Former mechanical engineer / English teacher turned video marketer.
1. How and why did you choose to go nomadic?
I read the bible of lifestyle design, the 4HrWW in 2012, before I had even had a real job. Then in Fall 2012, I had a full-time Mechanical Engineering internship for 6 months. Although I enjoyed tinkering physically and enjoyed the act of engineering and inventing, when done for 9-5 and commuting, it was just too confining. I noticed that my co-workers were in a different stage of life and had family and kids. It didn’t feel right. Then in 2013, I went abroad on exchange in Hong Kong and after my exchange I traveled for 7 weeks, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends. When I got back and had another 6 month internship, that’s when the message of the 4HrWW really resonated with me. I understood more the appeal of Tim Ferriss’s message.
For the sake of myself and my family I finished my degree in Mechanical Engineering and even worked at a 3D printing startup in Boston. Whereas startups, Silicon Valley, accelerators and VC’s are all the rage then/now, I was never really interested in it. Thus after I graduated, I biked across the US and then went to China to teach English for a year and improve my Mandarin. I was even featured in the state run newspaper, Global Times.
As my year of teaching neared it’s end, I knew I had several options. Stay in China and continue teaching, stay in China and practice mechanical engineering, return to the US and be a mechanical engineer or pick a skill and try and make it work as a digital nomad. I could consider teaching or attempt mechanical engineering remotely but I wasn’t too interested in doing so. Ultimately I chose to come to Chiang Mai to be a video marketer and learn from the ecosystem here.
2. What was it like leaving your home country?
No big deal. Although I’m American, having been on exchange in Hong Kong, dated a 3rd culture Singaporean, lived in China and currently dating a Chinese who has lived in Europe, I’m more or less 3rd culture, though I don’t necessarily call myself that.
Actually, the hardest part are the times I go home and trying to relate to my parents or other peers who have a different lifestyle and mindset than what I could accept for myself. I don’t judge, there’s opportunity cost for everything and I would hardly call the DN lifestyle as the best thing in the world, it’s just what I have chosen for myself at this moment in my life.
3. What are your biggest struggles? Fears?
1 Income. It’s hard not to compare yourself to those who make a lot when they first arrive here or to how much you could be making working a job as a mechanical engineer. The hustle, the anxiety, the uncertainty, it’s real and nothing really prepares you more for it than actually being in the situation. At times it can feel like you’re a chicken with it’s head cut off, other times, it can feel like you’re on cloud 9 when you get a really good project that will carry you through for a while.
2 Going home for Christmas. I’m from the suburbs outside of Boston and as a young person, there’s nothing less stimulating than living in the suburbs. It’s purgatory. That combined with a culture that I’ve drifted away from a bit, I’m really apprehensive about going home for 2 months when I should be excited to take advantage of the opportunity to secure local small business owners as clients.
4. How are you funding your lifestyle and what projects are you working on?
I do video marketing which means I teach small businesses to shoot video themselves and then hand off the editing part to me.
I also recently launched a service for professional speakers to turn their footage into a demo reel. If they do workshops and seminars and record them, I can create a webinar that they can then use as video content for Youtube, a membership site or an online course.
I’m also vlogging myself practicing my Chinese with Chinese tourists who come to Chiang Mai. Having lived there, I understand their culture and why they do what they do. It’s empathy. Sometimes I laugh at what they say or do (I also roll my eyes) but mostly I’m just entertained by talking to them.
5. What is the estimated monthly cost of living for one of your favorite locations? What lifestyle does that afford?
- 7.5k baht rent (incl utilities)
- 500 baht mobile
- 2,200 baht motorbike rental
- 9,000 baht / month for food (roughly, I estimate high)
Then there’s miscellaneous.
I would estimate around $600 USD on the high end. I like Baan Thai and it’s pool. It’s not for everyone. I used to cook out of a rice cooker, but not so much anymore. I almost exclusively eat out at local Thai places.
What’s not included and needs to be is visa runs and visa extensions.
6. What is your top tip for someone who aspires to earn money online and travel?
Just do it and commit.
Any final thoughts?
When most DN are digital marketers, it comes as no surprise that people are very good at selling the DN lifestyle. Read Chris Armstrong’s “How to become a digital nomad in 24hrs” for some satire and Mark Manson’s the Dark Side of the Digital Nomad. If you aren’t yet a DN, approach the lifestyle with skepticism.
I very much enjoy and choose this lifestyle but it’s hard not to sometimes look at my peers and their stable job and think, stability is nice.
Nonetheless I’m committed to this lifestyle for now and would recommend Chiang Mai as the place to start.