Back in 2007, an ambitious and unknown author named Tim Ferriss reached out to me because he had a book coming out and wanted to know if I’d review it and/or interview him. I was probably one of about 200 people he reached out to. He was ringing up people he thought had an audience that aligned with his. He had read my World’s Cheapest Destinations book while choosing where to travel and thought I might find his book interesting.
It was something called The 4-Hour Workweek and contained some (at the time) radical ideas about outsourcing, concentrating on what matters, and freeing up your time to do what you really wanted to do, without worrying about the money flow. For some reason that I can’t recall now, I started the interview on this blog but then continued it on my book resource site, WorldsCheapestDestinations.com. I’ve recently revamped that site and scaled down the number of pages, so I’m putting the still-great interview up here for posterity.
As you probably know, Mr. Ferriss is hugely famous now. You could say his bestselling book was the spark that started a revolution. It led to the whole digital nomad phenomenon and a thousand blogs and podcasts about location independent living. Tim Ferriss’ own podcast is terrific as well. A good place to start for travelers is his two-part interview with Rolf Potts of Vagabonding. (That book, by the way, is now more than a decade old and Ferriss produced a recent audiobook version.)
Consider this interview a trip back in time, then zoom forward to the 4-hour Workweek blog and his podcast for more recent thoughts. Like this recent quote that I totally love: “Luxury is feeling unrushed.”
Me in 2007: You coined a great phrase I love—the “too weak vacation.” In an environment where some people say they can’t even manage to get away for more than an extended weekend, what do people need to do to find more time to travel?
Ferriss in 2007: There are a few steps. The first is realizing that you have more leverage as an employee or entrepreneur than you assume. If a productive person can get a key project done in less time, can streamline the company, or streamline a process, it’s easy to find 3-4 weeks of travel time. Your ability to negotiate that is often overlooked.
Also, if you can also propose concrete business reasons for travel, you can combine business and personal travel. Millions of people do this every month, tacking a personal trip onto the end of a business one. Work out an overseas conference or a visiting apprenticeship. I have seen many teachers doing that effectively, even though people assume teaching is one of those careers that is tied to the physical classroom. Some teachers find a way to take students overseas. Others say “I want to look at how this teacher over there is doing curriculum development. They will teach me what they know for two weeks.” Set that up on your own, working out how it would take place and what the benefits are, then propose it. Frame it in a way that’s good for both you and your boss or organization: “This is an opportunity for us to learn x, y, and z.”
For office workers or business owners, it is incredibly easy to conduct business from somewhere else. A software tool like GotoMyPC even allows you to work remotely from your regular computer, so you can use all the software you would sitting at your desk. You can also use a USB drive to bring many applications with you as an executable file. You can fit a load of data onto a USB thumb drive-they even make ones that fit in your wallet!
If you are an entrepreneur, one of the first steps is to apply an 80/20 filter to your time and your business. Take a good look at what actions are really producing the bulk of your results and develop a “not to do list.”
I’m always amazed at how many people get laid off from a job, with a nice severance package, but don’t take advantage of the golden opportunity to have some real travel time.
That’s a perfect opportunity—what are you sitting at home for?! Take advantage of this gift of time! I wouldn’t necessarily advise this, but I have a friend who makes it a point to get fired from or laid off from his job every year. He mostly works for start-ups and ends up changing jobs each year, taking 6-12 months in between, where he travels really well on what would only last him a few months at home. He’s in Vietnam now. The money that would last him three months here will let him live like a king for close to a year there.
It drives me nuts when people say they don’t travel because it’s too expensive, like the only places to go are the Caribbean or Western Europe. What did you find when you decided to leave Silicon Valley and live in different places around the world?
Most people just can’t believe it. You can go to Argentina and live very comfortably for $500 to $1,000 a month at an address that’s the equivalent of 5th Avenue in Manhattan, eating great meals and drinking good wine. This is definitely true in Panama too where I lived. You can have a great time for a fraction of what you spend at home.
Also, many people postpone once-in-a-lifetime activities because they think they are expensive. Often the great experiences are a bargain. I took a private hot air balloon trip over the Andes and the wine country near Mendoza, Argentina for $150. I took guided tours of the best dive spots on islands in Panama for a week for around $250—diving, housing, food, and transportation.
These destinations are deals, but in my book I put Berlin and Buenos Aires side by side because it is possible to live very well in what we think of as expensive countries like Germany if you do your homework. Even Tokyo won’t break you if you know what you are doing. If you share an apartment with a family or become someone’s roommate, you can live quite inexpensively.
A lot of travelers wish they could live overseas somewhere, but they can’t figure out how they would really support themselves in a foreign country. What would you advise?
First of all, the more inexpensive a place is, the wider the range of jobs you can pursue to support yourself. It doesn’t take all that much money in some places.
If you’ve ever had a job, you have skills of some kind. Ideally, you figure out how to apply those skills to something that can be done over the phone or through a computer. If you worked in HR, maybe you can create a training program that streamlines a specific HR project. Maybe you sell a product, maybe you bill yourself out as a consultant. A friend of mine who was a freelance editor moved away and did his job virtually from Argentina. He only had to work about three hours a week to pay his expenses. If you focus on doing instead of having, you can live very well without a lot of money.
Of course if you are an entrepreneur, or have the skills or mindset to become one, there are almost endless possibilities no matter where you live.
You mention “doing versus having” and one thing I loved about your book was the thought-provoking questions that make the reader figure out what they really want out of their life besides more money. It seems like a lot of people are afraid of long-term travel or living abroad because they are so enslaved by their possessions.
You can forgive people for being so focused on acquisition and possession because it’s not really their fault. If you don’t have any time, you keep score by looking at what you have and what you can buy. When you free up more time though, even working just four days a week instead of five, or making it a point to stop working at 5:00 on the dot, you are forced to answer the question, “What do I do with my time?” That makes you focus more on doing instead of having.
Most people need to take a good hard look at their possessions using the that 80/20 principle again. What stuff do you really care about? Even if you have a huge walk-in closet full of clothes, you probably only wear 10 percent of it at most on a regular basis. Probably 20 percent is a stretch. So do you really need more? Clothes are a good place to start when it comes to letting go and there are people in need who can really use what you cast off as donations.
Then go from there and keep eliminating. The burden you cast off from getting rid of that clutter is really liberating and you find you don’t get as much pleasure from all that baggage as you thought. Sell or donate most of it and take off. Put that money in the bank for later and you can get repurchase the things you really missed when you get back from your travels.
I don’t plan for every contingency when I travel, even when I’m going to go live somewhere. I take the essentials and then allocate money to a settling fund. I’ll buy what I really need when I get there if I don’t have it. Besides, buying necessities in a new country is a fun part of the adventure anyway.
Tim Ferriss is the author of the best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek. See his blog and more about the book at fourhourworkweek.com.