awesome Life Theory. They’ll spend an hour debating between the four types of retirement. Or they’ll argue that this whole model isn’t scalable because “if everyone ditched the cubicle, our economy will collapse.”
They’ll postulate and rationalize and absolve themselves of any need to improve their station in life. Then they’ll battle rush-hour traffic, sit in a crummy cubicle with a flickering florescent light overhead, and fume that the cards are stacked against them.
Instead of debating Awesome Life Theory, how about taking some action? Pay an extra $200 towards your debt. Negotiate with your boss to work remotely every Friday. Put $100 into a dividend stock fund. Toss an extra $400 into your savings accounts. Read one book about how to buy a rental property. (Better yet, buy the damn property).
If conceptualizing the three stages of freedom as a linear 1-2-3 progression motivates you, then embrace that worldview. If conceptualizing the three stages as a Venn Diagram / game of hopscotch motivates you, do it. If adopting a totally different paradigm lights a fire under your butt, then go for it.
Just don’t sit around debating the minutia of awesomeness.
Instead, take action. Start smashing limits. Start building a big ol’ heap of savings. Start negotiating with your boss, or building your side business, or buying some investments.
Reclaim your time. It’s all you’ve got.
The question came from an American tourist sitting near me at a cafe in northern Paris. It was late in the evening, and I was slowly working my way through a nutella crepe while doing some research on my iPad for an article that I was writing.
The tourist seemed to be around my age, and he looked exhausted. From his bags, I gathered that he had spent the day running across the city, cramming in as many activities and sights as possible during his limited time here.
I’d already been in Paris for nearly a week, and had barely gone to any of the standard attractions. I tried to visit the Eiffel Tower, but its workers were on strike. That’s just about the only thing I’ve attempted to see.
Instead, my days are filled with buying bread, cheese and fruits at the open-air market; spending long afternoons people-watching at cafes, and taking leisurely walks to nowhere in particular.
France, nation number 29 in my 30-countries-by-age-30 goal, is the first true test of my location independence since I launched my online company. (“Location independence” is the self-inflicted privilege of working from anywhere on the planet, as long as you have Internet.)
A few weeks ago I traveled to Jamaica for a friends’ wedding, but I was only there for a week. Yes, I worked while I was there, but because I knew that I’d be back home within a few days, the pressure wasn’t as high. Anyone can take it easy for a week without doing too much long-term damage to their career.
This trip, however, is a different story. Spending nearly 20 days in Paris, I’m not so much “vacationing” as I am living my normal everyday life, with this new city as the backdrop.
“No, I’m not working on vacation,” I told the weary tourist. “My life is a vacation.”
I’ve fallen into a nice groove, a daily pattern: Wake up, have a slow breakfast, take a leisurely walk. Pick up some groceries, stop for lunch and people-watching, and return to the apartment in the mid-afternoon.
I’ve reserved 3 pm to 11 pm as my “official working hours.” This corresponds to the 9 am to 5 pm workday in Eastern Time, which means its the best time to send instant back-and-forth emails, make Skype calls, and otherwise carry on exactly as I would if I were back home. The streets are always buzzing with people, so there’s still time, late at night, to go for an after-work glass of wine.
I had pledged to spend at least one week per country in my 30-by-30 quest, but one week is a bare minimum. I spent 10 months in Australia, two months in Indonesia, taken 6 trips to Thailand and 8 trips to Nepal.
The intent behind my one-week minimum (one month preferred) rule is that I’m trying to live my normal life against this new backdrop. To make friends in each new place I visit. To find my favorite place to buy socks and get a haircut. My favorite dentist is in Bangkok, my favorite yoga class is in Prague.
This is true location independence, the quality that I’ve based my business (and my life) around.
I don’t want to see the Eiffel Tower; I want to see what my life is like when it plays out in a new setting. And thanks to the Internet, I can work from anywhere on the planet. Why stay in one place?
So what’s life like here? Long days. Brisk temperatures. Lots of cheese. And plenty of people to meet.
I’d better get rolling. After lunch, of course.
“I am a single woman with children who believes I can live a great life traveling and making life grand, in spite of the statistics out there. Do you think its possible? Can you offer some saving/investing tips?”
I’m so glad you wrote to me. YES, I think it’s possible to live any life that you desire. I absolutely, completely, 100 percent believe that.
Ignore the statistics. You’re not a stat. You’re an outlier. The upper end of the bell curve. You’re unique.
How do I know that? Because you dared to ask. You wrote to me — a complete stranger — for advice. Most people wouldn’t do that. Most people would sit on the couch watching American Idol reruns.
Most people — regardless of their age, income, family or financial situation — don’t have the courage to dream big. Most people spend the whole day saying self-defeating things like:
And you know what? Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — either way, you’re right. Life is completely what you make it. Especially if you live in a free, first-world country. Then there’s really nothing stopping you.
Regarding the second half of your question — do I have any saving or investing advice? Of course I do. But I won’t tell you to clip coupons (ugghh) or invest in index funds (though I love ’em!), because those are tactics, and tactical maneuvers are secondary.
The best advice I can give anyone is to align your spending with your values and priorities.
Almost every financial stress that I see is the result of people spending in a way that’s misaligned with their priorities. It leads to staggering debt, bankrupt college funds, meager retirements, and — perhaps most terrifying of all — cubicle jobs. Eek!
But when you can kick back and say, “The most critical thing is food, water, medicine and safety. Let me make sure I can pay for that, not just today but years into the future. And after that, my real dream is …”
That’s the moment when driving an old car no longer feels like a sacrifice. Would you rather drive an Audi or quit your crummy cubicle job? Would you rather have granite countertops, or the flexibility to take a major career risk?
(By the way, I realize I might sound like I’m anti-luxury items. I’m not. I’m pro-anything that’s a conscious priority. And I’m anti-anything that’s not.)
In my own experience:
When I was 22, I wanted to travel more than anything else in the world. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I thought about it constantly. And I aligned my spending with this top value.
That meant that I lived incredibly frugally. I lived in a tiny, tiny studio apartment (I could reach the kitchen sink from the bed — I’m not kidding.) I drove a car that was older than me. I wore thrift-store clothes. And I saved almost $30,000, which allowed me to travel the world nonstop for more than two years.
But another example:
Right now, my priorities have shifted. I don’t want to do a two-year round-the-world trip anymore. I want to build streams of passive income — so that my money can buy time. I want to live in a comfortable home, work on a MacBook, and enjoy a gym membership — even if it comes at the expense of travel. So my spending has shifted to align with my new priorities.
That’s what it’s really all about. All the details that financial bloggers talk about — insurance premiums, coupons, the price of gas — those are all just details. That’s minutia.
Step back and take the big-picture view: is your money flowing in the same direction as your values and priorities? If so, you’re in the right place. If not, make a change.
It’s as simple as that.
Want to know more about world travel and tenants? Welcome to the latest installment of Real Readers Ask. Today I want to share two questions that AA readers posed last week.
Noelle wrote to say:
“Hi! You’ve inspired me so much with your drive to be “location independent.” I was just curious about one thing: Did you sell your home in order to travel? Or did you have your own place to come home to?”
(Note to New Readers: Noelle is referring to the time I traveled around the world for more than two years, venturing across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Australia.)
For the sake of saving money, I didn’t have a home … or anything else.
I sold almost everything I owned, including my car and furniture. I sold some stuff for hundreds of dollars, and other things in $20 increments. All the money went towards my travel fund.
Anything I couldn’t sell, I donated to Goodwill or the Humane Society thrift store. The few possessions that remained, like my snowboard, I stored with friends.
I had been renting, so I timed my departure to coincide with the end of my lease. In the span of one week, I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and flew to Spain with a one-way ticket.
Of course, I knew I’d be traveling for 2+ years. If I had only been going away for 6 months, I would have acted differently.
If I had owned a home, I would have placed a tenant in it and hired a property manager to oversee the building. In fact, I know a woman who has a handful of rentals in Atlanta, but lives in Paris. Her property manager sends her a check every month, which she spends on bicycles and clothes and croissants and whatever else people buy in France. ☺
If you’re a homeowner, and you lived by The One Percent Rule when you bought your house, you’re in a much stronger position to travel than renters are. Renting out your home is the fastest and most surefire way to retire young, travel anywhere, and live free.
Trevor, age 31, wrote to say:
“I have two rentals, and my own home. I love reading about real estate investing, but the thing I have the most problem with … (is) getting people from a showing, to tenancy. Could you write about your process? What info do you give them at the showing? What questions do you ask them? What credit/background check service you use?”
I have the same problem. I’ll do a showing for prospective tenants. The potential tenant “oohs” and “ahhhs” about the high ceilings and big backyard. They start mentally placing their furniture throughout the house – “My couch would look great here! I can put my table there!” – which is a fantastic sign.
Then I never hear from them again. They never fill out an application. So what do I do?
Nothing. If they’re not on-the-ball enough to fill out an application, I don’t want them as a tenant.
Besides, if they really wanted to live there, they’d apply.
As for the second part of your question, regarding tenant screening: I use TransUnion MySmartMove as a tenant screening service. It allows you to view their credit score and their criminal history.
(By the way, that is NOT an affiliate link or any kind of paid promotion. That’s just what I genuinely use.)
I also call their current/previous landlord and get a copy of their pay stub. If they live in an apartment building, look up the phone number of the building yourself rather than dialing the number they gave you. Plenty of tenants have their friends pose as a fake “ex-landlord” reference.
Should bad credit nix the applicant? Sometimes.
One of my best tenants had perfect credit except for a foreclosure. The foreclosure tanked his credit score, but I noticed that he paid all his other bills – credit cards, car loans, etc. – on time. His income was almost four times the monthly rent. So despite his low credit score, I let him move in, and he’s been a perfect tenant ever since.
Of course, your results may vary. This is a judgment call. You have to make your own decisions.
UPDATE 2/13/2013: One of my readers, Karen, emailed me the following tenant screening tips. I liked these so much that I asked her if I could share them with AA readers:
The MOST important other thing to do is look inside their car when they come to see the rental. You will see their attitude towards their surroundings. The way they keep the inside of the car is the way they will keep your premises.
If the car is old, but clean as a whistle, they take care of their possessions and will most likely keep your rental the same way. If the car floor is knee-deep in fast food wrappers, soiled baby diapers, garbage, empty beverage cans, discarded clothes, this is how they will keep your home. Their attitude towards their surroundings is poor. They will also most likely refuse to pay for – or even acknowledge – their damages.
If they live in town, visit their home. The way their home is is the way they will keep YOUR place.
How can you see their home? You can drop by to give them information. You can arrange to sign the lease there. (You’ll still have time to back out if you see that they’ve trashed it!)
By visiting their home, you will also find out if they have pets. This will be especially important if your lease specifies “no pets.” (Incidentally I never allow pets, especially dogs. When the tenant’s dog bites someone, YOU will be sued. The tenant will get off scot-free, as they have no assets which can be taken in the judgement.)
Pets also leave fleas, tear up carpets, damage woodwork, bark constantly, and defecate in and out of the house (which irresponsible pet owners don’t clean.) Your insurance company will love you if you don’t take pets, especially large dogs.
I use an answering machine for calls. If the prospective tenant is speaking over the sound of shrieks and howls and commotion — if they sound like they’re calling from the raptor house at the zoo — you most likely will not find them to be good tenants.
One day I heard two calls on the answering machine. One was from a man who said: “Hello, this is Dennis. I’m a heavy equipment operator for XYZ Construction Company and I’ve worked there for 3 years. I work 6 days a week, and I’m gone from 6 AM until 6 PM every day. I have my pay stubs to prove how much I earn. My boss will give me a reference.”
The second call said, “Yo. I needs the place. Welfare gives me some money and I live with my Daddy. He won’t let my homies hang at his place. Welfare says they give me mo money if I has my own place. Then my homies can hang at my pad.”
When you use answering machine, you can pre-screen. You don’t have to bother calling back the tenants that don’t sound like good candidates. (And if they imply that they’ll be using your place as a party pad, paid on the taxpayer dime, they might not be the tenants you want.)
The reader who contributed these comments, Karen, has been a landlord for more than 20 years. Karen says: “At one time I had 54 tenants simultaneously in addition to my regular business, and I have always been a successful owner of rental property.”
Hi everyone! I’m in Puerto Rico this week, and I’m taking a break from writing posts. I’ll return to normally-scheduled articles next week.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to work remotely from anywhere in the world. This is a freeing lifestyle, but it has its downsides. The good news is that I could stay in Puerto Rico for a month if I wanted to; the bad news is that its tough to disconnect from work and take a true break.
That’s why I left my laptop at home. Ditching the laptop is the only way I could force myself to unplug.
(Of course, here I am checking email on a friend’s laptop. Old habits die hard).
Since I’m not writing this week, let me point you to great writing around the web.
On Riches: Len Penzo wrote a classic post on 19 Things Your Suburban Millionaire Neighbor Won’t Tell You. If you’re like me, you’ll read through the list and think, “Hey, I know that guy!”
On Travel: Niall Doherty is stuck in Tehran. His visa is expiring, so he has to leave the country, but he doesn’t have cash to buy a ticket, and none of the ATMs are working. In other words, Niall is on a real adventure. Niall is a few months deep into his own year-long journey around the world, and his travel stories remind me of my own.
On Values: We say we want local merchants who offer great service, Seth Godin writes, but when push comes to shove, we buy from big-box retailers who compete on price, not quality.