I’m writing this from our apartment in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, but the truth is I could be writing it from anywhere in the world.
My business and life are location independent. That means I can live and work from anywhere, as long as I have a laptop and an Internet connection.
I’m location independent, but not a full-time nomad.
For example, my wife and I choose to maintain a “regular” residence that we sublet when we’re gone for extended periods. We have lived here for about 9 out of the last 19 months. I expect we’ll live here between 6 to 8 months in each of the next few years.
A full-time nomad on the other hand, doesn’t technically have a permanent address. Digital nomads work online from anywhere, and bounce from one place to another, staying as long or little as the mood strikes.
We like living the nomad lifestyle on occasion (like we did for 7 months in the first-half of 2009), but having a semi-permanent residence offers the best of both worlds as far as I’m concerned.
Travel is great, but I like to mix it up with having somewhere to call home. We’re really part-time location independents.
What do we do during those location independent periods?
We took a 7-month road trip through the western U.S., Mexico and Canada last year. This year we spent 3 months living beach side in a quirky little town in Mexico that we’ve fallen in love with.
Next month we’ll be driving up to the Pacific Northwest to visit friends and family in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver B.C. We’ll be hanging out for a few weeks and part of the time we’ll be sailing in the Canadian Gulf Islands.
Next year, we’re planning to return to the same beach town in Mexico for more surfing and small-town life with all the great friends we’ve made down there.
Besides Mexico, we’d like to spend a couple of months in NYC (my wife is a painter, and New York is the art capital of the world). We also want to take extended trips to Europe and Asia over the next few years. Mexico has been great because it’s easy to travel with our dog, but we’ll figure something out so we can travel without him too.
All this is possible not because we’re rich or retired, but because our careers allow us to take extended time off or work from anywhere.
The business side of things
When we took off on our road-trip last year, I wasn’t really sure where my work would take me next. I was between projects and wanted to use the time off to explore startup ideas and decide which to pursue.
That trip changed my view of life and work forever.
We met people from all walks of life who were living in ways I didn’t know were possible. These people (many who are now close friends) had flexible careers or small businesses that allowed them to spend months away from home engaging in “weather arbitrage.”
Spending three to six months every winter sunning and surfing in a tropical location? Sign me up.
Within a couple of months of our trip, I knew I wanted my next business to be lean and nimble and free from a permanent office or traditional employees. I wanted to be able to work from anywhere, needing just a laptop and internet connection.
So, in March 2009, this site was born. At first it was a place for you and me to explore topics like lifestyle design, digital nomads, location independence and entrepreneurship. It later morphed into a place where I could launch resources to help like-minded people build and market small businesses based on doing something you love.
My business today really consists of three parts, each of which can be operated from anywhere.
First, I sell other people’s products that I believe in from this and a handful of other websites. That’s known as affiliate marketing. Basically, I earn commissions for recommending products I didn’t create. It’s a really simple and flexible business model, and it has represented a big piece of my overall earnings in recent months.
Second, I create and sell my own products, including online courses and guides. One of those courses is called Affiliate Marketing for Beginners, and it re-launches this coming Tuesday, August 10th (see below). The course walks you through a step-by-step process to make your first affiliate sale in an ethical way you can be proud of.
I’ll also be releasing other products later this year.
Third, I work with small business owners to build high-traffic websites and blogs that attract enough readers, customers and clients to make their businesses thrive.
Of the three, consulting with clients is the only piece that could require some in-person time. Most of my clients are spread out across the country and the world, so in practice I rarely even have the opportunity to meet a client in person. There’s nothing about the type of work I do with clients that can’t be done online or over the phone, but I do enjoy meeting people in person sometimes.
As I mentioned in the post last week, I absolutely love what I do for a living right now. It’s taken a lot of work to get here, but I really enjoy every day and have big things planned for the future.
I’ve written a lot about work-life balance in the past, and must confess that I’m working a lot of hours lately. It’s easy to put in a lot of time when you enjoy it so much. That’s why I push people to build their businesses around something they love. That passion will help ensure you get through the inevitable rough patches and dips of starting a business.
Logistics of the lifestyle
Spending a lot of time away from home every year (and doing business on the road) takes some special planning and accommodations.
First, there’s mail service. We’ve converted everything possible to electronic records and billing, but some important records still require snail mail. Last year we used a service called Earth Class Mail, which receives your mail and scans the contents or forwards mail for you. It worked well, but the service has gotten rather expensive recently.
Instead of Earth Class Mail, we’ll probably just have our mail held for us as long as we’re gone for three months or less. If we’re gone for longer, I’ll probably look for a different alternative.
For phone and other communication, we rely pretty much on Skype and email. I also get a local cell phone number when we’re in Mexico, but that’s primarily for local friends and calling local businesses.
Next, there are the housing logistics. I mentioned before that we sublet our apartment. We do that when we’re gone for two months or more. It requires packing up and storing our personal items (we have ample on-site storage), which is definitely a chore. That has made me appreciate minimalism and get rid of a lot of things over the past couple of years.
When we’re traveling, we sometimes stay with friends for short stints, but usually we rent apartments or houses for about a month at a time. VRBO.com has been a great resource for finding short-term rentals. Sometimes you can find better options once you’re in the town you’ll be staying by asking around or using local resources like real estate offices.
Finally, there are the banking issues and costs associated with long-term international travel. Banking is fairly easy, as long as you have ATM access, withdrawals are no problem (tip: look for a card that reimburses you for ATM fees, and doesn’t charge any foreign-ATM fees). Deposits are trickier, and we just really try to avoid paper checks. Sometimes I’ll send an envelope with a friend who is headed back to the States to mail.
The costs of long-term travel end up being less for us when living in Mexico than they’d be at home in San Francisco. If we sublet our apartment, then our monthly costs are about 1/3rd to 1/2 of home.
Overall, the logistics aren’t that difficult to deal with, once you understand everything that needs to be done.
Living the part-time location independent lifestyle is invigorating, and keeps things fresh and exciting. It allows you to take advantage of cheaper countries and warmer locales to make the most of every year. I’m so glad we’ve put in the time to be able to do it.
What about you? What’s your ideal travel scenario? Are you working towards a location independent lifestyle, or do you prefer to be mostly in one place?
There’s no right answer. Share your situation in the comments.
If you’d like to know any other details about our location independent lifestyle, or how I’ve built a business to make it possible, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to answer anything.
photo by Troy Holden