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March 12, 2013

Location Independence: The intersection of work and travel

Location Independence is a concept that has exploded over the past few years. With the rapid expansion of the internet, all of a sudden, there are possibilities that didn’t exist, even a decade and a half ago. Travel has long sung her siren song in the hearts of many arm chair gypsies and now many of those folks, who previously burned with longing, find themselves able to hit the road and travel without giving up their careers.

It’s easy to see the draw: photos of folks working, poolside, books like The Four Hour Work Week, and countless blogs of evangelical nature bend “come hither” fingers at those “stuck” in their 9-5 with some level of discontent. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

It’s one thing to save up and take a gap year, or work in spurts as you go, tucking into a contract for a few months and then traveling in free wheeling style for a few months. For many, that’s the perfect blend. But what is it like to truly work from the road, to hold down proper careers in a nomadic life? We do it. We know quite a few others who do it.

And here’s what I have to say: It’s a hell of a lot of work. 

Juggling time zones, clients and projects across continents is not for the faint of heart. There are some very real benefits to being able to deliver during your clients’ off hours, and the combination of a lack of overhead and lower living costs in many popular overseas locations sweetens the deal. But the trade off is often that working from these “more desirable” locations is also more difficult, logistically, linguistically and in terms of connectivity.

It’s not a question of whether it is “worth it.” For those of us living and working location independent as we travel, it is most certainly worth it. But that should not be confused with it being “easy” or equated with working whilst on perpetual vacation. Work is work. Where it happens might be becoming increasingly negotiable, but the facts are the same. I think there is a certain amount of snake-oil-salesmanship going on right now in the community of books and blogs being promoted that suggest that it is otherwise. There are many examples of people who go big in their first year or two and blow hard about it, but where are they three or four years in? Very few continue in the lifestyle.

We’re five years in at this point. We live and work on the road. We make “real money” from “real career” type efforts and support a family of six. We pay taxes, we have insurance and investments. It’s not a gap year or a phase of a fling. It can be done, and we have a wide array of folks we could point to who are doing it. We’d encourage anyone who wants to that it’s possible and you can be your own rainmaker, in work, travel and lifestyle. But we’ll also tell you that it’s tough. There’s no free lunch, and anyone who says there is, is selling something.

Are you location independent in your career or do you want to be? Do you choose to work and travel? What has been your experience?

Posted by | Comments (4) 
Category: Lifestyle Design, Vagabonding Life, Working Abroad


4 Responses to “Location Independence: The intersection of work and travel”

  1. Joanna Says:

    I just started a new job in which I can technically work from anywhere. That is, anywhere I have a high speed internet I can plug my phone directly into the router
    And since I take client calls, being in the western hemisphere helps unless I want to work in the middle of the night. Plus, although not necessary I do most of my work using 2 big monitor screens – not exactly transportable.
    My thinking is I will give it 6 months of staying put, get used to the actual work first and see how it goes. Then maybe I will move to Mexico for 3-12 months …just across the border, right? Stay put, set up an office but travel locally here and there on weekends etc.

    Maybe after that I’ll move onto the next country. Or I could take mini vacations renting an apartment or hotel with good internet. Either way, location independence Jan possible bit definitely not EASY, especially when starting something new. It ffits well with the model of long term slow travel but not fast paced backpacking mode for sure.

  2. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Joanna… I think your plan sounds great. There is a lot to be said for renting a local house in a location and going deep instead of wide culturally. We alternate between periods of rooting in a community for a few months and moving forward faster. It’s a balance, to be sure. I think you’re wise to start slow and move out from there!

  3. TK Says:

    What fields have you seen successes and failures in? Of course the usual writing/editing, webdesign, SEO, blogging, and other web-related “work” paths exist, but what “real careers” do you guys have? What are the main reasons you have seen cause the burn-outs, and what have you guys done differently??

  4. Jennifer Miller Says:

    TK Great questions. I can only speak to us personally. I’m a freelance writer for the alternative education and travel markets which is hard work and easy to accomplish online. I also have done educational consulting and curriculum design within the alternative education community for over a decade. That’s has morphed from almost all “face time” with families ten years ago, to almost entirely remotely possible now. Of course the game is continually changing! :) My husband does database development and design for big companies you’ve heard of and iOS/Android programming for small ones you haven’t. His connections in that world come straight out of the 7 or so years he spent working at Apple. For both of us, our success in developing the ability to work anywhere has come from converting our skill set in location based jobs to things that can be delivered remotely and thinking outside the box about how to do that. Also key is having partnerships with clients and other people “on the ground” that we work with. As to failures and what we’ve done differently… a lot of the burnouts and flash in the pans that we’ve observed seem to be people who are under the impression that there is some twelve step formula magic that will work “every time.” They build something fast and loose without thinking long term. There are definite long term success stories a la “Four Hour Work Week,” some of them are among our personal friends, but there are probably a hundred failures, or more, for every solid business that emerges. Is that a bad thing? No, I don’t think so, the committed folks will keep hammering away at it, learn what they need to, and keep going until they find their “thing.” But there’s a big difference in that mindset and the guy who thinks he can start a blog-business and fund his continued wandering with little work. That might fly for a few months, and if that’s all he’s trying to get out of it, then fantastic… but that’s a very different thing from a location independent lifestyle and career. What WE have done doesn’t matter that much, it’s what other people do for themselves that matters more. There’s no formula that we have that’s worth following. The direct links we established in the corporate world, the face time that we’ve spent with clients and partners, and our continual cultivation of real relationships within our business circles are the things that, in the end, seem to make the difference. At least for us. I hope that helps. I’d be happy to discuss it further with you, if you like.

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