Minimalism is freedom

 

There are a lot of advantages to taking a minimalist approach when making international moves. I’ve mentioned some of these in a previous post. But minimalism can have an impact that goes beyond the practical, and if fully embraced, can help us reach our goals of financial freedom and location freedom. In fact, I find that both goals become far more likely, and require far less effort and fewer resources, when a minimalist approach is taken.

 

Tailor your choices to your goals

Being location independent and financially independent both seem to be goals to which many people say they aspire. But when faced with making some unconventional choices in order to attain these unconventional goals, they may protest that they could never do X, Y, or Z. There’s nothing wrong with that. One choice is not a rebuke of all other possible choices. However, it’s only fair to take a clear-eyed view when examining the trade-offs. Whether a life of location independence, financial independence, or both, is something you’re interested in, you should consider what you’d be willing to do differently to get there. After all, doing things the way everyone else does will logically only lead to the results everyone else has. And again, that’s perfectly fine. No one should be made to feel badly for living life the way that suits them best. But if having more control over your time and physical location are important to you, some lifestyle tweaks will serve you better than others. Minimalism is one of the most useful.

 

Fewer burdens, more freedom

There are a few statements that are seemingly obvious in their simplicity, but nonetheless must be clearly stated and fully understood: Financial independence is easier the lower your expenses are. Location independence is easier the less stuff you have. Being flexible with both categories (expenses and stuff) makes both even easier. Easy is good.

 

The easy way or the hard way

The hard way to pursue location independence or financial independence would be to have lots and lots of rigid expenses that you’re not willing to adjust, and to have loads of physical possessions that you absolutely cannot live without, and then carry those expenses and possessions around the world with you. That doesn’t sound fun or productive to me, so I’ll stick with the easy way. It’s eminently possible to do things the harder way, of course, but to be perfectly honest, that’s never been my style. Maybe it’s a sign of a deep commitment to minimalism, this inclination to avoid wasted resources, including time and energy. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe they’re one and the same. I don’t really mind which. I’ll assume that most people are like me and, quite sensibly I must say, prefer to do things the easier way.

There is a lens through which even making an unconventional life choice like pursuing location independence or financial independence (or both) is actually easier than the more conventional alternative. Living in the same place for too long, or working a standard job for 40 years, sounds really hard to me. Accumulating lots of stuff and lots of debt sounds hard also.

 

The less you own, the freer you are

Here’s where minimalism shines. The less you own, the freer you are. The more basic your needs are, the lower your expenses. The process only refines and clarifies even further with repeated iterations. Over time, you realise you need less to be happy, and naturally, the right level of minimalism emerges. It will ultimately serve to advance your freedom in any areas that matter to you.

In yoga there is a concept of aparigraha, my favourite translation of which is non-grasping. This dovetails perfectly with minimalism, in that it reminds us to work on being less dependent on any particular thing, be it a material possession, a habit, or a particular outcome. Keeping this in mind as a virtue to strive for, we can move lightly through the world with fewer encumbrances.

Be minimalist with everything except pictures of succulents and cacti against white backgrounds

Don’t own stuff, own yourself

Don’t own stuff, own yourself. Self-ownership is the clearest definition of freedom I can come up with. It’s the simplest, most minimalist, yes, even the laziest way of explaining what it is I’m seeking. If you’re seeking that too, in whatever shape or form that looks like in your life, consider how minimalism can serve to further that goal.

 

Where would you go? Choosing a location as a digital nomad

Where would you go, if you could go anywhere?

It’s a delicious question, and perhaps a daunting one. For the longest time, my answer would have been a very thirsty “everywhere.” First I was lacking money, then time. When both barriers can be satisfactorily addressed, what next?

In many ways it’s the epitome of a first world problem. It’s certainly one that very few people in the history of the world have had the luxury of facing. Those of us who are privileged enough to live in the developed world, however, are probably familiar with the concept of too much choice being perceived as stressful or overwhelming. We are now also well acquainted with the concept of FOMO, as cringe-worthy an acronym as that may be. Choosing one thing means missing out on something else, right?

So what happens when you’ve conquered the barriers of both time and money, and can choose your own adventure? I’ve compiled lists upon lists of places I’d like to go, but when it comes to actually deciding where to go next, I find myself facing analysis paralysis. Maybe you do too. Here are some ideas on how to refine your thinking.

Identify (and conquer) the barriers:

What’s currently holding you back? If location independence is your dream, identify what’s currently standing in your way. For me, growing up I longingly pored over maps and memorised world capitals, to recite like mantras, from Addis Ababa to Zagreb. They all sounded like magic. But I had to sort the money barrier out first. Beyond simple survival, travel pretty much seemed like the main purpose of money to me. It still does.

Then, once I had an education, and a profession, and my finances more or less in order, I found my time wasn’t nearly as free as I needed it to be. So that became the next, much trickier challenge. I’m still working on the balance between cultivating an income stream, and being fully location independent. But for me, once I found satisfactory solutions to both the money and time barriers, I decided to just go for it.

For others, the barriers could be more specific, or more complex. You might have to get key loved ones on board, for example. Beyond that, most of it comes down to logistics, and a bit of boldness. I think both of those are within the grasp of most people who want it badly enough.

How to choose your next location when you’re newly location independent:

Perhaps a lot of time and planning went into getting you to the point of being able to choose your location at will. Or maybe you’re very brave, or very lucky. However you got here, the world is now essentially your oyster… or is it?

There are a few areas that I’ve identified as being key considerations when choosing my next location, even if it’s a temporary one. They seem to broadly fall into two categories, Practical Concerns, and Lifestyle Questions:

Practical Concerns:
  • Will you need a visa to go there? How long can you stay? This varies tremendously depending on how you fared in the lottery of where you happened to be born, and to whom. It’s a variable that’s totally out of your control, and it significantly impacts your choice of location, or at least the array of easy choices open to you. In Europe, for example, I’m including a combination of both Schengen and non-Schengen countries, because as a Canadian, counting my Schengen days is something I’ll need to keep on top of.

  • Amenities. For many of us, reliable wifi would be a must-have to maintain our income streams. Beyond that, my personal list of must-have amenities is pretty minimal. Consider what your list includes, but be honest and avoid being overly restrictive. Not having a Sephora should not be considered a deal-breaker, for example.

  • Cost of living. This is a key consideration especially if your income stream is variable and/or if your budget is tight. In building my list, I’m including a selection of places where cost of living is very low, in case I ever need to cut expenses to the bare minimum for a while.

  • Types of accommodation: In doing my initial research, my first port of call has been Airbnb but I know that in many locations, that’s not the best place to ultimately book. But I like that it allows you to get a quick overview of what’s on offer, and even if better prices are to be found elsewhere, it’s informative to know what the “worst case”* would look like. (*It’s hard to define choosing comfortable lodging to one’s taste and specifications, in any city, anywhere in the world, as the “worst” anything, but you know what I mean.)

  • Access to international airport: If you’ll be moving around a lot, even while you’re based in a particular place, then perhaps airport accessibility will be a concern. It’s a good idea to consider transport costs in general, as a low cost of living otherwise could easily be undone by excessively pricey flights or local transport costs.

Lifestyle Questions:
  • Nearness to family/loved ones: I now have two places that will perpetually call to me, Vancouver, which is where most of my family are, and will always be home, and Dublin, where someone very dear to me happens to be from. So I have been testing out sample flights for both locations, when I’m thinking about cities. Europe is especially appealing, with the many short, cheap flights back to Dublin. But it does make some locations more appealing than others. For example, Tbilisi sounds great, and appears to be super affordable, but there are no direct flights to Dublin, and they’re mostly fairly long and expensive. Not ideal.

  • Day to day lifestyle: This comes down to the type of day to day living that you want to achieve. I prefer cities that are walkable, or at least have good public transport. I’d also be thrilled if there were a yoga studio nearby. For now, I’ll safely rule out anywhere too rural, or too car-centric.

  • Language: I’ve heard people talk about this as a limiting factor, as though anywhere that doesn’t speak your native language is somehow off limits. To each their own, but I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to learn a new language and to have more than a few days to practice it. Is there a language you want to learn? Or have you some language skills you’d like to put to use? I personally plan to learn as much as I can of whatever the local language happens to be, and if it’s available on Duolingo or another similar app, all the better!

  • Experiences/food/culture: It’s hard to go too far wrong in this regard, as it seems like interesting experiences, food, and culture are to be found literally everywhere on this amazing planet of ours. It’s worth thinking about what it is you hope to experience in the location you choose.

My list:

With that being said, here’s my initial list of potential locations I’d like to try in the next few years.

Europe:

Prague

In Schengen zone (limited to combined 90 days in 180 day period)

  • Prague

  • Budapest

  • Tallinn

  • Barcelona

Non-Schengen

  • Bucharest

  • Sofia

  • Belgrade

  • Zadar

  • Sarajevo

Asia:

Bali

  • Chiang Mai
  • Bali
  • Hong Kong
  • Seoul
Central/South America:

Buenos Aires

  • Buenos Aires
  • Medellin
  • Oaxaca
  • Panama City
Africa:

Cape Town

  • Cape Town
  • Nairobi
  • Lagos
  • Kigali

It sounds like a lot, and it is! I’m going to start out in Europe, both to be close to Dublin, and also because I like it here a lot, and there’s so much I still haven’t seen.

What about you? Even if it’s just for fun:

where would you go, if you could go anywhere?

Goodbye, corporate job

Today was my last day in my corporate job.

It felt as freeing as I’d expected to turn in the clunky old laptop and walk away, sans security badge, sans security blanket (but with a happy goodbye to the nice security guard). I ran into a colleague on my way out, and he said he envied me. I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve felt that way countless times, watching other colleagues move on. There’s obviously a lot to be said for what the big employers can offer, and I’m very grateful for the time I’ve spent at mine. But it’s exciting to be on the precipice of something new, and I think that’s what we all tend to vicariously feel when we see our friends and colleagues making moves.

My intention now is to be so tuned in and present that I don’t feel that twinge of envy when I see other people making big, bold moves. Because I’ll be making my own, and I won’t have any reason or excuse as to why I can’t. My time, my energy, my focus, my results, are all my own now. It could be terrifying, but we’re made for this. Smarter people than me have said, repeatedly, that safety is an illusion, but I like the way Helen Keller said it:

It can feel like a big risk, venturing out into previously uncharted territory. Both the potential upside and downside are much greater, and both are entirely possible. And will both be felt by the risk-taker alone. I’m OK with that. I’ve done the math and the equation balances, especially when freedom is given such a heavily weighted average, as it is in my calculations.

So farewell to the illusory security of my old job. I’m excited for all that lies ahead.

 

 

Planning an international move: a checklist for minimalists

Making your move as a minimalist

When you’re getting ready to make a big move, the to-do list can start to feel overwhelming.
You can get caught up in minutiae that isn’t worth your time, and that can distract you from
fully being in the moment and really living those last few weeks or months before you start
the next chapter.

In my most recent international move, from the US to Ireland, I had fortunately been in the
process of decluttering and moving towards minimalism for about a year prior, so it was
about as stress-free as an international move can be. I realise not everyone making an
international move will have such a spartan amount of personal possessions. But I think anyone can encourage a shift of focus off of the physical possessions that can loom so large, and
onto some of the less obvious things that future-you will really thank you for getting figured
out.

Plus it’s just fun being a minimalist and making lists.

Various types of stuff and what to do With it:

Physical stuff:

General rule: Decide what you’re bringing, and then bring less. This is a good
time to get rid of old stuff: donate/give away most, sell some if you have time,
store an absolute minimum. I stored a box of sentimental stuff with my parents,
and got rid of the rest. Any clothes you have that you’re not bringing, you
probably don’t need. Donate, donate, donate. (Bonus tip for future-you: remember those trips to the charity shop before your re-accumulate more stuff.)

Kitchen stuff: I love to cook, and even as a minimalist, I briefly considered
whether I should try to bring some of my kitchen stuff with me to Ireland. NO! I
happened to mention this insane notion to my cousin who’s much smarter than
me, and her response was: “Um, no. Definitely don’t do that. I thought you’d done
this before?” Touche. Kitchen stuff was donated and zero fucks were given that
day.

Furniture: This is one of the worst categories of stuff. It’s big and heavy and hard
to get rid of. Get rid of as much as you can, ideally by selling it. I’ve had good luck
with Craigslist in Canada and the US, other countries have similar sites.

Clothing/personal effects: Keep these to one or two suitcases, max. Yes,
including shoes and accessories. You’ll replace a good bit of it once you settle
into your new location, anyways. I try to keep only what I’m currently using, plus
what I’ll definitely use in the next 3-6 months. Even doing this, and even with an already minimal wardrobe, I still got rid of yet more stuff within a few months of arriving in Ireland. Bring less than you think.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, my ride or die

Bring like this amount of stuff, if you can

Money stuff:

Banking: This comes up surprisingly often on various expat subreddits etc., especially
given how simple the best approach is: Keep your bank account in your home
country, and open a new one in your new country. Done and done. There’s usually no downside to this and it will make your day to day life so much easier.

  • Americans will need to remember file an FBAR to report any non-US bank
    accounts, to the extent their total foreign accounts exceed $10,000 USD in a given
    year. Talk to an expat tax pro (such as yours truly!) about this if you don’t
    know how to file it!

Credit cards: If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction
fees, and has a low (or no) annual fee, keep it. I’ve learned the hard way that
credit cards are expensive and sucky in some countries (hi, Ireland!), so I like having my
US credit card as a fallback for any time I’m in a country with a currency I don’t
normally deal with.

Retirement/savings: Consider what you’ll do with your retirement/long term
savings accounts in both your departure and destination locations. I rolled my old
401k into an IRA, and I’m planning on maintaining that for the time being. I have
some specific ideas on what to do with US retirement accounts when leaving the
US, both as a US citizen, and as someone who will become a US non-resident,
but that’s for a future tax-nerdy post.

Transferring money: I like Transferwise for quickly moving money between
currencies, for a good exchange rate and with low, easy to understand fees. Don’t do anything silly and complicated like old fashioned wire transfers, unless there’s really no way around it.

Taxes: Just adding this to the checklist, as you’ll want to consider your residency
status in both locations, as well as arrival and departure filing requirements.
These really vary a great deal depending on your personal circumstances, so,
again, find a friendly expat tax expert for all the countries you deal with!

Simplify: I got rid of any excess cards and accounts that I wasn’t using, and
continually re-examine this to see if there’s anything further I can minimise or
simplify. I like having as few accounts as possible to get the job done. Right now that tends to average two per country I deal in, one for everyday banking, and another for long term savings/investing.

 

Practical stuff:

Communication: Everywhere else in the world uses Whatsapp, but I had to get a
few of my American pals on board with it. Yes, you may be used to texting me.
Now you can text me on Whatsapp and then the evil empire (aka the cell phone
company) doesn’t triumph over the downtrodden.

Free your phone: I happened to own my phone outright, so I was able to ask my
previous phone company to unlock it before I left. This made getting a new SIM a
snap. I’d suggest this where possible. Using a foreign SIM sucks for a number of
reasons, not least being extortionate roaming charges, and not being able to easily give your number to cute people you meet. Trying to explain your weird foreign phone number with its country code and plus signs and leading zeroes will really kill your flirtation game. Kidding! Sort of! It’s good for giving your number to local services too. Just get on a local SIM as soon as you can, and start living your life.

Mailing address: This one doesn’t come with any easy, pithy answers. Physical,
paper mail is the sucks and there’s no really satisfactory way of transporting those
horrible bits of paper around the world. Minimise the amount of physical mail
you’ll need to the extent possible, and then ask a friend if they can forward you
the really essential stuff.

  • For me this basically amounted to my W-2, as my previous employer wouldn’t email
    it to an external email address. And even this managed to suck! They
    ended up sending it to my old apartment, despite my best attempts to update my forwarding address to my friend’s address before I left. Ugh, fine. Fortunately, I had set myself a reminder to follow up on the W-2 if it hadn’t arrived by a certain date, so they would have time to resend it to the correct forwarding address. Doing this one time was fine, but doing this monthly would be unpleasant. Avoid paper mail to the extent possible.

Passport: If it will be expiring anytime soon, you might want to renew before you
leave. I have a gorgeous 10 year passport and it’s my most prized physical
possession.

Driver’s licence: In my experience you really don’t need that “international driver’s
licence” thing people sometimes mention. But it will be handy if your current
driver’s licence has as much time left before it expires as possible. Fortunately, I had just renewed mine before I moved, so I’m using this
to buy time and decide if I want to get an Irish driver’s licence. They make you
take the test, so I’m leaning towards no. I haven’t had any difficulty renting a car here on my old licence.

Anything else?

I’ll be making another move soon, this time to become semi-nomadic and
location independent. I envision having a few mini-bases in a few important locations where
my most beloved people are. But I’ll still rely on the above concepts of minimising and
simplifying, as they have served me well. What would you add to this list?