New Year Thoughts in a New Place

I cant even remember where I was for new years eve 2014. Granted, I don’t have a very good memory for that stuff, but I do know that in my wildest dreams I never would have imagined that I would be sitting in a cheap windowless hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam one year later.

I hear a lot from friends and family about how, upon learning of my new lifestyle, many people express a wish that they could do what I am currently doing. Its hard to know what to say when I hear that.

Part of me wants to say that anyone can do this. It just takes some time and determination. But obviously that just isn’t true. Although I know digital nomads/digital expats that travel with their wives and children, or who have a mortgage back home, it is simply not an option for many many folks.

Part of me wants to express how it wasn’t all luck and good fortune that got me here. It took a huge leap of faith into the unknown to leave my comfortable safe life. Quitting my well paying job, selling all my stuff, and boarding a one way flight to the other side of the world was the hardest thing I have ever done. And, although nearly every digital nomad will tell you that the lifestyle is totally worth it, digital nomadism is not without its sacrifices.

But most of me wants to say that not one bit of the awesomeness of my situation is lost on me. I often sit back in sort of awe at where I am, and find myself totally and utterly grateful that circumstances have allowed me to do what I am doing.

And in the spirit of new years, goal setting, and dream reaching there is one other thought that has often occupied my mind lately, and that is the power of trying.

Many people know how much I admire Elon Musk. He started Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors. I’ve watched hours of interviews with Elon and one thing that strikes me is his attitude towards failure.

In an interview for 60 minutes he was asked how he knew Tesla Motors would be successful. He responded “I didn’t really think that Tesla would be successful, I thought we would most likely fail.” And as you know, Tesla Motors is doing very well and is single handedly changing the Automobile industry forever.

I’ve also heard him, on a different occasion, express the idea that just because the probable outcome is failure, it doesn’t always mean you shouldn’t do something.

Before he started SpaceX, nearly everyone he knew told him he shouldn’t do it. He risked everything he had to try. SpaceX had 3 failed rocket launches before one finally succeeded.

The way Elon Musk seems unintimidated by the idea of failure has always been inspiring to me. He is not scared of trying. And when he tries, he tries hard. And that has served him very well and allowed him to change the world in many amazing ways.

Many of us have things we dream of trying, whether that is starting a business, traveling the world, building an app, acting on broadway, or writing for a TV show. Sometimes those things are best kept on the shelf. For people like myself who have a shorter list of commitments and attachments than most, I cant help but think that the only difference between those who act on broadway, write for TV shows, travel the world, or work for themselves, and those who merely dream of doing so might be just a few good, hard, determined, tries. And sometimes, even if the probable outcome is failure, that isn’t a good reason not to try.

Being a digital nomad has been a most rewarding journey. Its amazing to think about how close I came to never giving it a try. Its also fueled my determination to try hard at some other things, and to make 2016 a year of tries instead of a year of dreams.

Goodbye Utah

So for those that don’t know, in the end of Oct 2015, I quit my job and moved to Thailand. Well, when I say moved to Thailand, I really mean that I intend to spend some time living abroad and Thailand is the first stop. I may only be able to stay here for 60 days this first time around due to visa restrictions, but we will have to see what happens.

I, like many others, have always wanted to spend some serious time traveling. In fact, as I was saving for a down payment for a house, I would often thing about how I would rather blow all that down payment money on travel before I settled down. However, I never really knew how I could make that happen. I was making great money at a tech startup as a Web Developer. I really liked my job and they needed me. It was hard to take a week off to go vacation with my family to Oregon let alone actually travel the way I wanted to.

Then in about Feb 2015 I came across a concept called being a Digital Nomad. Whoa. It really blew my mind. The idea is that with the internet, there are many people who can work remotely and thus be location independent. These Digital Nomads travel the world with their laptops, often living a minimal lifestyle out of a backpack. They still typically work 40 hours a week but they do it from wherever they want.

I became obsessed with the concept, and, like tends to happen when I get obsessed, I spent much of my free time reading blogs, watching youtube, and dreaming about all the possible ways I could make this a reality for my own life.

The obsession died down a bit but was still very much there. But, work needed me and I wasn’t ready to leave my work. Plus I wanted to save up a little more cash.

Then around September, things changed. Which is to say, lots of things changed at work. We brought on two other very capable developers. Suddenly my reason to stay for work weakened. Then the environment at work changed a lot. It suddenly was not the company I felt like I signed up for in many ways. It was time for me to leave.

So, realizing that my reasons for staying just went away, I decided to go for it.

It was not an easy decision. In fact, it scared the crap out of me. Who does this? Who picks up and leaves to go live in another country? But, I wasn’t going to let a little fear get in the way of doing something I had always dreamed of doing. Plus I really wanted to be someone who would actually do something like this. Many many people dream about doing something like this. In fact, many people I told my plans to would reply with something like “I’ve always wanted to do something like that.” I really wanted to be one of the few who actually did it.

So, I bought my plane ticket to Chiang Mai, Thailand leaving on Oct 30, 2015. The next month or so I spent preparing and I had to keep reminding myself that I had really mitigated the risk and that if I didn’t actually go, I would regret it.

My last day of work was Oct 23rd and I spend the remaining time selling nearly everything I owned, reducing my possessions to a box or two to keep at my parent’s house and a backpack and shoulder bag full of the things I would bring with my to Thailand.

Now here I sit in a hotel room in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Its been crazy and exciting, but I cant say it has been easy. I’m experiencing culture shock and jet lag. I’m feeling a little lost and confused. Its super hot here all the time and I’m sweating through all my clothes. And more than once I have had the sudden shocking question come to mind of, “What the hell am I doing here”? But so far, I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why Chiang Mai, Thailand? – When I first learned of the Digital Nomad idea I came across several tools and communities on the internet for those that live this lifestyle. The city most often mentioned nearly everywhere is Chiang Mai, Thailand. Partially because it has decent internet and a low cost of living. Also, it probably has one of the biggest Digital Nomad presences in the world (probably because people like me who research like I did and decide to come here).

How do you Mom and Dad feel about it? – I come from a very family oriented culture. This question comes up a lot. They are very supportive. My Dad basically wanted to make sure I had thought through how this will affect my career, and Mom wants me to do what makes me happy.

Where do you want to go after Chiang Mai, Thailand? – I am considering several places including Jeju Island – South Korea, Canggu – Bali, and Osaka – Japan

What are you going to do for work? – I am going to be doing freelance web development. I also have a lot of personal projects that I just didn’t have time for when I was working 40 hours per week for someone else. If I play my cards right, I should be able to support myself doing freelance work part time or less and free up some time for my own ideas.