I quit my 9-to-5 to travel the world as a digital nomad: Here are the biggest money lessons I learned - Grow from Acorns + CNBC

Summary

Back in 2014, I had a decent-paying job in marketing, but I was feeling burned out. I was getting tired of the same routine of waking up, commuting, and spending most of my days in the four walls of an office, only to repeat the same process again the next day. This dread I was feeling was thrown into even sharper relief because I had recently returned from a one-month solo Europe trip that opened my eyes to the world I was missing out on. As I struggled to get back into my day-to-day office routine, I kept wondering, what if there was another way of living that would be more fulfilling? I began imagining life without financial restrictions. I realized that what I really wanted was the freedom to pursue my dreams and see the world without breaking the bank. With that vision clear in mind, I started to work backward and think about the steps I needed to take to get there, starting with creating more income streams to comfortably fund my travel. And in 2016, after about a year's worth of planning, I left my 9-to-5. Over the next two years, I traveled the world as a digital nomad and built multiple passive income streams. When I returned from my travels in 2018, I decided to take another 9-to-5 for four years. But after a recent layoff, now at 31, I am officially "retired" from working a day job. I am now devoting my time to my six current income streams that bring in six figures a year, including my site Digital Nomad Quest and my YouTube channel. Here's how I set myself up for success.

I spent a year and a half preparing my finances

Back in 2014, I had a decent-paying job in marketing, but I was feeling burned out. I was getting tired of the same routine of waking up, commuting, and spending most of my days in the four walls of an office, only to repeat the same process again the next day. This dread I was feeling was thrown into even sharper relief because I had recently returned from a one-month solo Europe trip that opened my eyes to the world I was missing out on. As I struggled to get back into my day-to-day office routine, I kept wondering, what if there was another way of living that would be more fulfilling? I began imagining life without financial restrictions. I realized that what I really wanted was the freedom to pursue my dreams and see the world without breaking the bank. With that vision clear in mind, I started to work backward and think about the steps I needed to take to get there, starting with creating more income streams to comfortably fund my travel. And in 2016, after about a year's worth of planning, I left my 9-to-5. Over the next two years, I traveled the world as a digital nomad and built multiple passive income streams. When I returned from my travels in 2018, I decided to take another 9-to-5 for four years. But after a recent layoff, now at 31, I am officially "retired" from working a day job. I am now devoting my time to my six current income streams that bring in six figures a year, including my site Digital Nomad Quest and my YouTube channel. Here's how I set myself up for success.

I spent a year and a half preparing my finances

I've always been a big saver, but once I locked in my travel plan, I focused on increasing my income and reducing my expenses. I spent all of 2015 studying how to create passive income. I also took on two additional part-time remote positions on top of my full-time job that allowed me to grow my nest egg faster. And at the same time, I also began blogging and selling digital products like resume templates and printable planners on Etsy to prove to myself that I could succeed in creating passive cash flow. By May of 2016, I had saved enough on the side to cover a year abroad, and with those remote side gigs, I was earning enough to help me transition to pursuing passive income businesses full-time. So I quit my day job and embarked on my new journey abroad. I ended up solo traveling for two years, living month-to-month in new places while exploring and meeting people from all over the world. I adventured through Europe and Asia to places including Greece, Romania, Portugal, Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand. By the end of my travels, I had built passive income streams through multiple means that supported me through my journey. These included my Etsy shop, becoming a fulfillment by Amazon seller, creating custom apparel to sell on Merch by Amazon, affiliate marketing, ad revenue from my blog (where I wrote about my experiences), and rental income. Thanks also to diversified investments in the stock market, some cryptocurrency and real estate, I ended up increasing my net worth while I was traveling. This journey ultimately showed me the time and freedom passive income can buy.

Video by Helen Zhao

My perspective about work and what I valued changed

While I traveled the world, I was struck by how many different approaches there are to work. I came to understand that so many of the opportunities I've been able to pursue were more accessible because of where I lived growing up in the United States. In some cities, the average salaries ranged from $600 to $1,000 a month. It made me realize my privilege, but at the same time, many of those people who may have earned less were more present and in the moment than I had ever been. Many of the people I met in my travels prioritized their loved ones and the things that gave them joy. Meanwhile, so many of the people I knew at home were more preoccupied with chasing a very set idea of corporate success, a pursuit that wasn't making them any happier. I realized there's no right answer to how you should live your life. Everyone's values are different, and everyone has a different definition of success.

I decided to come home and build the life I wanted

When I built my passive income streams I thought I had "made it." My income was covering my minimal day-to-day expenses, including airfare, accommodations, food, and entertainment, which meant that I could potentially continue this lifestyle abroad for the rest of my life if I wanted to. But I didn't feel fulfilled from cash flow alone. I wasn't happy chasing numbers, merely thinking about how to achieve the next monthly passive income milestone.

I was in Chiang Mai at the time, and I knew many digital nomads who were very content to continue on this path. That can be a great life for others, but I realized this wasn't what I wanted. ⁣I was still young, and I wanted to live life to my fullest potential. ⁣I wanted to learn, create, and do something helpful for the world.⁣ So I came back home to the Bay Area in the spring of 2018 to be around loved ones, build skills, and create something impactful. I started teaching people how to improve their finances, build passive income side hustles, and invest through my YouTube channel, Instagram, and blog. And after my two-year journey of seeing the world, talking to people of all walks of life, and building passive income, I finally realized what financial freedom meant for me. ⁣

Video by Helen Zhao

I learned that financial freedom on its own is only part of the ultimate goal

I quit my 9-to-5 to travel the world as a digital nomad: Here are the biggest money lessons I learned - Grow from Acorns + CNBC
Photo Credit: Grow from Acorns + CNBC

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