New Year, New Goals — Becoming Location Independent

Sian Simpson

As we step into the New Year, most of us are reflecting on the year that has just been and the year ahead. The goals and mindset from the previous year are either ticked off, discarded or moved into the new year.

I’ve just landed in Buenos Aires, my new home for the next five days is a beautiful apartment in Barrio Palermo Hollywood with a rooftop terrace, furry ginger feline, a 2.5-metre dipping pool and a neighborhood saxophone player. It’s perfect.

While taking a small nap in the sun — the last few days in New Zealand lacked sleep and ended up being quite big and full of adventure. It was a time to let the hair down, drink, dance and be jolly with friends.

A lot of people ask me and are curious how I travel so much. How do I make it happen with work and finances? Seeing as it is the new year and people are wanting to become more mobile it’s a good time to write a little something about how I did it and continued to do it. Hopefully, this means that some of you will be able to start taking the steps to live a little more freely while doing/finding what you love that allows you to design your perfect lifestyle.

I’m of the mindset that I live in places and try not to ‘travel’ per say. This may seem like the same thing, but it is a fundamental difference if you want to move around the world while earning an income and being true to yourself and not burning out and a host of other travel related nuances that I have experienced and often come up for fellow nomads.

Start by figuring out what your perfect day is, how you like to spend your time, what activities you like doing daily or weekly, what climates you’re suited to and what local amenities you want in your neighborhood.

Some of these for me include:

Warm climates — I like summer and springCities/Countries that are easy to get in and out of and to move around in, generally meaning an easy transport infrastructure to navigateI enjoy having a gym or parks around so that I can exercise. I also get motivated by seeing other people practising fitnessI like being close to the water or a swimming poolHaving a kitchen is important for me health wise.I like neighborhoods that are local, e.g., not the tourist district.Airbnb and homestays are great for getting local fast. I prefer to stay with people and locals instead of hostels or hotels.Decent/Functional internet (ideally you’ll be able to stream things or at the very least take Skype calls)Stable powerPlaces with a cheaper cost of living than my hometown(s)Local cafes and healthy/varied food options.Finding like-minded people or communities — this usually comes in the form of co-working spaces, freelancers, dancers (Salsa, Tango, Samba, etc.), community builders or startup folk.A language easy enough to pick up 10–20 words within days of arriving.Timezone can sometimes be important depending on what time of the year it is.

Start by making this list, and then get a feel for what kind of places you could be looking at to make a living or moving around places more sustainable. We have all been victims of our mindset not being the greatest because we haven’t exercised in a couple of weeks or months, being grumpy because of the food we eat, put on those ‘holiday pounds’. These ‘travel’ nuances can be eliminated by being the you that you are at home, on the road. You just need to figure out exactly what that is.

Life on the road is hard; you’re in foreign environments, often you don’t speak the language, getting around can be tricky until figured out. You’re dealing with different cultures and social etiquettes. The more you can stick to what makes you happy and your fundamentals, the longer you’ll be able to have this as a lifestyle. Or at the very least it won’t seem as exhausting. You also get to see and experience a place better if you live in it instead of just moving through it. Aim to be a local rather than a tourist.

Next you’ll want to look at your finances. For the places that you want to go, how much money do you need to earn weekly or monthly to stay there? You’ll want to make sure you earn extra and also set a budget. When I went traveling around Asia in 2014, my weekly budget was between $500-$600. I started out by looking at all of my incomings and outgoings. The idea is to maximise incomings while minimising expenses. When I went traveling and was working 100% online (2012–2014), I had no expenses. I sold my car, got rid of all of the belongings that I didn’t want to take with me, condensed my life into a 30L backpack, moved my phone to prepaid and eliminated things like fixed rent from the equation. By doing this, you can earn less of the living because you can now live with less.

I suggest separating your bank accounts. For example, I have an everyday account, tax fund, income account, emergency fund, travel fund, investment fund, retirement fund, and I also have a credit card. I had saved about $20,000 before I started living this way so that I had a buffer. If you are disciplined for a year and put a budget in place, you can do this too. Selling your belongings and your car helps too.

Bank account explanation:

Every day — for use every day and for getting cash outTax fund — if you are freelancing you should put away 20% of your income to pay taxes in your home countryIncome account — Where all your income is paid into, to then be distributed to your other accountsEmergency fund — I always aim to have between $3000-$5000 in an emergency fund; for your rainy day expenses, to pay for a flight home, cover insurance excess, health issues, etc.Travel fund — this is where all of the money you want to use while you are traveling. For example — additional extras: taking a language course or a Hot Air Balloon trip. You can also use it to top up your income while you get your location independent income working. The idea of splitting these bank accounts is so that you have a sustainable financial structure so that you don’t have to start again. Always aim to have a base level of finances going. A lot of people and friends that I have talked to save heaps of money to go ‘traveling’ spend it all and then have to come home or go somewhere and get a ‘job’ to save and do it all over again. This post and way of life are an attempt to get to you or keep you from this cycle.Investment Fund — the investment fund is for investing in either future assets or investing in yourself. For example do you want to buy a house, some stocks, invest in a startup business or do a course, further your education. Anything that progresses your wealth accumulation, or potential to earn more through training/learning/personal development falls into this category.Retirement Fund — My way of thinking about retirement is that the earlier you start, the more equip or prepared you will be later in life. Don’t leave it too late. I have worked out how much money I want to retire with by 55 or 60 and have worked backwards from there to how much I need to contribute or ‘save/invest’ today. In the case of New Zealand if you have been or are employed you will be contributing to KiwiSaver automatically or should be. Your employer will also be contributing as well. As long as you meet the $1040.00 threshold each year, the government will give you free money every end of the tax year of around $520. KiwiSaver is a no-brainer, and I highly recommend doing this. At the very least it’s a good backup plan. If you are in your 20’s go on the growth or most risky plan. You have nothing to lose right now and might as well make gains and take on risk while you can. If you have $10,000 in your KiwiSaver and get a 5% return while contributing $1560 each year for 40 years ($520 of which is free from the government); you’ll have $268,269.00. Remember, this is a backup plan. A bare minimum until you are older and more able to seriously considering how you will prepare for retirement (e.g., savings & investment). I highly recommend having a backup plan, you don’t want to be 40 and thinking about your retirement fund regardless of how much fun you have had. Compounding interest is an amazing thing. Preparation is key. What is also awesome about Kiwi Saver is that you can get this money if you leave the country permanently or to buy your first home.Credit Card — a lot of people stay away from credit cards because they don’t want to have to service the debt, but they are great for travel. Broadly accepted around the world, and you can also accumulate miles or airpoints. This has been immensely helpful for me and also changed how I travel. Just recently I bought a return trip to Melbourne with some miles that I have accumulated, and I still have about $800 Airpoints left which is almost a return trip to the US from NZ. I also recently upgraded my credit card to the platinum card so now I get free travel insurance that is a further expense that I no longer have. I earn $1 airpoint for every $75 I spend and one status point for every $200 that I spend. Always always use reward programmes they are helpful. I’ve been in at least 100 airports in the last two years and becoming gold with star alliance has been a blessing. You get free wifi, food, drinks, better seating on the plane, first boarding, priority lanes, showers, free checked bags. etc. Your entire airport experience improves dramatically, and it actually can reduce some of your spendings in the long run. I use my credit card for everything except cash withdrawals and earn as many points as I can. I book flights, accommodation, buy food, etc. I make sure that I always pay my card off within the free interest period, however, otherwise it can start costing a lot.

Where this will differ is when you are working on a project or if you spend a lot of time in one location, have a salary but also want to keep up your travels. For example, the only fixed expense that I have with my current set up is my rent in San Francisco which is quite expensive but cheaper than not having a base there. You have to ensure you can cover this cost as well as everything else you want to do when you are not there. The setup changes a little bit but then you’ll probably be earning more. More on this later.

Once you have your perfect lifestyle design ideas and finance structure sorted, now it’s time to look at your skills and start looking into getting a location independent income. Where I started on this journey was looking at what I enjoyed doing and spending my time on, what I am good at, what are popular jobs people do online, what sort of skills or jobs can you do from anywhere or with a computer, power and internet connection. Start here and make a list.

Mine went something like this (for examples sake):

Studied marketing at UniversityEnjoy & am good at writingSolid administration backgroundKeen interest in digital marketingKeen interest in blogging and have a few of my blogsEnjoy learning and using social mediaGood cookTechnology literate/ SavvyFast typing skills

What this ended up translating to are the following potential (first) opportunities:

Social Media ManagerDigital MarketerOnline PA/EA/AdministratorBlogging/Writing for publicationsTranscribingSearch Engine OptimisationSearch Engine MarketingGoogle Adwords/AnalyticsOnline Advertising (Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/Instagram etc).

When I started out, I had very solid admin skills, but that was about it. I had a keen understanding of marketing concepts and theories and a natural affinity for marketing — did I know how to do it in the context of adding business value? No.

I spent a couple of months researching, learning, and even interning for free learning everything I could about social media and digital marketing. Everything that you need to know is online and if you can’t find it online or want more of a steep but fast learning curve go and get an internship for a month with a company or person that is doing exactly what you want to know. I did this twice and ended up rapidly upskilling with social media, blogging, digital marketing, search engine optimisation & online web video. What was, even more, interesting for me was that the companies that I interned for asked me to come back and work for them when I was leaving to go traveling because I had started adding value to their businesses. This is ideally where you’d like to get to.

Part of this journey is getting uncomfortable with what you don’t know but just chipping away at things and figuring it out. The general rule, just keep at it, keep going and you’ll figure it out. In New Zealand and many other places around the world, there are so many small to medium businesses, they all need help they can’t possibly do it all. It’s about acquiring the skills, having the conversation about the locality of your work, setting a schedule for getting your work done in your week taking time zones into consideration and also the biggest one adding value to the business.

If you don’t follow the intern route, there are some sites that you can sign up to be a freelancer on for example upwork or but also in New Zealand I found student job search to be pretty awesome too. Also, use our New Zealand 2 degrees of separation to your advantage. Keep a portfolio of your work and an up to date LinkedIn profile. This will be a great start, obviously, the more experienced you get, the more you can charge and the better the opportunities you’ll get. To give you an idea of where I started > I just wanted to make $5 online. If I could make $5 online, I knew I could make $50 then $100 and so on. It does take time, and you do have to put the work in. It is worth it, though.

I’m interested and good at marketing that is why I followed this track however you can do this with so many other industries and skill sets. I have friends who are freelance camera operators, editors and producers who travel the world. Voice over artists, designers, web/software developers and entrepreneurs there is an abundance of options to explore. You just have to remove your internal barriers. Instead of thinking I can’t do that because of X, Y, Z; think okay I want to do this how could I make it happen and what are the steps? Then get on with it.

I have been working towards and doing this now since 2012 and my skills have developed a lot and helped me to get my current job that has a lot of flexibility and autonomy that is quite high up on my value chain. My skills have now ventured out into community management, community building, content/business strategy, directing film shoots and much more. Start somewhere and build on it, also, never stop learning.

So a few other tips and tricks that I have picked up on the road now that I do have a job but still travel quite a lot. How do I do it so much while still holding down a job and not burning through all of my money? For starters, the world is so connected these days that if you want to go somewhere and explore, talk to your boss or manager about taking your work with you. If you can do 70–90% of your work online, it’s a no-brainer to ask and see if you can take it with you. If you are allowed to do this, then you just have to find the place that enable you to be productive while exploring. Going on Safari or hiking may not be the best move but exploring areas that have okay internet and power are your best bet and, what’s more — there are loads of them.

Last year I went to Sweden, Italy, Germany, the UK, Cyprus, Bahamas, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Spain & Portugal (as well as a handful of destinations in the US), and I was able to work from every one of these locations. If it’s during the year, I only ever spend 2–3 weeks on the road at a time as I need to run a lot of events back in San Francisco & New Zealand so can’t be gone for too long. However at the end of the year when NZ & Australia shut down for Christmas, new years and the summer holidays I can take more time (4–6 weeks) to move around. The one condition I have — I have to take my work with me and get everything done. Currently sitting in Buenos Aires writing this blog post on a rooftop garden terrace with my new friend the ginger furry feline and its 28 degrees — I can think of worse places to work! I have even found that I get more work in places that I visit, and the entire visit is more productive. I get to meet with local community builders, influencers, freelancers and locals, etc. which means I get even more of the local experience while dramatically expanding my knowledge.

I love visiting and living in other places, doing what I love to do and spending my time how I enjoy while learning, exploring, meeting new people, visiting new places but also taking my work with me. I find visiting places great for the mind. Right now I am feeling inspired, empowered, relaxed and motivated while writing this; the creativity is following. Having a change of scenery can open up new pathways and ways of thinking that you are yet to know and explore.

Tips and tricks for making your money go further while adopting the above methodologies:

Choose places that suit your budget — there is no point in trying to live in San Francisco for a month if you can’t afford to be there. Some places have higher costs of living, so keep this in consideration. For example, South East Asia will be cheaper than the US. Or Vietnam will be dramatically cheaper than Japan.Stay local — try to find homestays or Airbnb. My current Airbnb is $45 a night, whereas many hotels are over $100. It depends on your style. I don’t enjoy staying in hostels anymore which is why I choose to Airbnb. I like having my space and place to create and ‘live’.Research extensively. I found the just by research flight paths and finding different booking sites has saved me thousands of dollars on flights and accommodation. For flights reverse engineer where you want to get to and don’t always take the most direct route. I flew from San Francisco to Bali this year, and it cost me $500, I got to stop in Singapore on the way and visit some friends. Direct would have been way more.Pick the times that you travel wisely. Obviously going to Europe in August with everyone else it is going to be expensive. I went to Europe in December and January, and my flight to Sweden from San Francisco was $300 direct. Travel in the off-peak or shoulder season so that you get the beautiful weather but avoid the crowds and premium prices.

Always have travel insurance — you don’t know what you don’t know.Take overnight buses and trains where you can. But if you don’t have much time don’t be afraid to fly.Book in advance or book super last minute. Sometimes I won’t book things until the very last minute because I know that the airline will reduce the price just to fill seats. But you can also score some incredible deals if you get in early. Set up alerts on your favourite flight booking sites so that you get notified. I use Skyscanner, Kayak, Google & Student Universe for booking flights.I usually only ever book one-way flights. I generally have a destination that I want to go to, for example, this current trip I wanted an interesting way of getting to San Francisco from New Zealand so decided to go through Argentina, travel around South America for a couple of weeks and then go to San Francisco. All one-way flights and found a cheap flight to SF from Chile for $550. Explore exotic places in between or after the place you want to go to, you get to see more and also potentially save money on flights.Eat one of your meals at home — I usually have breakfast at home and sometimes lunch, or I carry snacks with me. This saves on $$$ and also keeps you healthy in the long run. This is just my style, however.

Stay with friends & family — from all of the travel I have done I have quite a lot of people all of the world now who are friends. Ask if you can stay with them. More often than not people will have space for you, it is a pleasure and great to spend time with these friends, and they love it. It makes life exciting. Many of my Airbnb hosts from over the years have become good friends, and also, a lot of the people I have met through my work have also become good friends. Recently I went on a road trip during my time in Melbourne with a friend I meet through work in San Francisco. You can offer to cook for people if it makes you feel better. Don’t be shy about friends of friends either, I often outsource my travel questions to Facebook and ask my friends if they have friends in places, I love meeting people, and this is an excellent way to do it! Spread the love, share, get amongst it.Check out the deals going on and check out hostel bookers or hostel world. Sometimes these sites have awesome deals and work out well.Do a google on local cafes that are awesome or things you should do, instead of looking at the lonely planet, read other people’s blogs about their experiences. When I was in Lisbon earlier this year, I was looking for a nice place to work from for a couple of days. I ended up at a study centre that was on top of a massive church with panoramic views over all of Lisbon with a huge rooftop garden. Although it was a little hard to find if you weren’t in the know, it had free and fast wifi, a kitchen and everything I needed.

Wander and explore. Whenever I land in a new city, I always walk 2km in every direction to see what is immediately around me. You get a bit of an idea of what you can eat, do and also gauge the culture, etiquette, safety, etc.Get off the main road and don’t only hang out in the tourist areas. I’ve found so many fantastic restaurants, bars and shops just by going a few streets away from where everyone else is. For example, my experience of Ho Chin Minh City was pretty awesome, I stayed in District 3 instead of District 1. District 3 is very local, I stayed with an awesome family, in an epic one bedroom apartment for $30 a night. The local vibe was strong, and I got to go to the markets and eat street food every night. District 1 caters for all the tourists and is a different experience and price range altogether.

One of the biggest factors that has played a role in my location independence has been getting and staying debt free. Early 2014 I paid off my student loan in its entirety and have been debt free ever since. One of the biggest lessons I ever learnt is to live within or below my means and to this day, I still do just that. If you want to spend more, earn more, or visit/live/travel in cheaper places.

I’m going into my fourth year of focusing on lifestyle design and location independence. Once you get the basics going and are building on your skills, you can start looking into investments, passive income and ways of traveling with your expenses paid (this was a growing focus of mine last year). Realise that your aptitude for learning and execution, finding or inventing opportunity will be the difference in your success. Opportunity is everywhere you just have to focus on that manifestation and get comfortable with making the ask. Most people are under-resourced and need help from someone who know’s what they are doing. I’ve learnt this year that intention is everything, so set some goals, get moving and continually evaluate and evolve what you are working on and, of course, yourself as a human.

I hope the above is useful for you, remember you have to start somewhere with this lifestyle design stuff. The more you do it, the better you get, but you just need to make a start.

I’m super excited for this current South America trip. So far, Buenos Aires is beautiful, it’s warm and green, the people are friendly, getting into the country was super easy and hassle free, my accommodation is amazing and homely, I even have a cat. I’m going to explore and grab some dinner and a glass of Argentinian Malbec and see out the rest of this New Year’s day.

Happy New Year, good luck setting your goals for the year. If I can help, reach out. I’ve learned off and talked with a number of people who follow similar lifestyles, they are always happy to chat and excited by people who jump on board and start working towards the life they truly want to have.

– Sian xx

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