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.
Then Sarah got married. She and her now-husband Jason honeymooned in Nepal, where they trekked in the Himalayas, and then flew to Bali, Indonesia, where they traveled across the island.
That’s when Sarah’s life became a little more … rebellious.
The more Sarah and Jason traveled, the more they realized they loved traveling. They devoted a decent chunk of their income to exploring the world. At the same time, Sarah grew frustrated with the limits of her 9-to-5 job as a Human Resources Advisor (irony!!), which only allowed her 3 weeks of vacation time each year.
Something needed to change.
In 2014, Sarah tested the waters: She quit her day job, but instantly signed a temporary, full-time contract with another company. This gave her a trial period to think about her next move.
When the temporary contract ended, Sarah opted not to renew. She committed herself full-force to the world of self-employment — and now has no limits on her freedom to travel and grow her income. (And she saves 50% of her income!)
Sarah recently sat down with Afford Anything to share the story of how she did it … and how you can, too.
Meet Sarah, your fellow Rebel:
#1. Let’s cut to the chase: Why quit a cushy job?
My main motivation was location independence. I caught the travel bug a couple of years ago, and it was frustrating to have to squeeze my travel plans into a few weeks of vacation time every year. Unfortunately, most workplaces aren’t open to remote working arrangements here, so I knew I needed to take my career into my own hands.
Another big factor that motivated me to make this change is a desire to have ownership over my career. I wanted to be the one to make the decisions, not a hiring manager.
#2: Where did the idea for your business come from?
I started trying to earn money online years ago with a (failed) eCommerce store in pet supplies. That didn’t work out at all. I wasn’t charging enough to even cover the shipping costs.
These days, I run an Etsy store with my husband, which has been surprisingly successful. We sell printed paper bags and labels for weddings — such as popcorn bags or candy bars. Initially, we just listed one item (which were actually the bags that we printed for our own wedding), and a week later we made our first, second, third, and fourth sale. It’s now been seven months, and we’ve made over 50 sales, which is great considering we spent maybe five minutes setting up the shop, and that we can put the shop “on vacation” while we’re traveling.
I also run Suburban Finance, a personal finance blog which makes money through advertising, and I’m a freelance writer and ghostwriter. Writing is my main focus right now.
My newest business project is a website for entrepreneurs called Unsettle.org. I’ve tried making money online in several ways, and I noticed that every time I told somebody about these online side projects, I’d get a barrage of questions. So I thought: Why not make this into a business?
There are a lot of resources out there about entrepreneurship, making money online and building your own career, but I think the barrier for many people is that they just don’t know where to start. I’m helping my audience through that process, explaining everything from mindset shifts to actionable tips (without the complicated-sounding business language that scares a lot of people away). My business started as a blog, but will lead into coaching, courses, and resources to help my audience to start taking action on their ideas.
#3: Who or what inspired you to take the leap?
It’s funny: I never thought I wanted to be self-employed. I used to think “quitting your job” was just a trend.
But in the summer of 2014, I quit my full-time job and took a temporary contract with another company. At that time, I realized that — because I had been “side-hustling” for so long — I’d be able to make more money by taking the leap into self-employment after my contract expired.
My honeymoon was the thing that really pushed me into self-employment. Being able to travel for a month was wonderful, and I couldn’t imagine being able to see the world in a three-week-per-year window of vacation time.
#4: Do you have any regrets about leaving your traditional job behind?
I don’t have any regrets (yet!) and consider leaving my regular 9-5 one of the best decisions I’d ever made. Before I left, I was so exhausted after work that I struggled to build my business, let alone do anything productive. Leaving my job gave me the mental freedom to focus on building my own career, rather than relying on the career paths of a company.
#5: How do you handle health insurance, retirement planning, and sick days?
I’m fortunate on the health insurance side, because I’m Canadian, so I have the benefit of Universal health care. We have been paying out-of-pocket for dental care, like cleanings. I haven’t had to deal with sick days (I actually only ever called in sick once throughout my entire office job career), but if I do, my husband and I have an emergency fund.
We invest a portion of our incomes in retirement accounts. My husband is not self-employed, so his income is regular, and he just transfers over a set amount. I put the same amount every month into mine, because I have some payment regularity from freelance writing.
#6: What’s the most difficult aspect of being location independent and self-employed?
Because I’m new to this, one of the most difficult aspects is the extreme emotional roller coaster. There is so much self-doubt that comes with being newly self-employed and building a business from scratch. One moment I’m elated, excited, and inspired, and the next I’m de-motivated and anxious that I won’t be able to support myself or that I’ll fail.
Another thing that I’ve really struggled with is balance. Because I was building a business on the side while I was working full-time, my relationships really suffered. There is no way to ring in a new marriage like building a website and business from scratch!
#7: What tips would you share with someone who wants to lead this lifestyle?
Start building your business now, when you’re still at your day job, for two reasons:
1) Building your business now — instead of when you quit your job — removes the financial risk. You can try things out, see what works, and move on quickly if it isn’t going well. When you rely on your business for all of your income, the clock starts ticking really loudly.
2) You can see what you like best, instead of running with whatever pays the most. I tried a lot of different side hustles when I started making money online, but I wouldn’t have been able to test the waters in all of those things and see what I liked the best if I depended on those things to pay the mortgage.
The Traveling Lifestyle
#8: Let’s switch gears and talk travel. Do you have an airport horror story?
Do I ever! The worst was probably when we were at the airport in Jakarta on our connecting flight from Bali to the Philippines, before we headed home.
We spent our very last rupiah on the airport tax in Bali, but weren’t aware that our quick layover in Jakarta would also require airport tax. We had credit cards, but the Jakarta airport is old-school and didn’t accept them. We were trying to check our bags when the staff requested the airport tax. We explained that we didn’t have cash, so we were brought to an office where we were made to wait for twenty minutes.
The horror story part came as the clock ticked and we remained waiting outside of an office. We didn’t know why we were waiting (the staff were not communicative), our passports were in the hands of the staff, and our bags were alone in the baggage area of the airport. The very worst part, though, was the fact that our flight was boarding in twenty minutes and we still had to get through security and customs.
After doing paperwork and signing a document promising to wire the money when we returned to Canada, we ran as fast as we could toward our gate and got held up behind a guy without ID at the customs counter.
We barely made it onto the plane, but learned an incredibly valuable lesson: always carry more cash than you think you need.
#9: How do you deal with language barriers in foreign countries?
I have been lucky in that the countries I have visited so far are “English friendly.” In some of the smaller villages we visited in Nepal, there was a language barrier, but with gestures and pointing, plus with the help of a phrasebook my Aunt bought us for Christmas, we got by. Plus, there was usually somebody who spoke English nearby if we needed them.
In Bali, we had a bit of a sticky situation with one cab driver. He spoke Indonesian and his English wasn’t great. We were trying to phone the AirBnB guest house we were staying in but the area code wasn’t right, and he was supposed to phone them so he could drop us off there. We ended up just getting out at a coffee shop, asking the staff there to phone, and then walking to the guest house about a half an hour away.
I definitely think it’s our responsibility to adapt to foreign languages when we are abroad, rather than the locals of that country having to speak English. We always try to learn a few key phrases and make-do.
#10: If you could live anywhere permanently, where would you stay?
It’s cheesy, but I really do love our home base. We live in a suburb of Vancouver, Canada and I love the weather, culture, and of course the fact that our family and friends are nearby. It doesn’t get too cold in the winter, and the summers are warm but not blistering hot. We don’t have many big, gross bugs, and we’re close to the mountains, lakes, and the ocean so there’s a lot of recreation. (Although Lisbon, Portugal is a close second!)
I’m not a tropical person because the heat gets to me (and I have a huge issue with the bugs), but I love to travel to tropical countries, and then come home to where we live.
Thanks Sarah! I freakin’ LOVE that you took control of your life, career, time and income! Life is way to short to waste it in a cubicle or to stay chained to a desk for 40 years. And only 3 weeks of vacation per year? Forget that.
Check out Sarah’s latest online project, Unsettle.org, where she shares advice about productivity and entrepreneurship.