These Photos Brought to You By Uncertainty | Intentional Travelers

We recently took a quick trip up to Jedd’s alma mater where he spoke about Peace Corps on an alumni panel for students interested in volunteer service after graduation. It gave us the opportunity to meet up with a number of people from Jedd’s college days. Over breakfast with one of Jedd’s former mentors at PLU, we had a great discussion about what we’re doing (or not doing) with our lives.

We had found ourselves losing enthusiasm and struggling in the absence of a real focus or direction for our lives. Thankfully, he reminded us why we chose our particular way of life in the first place and that choosing our own path naturally comes with its own set of challenges, including uncertainty. We left very grateful for his insights and re-motivated to carry on.

I reflected on our situation, feeling the need to remind myself what we have to be thankful for, and I shared a series of photos from our recent nomadic life on the travel blog. Here’s a quick excerpt and link to that post: Continue reading

Things We Love – “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess”

A Book Worth Reading

7-mutiny-against-excessSometimes when I read a book, I wish I had the power to make it required reading for a certain population. This is one of those books, and the chosen population is: America.

When my friend shared 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with me, I could see why she thought I’d be interested. But for some reason, I put off reading it. It sounded like work. Was I ever wrong. Now that I’ve finished the last page, I’m ready to read it again. That never happens.

There is something about the way this Texas-pastor’s-wife writes that is both hilarious and inspirational. Author, Jen Hatmaker, is witty, authentic, and bold as she takes you and her family along on a 7-month “experimental mutiny against excess.”

About the 7 Experiment

For one month each, Jen and her young family of five creatively fasted from: Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, and Stress. For example, in month one they could only eat 7 foods (spinach, sweet potatoes, wheat bread, eggs, avocados, apples, and chicken). Month two, she kept a rotation of only 7 items of clothing. Month three, they gave away 7 things from their home every day. For Waste, they recycled everything possible and started eating unpackaged goods from their new backyard garden. Spending involved limiting their purchases to only 7 locations for the month; and Stress month led them to take 7 daily pauses for prayer and start practicing Sabbath.

In each chapter, I literally laughed out loud. Then I’d turn the page and become either passionately fired up or emotionally choked up. As she shares her struggles to “walk the walk,” you can’t help but feel a fire under your butt to make some changes of your own.

ThingsWeLove-Simply-IntentionalIf anything, this book is a call for American Christians to wake up and shape up. But it’s also addressing the needs of our society at large, which applies to anyone. Our lives are getting excessive – more busy and more cluttered – but it’s not making us happier, and it’s affecting our ability to be Christ’s hands and feet among the suffering of our world.

This book is not about making you feel guilty. I wish I could explain, but you’ll just have to give it a try for yourself. In the meantime, here’s a quick promo video for a corresponding Bible study where the author gives a brief overview of the 7 Project:

Home and A Different Kind of Homesick

I wrote this post in February 2012, before we left for Peace Corps, and for some reason I left it in the draft queue. My thoughts are still incredibly relevant to our situation today as we move from place to place…


House-Mountain-Switzerland

Have you ever tried to imagine the perfect place to live? When you see yourself in that city or town (or in the middle of nowhere), in that house, is everything as it should be? If you could just live there, would you never need to move or remodel or change the furniture or improve the yard?

Would you be completely satisfied?

I’ve gone through this “exercise” more than once in my head, each time running through many places I’ve thought would be cool to live. A condo in the city with a great view! (Too much traffic, expensive parking, claustrophobic busyness…) Four acres of farmland with big sky and fresh produce! (Too far from the city, neighbors aren’t close enough, endless work to be done…) A colorful hut on a tropical island! (Too far from family, mosquitos, difficult to travel…)

Even if I truly enjoyed the place I was imagining, there were always other things that wouldn’t let me be totally overwhelmed with satisfaction and endless joy. There was still poverty in the world. There was still my own shortcomings and failures. There was still reality.

No matter where, the image of that picture-perfect place was always more enjoyable to imagine than to actually live in or own. There was always something missing.

According to the TV series/documentary “This Emotional Life,” human beings tend to expect that what makes us happy for a day will make us happy for a lifetime. There’s a fancy term called “Hedonic adaptation”- which means that human beings are good at getting accustomed to, or adapting to, positive changes in our lives. On the other hand, people find ways to like things when they’re stuck with them.

The few times I’ve gone through this thought process I’ve described above, I mourn a little. I have the overwhelming feeling that I will never truly feel “at home.” I will never find a place where I can be perfectly at peace. I will never truly rest. I will never arrive somewhere where I won’t need something else, something more. I will always be just a little bit restless. Do you ever feel that, too?

Maybe this is why I’m addicted to travel and I put off settling down. Maybe subconsciously I avoid finding a home because I know it won’t make me feel “at home-” I’ll get my hopes up and then have to mourn that loss of a dream. Instead, being a nomad is closer to my true nature. I do love to travel.

But why do I long to feel at home in the first place? Why do I try to imagine the perfect place, where I can stop searching for something more, if it doesn’t exist? Why do I have this life-long restlessness and the unshakeable urge to keep searching? The answer, I think, is theological.

I believe there actually is a home where I will finally feel at peace- it’s just not of this world. For any fears of dying I might conjure, this consolation is greater and I put my faith in it. I believe I was created for a heavenly home, and all the longing and dissatisfaction I encounter in this life are a result of not yet being there. The dissatisfaction is a reminder that something remains unfinished, something I have to look forward to.

All the same…

I suspect that some day we will settle down somewhere. It likely won’t be a typical set up, since we’ve sort of outgrown our ability to fit into anything cookie cutter. Perhaps we’ll try a tiny house. Perhaps we’ll still travel a few months out of the year. But we do value community highly, and I think that will eventually pull us back out of orbit.

Whenever that happens, it will be interesting to see how much I’ll still feel that existential homesickness. Will I ever be content to stay in one place? I don’t know. I know now that no place can ever be perfect, but I still hope to find somewhere that’s right for us. Whatever that means…

For Everything There Is A Season

Sunset-view-plane

It’s not easy to describe what we’re doing with our lives right now. It’s unconventional. We’re “Digital Nomads,” which is a thing, although most people have never heard of it.

We actually have thousands of examples of other travelers, entrepreneurs, and creative-types who are making a living while being mobile. The more we read their stories and understand that our highly-connected world is shifting in favor of this lifestyle, the more we think that our nomadic journey may last longer than we thought.

Since our return from Peace Corps, we’ve been piecing together an income and trying to keep our costs low (even while traveling). So far, we’ve succeeded in not touching our savings and spending less than we budgeted, all without enduring a commute or sitting through a 9-to-5. That’s not bad, I think.

We’ve got a long way to come, though. Although we’ve prioritized travel and flexibility, we don’t want it to come at the cost of community, meaning, and purpose. We are both big-picture people and we like to be working toward something. We don’t want to just float through life without purpose. We like to do work that makes a difference- which we are, in small ways (like managing social media for a non-profit in Jamaica and revamping a website for another non-profit in DC). But I think we’re both longing to make a bigger impact somewhere, to find a little more focus.

Happiness of Pursuit by Chris GuillebeauThe other day we went to a book signing for The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose To Your Life; and the author, Chris Guillebeau, fielded a question which was essentially about how someone can determine for themself what quest or purpose they should pursue. He wisely reminded us that life comes in seasons, and sometimes the season doesn’t have a focus. Sometimes the season is just about exploring and trying different things.

We are definitely in the season of exploration. We are trying out this new Digital Nomad life. We are taking up offers to help out on farms or in backyards, we are testing our skills at travel blogging, learning what it’s like to cook in a restaurant, connecting with movers and shakers, training ourselves in new skills, reading, researching, and seeing the world.

We honestly have no idea where all this will lead. Actually, scratch that. We have too many ideas of where it will lead. Running a non-profit. Writing books. Owning a farm. Coordinating meaningful travel experiences. Hosting B&B guests. Travel blogging. Making documentaries. Managing social media accounts. Working with refugees. Working with college students. Teaching in other countries. Hosting service-learning trips. Teaching at Universities. The list goes on…

We would love to settle upon one or two ideas and move into our season of focus. We can only trust that that day will come and keep moving forward. We have to practice embracing the uncertainty.

It’s not always easy in the moment. We doubt ourselves. We get anxious. But we have to remind ourselves that every season has its own value. We try to stay committed to intentionally choosing our own path. Not blindly following the conventional prescription for work. Not settling for less.


If you can relate to this stage of life, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What is your experience with uncertainty or not fitting into cookie-cutter roles?

Work?!

DigitalNomads
Recently the hardest question to answer these days is: “What do you do for work?”

When people ask us this question I think they are trying to understand two fundamental things:

1. How are you supporting yourself financially to do the things you love (ie. travel) and

2. What exactly do you do?

Explaining to people where we currently live seems simpler to answer (in case you are wondering: it’s with family in Oregon when we are not house-sitting or traveling). Still complicated, but simpler.

Michelle Chang Travels

Train station in France

Living this unconventional,”digital nomad” lifestyle is difficult to explain. It’s based on core values and principles of wanting to live a life that is simple, intentional, relationship-based, and flexible (regarding time). Whenever we are faced with any decisions about what we want to do with our lives, we use these principles to guide us.

Whereas someone with a more conventional life could say, “I live in __” and “I do ___ for a living” and that might not change for awhile, our lives are lived in a much faster, more fluid pace (which has it’s benefits and challenges). I just spoke to a good friend recently (whom we served with in the Peace Corps) and she told me, “Jedd, I couldn’t do what you guys are doing. I need to be in one place for awhile.” I get it.

Currently our unconventional lifestyle is a better fit for us in regards to where we are and what we want in life. Somedays we do think about having a more “settled” life. But for now, the benefits of travel, discovery, and experience outweigh security and predictability. However, we also realize that earning an income is a necessary part of life. Thanks to technology, the sharing economy, the support of family and friends, we are able to do a couple of things that help support us financially. How do we do it?

It can be broken down into two simple concepts: Expenses and Income.

Ideally you want fewer expenses and more income, and not the other way around (a concept I learned late in life, thanks to Michelle and maturity).

Expenses

We were hanging out with some friends recently (a couple) where one of them said, “I saved a lot of money from this 50% off sale.” Their significant other looked at them and said, “That’s not saving. That’s spending.”

I laughed at this conversation because I would have been the one thinking that I had saved a lot of money. Michelle has the other perspective where money spent is not money saved.

The truth is that life does have a cost, whether we like it or not. There will always be expenses. But one of the best practices I have learned is how to lower and cut out unnecessary expenses. This is important because the more expenses you have, the more income you need to make. When expenses start piling up, it creates a lot of stress and pressure. More importantly, it takes away flexibility and freedom. You may not be able to leave a job that you don’t like. You might not be able to travel as often as you’d like. And what I found was that I was spending more time at work than I was with Michelle.

Here are some of the ways (and I’m sure there are more things we can do) that have lowered or cut out our expenses:

ACTION LEARNED PROS CONS
Sold Our Car Use public transportation, borrow, rent No gas, insurance payments, repairs, etc. Not having one when you really need it?
Housesitting Living from a suitcase, simplicity No lease, housing payments, utility bills. Ability to travel and live in different places (rent free) Constantly on the road, nothing to call your own, always looking for the next opportunity.
 Travel Hacking Using miles instead of cash to travel.  Affordable travel. Takes work to keep track of. Must be responsible with credit cards.
 Help Exchange Finding mutually beneficial arrangements. Work for room and board. Additional benefits of networking, spending time with friends, knowledge and experience in different trades or skills, exploring new places for cheap. Experience depends on your host and if it’s a good fit for both parties.
Family Phone Plans Cheaper than individual plans. Must remember to write a check to the person in charge of the bill.
Living Simply Life without excess stuff. No furniture to purchase or upkeep, less to manage when moving from place to place, easy to find things because there’s less to look through, etc.
Affordable Shopping Shopping at thrift stores  Huge savings on things like clothes. Takes more effort and time to find the things you want or need.
Dining Out Less Cook on our own.  Huge savings on food. Much more fun and rewarding.  Takes effort, planning, and time to cook.

Remember, it would be nice to eliminate all expenses, but we also know that it’s difficult. It’s also important to note that lowering or cutting out expenses does not mean cutting out value or quality. Eliminating unnecessary costs and expenses should be liberating and not a hinderance. It’s also important for everyone to find the right balance for their own lives. Owning a home or a car isn’t a bad thing. Please let us know if you have additional suggestions on how we can lower or cut more of our expenses.

#jumpingjedd

Visiting friends in Boston. #jumpingjedd

Income

Before we left the Peace Corps, Michelle and I did some forecasting regarding our first year back. What did we want to do in that first year? Did we want to travel? Where? How long? Then came the big question, how much would it cost? Additionally, when we weren’t traveling, how much would things cost regarding our monthly expenses? Food? Student loan payments? Phone and internet? We came up with some rough estimates and determined what we would need to make in that year between the two of us to live the lives we wanted. If we didn’t earn enough income, we’d have to tap into savings. Anything extra (the dream) would go into savings and retirement. This is how we determine whether or not the life we want to live is sustainable or not. We are trying it out until the system fails. If we feel that we are not earning enough income to meet our expenses with our unconventional living, then we’ll start to consider more conventional means.

It’s important to note that because we are already trying to live simply with minimal expenses, our income goal is a lot lower than most people. It’s what we think is doable and comfortable for us. This is not the same for everyone. As of right now, here is how we earn income:

J&M Consulting
J&M
Michelle and I started a business as soon as we got back from the Peace Corps. We serve small businesses by providing a wide range of online services that include but are not limited to: social media management, contracting online services, website development, brand and identity development, customer service/client management services, and website management. The key aspect of all of these services is that we can do them from anywhere in the world that has acceptable internet.  Currently we have 6 clients from the west coast to the east coast. As a startup, we are still focusing our services and which clients we can serve best, but it’s been going well so far. This is our business website: J&M Consulting

Odd Jobs
DSC04211
Every now and then people ask us to help them with some sort of project- farming, yard work, housesitting, computer trouble-shooting, etc.. Most of the time we do these things without any expectation of payment but sometimes people do give us something in exchange.

Just like the expenses section, we of course would be more than happy for any suggestions regarding ways we can increase our income (without compromising our values and principles).

Hope this gives you a better sense of what it is that we are doing for the time being and how we try to live the life that we want. As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, or suggestions below.

-J