Building a work-from-anywhere lifestyle, better known as ‘being location independent,’ is not a task for the faint of heart. Whether you choose to find remote work, forge your own path as a freelancer, or build your very own online business, the challenges you’ll face will be new and often overwhelming.
In the very same breath, there aren’t many things more satisfying than building a lifestyle in which you feel 100% in control—of your time, of your resources, and of your successes. The Internet has brought with it a world of possibilities for those willing to think outside the box. No longer do young people feel obligated to choose the common career path which inevitably involves a cubicle, a commute, and a corporate slog.
More people are choosing to work for themselves, leveraging an online presence in order to create something uniquely their own, work on their own terms, and travel the world at will. Location independence offers a new kind of freedom that didn’t even exist just a few decades ago.
When I graduated from college in 2009, I had just finished up a degree that I thought I was passionate about. I studied nutrition, and had a one-year unpaid internship still ahead of me before I would enter the professional world. Yet, somewhere deep in my heart, the desire to travel still lurked, and I would eventually realize this desire simply wouldn’t be outgrown.
The internship came and went and I moved to New York City, still dreaming of something different, something bigger. By that time, I’d given up on the idea of continuing on as a dietitian, and much to my mother’s dismay, refused to even take my registration exam. Instead, I plotted my first foray into international life, a year of teaching English in Southeast Asia.
That period of my life came and went just as quickly, and I itched to continue exploring. I found my way to South America only to realize I now had a strong aversion to staying put in any one place. It wasn’t a commitment issue; in fact, if anything, I was extremely committed to my dream of seeing the world, and I didn’t want it to come to an end just because of a drying up bank account.
Becoming location independent was the natural next step for me, although it certainly didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been at it three years now, and I still have so much to learn. Thankfully, I no longer have that lingering fear of sulking back to a 9-5 job; I’m in a stable place that I never truly thought was possible until I started to put in the work.
Having built a location independent lifestyle for myself over the last few years through a combination of blogging and freelancing, I could go on singing its praises. There are many good reasons to defy society’s expectations by choosing this path. It’s anything but the easy route, though, and I’ve made many missteps along the way.
So now I’d like to share some of the wisdom I’ve gained through the trials and triumphs of my formative years as a location independent entrepreneur in the hopes that others can avoid the same mistakes and heartache I experienced.
Here are the 10 things I wish I knew before becoming location independent:
Some people will never understand your lifestyle choice.
Being Location independent is a lifestyle choice that most people cannot even begin to fathom. Either they have no similar desire to see the world, or they are enough of a cynic to believe building a viable business from the road simply can’t be done. Rest assured that despite how quickly this lifestyle choice is gaining attention and notoriety, location independents are still a minority worldwide. We are anything but mainstream. This shouldn’t be seen as a disadvantage, however; it is simply a fact that it’s best to reconcile with early on.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t support it.
It’s worth noting that most people you encounter, even though they may not fully understand or empathize with your desire to forge your own unconventional path, will still support your decision wholeheartedly. My closest family and friends are some of my biggest advocates, despite how rarely we are in the same area code and despite how utterly confused they are about what it is I actually do. I don’t blame them for their confusion—I wear a lot of hats and even I sometimes lose track of it all. But I explain what I can and they enthusiastically nod along, and will even brag about me to people they know, even if they still don’t get it quite right.
Seek a community of peers and mentors early on.
Because this lifestyle is so unusual and there are an infinite number of ways to go about it, having a community of other people going through similar struggles will be one of your greatest assets. When I first decided to become a travel blogger, it helped me immensely to have a close friend who’d been at it for a few years and could act as a mentor to me in those early stages. When I realized I needed to bolster my business acumen, I sought out online entrepreneurs who were absolutely killing the game and followed them closely—I signed up for their newsletters, I bought their courses, I attended their webinars and joined their Facebook groups. The worst thing you could do in the beginning is assume you’ll just “figure it all out” on your own. It’s okay to ask for help—you’ll get much farther that way.
Never pass up an opportunity to network.
This goes along with my previous point. Networking is absolutely essential to your success, both for the purpose of finding mentors and guidance and for building friendships that have the capacity to become strong alliances. The people I’ve met through networking events like the TBEX Conference, for example, are the ones most willing to go to bat for me, to refer me a client, to send me opportunities and to share my work. And I do the same for them in return, not just because they do so much for me but because I genuinely want to see them succeed.
Teach everything you know, even when you feel like you know nothing.
The best way to test your understanding of a new concept is to try explaining it to someone else. Knowledge is the true currency of this world, and the more of it you give, the more will come back to you in return. No matter where you are in your journey, there is someone who’s a few steps behind you who will really appreciate your insights. This is why many digital nomads publish their income reports publicly—they are not bragging, but rather showing others the exact steps they’ve taken to achieve their success. Withholding what you learn from others will leave you in a “scarcity mindset,” where you believe there is not enough success to go around. However, once you realize that there IS in fact enough room for everyone and stop thinking of everyone else as your competition, you will have arrived to the “abundance mindset,” which will in turn serve to create more abundance in your life and career.
Nobody actually works on the beach.
The undying cliché of the digital nomad is that we all spend our days lounging on the beach with a laptop and a fruity cocktail in hand. But let me tell you something—in reality, the people who actually achieve success are the ones busting their butts behind closed doors, grinding through work day in and day out and not flaunting visions of “the dream” on social media before they’ve even achieved it. Sure, many people choose to set up shop in low-cost countries where they can get by on far less than we would in our home countries, but very rarely does that mean the hustle grinds to a halt. To succeed as a freelancer, a remote worker, or an entrepreneur requires discipline and dedication to the cause. If the beach is your priority from the beginning, you’ve already lost.
It’s okay to slow down or stop traveling altogether.
Travel has always been my greatest passion. It’s what lead me to become location independent in the first place and the reason I knew early on that this lifestyle choice was right for me. I wanted to keep seeing the world at my own pace, and on my own terms. But when I really started digging deeper into building a business, the traveling started to feel like a burden. My goals shifted and traveling full-time was no longer a priority. It took away too much of my mental stamina, creative energy, and physical energy from what was most important to me. When I first stopped traveling regularly, I almost felt like a fraud. But as it turned out, the expectation to continue traveling just because I thought of myself as location independent was entirely self-imposed. Slowly but surely, I’ve come to understand that whether I’m traveling or not has nothing to do with my ability to be location independent. Even if I’m not traveling to a new country every couple of months, the fact remains that I could if I wanted to. I’ve finally realized that it’s not just about the travel, but about having the freedom to do what I please. Travel or don’t travel—the choice is up to me.
Celebrate every small victory.
The road to a successful online business venture is long and winding. You will rarely have a clear picture of what lies ahead or when certain milestones will be achieved. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate small victories along the way rather than focusing on the distance you have yet to travel. When I started a blog, it was impossible to imagine the amount of traffic I have now, so instead, I celebrated my first 100 visitors. I celebrated my first piece of sponsored content, my first sponsored tour, and my first freelance gig that paid $10/hour. Had I started comparing my progress to those around me or those much further along than me, I likely would have been so discouraged that I’d have thrown in the towel right then and there. Compare yourself only to yesterday and celebrate small wins as they come, and you will find the motivation to keep going.
There is no such thing as failure.
Of course, there will be plenty of missteps in your journey to becoming location independent, but this is not only par for the course, it’s a necessary component of the growth process. Rather than thinking of setbacks as failures, however, try to reframe them as opportunities to learn. We learn far more from what goes wrong than what goes right, after all, so don’t dwell on the mistakes—think of them as lessons, apply what you learn, and move on.
You will want to give up—often. Don’t.
My final piece of advice to anyone who’s interested in going the unconventional route is to keep on keepin’ on even when you most want to quit. If this is, in fact, what you feel will bring you the greatest happiness, it’s a battle worth fighting. Every time I stop to question why I’m walking through this particular fire, I think back to the moments and decisions that led me here in the first place. I think of my distaste for corporations, my aversion to rigid schedules, my desire to let my creative freak flag fly. I know the alternative—I’ve been there and done that—and the idea of giving up all I’ve been working for (here’s another moment when it helps to remember how far you’ve come) seems like a disservice to my heart’s true desire and a victory for my fear. And I simply cannot let fear win this war.