As part of some tips for successful travel and freelance writing, I decided to interview Joe Henley. He is a Canadian freelance writer and death metal singer for Taiwanese band Revilement who has spent the past few years living in Taiwan, and will released his debut novel, “Sons of the Republic”, on American imprint Library Tales Publishing on September 12th 2014.
He’s an example of someone who set out to live in a foreign country and worked hard to realize the “writer’s dream”. I asked him a few questions to bring his experience as a useful example for other budding wannabe Vagabonding writers. read on… and as Joe says, keep writing.
How did you become a writer in Taiwan? Is being a white English native speaker an asset to break into a foreign country’s journalistic and media scene?
I started off working in academic publishing. I worked a somewhat dreadful desk job for years, actually, churning out articles and test materials for ESL publications. For that particular job, being a native English speaker was definitely part of what got me hired. There are labor laws here preventing companies from hiring anyone for jobs related to the ESL field who don’t come from certain countries wherein English is the official language. Then I started off getting freelance gigs on the side, and gradually built up my stable of regular jobs to the point where I was able to quit that job almost two years ago. It was fucking glorious.
Is writing your main source of income, or is it still some sort of a part time job?
Now it’s my main source of income, though I do still supplement with other work. I’ve got a bit of a radio voice so I can get gigs doing voice overs for various things here and there. But mainly it’s writing and editing now.
Is travel writing a viable market in Taiwan, or do you have to write across different topics/platforms to make ends meet?
I think you definitely have to write across different topics and platforms to make a living. I do some travel writing for various publications, but it’s such a niche thing when you’re only dealing with one country, and a relatively small one at that. One of my regular jobs besides travel writing is covering the local music scene, but I also write about politics, sports, the arts—anything, really. You have to hustle to make ends meet, and that means being as diverse as possible. (more…)
Travel has a way of slowing you down, of waking you up, of pulling you up out of your daily routines and seeing life in a new way. This new way of looking at the world need not end when you resume your life at home.
Here are 5 key ways in which the lessons you learn on the road can be used to enrich the life you lead when you return home…
1) Time = Wealth
By far the most important lesson travel teaches you is that your time is all you really own in life. And the more you travel, the more you realize that your most extravagant possessions can’t match the satisfaction you get from finding new experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things about yourself. “Value” is a word we often hear in day-to-day life, but travel has a way of teaching us that value is not pegged to a cash amount, that the best experiences in life can be had for the price of showing up (be it to a festival in Rajasthan, a village in the Italian countryside, or a sunrise ten minutes from your home).
Scientific studies have shown that new experiences (and the memories they produce) are more likely to produce long-term happiness than new things. Since new experiences aren’t exclusive to travel, consider ways to become time-rich at home. Spend less time working on things you don’t enjoy and buying things you don’t need; spend more time embracing the kinds of activities (learning new skills, meeting new people, spending time with friends and family) that make you feel alive and part of the world.
2) Be Where You Are
A great thing about travel is that it forces you into the moment. When you’re celebrating carnival in Rio, riding a horse on the Mongolian steppe, or exploring a souk in Damascus, there’s a giddy thrill in being exactly where you are and allowing things to happen. In an age when electronic communications enable us to be permanently connected to (and distracted by) the virtual world, there’s a narcotic thrill in throwing yourself into a single place, a single moment. Would you want to check your bank-account statement while exploring Machu Picchu in Peru? Are you going to interrupt an experience of the Russian White Nights in St. Petersburg to check your Facebook feed? Of course not — when you travel, you get to embrace the privilege of witnessing life as it happens before your eyes. This attitude need not be confined to travel.
At home, how often do you really need to check your email or your Twitter feed? When you get online, are you there for a reason, or are you simply killing time? For all the pleasures and entertainments of the virtual-electronic world, there is no substitute for real-life conversation and connection, for getting ideas and entertainment from the people and places around you. Even at home, there are sublime rewards to be had for unplugging from online distractions and embracing the world before your eyes.
3) Slow Down
One of the advantages of long-term travel (as opposed to a short vacation) is that it allows you to slow down and let things happen. Freed from tight itineraries, you begin to see the kinds of things (and meet the kinds of people) that most tourists overlook in their haste to tick attractions off a list. A host of multi-million-dollar enterprises have been created to cater to our concept of “leisure,” both at home and on the road — but all too often this definition of leisure is as rushed and rigidly confined as our work life. Which is more emblematic of leisure — a three-hour spa session in an Ubud hotel, or the freedom to wander Bali at will for a month?
All too often, life at home is predicated on an irrational compulsion for speed — we rush to work, we rush through meals, we “multi-task” when we’re hanging out with friends. This might make our lives feel more streamlined in a certain abstracted sense, but it doesn’t make our lives happier or more fulfilling. Unless you learn to pace and savor your daily experiences (even your work-commutes and your noontime meals) you’ll cheating your days out of small moments of leisure, discovery and joy.
4) Keep it Simple
Travel naturally lends itself to simplicity, since it forces you to reduce your day-to-day possessions to a few select items that fit in your suitcase or backpack. Moreover, since it’s difficult to accumulate new things as you travel, you to tend to accumulate new experiences and friendships instead — and these affect your life in ways mere “things” cannot.
At home, abiding by the principles of simplicity can help you live in a more deliberate and time-rich way. How much of what you own really improves the quality of your life? Are you buying new things out of necessity or compulsion? Do the things you own enable you to live more vividly, or do they merely clutter up your life? Again,researchers have determined that new experiences satisfy our higher-order needs in a way that new possessions cannot — that taking a friend to dinner, for example, brings more lasting happiness than spending that money on a new shirt. In this way, investing less in new objects and more in new activities can make your home-life happier. This less materialistic state of mind will also help you save money for your next journey.
5) Don’t Set Limits
Travel has a way revealing that much of what you’ve heard about the world is wrong. Your family or friends will tell you that traveling to Colombia or Lebanon is a death-wish — and then you’ll go to those places and have your mind blown by friendliness, beauty and new ways of looking at human interaction. Even on a day-to-day level, travel enables you to avoid setting limits on what you can and can’t do. On the road, you naturally “play games” with your day: watching, waiting, listening; allowing things to happen. There’s no better opportunity to break old habits, face latent fears, and test out repressed facets of your personality.
That said, there’s no reason why you should confine that sort of freedom to life on the road. The same Fear-Industrial Complex that spooks people out of traveling can discourage you from trying new things or meeting new people in own your hometown. Overcoming your fears and escaping your dull routines can deepen your home-life — and the open-to-anything confidence that accompanies travel can be utilized to test new concepts in a business setting, rejuvenate relationships with friends and family, or simply ask that woman with the nice smile if she wants to go out for coffee. In refusing to set limits for what is possible on a given day, you open yourself up to an entire new world of possibility.
Naturally, this list is just a sampling of how travel can transform your non-travel life. What have I missed? What has travel taught you about how to live life at home?
This post is part of a guest post Rolf wrote for Tim Ferris’ blog in February 2010. You can view the whole piece here.
“A virtuous life doesn’t reward you with travel.” — Rolf Potts
I had the pleasure of connecting with Rolf in person this week. I’ve written on his blog since 2012 and we’ve passed a few notes back and forth as we’ve shared the occasional orbit in cyber-space but there’s something different about connecting at eye level and feeling someone’s presence and intention. I spent the evening studying the man behind the author bio and really listening as he shared his vagabonding life, his passions for education and writing with a roomful of students. I learned a lot. Woven into stories of bagpipes in Cuba and the ethical dilemma of tribal photography in remote corners of Africa was an underlying message that he summed up in one line that stopped the universe spinning for a moment. I’m not sure anyone else noticed it, but I did, and it reminded me of the urgency of pursuing our dreams:
A virtuous life doesn’t reward you with travel.
Doing all of the “right things,” doesn’t guarantee a damned thing. Pinning all of your hopes on your “golden years” is worse than a crap shoot. Travel is not some gold medal that will be draped around your neck as a prize for a race well run. It’s not something you earn by playing someone else’s organized game. Travel is a building block of a greater life. Travel can be a life in and of itself. If it’s seen as an optional bonus round of life it’s unlikely to happen, or at least not in the way you’re dreaming of now.
A virtuous life doesn’t reward you with travel.
You want to travel? Go. Go now. Create your life to include travel. Build your life around your dream of travel. It’s a very simple mental shift, a change of paradigm and priority structure. You can travel sooner rather than later. If it is in your heart, then you must work to make it a reality and not put it off until some elusive “one day.”
We travel a lot, you might have noticed that. Wherever we go we meet people and we’ve always had a family habit of inviting those people to eat a meal with us, even if it’s off foldable plates on a ground tarp because we’re cycling. I love listening to people’s stories, learning about their journeys and giving our kids the opportunity to learn from as diverse a people group as possible. I make a point of asking each of these people two questions:
There is generally one of two responses:
Deer in the headlights or immediately sparkly eyes.
The initial response tells you a lot about a person.
I sat with a young backpacker on the shores of Lago de Atitlan, in the highlands of Guatemala last winter and he asked, “Why do you do that? Why do you ask those questions, I’ve noticed you doing it over and over again.” He’d been around a while.
I laughed a little. “Why? Indeed.”
“Because those two questions are all that really matter. They cut to the essence of who a person is. And no one else thinks to ask. The two things that are at the heart and soul of who we are are somehow taboo topics for conversation in too many circles. So, it’s the first thing I ask.”
So let me ask you:
What are you passionate about?
What you are passionate about will be the thing the fuels your dream, fuels your whole life, if you let it.
The best dreams are passion driven. They are the natural outgrowth of that deeply rooted fire in your chest that, if you’re like most people, you don’t feed nearly often enough.
Find your passion. Maybe you have more than one.
For me, my passions include
If you read my blog you’ll see these themes through and through. These are the things I get fired up about, they’re the things I live and breathe, they’re the things that drive my dreams and my life choices.
These are my “Why.”
What is driving you? Look hard at what motivates you, what you get excited about, what you’re willing to joyfully spend your free time on. These are your passions.
It’s imperative in defining your dream that you define your passions & find your “Why.”
What are your dreams?
This is a tough question for lots of people to answer because they’ve neglected their dreams for so long that they honestly don’t know.
If you don’t know, how do you begin to know?
Take two hours and go somewhere alone. Don’t take your phone. Don’t take anything but a notebook and a pen.
For the first hour just walk. Quiet your mind, let go of the worries, the stresses, the daily nonsense. Acknowledge it as it comes to the surface and then let it go. Reclaim your brain space.
For the second hour, find a place to write.
If you’re half of a partnership then give your partner the time to do the same and combine the lists.
These are your dreams.
So now you’ve got a list of dreams. Good for you, that’s a start.
Now you have to pick one. Which dream do you want the most? Which one are you ready to sell your soul for (newsflash: you’re selling your soul for SOMETHING all the time… don’t you think it’s time to sell it for something you actually want?)
You have to believe that you can have it.
You have to believe that you are worth it.
You have to believe that you are, in fact, capable of greatness and find that inside yourself.
Do you believe those things? Even if you don’t quite, just yet, start speaking them to yourself.
It’s New Year’s Eve, my friends. We’re standing on the precipice of a whole new year and you’ve got the power to write its story however you like. Make this your year of living passionately and committing to your dreams!
I’ve been talking a lot lately to folks who are pushing hard towards their dreams. They’re working the equivalent of two full time jobs to break free from the one they’re sick of to change their whole lives. They’re courageous folks. But then, she goes out for drinks with a sister who ends up getting a whole bar full of dummies to mock her dream. And his family spends the holiday calling them absolutely crazy for bending over backwards to give their kids the world, literally.
But you know what I’ve decided? They’re right. All the naysayers. They’re right. Living your dreams is dumb. It’s unrealistic. It’s ridiculous. Why would anyone in their right minds give up the status quo? It’s so easy. So comfortable. It makes so much sense.
Here are five reasons you should give up all of those dreams of long term travel and just stay home.
1. You’ll sleep better
If there’s one thing that long term travel is, it’s one long parade of sleepless nights: The first night anywhere is a tough sell. Add that to mosquito ridden jungle nights with that infernal drone outside your hammock, and the sweltering nights in concrete rooms with bars on the windows but no screens, and the parade of couches and floors that we’re so very grateful to collapse on and, well, you get the idea.
Just stay home in your soft feather bed. Sure, you won’t have the fantastic beach picture, or that story about howler monkeys and jaguars screaming around you in the darkness, but you’ll also probably live longer and you’ll definitely be better rested.
Here’s one of many nights you’ll be glad to have missed.
2. You’ll be more comfortable
Who in their right mind gives up a warm house with a full kitchen, a bathtub, an easy drive to the grocery store and a flat screen T.V. for backpacks, long bus rides plagued by diarrhea, ocean crossings spent leaning over the rail, green with sea-sickness or pushing a bicycle with broken spokes for miles until she finds a repair shop. Who indeed?
All of the critics are right. It’s nuts. It’s too hard. It’s smarter and safer to stay home. Of course if I have to die of something I’d rather it be adventure than boredom, but that’s just me. Listen to the blow-hards in the bar who’ve done exactly *nothing* with their lives and follow the status quo, their lead is clearly the one to follow, over your heart’s.
3. You can pretend “they” don’t exist
If you stay home you can happily pretend that the whole scope of human experience and expression is wrapped up in your particular section of the Bible belt. You can comfortably assume that poverty is defined (and taken care of) by the welfare office of your particular state. You can avoid the unpleasantness of naked children with flies dotting their inner eyes. You can happily believe that “our way” is the “right way” and that everyone, everywhere else clearly just needs to be set aright by being exposed to our clearer way of thinking, or believing, or governance.
If you stay home, you can pretend that “they,” whoever they are, don’t exist; or if they do exist, you can continue in your fantasy that you understand them perfectly. You’ll never have to be brought to your knees by a pile of skulls, or experience the fear of swimming in a dangerous political demonstration, or ask a few seminal questions about the wisdom of the drug war from the point of an AK 47.
Just stay home, it will be easier to continue in your delusion. Because when those walls are broken down, and you have to come face to face with “them,” you have to come face to face with yourself.
4. You won’t know what you’re missing
The best part of giving up your dream and just staying home might be that you’ll never know what you’re missing. If you haven’t every cycled into the yard of complete strangers only to find that they’re chosen family for a lifetime, you’ll never know that wonder. If you’ve never heard your six year old utter the words, “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” as he stares up at the Eiffel Tower, then you won’t know how much you want that moment to happen again, and again. If you’ve never stepped onto a brand new continent and felt the rush of the world expanding exponentially, you won’t miss it.
Listen to that harpy who tells you that you’re ruining your life by reinventing yourself. She’s right. There’s nothing on the other side that is better than living life between Walmart, the office and the Elk’s lodge on Saturday nights, nothing you know you’re missing anyway.
It’s a serious downside to living your dreams, you know exactly what you’re missing.
5. You’ll be happier
Seriously, if you stay home, you’ll be happier. Once the travel bug bites, once you let it get a grip on your heart, you’re going to yearn like you’ve never yearned before. For places you’ve been, for places you haven’t been, for the home you left, for people you miss, it’s one big black hole of discontent. You’ll buy a mango in Wisconsin and whine that it’s not as good as the one you picked from a tree you were camped under in Puerto Arrista, Mexico. You’ll be sitting on a perfectly perfect beach on the Andaman Sea and be ungrateful enough to wish you could get a decent glass of southern sweet tea. You’ll be that jerk who can’t get through a dinner conversation without saying something about, “When we were in Africa…” Your kids will come to blows with “normal” kids in the park over the veracity of their camel stories. You can trust me on that.
Our family has a long history of making memories instead of collecting things. We love to give gifts, don’t get me wrong, but most of them are little homemade things, or gifts of self in some capacity. Perhaps most precious are the gifts of time and of memories.
We didn’t get a honeymoon. I had back surgery instead. Long story.
So, we started taking annual honeymoons:
Year One: a road trip to Florida and a three day cruise to the Bahamas.
Year Five: a motorcycle trip through the maritime provinces of Canada.
Year Ten: Hawaii
Year Fifteen: A rainy tent in England, one month into a year long cycle trip around Europe.
Year Twenty: This coming spring (where did the time go?) We’re thinking Paris, just to be cliche.
One year we gave our kids camel rides on the Sahara for Christmas. Ezra got an elephant ride in Thailand for his tenth birthday. Hannah got a visit to Angkor Wat for her sixteenth; we went skiing in New Zealand for her seventeenth.
This coming year I turn 40. To honor that milestone I’m taking a walk with an old friend. We share a birth year, and it’s been her dream to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Something about forty, the nice round hilltop of mid-life, that makes a good place to stop and take a breath, lift our heads and take a look around: at the past, and the path before us into the future. It will be a monumental journey. No husbands. No kids. Just her and me, our boots and our backpacks.
Many tangible gifts have passed through my hands over the years, many of them treasures for a while. The ones that have passed through my heart are the ones I still hold dearest, the ones that I can unpack in the quiet of a dark moment and that bring light to my life in the way no purchased item ever has. Perhaps it makes me an oddity, but I’d always rather make a memory than spend equal money on a “thing.”
How do you mark milestones? Have you used journeys to celebrate and measure out life? Tell me about that.
“Wow, it must be nice to be able to afford to travel so much…”
I understand why people say that. I get that the question behind it stems from the number crunching going on that includes a mortgage payment, car payment, clothing, food, insurance, and luxury items that pad their existence. I know they’re thinking about how that week long trip to Disney with their kids cost them in the neighbourhood of $5000 last year and they’re doing the math on how that could possibly be sustainable, times four weeks to a month, times 12 months to a year, times six years.
Of course that math is faulty. There’s a big difference between lifestyle travel and vacation. But there’s something else:
Long term travel is about a priority shift more than it is budgeting.
Long ago we realized that we could afford a “normal life” with a house, two cars, music lessons for the kids and the usual trappings. Or, we could afford to travel slowly for as long as we liked, but we could not afford to do both. Either in time, or money. Of the two, time is the more precious currency to us.
And so, we chose to travel.
Which means that we chose to give up the lovely three bedroom house, with an office and purpose built school room on 2 acres, surrounded by state forest. We sold most of our “things.” We sold our cars. I traded my lovely down comforter for a sleeping bag, my kitchen with all the appliances for two gas burners in Thailand, my fancy wash-and-dry-in-one-go machine for a bucket or a river.
We’ve chosen to invest both currencies: time and money in collecting memories and dreams instead of knickknacks and a closet full of shoes. That’s why we started traveling and that’s what keeps us traveling. We’ve traded comfort for a long string of, “Remember when….”
My Dad is famous for saying that life is like a coin, you can spend it any way you want, but you can only spend it once. We’re spending it on collecting memories and relationships, not tangible things. Does that make us minimalists? Absolutely not! We’re maximalists to the max! We’re just filling up the inside instead!
I read a book a while back that I’ve been noodling again recently. It’s called The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. I found it in an English language bookshop in Panajachel; the one back inside the tourist trap restaurant by the Chicken Bus stop, not the one down in the pink building by the post office. I would have passed it over completely if it hadn’t just been recommended by a friend. I rented it for two weeks (yes, you can rent books there) and tried to keep it dry reading the first chapters on the long, choppy lancha ride home, to the far end of the lago that afternoon.
The essence of this book is a call to living from your higher self and a road map for doing so. It’s become something I return to when I need to refocus on the journey, both internally and externally.
The Four Agreements are:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word:
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally:
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions:
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always Do Your Best:
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
I’ve read the weighty philosophers and I’ve read the modern drivel designed to boost self esteem and sort out our childhood issues, but these four agreements, that we make with ourselves, are seminal. Of course the book delves deeply into the other agreements we’ve made with ourselves and our communities that hold us back and keep us from living fully. I love his discourse on how the world, and all of life is a dream we create for ourselves. That will keep you thinking for a while.
So have you read it? If not, I recommend it, heartily!
The subject of my life as a minimalist keeps coming up in conversations lately.
I’m always a bit taken aback when someone suggests it, because I don’t think of myself as a minimalist at all. It’s true, I’ve lived out of a backpack, essentially, for over five years now. My whole life fits into one checked bag and one carry-on. Does that make me a minimalist? Perhaps.
Interestingly, I view myself in the exact opposite fashion: I refer to myself as a maximalist. It’s not about stripping life down to the bare essentials for me, it’s about living as large as I possibly can, experiencing it all, and finding good in both extremes, with my heart somewhere in the middle. It just so happens that in this incarnation of my life, as I travel relentlessly in search of memories with my family as the kids evaporate before my very eyes, that I don’t have much in the way of “stuff.” That’s not because I’m morally opposed to the stuff. It’s because the stuff would interfere with what matters most to me, with what I’m trying to achieve to the maximum, which is time, freedom, experience and relationship building. For now, I choose to spend my time and money on those things, which means that I don’t have much “stuff,” which makes me look like a minimalist, I suppose.
So what about you? Are you a minimalist? Or a maximalist, like me? Where do you fall on the sliding scale of moral debate about “stuff,” its origin, impact and use? This is a discussion, and there’s no “right answer,” so please, chime in!
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?