My journey of becoming a Digital Nomad can be seen as both accidental and inevitable. Tracing my journey back, I realized my lifestyle values and the events that spurred my decision paved way for where I am today.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. – Steve Jobs
India was my first taste of running an online business overseas. It was 2013 and I was just starting to put together Bamboo Bike Supplies, a small online store geared toward bamboo bike builders. It was creaking along and barely paying rent. I knew I needed to shift gears if I wanted to run it while traveling.
Before I left, I vowed to get organized. This involved ordering, pre-packing and sealing a month worth of inventory by hand. The task was so boring that I couldn’t stand spending hours and hours doing the same thing, so I put up an ad on Craigslist and hired my first ever freelancer! I even made a deal with my parents to help me print shipping labels and arranged the post office to pickup any orders to ship out daily.
Internet in India was slow and often disastrous. There was a 12 hour time difference and most of my sales were were dependent on returning calls. I remember standing in the stairwell in Varanasi one night at 2am trying to scrape free internet from a neighbor. I needed to call a customer in the US to close a sale and the line dropped at 3 times – it was a nightmare. This eventually prompted me to create an FAQ page where I began to funnel all customer inquiries into an online knowledge base so I didn’t have to return any calls everyday.
These were all huge steps for me. It was really tough paying out cash to someone when I could have done the work myself. But, looking back this was my first step to creating a semi-passive source of income. I had outsourced parts of the fulfillment and customer service process to others or to a knowledge base (FAQ page). It allowed me to free up my personal time to travel instead of worry about the hourly logistics of my running a business.
I didn’t make a lot of money during the trip but, I made enough to get by. For the first time in my travel life, I wasn’t just eating into my savings.
India really got me thinking…
What if I stayed a little longer? What would I need to do to make it out here?
I was looking forward to seeing India slowly. Looking forward to trying out yoga and meditation and seeing just how far I stretch my business on the move.
I ended up staying 3 months in India.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that a fully independent remote life started to form in my head. My sister and cousin had both just graduated high school and were looking to travel abroad for the first time. When they initiated the idea to go backpacking, I jumped on it.
Post India, I had been on a new life trajectory. I was all-in on teaching yoga; I had just started at a new studio was midway through my RYT 500 training. I was invested and passionate about self-investigation around the body and frameworks to teach internal experiences. But with all this going on I was about to disappear for two weeks and give away my classes and hinder my passion pursuits.
I remember feeling super overwhelmed before the trip. The timing really wasn’t ideal. It was going to be playing major catchup after the trip. The tourist season had just started in Bali and I had dreams of waddling through hordes of tourist. I kept telling myself I could back another time. Honestly if I hadn’t said yes to my family, I would have canceled the trip.
I got into Bali just after a rainstorm. I remember walking down a flight of stairs into a small courtyard filled with leaves and water with a Ganesha statue surround by tea candles. The fog was rolling in and the full moon beaming through the clouds. The natural elements here were moving and swirling in a life of it’s own. It was another universe away from the stress, the pace of life and the responsibilities back in California… it was amazing. I slept like a baby that first night.
It turned out that Bali was just what I needed. We had a great time in those 10 days and we all pushed ourselves to explore in different directions. I felt instantly at ease in the rice fields, in the bamboo forests and living clouds in Bali. There was a sense of quiet and ease creeping into my day. Without any work, my curiosity and playfulness started to shine again.
It was fulfilling 10 days. On the last day of my trip, I felt a stirring in my stomach that wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t let me enter the airport. I wanted to stay. In Bali.
Why not? Why the fuck not??
I had been asking myself this questions over the last few days. Yet, I couldn’t justify leaving my students and teachers back home. How? Why? I must have pranced around the perimeter of the airport for a good hour. I wasn’t going to go in there until I had my feelings sorted out. So I sat down and wrote myself a very long letter.
In Chinese history, there’s a common tradition of writing dire requests in one’s own blood. You just need a piece of linen and a bloody finger. Okay, okay… maybe it’s not that common. But in times of war this was a symbolic gesture and well honored. Enough to send warlords and soldiers into battle.
This was my blood letter. I wrote about all the things that spoke to me here. All the things that were alive in me these last few days. I recounted all the colorful experiences I had in the last decade of my life and also the one that were grayed out. The chapters where I was most alive, the times when I was most happy, most social, most connected and most free.
I also remembered the times that had blurred by, the times I spent in pursuit of money. Money that I had spent on rent, more rent, and paying for the mundane things to stay a float to ease my boredom. There was years and months of this in my life; memories of a life unfilled and undermined by apathy. These were the chapters that I had forgotten and the time that I would never get back.
I wanted a new chapter of my life where I was the one coloring my world. Not one in pursuit of money, and not one focused on hustling just to get by. I could see a world of possibility for that here. I made a promise to myself, a contract with my spirit to return here as soon as possible. A deadline to move here in one year. To give it try.
I could feel my heart racing at this idea – half in fear and half in wonder.
Nurturing the Dream
Dreams that don’t get chased get lost.
Coming back to the California meant returning to emails, responsibilities, hustling and working the grind… Again. Its the routine and the easy choices that catches up to you. But I could feel the fire burning inside – the midnight oil had a dream.
At the time I was still in my year long yoga teacher training in Oakland while teaching classes. This was still at the heart of my daily life and I needed to find a way to mix this with my dream for a new chapter in my life.
I knew first that I needed a shift in my daily life to keep me connected to the slower rhythms I felt in Bali. I needed water. Within a week of coming back to the US, I found my connection at Mike’s Paddle. I would be teaching on the water and thanks to Mike, I had access to use the paddle boards whenever I wanted. I had found my water temple.
Where to Start
I needed a plan. Something to get me going.
A big part of this process involved figuring some logistics. In some way this part was actually soothing. It give me the foundations to actualize my dream.
How much money did I need? Bare bare minimum? Which flight? Which month was I going to leave? Sitting down to search for flights and map out dates really made it for me. I kept telling myself, all I had to do was buy that ticket. I would again return to a place of ease and curiosity.
There was also the issue of getting rid of my possessions. I thought of this as trading in. Trading in old possessions to fuel a new chapter of adventure. I sold some of backpacking gear and got rid of this and thats, but being a minimalist there was’t much here to fuel my trip. The less I had the less I felt weighted down. My wings were feeling lighter.
I was still scratching by and couldn’t save that much. I knew I needed to find other ways to make this work. I began to see my material possessions as kindling for a new life. Two weeks or a month worth of food and accommodations. Cutting out a weekend adventure for a full week in Bali. Selling a backpack to feed myself for a month.
Still the biggest hurdle of coming back was resolving my responsibilities. There were many things that I was ready to give up – working in a restaurant, getting rid of all my belongings, giving up rent.
Each spark needs to be flamed or it dies a quiet death. This happens with love and this happens with inspiration.
The most difficult part was relieving myself of the things, projects and people I felt connected to in Oakland. This was the reason I loved home, and these were the things that have kept me here. For two whole months, I felt tormented by this need to leave now, while staying in-tuned with my current life.
I couldn’t wait a year. I knew what I wanted, and I knew I needed to set a deadline.
By December I had sold all my belongings and sat down face to face with my friends, teachers and students to lay out the news. They were surprised, and also incredibly encouraging. It made me feel both relieved, and guilty, and grateful. It was a lot of to take in. I still remember the morning I sat down with my last class. It was so nerve racking and exhilarating and surreal. I was about to castaway a really special moment in life for something unexpected and untested.
Making Money Abroad
I spent a lot of time wrapping my head around how to make money. How to make ends meet when the savings ran out. I knew I could teach English or yoga if I absolutely needed to, but I wasn’t leaving my current life to start down the same path. I want something that would be location independent, passive and self sustaining.
It was tough to think about this between weeks of training, teaching and working, but I began to scratch the surface. I had roughly decided on pursing a path in ecommerce. This had worked for me already, so I figured I just needed to find a system that would be more efficient. I knew my ecommerce background would be helpful her. What I needs was a proper gameplan, a play by play that would get me where I wanted.
Ultimately, I decided on a ecommerce dropshipping course. It was a $1000 course that would leave me with $2000 in the bank to float my first 3 months abroad. Its funny, because I actually called my credit card company to ask about their Purchase Protection policy in case I had to get myself out a online scam. I was super paranoid about the choice and I wasn’t taking any chances despite all the research and reviews I had seen. All I knew was I needed to make a decision and stick it through. If this worked – it would be my golden ticket.
I knew there was a dream at the other end of the tunnel but I didn’t quite know how I’d get myself there yet. I sat on booking my ticket for days until the end of December came around.
It wasn’t until I sat down to book my flight that it all felt real. A date, a time, a destination. Wings to fly. I was still circulating all the what ifs… What was the worst thing that could happen? I would come back in 3 months having failed? I would have to teach english for a few months to float myself? I would need to work in a cafe to support my new dream? So what?
I would be living in a different world. It would be the greatest 3 months of my life. My only regret would be not to go. Not to try. To yearn for something and not to do it. There were no more excuses.
In January of 2016 – I flew.
For me this path to taking off came in three stages, but it wasn’t obvious at the time. I certainly didn’t go to India expecting to be nomadic in a few years, and I really didn’t want to go Bali with all the things happening in my life at the time. The way our lives unfold and the way we learn is often unexpected – it’s important to step back andsee where the dots connect.
- Passive Income – I could travel and not eat away at my savings.
- Freeing up Time – Many parts of my business could be automated and did not require me to be there physically or mentally to run it.
- Listen to Your Gut – Give yourself the time and space to listen to your deepest desires.
- Set a Deadline – Having a dream with a deadline in mind allowed me to actualize my vision.
- Keep the Dream Alive – Step out of your normal cycles. Find the space and people to help you nurture your dream.
- Find Your Trigger – For me this was booking a flight. I knew that once I booked the dream would be tangible.
- 3 Months – Don’t over think it. Save the bare minimum for three months and take the leap.