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 Readers Ask.
Today I want to share two questions that AA readers posed last week.
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.
Sophia from Minneapolis says:
“The more I sit in an office, the more I want to be location independent. … I feel this need to travel more, to explore, and not be tied to an office in Minnesota.”
In my last post, I told Sophia how she can see the world for the price of a Honda. Today I’m going to describe how I became location independent — a term that means “I can work from anywhere on Earth with an Internet connection.”
I assumed I’d get a “traditional” office job. (Haha! I could NEVER suffer though one of those again!)
Before I launched my two-year round-the-world trip, I hemmed and hawed about how to explain a two-year gap on my resume.
I probably delayed the trip by a year, under the guise of “I’d just like to save a little more,” because I was worried about how to explain this gap.
I’d be justified in worrying about a gap if I sat in my pajamas on the couch all day. But I did something kick-a$$.
I prominently display those two gap years on my resume (which I keep updated, even though I’m not looking for jobs). I’m more memorable than 99 percent of the other candidates who have taken the conventional path.
I also note the skills I developed through my two-year trip: like the ability to negotiate in 120-degree heat with someone who doesn’t speak your language.
If I was hiring someone, I’d want a radically self-reliant go-getter on my team. Someone with chutpah. Someone who’s done something awesome.
I prefer to pave my own path and live on my own terms.
In the year 2011 alone, I took 5 trips to New Orleans, spent one full month in New York, 10 days camping in Nevada, 10 days in the Caribbean, one week on Anna Maria Island in Florida, four days in Los Angeles, three days in St. Louis, two days in Sacramento, dropped by my hometown of Cincinnati and my former home of Denver-Boulder, spent a weekend in Chicago, and went to a festival in Tampa. I couldn’t have done that if I had limited vacation time.
I had the “anti-dream.” I didn’t dream of being location independent, per se. I recoiled at the alternative to location independence. I shuddered at the thought of needing to “put in a request for vacation time.” Yeech!
Before I traveled, I worked at a newspaper and LOVED it. I wore flip-flops into work and I danced to people’s ringtones. It was that type of place.
But I got two weeks vacation a year, and that drove me crazy.
Don’t interpret this statement to mean “I don’t want to work.” I have no problem working long hours late into the night, as newspapers often demand when there’s a late-breaking story.
But it’s next-to-impossible to run off to Tanzania or Kenya or Russia if you’ve only got 10 business days to do it. THAT’S what bothered me.
I had no idea what I’d do when I returned to the U.S., but I was certain it would be something that would give me freedom to design my life.
No one “pays” you to go on vacation. You get paid to work, and your employer pays you in installments throughout the year.
The agreement between you and your boss says: You pay me $X dollars to work 40-50 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. And you’ll pay me in installments.
If I take my “paid vacation” in December, you’re just paying me in delayed installments for work I’ve already done.
Okay, thanks for sticking with me through that tangent. Now to answer your question about how I created a location independent job:
Midway through my overseas adventure, my Dad asked me if I’d be interested in running our family business, a three-person software company. He was nearing 70 and wanted to retire. I’m his only child.
I thought it was a great opportunity to run a small business, so I agreed. Big mistake! I lasted in that company less than six months and hated every minute of it.
If you don’t like your work, you’ll stink at it. The six months I spent at the family business was a waste of everyone’s time: bad for me AND bad for the company.
“Follow your passion” isn’t just a cliché, it’s a practical, down-to-earth recipe for success. We enjoy what we’re good at, and we’re good at what we enjoy. We hate what we suck at, and we suck at what we hate.
I’m good at writing and marketing. So I decided to look for digital (e.g. location independent) opportunities to leverage that talent.
In other words: I designed my life around my desire to be able to pack my bags tomorrow and move to New York / Italy / London. I put lifestyle first, and I eliminated career options that didn’t match that criteria.
Right now I have location independence, but that’s not enough.
My true goal is financial freedom. This can only happen when my money makes money.
Anything I buy must put money in my bank account AFTER I pay a rental company to manage it. If the property can’t create enough income to afford outsourcing everything, then I’m not buying an asset, I’m buying a job. That’s not freedom.
I’m location independent, but I need a few more properties before I’m financially free. I’d better get cracking.
If I had a dollar for every “retirement” book, article and website out there, I’d be a millionaire many times over.
Promoting the concept of “never work again!” has become a booming multi-million dollar industry, employing thousands of people (who are, no doubt, awaiting their own retirement).
Retirement is such a part of our cultural fabric that it’s viewed as a basic human right.
It’s the final chapter in the American Dream: a home, a family, a secure retirement.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
For much of American history, people simply worked until they were too sick to work anymore. The idea that a healthy person would voluntarily stop working — regardless of their age — was considered an extravagance privy only to the ultra-rich.
American culture changed after World War II. Retirement shifted from a luxury to a basic right, an entitlement of age. Corporate pensions, coupled with government Social Security, put retirement within reach of every American worker.
Now culture is shifting again.
Corporation pension funds shrink, Social Security bounces towards bankruptcy, life expectancy grows longer, and people in their 60’s and 70’s remain healthier and able to work.
Retirement is no longer an”entitlement.” It’s a “luxury.”
And it’s one that you might not get …
… unless you grab it by the reins.
This is at the core of the Afford Anything Philosophy: freedom is yours, but ONLY if you’re a true rebel. If you’re part of the Conformist Masses, you’re out of luck. (Read that post to see what I’m talking about.)
Retirement is not a God-given right. With Social Security in question, pensions disappearing, and your own life expectancy growing, you cannot expect retirement on a silver platter. If you wait even to age 30 before you start planning for it, you’re behind the game.
You can’t depend on Social Security to be there for you. Hope for the best; plan for the worst.
Want to ditch the cubicle and live in financial freedom? Join the revolution.