Being a Nomad for a Year
I'm traveling for a year with my family without a plan. We started in Europe and are planning, at most, 3 weeks into the future. So far it's been pretty life-changing.
In Summary Form…
No, I’m not independently wealthy and yes, we’re homeschooling our kids (aged 12 and 9). Yes I’m still working as we travel and so far things are … kind of working out for us (more on that later).
We decided to do this basically on the spur of the moment - or put another way we were kind of bored and wanted to do something new. My wife’s business was in transition as she is thinking about switching her career around and now that Tekpub is part of Pluralsight my daily load (support and site stuff, etc) is much, much lighter.
We were in our garage one weekend cleaning up a few things and I remember looking around at all of the crap I’ve accumulated over the years. I thought about our trip to Bali last summer and said to my wife:
Remember how we had our entire lives in our suitcases? How free it was? Remember when I said our house could vanish and I wouldn’t miss a single thing in it? Ugh…
She looked at me with an expression that was all agreement and I simply said: let’s get out of here.
We mused on it for a few hours - if we could do anything what would we do? Travel was the first thing we thought of and then I said “I want to go through Europe” almost at the same time she said it. And there it was.
Family, friends, colleagues - each of them asks the same question when they find out we’re traveling:
Wow - sooooo how can you afford to do this? That Pluralsight deal must have been pretty sweet!
I do enjoy working with Pluralsight, yes, but no I’m not independently wealthy by any stretch - I very much need to work. And, it turns out, working remotely is what I do so… why does it matter if I have a house?.
And that’s where you start.
After that it’s all about the decisions - “am I/are we willing to…”:
- sublet/sell the house to free up mortgage/rent?
- homeschool our kids, taking them out of school
- travel for up to a year to make it worthwhile?
- suspend our social life and exit some commitments for an extended time?
We dealt with each of these questions one by one and they were very, very hard. We had just moved to a really nice place in Hanalei, quite close to the beach. Our very good friends then moved next door! Leaving this setup was not a simple decision.
We thought about these questions and I quickly realized that thinking about them for too long would stop us from making this decision. So I asked my wife point blank:
Do we want to do this?
Her answer was an emphatic “YES”. We asked the kids as well and they said the same: “YES YES YES!” They were excited but all of a sudden I found myself hesitant. I don’t know why I did but I decided to take an extra day to make sure I wasn’t being knee-jerky and destroying what I felt was a pretty good life.
But I knew I wanted to go. I’d always wanted to do this!
And that was the key: we decided we wanted to do it, then tackled each issue in turn. Here’s what we ended up doing:
- a good friend needed to move and was quite flexible with the dates. We subletted our house to her and she’s watching our cats for us, taking over all the utilities while we’re gone.
- we talked to the kids’ school and told them what we were doing - they were very excited and told us this could be one of the best educational years they ever have! We then read up on what other families are doing and came up with a bit of a plan
- we decided to travel for at least a year
- we said goodbye for now to our friends who were also very excited for us.
And that was basically that. In the span of 2 months we were able to pick up and leave and it all started by deciding to do it.
As I mentioned - I need to work while I’m gone. In fact I’m sitting here right now, taking a break from editing up my next Pluralsight video. I work remotely and have done so for the last 14 years of my career.
I don’t say that casually - it took a lot of hard work and convincing people that I didn’t need to be in the office. I was able to do this for smaller clients as well as when I worked at Microsoft - and it wasn’t because I was super special or amazing - I made my bosses/clients a deal:
If I’m not able to deliver for you, don’t pay me. If you want to ensure that I don’t deliver for you, make me work in your office.
For many potential clients this didn’t work, but for some it did. And I built a rapport with these people (usually referrals from friends) and quickly my remoteness was not a problem.
These days working remotely is fairly normal. If you’ve never done it, it might seem like a privileged thing or something “only great devs can do”. Not at all - it’s more important that you can deliver and that you can communicate well.
But there’s more than this if you want to work while you travel: you have to decide to do it. I swear that’s the magic! Once you decide, you find opportunities popping up for work that you hadn’t thought of.
For me, I was watching a travel show one night (Anthony Bourdain) and thought “hey wouldn’t it be fun to do something like this, but for developers?” I knew I was going on the trip - so I pitched the idea to Pluralsight.
They thought it was a fine thing to try out - so I’m piloting my first video with Frans Bouma. I had always wanted to meet Frans in person and I love the Netherlands so… why not? I pitched the idea to him and he was quite excited… so last week I hung out in The Hague and have about 3 hours of great footage which I’m editing up right now :).
The point is: pull yourself to the task. If you want to travel, decide to. Opportunities will come to you - you just need to be unafraid and allow yourself to jump.
For those who are curious - I’ve set up a travel blog at Squarespace where I’m writing about the things we’re doing. If you’re the kind of person who just wants techie stuff and “no more family pics” - this isn’t the blog for you. I set it up mostly for friends and family - but you’re welcome to drop by and see what we’re up to.
So far we’ve spent 3 weeks in Iceland, 2 weeks in the Netherlands and we’re now in Germany staying in a really cool little village in Bavaria for 3 more weeks so I can get some work done.
We’re not planning more than 3 weeks out and are relying on Airbnb, Booking.com, and have decided to drive where we can as opposed to using trains. We like trains - but they’re very expensive and we’re trying to stay in smaller places instead of the big cities which can be very expensive.
We’re Two Months Into This… And…
I’m having a very, very good time. I’m learning just how much I rely on my stupid phone for everything and it drives me crazy. I’m relearning German, meeting some incredibly nice people, and have, for some reason, developed a fascination with all things World War II.
Our kids are having a great time too and, so far, we haven’t had any “I wanna go home” meltdowns - from any of us! I was expecting something to hit in the first few months but… not yet. We’re still motivated and quite happy.
Each place we’ve visited has been spectacular - nothing is sticking out as “well that was OK but… “ and with each place comes something new. New food, new smells, new air to breath and sites that are completely different then what we’re used to.
I’ve been able to step away from my computer - to want to step away from it so I can be with my family, out in the world. Right now they’re sitting in the yard waiting for me - it’s my turn to do math with the girls today. We found this farmhouse here in Bavaria that’s wayyyy out in the boonies - and it costs much much less than a hotel in Munich.
It’s 700 years old and is right next to a nature preserve with trails to castles. Nope, not kidding… I need to wrap this post up so I can go!
Other Traveling Families
I know others are traveling as well and I’m hoping to meet up with them. Shawn Wildermuth is out and about with his lovely wife and currently we’re separated on the globe by about 600km. Unfortunately we just haven’t been able to make our paths cross but I’m sure we’ll find a way!
The Fassbender family is making their way across the Southern Hemisphere (currently in NZ with a HUGE motorhome) and we’ve exchanged a few emails about meeting up in Europe. They have 2 girls almost the same age as ours, and we’re trying to figure out the math thing.
Finally, our good friends Kelly and Kiko Perozo whom we know from Kauai are almost four months into their trip around the world.
If you’re finding yourself getting motivated to do something like this - here’s a podcast for you which is all about families traveling the world. It’s pretty well done and can get you fired up quite quickly.
Feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment if you have any questions!