This is the question I’ve been pondering the past several months. This post is largely personal, but perhaps you are at the same point or you may get to this phase of your digital nomad journey.
First let me giving you a little background in case you’re just getting to know me.
In 2 days I will have spent 4 months living in Chiang Mai Thailand and almost 2 years in Taiwan.
My journey to freedom and living abroad in Taiwan
My first taste of corporate freedom came on May 2011 when I told my director I sold my Vancouver apartment and I was leaving my job to pursue my own thing. I eventually made my way to Asia for 2 months that left me wanting for more. It would have to wait because I needed to return to corporate and get a job in May 2012. It was a good gig. I had a 9 to 5pm job that paid well and even had a decent cafeteria and on-site gym I could play basketball after work. I made the 25-minute commute in my Acura TL sedan from my Yaletown studio condo to Richmond every weekday morning. Still my heart was not happy and yearning to live abroad. This was my 2nd chance to live a normal Vancouver life.
On May 2013 I left my Business Team Lead job in Vancouver sold my car and set off on a journey to Hawaii, 2 months in Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, before living abroad in Taiwan. I got an apartment, enrolled for Chinese classes at Shida, and lived life. I made friends, had romantic relationships, had great food, and was still trying to get figure out this business thing. Eventually I started teaching English at a cram school. I hated it so much that it forced me to really figure out this business thing. I discovered a way to earn an income from my videos in 2014 using stock footage and my on-line courses. My on-line earnings grew to the point I could get my time and location freedom back again. I met a digital nomad from Vancouver named Nigel during this time. He introduced me to the idea of the digital nomad lifestyle and the nomad list. Through my research I discovered that Chiang Mai seemed like the destination to be.
Return to Vancouver
I went back home to Vancouver for Christmas in 2014 to visit family and friends for a month. I enjoyed craft beer, shot stock footage, flew the drone, and saw my family and friends. It was great, but I still didn’t feel like it was time to come home to stay. The grey clouds, long rainy days, and cold didn’t help to convince me to stay. I had seen and experienced too much.
I still had unfinished business in Taiwan and Asia. I needed to improve my Chinese. I needed to improve my on-line business, and I need to travel deeper into Asia.
At the beginning of this year I began dating a Taiwanese girlfriend, and began focusing on scaling my on-line business. We went to the Pingxi festival and we wrote our dreams on our lanterns before we lit and set them off into the sky. It felt my life was starting to come together in Taiwan. I started volunteering as the photographer at a professional expat social club called Internations. I joined the local co-work space in Taipei called the Makerbar. I worked at the space during the day and would hang out with my girlfriend at night.
During the year I thought more about Chiang Mai. Sometimes it is difficult to live the life of the digital nomad especially in Taiwan where it is more common to work a traditional job. The environment offers a lot, but there is a very small on-line digital nomad community.
I met a well-known Asian American entrepreneur, Johnny FDK, who was living a good life in Chiang Mai. During a family visit to Singapore I stopped by Thailand for the first time. As I took my taxi from Chiang Mai airport to the neighborhood of Nimman I already was being charmed by the city. I returned to Taiwan with plans to relocate to Chiang Mai. I scored an amazing video opportunity with a foreign company just before I left Taipei. This would give me the funds to follow my 2015 vision.
I traveled to Okinawa Japan before moving out to Chiang Mai. I even got sponsored by an on-line company called curious to produce a drone course that I would film in Chiang Mai. My sister ended up visiting Taipei and helped me move into Chiang Mai.
I traveled deep into South East Asia with my sister and Taiwanese girlfriend visiting countries and filming Bangkok, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
I had settled into my life in Chiang Mai. I had a nice modern apartment in Nimman, I started to meet a group of solid friends, and went to work. I rented a scooter from Mango bikes for about 2400 baht a month. I was filming a drone course in the mountain jungles of Chiang Mai and the university. To get paid to film a course teaching people to fly and film with a drone in Thailand was freaking cool.
During the day I would visit the co-working spaces of Mana and Camp during the day and produce my videos. At night I would frequent the restaurants and bars of Nimman and drink cheap Singha and Leo beer. I would enjoy the live music at the rooftop bars at Nimman hill, chill with friends at Deejai Gardens, listen to live jazz at Mojo’s, or enjoy a carafe of red wine at Kafe Vino. I found some of my favorite food spots for cheap pad thai at the Maya, curries at K’s Kitchen, and even good western breakfast at Bake and bite. Once a week I would treat myself to a foot or oil massage for $6.80 US. I got back into the dating scene and started dating a local Thai girl.
Coming home to family
Still during one of my weekly Facetime calls my parents asked me to come back. I started to think about returning to life in Toronto or Vancouver. Thinking started to translate into flight and apartment shopping. Returning to Canada wouldn’t be as simple as booking a flight back.
Prices for just about everything especially accommodation is more expensive. While I can make a comfortable living in places like Chiang Mai with my on-line business is not at a stage I can enjoy time and location freedom in Canada. My dad tried to place the urgency on summer in Vancouver ending. Chiang Mai is like summer everyday so I didn’t feel that I needed to rush. In Canada thoughts crossed my mind to return to a corporate job. Yes a corporate job mostly probably related to my 13 years in IT leadership. There is a good chance with my MBA and career experience I could return to the workforce and earn a $70-90k (CDN) a year job. I also need to pay off the loan for my MBA still, which hangs over my head. My on-line business and what I love would need to take a backseat to my corporate job. Most likely if I did nothing I would bringing in an additional $28-32k Canadian a year in passive income. This could be a good scenario financially earning 100-120k (CDN) a year. I would have tons of stories, experiences, and information to share with Canadians who wanted to pursue a similar once in a lifetime adventure.
I feel like I’m taking steps forward to achieve my dream of financial freedom in Chiang Mai. I’m busy working hard on my on-line business here. I feel like I have the workspaces, fast upload Internet speeds, and supportive community to take my business to the next level. The atmosphere of working in co-working spaces together with people who made similar sacrifices certainly helps to keep me on track. You end up talking with digital nomads, and it is hard not to increase your knowledge of the familiar Internet business topics of e-books, seo, Kindle books, affiliate marketing, blogging, or building a sales funnel.
The problem is that I’ve failed to reach my financial targets. All the work I’ve produced in Chiang Mai hasn’t necessarily translated into the financial success I imagined. The longer I’m out here the further I’m delaying earning the salary I mentioned earlier.
After all the recent traveling for Chiang mai visa runs I’ve become a bit travel weary and a bit homesick. I want to be able to cross the street as a pedestrian and not have cars try to run me over. I want to have random friendly conversations with strangers. I miss being able to walk straight on a sidewalk an not have someone cut me off frequently.
It’s harder for me to imagine, but I’m usually a bit more senior in terms of my age in this digital nomad community. If I were 25 years old perhaps I wouldn’t think twice continuing what I’m doing. However, I’m 37 and because of that I think a bit differently. Maybe I’m a bit grumpier too I would love to have some kids, have financial freedom, take care of my parents, and be able to see my family more often. Is returning to Canada, starting a job, getting married, buying a home, and living with kids the solution? Should I be not be content with what I’ve seen, done, and experienced already?
Chances are I would bored and chained up to a company after a year or 2.
Is there another way to think of this? A redefinition of what I refer to as home. One of my longer-term goals I envisioned having more than one home in the world. A home you could come to 3-6 months at a time to escape the weather and high prices. Every city has something to offer and pros and cons. Vancouver has awesome Cantonese foods, mary jane, beautiful scenery, the seawall, and generally a higher quality of life. The downside is the fall and winter grey clouds and non stop rain. All if forgiven because our beautiful 3 month summers where all we want to do is get outdoors, exercise, drink coffee on the patio, or do something near the seawall or water.
Taipei has an excellent transportation system, is super convenient, cheaper than the west, and excellent noodles and dumplings. However, the buildings are old and owning property is super expensive. There are the regular typhoons and earthquakes and almost everywhere is crowded. There is a small digital nomad community and there are the language barrier issues.
Singapore is the most developed English-speaking city in Asia, one of the safest and cleanest, and is a great travel hub. However, expensive prices for most things from accommodation, driving, and booze set back this city. The Island is pretty small and the perfection can be boring for some.
Chiang Mai has regular hot weather and beautiful mountain and jungle scenery. Nimman is a trendy and upcoming neighborhood that offers everyone one could need. It is a renter friendly city allowing one to rent a scooter or apartment with ease and no hassles. The lifestyle here is easy and cost of living some of the lowest in the world. You have a strong community of Digital nomads and it’s easy to rent here. However; Thailand’s one-month tourist visa is inconvenient leading to visa workarounds to extended stays. I would be great to have more pavements and pedestrian traffic crossings that are longer than 7 seconds long. The burning season from February to April results in thick smoke making it unbearable to live here during these months. The heat combined with the air pollution from the tuk tuks, motor bikes, and red trucks leads to lower air quality that I’m used to from Vancouver.
Perhaps I have to redefine what I call home? After all my travels one thing is for sure. Chiang Mai is definitely a place I could see myself coming back on a regular basis living here for part of the year. Some places like Tokyo are great to visit, but destinations are great to live. Chiang Mai is one of those places.
What conclusion have I come to? I am grateful for the great lifestyle that I’ve had in Chiang Mai. The business opportunities that have come my way. I’ve traveled and experienced more in this part of the world than I could ever imagine.Would I like to travel more. Of course I would!
Working in a corporate job for a short time, can help me with financial stability. Perhaps I would be happy to pay off the MBA loan and regroup. Can I see myself going through 2-hour meetings and waking up at 8am every morning to commute to work? After the freedom I’ve experienced I would have to say no. Perhaps I could develop my video business in Canada and North America. The video opportunities I’ve had in Chiang Mai will lead to an impressive video portfolio. Sometimes I have to wrestle with the rational side of my brain tries to over analyze and calculate before making a decision. I still have faith and belief that following your passion and heart will lead to success. I’m enjoying the journey. This journey has taught to have the courage and faith to follow your heart. It has taken time to develop the instinct to trust my feelings to make a decision that feels right.
Right now it feels like its time to return home to Vancouver for now. To answer the question of what is it time to go home for yourself I believe you also have to be honest with yourself and learn to trust your feelings. I don’t know what the future holds. I do know what I want. I want to spend some time with my family. I want to do paid talks to inspire Canadians and Westerners about the freedom lifestyle that is available to them. I want to teach people to learn to find their passion and calling and to develop the courage to pursue it. I want to do aerial videography in Canada perhaps for golf courses or resorts. I want to enjoy a cup of JJ bean coffee, Christmas parties with some craft beer and cabernet savignon with my friends, and home cooking with the family.
I want to build a business with solar energy and bringing and cleaner air to countries. I want to empower locals in popular digital nomad countries to build their own businesses and improve their lives. I’ve seen how clean and developed cities like Singapore are. I want to bring some of that cleanliness and fix the pavements in Chiang Mai. I have grand ambitions beyond just being a digital nomad. How will it all happen? I don’t know.
For now If I’ve inspired you to live a free live and to listen to your heart this long post would have been worth it.