Everyone has an origin story, a birthplace. Somewhere where the journey started, where the lure of the open road first tugged at the heart strings. A place that defined the rest of your life with a single epiphany: the world beyond the horizon is the world that you must see.
These are the hidden stories, the behind-the-scenes tales of expats living in other countries without the limelight of professional travel blogging or being part of the travel celebrity scene. These are the ordinary, average people just like everyone else in the world, and these are their Secrets Of Success.
Tell us a little bit about your business/brand/blog. What is it that you do?
R: We are Angela and Ryan. Hello there, people of the world.
A: We mustn’t forget Louis the Miniature Pinscher.
R: Naturally. Most people in the whole travel and lifestyle design arenas know us as Jets Like Taxis (www.jetsliketaxis.com). That’s really just our personal blog, which focuses on the aforementioned topics and our daily lives as expats and slow travelers. While it’s full of ideas, travel, happiness, and ranting, it’s not meant to be any sort of business or money maker. It’s an outlet for us to talk about the things we love, as well as learn more from others as we take our preferred path through life.
A: Granted, our blog is only a couple of months young, and neither of us are professional writers. We are fully aware that both what we write about, and the style we write it in, is not going to jive with everyone. That said, we write about whatever tickles our fancy at the moment. I’ve noticed that Ryan tends to write about more general themes with real information that people can actually learn something from. I’m more the “personal experience” writer. I’ll take a specific event and write about my feelings…wow, how’s that for a stereotypically feminine statement?
R: You’re such a lady. Our actual business comes from design, and existed long before we turned into location-independent nomads. We own, manage, and/or curate all of the clothing labels associated with Formula (www.formulawerks.com). We also design graphics and shirts for other brands, such as Smash Transit (www.smashvintage.com). It has never been a strictly online business, but has evolved over the years to become more and more internet-focused. Part of its necessary evolution has allowed us to travel more, and that seems to be where it’s headed as both the necessities of the business have changed what we do, and what we want to do has helped change some functions of our business.
A: We are really two (and a quarter) complementary pieces that make up this one monster. The way I like to look at it is this: Ryan is the brains and the muscle – he’s the creative madman behind 99.9% of the designing, and takes care of the website management. I’m more the skeleton and joints system – I make sure that everything in the background is taken care of, and that it’s all held together nicely. I manage the business aspect of what we do. Louis (the quarter-piece mentioned above) keeps our sanity in check, and entertains us on a daily basis. Together, we are one well-oiled machine.
R: I also want to note that this is not some glamorous fantasyland. We do work quite a bit, and we have a network of colleagues, contractors, artists, friends, and other folks who work together with us to execute a lot of the aspects of what we do. It’s not like the 2-1/4 of us are out here doing everything ourselves. That is, however, a natural part of evolution in what we do. You must play nice with others, and you must be able to delegate tasks or responsibilities to those on your side. Man cannot live on bread alone, or however the saying goes.
When did you get started working online?
R: I actually can’t remember when I did not work online. I was at university in the early and mid-90s, when everything started to come to fruition with a booming internet and high-speed connections. After that, I worked with some online magazines outside of my terrible day job, and eventually started focusing on design as a hobby. It turned into a growing business while I was still working 9 to 5, and it was certainly online from day one. The more technology has progressed, the more focus there has been in working online. If you can work online and travel, there’s no better way to live. Working online lets you get the job done from anywhere, and have clientele all over the world. While the benefits of travel on a personal level are obvious to readers of this blog, one of the things that being an avid traveler allows you to do is to actually meet with your clientele. Even if it’s on a social level, one of the best rewards for me is to fly 5,000 miles around the world for fun, and then pop in to have a meeting or a drink with a client. It keeps the very important, interpersonal relationship alive, while still allowing you to be a global citizen on the computer. I’ve met with clients all over Europe and the Americas during my personal trips; and of course, gained new clients during those trips as well – even if business wasn’t the focus of my voyage.
A: I don’t have the same background as Ryan does. However, I’ve worked in many fields that required the internet. One of the first jobs I ever had was a shopper for an online grocery shopping service in the early 90s. People would place their orders via the internet (back then, ordering things online was still a fairly new concept), and I would walk through the aisles of our local supermarket and pick out the goods. This company has since grown to be massive, and it now has its own warehouses. This was my first experience having a job where online access was an integral part.
How much has the Internet changed the way you do business?
R: Drastically. While I do long for the immersion requirements of a less-connected world, the benefits of working online – from anywhere – are easy to see and obviously desirable for many people. If it weren’t for the internet, I can’t imagine how all of this networking, sales, and the ability to be a global self-starter could be so accessible for so many people. Before the world was this connected, it took a much more adventurous person, long business hours on the road, the agony of disconnected distribution channels, too much paperwork, and frankly – too much time. The internet allows for quick connections, easy conversations halfway around the world, point-and-click sales and distribution, and best of all, the ability to live and work anywhere you please. All of these things certainly apply to our life as well. On a daily basis, we’ll have sales from 10 different countries; we’ll talk to people via Email, Skype, Twitter, or VOIP in at least another handful of countries; we’ll speak two or three or four languages; and if we make the time like we should, we’ll actually sit down at a café and have a relaxing time talking with the same types of people that enjoy the work and the personal interests that we also enjoy. 10 or 15 years ago, doing all but the latter was so time-consuming, and honestly, a pain in the ass.
A: Agreed. It’s amazing to think that today’s younger generations have no concept of life before the internet. We were recently joking with an associate about ‘ye olde days’ of the rotary phone (which actually existed in my house – all the way through high school), having to change the channel on the TV by getting up and physically switching the dial, $0.79/gallon gasoline, pre-internet MovieFone (does that even still exist?), etc. What an amazing journey the internet has taken us on, in every aspect of our lives.
One of your passions is obviously travel. What’s your preferred type? Are you a backpacker, apartment renter, deal-scrounger or a luxury/all-inclusive kind of traveler?
R: When do we get to become the luxury traveler? Haha. I’d say we’re the “apartment renter” type. We’ve been in one place for almost 1.5 years now, and it has allowed for so many amazing learning experiences that do not exist when one is a backpacker or fast traveler. For the last nearly 20 years, I’ve done every kind of traveling, and I can now say that slow is the best way to go. As our business, our lives, and our preferences have evolved, we’re moving into that “slow traveler” bracket starting this autumn. We’ll still be the apartment renters, but our jaunts will be three to six months at a time – maybe longer depending on what we find along the way.
A: Unlike Ryan, before coming to Berlin, the majority of my adult travel had been for business – I used to work in the music industry, so I was fortunate enough to take trips around the world on my employer’s tab. When I was much younger, I traveled the world with a violin group (shout out to Haag Levinson Suzuki Academy, if you’re still around!), but I was too young to appreciate the experience. I got enough of a taste, though, to want to do it full-time as an adult, albeit via the slow travel method. If I was asked this question 20 years ago, I’d have been all about camping out in the rain forest (check!), “showering” in the ocean (check!), and just taking the lowest-maintenance road available. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the “luxuries” of having a toilet and a shower, and a bed. These old bones aren’t suited for hammocks anymore.
R: This wasn’t really part of the question, but I think it’s integral to know for anyone thinking about or dreaming about becoming location independent: It can be immensely less expensive. If you add up your costs in whatever city you live – especially in America or Canada – you can pretty much guarantee that living on the road as a slow traveler or nomad can easily cost you much, much less. And you don’t have to be a hostel-sleeper (we’re not), or hitchhike (we don’t), or survive on stale bread and fallen berries (we definitely don’t).
One of the common misconceptions about travel is that one must be rich, or be funded, or some other crazy dream that most people will realize. We’re none of those things. And our life is certainly much, much less expensive than it ever was in our old hometown. What, with all the stuff we “needed,” and the car, and the bills, and the endless stream of dollar-sucking fees and services that most people don’t even realize happen to them on a daily basis. When you begin to see what your goals are, and see what you don’t need or never needed, an amazing clarity can wash over you regarding the realities and financial costs of slow travel. It’s quite a wonderful thing.
You have done some traveling, plus you are an expert in your part of the world. For our readers, could you give us your take on general safety while living in your home country from a local’s perspective?
R: Well, we currently live in Berlin, Germany. I can’t really say a whole lot about safety here, because for us, it feels like the safest place in the world. Granted, there is crime just like in any other big city. But we’re from Chicago, where listening to gunfire at night and pointing out new bullet holes in the alley became a mildly funny pastime on a weekly basis. (That’s not a joke, though.) I do consider Chicago to be fairly safe for the average traveler, but Berlin feels like a safety utopia compared to our old hometown.
A: Okay, that totally sounded like we lived in the slums of Chicago. To clarify, we lived on a main street – a straight shot to downtown – about three miles out from the center. In Chicago, you could be in a really affluent area, then three blocks down be in the projects. We were in a safer pocket, but we did hear the occasional gunshots (an unmistakable sound), and we did often find new bullet holes in garage doors and gang tags in our alley throughway. That kind of activity could be found anywhere in the city, though. But, I definitely agree with Ryan that Berlin has felt so incredibly safe, relatively speaking. I can, without fear, walk by myself down a low-lit side street at 3am. The conditioned ex-New Yorker in me, though, always has my keys tucked between my knuckles, just in case.
R: In Germany, I would generally give the same advice I would in most other first-world countries: Be smart, don’t be an idiot tourist, carry yourself like you would at home, and be aware of your surroundings. Most crime here is theft, and the occasional mugging. If you carry yourself here like you did back home, then you’ll probably have the same or less worry about anything bad happening.
And despite the facetious stereotype of “Berlin Friendliness” – i.e. it’s supposedly a big group of very unhappy people – we have great experiences every day with people here. Sure, you have your grumps and people who just aren’t vocal about how wonderful life is; but overall, we find daily life here to be quite pleasant.
A: And…when you start being stopped by tourists, asking for directions in the local language, you know you look like you belong. I love when that happens.
R: Does it ever. We get stopped intermittently by Germans and by tourists, asking us for directions. I have no idea why, but I like to think it’s because we look like we belong. We don’t dress differently than we would anywhere else, but we’re just being ourselves and being comfortable in our surroundings. It is kind of freaky though, I have probably been asked for directions – multiple times – in every country I’ve ever visited or lived. Usually in the native language, which is always a confidence booster.
What’s your favorite aspect of traveling, exploring new cultures and seeing new places?
R: Doing exactly that. There is no “one thing” I like the best. There’s a special feeling you get when you visit a new place for the first time, and nothing beats having personal or interpersonal experiences with locals in their own environment. I am not the touristy type – I hate going to museums and churches and other sights. Sometimes you just have to do it, but I’d much rather walk around, visit markets, talk with locals, sit in cafés for hours on end, eat the local food, and experience a place by being part of that place.
I’m also a huge language nerd, so I love at least learning a little bit of a language. Even if it’s just to say thank you or order a meal, it’s such a rewarding experience. And of course, the more you learn the language, the richer your life will be in any given location. We’ve been taking German classes for over a year now, and I can’t really comprehend why some people move to a new country and don’t bother learning the language. Not only does it feel like a form of cheating to me, but it cheapens the cultural, learning, and life experience.
A: I, on the other hand, am totally not a language nerd. Before Berlin, I used to speak English (obviously), and I could casually dabble in a bit of Spanish. Seven years of studying Spanish never really paid off; but then again, I never really used it – entirely my fault, and there’s really no excuse. I’d really been afraid of learning a new language, especially one with such a reputation as German. I have to say, though, that after having learned enough to get by on a daily basis, I appreciate the knowledge, and I notice that people are so much more receptive to even simply the effort made in trying to speak their language. We run into people who only want to practice their English on us, and that’s fine, but we tend to stick with German on our ends of the conversations. It’s a win-win situation for all involved. There’s also something about learning the language that helps one appreciate the local culture on a deeper level. It opens many more doors than if one didn’t make an effort at all.
What is one piece of advice you can give newcomers who are just starting out looking to build their own online enterprise? Something you wish you would have known and/or done when you were starting out.
R: I think the most important thing is this: Do what you love. I am not a big fan of getting into a business just to make money, or just to fund full-time travel. I truly believe you can’t be happy unless you’re doing what you want, and that includes your line of work. Are you really happy if you’re slaving away with a job you don’t like, just to enjoy your travels? I don’t think so. I want to be happy all the time. I know I won’t be, but I want to be. So, I do work that I enjoy, in places that I enjoy.
Whenever people ask me about niche sites or AdSense projects or other fields that help people be location independent, I tell them that they should only do it if they love it. The reward is that if you love doing it – even if it’s WordPress coding or something – you’ll get more out of it, both financially and personally. You can certainly grow to love something, but you have to know when it’s not for you.
And the beauty of this amazingly connected world we have today is that you can do almost anything, from anywhere in the world. You don’t have to be a blogger, or a niche site builder, or a virtual assistant. Think of any job you can. Right now. Just think about it. Got it? I will almost guarantee you that there is someone out there doing it in a location-independent fashion. I even once saw a story about a guy who was a garbage man – and he was moving to another country to become a garbage man. He wanted to live somewhere else, and loved his job, so he pursued it with vigor. I mean, come on!
Do what you love, in all aspects of your life. There will be ups and downs; but in the end, doing what you love is the only thing that’s going to make you happy. The sooner you start, the better. While I have no regrets, and have been traveling my whole life (thanks to Mom and Dad for putting that into my soul), I think the one thing I’d do differently is this: Start as soon as you can. If you really want to do it, do it. Make it happen. I don’t care if you’re 18 or 80. If you want it, do it. As one of our sayings goes: Don’t talk about it, be about it.
A: I couldn’t agree more. There are so many people out there who talk a lot but say very little. There are also many people that say a lot but do very little. Say what you mean, and do what you say. If you’re looking for someone to give you a handout, you’re going to wait for the rest of your life. Suck it up and do it. You’re the only one that can make it happen, and you can make it happen.
What’s next on your agenda? Do you plan on staying in your current location, or will you be moving on to greener pastures in the future?
R: As I noted before, we are actually changing the way we do things. Part of this is due to the natural evolution of our business, and part of it is just to get out and experience more. Our time in Berlin wraps up at the end of July. We then go to Freiburg for a month to spend some time relaxing, working, and visiting friends. After that, we’re off to Montenegro for at least three months. We have ideas about what comes after, but nothing is set in stone. Even though I say we’ll be making three to six-month jaunts, I will have no qualms about staying somewhere for a year or more. If we really love it and want to stick around, why not? Again, it’s about doing what you love. And of course, we have to make it to Mexico soon so we can buy you guys a few rounds of Negra Modelo.
A: Greener pastures! There’s way more than a lifetime worth of places to visit, and never a better time than now to start!
Check out the other Secrets of My Success entries: