Is this Lifestyle Design – Digital Nomad Stuff Foolish?

Is Lifestyle Design Foolish?Many people have ask my wife and I if we’re worried about our future. Quitting your job to travel the world and start new businesses is great in the short term, but is it the wisest choice for a secure financial future? What if I get sick? How will I survive when I am too old to work? What if I die, how will my wife survive? There are a lot of questions we have considered and continue to discuss.

 Lifestyle Design Take One

I was in my twenties the first time I gave up everything to move abroad. It was just after finishing university and a failed start up attempt so all I had to look forward to was an entry level job in a company I wasn’t particularly enamored with. I needed to reset my life, and leaving Canada for the unknown was the best way I new. I bought a plane ticket to go to Japan one week later with $1000, no work visa and no job. It was probably the best decision I ever made.

Lifestyle Design Take Two

I was 40 years old the second time I decided to change careers and leave Japan, my previous home country. I was married, owned a house and car, had a successful business, a great income, lots of vacation time and a secure path to a good early retirement. The only problem was that it required doing the exact same work for the next decade or two, and giving up on many of my other life’s goals and dreams.

Risking everything when you have a family, established career and a great standard of living is much different then when you are young and single. It is pretty easy to give up everything and move to the other side of the world when you have nothing to lose.

If you are in your twenties, then by all means travel the world. Try different jobs. Start your own business. Do as much as you can, as fast as you can. You have nothing to lose and you have a lot of time ahead of you to restart, even if you lose everything. For us older folks, that choice is a little more difficult. There are clear trade offs between money and time and you have to decide for yourself what is more valuable to you now and in the future.

Here are some of the questions my wife and I answered for ourselves.

How will we live?

Life isn’t much fun without cash. My wife and I have some savings now, so we are okay if we don’t work for a few more years. However, it’s not enough to never have to earn money again.

Selling our old business doesn’t mean we are not working. We are building a handful of websites that are all slowly adding a semi-passive income. Blogging is not a particularly good way to earn money, but we have many niche sites that are starting to generate some ongoing income with minimal effort. We will continue building out these sites and other ideas for a long time in the future.

Giving up our old lifestyle with a house, car, expensive purchases and countless other excesses reduces our living expenses to about a quarter of what they used to be. That means we won’t need to earn as much income as we used to. We have discovered that a simpler lifestyle is not only much cheaper, but more enjoyable as well. We’re not spending our lives thinking about buying, maintaining, cleaning and protecting consumer goods. Instead, we have the time to do the things we enjoy.

Less stuff = More Life

What work will we do if we run out of money?

If we really need to get jobs, we won’t need anywhere near our old salaries. In fact, one of us working half-time is probably enough to live now. If we can earn money online from richer countries and spend that money in inexpensive locations, our incomes will go even further.

 How will we fund our retirement?

Government backed pension systems are already becoming strained with the aging population. Simple demographic trends don’t bode well for a secure retirement in most countries. It’s starting in Greece now, but Spain, Portugal, Japan, and other developed countries are not far behind. Paying into retirement pensions now is no guarantee that you will receive enough to live. Retirement ages will have to increase around the globe.

Also, we have all seen that there is no such thing as a secure job. It is absolutely essential for everyone to diversify their income streams.

Working a few hours a day on a computer is feasible well into our seventies so I believe there will be ample opportunities to fund our retirement. The people with no online skills, doing a single job for decades are the most at risk.

 What if one of us gets sick or injured?

This is the scariest issue. As I wrote on my manifesto, without health you have nothing. Health insurance against catastrophic accidents or illnesses may offer some peace of mind, but I think there are some problems with our conceptions of health and life insurance.

Look at the richest countries in the west. Most illnesses and deaths are linked to obesity, stress, and chronic fatigue. Destroying your body and then hoping the health care system fixes it doesn’t make much sense. My wife and I, now lead a completely stress free life. We walk or cycle everywhere and go to the gym almost everyday. We eat fresh home cooked meals and avoid processed foods. We sleep as much as we need to because we have few critical deadlines nor have few obligations to maintain. In addition, we don’t take stupid risks. We don’t ride motorcycles, don’t do the silly drunk backpacker stunts, we wear seat belts and helmets and are not particularly interested in bucket list adventures. The best cure is prevention.

Long-term health and life insurance are still something that we plan to get, but it is hard to justify paying hundreds of dollars every month, just in case. We have some coverage on our credit cards and occasionally pay for short-term insurance, but with inexpensive medical care in many countries that we visit, it seems to make more sense to pay out of pocket. (I will write a post on some of the medical visits we have had around the world soon.)

At any rate, I’m not going to spend decades in a career I don’t particularly enjoy, to offer a little more insurance coverage for some hypothetical worst case medical scenario.

Would you rather have security or regrets?

The most important question you need to ask yourself is how you want to live your life. Do you want to work and consume or do you want to live your dreams and experience the world? We all had dreams when we were younger, but sadly our careers often get in the way of pursuing those goals. How many people really love their careers and will happily go to work every day for 40 plus years? I enjoyed my business in Japan for a few years, but I started to stagnate, like most people do in their careers. I have many interests that I want to enjoy now. I don’t want to wait until I am in my sixties to start living.

The absolute worst case scenario is that In five or ten years, I may very well be broke and have to get a job that I don’t particularly enjoy. If I get sick or die young, my wife might also have to go back to work. So what. We love our lives now. We do the things we want, where we want. We work on interesting projects that show future promise and are spending lots of time with family and friends around the world.

A more realistic outcome is that our new online businesses start paying off and we earn enough to fund our lifestyle, provide for retirement and give back more to charities. We live in a world of abundance. There are incredible opportunities to do anything we want, if we are willing to work for it. Cheap travel, the internet, inexpensive technology, the dropping of global barriers, advances in health care and countless other improvements have opened the world more than ever. There is no reason to live afraid.

Are we crazy? Maybe. However, I think it would be crazier to spend decades going through the motions every day in a life that is not particularly rewarding or enjoyable. So far we have unquestionably made the right choice. As I am writing this, I am in Thailand with my wife at our favourite cafe, enjoying great lattes and working on our own schedule. We will go for a workout soon, before going out for a delicious inexpensive dinner and probably listening to some great live music tonight. How can I improve on that?

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

11 Responses to Is this Lifestyle Design – Digital Nomad Stuff Foolish?

  1. Collin says:

    Would you rather have security or regrets?

    The all important question.

    • John says:

      Thanks Colin. That summed up the post very well.

      Many of us have become so afraid to take risks, that we waste our limited time on this planet just clocking hours. What a shame.

  2. Kevin says:

    Security or regrets… I think that’s also the wrong way to see it. There is no security. Nor either in sitting in a 9-5 job.

    Your post struck a big chord with me, because I quit my 9-5 situation more than a year ago now. I’m also going long-term travelling in Asia in a couple of months time.

    There’s no way I can stand being stuck in a 9-5 job situation ever again. I did it before and it was the kiss of death. I felt stifled by the security and mundane comfort of it all. I can’t stand even being in the same room, the same office with such people any more. That to me is not life, it’s not living. It’s being the living dead. And there’s not even any security in it either.

    The last company I worked at – big US corporation, is continually slicing and cutting back, bit by bit, every year. The salaried people there kid themselves their jobs are safe. But they’re not.

    Good points also about not getting stuck with “retirement schemes” or conventional health insurance. All this stuff to my mind is a con and a ball and chain and you just don’t need it. I bought into all that crap before. Never again.

    Far better to face up to and take positive steps to handle the uncertainty of life without buying into such expensive schemes. Like you say, living more healthily, developing alternative income streams, having more than one “job activity”. Thinking outside the box.

    So no John, you are not crazy, far from it, you are being sensible and taking control of your future. That’s the best “retirement policy”. Not sitting in some dead-head anaethetizing corporate job for years in quiet desperation trying to buy off all risk and kid yourself that you are “secure”!

    • John says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the fantastic comment. You are right, there isn’t much security in life anymore. Maybe it should be, “faux security versus regrets.”

      One thing living abroad has definitely taught me is that so much of our lives are social constructs. All of the traditions, habits, material goods and rules that we take as ‘normal’ are human creations. Living in foreign countries helps you to see how subjective our lives are.

      Health care, insurance, shopping malls, technology, automobiles, air travel and virtually everything in our lives has been invented in the last century. That still amazes me. The problem is that so many of us, feel that our current way of life is the only way. That seems pretty short-sighted to me.

      David Suzuki said something to the effect that when the economy is down, governments do everything in their power to mobilize. They spend billions to keep inflation in control, expand output and encourage job growth. Yet, all of these things are human creations. Clean air, water and food, the things we absolutely can’t live without, are often sacrificed to fuel the economic engine. We spend all of our energy on the imaginary things, yet neglect the essential.

  3. Jannell says:

    LOVE this post. You’ve hit the nail on the head, John!

  4. Troy Wason says:

    One word: Inspirational. The courage to take the next step… Think different. Love to you both!


  5. Stanley Lee says:

    In terms of security vs. regrets, every decision has tradeoffs. Being in a 9-5 job offers you faux security in the short-term, but when you look at the overall picture, it’s not that secure. Furthermore, corporations usually wear out the employees before finding an opportunity to throw the unprofittable ones (i.e. the ones who are burnt out) into the garbage heap (i.e. layoffs or strategic dismissals) with the fresh graduates. Traveling abroad and starting businesses (at least do so not through moonlighting) is riskier in the short-term (in terms of paying rent and bills), but since you ultimately have more control over your life, I think it’s more secure in the long term.

    That’s just my 2 cents.

  6. John says:

    Hi Stanley,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that there are trade-offs in every decision. It wouldn’t be a decision, if there weren’t trade-offs. 🙂

    If you are not earning enough to survive in the short-term, working on your own is very risky. Having suitable savings and/or some other consistent income is essential.

    Working for a company is not all bad either of course. There are many great businesses to work for.

    The employer/employee relationship is a difficult issue. I know how difficult it is to hire and keep good workers. Talk to any small business and they will likely say that hiring good staff is their biggest challenge. Most workers don’t really seem to care much about the business, nor want to work hard to learn and improve. At the same time, talented and motivated staff are often not given the opportunity to excel, so they quickly become demotivated and quit.

    I think there is a fundamental problem with our notions of work and the employer-employee contract.

  7. Ian Robinson says:

    Your words are really fortifying.

    I also left the country with very undeveloped plans. That choice led to a life that has been far more exciting than I would have been living if I had stayed at home.

    Still, it’s unconventional and when talking to friends and family I get that “need to get a job and settle down” speech.

    So thanks for the fortification. It’s really good to hear that there are others out there!

    🙂 Ian

    • John says:

      Hi Ian,
      Thanks for the comment. It can be difficult to explain to people back home, but there are so many living this lifestyle around the world now that it is easy to connect with like-minded people. I don’t even try to explain to family and friends anymore. I just say that I work on the Internet. 🙂
      Safe travels.

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