How I Chose Experience over Expectation

Why I left the 9-5 world, downsized my life, and opted to travel the world sooner rather than later.

Time is Money. The statement is true in some basic sense. Indeed, your wealth is your time, your freedom. The traveler crowd is not necessarily rich by Forbes’ standards, but they are far wealthier in experience. Tim Ferris in his seminal The 4-Hour Workweek uses the term the new rich. It describes those who have location-independent incomes and the new wealth of their own time back.

The 9-5 schedule, 40-year career hustle, followed by the 401k/pensioned retirement is not a life plan that is present-at-hand. This is a deferment style that opts to keep you on the treadmill, with the carrot hoisted. You should consider that your best years, the ones where you are the healthiest, sexiest, boldest, and most energetic may be wasted living like a stressed automaton.

With clever online business, sub-letting of property back home, and/or savings strategies, I am telling you that you can book your ticket for extended round-the-world now. How you choose to do this is up to you, but if you are willing to live out of a backpack, eat simply, live humbly, and keep your entertainment in check – I am talking about $10/day or less.

Image credit:

Image credit:

It could involve leaving a job that does not serve you any longer. It could involve stepping into your negotiating power and organizing a remote position with your boss. It might look like a complete sell-off: renting or selling the excess crap, the car, and the property.

As a practicing minimalist, I have found that it is not always about making more money to increase your quality of life. Sometimes spending radically less money can have as much impact.

This is to say nothing about how you are making your money, is it stoking your passion and feeding you creatively?

I am sharing my perspective as a new member to the digital nomad class. I will relate to you the path I have taken from graduate school hopeful & young professional working ~50 hrs/week into a writer/entrepreneur who would sell most of his possessions, pack a backpack, and head to Southeast Asia.



The Rise into Wakefulness

Have you ever bumped into someone walking down the sidewalk, made no eye contact, and then mindlessly pathed around them?

Like an ant?  

A human being does not behave like this, not under natural circumstances. This is the Hive. It was repeated experiences like these that truly caused me to question the typical Western life plan.

Scene from the film Waking Life (2001):

Scene from the film Waking Life (2001):

My Story

I had graduated university, gotten my degree, and was set upon breaching into “the real world.” I was not planning on entering the traditional workforce, but attending graduate school. I kept my local job at a supermarket, got promoted, and was making good money in the interim year that I would be applying to schools. It was 2012, and since the world wasn’t showing signs of ending I set about writing my applications & studying for the GREs with earnest. My life was a boomin’, as most 20-somethings were in Austin, Texas at the time. As I went about my daily efforts and semi-frequent night pub crawls, I began to face an awful realization. My days spent working 40 hours a week, plus another 10-15 hours for a social psych research lab were beginning to weary me. Professional psychology was not what I had made it out to be. Long hours and longer review processes haunted my esteemed grad student-into-professor dreams.

My readings at the time also were beginning to show me a new world: I had been dabbling in Sri Aurobindo & yoga philosophy, Slavoj Žižek & Marxist social criticism, as well as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s deep evolutionary theory. These new perspectives nourished me in my last year of university like none of my academic readings ever had. I had become preoccupied with experience over raw literary data. I could not stay with a life plan that meant countless hours behind a white desk. I dreamed of adventure, I hungered for creative & existential freedom. Spring came and I received my letters from graduate programs. I already knew it in my heart, but reading the rejections to top programs actually came as a sort of relief for me. It was a dying away of false ambitions. I knew from my interactions with all walks of people: my place was on the ground floor of reality. I would not lock myself away in the Ivory Tower only to hand down my peer reviewed studies from on high. I needed raw data. This is when a personal practice of writing really became anchored into my life. I had learned much from the left-brained analytical style in college, but my creativity in writing had been suffering.

After trying to continue my young professional lifestyle a bit longer in ATX, with a white-collar promotion now under my wing and better money, I decided it was time to cast off. I decided I would move to California and seek out the more holistically oriented psychology graduate programs. This came as a shock to my entire friend group, and it ended some relationships to be sure. But as I packed my car, watching the sunset over the Texas hill country, I knew I had made the right decision.

California brought rapid growth and learning. I quickly found a good job at the university, and made a number of great friends. But here again, after a year of a relatively even more intense young professional grind, I found I was repeating old patterns. I was locked into the materialistic hustle; this time a bit more tightly in beautiful and expensive Northern California. I had to jump again. Inquiry into the West Coast brand of PhD. programs was no more fruitful. Though the options had improved, the implications remained: constipated bureaucracy, six-figure debt, hierarchical bootlicking, etc.

I still had the wanderlust in my heart. This time, I planned to fly abroad with a crafty enough trajectory to exit the traditional monetary system. I had been researching online business, writing a small blog, and saving as much dosh as possible. I then left my job, sold as many of my possessions as I could on craigslist, and booked a ticket with my partner to Thailand.

Overcoming the Fear of Radical Change

In the beginning, these changes were full of excitement and promise. You can feel the energy once you resolve to alter your life path. There is a glitter in your eyes of grandeur, of the unknown on the horizon.

Weeks or months later, as you work through the minutia of what you have set in motion, the fear comes. I will be the first to admit that I had self-doubt. Everything my family and old friends were telling me was fairly biased towards, “You have gone crazy.” I was battered with questions and concerns about my future, my safety abroad, and my goals. I stayed centered and explained that I was choosing experience now, instead of waiting for that precious 2 weeks vacation each year. I had glimpsed a reality I could no longer deny: one of living fully present, aware, and with intention.

My life path now fanned out as a radical alternative to many of peers. These are some of the first questions I had to face:

  • Consider your medium to long term plans. Are you in an empowering career position that opens growth, or just a job that is “getting by”?
  • Can you negotiate a remote position with your company? Or are you already in a line of work that only requires WiFi/mobile access from a laptop?
  • Is there a locale, a culture, a city, or ruins that you have always been preoccupied with? Chances are, there is a reason you think about Athens so much, or have dreams of Mt. Fuji.
  • Get ready to dust off your Bucket List.


The Call of the Road

By the time I arrived in Thailand, I was filled with determination and awe. Like a nomad, I had felt the pull, the call of the road. Anyone asked on their deathbed will have some regrets, but I would argue most will involve missed chances in love and/or travel.

I ask you whether you want to lounge on the beaches of Bali, trek the jungles of India, or climb the Patagonia range in Argentina when you are graying and 50 or when you are limber and 25?

Is it worth the wait? To slug it out just a few more years so THEN you can have this thing you have been promised.

It’s not out of reach, it is within you now. You merely have to take control of your life, your decisions, your allocation of time & resources. How much money do you really need to pull this off? Personally, I do not have fat stacks of savings and prefer to live on the cheap. With as little as $10,000-20,000, there are many RTW bloggers who have traveled comfortably for 2 or 3 years. I am currently in Chiang Mai and enjoy fresh local food, a social hostel, fast Internet, and even my own motorbike for around $400/month. I could go cheaper too (Organic eating & supplement habits…). Bare minimum, you can expect something around $300-500 for all of your basic living costs here.

Before taking a single step, I asked myself some hard questions. Questions you don’t want to ask when you have the desk job:

  • Make a plan. Where do you want to go, what will you do, and how will you get there?
  • Do you have a means of income or enough savings to last you while traveling?
  • What are some of your goals while abroad? What classes, training, skills, treks, or programs do you want to invest in? 
  • Explain your reasons for leaving to your close friends and family in such a way that they understand you are not running away from anything. Rather you can detail how you are sprinting towards your new life as a creative individual.



The World is Your Birthright

I am a huge proponent of the concept of a planetary citizenry. The belief systems and difference in customs across nations has started to not serve us. Look no further than your news feed for the wars and disasters tribal-monkey politics has caused. There is no compelling reason why you should not be able to walk freely across this Earth we ALL share.

The new wealth, the new entrepreneurs value freedom from working for someone else. They also crave literal and virtual freedom!

Digital nomad entrepreneurs, RTW travel life-designers, wanderlust-eyed backpackers; I’ve encountered them all in SE Asia. There are no limits on what a productive, adult life should look like. Once you have distanced yourself from the incessant rat-race, your belief systems will have a chance to shift. You may notice how much less stress you are experiencing, how much radical freedom you possess, and the lightening impact on your wallet. I know it took me a month or so of “Western-civilization-decompression” before I was ready to drive headlong into this new lifestyle.

You have taken the plunge. The world is your big, fat Oyster. So what to do while you are out there?

  • Consider travel stints through the “second & third” worlds: Southeast Asia and South America especially. Not only are these regions far cheaper than the West, they are culturally rich, have fair climates, and are relatively safe.
  • Have you considered writing a blog, starting an online store, learning code, or teaching English to village children?
  • You can expect delicious food, fast WiFi, hospitable hosts, and a plethora of activities in most tourist-oriented cities.
  • Realize that you do not need an all-encompassing, consensus reality to determine your life. Switching cultures is one of the most powerful ways to cultivate this.



RTW/Backpacker Travel Resources