After years of talking about, thinking about, and reading about lifestyle design and location independence, one week ago I left my comfortable life in the U.S. and moved to the island of Borneo to join the digital nomad movement.
Sitting poolside with my laptop I thought, I’ve finally done it. I’ve gone “location independent.”
I was finally free to travel the world while creating a business online.
After hearing endless tales of successful business ventures built while country-hopping, it was finally my turn.
I was confident I wouldn’t have any problem making progress with my business while working with orangutans and adjusting to life in Southeast Asia.
Heat, humidity, bugs…who cares?
I wasn’t deterred by my travel doctor’s warnings, and I wasn’t worried about the wifi situation–cafes are everywhere right?
Well, after living here one week and not making an ounce of progress on creating a business, I have five big takeaways I want to share with you before you take the plunge and hop on the location independence bandwagon.
I’m not writing this to bash the location independence movement, nor do I think that you shouldn’t try it for yourself. But if you do take the leap, I want you to do so with eyes wide open.
5 Ways Location Independence Can Backfire on Your Business
Potential Backfire #1: Scheduling Calls Becomes a Logistical Nightmare
I moved from Boston (UTC-05:00) to the island of Borneo in Malaysia (UTC+08:00). Because Boston is in Eastern Daylight Time right now, it’s only a 12 hour difference instead of the normal 13.
That means I’m 12 hours ahead of all the prospects I’d been working with, all the relationships I’d been developing, and all the people who read about me in the local newspaper.
So when I’m waking up here, my customers are almost ready for bed.
And since I’m still early in the business building process, most of my work consists of market research and customer interviews. Interviews that will now have to be done over Skype, on iffy wifi, super late at night or super early in the morning.
Of course, this is only an issue because I flew halfway ’round the world to Southeast Asia.
You could travel somewhere closer to (or still in) your current time zone. For example, from the U.S. just head south to South America. It might not be quite as cheap as SEA, but it’s still super affordable and will keep you living in the same time zone as your American customers.
Pro-tip: If you need to schedule meetings across time zones, use this International Meeting Planner.
Potential Backfire #2: The Heat & Humidity Makes You a Worthless Lazy Blob
I kid you not, as I write this post from my local cafe, I can hear The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars playing in the background. With lyrics like, “today I don’t feel like doing anything… I just want to lay in my bed…” the song is a perfect theme song to my first week in Borneo.
With 90°F+ temperatures and 80%+ humidity, I feel like a slow-moving blob of lard.
Every day I step out of my air conditioned room and instantly start sweating.
I’ve heard the body adjusts and one gets used to the change in climate–but so far I’ve had to rely on caffeine for energy.
Want to avoid sloth-syndrome? Consider picking a different region of the world to relocate to, or find an air-conditioned cafe or co-working space.
Potential Backfire #3: Exciting Adventures Distract You from Real Work
Hiking mountains, checking out old cultural sites, trekking through the jungle… there are endless adventures when you travel abroad.
Each adventure sounds new and exciting, and you only live once right?
You’ll come across phrases like “the top rated” or “#1 in the world” to describe local activities. Activities that are available to YOU–and how can you say “no” when Trip Advisor says it’s the best thing to do in town?
If you say yes to everything, you may find yourself with a full journal, but an empty bank account. Memories are important too, but be conscious of your priorities.
I plan on taking advantage of some local excursions throughout my location independent journey, but my priority is creating a business–not sight seeing.
Potential Backfire #4: There’s Free Wifi, But It Leaves Much to be Desired
I tried uploading a photo today and waited five minutes before giving up and switching cafes.
Wifi can be speedy one minute and terrible the next.
I purchased a SIM card with 10 GB of data to use as backup in case wifi craps out on me, but the data wasn’t cheap, so I hope to find more reliable wifi over the coming weeks.
While there aren’t any co-working spaces where I am in Malaysia, I’ll look into options once I arrive in Vietnam next month–as co-working spaces tend to have fast and reliable wifi from what I hear.
Decent wifi is one of those things you don’t think about much until it’s taken away from you… and then it becomes a crisis.
If you really want to build a business while traveling, don’t forget to investigate the wifi situation before booking your trip.
Potential Backfire #5: With No Routine, Simple Tasks Take Longer
You’d be surprised how much you rely on habits and routine to get through an average day.
In a foreign environment, things that were once quick and streamlined, like eating meals or getting online, suddenly take much longer.
15 minutes finding lunch, 20 minutes tracking down decent wifi–it adds up.
To speed up your adjustment to a new place, consider the following common needs and try to nail these down quickly so you can get back to a streamlined routine:
- Where will you be getting breakfast, lunch, dinner?
- Where can you find reliable wifi? And how early/late is the place open?
- How will you do laundry?
Once you nail down these basics, it’ll be much easier to allocate time to work and business activities.
Hopefully this post gave you a sense of the potential downfalls of a life of location independence, not to scare you away from it, but to give you an idea of what to prepare for.
I’m still very happy to be working from Malaysia, and I’m excited to travel more throughout this year while I work on my business. And I’m sure there’ll be many benefits to this lifestyle (cheap cost of living, learning from experienced nomads, etc.) that I’ll be able to share with you soon.