Hey! I’m Rick from the land of the long white cloud (New Zealand!). At the end of 2015 I quit my awesome job working as a town planner and hopped on a one-way flight to Thailand… Cue an amazing 12 months of travel and adventure, starting my own remote town planning consultancy and building my travel-related startup PaperJet.co.uk!
1. How and why did you choose to go nomadic?
After graduating from University and working for 4 years I knew that I wanted to head overseas for an extended period. I was originally planning on applying to study a masters degree in Canada and furthering my career. Eventually I realized that was a terrible idea as it would cost me a HUGE amount of money and provide little career benefit. So in deciding what to do (and mainly for a laugh) I googled ‘cheapest city to live in the world’ and sort of stumbled across Chiang Mai and the lifestyle entrepreneurship scene there.
Unlike most people I meet in this community — I really did love my old job and lifestyle. But I knew that the job can only take me so far and would have to move into some form of entrepreneurship sooner rather than later. Worst case scenario = me coming back to the same awesome, well-paying job I was in before. That made the decision easy!
But I didn’t leave without a plan. Before I left I figured out how I could sort of do my previous job in a remote manner and made plans to start my own town planning consultancy while overseas. I started enhancing my professional connections and figuring out what it would take to make it work while abroad.
2. What was it like leaving your home country?
Surprisingly easy. Leaving Queenstown was quite hard as it’s such a magical place, but flying out of the country from Auckland was much easier. I’ve travelled quite a bit so coming and going is becoming second nature for me! I knew that I would miss friends and family but when technology allows you to video skype your family on demand from INSIDE a cave in Vietnam — it’s so much easier to stay in touch than ever before.
I was fortunate that everyone was really supportive of my decision to leave — even my bosses at my old job! After months of deliberation I made the call and booked the one-way flight. After that there was no going back.
The only unfortunate matter was that there was a terrorist attack (bombing) in Bangkok literally 3 hours before I got on the plane to leave. My Parents were not exactly thrilled about me going to live in Thailand in the first place and so hearing about the attack while heading to the airport at 4am didn’t help. In the end everything was settled by the time I arrived — but it was still an unnerving arrival into my new lifestyle.
3. What are your biggest struggles? Fears?
My biggest fear is losing my health in someway. Your health is the most valuable asset you have and when globetrotting around the world the last thing you want is to fall sick. I have been very fortunate so far and always have good travel insurance (essential!).
Like anything in life — there are always struggles in some way. Whether it is time-zones (client calls at 4am..), the transient nature of your friendships/relationships, cross-border money issues or just that sometimes you simply miss home cooking. But the AMAZING lifestyle that you can make for yourself is totally worth these downsides. We are so fortunate to live in such a highly connected world where all this is possible.
One of the biggest struggles that I face is to keep going and not procrastinate when things get hard. I personally find that watching motivational Youtube videos helps when you are feeling a bit down!
4. How are you funding your lifestyle and what projects are you working on?
My lifestyle was initially funded through savings, but has increasingly moved to being funded directly through consulting work as the business has gotten off the ground.
One of the great benefits of offering professional consulting services in a highly niche market is that you can (and should) charge clients the same as your competition back home. Your competition has serious overheads: office rent, staff, vehicles etc. You have your laptop and a hostel bed in Myanmar after getting back from your $1.50 dinner. Charging the fair market rate is not only absolutely awesome for you, it maintains the value of the services for profession — and it’s a small industry.
Realistically I work on average 5–10 hours per week on consulting projects, with the rest of the time spent traveling or working on my current startup — PaperJet.co.uk.
PaperJet will book you flights and accommodation to a surprise destination. You simply head to the airport for the trip of a lifetime with absolutely no idea where you are going. I think this is a really awesome idea and can’t wait to bring it to the market over the next year.
5. What is the estimated monthly cost of living for one of your favorite locations? What lifestyle does that afford?
While at ‘home base’ in Chiang Mai: US$350 — $400/month. While backpacking through SE Asia: US$600-$700/month. I track all my expenses so have a constant view of exactly how much I am spending and on what.
My rent for a basic studio apartment with an awesome swimming pool in the best area of Chiang Mai is $165/month and I spend around $4 — $6 per day on food. I love South-East Asian food and try to eat local whenever I can. Paying $1 for an amazing Thai lunch is quite satisfying for both the stomach and the wallet! Your western money goes a long way in these countries.
6. What is your top tip for someone who aspires to earn money online and travel?
I have a few!
Firstly, I think you need to be realistic. You are not just going to be able to fly out to a foreign country and instantly start raking in thousands of dollars per month while sipping cocktails on the beach. It simply does not work like that. Work hard and save hard before you leave — the longer your financial ‘runway’, the better. Plus sitting on the beach with your laptop is a TERRIBLE work environment.
Secondly, look at your existing skills that you can leverage and add value to other people. I have never known another Town Planner who lives a remote work lifestyle. No one even thinks it is possible. But it is. It requires you really putting on your entrepreneurial hat — but it’s totally possible. You may not want to continue working in your current profession long-term but it can be a great way to fund your travel/work lifestyle in the meanwhile.
Finally, make sure you have a good travel insurance policy. It’s such a small cost in the overall scheme of your lifestyle and really can save your butt when you really need it!
Any final thoughts?
Here’s a bit of advice for those wanting to pursue a work/travel lifestyle but *insert something* is holding you back. Your life is far, far too short. Are you really likely to wake up in 30 years, look in the mirror and say to yourself: “Damn I really regret quitting my job and going to explore the world”??
Of course not! The worst-case scenario is that it doesn’t work out for some reason and you fly home back to your old lifestyle. I have never met anyone who has tried living this kind of lifestyle and regretted it. Join us. Book that one-way ticket.