How I've built a life I no longer *need* a vacation from
These days, I spend most of my time traveling the world while working online. Many look at my life and only see the glamour. But what most people don't know, is that it took 4 years of hustle and planning to get here. I'm ready to share my process in chronological detail. I hope this helps anyone who is looking to live life on their own terms. Enjoy!
This journey all started in 2013 when I went through a divorce. I was left with my world turned upside down, feeling hopeless and directionless. At 27 years old, I was heartbroken, $50,000 in debt, underpaid, lost, and house-poor. So I was at a crossroad. I could succumb to deep depression and stay down, or, I could lift my head high, roll up my sleeves and change the direction of my life. I chose the latter.
The Side Hustle
I knew for a while that I needed a side hustle. I wanted to keep busy while I healed and I needed to make more money to get out of that sea of debt. So I looked to my passions and strengths and created a new revenue stream. I got certified and became a personal trainer! Fulfilling my passion of helping others with their health brought a new found joy to my life. It was also a strategic side hustle for me - at the time, I was working full time in corporate (Human Resources) and I could take clients in the mornings, after work, and on weekends.
This is also where my journey with Instagram began. I posted content daily, shared my weight loss story, and just hustled to grow my following - thus, getting more clients and growing my business. I took on as many clients as feasible, which sometimes left me working 16 hour days.
The Career Switch
Now that I had a side hustle, I was committed to making even more money. I knew I was underpaid and under-challenged in my day job, so I got on the job hunt with some criteria in mind. I needed a (min) 30% salary increase and I wanted a job that would allow for international travel. Because I gave so much of my young adult life to relationships, I didn't get to see the world the way I wanted to. So finding a job that allowed me to travel seemed like the most affordable avenue. So I searched high and low and hustled to find the job that would meet my criteria.
After a vigorous search, I found it! However, it was contract. Meaning I was essentially leaving a full time job with benefits, salary, and "stability" for more money. This company was global and promoted international travel, so it was risk I was willing to take. I was nervous at first - I had a mortgage and responsibilities - but I followed my gut and taking this risk was the best decision I've ever made.
The "Get out of Debt" Plan
$50,000 worth of debt (both student loans and consumer debt) was my biggest pain point. I knew I wanted greatness for my life, but couldn't get there with this baggage. So I got a book to educate myself on the best approach to tackle this. The book I selected was by a Jamaican lady (obviously) named Gail Vaz-Oxlade called "Debt-Free Forever". You can find her info here (not sponsored - she just helped to change my life and maybe can help you!)
Once I read that book - I got to work. Her no-nonsense, no excuses approach completely resonated with me. The exercise of listing out all of your debts and tackling the high-interest ones first was my approach. Through her book, I created a budget and realised that in order for me to do this quickly, I needed to make some bigger changes. So I bowed my head, ate a piece of humble pie, and asked my mother to move back home for a year. I rented out my condo, got rid of my car (I rode bikes/took the bus) and cut my living expenses down to basically nothing.
My side hustle, this new high paying job, and moving back to my childhood home was on track to get me out of debt in 3 years.
The International Move
I was hustling and paying down my debt and felt like I was making progress. However, I still felt stuck. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, but I just knew I wanted even more for myself. Being debt free at 30 wasn't a fulfilling enough goal. I yearned to see the world and explore... and I didn't want to put my life on hold for that to happen. So the conversations began.
I spoke with my manager at the time and requested that if there were any international opportunities, I wanted to be considered. This was strategic because I knew I would make more money while seeing the world at the same time. Corporate Asia was the place for me. Through research I knew that taxes were low, cost of travel was low, cost of living was low, and opportunities for advancement were high. So I started planting seeds a lot more. I made sure anyone with influence in my department knew I wanted to move. I just hustled and networked to make it happen. Within 6 months, I was preparing for a move to Hong Kong.
More of this story can be found here, but in short, I took a 1 year assignment at first. It's so funny, I told everyone under the sun that I wanted this, and then when it came, I was scared shitless. I had lived in the Greater Toronto Area for 27 years! I barely even moved growing up; I lived in the same townhouse from the ripe age of 2 until I went to university. The doubt came. Could I really leave everything I knew and loved to move to a country I've never been to? I didn't speak the language, I didn't know the culture, and I knew 1 person living there. I was not the 'typical' person to do this. I almost backed out, but thanks to two phenomenal managers and amazing friends, I was encouraged to take the risk.
So, I picked up and moved to a new country I had never even visited... and I haven't looked back.
Moving to a county I had never visited was the best way I could have done this; mainly because I had zero expectations. Thankfully Hong Kong is incredible, so it immediately took my breath away. I met new people, got right into work, and assimilated extremely quickly.
Moving to Hong Kong also sped up my 'get out of debt' plan. I was making even more money and took a local package so I could take advantage of the low tax rate. Hong Kong is filled with fabulous and fancy things. At that point in my career, I could have afforded a lot of it. But I thought to myself - just live humbly and shave time off of your plan. And that's exactly what I did. I lived in a very humble, walk-up, studio apartment that was 300 square feet. I still made my lunch every day, and I didn't give in to the fancy things. I basically led the lifestyle I was living back home, despite a massive increase in income.
And although I was making more money, I still kept the side hustle strong. Because I left all of my in-person clients, I decided to create an online personal training business. I hustled to grow this business because I was determined to get out of debt even quicker whilst continuing to fulfil my true passion. Again, I found myself working 16 hour days and on weekends, all while acclimatising to a completely new country.
The decisions above, that were not easy, cut my 3 year 'get out of debt' plan, down to 2. 2014 would be the last year I was ever in debt.
The Travel Bug
I could have probably vacated the land of debt in 1.5 years, but I also knew I wanted to have fun while living in a new country. So travel was something I built into my budget. Cheap Travel LOL.
Living in Asia, I wanted to see it all. But as I was on a strict 'get out of debt plan', I decided to start with the more affordable countries in South East Asia. So my first year living abroad I was able to go to Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Bali, and Vietnam to name a few. All for extremely low prices relative to other regions (I'm talking $100-$200 USD for a plane ticket, $20-40 USD for a night in a hotel, and under $5 USD for meals).
All of my disposable income was spent on travel. I saved a lot, traveled a lot, and that was my way of life! I was officially on top of the world. That empty feeling I had was gone and I felt invincible!
Getting out of Debt
$50,000 - DONE! I paid off my debt! In 2 years to boot! I felt free, like a caged animal who had just been released. I'll never forget this initial feeling of freedom.
Once I got out of debt, I was only 29 and thought to myself ... What Now? I had all of this disposable income, that was once going to bill payments, all to myself! So naturally, I balled the f*&K out.
After 2 years of complete frugality, I lived like a queen. I traveled further (conquered Europe, Africa, and more glamorous countries in Asia). I started going out more, eating out more, and buying nice things. I was finally living like my peers... and not like a student LOL.
The AHA Moment
After about 6 months of living well, I did some reflection. I realised that living the high life didn't bring me incremental joy. The ability to buy nice things just made me feel cluttered and wasteful. And while being debt free meant that I could travel a lot more, every time I *had* to leave my trip to go back to work, I was left feeling confined. Was this really freedom? Was I really winning? I began to feel conflicted.
I explored this feeling quite a bit. I started asking myself, what really makes me happy? I began this quest for happiness by looking at those I aspired to be like. I realised, I was never envious of those people with nice things but I was always envious of those change makers doing their service to society, living their best life, on their terms.
Also, as I was approaching 30, the saying "tomorrow is never promised" became all too real. People in my circle were losing friends, peers, and loved ones a lot more. People close to me in age. This AHA moment was the wake up call I needed to take more chances, chase my dreams, and be happy with my life.
So after a few months of reflection, I set a new goal for my 30's:
I was going to live a life of freedom, travel, and purpose.
The New goal
Once I had my "aha" moment, I decided I was going to live my 30's on my own terms. I took that piece of humble pie out of the freezer (where it had been packaged for about 6 months while I was balling out), and revisited the frugal life. I was now living to save for a bigger goal: Complete Freedom.
For me to feel really free, I was going to need to save a lot of money and create a plan for my new life. So the research began.
The research, the grind, the plan
I started researching what the life of a full time, traveling, remote entrepreneur looked like. Through research, I realised places like South East Asia, Latin America, and a few places in Europe were filled with digital nomads living a fabulous life on the cheap (note: cheap for me is where all fixed expenses come under $1000 USD/month). The term digital nomad was new to me, but I knew it was exactly what I wanted. So I set out to do this because I needed an indefinite break from routine (i.e. corporate). I needed to be fully free.
However, I am a typical type A, risk adverse, Virgo. So just picking up, quitting my job, and figuring it out is not in my DNA. While I had a side hustle, I didn't know if it was enough to sustain me so I needed to be prepared and secure. I set some detailed, high, and realistic goals for myself.
I needed to save enough money to:
- Sustain me for 18 months while I built my business (in a country where cost of living is low)
- Set aside for emergency
- Set aside for travel
- Invest - so I could fulfil longer-term goals
The total amount would equal my annual salary in cash. It was really ambitious, but I was determined to make it happen and calculated it would take me 17 months to save if I continued to bust my ass with my full time & side business while living humbly. I adopted a minimalist mentality: I stopped paying to do my nails and my hair, I decreased my travel, I didn't shop, I took transit everywhere, and I made all my food at home in order to get to this goal.
So 2016, once again, was the year of hustle, frugal living, and a dash of fun (i.e. travel).
My New life
After 17 months of diligence, the savings goal was met! I was able to leave my stability to fulfil my dreams and live a more purpose driven life. I couldn't believe it! Since I left my job on May 5, 2017 I have seriously been on Cloud 9.
To think back at where I was just 4 years ago - recently divorced, depressed, house-poor, swimming in debt, and completely lost ... To where I am now - full of life, happiness, freedom, flexibility, choice, and opportunity. I am in awe of my personal resilience, perseverance and determination to get here.
After spending 4 months traveling, I decided to leave Hong Kong and settle in Bali for a few reasons. I needed a place that was inspiring, had a strong digital nomad community, was health conscious, and allowed me to live on the cheap. Having visited Bali several times in the past, I knew it was the obvious choice. Moving to a brand new country where I don't know anyone comes with it's set of challenges. But I'm ready for it :)
Well, I'm addicted to the hustle. So I'm back on the frugal train and plan to grow my brand and business to new heights. I have desires to live this life longer term, so I'm setting out to make it happen. While I have a security net of savings, I've locked most of my money away (with the exception of my emergency account). Why? Because for me to do this, and to do this well, I needed to light some fire under my butt.
Why I no longer *need* a vacation
My most recent AHA moment came last week. Because I've been traveling so frequently over the years, I felt the "need" to book a vacation - strictly out of habit. But I realised something as I was searching for a flight... my life is a vacation that I no longer need to escape from! I'm finally at peace and can be still.
Everyone has their unique recipe for happiness, and I've realised mine: Freedom, Flexibility, and Purpose. I'm living in my happiness. I'm thankful, grateful, and blessed.
My hope is, if you feel stuck, this post serves as a bit of motivation and inspiration. I wrote this piece because I want people to relate and understand that this life wasn't handed to me. Growing up in a lower - to - middle class, single parent household, and never really leaving home.... I was the least likely candidate for this life. However, I set intention, fought hard, hustled, and made it happen.
I owe all of this to God and my Mama who was a single parent and raised me well. She is the original hustler.