I have been location-independent, traveling the world nonstop for six months now, with no plans to stop.
People will not stop asking me how I do it.
I write and coach about courageous and awakened living. I’m not a travel writer, but I like to write about my experiences. Lately so many of my experiences have involved exploring new cities and countrysides, learning the basics of several foreign languages, and adjusting to local etiquette and customs. I don’t want to do travel writing in the logistical, how-to sense, so I regularly put my feelers out and ask people what they would want to know about my travels if I were to begin writing abut them.
And I always get the same old question.
I’ve given everyone the same answer—which is that writing about how I do it would not make for a very interesting essay. I mean, if you’ve got a location independent career, then it should be pretty self-explanatory; do a little research and make it happen. If you don’t, then you’ll probably need to transition into a new career or set yourself up with a location-independent version of whatever you’re already doing, and I can’t tell you exactly how to do that. I can only tell you that if you really want to do it, then you absolutely must.
So even after I explain this to people, they still want to know how I do it.
As a coach, when the same question arises over and over and people aren’t really hearing the answer, I pay attention. I slow down and ask myself, “am I missing something?”
In this case, perhaps there’s a question beneath the question. Maybe people aren’t asking me about the logistics of my lifestyle; they’re asking me how I got my freedom.
Well, that’s a much more interesting question!
I’m happy to share my secrets. Of course my formula won’t necessarily work for everyone, but I think an adventurous, desire-based life is always rooted in some basic elements.
1. I stand up for it.
What I am doing is weird and doesn’t fit into any category that I’ve seen. I’ve had to fight (mostly internally with myself, but with others, too) to have my choices feel legitimate and valid. I’ve had to dig deep down and stand up for the basic rightness of my desire to do this crazy thing.
As far as I know, I am the only person doing what I’m doing. I’m not a digital nomad freelancing out of a co-working space. I’m not a foreign national employed by an international company. I don’t have plans to return to the U.S. but I’m not applying for permanent residency anywhere else either. I live on tourist visas but I’m not on vacation.
I’m an oddball, moving to a new country every month or two, trying to avoid harsh winters in Europe while adhering to my Schengen visa. I’m being shown around by your awesome friend who lives wherever I happen to be and growing my collection of SIM cards and passport stamps all while serving a full schedule of coaching clients and the significant following my writing has accumulated.
People assumed that because lots of other people weren’t already doing this that it must somehow be wrong. They pointed to the perceived flaws in my plan. They were intent on asking me all the questions they thought might illuminate my naiveté, my irresponsibility and my selfishness. It’s taken some serious reflection but I’ve come to realize that other people’s judgements were their own fears and doubts that they weren’t willing to face and overcome.
I try not to let my own fear and doubt hold me hostage, much less anyone else’s, so I stand up for doing the thing that seems crazy. I find courage in the face of the fear and I fight to live this way because it’s what I feel called to do. And for the record, everyone is pretty excited for me these days.
2. I make sacrifices.
I will never complain about my lifestyle because the sacrifices I’ve made are absolutely worth it to me, but I wouldn’t want anyone to assume they can magically become free from the constraints of their current lives without giving up some of the comforts of it.
There is a reason we choose the autopilot route and get stuck in it, and that reason is called internal conflict.
For each thing we claim that we want, there is a conflicting counterpart: what we’d have to give up if we had that thing. Moving forward decisively and gaining traction in my new life required that I got clear on what my internal conflicts were and consciously made tough choices in order to reconcile them.
I loved having my own home with my paintings on the walls and my garden outside—but not being tied to a home was more important so I made that choice.
I loved my closet full of designer jeans, cocktail dresses and stilettos but it was more important to me to be able to hop from Barcelona to Istanbul to Santorini to Rome on a day’s notice so I put my things in storage and traded my closet for the roomiest, most durable suitcase I could find.
I want a deep, committed romantic relationship, but my travels and what I will create out of them feels more urgent and compelling right now, so I choose them over the allure of settling down…for now.
You get the picture.
3. I get creative.
When we don’t have a map for where we’re going, we must carve our own unique path without an example to follow. Creating something original can be overwhelming. I’ve often felt paralyzed to move forward, which is why I used to feel most comfortable in academic and corporate settings where the opportunities and limits seemed clearly defined, where all I had to do was perform well at whatever task was handed to me.
Designing my own path requires so much more than simply doing a good job. I’m constantly hitting points where it feels impossible, unrealistic, too difficult or too risky. The most important tools I have in my toolbox for when I hit these tough spots are creative problem solving and perseverance.
I’ve gotten stuck enough times and found the way through, that I’ve come to trust there is always a way through. If I don’t find it, it’s because I gave up instead of getting creative, never because unique, never-been-done-before ideas are unrealistic.
4. I have allies, advisors and collaborators who keep me from getting stuck on autopilot.
This is important. I rely on reflection and guidance from others. I cannot stay conscious and awake on any path for very long without regular perspective checks. This is exactly why we are so clear about what’s not working whenever we return from a vacation. A vacation is one of the most reliable pattern-disrupting events of adult life. The problem for most of us is that we get one or two of these per year and that’s not enough to keep us on track.
If ever a significant amount of time passes where I have not incorporated other perspectives into how I am approaching my path, I inevitably always find myself stalled out or going in a direction that isn’t actually aligned with my desires.
I need consistent help keeping my fears from driving me. I need regular assistance in blowing my perspective open and seeing more than what my limited self-concept allows me to believe is possible for me.
And I make sure I have people for that.
Author: Summer Engman
Editor: Renée Picard; Caitlin Oriel
Photo Credit: Ayries Blanck (Photo is of the author)