Vagabonding vs Location-Independent Entrepreneurship: 2 rungs on the ladder of fulfillment

“And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” – Rolf Potts

In his classic travel book Vagabonding, Rolf Potts lays out a mental framework for effective travel. There is something for everyone; the book touches on everything from practical safety trips abroad to Stoic philosophy. For someone stuck in a 9-5 job, Potts’ travel stories sound – and indeed, are – magnificent and inspiring.

I enjoyed the book. Epic travel stories aside, it’s approach to travel is welcome reminder to be more mindful on the road. But I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction after reading the last chapter. That chapter is called “Coming Home”.

It’s a fitting conclusion to the novel, tying together Potts’ wonderful stories and lessons from years of travel. In coming home, Potts recommends a brining the lessons learned abroad back to our home town, wherever that may be.

This is, at once, an uplifting message. I imagine that anyone returning home after more than 6 months of travel would feel a mild depression, and so the idea of “maintaining the travel experience” is encouraging. Vagabonding tells us to bring the lessons from the road home, and incorporate them into our daily lives as the travel bug grows and we prepare for the next adventure.

But I thought, no this isn’t right… surely, there are those travelers who return home after an adventure excited to carry the experience forward, but usually the opposite is true. I don’t see the elation in their eyes when they talk about returning home (perhaps they should read the book).

In pinpointing this feeling, it struck me that there is a big difference between a Vagabonder and a Location-Independent Entrepreneur (LIE, for lack of a better acronym): the Vagabonder is a long-term traveler; the Location-Independent Entrepreneur is a perpetual traveler. As the title says, Vagabonding is an “Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel.”

Indeed, “long-term” is where LIE diverges from vagabonding, a sentiment captured by this vagablogger:

Nigel Marsh gave a great talk that addresses something many long term travelers deal with — how do you balance your life and the need to work and earn money?

Marsh notes, “I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I wasn’t working.” That’s a sentiment almost any long term traveler can relate to. But what happens when you come home? When you’re no longer on the road, even if it’s only between trips, it’s easy to get trapped into thinking that life is nothing but work and drudgery and only travel is real living.

Travel becomes your escape from a life out of balance. 

It works; travel can be a very effective escape. In fact, many people work very hard to turn their traveling into a full-time experience, but that usually involves working on the road, which often has mixed results — turns out it’s hard to earn money on the road. Chances are your travel blog isn’t going to earn you enough money to travel, there are exceptions, but the odds of you becoming one are slim. Even if you’re lucky enough to work in a field that allows you to be on the road and still earning money, you’re still working. You’re stilling going to have to find a balance between work and your life. [emphasis added]

Of course, Vagabonders can circumvent the “long-term travel” and go “forever travel”, but I’m not so sure they would want to.

Building a business on the road is a lot of work. Location-independent entrepreneurs wake up everyday with a gleam in their eye to do one thing: hustleMany people try to build a business – and most fail. The idea of waking up, working for an hour, then sipping coconuts in your hammock is, for the most part, a pipe dream.

In thinking about these two approaches, I asked myself: How does our perspective shift if we plan to travel, forever? When going from a Vagabonding life to LIE, what changes?

Building a successful business takes focus, effort and persistence over a long period of time, mindsets that tend to clash with the serendipity and go-with-the-flow experience of vagabonding.

If grinding it out every day sounds like fun, then entrepreneurship is probably the right path for you. Many LIEs have realized what it actually means to live the dream, and created their own reality on the road that leads to long-term happiness.

If, on the other hand, the free-flow Vagabonding approach is more your style, by all means go for it: long-term travel is incredibly rewarding. It stimulates our creative juices, helps us get perspective on the world, make new friends, and ultimately grow. It’s also just plain fun.

In the never-ending quest for optimization, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes travel great. Many conversations with fellow LIEs here in Saigon have revealed one interesting side-effect of the LIE forever-travel lifestyle: despite living on the road, there is a surprising lack of serendipity in most of our lives. Many forever-travelling entrepreneurs have lamented that they miss the bliss and spontaneity of “proper travel”.

This may sound surprising – after all, aren’t we always traveling? – but let’s take a closer look at the habits of successful location-independent entrepreneurs. As it happens, self-management is a key factor in being successful as an entrepreneur. Traditional bosses are gone, replaced by structured schedules, habit tracking and accountability mastermind groups on Slack.

As I write this, I recognize that it falls squarely in the category of #firstworldproblems. That does not lesson its importance, though; first world problems do indeed matter, as author Alan de Botton points out. But more importantly, it raises the question: can we maintain a level of randomness, uncertainty, spontaneity and freedom in our lives as entrepreneurs, while still building a business?

I think yes. That is the ideal which LIE aims for: a true balance between work and play, or perhaps a convergence where the two become indistinguishable. One where business is handled on such a level that you can enjoy the experience of vagabonding-esque travel while your business runs smoothly without your constant oversight.

But even beyond that, the ultimate goal is enjoying the work itself – whatever that may be – so much so that lines between work, play and travel dissolve entirely. In that way, our work, like travel, becomes an opportunity to embrace daily adventure and fall in love once more.

I’ve never really thought of work and life as separate. My work is my life, and vice versa. If you can find a career you are passionate about, working hard doesn’t have to be a chore. We spend roughly 80 per cent of our lives at work, so it’s important that we find jobs that we love. If you think of work as a chore and dread turning up every day, maybe it’s time that you consider a career change. – Richard Branson

  • Elliott Crane

    Awesome. As a newcomer to the LIE community, this was really a well-rounded perspective (more so than some of Chris Guillebeau’s stuff). I’ll be reading more of these.

  • Dan

    Glad you enjoyed the post Elliott. Best of luck on your journey as an entrepreneur. 🙂