The Digital Vagabond

Last modified on July 5th, 2010

Tim Ferris would most likely classify me as one of The New Rich, those of us who have somehow managed free ourselves from the shackles of the cubicle, and from the typical 9-5 workday.

Strangely enough, I don’t much remember what it’s like to work in an office anymore. It’s been nearly one and a half years since I left a 9-5 office job (which had really been a 9-9 job for most of my adult life), and I’ve spend most of that time working from home and from coffee shops. I even managed to spend a few days last summer working shirtless from the comfort of a picnic table up at the lake.

I had lunch with a friend a while ago and he pointed out to me that compared to most people, I had obtained a unique wealth — freedom. Money and investments are things most people can slowly build up over time, but freedom to do your job whenever and wherever you want is something very few people have nowadays. While I take it for granted, there’s definitely truth in that viewpoint, one that’s apparent when I’m writing code and sipping beer on a patio, all while working on something that ultimately leads to income.

Truthfully, I haven’t really taken advantage of that fact to the full extent. It’s completely conceivable that I could do my job anywhere in the world. In fact, I’ve spent the last few weeks tossing around a few ideas in my head about giving up my apartment and doing a bit of traveling for a few months. All I need is an internet connection (which is available in pretty much every industrialized nation nowadays), and I can work from anywhere. Chilliwack is still home, but part of me is feeling like maybe I should change the scenery up for a few months and see something different. Especially given that horrible summer that we’ve had so far, escaping to somewhere warm for a few months during the fall and winter is starting to seem pretty appealing.

Another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is ditching items I don’t use very often. I’ve accumulated so much technology over the years that I sometimes find it daunting to keep up with everything. Truthfully, I don’t really keep up with it, as evidenced by my TV that’s going on 10 years old now.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve debated selling off all my SLR equipment. Yes, I get enjoyment out of taking photos. But I get a lot of that same enjoyment out of using a point and shoot. Given that I rarely make any money from photography, should I really have $6,000 worth of photo gear just lying around depreciating? I’m probably going to put some of my lesser used lenses (used one or twice a year) on eBay and take the cash. If I do end up going somewhere for the fall, I’d like to have a decent nest egg in the bank for emergencies. Given how I probably wouldn’t even take my SLR with me if I go traveling (due to my concerns about damaging it or having it stolen), I’m leaning more and more towards getting rid of it, and possibly buying Nikon at a future date.

I also don’t really want to pay to store a lot of my stuff. Half of the things in my apartment are things I could easily do without, and I’d rather get rid of them on craigslist than be forced to move them all to a storage locker. The items that are newer I’d want to save, but that’s only a small subset of what I own.

More and more I’m starting to believe that the next few years are going to be pretty rocky from an economic standpoint. While that’s obviously bad news for a lot of people, I also think it’s going to open the door for people that have a bit of flexibility. I know many places in the world where I could already get a nice furnished apartment for $300 a month, and if the global economy is tanking, I bet that would go down even more. That’s why I’m debating becoming a bit more nimble in terms of my ability to react to changes, and part of the reason I decided against buying a house a few months ago.

I was out with my friend Tony having a few beers the other day, and we were talking about retirement. As I get older, I’m starting to think more and more that retirement is a pipe dream that’s going to be difficult to obtain for most people. My friend Tony was actually in agreement, and is fully expecting that he’ll have to move to another country to obtain the retirement he’ll want when the time comes.

The entire mathematics of North American retirement involve appreciating housing prices and relatively consistent returns in the market of around 10%. Housing prices have tanked in the US and are probably about to tank in Canada. The markets have produced cumulative returns of about 0% for the last ten years. If you factor in inflation, most GICs produce negative returns. Countries are starting to fail. It’s not looking good for all that gold in the golden years.

So, the way I see, might as well go see some of the world while waiting out this storm. I may not end up going very far if I go — I found a nice hotel in the Okanagan that is giving winter rates of about $800/month for a lakeside condo. I figure even that might be a nice compromise for the rainy season, spending my time coding by a lake in one of the warmest regions in Canada, but who knows.

We’ll see where the wind takes me. But the way I see it, if there’s a storm coming, you might as well get a few raincoats and go out with the tide.

9 responses to “The Digital Vagabond”

  1. tyfn says:

    These are exciting and humbling days we are living in. The future is soo uncertain and I see world economies crumbling all around me. I wish you success with your future. You got some mad coding skilz and can plug in anywhere there is wifi, while still experiencing the stars at night. And I’m sure you will share cool photos with your iPhone or DSLR.

    Maybe post what you are selling 1st on your blog in case your friends want it too.

    Looking forward to seeing your photos from the Calgary Stampede – something every Canadian should experience once.

  2. Duane Storey says:

    Thanks Phillip – it’s just talk at this point. I have a media pass for the Stampede, but won’t be going this time around. I’m on vacation starting next Friday, so I’m just going to wait until then.

  3. Hesty says:

    What will you do with the couch that sh*ts money? You should keep the SLR body and get 18-200mm IS lens, that should cover most of your needs when travelling. Yeah, sell the rest of your lens for general slush fund. I’m thinking of doing the same.

  4. Duane Storey says:

    I’m actually on that couch now! I love this couch, but I’ll probably have to just give it away for like $50. It needs some TLC, but it sure is comfy.

    And yah, I’m going to start a slush fund going.

  5. Duncan says:

    The Dominican Republic is quite popular for remote North American workers. They’ve got pretty decent broadband from what I hear?

    I’m excited for you man! As someone once said, it’s the small decisions that shape our destiny. You have the ability to expand your world to wherever you choose to go.

    P.S.(Being an International Man of Mystery will appeal to the exotic females you’ll no doubt meet!!)

  6. Dale Mugford says:

    Actually? The Dominican in our experience had pretty miserable Internet, most of it 3G based. Not that you can’t work off it, but when time and efficiency make up a part of your bottom line and maintaining that ‘freedom’… you can’t help but squint and cringe.

  7. […] for lunch in Chilliwack yesterday. That counts, I guess. It helps that he’s a self-proclaimed digital vagabond, having freed himself from the shackles of a 9-5 job. So to speak. He is certainly enjoying the […]

  8. Sylvain says:

    Perhaps you should consider a house swap. My neighbours did it with someone folks in France. You get to really experience an area (not just the tourist spots) and you can work out how long you want to do it for. Usually a few months. You just need to find someone you can trust but since your folks are still around, they could probably keep an eye on your stuff anyhow. That way your outings are free and you still have a place to come back to.

  9. Travis Gertz says:

    Do it.

    Me and my wife came to the exact same conclusion after selling most of our junk (and it was junk), and buying an RV to see what it would be like to live in a new city every few days for eight months. It kinda felt like we were spies. BEST TIME EVER.

    We’re just got back ‘home’ to Calgary. Mostly to sell everything we didn’t get rid of the first time. In January we fly to Costa Rica for a few months, then Austin, TX for a month or so, then… who knows. It’s a glorious life.

    We’re both freelance web designers and need little more than a computer, internet, clothes, and a camera. With no rent/mortgage, car payments, credit card debts, it takes a lot less to make ends meet, which also makes it way easier to upset that typical work/life balance.

    The less you own, the richer you are.

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