As a Wanderer, I can’t always explain the places I feel drawn to.
Every place has it’s own unique draw. People, events, history, language, culture, adventure.
More powerful than any other factor, however, is simply the need to go. There’s something about me that’s wired differently than most people. I like to think that it’s the same short circuit that drove men like Columbus, Cook, Shackleton, and others. It’s the need to go somewhere simply because it’s there.
Georgia has really only been on my radar for a couple months. And in that time, my desire to go has grown from just a pit stop on an around the world trip, to wanting to move there, for at least a year. The more I learned about this amazing country, the more I yearned to go for rational reasons, not just a yearning to travel.
A former Soviet republic, sandwiched between Russia and Turkey, Georgia is one of the most unique places on Earth, in many ways.
The weather is perfect. From a standard Mediterranean climate along the black sea, season snowfall up in the Caucasus Mountains, and basically nice weather all year. Perfect sailing weather every day? Kind of hard to beat that.
In Bat’umi, a coastal town just north of the Turkish border, a brand new year-round indoor ice rink was recently built. Even better, it’s immediately adjacent to the public marina.
Georgia also has an incredibly fascinating history. It’s location has made it a critical connecting point for trade and transit from Europe to Asia. This location also makes it a vitally strategic military location, especially with it’s access to the Black Sea and the Med.
Georgia is also a religious crossroad. It was one of the earliest regions to be converted to Orthodox Christianity, and is literally THE transition point geographically between the predominantly Muslim and Christian parts of the modern world.
Then there are the Georgian people. I have yet to read a single blog post or news article in any way talking negatively about the Georgians as a populace. Many consider them to be the most hospitable group of people on the planet.
Georgia makes sense economically. With a cost of living about 1/10th of the United States, it’s only slightly more expensive to live than Thailand, but with far better weather (I severely dislike heat and humidity). Foreigners from a number of industrialized nations are given visa-free entry for up to a year at a time. That includes starting businesses, working a regular job, buying property… All with no visa necessary. I’m sure this is to encourage private investment in the country, and thousands are doing so, and I plan to join them.
Let’s talk language. Georgian is one of the oldest continuously spoken and written languages on the planet, and it unlike any other language still spoken. It has no resemblance to Russian or Arabic, as might be expected. The script shown here, which is still used today, dates to the 13th century, and is an evolved version of an earlier script from the 5th century. The spoken language became distinct roughly 1000 BC. Yes, we’re talking about a distinct spoken language, still in use, that is nearly 3,000 years old.
An incredible history, proud culture, fascinating language, abundant economic opportunity, perfect sailing weather, low cost of living, beautiful scenery, stable government, developing infrastructure, stable non-euro currency, well funded banking system, 360-day visa free entry, beautiful women…I could go on and on. What is there not to love about such a place?
It’s odd for me to me to still be this excited about a destination after two months. That tells me my logical reasons for going are in sync with my natural, inner Wanderer reason for wanting to go.
I have no delusions of finding eternal love and happiness in Georgia. And perhaps I’ll only be there for six months, I have no idea. But by all measures, it’s a place worth checking out, for numerous reasons. If I discover when I get there that it truly is all that it’s cracked up to be, I’m going to be hard pressed to not just stay and call it home.
For me, running a business while traveling the world is the ultimate lifestyle design goal. Trying to create a business that will run itself and let me be disconnected is another story entirely.
If you have similar objectives in your life and career, then you’ve probably read various books and blogs that address the subject. The vast majority of the advice out there about becoming a globe trotting expat will tell you to do one of the following:
- Start a local business where you can be an absentee owner.
- Create an automated online business.
- Move your professional services business into a virtual environment.
If you’ve followed my story at all, you’ll know that I went with #3, then started creating #2, which is largely automated now and requires only a few hours each business day for me to manage, which is fine by me.
There is one thing that all the books and blogs miss, however. And in reality, it’s the one thing that provides the EASIEST method for living the dream of being abroad, yet still making your money from your home country, which is usually the objective for many people. As the saying goes, “earn dollars or euros, spend baht or pesos”. It’s called currency arbitrage.
For many of us, the real dream is to either be filthy rich and not have to work at all, or to have a business that is so heavily automated that is just prints money for us and we only have to work a couple hours per week. This idea, popularized in pop culture by Tim Ferriss and his book, The Four Hour Workweek, is fairly grandiose, and beyond the reach of most of us mere mortals.
However, living abroad, in someplace awesome, and still working is a fairly achievable dream. Over 4 million Americans live and work abroad, and hundreds of thousands do so working online part-time. I’ve reached a point where I can actually do that, and have made the trips overseas to test it, and it works.
But what if you don’t have passive income sources set up yet? What if you lack the tech skills to run something online? Is there another option?
Well, yes there is. There is one incredibly overlooked profession that lends itself very, very well to the expat/permanent traveler lifestyle. It requires working full time, 40 hours per week, and staying in one spot during the work week, if not weeks or months on end. For an American, Canadien, Australian, or anybody else from a country that has 90-day visa-free tourist stay privileges in many countries, this is a great way to use that 3 months, and just bounce from country to country.
What’s this magic profession that I’m talking about? Sales.
Yep, good ol’ fashioned professional selling. Selling what? Doesn’t really matter. Anything that is traditionally sold for commission, over the phone, and has either a high transaction value (to earn large commissions) or a high repeat order frequency (to generate repeat commissions).
Professional salespeople (and sales support staff) that work entirely by telephone exist in numerous industries. While some products are traditionally sold face to face (such as cars), there are numerous products that are not necessarily sold face to face (such as manufacturer’s OEM parts that go into those cars). I’m not going to try making an exhaustive list of products and services that can be sold over the phone, but here are just a few random examples:
- Computer systems
- Web design, programming, and SEO
- Graphic design
- Communications services (telephone, cable, internet)
- Print & mail services
- Industrial equipment and services
- Commodities (oil, grain, metals, etc).
- Accounting, tax, bookkeeping services
- Network marketing programs (lotions, potions, & pills!)
I’m sure there are a billion more. The point is that if your job is to cold call all day, make appointments for face to face salespeople, answer pre- or post-sales questions for customers, close sales yourself over the phone and by email…then there is absolutely no reason for your job to be constrained at one location.
Even if you work for another company full time, if your job is literally to sit at the same desk all day and never leave it, doing sales related activities of any sort, then there is no reason you can’t do the same job sitting in a chair at a desk 10,000 miles away. Technology: It loves you, so love it.
Negotiating a remote work arrangement with your employer may sound hard, but it’s actually not. Simply come up with an excuse to work from home one day a week, then after a while make it two days, then five. Your boss can put somebody else in your desk, saving money on having to rent more office space or buy new furniture when expanding. Once you’re working from home, you can just take off, with or without anybody knowing. If you work from home in the U.S., try running off to Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver Canada for a week and work from a hotel room.
With powerful laptops, good quality VOIP phones, and high speed internet pretty much everywhere, if you have a phone-based sales or sales support type job, you can literally work from anywhere. If your income is derived from closing sales over the phone, or you’re a professional services provider where most of your clients are people you never meet face to face, you can do this, too.
My trip to Europe ended being halted prematurely. I’m working on being less winded, so I’ll relay the short version: On a train north of Geneva, everything I had with me got jacked. If it weren’t for the incredible generosity of a local Swiss family, I would have been sleeping under a bridge for the weekend (I owe them a very deep debt of gratitude!).
An emergency Western Union transfer, trip to the US Embassy in Bern, and an overpriced flight from Zurich, got me back to the U.S. Since Japan doesn’t grant entry permission on a passport valid for less than 6 months, and an emergency replacement passport is only valid for 4 months, I was forced to cut this trip short and come back to the States.
This experience has taught me several valuable lessons about a number of different topics, so I’ll just list them all out here.
- There are still genuinely good people left in the world. People that will go out of their way to help another human being. I was starting to lose hope, but that hope has been restored by the Chappuis family.
- Even if you think you’re in an incredibly safe place, watch your stuff. Carabiner your bag to the luggage rack if you’re going to use it, and keep your credit cards, phone, and ID physically on you, just in case.
- My dream of working from Internet cafes is probably bunk. With my iPhone 4S stolen, I tried working from the public pay Internet stations which are common in Switzerland. Unfortunately, they are limited to web access only, and the machines were slow and used outdated browsers. I kept wishing I had my own laptop with me.
- I thought I had taken a minimal amount of stuff, but having everything stolen made me realize that I need even LESS. I spent an entire week without a bag, a change of clothes, or anything else. I have a whole new travel packing philosophy as a result.
- Nothing is irreplaceable. The stuff we consider vital is all completely replaceable. Clothing, passports, credits cards, sanity, all are replaceable. Lacking your stuff is merely an inconvenience in the vast majority of situations.
- Meeting new people, having fun, and exploring cultures and languages are what matter most when you travel abroad, and you can still do this regardless of the circumstances.
Most Americans have this ridiculous notion that extensive world travel is atrociously expensive. The reality of the situation is that the United States is one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to live. If you compare city living in the US vs city living abroad, or rural living here vs rural living abroad, the cost comparison is fairly insane.
While there are obviously expensive places to live abroad (Tokyo, Japan is the most expensive city in the world in which to live, as of January 2011 data), it’s possible to travel for far cheaper than you can live in the United States. Let’s look at some numbers.
Denver, the largest urban area in the Rocky Mountain region with a population of over 2.5 million for the metro area, is fairly representative of the average cost of living for the United States, with a cost of living index of 105 (3rd quarter 2011 data — the national average is set at 100). Since Denver represents fairly close to the national average, and is close to me, I’m going to use it as a baseline example for crunching some numbers.
A one bedroom apartment in Denver averages $977 per month (as of August 2011). The IRS National Standard (used to calculate allowable expenses in IRS collections cases, and also for bankruptcy proceedings and other legal purposes) for food, clothing, and household items for a single person in Denver is $534 per month. The national average car payment is about $400 per month, with operating costs (insurance, gas, etc.) set at $236 per month under IRS financial standards. Add in about $100 a month in utilities, and a $70 per month cell bill.
So, for a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back, and transportation, a single person in Denver is sitting at about $2,136 per month to live. Add in about $100 a month in utilities, a $70 per month cell bill, and let’s just say $100 a month for entertainment, and you’re getting a good picture of what your typical single person in their mid-20′s to mid-30′s, living on their own, is spending to live in Denver: over $2,400 per month.
As a dummy check, I looked up the median per capita income for Denver County, which is just over $24,000 per year. The median household income in Denver is right at $40,000 per year. $2400 a month is close enough to $24k a year for our purposes, and meshes well with the household figure and splitting of expenses across two wage earners.
Using this data as a baseline, let’s compare it to the cost of spending time overseas. I’m going to compare it somewhere I’ve actually been recently: Tokyo. Do recall that Tokyo is considered THE most expensive city on Earth in which to live.
Or is it?
I’m a big believer that one of the greatest joys of traveling is the people you meet, and I don’t think there is any better place to meet people abroad than in hostels. Some hostels are dives, some are very nice places that are basically somebody’s house, such as Jimmyz Backpackers in Sapporo, where I stayed for about 3 whole weeks. Hostels are also really cheap – $15 to $50 a day around Japan, depending on where you are and how nice it is. Most hostels give discounts for longer stays, and so I was averaging about $25 a night to stay in hostels.
$25 times 30 equals $750 per month. That’s already cheaper than our one bedroom apartment in Denver.
On top of saving a couple hundred a month on rent already, consider this: No utilities. Most hostels have free wi-fi. If you’re only spending a month or two in a country, Skype quickly becomes your communication friend. I chose not to have a local cell phone in Japan, and it worked out just fine. But let’s say you want one: $50 a month for basic communication (Tip: Get it at the airport when you arrive!).
So, we’re at $800 a month.
Let’s look at transportation. Tokyo probably has the most efficient mass transit system on planet Earth. Subways and buses take you anywhere you want to go, and surface trains go just about everywhere else in Japan. Japan also has an incredible domestic air transit system, and if you want to travel on open water, you can go long distances on the cheap by taking a ferry.
Using discounted tickets for foreigners, weekend and seasonal deals, and the discounts you get for using electronic tickets, getting around Tokyo becomes a $3 or $4 per day thing, if you go places EVERY day. Call it $100/month. If you commute on particular routes, you can get monthly passes (teikiken) even cheaper.
So, we’re at $900 a month to live in and get around in the most expensive city in the world.
Whoops, I guess we need to eat, don’t we?
All over Tokyo you can find these awesome little family restaurants, usually down weird alleys and twisted back roads, where you can get a bowl of rice with beef strips and vegetables, for example, for about $5. Fresh fruit is expensive in Japan, but staples of the Japanese diet are fairly inexpensive in markets. If you love rice and fish, you can eat even cheaper. Eating out for *every* meal does get expensive – I was pushing $20 per day on average just to eat, but that was by choice. You really can eat for $5 or less per day if you cook for yourself, even in Tokyo.
So, $150 to $200 per month to eat in Tokyo. Let’s add a party night once a week, and give ourselves a $100 per month entertainment and booze budget. Now we’re at $1200 per month.
Did I miss anything? $1200 a month to live in the most expensive city on Earth, and have the time of your life doing it.
Let’s look at airfare. Round trip airfare for me to Japan was about $1600. An American can stay in Japan for 90 days on a single entry tourist visa, so amortized over 3 months, airfare is $533 per month. If you plan to continue traveling around Asia, you can just buy a one-way ticket, which ranges anywhere from $600 to $1000, depending on the time of year. But even at the round trip price, added to monthly cost of living, we’re at $1733 per month.
Yup. $1733 per month. And I mentioned we’re living in the most expensive place on Earth, right?
I realize that this grand equation doesn’t take into account the fact that our example single person has to work a job back in Denver, and that’s not possible when you’re just traveling. I’m fully aware that most people don’t have the luxury of working from anywhere, via the Internet (although I have a firm belief that just about anybody CAN put themselves into that position, but that’s a subject for another post).
So, let’s look at things a bit differently. Our 20 or 30 something single person in Denver makes $25k to $35k per year doing whatever they do. Instead of that $997/month apartment, let’s get them in a house with two other people, and paying $400 a month for rent and utilities. Let’s also ditch the car payment, and let’s ride the bus, live within walking distance of work, buy a beater of a car, or ride a motorcycle (the option I choose — a motorcycle can cheaply be stored when abroad). Let’s also cut back on out cell plan, use Skype when possible to avoid eating up cell minutes, and pack our lunch to work every day.
In other words, let’s live in Denver under a similar lifestyle as we could live cheaply in Tokyo. All of a sudden, we’re not spending $2400 a month to live. Instead, we’re spending $800 or less, and saving $1600 per month.
Do this for a year. That’s $19,200 saved up, cash in the bank, in ONE YEAR.
$1600 airfare, $17,600 remaining. That buys TEN MONTHS living in Tokyo. Your visa won’t last that long. So, you stay 3 months, then go to South Korea. Then Taiwan. Then Hong Kong. Then Manila. Each of these places is far cheaper than Tokyo. All of a sudden, ten months turning into 18 months abroad.
Some people are going to look at these numbers as unrealistic. However, these are real numbers, based on real cost of living norms. For foreigners reading this, YES, that is what Americans blow every month to live the American lifestyle.
Is it worth drastically dialing down your American consumption and materialism for one year so that you can save up the cash to spend a year, maybe even two years, abroad?
Only you can answer that question. But for some of us, the answer is an unequivocal YES.
See you at the airport…
If you’re planning a visit to Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan anywhere in the near future, I really have only one fundamental suggestion for you: Stay at Jimmyz Backpackers. Jimmy runs the best hostel in Sapporo, hands down.
OK, so I’m biased. I’ve been here for two weeks, and will be here for two more. Oh, and I guess I should admit that I haven’t stayed at any other Sapporo hostel or hotel. And to be honest, I’m not interested in doing so.
Jimmy himself is a pretty cool guy. He speaks excellent English, which comes from going to college in Orange County, California. In addition, he’s a great tour guide, being very knowledgeable of the local attractions, both ON and OFF the beaten tourist path.
The hostel itself is pretty amazing. In all reality, it’s much more like staying at somebody’s house than a hostel. Jimmyz is much smaller than most hostels. The mixed dorm holds six people, and there is a separate room that houses another 6 in a women-only dorm-style room. On the main floor, there is a small tatami-floored dining room, hardwood-floored living room, men’s and women’s showers and bathrooms, and a small kitchen.
Jimmyz is most definitely not a big place. In fact, the entire house (yes, it really is a house) is smaller than most American 2 bedroom homes. But honestly, that’s what makes it awesome. Not a single night has gone by where I haven’t met awesome people from some different corner of Japan or even the world. I’ve hung out with several gorgeous women from Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan. I’ve clinked drinks with gents from Norway, the U.S. Air Force, Britain, America, and South Korea.
If you’re looking for either a very affordable (less than 3000 yen per night) place to stay, and/or a clean, cozy, and intimate hostel for either one week or a month (discounts for stays over 7 days), then book at Jimmyz Backpackers. It really is the best Sapporo hostel, and I say that not even needing to say elsewhere.
To book at Jimmyz, visit his web site and send him an email: Jimmyz Backpackers Sapporo Hostel (English site)
Some other cool tidbits about Jimmyz:
-only a 5 minute walk from Susukino, the largest entertainment district in Japan outside of Tokyo
-easy access to the subways (Hosui Susukino station about 4 minute walk)
-for figure skaters, about 20 minutes by foot and subway from ice rink (Tsukisamu Gymnasium, off the Toho subway line, Tsukisamu-chuo station, go upstairs, around the corner [LEFT!], down a block, just past the tennis courts)
-one block away from the awesome river running paths (currently under reconstruction from recent flooding damage)
-gorgeous girls often stay (what?!?!?! I’m a dude, this is important!)
So if you’re in Sapporo, spend the night at Jimmyz Backpackers. It really is a great place. I like it enough to stay here almost a month — it really is that nice of a place. Again, it’s small, cozy, very clean, and Jimmy speaks perfect English and can direct you where you want to go.
See you out and about in the world,