Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

Digital Nomad No More

The other day, one of my good friends described his future travel plans. He had been working really hard the past year or so and haven’t taken a vacation in ages.

He is Australian and his plan was to fly to London, spend a few days there and then fly to Spain. After spending a week in Spain (traveling to different cities), he would fly to Italy and spend a week there. Then, he’d fly into Croatia where he would spend a couple of days before wrapping up his trip to Serbia and flying back home.

Ten years ago, such a trip would evoke nothing but pleasant emotions and even make me a bit envious—especially if I was stuck in some place and couldn’t travel at the moment.

But now?

His travel itinerary made me dizzy and nauseous. 

While I covered over 25 European countries in around 2-3 months back in 2011, doing that today would be the absolute last thing I’d want to do.

In fact, you’d really need to force me to leave my comfortable life in Ukraine and take a random flight somewhere only to stay there for a couple of days, pack up and go somewhere new.

My first reaction is that my productivity would take an immediate hit.

Yeah, I know the Internet is plastered with endless stories of people roaming the world and making millions of dollars a long way.

But, after roaming the world for over a decade, I still don’t know how they do it.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing destroys productivity better than constantly switching locations.

Even merely switching apartments in the same city to a different neighborhood is enough to destroy 3-5 solid days of productivity while you search around for a new coffee shop, a nearby supermarket and even simply getting the feel of a new neighborhood.

In my experience, there’s a strong correlation between productivity, making money and sitting in the same place for months at a time. It’s irrefutable.

Late last year, when I sat down and began working on my first ecommerce store as well as trying to figure out how to scale sales using the ever-elusive Facebook Ads, I literally locked myself into my room in NYC, and didn’t leave until I had something working.

About two months later, I discovered my first winning product that, in a span of several months, went on to generate enough money to buy a small apartment in a provincial Eastern European city.

That would have never been possible had I roamed around the Guatemala and Honduras in chicken buses while sleeping in $1/night hostels (as I did back in 2005).

Of course, I wasn’t trying to build a business empire at that time. In fact, I didn’t even bring my laptop with me on the trip.

That’s also why I’m always super productive in New York, and less productive in places like Kiev (my base), Chiang Mai (where I lived for several months) and Rio de Janeiro (where I lived for several years).

In New York, all I do is work. I don’t go out, I don’t drink, I don’t go to fancy restaurants, I don’t have sex, I don’t do anything but work. That and meet up with super successful entrepreneur friends who’re making five figures per month in various businesses.

When I go abroad, I naturally want to go out, meet people and just generally wander around scenic old towns and ponder the meaning of life.

While this clears my head, it does have a negative effect on my productivity and everything suffers.

For a long time, I thought that what I really wanted was to travel around the world instead of rotting in a cubicle making someone else rich.

I’ve achieved this. While it wasn’t easy, it was certainly worth it. The fact that I can live wherever I want and not where there are  lucrative software engineer jobs (ie, Silicon Valley) is more than worth it in my book.

But then I realized that what I really wanted was freedom. Freedom to live anywhere I wanted, freedom to wake up anytime I wanted, freedom to work on whatever projects excited me, freedom to channel my energy into whatever the fuck I wanted instead of whatever my boss thought was politically beneficial for him and his allies.

And it wasn’t so much for the ability to wake up today and grab a random ticket to Bucharest, Bangkok, Bahia or Bruges.

Sure, the ability to pack up your bag and move to a neighboring country or a country on the opposite side of the globe is alluring, but there’s only so many times you can do that before it loses its luster and its magic. 

I remember I was living in Romania a few years ago. One day, I got sick and tired of Bucharest’s decaying and boring communist feel, so I hopped on Sky Scanner and grabbed a ticket to Barcelona. The next day, I was having tacos and wine with a good friend in one of my Barcelona’s quaint little squares.

Or the time when I was spending the summer in St. Petersburg, Russia a few years ago. Few places on the planet are as awesome to spend the summer at St. Petersburg. The white nights, the awesome weather, the restaurants, the cafes, the people enjoying themselves.

But then September started, and a week later, temperatures dropped 15 degrees Celsius. The summer was over. It was now windy and cloudy, most likely to last until May of next year.

So, what did I do?

I went online and booked a one-way flight to Belgrade, Serbia. The very next day, I landed in sunny paradise. It was a balmy 29C degrees and cold weather wouldn’t start for the next two months.

As an added bonus, my apartment had access to a nice and sunny backyard where I enjoyed my breakfast every morning.

If there’s one thing both of these events have in common is that I was able to shake off a negative feeling (ugly communist buildings in Bucharest and crappy weather in St. Petersburg) and replace it with more inviting and beautiful surroundings—and, as a result, a much more pleasant feeling.

But like everything else, every action has a hidden cost to it. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly the most productive during those times and didn’t crush any revenue records like the time when I stayed in New York and did nothing but experimented with Facebook Ads, day and night, for several months straight.

Roots

The biggest cost, however, with endless moving around is less obvious. When you’re always moving around, you can’t build anything meaningful and substantial in any one place.

When I lived in Rio de Janeiro, I was able to assemble a good circle of close friends and not just expats and foreigners like myself, but actual Brazilians born and bred in Rio de Janeiro.

Although Brazilians are fairly easy to get along with, you need a bit of time to form closer connections, something that’s not possible when you’re in Rio on a two-week vacation.

Here in Ukraine, I was able to form close contacts—both personal and business—simply as a side effect of staying here for several years. After you see the same person over and over again, you can’t help but build something deeper and more meaningful.

It’s like seeing a cute girl at your favorite coffee shop. If you come there long enough, unless you’re completely clueless, at some point, you will leave with her number.

This, in turn, has lead to all kinds of new and interesting projects, like helping to scale a relatively large ecommerce store using FB Ads as well as launching a marketing campaign to bring customers to a new venue.

But, more importantly, this has given me access to interesting and influential people who are working on exciting projects.

None of this would’ve even be possible if I was just mindlessly bouncing around the globe.

Stay put, make lots of money

What really crystallized my thinking was the fact that pretty much all my adult life I’ve been surrounded by ambitious go-getters who worked long and hard and barely traveled anywhere.

They all ran online businesses. They all made a ton of money (5-6 figures per month), but bouncing around the world was never at the top of their priorities.

Their main focus was always on business. Making money. Hustling. Marketing. Selling. Making deals.

And, sure, while their lifestyle allowed them to take a random trip to Cannes, Cancun or Miami Beach, that was nothing more than the icing on the cake. They worked so hard that they barely took those trips anyway.

Most of these guys are in New York, which is another reason why my productivity skyrockets when I’m there.

But a couple of them are here in Ukraine after I lured some of them here to keep me company throughout the cold winter months. 

They came, set up shop, and we regularly keep in touch.

When you have such a sweet setup, why would you trade it for some nomadic backpacking trip through Guatemala?

Nothing against Guatemala (loved my time there), but I ain’t going anywhere.

There’s a myth out there that traveling around somehow “enables” you to start a business and make a ton of money passively.

The reality, however, is all you’re really doing is changing the location of your office. If you’re in NYC, your office is in NYC. If you’re in Chiang Mai, your office is in Chiang Mai. If you’re in Moscow, your office is in Moscow. And if you’re in Bali, you guessed it: your office is in Bali.

Right now my office is in Eastern Europe. This gives me a nice base to explore neighboring destinations. The difference is that I always have a return ticket. There’s always a home to come back to. There’s a familiar environment to return to.

Most importantly, there’s the all important separation between work and play; and production and consumption. 

The latter is a popular trap that many people can’t help but fall into.

Office. I used to hate that word because it conjured images of grey-haired middle-aged men toiling on something super boring because they didn’t know any better… Like working on some beach somewhere.

But now an office seems indispensable. I need an office. I need a room in my apartment solely dedicated to strategizing and working.

I need a place where I can go and focus, a place where no one will bother me. A place that will serve as a refuge from the craziness and uncertainty of the world around me.

I’ve had various “offices” throughout my life. In addition to the NYC office that I talked about earlier, where I launched my first of several ecommerce stores, there was also a Lithuanian office where I finished my first book. The Barcelona office where I finished another book. And it will be the Ukrainian office where I will launch a brand new course later this month.

And, hopefully, this Ukrainian office will be responsible for some new amazing projects in 2019 and beyond.

Build and they will come

I remember when I started to get serious about some of my work, my mentor told me that he would be surprised if I wasn’t making good money in six months if I worked on it every day.

He was right.

I stayed in one place, worked every day, 7 days a week, and was making money long before the six months he predicted.

Over time, those wise words became a part of my life philosophy. Even if you start from nothing (we all did), if you sit down, pick one thing to work on, stick to it, build it, and you will be seeing results sooner or later.

In other words, hustling will set you free.

There’s a catch, of course: provided you have an established and predictable routine that guarantees the maximum level of productivity without an array of useless and unnecessary distractions.

Interested in building your own passive, location-independent business? Want to avoid needless trial and error? Want to start off on the right foot under proper guidance?

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6 Comments

  1. join the club, my friend… traveling all around was never my shtick: independence was. I have 2 homebase now, of which I mostly use one (the lucrativer one). but the fact that I can change anytime I want to (if life so desires), is freeing. men crave freedom, and there’s nothing better than it.

    • If you don’t mind me asking? Which 2 homebases are you using now. I’m always interested in upgrading mine or finding new ones.

      • I’m a Hungarian guy living in Berlin for a long time, 7 years now. Chances are I’ll be applying soon for dual citizenship. I have a fully paid off house in Hungary. But since the economy and possibilities for me as an IT guy are way better in Germany for the time being, I’m living here.

        As long as it stays this way, I’ll use this homebase. Whenever the economical/political status changes for the worse enough here to change, I’ll move back to Hungary or relocate to another place where I can earn well.

        Right now Dubai or HK comes to mind. Dubai is for the insane amounts of money one can pull off there, and HK for the economical freedom. Although the latter has pretty high cost of living as well. That shouldn’t be a problem though, I’m a seasoned IT guy.

  2. My ultimate goal is to split time between my parents place and latin america. I have a work from home scenario now in southern california. It has been a fun ten years of traveling, meeting people, dating in different languages, etc, but i am realizing that im an introvert. I really might have sewn my wild oats and passed the phase of going out. Id rather be doing what i enjoy, or be with family.

  3. I needed this more than ever today. I’m currently in month five (and country six) of a year long jaunt around the world with my family. While some may believe I have it all, I miss the exact consistencies and predictability you speak of. Also, as I continue to “chase the sun” I’m not getting the winter season that typical causes me to hunker down and focus on my business!

  4. Another member of the club!

    Took me awhile to realize the same going from one extreme normal usa office life to traveling like crazy.

    The ULTIMATE goal is freedom aka choices.

    Which is obtained by location independent income. But to achieve that takes a huge amount of focus and being still not wasting time settling into routines.

    Which one of the main purposes of travel is DISRUPT routine as to experience new things outside of your normal routine. So they usually conflict.

    But going abroad to a place with lower cost of living allows you to spend more time building your empire, business etc. WHILE enjoying a better and usually higher quality of life.

    I can work on my business, have a maid, chef/cook, use uber like crazy eat out whenever and save money all for less than half of what my rent would be in usa. Not to mention faster fiber internet, cheaper cell phone plans etc.

    Because you can easily meet your financial obligations using geo arbitrage. Which frees up a ton of time. vs If you stayed in NYC and had to pay ridiculous rent and cost of living expenses you would spend majority of your time working, hustling just to survive.

    I have friends on both coast LA & NYC and other high cost of living cities and they spend the majority of there time just working to cover $2500+ usd rent.

    Perfect example of this as Mav knows, is San Francisco where even programmers with jobs paying $150k+ a year are sleeping in cars and being frugal just to survive in that city with that soul crushing rent and living expenses.

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