Can't Get Lost if you don't care where you are

Did a Mini-Retirement and Traveled the World. So Now What?

In November of 2018, I decided to sell all my things and travel the world doing what’s commonly referred to in the financial independence community as a “mini-retirement.” Well, I did it and now I’m back in the US going on my second day.

I sold my car, and all possessions till everything I owned fit in a couple of bags. I got a round trip ticket for Asia leaving in early December and returning to Chicago in mid-March. Towards the end of the trip, I decided to extend the trip for and additional month. One of my main goals was to beat Chicago winter which I almost did, except today on my second day back, it snowed. Sigh.

What was I thinking. The weather today in the midwest.
Just days ago it was 90 degrees in Phuket.

Cities Visited

I spent the great majority of time in my home away from home, Taipei, Taiwan. I visited Taiwan’s premier second city, none other than Taoyuan, Taiwan. (Shout out to my Taoyuan brothers. You can take the man out of Taoyuan but never take Taoyuan out of the man). I also hit up Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket in Thailand. I hit up Singapore and saw the luxury side of Asia and found time to grab a quick lunch with FIRE blogger at Splurging On Freedom. I spent a few days enjoying pho and nice coffee houses in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

Orange Cocoa Milk Espresso drink at Graph gourmet coffee in Chiang Mai, Thailand. These were insanely delicious.

Ristr8to iced mocha in the skull cup in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Singapore has peach Coke. Crazy!
Famous Singapore hotels from a different angle.
The view from An Phu Plaza in Ho Chi Minh. This was an Airbnb find for under $20 a night or so.

Shanghai Surprise

The final leg of my trip home was a 1:00 AM arrival in Shanghai, China followed by a flight at 11:45 AM which is about a 10 hour layover. I wouldn’t mind checking out Shanghai for a day but considering check in time, my free hours were about 2:00 AM to 8:00AM…and I needed to sleep so exploring China made no sense this time around.

So what to do with these 10 hours in Shanghai? I didn’t even want to bother to leave the airport. I did a bit of research and confirmed Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport has a hotel in the airport, as well as places you can rest up and shower which charge by the hour. Sounds good to me.

But, in my planning, I failed to book a hotel for this layover and upon visiting the in-airport hotel, at 2:00 AM I discovered it was booked. Uh oh. So now what?

I went back down to the arrivals areas and a friendly Chinese lady approached saying her tourism company can book a hotel and provide transportation. I was a bit skeptical but my options were looking pretty limited in a country where there can be challenges using internet without a VPN. I decided to go with her recommendation and paid for a hotel by credit card.

It was amusing watching this Chinese tourism company operate like clockwork. The woman proceeded to grab the handle of one my bags and hustled forward across the airport telling me to follow her. After a few hundred feet we met a Chinese guy who she handed the bag to and told me to go with him.

This guy grabbed my bag and charged forward with a pace that had me almost having to jog to keep up with him. We skirted off to the arrivals area where there was a white mini bus with a two other couples inside. He loaded my bags and I hopped in the front seat.

So there we were barreling down the highway leading from Shanghai Pudont International airport at about 80 mph at 2:00 am, the driver fumbling with his phone and following up on something in Chinese. I was relatively sure I was safe and that this wasn’t a kidnapping. At least 90% sure.

But I Made it Back Alive

So now, I’m back in the US, just in time to do my taxes and experience the final blast of winter, so what is my takeaway?

A quick note on doing your taxes. Oh man it’s painful. But it occurred to me while calculating taxes on my freelance efforts that it might be a good idea to invest more into my business. The benefit would be less tax due and know…growth.

Non Tax Pro advice from Rob

I worked hard and saved and invested, I set some goals and did what was something of my dream. I escaped winter in the midwest and traveled the world. So what is the takeaway?

Lessons Learned

  • Damn your money goes a lot further in some parts of Asia. Some of the notable purchases were:
    1. Getting a 5 Gig SIM card in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for about $4.30 USD
    2. Delicious meals in Chiang Mai, Thailand that could be had for around $1.50
    3. Riding around for about $2 for most rides in a Grab Taxi. (Highly recommended if you visit Asia.) Most countries in Asia don’t have Uber but they have Grab which is pretty much the same. Sign up with my link for a bonus.
    4. You can sometimes get much better places with an Airbnb place in Asia. I mean your money goes further and gets you a great apartment for cheap. But it can also be hit or miss.
  • Having a lot of freedom to do what you want every day does leave you without much structure. I hate the confines of traditional employment and the cubicle as much as anyone. But there is some value in having a routine which sort of forces some level of productivity. Left entirely to my own devices, I had productive days but then I also had a lot of days that I found other things to do.
  • I hit a lot of spots over the last few months. A lot of Airbnb’s a lot of hotels. After a while, it kind of starts to feel the same. One of my last destinations was Singapore and I got a glimpse in about three days there but at the same time, I was getting too worn out to want to fully explore the area. Some of that is probably due to the 90 degrees plus weather as well as the top tier city pricing of Singapore. I thought Singapore seemed awesome but I felt like …I’ll explore it more fully on a future trip. I was more interested in getting back into my air-conditioned room to watch Billions on Netflix. Yeah, I should be ashamed probably.
  • It’s kind of true what they say the grass is greener. We often focus on the benefits of what we are dreaming of without considering the big picture. My trip was great, but some days were unbearably hot. Traveling a lot is fun but after a while, it does get a bit tiring. I missed Chipotle. Now that I’m back I have yet to visit Chipotle but will likely miss Taiwanese hot pot tomorrow.


The Streets of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I expected to see more pho than I did.

Why Did You Come Back?

A good question. My initial plan was to at minimum escape Chicago winter and travel. The side work I’ve been doing and blogging and investments have made this life sustainable. I considered staying longer.

So why did I come back? Well, a few reasons I suppose. I had a return ticket. I wanted to see my family. A lot of Asia gets pretty hot around summer time so the Chicago area has a bit more appeal around this time of year.

I don’t usually get into too much detail about income like some finance bloggers do but I’m generally pretty happy with what I’ve been making consulting, blogging and with investments. That being said, I can most likely make more with a W2 job at this point. So perhaps greed to make a little more motivated my return.

What’s Next?

So next I think for me will be further developing various contract consulting work and seeing if I can jump back into the job market as a data analyst. For the next six to nine month’s, I’d like to use income from a W2 job to further finance side hustle growth. I’m delving more into Facebook and Google Ad’s to promote the blog and I’d like to start a multi-language site in the near future.

I think I’ll likely head back to Asia next winter to escape winter and continue my freelancing efforts. Perhaps I’ll say goodbye to W2 work forever. Or perhaps I’ll rinse and repeat.

This post has affiliate links and I may receive a commission for purchases resulting from link clicks at no additional cost to you.

CAMP AIS coworking Space

Digital Nomad Life for Non-Programmers

Oh, you’re a location independent software engineer that travels the world living the digital nomad life with a six-figure salary, living on 15K a year? Good for you, but what about the rest of us? Why should programmers and software engineers have all the fun while the rest of us are stuck in cubicles?

I get it. Learning to code and develop isn’t exactly easy and it’s a high demand skillset. But surely programming isn’t the only skillset that lends itself to location independence. How can nonprogrammers live the digital nomad life? And why would we want to?

Why Asia for Digital Nomad Life

After spending the winter in Taiwan, I was close to the end of the 90 day limit of my visa exempt stay, so it was time to head out. Next, I posted up in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Chiang Mai is one of the most popular spots for low-cost living and digital nomad life. It’s easy to see why. Why did I decide to spend a few weeks here?

Delicious Thai food

Chiang Mai has delicious food at wildly low cost. Pad Thai, Pad Se Ewe, Tom Yum, Curried chicken and Pork and Papaya salad a just a few popular Thai dishes you’ll find. Chiang Mai has their very own signature dish Khoi Soi.

Khao Soi and drink
Khao Soi is a dish with egg noodles and curry plus pork or chicken
Lay's Cooling Chips
Feel hot? Eat some mentholated chips to cool off.

And there’s a surprising selection of Western style food in Chiang Mai, still at a reasonable price.

Cheap Internet. Fast Internet.

You can get 6 gigs of data and voice for about $16 for the month. (But I just beat that in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam with a 5 gig SIM for about $4.50 US.) And I’ve seen some blazing fast internet speeds in Chiang Mai. Here’s a speedtest I saw using the Wi-Fi at a place called “The Funky Dog Cafe”

Cheap Housing

Should you stay at least a month, you can find very nice apartments for around $300 to $450 USD a month. Some of these hotels are rented out on Airbnb. (Click the link to get $40 off a home booking of $75 or more and $15 off an experience of $50 or more.) The one I picked was about $18 a night. I booked it on Air BNB. Unfortunately, there were more mosquitoes than I could handle, but the host was nice enough to allow me to change my reservation and not get charged for the full time.

I switched to a nicer hotel in Nimman area, the trendy upscale area in Chiang Mai. My room was about $30 for a moderatley luxurious mosquito free place.

S17 Nimman hotel in Chiang Mai.

Warm Weather Year Round

If you’re looking to avoid a midwest freezing winter or a cold winter anywhere, digital nomad life will let you go where you want. Plenty of cheap warm destinations to hide away from December to April.

Cheap Transportation

If you go to Thailand, understand Uber is not available. However, you can sign up for the SE Asia equivalent of Uber which is called “Grab. Sign up for discounts when you take Grab. My girlfriend and I were able to taxis around most spots throughout the city for around $1.60 to $3.00 USD.

Cool Cheap Coworking Spaces

Camp Coworking Space
Fast Internet, snacks, and open 24 hours. Digital Nomad central at the top of Maya Mall.

Shopping Experiences

Wild Shopping deals on multiple levels at the Chinatown market in Chiang Mai.

How to Do It

Well if you want to join what Tim Ferris has referred to as “The New Rich” that work location independent and keep cost low with geo arbitrage you need to generate location independent income.

Generate Location Independent Income

You can generate location independent income in many ways. Here’s a few.

Fiver Gigs

Sign up to do gigs on Fiverr. Fiverr is a website where people from all over the world post “gigs” that they will do for prices starting at, as you may have guessed, five dollars. A gig can be almost anything. It could be something as common as a logo or website design, to something more obscure like dance in a monkey suit and sing a song and provide a video of this performance.

So you can choose to do any type of work on Fiverr. You could proofread resumes. Perhaps you could sing jingles. Or maybe you could be a hand model. But the bottom line is you don’t need to be a programmer.

The secret to getting work on Fiverr is having good reviews. It’s not easy to get business initially until you’ve built trust. Here’s how you do it. Start off charging bargain basement prices and increase your gig price as you get good reviews. You have to pay your dues.

Use Fiverr as just one channel to advertise your business. If business comes in through Fiverr, sure you’ll need to pay them 20% but it’s risk-free. Think of their fee as an upfront advertising cost that you only pay if you get business. That’s something you won’t get from Facebook ads or any other advertising.

You can use Fiverr as your place to vet business ideas with zero advertising cost. Once your business proof of concept has shown an idea is viable consider developing your own website to try marketing your service on your own terms. Once your site is built advertise it with a marketing avenue that works. Facebook is popular to do very targeted marketing.

Fiver isn’t just a place to earn online. As you build your business, you’ll eventually want help and expertise of others. Other freelancers can help you build your business. Need a logo or a whole WordPress site? Get 20% off Fiverr gig purchases when you sign up for Fiverr here.


Upwork is similar to Fiverr in that it’s a community of workers willing to help you with projects or a network you can join to do work yourself. You could say Upwork might be viewed as the somewhat more “grown-up” version of Fiverr. Sign up to do larger projects on Upwork.

The same as Fiverr, the secret to success on Upwork is offeirng top tier service at ultra low prices until you have some good reviews under your belt to inspire trust from new potential customers.

If you sign up for customer service related work before April 15th, 2019 you will receive 1 month free of Freelancer Plus at Upwork.

After Chiang Mai, I took off for Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, another popular low-cost living spot in Asia. More on that later. But here’s a preview of a serviced apartment you can get for around $30 a night. Another Airbnb find.

Once you are earning some location income you can dramatically lower your cost of living and get by on around $1,500 a month if you’re interested in living the digital nomad life. Come back to this site and consider subscribing if you’d like to know more about ditching the office.

This post contains affilate links for Grab, Agoda, Airbnbn, Upwork and Fiverr. I may be paid a commission for sales generated from clicking these links at no cost to you. I only establish affilate partnerships with companies that offer brands or services I use and believe are a good value.