Why I Traveled to 47 Countries While Building a Startup
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Three years ago, I left San Francisco, sold and gave away everything I owned, and moved into a 40-liter backpack.
I traveled to 47 countries, went to every Disneyland in the world, saw the Aurora Borealis in Norway, skied in the French Alps, played on a Japanese island covered in bunnies, bashed people with plastic hammers at the São João festival, and saw my favorite hip hop group perform in an ancient Roman colosseum.
I also built and launched a startup.
And my monthly expenses were less than just the rent in San Francisco.
Now after three years of traveling full-time while building Moo.do, I’m more confident than ever that a nomadic lifestyle is an effective way to live while building a company.
Looking back, my goals made no sense to me.
I was following the goals of the previous generation -- what my parents wanted for me and what I saw people do on TV. But, the old definition of “success” doesn’t necessarily make sense in our modern world, so I’m recalibrating what success means to me and rethinking my basic assumptions about life.
I’m supposed to spend my 20s saving up to buy a house. I don’t want to own a house. Owning a house restricts my freedom and may not even be a good investment. I’m investing my time and money into my startup and an adventure-filled life rather than lock myself into one location and lifestyle.
I’m supposed to buy things for happiness. I’m much happier living out of a backpack than I ever was sitting in front of my massive 3D TV and ordering new toys from Amazon every week. Exploring the world is much more interesting than putting more things in my home.
I’m supposed to work when the sun is out. Working from 9 to 5 is ridiculous. That’s the best part of the day! I prefer to enjoy being outdoors during the day and work at night.
Now I’m trying to ignore what I’m supposed to do, and instead I’m figuring out what I want to do.
A life of adventure can be cheaper than staying home.
In my first year of traveling, I favored cheap destinations in Southeast Asia or stayed in hostels to keep the costs down. But, I realized that I was making the mistake of procrastinating the adventures on my bucket list because I perceived them as too expensive.
I found out that the expensive adventure I had been putting off is more reasonable if I split apartments with friends or stay in a hotel slightly off the beach. I’m spending more money this way, but my increased happiness improves my productivity, making it easily worth the extra cost. And, it’s still much cheaper than when I was living in the U.S.
I’m more productive because I’m getting exercise and having fun.
Productivity is one of the major reasons I’m traveling full-time. I feel more creative and it’s easier to focus while traveling. But, I only recently figured out why: A side effect of traveling is that it makes it easier to get into a flow state.
My No. 1 goal is to always work in flow. When I’m working in flow, or “the zone,” I’m totally focused. My mind is completely invested in my task, and I don’t get distracted. My output is substantially higher and I am much more creative than when I am struggling to concentrate.
Time is my most valuable asset, so I want to produce as much as possible while still leaving time to enjoy my life. And, after years of experimenting with how to get into flow easily and often, it all comes down to one strategy.
Take many breaks to exercise outside. Working in an office or at home, my instinct when I need a break is to browse Reddit or watch TV. But doing something active outside is much more mentally regenerative than continuing to sit in front of a screen. After a 30-minute TV show, I don’t really feel refreshed at all, but a 30-minute walk usually brings me right back into flow.
Going for a walk is much more invigorating when I’m exploring a new city. Or I can go for a hike in the woods, swim at the beach, ski with some friends or check out a museum. In an exciting new environment, my mind is occupied and inspired by all the new sights. But when my surroundings are familiar, my mind stays preoccupied with work and I can’t clear my head.
Working flexible hours lets me spread my work through the day and give me time for adventures even on work days.
I’m making lasting friendships with other traveling entrepreneurs.
When I first started traveling in 2013, all of my relationships were short-lived and superficial. I had nothing in common with kids partying in hostels, and friendships with locals disintegrated as soon as I left. I wasn’t the only one with this problem -- many nomads have written about their difficulty making lasting connections.
But, after a tipping point in late 2014, the situation has significantly improved. Digital nomad communities have formed to foster communication between nomads, and new organized travel groups are making it easy to meet like-minded travelers. Many of them are entrepreneurs, freelancers, or remote workers, which makes discussing and advising each other with our businesses and projects beneficial for everyone.
In the past three years I’ve explored all sorts of different ways to meet nomads, and these have been the most effective for me:
Go solo to nomad hotspots. Nomads flock to cheap destinations with good wifi, mainly in Southeast Asia. A lot of nomads like to work in coworking spaces, which have a nice community built around them and often organize group events. My favorites have been Kohub in Koh Lanta, Hubud and Dojo in Bali, and The Hive in Bangkok.
Meet nomads online. The numerous nomad communities on Facebook are a great resource, as are the subreddit and forum, and I met a lot of my best friends in the Nomad List community. In my experience it’s easiest to meet nomads online while in Asia, but it’s still a viable option in other parts of the world.
Go on organized group trips. The best way I’ve found to make lasting friendships with interesting people is to go on trips with an organized travel group. They bring 10 to 75 nomads together in one place and organize housing, coworking and sometimes even food. It’s a great way for new travelers to get started, but it’s also a good option for seasoned travelers who want to meet new people and have unique experiences that you can’t get traveling solo.
I’ve been to Hacker Paradise eight times, Nomad House once, and visited Remote Year for a few days. These groups often have a focus on business development -- I’ve gotten invaluable help in design, marketing and branding for Moo.do from organized talks as well as simply asking the group for advice.
The best thing for me is the events I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to: a chat with the CTO of Estonia, a meetup at TypeForm’s office in Barcelona and exploring Jeju Island with a group of English-speaking local students.
You can find the top cities for digital nomads on Nomad List, chat with nomads on Nomad List’s chat, find good coworking spaces on Work Hard Anywhere or Places To Work, and search for organized travel groups on Coworkations.
Soon you’ll have lots of nomad friends. After two years of meeting nomads, I now have a big group of friends who are exploring cool places and going on epic trips.
I love that each month I have a choice of a dozen different trips to join, whether they’re organized group trips, a bunch of close friends or even going solo and following a friend’s recommendations.
See you out there.
After three years of traveling full-time while building Moo.do, I have no plans to stop. I’m more productive than ever, I’m spending less money than I did at home and I’ve made some incredible friends. And, of course, I’m having a lot of fun!
The digital nomad revolution is just getting started, and I’m excited to be a part of it. I hope you and I will meet some time, somewhere out there.