FwdConf is X-Team's asynchronous conference that ran from the 6th until the 10th of April 2020. This is a recap of its fourth day, where we interview Wojtek Zajac, Thomas De Moor, Josh Johnston, and David Roberts.
In this interview, we discuss the motivations, challenges, and results of living a traveling lifestyle. If you want to jump to the other interviews of FwdConf or listen to digestible audio snippets from each interview, click here.
Living the Location-Independent Life
A Traveling Journey
Wojtek went through three different stages in his traveling life. It all began with remote work. Wojtek started working remotely when he was only fourteen years old. For four years, he found clients online and worked from the small town in Poland where he's originally from.
The second stage started when he moved to Krakow and started managing a local office there. This came with more frequent travel to his clients in the United States too. But then 2015 came around, and the third stage began: Wojtek moved out of Krakow and started traveling the world non-stop. He did this for five years and only stopped recently, because of the coronavirus, which saw him return to Poland.
Wojtek started traveling non-stop because he realized he needed a change. One of the biggest problems in the life of a developer is burn-out, and he'd started feeling its symptoms. He wanted to change his environment, move to a place where he would feel more inspired to work.
He also wanted to move out of his comfort zone. Traveling someplace else would see him fight his boundaries again, push the limits of what he's capable of. Wojtek had traveled before, but never so permanently. It was a very different feeling leaving everything behind, knowing he wouldn't come back for a long time.
He wanted to be in charge of his life, to consciously make as many decisions as he could and not leave anything to change. This meant not staying in the place where he was born.
His family was supportive, although scared at first. He was only eighteen when he traveled to the United States alone. But once he became more experienced traveling the world, his family felt more at ease too.
Tools like Zoom make it very easy to communicate with them. If anything, he feels he communicates more with his family than he does when compared to some of his friends who live closer to their families.
Growing While Traveling
Traveling makes you learn about yourself. For every new country you travel to, you start from scratch and build an entirely new life. Throwing yourself into these lives, these communities, all while meeting so many new people, makes you understand yourself better than you otherwise ever would.
Of course, it also makes you realize how other people lead their lives. Seeing all those different perspectives can really open your eyes, particularly if you see how less fortunate people have to live.
Another thing Wojtek learned is how much the people you surround yourself with influence you. If you consciously choose who to surround yourself with, it can affect your life and growth for the better.
Not that you have to socialize all the time. Remote work gives you the freedom to choose how you want to live your life and who you surround yourself with. Co-working spaces, for example, are often great environments to meet interesting people and expand your network, while simultaneously getting some work done. Wojtek also uses Meetup to quickly meet new people. It's a great way to meet locals and not just other travelers.
Moving countries all the time means you frequently have to say goodbye to the friends you've made in one country. What's interesting about this dynamic is that you're more honest with each other. You end up having deeper conversations, because you realize you might not have that much time together.
This is easier with people who are travelers, who are used to the idea of leaving, than it is with local people. But going back and reconnecting with locals in all those different places is always a wonderful feeling.
A More Flexible Person
Thomas, having lived in multiple countries for prolonged periods of time, brought up that living in a different country makes you pick up on so much more than if you were just visiting it. You start to deeply understand how the people of a certain country live, not just how specific individuals live.
Wojtek agreed and brought up the example of Portugal and Spain, where people live in a very social way. They dine out on the streets and talk to one another despite being strangers. This is very different from a country like Sweden, where people keep to themselves more.
This makes you both more flexible and more empathetic. Flexible, because people lead different lives and, if you can live in many different countries, anything can be thrown at you and you'll be fine.
Empathetic, because everyone is fundamentally human. Everyone needs to eat, sleep, work, get motivated, etc. We're very different, but fundamentally we're the same. It puts our quarrels in perspective.
Not Working From the Beach
The cliche of a location-independent life is that you work from the beach, but that's a very narrow cliche. Wojtek lived for many months in huge metropolitan cities like Hong Kong or Bangkok, and he loved every bit of it.
When he originally started traveling, he was looking for the perfect spot. He thought of Colombia, Thailand, Portugal, Taiwan, etc. But, after visiting these countries, he realized that no country will ever be "the perfect spot." It doesn't exist. You have to live with the pros and cons of whichever country you're in. But, most importantly, figuring out what really makes you feel happy and fulfilled will allow you to choose the country that's right for you.
Traveling with a Family
Josh lived location-independent for a straight year with his wife and two daughters. Most would consider it a logistical nightmare, but he said that it was a fantastic time that his family remembers fondly. They had wanted to travel for a long time and realized that it was cheaper for them to travel for longer than it was for a shorter amount of time (because they could rent out their house for a year).
This long period of travel tightened the bond between his daughters, because they had to learn to be each other's best friends. Ryan experienced the same with his wife. You have little choice but to become best friends and work through the challenges and frustrations together.
Josh was still working, so his wife took most of the weight in planning and figuring things out in advance. She helped much in the way of researching things ahead of time, as well as homeschooling the kids while they were traveling. This being said, much of it still came down to being creative or flexible in every new place. You can't ever plan everything.
Wojtek said that the only way for him to stay sane while traveling is to create a structured routine. He has habits that he follows strictly, like meditating daily and working out at home (instead of going to a gym - often quite difficult in a new place).
Interestingly, David does the opposite of Wojtek. He works from home and tries to get away from his daily routine. Remote work allows him to do things he couldn't have done when working from an office. For example, he tends to for a run at 9 AM on Monday. It gives a sense of freedom to break a pattern you've been used to for decades.
Thomas has a combination of what David and Wojtek does to get through his day. On the one hand, he always makes sure he works out, meditates, and gets enough sleep. So there's routine there. But, on the other hand, he finds it important not to have too rigid a routine. He makes sure he doesn't overload himself and leaves hours open to do whatever he wants.
The Impact of the Coronavirus
The coronavirus has had a big impact on co-working and co-living spaces. They were already running on very small margins, and the virus has made it really tough on them. Unless the local governments help them out, the virus might see many co-working places go bankrupt.
Wojtek believes that the coronavirus will also affect many of the businesses that try to profit off digital nomads, something that's particularly rampant in popular digital nomad places like Bali or Thailand. Trendy, hipster, Western-style shops might go away in favor of more local shops, which Wojtek believes is a good thing.
He also said that the remote working trend has had no choice but to go mainstream because of the virus. He hopes that it will lead to more people being able to travel while working remotely. Copywriters, graphic designers, and language teachers should be able to travel the world while still earning a living working remotely, if they so please.
If you enjoyed this interview, please go have a look at our bigger post where we summarize the whole conference through audio snippets, quotes, and Slack highlights. There's a lot more to be found there!
Next week, we will publish the summary of the final, fifth day of FwdConf. You can find the links to all summaries below. See you soon.
- FwdConf Day 1: State of Serverless 2020
- FwdConf Day 2: How to Be a Better Programming Mentor
- FwdConf Day 3: Living and Working in Japan
- FwdConf Day 5: Parenting as a Remote Worker