Location Independent Living

Why I am Afraid of Going Location Independent

As much as I like to claim I know it all and have done it all, I’m just as much a procrastinator as the next guy. About six years ago, I read ‘The 4 Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss and this gave me my first ideas about Location Independent Living. I was instantly in love with the concept, because of all the freedom and independence it offered. I mean, think about it: If you could live wherever you wanted to, change cities and countries whenever you felt like it and take advantage of the fact that your dollar is going to sustain you for a long time in many countries, wouldn’t you also be enthralled? Well, I certainly was.

I was also incredibly naive about the whole thing. Tim Ferriss deliberately makes the transition to Location Independent Living sound so easy, you get the impression you could get there in six weeks from now. Just set up a “Muse” (a passive income generating online business) and off you go, riding into the sunset of some South-Asian tropical paradise. Krauser coined a really good term for it: “Freedom Porn.” That just sums it up perfectly. You read the 4 Hour Workweek and get so aroused by all the great opportunities awaiting you out there that your critical thinking eventually blacks out. Sounds familiar? It’s another variation on what I call the “self-help high“.

Well, I definitely fell for it and so I started playing around with a Muse, an MMA t-shirt business, that didn’t make my any money (Although, ironically enough, it did make me a couple of hundred bucks a few years later). When I finally realized that maybe the whole 4 Hour Workweek thing was just a bit too unrealistic, I stopped working on the Muse and got back to real life. The impression I got from the book lingered though. I thought that, if I cannot do the best thing, i.e. going Location Independent, I’ll do the next best thing and turn my passion into my job. That still seemed much preferable to the mindless 9-5 existence of slaving away for someone else, which is what I saw all around me.

Taking a detour

As a result, I founded my own MMA gym in 2007 and it grew to the point where we got close to 300 people training with us, all on long term contracts. Nothing to sneeze at, if you consider that MMA was a niche business, (especially here in Germany). It was a very stimulating experience, both in terms of building up the athletes coming to train with us and building up the business. There was tons of stuff I had to learn about, such as marketing, sales, taxes and so on. For the most part, I really enjoyed having my own “passion-fueled” business; it definitely beat any regular job I could think of.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t shake my original dream of living a Location Independent lifestyle, just going wherever I felt like going, with the maximum amount of freedom. In a sense, my MMA gym was actually the opposite of this: it tied me down to the city it was in and constantly demanded my attention. Heck, it made it difficult to just go on a vacation every once in a while, as we were open all the year round. So I came up with an idea: What if I sold the gym?! The money I’d made would allow me to travel the world and finally fulfill my dream! (not to mention to finish my ongoing PhD thesis…).

Which is what I did – I sold the gym. This could be the happy ending of one of these success stories that you read about in self-help blogs all over the internet: had a problem –> thought of a solution –> now it’s sunshine and cocktails all day. “And you can do it too! Join my members only program for 9.99$ a month!”

The reality looks slightly different though… I’m actually scared shitless of the sudden possibilities.

To jump or not…

Right now, I’m so hesitant to do what I had always dreamed of doing, travelling and seeing the world. It’s ridiculous. For the last couple of months I’ve been coming up with excuses NOT to buy a plane ticket, convincing myself that I should still wait, that “now” was not yet the time. But you know what? I’ve come to suspect that “now” will never be time and I will keep delaying myself until I REALLY find a reason not to go. Maybe get someone pregnant? As I said, it’s plain ridiculous!

So in order to get this sorted, I’ve at least pinpointed a few of the fears that are at the root of this, since I believe that, if you know what’s scaring you, you can deal with it. It’s the uncertainty and the self-delusion that leads to inaction.

Hence, I present to you my list of excuses that are still preventing Nicholas Drillman from enjoying the sun:

1. “Which place to choose?”

I simply can’t decide on a place… Rio de Janeiro, Chiang Mai, New York City and St. Petersburg are my faves, and they have been for quite a while. I think it’s actually not the endless possibilities that are confusing me, but that I want this place to be perfect. It should have the perfect beach, it should be cheap, the women should be gorgeous, the local cuisine Paleo friendly and everybody should be speaking English perfectly. Oh, and maybe throw in some arts and culture, would you? This is not just stupid and unrealistic, it’s also completely unnecessary. Just decide on one place, go there and see if you like it. If not, move on… This is not a once-a-year vacation, where you better make sure everything is perfect, this is an ongoing lifestyle. And I’m still refusing to see that.

2. “Am I not too old for this?”

I’m 34 years old (a very good looking 34 years old, of course…). Most people my age are well settled into their regular jobs, have houses and families and have watched every episode of “How I Met Your Mother.” The picket fence existence is obviously not what I want, but even I can feel the social pressure building up. When you are still younger, you simply get more leeway from the people surrounding you: “Oh, he has these crazy ideas but let him be, he is still young and idealistic.” As you grow older that changes. You are supposed to finally get your act together and become respectable (i.e. boring). And if you don’t, well, people are going to let you know what they think about that, whether you ask them or not. After all, a misery shared is a misery halved, isn’t it? Don’t you dare still have fun and chase your dreams in your mid thirties!

3. “What will the neighbors say?!”

Well, I actually don’t care about my neighbors… What I’m referring to is the expectations of other people. That’s very closely related to my previous point, but it’s not just the age thing. I would basically like to have everybody’s blessing to embark on my Location Independent experiment: my parents, my friends, my PhD advisors and so on. But the truth is, I’m not going to get that. My parents think I should stay put, finish my thesis and get a real job, preferably close to their home. My friends might think that I’m bailing on them, leaving our friendship behind in favor of travelling. My PhD advisor might think “Will he ever get this damn thesis done?” And so on. But ultimately, I guess I have to realize that this is MY life, not theirs. And it’s mine to do with as I want. No, this is not strong enough yet: It should be more of an imperative, actually – you only have these few of years, so why are you wasting them trying to fulfill other people’s expectations?! You will be dead eventually, and no one will remember any more if you were a proper middle class person or not. No one will care either way. Well, obviously, this idea hasn’t sunk in as deeply as neccessary yet…

4. Losing your social circle

Now, that is a legitimate one, I think. If you are away most of the year, in becomes very hard to maintain your friendships in your homebase city. Yes, there are alternative models, like Tynan, who has aquired a set of ultra-mobile friends over the years [link]. But what about my original friends, the people that I now see on a weekly or at least monthly basis. I imagine these relationships will suffer. On the other hand, when I lived abroad for two years, there were still a very few close friends that I kept contact with. So maybe by going Location Independent, you just weed out the people that were not that important to you in the first place? That’s a very harsh notion though. Somewhat at a loss here.

5. General fear of the unknown

This is the least concrete of all of my fears and therefore the most difficult one to counteract. If you are suddenly in an environment that is quite literally foreign to you, if you don’t know what is coming, that will lead to fear; especially in a control freak like me. So, when confronted with this fear of the unknown, the status quo suddenly seems very desirable: the cosy apartment you live in, the social circle you can rely on, the stores and bars and all the other familiar places you frequent. All of it is already there, well known to you, and all of it feels safe. But I guess all of this familiarity is also at the center of your comfort zone, not really promoting any kind of personal growth.

6. Moving is a bitch

Everybody hates moving and I’m no exception. All the piles of stuff you have to carry from A to B… just the idea of it makes me nauseous and this put me off doing it as long as possible. But why is that? Because we own so much useless crap, that we keep carrying around with us, even though we haven’t touched any of it in years. The solution is pretty obvious: Get rid of all that junk and become a Minimalist. I think the two of them, a minimalist lifestyle and a Location Independent lifestyle, go hand in hand; you can’t really do one without the other. And I’ve already made some headway on this, throwing away at least one item per day that I don’t need – I can tell you, it’s a very liberating experience already and my apartment just looks that much tidier for it…

7. What will I do afterwards, when I’m broke again?

That’s a legitimate one as well, I think. I only have a limited reserve of money that in the best case scenario will allow me two to three years of relatively frugal travel. But what about afterwards? Ideally, I would find something to do that allows me to stay mobile in the long term. And obviously, I like writing and blogging. But making even a moderate living from writing / blogging seems so unattainable at times, that I really doubt I can do that or should even try. Should I then focus my energies on something else, that is more likely to make me money? Like doing freelance work (copywriting, SEO or something similar) via a platform like Elance? I would kill myself eventually though, as, unlike real writing, those things just numb the soul (I’ve done them before…). Don’t have an answer for this one yet either.

Well, there you have it: the list of petty excuses for why I haven’t moved my procrastinating butt somewhere nice yet. We’ll see if pinpointing them down like this will help me with overcoming them.

Update:

Within a couple of days of finishing this article (over Christmas), I decided on a starting place (NYC), talked to the people I needed to talk to, and cancelled my apartment. So it’s done! By March 31st, I will officially be without a permanent residence. Now I just need to go ahead and buy a plane ticket. Such is the self-therapeutic power of blogging, I guess…

24 thoughts on “Why I am Afraid of Going Location Independent

  1. Hi, Nicholas, Thanks for writing this post. I GET IT! :-) I’m 5 months into a year-round trip around the world, working as I go, and have had (still have, to be honest) many of the same concerns you have. My advice: just do it. 1. You’re not too old (I’m 56). 2. the PhD can wait (I took “too long” to get mine and no one cared). 3. So far, after 5 months of traveling, I like Chiang Mai best (and great beaches are a just US$110 flight away). 4. other people’s expectations are just that – other people’s expectations. They project their fears and limitations on you. Usually, I’m finding, they’re irrelevant to me. I’m also finding that other people who have expectations more in accord with mine are stepping up! In the end, anyone that matters will -at worst – be envious, yet wish you the best. 5. I’m not really losing my social circle – the power of texting keeps me in contact with the important ones, probably “more” than I should allow, but then I do get lonely from time to time. I have lost none of the relationships that matter, and it’s improving most. 6. The only way to get over the fear of the unknown is to make it known. :-) 7. At one point in my life I owned a 3 bedroom house, full of furniture and two cars. I sold everything that didn’t matter, have all the rest in a 10 foot x 10 foot storage unit, and I’m traveling with one 12kg backpack and one computer bag. I don’t miss anything. So I’m glad, in reading your update, that you’re going ahead with it. If you want to chat more, let me know!
    Dave

    1. Thank you Dave for answering ALL of my questions! I really do appreciate you taking the time!!! =) And I had to laugh out loud when I read your PhD comment (“… and no one cared”). I’ve come to suspect that will be true for my PhD as well, haha. May I ask what you did your PhD in? I would love to chat, let me know what way would be best for you, Skype? I would love to hear more about your experiences in Chiang Mai and also about you inspiring other people to step up! I have a certain friend in mind whom I also want to turn in a digital nomad, he just doesn’t know it yet, haha. Again thank you for your great input, you are truly an inspiration. I feel like a fool now to even have brought up the age thing 😉

  2. This is amazing! I understand how you felt, because I went through it too (and sort of am still going through it), when I decided that enough’s enough, and it’s time to be location independent.

    So thrilled that you decided to face your fears! NY will be the start of an awesome adventure
    :)

    1. I certainly hope so! I visited New York a couple of years back and it was amazing; I fell in love with the city right away… Good luck on your own travels! I checked out your blog, and can definitly relate to your story as well. Love the YouTube videos too, eventhough I’m not really an eyeliner person 😉

    1. Will do! And I want to read some more updates on your book! =) When I come through LA, we can discuss your progress over a coffee! =)

  3. Man, buy your ticket, sell you stuff and get going! Although 1 or 2 points might be somewhat valid, (you don’t lose your friends you just interact differently.)
    Age thing is ridiculous, my wife and I are both over 40 and we have a 6 year old and we made the jump April of this year. Sold the house, sold our sh!@, and left. First stop Cartagena, Colombia and a few more stops in between and now we are going on to Europe. We are just finishing up a 6 month house sit in Panama where we have lived rent free since Aug. You can find out more about travelling rent free (really helps with tight budgets) on our blog.

    1. Rob, thank you for the kick in the butt! =) That’s probably what I needed to hear most! And I have only admiration for the two of you doing what you do, not even letting the age thing cross your mind! Not to mention educating your son yourself by showing him the world! I’ll definitly look into house sitting as well, as NYC is really not the cheapest place to rent an apartment 😉 Alright, I’ll join the ranks of the digital nomads in April, promise! =)

      1. Hey Rob, I’ve done house sitting before, but I’m not a huge fan of the available websites to look up house sitting opportunities. Could you link your blog here? I’d love to check it out.

    1. “I could live anywhere in the world. Where did I live for the last few years — Antigua, Bali, New York, Tahiti…?

      No. I lived in Dorking, in Surrey.”

      Haha, Tim you have a great style of writing! I read the whole article and the rest of the series as well! Love all the real life examples you give about people living in Chiang Mai. I actually had heard of Johnny FD before, as he is also part of the pick up community (or at least used to be). Man, now I want to go to Chiang Mai so bad! And I had just decided on New York, haha 😉

  4. Thank you for the great post, I chuckled as I read because you hit all the points I’m concerned. I feel the same exact way and can very much relate. It comes down to what we are willing to sacrifice, and what do we want to gain from it? It could be tough decision since time is ticking, and we are not getting any younger. Just don’t regret at end of life that you never pursue things you wanted to do. There are things that’s best done when we are still somewhat young. Good luck in your journey!

    1. Hey Vivien, thank you for your comment! As cheesy as it may sound, just knowing that other people are struggling with the same kind of problems already helps a lot! I checked out your blog, I like it a lot. Many digital nomads blogs make the whole experience sound all wonderful and easy, but I have a hard time buying that. You actually seem like someone who tries to tell real story, and that is much more interesting to me than the usual marketing talk.

  5. Hey Nicholas. Good luck with your adventures. I’ve been living location independently for a while now, and for me it’s actually less stressful than the whole ‘proper job and settle down’ routine. I find it quite funny when people say my lifestyle isn’t sustainable when I’m living off what it costs them for 1 months rent in London for 6 months. Just go for it and try not to have too many expectations. My biggest problem with this way of life is seeing friends or feeling like you have a social group – but I actually find that I see some of my friends more often because I make an effort to go and visit them, and I have the freedom to go whenever I want. I also don’t get bored with the same conversations happening week in week out as can happen when you live somewhere (generally about how people hate their jobs), it’s a novelty to see people so you talk about different things. One downside I have found is that parties with strangers can get quite boring – if you’re the most unconventional person in the room you tend to just end up telling your story again and again, as the small talk questions such as ‘so where do you live?’, ‘what’s your job’, don’t lead to the short answers people are expecting! Thanks for sharing. Vicky

    1. Haha Vicky, this one cracked me up, because it sounds so familiar:
      “I also don’t get bored with the same conversations happening week in week out as can happen when you live somewhere (generally about how people hate their jobs)”
      I hate these conversations, one of the main reasons why I don’t go to bars very often anymore. It gets so repetitive… And yes, I can imagine the staying in touch with real good friends and family to be the toughest thing to deal with. But nothing like finding out, I’ll give my account come mid April! =) Can’t wait!!!

  6. Do it Nini!
    Richtig gut. Hut ab vor der Entscheidung. Lass uns vorher aber noch ein paar mal was unternehmen, das kam in letzter Zeit irgendwie zu kurz. Peng.

    1. Auf jeden Fall Herr Bärenstark! Und du musst mich dann natürlich auch in NYC besuchen kommen, und überall sonst, wo es mich hinverschlägt! =)

  7. HI Nicholas,

    Went quickly through your article, think I got the point:
    A bit about myself, I am 34, got a location independent business, worked hard for it to finally have it working. Travelled for 4 years of my life, agree that it ain’t that easy how Ferris makes it sound.

    My thoughts on your post:

    1. “Which place to choose?”
    It doesn’t matter at all. Traveling (IMO) is not about places or monuments, its about living in the now, being a vagabond, having no plans and getting sucked in to randomness which most of the times leads to awesome experiences – serendipity is the key! This certainly works much better in countries where people hang out on the street a lot (warm climate) and theres a lot of magic. Countries that for me had the most amazing serendipity moments: Morocco & Jamaica! It though totally depends on your attitude, most people are afraid of walking around in Jamaica, I had the most amazing time there. Dangers are mostly in the head.

    2. “Am I not too old for this?”
    No dude! You need to do it NOW. I just had a broken disk in my spine, sucks! Pain for two months, thats when I realized how I happy I was that I already travelled 5 years and am now 33. Do it now before your body doesn’t like being in local buses on bumpy roads anymore, do it now before the age distant between you and other travelers grows to big.

    3. “What will the neighbors say?!”
    Fuck the neighbours. For friends and family: You are not leaving a life time, you can do micro vacations, a month here and there, two weeks here and there.

    4. Losing your social circle
    For friends and family: You are not leaving a life time, you can do micro vacations, a month here and there, two weeks here and there. Skype and whatsapp voice messages are great for staying in touch. Your friends want you to be happy, if not they aren’t the best friends I’d say.

    5. General fear of the unknown
    Yeah, we all have that. But exactly embracing the unknown is the most beautiful thing, not knowing what happens next, speaking to those strangers, letting yourself fall into randomness and serendipity.

    6. Moving is a bitch
    There ain’t no moving. Travel done right is just presence, it takes practice but you get to a state where there is no destinations, there is no going from A to B, there is only the moment. The mindset changes from “Fuck, the bus is late 3 hour”, “When will I arrive in the next destination”. To “Oh the bus is late, let’s read a book and talk to this stranger, great”, or “Hm the bus is late, let’s see where this leads”. Packing light is the key, knowing that all you have is with you and you are not bound to a suitcase lying around in some hostel. The concept of moving includes a destination in time. If you are in the NOW there ain’t no time.

    7. What will I do afterwards, when I’m broke again?
    Traveling in asian, african, south american countries doesn’t have to be expensive. Example: I bought an old Merzedes in Berlin for 1000€, drove down to Congo, spent 10 months in Africa. Total cost: 4000€. Sold the car for 2800€, total cot for 10 months traveling: 1200€.

    By the way, I am currently making a video blog about freelancers and entrepreneurs in Latin America, maybe it’s interesting for you: http://www.startupdiaries.org

    If you ever want to have a skype call, let me know, always happy to talk about traveling.
    You NEED to also read this book: Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, its great!

    Cheers,
    FAbian

    1. Fabian, thank so much for your super detailed comment! All of your recommendations are gold – I was actually thinking about going to Jamaica, but decided against it because of the “risk”. I guess I really have no excuse anymore now, thanks to you, haha. I read the Rolf Potts book and loved it – my plan is to re-read it once I leave, to get even more in the mood 😉 BTW, your trip to Congo in itself sounds like the story for a book!!! It’s absolutely mind blowing to me how many people already have taken the plunge and never looked back – I never figured I would meet so many of them through this blog. Your observation about serendipity also makes complete sense to me. Can’t wait to see more of the webisodes about your South America travels coming out! And yes, if you have the time, I would love to have a Skype chat! What days / times are best for you?

  8. Location independence is great. It is a luxury almost anyone can afford with proper prep work. I wrote several articles (here is one: http://www.successharbor.com/location-independent-business) and I have interview several location independent entrepreneurs.
    To start, I recommend you stay in your “home” location. Pretend that you are already running location independent and try it for a few months. This way the transition will be smoother.

    1. I like your idea of doing a location independent “test run” from home – I actually plan on doing something very similar for becoming ultra-minimalist over the next 2 months. I will document my crazyness here on the blog of course, would be interested to hear your input again then!

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