The Evolving World of a Location Independent Entrepreneur

Big thanks to Dan Andrews (@TropicalMBA) over at Tropical MBA for letting me re-post his super insightful comments about the evolving landscape of what it means, and the advantages of, being a location independent entrepreneur, particularly in Asia. I loved the way he articulated the changes and advantages of living and running your business overseas.  Succinct, to the point, and powerful.

If you’re at all curious about, or considering pursuing a location independent business, but are struggling with naysayers, doubts, and uncertainties, read this and show it to people who have no faith. It is getting easier (and arguably cheaper) every year to get up and move overseas for short- or long-term, whether you’re a retiree, a fresh college grad, or mid-career in a transition and want a new experience. 

Enter Dan–


The world has changed a lot since I first stepped off of a plane and onto a motorbike to trek around Vietnam. (Nearly ten years ago – yikes!)

For a bit of perspective, YouTube didn’t even exist yet and Pluto was still a planet.

But more importantly, Skype was just a fledgling pet project, and “high speed” internet was a relative term.

So we bounced between hostels and internet cafes, using calling cards and shaky net connections to try to stay in touch with the world back home.

Forget doing business!

No wonder we thought the Navy and big corporate jobs were the only way for kids like us to see the world.

Looking at the way Ian and I live now, it’s almost hard to believe – we stay in furnished apartments and long-term hotels, can get a high-quality line to anyone in the world from our (unlocked) iPhones, and coordinate a team of dozens of people spread across multiple continents…from our laptops.

And here’s the craziest part: while the technology that supports us gets more powerful every year, the cost of this lifestyle is getting cheaper all the time.

In fact, I think most of the people I know in SEA are actually spending LESS than they’d be spending in the West, and the quality of living per dollar can’t compare.

PayPal freed us from a paycheck, Skype turned a monstrous long-distance bill into petty cash, and now AirBNB has slashed the cost of living well on the road – not to mention cutting out expensive rental agencies and days of apartment hunting.

I went into a lot more detail about this on the blog this week, but all of this begs the question: why go home?

Last week I was in Saigon, this week I’m in Italy, but if I didn’t tell anyone, they’d never know – the business keeps chugging along uninterrupted.

I won’t pretend to know what the next ten years will bring in terms of the tech that’ll be available to us, but there are a few things I’m sure of:

This lifestyle is going to keep getting cheaper, it’s going to keep getting easier, and more people are going to start wondering if this career path isn’t just viable, but better than what’s available to them back home.

My Passport is Feeling Neglected

After the year that 2011 was, where I didn’t stay in any place longer than 4 months and I often didn’t know where I’d call home the next month or even the next week, 2012 has been a HUGE contrast.  I haven’t left the US since I returned in early January this year. ‘Home’ has been well, home, in my parent’s house.  And while I have done some domestic travel, only 1 trip has lasted more than a week. From 2011 to 2012–talk about polar opposites!

And you know what, life has still been good.  Not that I don’t miss traveling, meeting new people, visiting old friends, staying in fun hostels, seeing amazing sites, and experiencing serendipitous encounters, but I’ve found a new passion and challenge in my wellness business. (More about that later.)

In 2011, I was in 12 countries across Europe and Asia, plus a smattering of countries in the Caribbean at the end of the year. It’s looking very likely the only country I’ll see in 2012 is <wait for it> the US!  After 5 years as an expat this feels like heresy!  But I’m already gearing up for 2013: Germany for a wedding in March, potentially Tunisia right after the wedding, and maybe China in February. So I’d like all my travel buddies to know, I’ll have international destinations back on my itinerary for 2013.

It’s the balances or contrasts in life that make us truly appreciate the good things. :)

As for this year, my life has been devoted to becoming a certified yoga instructor, importing 15000 boxes of Chinese tea, sharing the revolutionary benefits of the right nutritional supplements, and supporting my mom in her bid for AZ Corporation Commission.  All of that has kept me engaged and focused enough that I honestly haven’t really noticed that I haven’t been overseas this year. Now that’s saying something for someone like me who has traveling and international culture in their blood.

If you’ve missed my blogging, please come check out my wellness blog: World Vitae.  And if you’ve missed me on the international travel scene, I’d thank you to support me in my business by sharing or  That will help me be able to afford to travel again. 😉

Wishing you awesomeness and joy wherever you are!

Solo v. Organized Travel

As I get ready to head on a new series adventures, starting with a month travel around Europe, I’ve realized I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in the planning and getting ready.

Paris, EuropeI’ve spent time researching trains, flights, buses, ferries, booking apartments on AirBnB, figuring out how the RailnFly card works in Frankfurt when flying China Eastern, comparing insurance, buying theater tickets, and contacting and coordinating with friends in multiple cities in different countries.  And now I look back and realize that was a ton of time and so far I don’t have that much to show for it.  Actually besides my long-haul flights, I only have 1 flight and no other transportation booked.  I didn’t even have to book most of the hotels.  And yet I’m wondering where all the time went.  Did I get anything out of all that research? And then I think there must be a better way…

The other options is packaged tours and organized trips. With these you decide which general area, research once to find the best option for what you’re looking for, pay for it and be done.  Someone else does all the research, planning, bookings, and logistics and accommodation arrangements.  All you do is pay, show up, and relax. There’s certainly something to be said for that.  I mean its called vacation for a reason, right?

But then we get to the drawbacks of these types of trips: on the tourist trail, lots of other people, on the beaten path, a sense of this has been done before, no sense of exploration or discovery, no challenge, no thrill or anticipation or free-wheeling of what might happen next, little to no flexibility, rigid timetables, little local flavor. And then there’s the possibility of getting stuck with the wrong people–for anyone who’s traveled, you know how much having the wrong travel companions can ruin your enjoyment of a place. Or finding you chose the wrong destination but you already paid the money so you’re stuck there for your entire holiday.

I guess by now you can guess my preference… I’m totally in favor of the solo, independent travel. The freedom to choose my plan, the discovery, the sense of accomplishing something when I’ve found or done something, exploring and meeting new people, interacting with the local culture, choosing if or who to travel with, planning my schedule around catching up with my friends anywhere and everywhere.  And all that time spent researching, it builds the anticipation and makes the experience so much richer when I get there. (Still would be nice to expedite some of it, though.)

Coming from someone who use to lead 2-3 week group trips of up to 16people, I would choose independent travel 10:1 over group (in most parts of the world), particularly if I have a competent travel companion. That being said, in some parts of the world, it is just not feasible.  And, I’ll make an exception for cruises.  :)

Here’s to my next adventure, all cross-coordinated to see friends, and my first time back in Europe in 7 years!  Woot! Gonna be awesome!

Booking flights between random and far destinations

Bob's wingsOnce I decided on my plan for jumping from Asia to Europe and then back to Asia this summer, the next step is to figure out flights.  Hangzhou or just Shanghai to Europe (Germany) is easy, but after that not so much.

Trying to find flights between such random places as Madrid to Bali, Indonesia can be a lot of work. I remember when I did my around the world trip in late-2007-early-2008, I spent hours trying to come up with reasonable flight connections, times and prices.  There, too, I had some pretty random connections: Shanghai to Santiago, Chile; Miami to Cairo; Amman, Jordan to Zanzibar, Tanzania; East Africa to Shanghai.  You can imagine there aren’t a lot of quick options on those routes. As I mentioned back when I was planning the around the world trip, I finally gave up and used an around the world specialist flight planner (Airtreks) to do my flights.

So now again trying to book some pretty random connections (Madrid to Bali, and later Delhi to Phoenix), I’m trying to figure out the best way. And the cheapest!

I checked the usual, Vayama, Expedia, etc, but so many of them don’t even accept non-US origination points.  How is that useful? Then someone told me about cheap flights from JetAbroad and with a quick search, I found they were $400 cheaper than Vayama.  That makes a big difference (but the flight is still painfully expensive).  It seems JetAbroad has the advantage because they include quite a few Asia and Middle Eastern air carriers that don’t show up on some of the other booking engines.  So if you’re traveling around or through Asia, that might be worth checking out.

Yay! Travel planning is fun!  But I also find it to be a huuuuge time sink.  In the end, just like everything else, it comes down to a trade off between time and money. Do you spend extra time hunting around for the best connections and prices? Do you pay someone to do the hunting for you? Or do you spend the extra money and book the first reasonable connection that comes up? I tend to fall into the first category. I enjoy the hunt and especially the success of finding something cheap(er).

What’s your style?

(Just for the record, I may end up using Star Alliance miles for Madrid-Bali flight.)

拜拜 2009: It’s been a great year

The Year in Review: 2009

January started out with a New Year’s Day flight from Phoenix to San Francisco, which included watching the USC Rose Bowl game as soon as I got off the plane in San Fran.  Then more game watching downtown with my awesome cousin Kelly and her friends.  The next day I grabbed my passport from Alec who I hadn’t seen since 2006, many thanks to him for getting my Indian visa.  That same day I caught my 1st transpacific flight of the year and headed back to Shanghai.

Back to work in Shanghai for a week, ssl22687r then birthday celebrations galore start.  I’m not sure how its possible but I managed to have 3 celebrations during the week of my 25th bday: dinner on the 13th with a few girlfriends, then co-party night with Sian, Sherry, and Yi, and finally birthday brunch.  Thanks for organizing that brunch, and every other one, Sherry!  This is was also the first time in 2.5 years in China that I really got on a work permit.

Late January, at the start of Chinese New Year, Sian and I headed off to India for a whirlwind 10-day trip around Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, and Jaipur.  India is an immensely fascinating country.

From February, as everyone got back to Shanghai from CNY, we started having more tweetups, including Twestival, where I met a lot of the people I’d only ‘met’ online, including @IrisJumbe and @PDKay.  At the SXSW Shanghai party at M1NT in late February I got to meet a lot more of my twitter friends, including those who don’t live in China and make better connections with them.  To round out February, I changed the theme on my blog to center around life-streaming, (which I’m now coming to hate…)

In March we had our first !talk! Chatfest and finally launched the open beta of the teaching platform.  Despite this, the !talk! situation was in somewhat of a flux, so after awhile I decided to work less hours there and spend more time on my multitude of other activities.  Since November of the previous year I was already teaching English a few nights per week.


With the start of spring, I still didn’t feel that my health had completely recovered from all the illnesses of the winter, so I decided I needed to take drastic actions (haha). For Qing Ming festival, I booked myself a week at a cleanse resort in Thailand.  It was a much needed flushing out of the system that kept me much healthier in the ensuing 8 months, especially compared to the previous 8.  Besides meeting some like-minded people during the detox, I also met some other awesome people at the #BangkokTweetup, some of whom have become really helpful to me recently.  This spring, I also got to connect with fellow Shanghai transplant Arizonan @Mark_E_Evans and another China-interested tweeter @lparsons, whose dream is to move to China–good luck to him.

Jane, me, Al and pagodas
Jane, me, Al and a pagoda

By late April / early May, when the Dragon Boat festival rolled around, Jai, Allison and I headed to Seoul for a 4-day weekend.  They say Seoul is a city with no soul, but I loved it and think that’s in large part due to our excellent tour guide, my long time friend, Irene.  Check out the DMZ tour, really interesting, including a step into North Korea.  Literally the day after I got back from Korea, I did my first set of factories tours in 2009It’s amazing all the crap that gets produced in China!

In Late May, I spent a weekend in Hangzhou with Al & Jane, when they generously took me around to all their favorite sites and restaurants.  Tea plantations, China’s Grand Canal, Pagodas, and spicy wings, the spiciest food imaginable.  I was crying, literally.

As June rolled around I was just starting planning tech events for the Shanghai community and welcoming 妹妹 (little sister) for her summer in Shanghai.  Eliana arrived on June 3 to spend 5 weeks with me and exactly the day after she arrived, we set off to see the ‘real’ China.  The real manufacturing China, that is.  This was my second factory tripping of 2009.  It’s amazing all the crap that’s produced in China!

Around mid-June the Geeks on a Plane tour rolled through town to attend Shanghai Barcamp on June 14, and then celebrated the end of the trip with the Geeks and Glamour afterparty at M1NT.  It was awesome to meet entrepreneurs, VCs, and other twitter friends from the States including @DanMartell.

With Eliana in Pingyao

Throughout June and early July, Eliana and I went revisiting or exploring new parts of Shanghai.  And of course, we went to Beijing and saw the not-to-be-missed, Great Wall of China, Tiananmen, Forbidden City, and she went swimming in the Olympic Watercube.   I also got to see to see Ian, Leslie, Jeremy, and Jenny, and join yet another Tweetup to meet twitter friends in Beijing.  To check another place off my list, we took the train to the old walled city of Pingyao. At nearly the end of the trip, on the bus ride to the airport, my cosmetics case got stolen from my backpack :( A very sad day.  In this case, Eliana was the rock–thank you girl, I love you!

Just around the 3 year anniversary of my life in China, the internet went on lockdown in China and ever since then Twitter, Facebook, Twitpic, and since even earlier Youtube have been inaccessible, seriously hindering multimedia communication with the outside world.  Mid-July Eliana went home and I took my 2nd transpacific flight, this time to Vancouver.

On the bus from Vancouver to Seattle there was free wifi! And unrestricted access to twitter, facebook, youtube, which was like heaven until my laptop battery died and I realized my power cord didn’t work in N America… A busy 3 days in Seattle with my Dad and friends, Burt and Dawn: food festival, hiking Mt. Rainier, and the 4am launch of !talk! Marketplace for companies, but the weather was gorgeous, the food good and fresh, and the air clean and refreshing.

Next it was time to fly up to Alaska for my grandparents 60th Anniversary.  We went ATV-ing near Denali National Park, watched the sunset at 11pm, pet huskies, took the Denail Express train to Whittier, cruised on the Diamond Princess, went to Glacier Bay National Park, sea-kayaked in Ketchikan, went Geocaching, and had a good week of family time.

At Butchart Gardens, Victoria
At Butchart Gardens, Victoria

For the first week in August, I reconnected with friends from China now living in Victoria and Vancouver, including Heike, Brook, Scales, KK, and Danielle, and made other new friends through them, include Mariska.  The Pacific Northwest from Seattle, to Vancouver and the Island, all the way up to Alaska has truly spectacular natural beauty, clear blue skies, snow covered peaks, stunningly colored flowers, green trees and grass, fresh healthy foods, all enough to satisfy me with what often seems lacking in the grimy urban grey of Shanghai.  Catching up with friends from China who are no longer living there really helped me to get perspective on life there and what is most important.  Getting on my 3rd and last transpacific flight of the year to head back to Shanghai, I was feeling very refreshed and refocused with resolutions for my life in China.

Back in Shanghai, I jumped head first back into activities related to tech, work, events, and, from all my discussions with friends who formerly lived in China, recommitted myself to learning Chinese.  I found a private tutor to work with 2 times per week, started reading Chinese magazines and newspapers, listening to ChinesePod again, decided to more actively seek out opportunities to practice Chinese including looking for new Chinese friends, and eventually more Chinese shows and movies.  I am listening to countless podcasts on entrepreneurship, as well as lectures on world history and geopolitics to start brushing up my knowledge for the foreign service exam.

With my September trip to Hong Kong to see Coni, Brenda, Amjad, Daniel, Stanley, etc, and Stephanie (who I hadn’t seen in 5 years, since USC), I finally gave into pressure and got an iPhone.  Podcasts, apps, Chinese dictionary with handwriting, plus GPRS allowing me to be chatting to someone through Skype while walking down Nanjing Road, I can’t believe I waited so long.  iPhone convert, admitted.

USC friends in Shanghai
USC friends in Shanghai

By the time October holiday rolled around, my work permit was expiring, and still reeling from all the traveling I’d already done this year, with additional complications, I was compelled to spend China’s 60th Anniversary National Day in Shanghai, much to my chagrin.  (Randomly, I just realized the CCP was founded the same year my grandparents got married).  It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I got to reconnect with another friend who used to live in Shanghai and was back for a visit: Matthias.  October and November were spent with friends who were in town visiting, including a week with that friend from Germany, Ian down from Beijing and his friend from USC, then in November Sean came back for a visit and the HSBC Golf Tournament, followed by Luke from Toronto (I met but hadn’t seen since 2006), who came to visit family and attend his sister’s wedding

In late October, USC opened their first office in Mainland China.  Also in late-October, I went to yet another manufacturing town, this one specializing in textiles for the Keqiao Tradeshow and also saw the canal town of Shaoxing.  A month later, Bryan, Vivianne, and I were off for a day trip to the Commodity City: YiwuIt’s amazing all the crap that’s produced in China! Since getting back to SH in August, my Chinese slowly showed signs of improvement after months of stagnation, I signed up to an internet dating site (thinking about it now, am I that desperate?), and I continued to spread myself over many different involvements.

With Mom at the Chocolate Hills, Bohol

For Thanksgiving, I met mom in the Philippines for my last international trip of 2009, bringing the total to 50 countries in 25 years.  Ten days in the Philippines renewed my health (after 2 brutal days of facing the Chinese hospital system just before the trip) and helped me to realize I was stretching myself in too many different directions.  This feeling was further brought home by another conversation in early December that’s been forcing me to take stock of where I am, where I’m going, recognize my passions, and figure out what I want out of life.  As 2009 draws to a close and I face yet another round of visa applications, I’m reading Think and Grow Rich (again) and Getting Things Done, and most importantly I’m reflecting on those issues and what they mean for me in 2010.  The most influential and memorable book I finished in ’09 was The Go Giver–great book, go read it, especially if you do business or work in social!

Happy New Year!

Writing this made me realize there were a lot of photos from this year, I hadn’t yet put on Flickr, so if you didn’t click on any of the links above, go look at my photostream now, its been updated:

Don’t forget, 2010 is the Shanghai Expo and among other reasons, a great opportunity to come visit me in Shanghai! I’d love to host you if you’re coming this way.

Videos from India

The first video was shot in Varanasi, a Hindu Holy city situated along the Ganges in UP province.  It was taken during the 7pm Arti festival which celebrates the life-giving river.  You can see the production that’s put on and the crowd it attracts.


The second video was shot (somewhat illegally) inside the grounds of the Taj Mahal overlooking the Varuna River.  You can see how the Taj just glows in the early morning light.


The third and fourth videos are from a dance performance put on by the Indian NGO called Vatsalya, which helps get kids off the street and educates them, shows them love, and teaches them life skills.  The performance was part of a fundraiser event that included dinner to raise money for the NGO.

The children are wearing traditional Indian/Rajasthani clothes and dancing to popular Bollywood songs.  Themes of men and women and romance are wide-spread in Indian pop-culture, and are being played to in these videos.