What You Miss When Traveling the World
Here is a picture of me earlier last year taking a vacation in Hong Kong: Who do you see on my left? How about on my right? Being a nomad is an awesome feeling. You get to meet tons of cool people, see incredible places, and do whatever you want to do all the time. But what I learned living the nomad dream was that there is nothing more important in my life than my relationships. One of the first times this thought really hit me was in my apartment in Saigon with my amazing roommates. I had the best roommates anyone could ask for. These girls taught me so much about life and love. One day, it occurred to me that I was going to have to leave them. Maybe not that month, maybe not that year. But probably sooner than later, and no matter when it was, it would be too soon.As a nomad, I started to become afraid to get close to anyone. How long would I be there? Wouldn’t this just end in heartache? That’s how the Philippines ended. I was brokenhearted the day I left. No matter how many incredible people I met while abroad, I always arrived in new countries alone and left them alone. Surely some people are able to handle this. But for me, these were the hardest moments of the last 14 months.
You might argue that I could always stay in Vietnam or elsewhere long-term as an expat: put down roots overseas. Not only would this mean seeing my friends and family less than I do now, but it would open a can of worms for my business. Would I begin doing business with local companies, or continue to work with Western clients remotely? If I started doing business locally, I would be making my work more challenging for myself. Besides that, I’d be putting down roots in one place. Avoiding that was the reason I left the US in the first place. It wasn’t the US I resented: it was a lack of options, and I’d be in the same situation as a more traditional expat. I considered moving to other locations in the US. What about New York, San Francisco, or Austin, all popular nomad destinations? I plan to outline this in a future blog post. One of the main reasons reason though is that I wanted to be close to my family. In Hindsight, moving abroad both in 2010 as an English teacher and in 2014 as an entrepreneur were both reactions rather than simply actions. In 2010, I had just graduated from college and I was afraid of getting stuck in a rat race of one kind or another and never being able to travel abroad. I couldn’t bear the thought of that happening, so I went abroad to prove to myself and the world that I wouldn’t forget my love of travel. I did the same thing in 2014 when I finished graduate school. Again, it was time for me to face “the real world” and I couldn’t bear the thought. The monotonous 9-5, the drudgery about my job, the total lack of freedom and mobility, it all made me ill. So I didn’t just walk in another direction. I ran like hell. And now, I’m free. I don’t have to fear having a career that I hate or having just 2 weeks a year to see the world. Even with a local presence, I can travel anytime I like. Now that the fear of those life limitations are behind me, I’m realizing it wasn’t having a home base that moved me to the digital nomad life. It was fear of being stuck. Having a “lifestyle business” doesn’t necessarily mean traveling the world. It means having freedom to do what makes you happy. It means getting to ask yourself a question that most people don’t get to ask themselves: “Of all the options in the world, what would make me truly happy?” And for me, the answer was being near the people I care about and staying in one place long enough to develop friendships that I could fully explore.
Accidentally Falling in Love with Business
The other reason I am moving back to the US is to grow my business bigger and faster than I did in 2014 and 2015. To understand how and why this works, you have to understand more about the lifestyle business philosophy.
There are very few cases in which a location independent entrepreneur is living nomadically because he or she can make more money doing so. Often it’s quite the opposite: digital nomads can often make just as much money living abroad, and sometimes forfeit potential revenue in exchange for mobility. This is more true for services businesses like mine than it is for businesses selling products, as products are often easier to offer from anywhere. In my case, going abroad definitely made it more difficult to do business. When I first announced I was leaving the country in 2014, lots of people were critical of my decision to start my business overseas. “You could make much more money in the States!” I knew they were right. But I didn’t care. As I told a friend recently, I’d rather make $40K/year and be able to go wherever I want than make $80K/year and have no mobility or freedom. I expect I might be doing a portion of my business locally in the future, but now I’m willing to do it much more than I was when I got started. Business was merely a vehicle for me in the beginning. Just like when I taught English abroad in 2010-2011: I wasn’t passionate about teaching. I was passionate about travel and teaching was the vehicle to let me do that. But with business, something happened that I didn’t anticipate: I fell in love with it. As a holder of two music degrees and a person with no prior business experience to speak of, I did not expect that to happen. I was like a young man who’s not interested in being in a serious relationship. He just wants to meet interesting people and have fun. But then he meets a woman who changes his mind. Now he’s ready to commit because he’s met a person that’s right for him and therefore, someone worth committing to. Before, I was not willing to sacrifice anything for my business. I set the terms, and if the business could do better under different terms, too bad. Now, my business is my passion. I’m now more likely to succumb to these changing terms if it means growing the business in a healthy and profitable way. If doing business in the US will allow Charm House to grow, then I’m all in because I’ve found something I love. It doesn’t mean that I won’t still travel substantially more than I’d be able to if I was traditionally employed.
Traditional Business Is a Good Fit for Me
Working as a digital nomad definitely sounds glamourous. And it is. (When we have those extra glamorous moments, we’re sure to share them on Instagram.)
The truth is that much of my time in the Philippines and Saigon was spent hunched over a computer, working alone. For business, my communication consisted of Skype calls, Slack, and email. Maybe I was communicating with real people, but I was still all alone in a room, huddled up with my computer. In October, I attended the annual DC conference, DCBKK, and had the opportunity to host a meetup and network with entrepreneurs from all over the world. Being around other business owners IRL – how most normal people do business – gave me a feeling that I’d been missing for a year. I felt completely invigorated, like I’d just taken a long drink of cool water on a hot day. Not only did it bring me joy, but it proved to be a more effective means of driving business: a win-win. That was when I knew that coming home would not only be better for me, but it would be better for Charm House as well.
Are Generation 1 Digital Nomads Choosing to Settle Down?
There has been a growing trend among digital nomad pioneers to leave the land of the “coconut cowboy,” as it has come to be known. Elisa Doucette wrote about traveling back to the US and finding that she no longer desired to live in the “Wild, Wild West” of Southeast Asia. Recently, “The Suitcase Entrepreneur,” Natalie Sisson, moved back to her hometown after being a nomad for 5 years. Like me, Natalie can live anywhere in the world. She can live in San Francisco or Hollywood or Paris. But she chooses her hometown of Wellington, New Zealand. Why? Because it has something that the most appealing cities in the world can’t offer: the people she cares about. The Tropical MBA broached this topic recently in an episode called “How to Embrace Changing Priorities” – all about making decisions based on your values and the kind of lifestyle you desire, even if that lifestyle isn’t to be a digital nomad. While the nomad movement is growing and plenty of entrepreneurs still trot the globe, I am not the first location independent entrepreneur to change priorities and realize the many benefits of having a home base.
Do What Makes You Happy
I’ve been writing a lot about following your intuition. And at the end of the day, as I laid in bed back in Saigon, right before falling asleep, it was undeniable what I really longed for: to be close to my family and to build relationships that I wouldn’t have to eventually abandon. I fought it for awhile, but eventually the desire was so strong I felt as if I didn’t even have a choice. Who knows what the future will bring or what I’ll want to do in 2 years or 5 years or 10 years. But for now, I’m doing what makes me happy. I hope I can encourage you to do whatever makes you happy. It may not be what you had pictured for yourself. It might not even be what others pictured for you. Whatever your heart is telling you to do, I hope you make that your mission. The payoff is worth it. Featured image via Flickr user jgoge123