I, like many Millennials, have an elusive dream. In mine, I’m sitting in a cafe in Barcelona, drinking a cappuccino, eating an almond croissant, and finishing a brilliant copywriting campaign for a small educational nonprofit before e-mailing it to my boss in Atlanta. That evening, I get to practice my Spanish when I meet some local friends for Spanish tapas and wine. The following morning is a Saturday, and I walk down to the local farmer’s market to pick up some fresh olives, basil, and sundried tomatoes to include in that night’s dinner.
Your dream might differ slightly from mine- in yours, you might be in a teahouse in Nepal doing graphic design work, or writing code from a homestay in Oaxaca or teaching English in a schoolhouse in Vietnam. But I bet you have a dream that has components similar to mine: namely, an international passport and a job that allows you to work from anywhere.
Millennials are obsessed with this vision, and it make sense: we’re fixated on travel, we’re working freelance jobs at historically unprecedented rates, and we’re getting married and having kids later than previous generations, so we’re less tied down.
I couldn’t say for sure where this cultural obsession with a location independent lifestyle came from, but if I had to guess I would say that it was originally popularized by Tim Ferriss in his book The Four Hour Workweek. In the book, originally published in 2007, Tim makes the case that everyone should start a web-based, passive income business selling how-to guides or french sailor t-shirts, outsource the distribution, and then retire to a cabana on Grand Cayman, eating chicken breasts with legumes, avoiding bread, sending the odd e-mail, and occasionally traveling to various third world countries to have cheap medical procedures done. (I’m being a little snarky here; I really like a lot of Tim’s work. His second book got me into weightlifting and encouraged me to change my diet, but I get a little cranky sometimes about a bunch of white male writers like Tim Ferriss advising us all that if we would just do what they did, we too could spend all of our time jet-setting to international locales and doing very little work.)
Let’s be honest: for most of us, the dream of the limited-work-hours passive-income-internet-business lifestyle will remain just that: a dream. On a macro scale, it just doesn’t…well, scale. If everyone contributing to the economy suddenly started working 4 hours a week, the economy would collapse. (Plus, there wouldn’t be any workers left to whom you could outsource your internet business distribution.) But even if you assume that most people are going to stay in their soul-sucking cubicle jobs and only *you* are going to escape, you’ll probably find that building a profitable, sustainable passive income business is a tall order, despite what hundreds of free kindle e-books and Udemy classes might tell you. It’s really noisy out there; the market is saturated because so many people are trying to start these types of businesses, and it’s hard to get noticed unless you already have a large network or platform to advertise and market to.
So where does that leave you and me and our Nepalese tea houses and Spanish cafes? As it turns out, we have a variety of options- they’re just not as simple or as effortless as the Tim Ferriss model. Basically, we just need to get good at doing a job that can be completed from anywhere.
Consider services that can be delivered over the internet, especially if you can arrange a consistent gig (either freelance or traditional) with a single company that allows you to work remotely. Copywriting, graphic design, technical writing, editing, data entry, resume writing, and web design all fit the bill.
Also look at jobs that allow you to consult with people via e-mail or skype, like individual therapy sessions, language tutoring, or business consulting. If you’re living in a country where the cost of living is low and you’re being paid well by the hour, the goal of working limited hours and spending as much time as possible on local experiences becomes more achievable.
Freelance and skype work allow you to travel between countries, subletting rooms or staying in hostels while you explore a particular town or city before moving on.
You can leverage your abilities as a native english speaker in many international destinations to find work as an ESL teacher. This isn’t a truly “location independent” option, since you’ll be tied down to a particular country for the length of your contract, but it is a way to get paid while living internationally.
Some places are better than others to teach- many places in Asia pay well enough to enable you to save money, for example, while teaching in South America may not even cover your living expenses. Many people choose to earn money where the currency is strong and spend money where the currency is weak in order to get the most out of their experience- for example, by teaching English in Japan before traveling in Thailand and Vietnam.
Finally, service oriented jobs that are in demand everywhere like massage therapy or hairdressing could also work, assuming you’re able to find a space to work and you’re willing to work under the table. This strategy will probably prove more effective if you’re planning on staying in one place for a longer amount of time- several months to a year, for example- because part of this work involves building a clientele.
Here are a few links with more information about the best jobs for achieving the elusive dream of location independence. Here’s a long list of different ways that real location independent people make money. Here’s another list from nunomad, a website and blog focused on location independent living. Finally, here’s a series of interviews with seven people working location independent jobs.
A couple of words of caution: Unless you already own an established coaching business, I would stay far away from any type of “coaching,” be it career coaching, relationship coaching or life coaching, even though it’s a job that allows you to consult via skype. Lots of people on the internet are more than happy to take your money in exchange for “training” you and providing you with meaningless certificates announcing your imminent qualification to tell other people what to do, but again, unless you have a built-in platform of people who trust you, building that kind of business is tough.
Furthermore, stay far away from any type of multi-level marketing scheme that requires you to recruit people to work under you. The odds that you’ll make any money are slim, and even if you do manage to become successful, you’re ultimately screwing over the people working under you (or the people working under them). It’s a simple math problem.