Imagine for a moment that you could do the work you love, from anywhere in the world you want?
Location independence is a contemporary term coined to describe people who are able to work remotely, and therefore have the freedom to travel and live abroad. Working from home is not a new concept, and remains the dream of many who work in cubicle farms, however today's location independent professional tends to be empowered by Internet-based businesses such as blogging or freelance anything (writing, editing, design, consulting).
Five months after returning to a city I love (Medellin), in a profession that makes me happy (travel blogger), I've learned there are a few hidden pitfalls to the location independent lifestyle — pitfalls that are easy to overlook when you've always got your eye on the prize.
Pitfall #1 – Rock ‘n Roll All Night and Party Every Day
Thailand is a popular expat destination for a reason — beautiful beaches, flavorful foods, dependable internet access, laid back attitudes, and plentiful amounts of cheap alcohol. When you live in paradise, every night is an excuse to hit the beach bars and mingle with members of the opposite sex from around the world.
In Medellin, where there are mountains in lieu of beaches, the cheap rum and Latin nightlife can just as easily become an ongoing distraction. If you're a single guy, add the appeal of local women to the mix and you may find it difficult to get any work done.
Late nights outs aren't the only challenge to your productivity; their after-effects (ie. the hangovers) can sap your creative energy, and motivation to tackle the next new project.
If your to-do list is collecting dust months after you initially wrote it down, then it's time to reexamine your priorities. Chances are it was hard work and hustle that got you where you are, so getting back on track is a matter of refocusing your energy.
- Experiment with waking up extra early in the morning (6am) so you can accomplish a few tasks before everyone else gets up.
- Realize you don't need to read every tweet and Facebook update to stay abreast of what's happening in the social media world. When it's time to work, turn off the distractions!
- Make it a point to get your work done early in the week, when everyone else is working too.
Countless business books have been written on productivity, and the same principles apply whether you're working in an office, your home, or a bungalow on the beach.
Balance is the key. Too much focus on fun and you risk losing your source of income. Too much focus on work and you'll miss out on experiencing life in the present moment. There is a middle way, however each person needs to find it for him/herself.
Pitfall #2 – Unhealthy Living
Living in a foreign country, especially before you've attained fluency in the local language, means food shopping can be a challenge. If you are an amateur chef in your native country, you might be thrown off by the lack of certain ingredients abroad (ex: I can't find curry paste in Medellin).
This can lead to a dependence on junk food, or less healthy foods since they're easier to identify and prepare (mac ‘n cheese anyone?). For example, living in a tropical climate, it's easy to get in the habit of picking up an ice cream pop every day without thinking twice. Living in Italy? Double those calories because you'll be eating gelato.
If you're in a big city with a strong food scene, such as Buenos Aires or Chengdu, you may prefer to eat out all the time. Traditional cuisine in certain countries may be inherently healthier than that in others. Sushi in Japan certainly beats the pants off deep-fried everything in Colombia. And needless to say, Pitfall #1 can contribute to a poor diet as well. Late nights of partying often end with greasy, fatty foods consumed without abandon.
Between the partying, an erratic or unhealthy diet, and a potentially sedentary job sitting in front of a computer all day, exercise can also fall by the wayside.
Wherever you live, or for however long you travel, eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise is about maintaining a sense of discipline. This is hard enough in your home country, but it is especially difficult when you're in foreign territory, faced with unfamiliar options and the endless distraction of getting to know your surroundings.
One approach is to learn to cook the local foods, and therefore give yourself control over both ingredients, and portion sizes. In Thailand, there are plenty of inexpensive, single day classes teaching foreigners how to prepare typical dishes. In Argentina, you'll be grilling steaks; in the Caribbean, learn to catch and clean fish and you'll be living off the sea.
When it comes to regular exercise, if you're not inclined to play sports with the locals, then suck it up and invest in a gym membership. Make your health a priority, and in addition to feeling fitter, you'll experience boosts in energy which will carry over into your work and social life too.
Pitfall #3 – More Money, More Problems
Whether you're building a lifestyle around successful travel blogging, photography, or another location independent profession it can be all too tempting to immediately spend the money you start earning. Instead of saving a percentage, or reinvesting in your business to help it grow faster, you may feel the desire to begin upgrading your standard of living.
Bigger apartment, better view, more clothes, costlier bottles of wine, unnecessary travel. Whatever your hobby, passion, or material vice, earning US dollars, Euros, or British Pounds while living in a developing nation can quickly lead to a feeling of wealth that far exceeds the reality of your bank account.
As with the other two pitfalls, a renewed sense of monetary discipline is required. Setting goals for yourself month to month, and year to year, can help control your discretionary spending habits.
To make the process fun, set up rewards for yourself that are in line with your business. For example with travel blogging, allow yourself one week of travel for every month you reach a specific benchmark in earnings.