How would you like to travel around the world, doing work you love, while having an impact on the lives of millions of people? Richard Graham of GenkiEnglish.net, has done just that. (Genki means energetic in Japanese.) He started as an English teacher in Japan, then went on to create his own English learning CDs and materials which he now sells all over the world. Between running his own company, doing seminars, consulting and magazine writing, Richard is always dabbling into new niche websites and business opportunities. Every since I first heard of Richard Graham, I have admired him as a person of action. Richard just gets things done, and most of the time he is doing it from some exotic location around the world. Richard Graham is a JetSetCitizen who has mastered the art of lifestyle design. He was kind enough to answer my intrusive questions and offer some insights into his unique life.
Please tell us about your current life. Where do you live?
I think John purposely picked the right time to email me. Yes, I’m living on a gorgeous tropical beach at the moment. I had a month of computer work to do so why spend it in an office?
Next up is Beijing, then Japan, Kazakhstan and Europe. Last year I lived in Portugal, Italy, Japan, India and China.
It sounds like you are living out of a suitcase for a large part of the year. Is that enjoyable and something you want to continue for the rest of your life?
It just seems normal to me now. I don’t need half the things I have. Digital stuff like books, movies etc. are a godsend, as is digital music gear.
Are you just traveling and experiencing the world while you are young?
I think that’s part of it. Why be stuck somewhere boring and more expensive when you can be in fun places? As a kid we couldn’t afford to travel to places, and as the head of Sony said when he retired early “it’s so I can enjoy the world’s food whilst I still have my own teeth!” The point about being location free is that you don’t just have to stay in one place. If you get bored, you move on. And I think you should to keep your mind active and fresh. A trip to Singapore last week really opened my eyes to new things, as did living in the Arctic circle last year!
Do you have a home base where you spend a majority of the year?
No, not for many years now.
Have you been able to live a minimalist existence without all the consumer trappings?
Yep, it’s much better! I still buy stuff, but for example I enjoy buying people presents and things more, that’s my shopping therapy and of course you give them away!
Do you keep toys somewhere for you to enjoy?
I do have stashes of things like folders and keyboards around the world. But those are mostly for business stuff, like if I ever need to remix a track in the future. What toys do you need? If you want to see movie, go to the cinema, if you want to play a video game, go to an arcade, if you want play the guitar stage-crash a band. The only thing I do miss about this lifestyle is not being able to have a full recording studio. That would be amazing. But then again I think I’d be bored with it a couple of months!
Do you travel alone?
Yes and no. I do mostly travel alone, but it’s usually to locations where I have friends so, no I’m not alone! If it’s somewhere my Mum might like and I’ll be there for a week I usually fly her out once a year. I used to travel a lot with my girlfriend, and actually it felt more lonely because we didn’t mix with the locals as much. She didn’t quite get the having to work part of the lifestyle though!
Will you ever get married and have a family?
Hope so, with lots of kids!
Would you continue traveling with them?
Why not? There’s this limiting myth that says you can’t travel with kids, but I know from many of my friends that’s not at all true. It just costs more money and takes more preparation time, i.e. you need to save up. But why would you limit your kids’ horizons and education to just one place and one location? I used to move schools a lot as a kid so had the whole “having to make new friends” thing, but never got the excitement of living in a new country. Learning French or geography just isn’t the same if you’ve never eaten a croissant or seen a live volcano erupting.
Practically, I think in the future, having three or four houses in various locations around the world would be best and split the time between those. Of course the tricky bit is trying to find those locations! That’s one reason I’m moving around so much now, to find out where I would like to spend more time. I always thought Italy would be the top of my list, but after living there last year it’s not anymore! But that’s cool, at least I learned beforehand!
How do you earn an income?
I pay myself a salary from my main company, which I run remotely, and also have income from other internet projects. I also get paid for consults and magazine articles.
Is it possible to make a good living with niche sites and Google Adsense ads?
Yes and no. Yes, it is because I know quite a few people who earn more from Adsense than their traditional day jobs. But it’s a lot of work and more importantly a lot of luck, some sites get big, some don’t. Short term I’d say have a few sites as one of your streams of income, but don’t put all you eggs in the Adsense basket because Google could just change all the rules tomorrow.
Do people need to do freelancing work, such as your consulting and article writing, to live?
You don’t need to, but for many professionals it’s the easy route to being location free. They also pay well in general, much more per hour than internet marketing.
There are two ways of looking at it. One is to simply have a “traditional job” but do it over the internet. For example writers, artists, programmers, teachers or anything that uses a computer. You still have a boss or clients or whatever, and you’ll never be a millionaire, but at least you’ve got an income and can travel.
The other way is to set up your own business. These days it’s much easier over the internet than it ever used to be. I’ve given a few examples I’m familiar with on the LocationFreeLifestyle.com site. It’s especially an exciting time for musicians or film makers who now have chances to monetize their gifts, which is something your average person on the street never used to have!
How much money does a person need to live a nomadic lifestyle?
It depends where you live and how comfortable you need to be. As I say, I spent a long, long time living on $100 a month in Japan! I didn’t have rent to take out of that though. If you’re on your own you should be able to live easily on $1000 a month, and that’s quite an easy sum of money to earn. You should however aim to earn more so that you have a safety net and can invest for your future. Anything above $10,000 a month and you are into seriously rich territory!
Could you do it with a spouse or family?
Yep, see above. If you didn’t have family and your spouse was also working online you’d be sorted!
What do you like and not like about your life now?
Likes are basically everything you read about in the books. Cliched as it seems, I am writing this sat by the pool. Other good things are having no boss, no wasted time in commutes, I can wear whatever I like, I get to meet cool people, get to choose how I help people. I still work crazy ten hour days, that’s the price you pay for making your passion your life, but then I get to spend the rest of the time as I like, visiting the Great Wall of China, Pompeii or festivals in India or Japan, wherever I happen to be really.
Bad things are that however much you enjoy your work and however much you can outsource, some parts of it still are “work”. I’m working on a new software project at the moment and cutting up thousands of sound files is not fun! But unlike a lot of jobs I actually choose to do that.
To be honest I don’t think there’s anything really lacking. In some places like Tokyo or China I’m out drinking every night with mates. Then in other places I just love having time to chill. It’s always cool to meet nice people. As I say the only bad bit is doing the boring mechanical side of work, that’s not fun, but it’s just the same as being “back home” wherever that is. One thing I do miss is martial arts. I did Tae Kwon Do in uni and loads of others in Japan. I was just a whisker away from a black belt and regret not getting it now. I should really plan to spend some time in Korea to finally get the black belt!
The world is really small now and if you did ever really “have to have” something then you can get it anywhere. You’re never more than a couple of hours away from a capital city that will sell anything. I like being back in Japan for just a week because I splurge on Japanese food, same with the US or Thailand, but once every year or two is still fine!
Even with physical things you don’t really need to own them. I always pop into music stores and play their keyboards and that’s really fun! But I don’t need to “own them” I just sort of rent them by buying other more portable things from the shop like software or whatever.
Finding good locations does take a lot of time, allow much more than you need, and sometimes you get it wrong. But basically I just couldn’t stand being in a 9-5 job, so this life is perfect for me at the moment.
How could you improve your life?
A few billion dollars would help no end. As would a gorgeous, intelligent, caring, rich blonde girl to travel around with. Or a 25th hour in the day. But the key is that even if you did have everything, would you still be doing what you are doing right now? That has to be the guiding factor. Work is the main part of my life at the moment, and especially with the new projects with private schools for the poor in Africa and Asia, as well as being lucky enough to live where I choose then I’d say that I am exactly as I want to be right now. If I wasn’t I’d change and do exactly what I wanted again.
What were you doing before you became a JetSetCitizen?
I don’t think I’ve ever not been. I was at uni in France (skiing every weekend!) then went to Japan on the JET programme, which is probably one of the best jobs in the world, highly recommended. There I found the education system was terrible so instead of teaching English I taught science and got a bit of fame as well as appearing on NHK TV every week. Then I started my own English programme for the new primary school curriculum and that became quite popular. I had quite a few teachers asking for workshops outside my island, so when I finished JET, I teamed up with a mate who had a 1975 camper van and we did a tour of the country doing workshops for teachers and shows for kids and making sure we got the press to attend each event. By the end of 3 months I was shattered, but a little famous and things sort of went from there!
What sacrifices and risks did you make in order to get to where you are today?
Sacrifices: Two years with no salary living in a wooden house with no shower or heating. Putting myself in hospital every year for the first three years from over work. Losing several girlfriends.
Risks: Well everything’s a risk. I know tomorrow I could lose everything. Then again crossing the road is a risk, but you have to do it to get to the other side. Having lived on $100 a month at the beginning doesn’t make me scared of going back to that. But the upshots are huge, so you really owe it to yourself to take the risks.
Even today I could be out swimming, relaxing or partying. And with the state of the internet at the moment if it was all about the money then you could get by with only working 2 hours a day and make a nice living online. But when you have a mission in life things are still really tough and I make sacrifices all the time, I certainly don’t live a champagne lifestyle because I know there’s still a long way to go!
What advice would you offer others pursuing similar career objectives?
Don’t! I guess there are two sides of this. If what you want is to be happy, experience the world, to provide for your family and enjoy life then certainly a location free lifestyle based on making money on the internet and living wherever you choose is 100% preferable to any other job at the moment. You have total freedom and it is amazing! You would be absolutely crazy to even consider a 9-5 job. That’s madness!
On the other hand, if you want to change the world, then get ready for so much hard work. But the amazing thing is that thanks to the internet and working online you can actually have a bigger influence than you could possible imagine. I’m sat here helping teachers all over the world to make a better life for hundreds of millions of kids and there’s no way I would have been able to do that twenty years ago!
The key is to open your mind to what is possible. Everything that you’ve ever seen was thought up in the mind of one person. Think big, think where you want to be, what you want to do and how you want to do it. You owe it to yourself to be as happy as you can be and make your life exactly how you want it. No one is going to do it for you, it’s 100% up to you, and you can do it! Start it, today!
GenkiEnglish – Richard’s English teaching resources.
LocationFreeLifestyle – Richard’s Lifestyle design and travel blog.