One year ago, I left San Francisco, sold and gave away everything I owned, and moved into a 40-liter backpack.
I traveled to 45 cities in 20 countries, three Disneylands, and one bunny island.
I also worked 50 hours a week building and launching a startup.
And my total costs were less than just the rent in San Francisco.
Traveling is not the same as vacation. There’s a growing community of “digital nomads” who live a location-independent lifestyle. We’re software developers, designers, writers, journalists, engineers and all sorts of people who share a passion for the work we do and experiencing the world.
I propose that a nomadic lifestyle is a productive way to build a real company. I’m working hard on bootstrapping an ambitious startup, Moo.do. I’m traveling because it’s cheaper, more productive and more inspiring than sitting in one place. Traveling is the most responsible choice for the sake of my company, my finances, and my personal growth.
I became a nomad by accident. Three years ago I was preparing to leave my job at Microsoft to move to San Francisco to build a startup. My friend asked me, “but why do you need to be in San Francisco when you can work on a computer from anywhere?” His question made a lot of sense. As I thought about it more, I began to question my assumptions about a “normal life” which don’t make sense in our modern world.
I reject the idea of a 9–5 job. I want to explore the world while the sun is out instead of wasting the daylight hours working inside and dreaming of my next vacation.
I reject the idea of settling down. I want to experience new cultures and eat new foods instead of being stuck in the neighborhood around my house.
I reject the idea of stuff. It’s not the size of my TV that matters. The world is much more interesting than what’s in my house.
I reject the idea of boredom. I’m constantly surrounded by new places, people and experiences. I haven’t felt bored since I started traveling and I don’t even have the desire to watch TV or play video games anymore.
I reject the idea of a bucket list. I have a list of things to do and I’m doing them.
So off I went, with my crazy new ideas about life in tow. I spent six months traveling around Australia, Asia and Europe. But it didn’t work out so well.
I gave up and still moved to San Francisco. Traveling was fun, but I had a great idea and I needed to really focus and get real work done. What better place to build my startup than Silicon Valley?
But I soon found myself becoming too comfortable and slowing down, getting easily bored and distracted, and watching a lot of TV. I sat at my computer for 12 hours a day but didn’t feel like I was productive.
On a trip to New York, my friends went to work during the days, so I went out and worked in coffee shops and in Central Park. Suddenly I was hugely productive, getting much more work done in six hours than in my normal 12-hour days. The same thing happened a few months later on a trip to London. I was even coming up with better ideas because the new experiences and surroundings were keeping my mind more active.
Having figured out the pattern, I left San Francisco a year ago, fully committing to a nomadic lifestyle. And this time it feels like I’ve figured it out. I’m happy, productive, meeting great new people, learning about real global problems to solve, and I successfully launched Moo.do.
This is what I’ve learned over the past year.
Traveling is cheaper than staying at home. These are actual numbers calculated from my personal spending habits. Your mileage may vary.
This is my average total monthly spending from one year living in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, one year living in San Francisco’s Upper Haight, one year traveling to 20 countries, and one month at a hotel in Bali. It is much cheaper for me to travel. Since the majority of my costs are from trains and flights, it’s significantly cheaper if I stay in one place.
San Francisco’s median rent is much more than this at $3,120, but Seattle’s median is less at $1,800.
My friends in San Francisco and Seattle often ask me: “How can you afford to travel so much?” I can’t afford not to travel. I’m bootstrapping a company and living in San Francisco was draining my savings.
My total cost to travel all over the world and live the life of my dreams averages to $2,921 per month. I’m living in Bali right now for $1,200 per month. The total cost of living in Chiang Mai, Thailand is $641 per month.
Traveling makes me more productiveWhen I first started traveling, I was a great tourist, taking pictures of everything and doing all the activities listed in tour guides. After a couple of exhausting weeks it occurred to me that I’m not on vacation. This is my life now. I slowed down and realized that if I have a month to explore a new city, I don’t need to do it all at once. I can explore the city for a few hours and still get a lot of work done.
I was surprised to find out that I’m significantly more productive while traveling. But it makes sense. If I’m only in Rome for a week, why would I waste my time on Facebook? Being constantly surrounded by novelty reduces my boredom and increases my focus, and even makes me feel healthier and more creative.
My productivity in Seattle in June vs traveling in September, measured with RescueTime.
I went back to Seattle in June to work next to my co-founder and hash out long-term plans. My development time was surprisingly less productive than while traveling. I was sitting at the computer just as much, but was more easily distracted by Internet and TV.
And even though I was in six different cities in September, I managed to work extremely productive 48-hour weeks. Being more focused while working gives me more time to enjoy the rest of my life, so this is huge for me.
Nine to five is not optimalInstead of working during the daylight hours and pushing all my free time to the worst part of the day, I prefer to enjoy the days and work at night. I get out of bed faster when I’m excited to go out, and when I don’t have to commute there’s just more time in the day. I like to work seven days a week with flexible hours so I can take a day off when I please or enjoy an empty movie theater at 2 p.m.
I wasted a lot of time when I worked in an office because of commuting and the massive distraction that is the Internet. Now I spread my work throughout the day and take big breaks for exploring. After working for a few hours, I reach a milestone and explore the city until I want to get back to work. Or if I hit a problem I can’t figure out, I walk it off until I’ve solved it. Cycling between fun and work makes my days less exhausting and makes me less prone to burnout.
My stay at Livit in Bali was the most productive time of my life. It’s an integrated co-living and co-working space, with all meals provided, so I could focus on my work and not worry about anything. And it’s all inclusive for $1,500 per month, less than just the rent in most major tech cities. This is a great trend and I’m happy to see it growing as similar startup getaways are popping up in Bali and around the world.
Traveling expands my cultural bubbleI now have friends all over the world whose life experiences are very different than mine. They bring fresh perspectives to my ideas. I’m learning about the real problems that affect the world on a global scale, which will make me into a better entrepreneur in the future.
It’s easy to find great people to learn from. There are co-working spaces in many cities where digital nomads can meet peers from around the world and find collaborators. Nomads give each other travel and work advice on Reddit and Nomad Forum, there’s over a thousand of us (and growing) in a chatroom at hashtagnomads.com, and the community is organizing meetups all over the world.
It’s never been easier to live and work as a nomad. Traveling is cheaper, more productive, and more inspiring than staying at home. Working in an office is a relic of the past.
The digital nomad revolution is just beginning and I’m excited to help it grow. I hope you and I will meet some time, somewhere out there.
By Jay Meistrich
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson