Transforming from the Conventional to the Unconventional: Living a Location-Independent Life
Amy Scott once worked an unsatisfying 9-to-5 job in an office, but while she worked, she dreamed of working on her own and traveling the world. A lot of the people around her had similar dreams. But Amy was and is different. She decided to quit just dreaming and start working to make her dream her life.
Amy did not just one day decide to quit her job and fly around the world. She researched and planned well in advance. She broke her dream into little manageable pieces, and set about taking care of each one.
In this interview you'll learn how Amy Scott transformed her dream into a reality.
1. Amy, before you became a world traveler you worked in the editing field. What kind of writing and editing were you doing? What is your educational background?
I worked in book publishing, first for a professional and trade nonfiction publisher and then for a travel guidebook publisher. At that point I was also taking creative writing classes and writing nonfiction. I’ve been an avid reader and writer since I was little, and some great teachers in high school and college really encouraged me and set me on the writing path. I majored in Literature, and somewhere along the way it occurred to me that publishing would be a great fit for my skills and interests. In addition to studying writing and literature, over the years I’ve taken some specific classes about editing, trained as a creativity coach, and studied Spanish.
2. How long did it take you to get from the point you decided you were going to become a nomad until you did it? At any point did you think your vision was impossible or crazy? How often did you doubt yourself? What kind of planning and arrangements did you make?
My first idea, which I came up with in February 2002, was to travel for 6–9 months. I finally quit my job and hit the road in September 2004. I wasn’t planning to work during my travels, so it was really important to me to have money saved to cover all my expenses. I saved about $12,000, and came home 8.5 months later with a couple thousand in the bank to cover me while I launched my first business.
I was very determined to make it happen and I don’t think I ever thought it was impossible. I knew that eventually I would save enough money and be able to leave. I was focused on saving money and planning and probably got a little obsessed! I certainly knew some people thought it was crazy, but I also had a lot of support, and despite my sometimes cautious tendencies, I didn’t really think it was a big deal to quit my job and travel around the world.
The original plan included my boyfriend, who I was living with at the time, so it wasn’t originally meant to be a solo trip. We broke up about halfway through the planning/saving phase, but I was so set on the idea at that point that I made some slight revisions to the itinerary and kept on going.
Another reason I probably didn’t think this idea was that crazy was that the original plan was to simply travel for about nine months and come back to the States. I didn’t have a plan beyond that, so there wasn’t this sense of changing my life forever. It wasn’t until late in my travels that I started to think I wanted to make some bigger changes. By then I was determined not to go back to an office and to spend even more time abroad, so I went back to the States, started my editing business so I could live and work anywhere, and moved to Argentina in 2007.
3. Tell me what you were feeling when you walked out the door of your traditional job for the last time. How excited were you? How afraid were you?
I was thrilled when I walked out the door! I wasn’t the first to leave that office and start traveling (I worked for a guidebook publisher, after all!), so I had a lot of support from everyone in the office, and it felt amazing to finally follow through on my dreaming and planning.
I wasn’t scared at all at that point, I don’t think. But a week later, when I got to the airport, I had a momentary freak-out as I said goodbye to my friends. It was like this huge wave washed over me, and I suddenly realized what I was doing: getting on a plane, by myself, to go to a place I’d never been, with very few plans for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, the freak-out didn’t last long, and I boarded the plane much more excited than scared.
4. Where is the first place you went? Why?
My first destination was Cusco, Peru. I had been studying Spanish in San Francisco and decided I wanted to start my travels with a language immersion program. I had heard that the Spanish in Peru is easy to learn and understand, and the prices there were reasonable. I spent about four weeks there and then headed south to spend three more months exploring Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina before going to India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and England.
5. What things do you wish you had known before you made the transition? What resources did you find helpful along the way?
I’m actually really happy with the way everything has turned out, and there isn’t really anything I would have done differently if I had known this or that. I guess if there’s anything I wish I’d known, it’s just that everything would turn out OK and I would find a way to keep doing what I wanted.
In 2002–2004, when I was planning my initial travels, the Internet was a very different place than it is today! My favorite resources by far were a Yahoo! Group for round-the-world travel and the forums at www.bootsnall.com. I also found a number of blogs by other people who were out on the road at the time, including details of their packing lists and expenses, which was a huge help.
6. How did your family and friends react to your plan? How do they feel about it now?
I’ve always been very independent, and had already made some big decisions on my own, like moving to California from Washington, D.C., right after I graduated from college, so I think to some extent my parents knew that there wasn’t really anything they could do to stop me. They encouraged me to consider how this goal/dream fit with some of my other goals, and what it might mean for my career, but didn’t place any judgment on it. My friends were mostly supportive, though of course they were sad to see me leave and we still wish we all lived closer to each other.
My parents are big travelers too; they came to meet me in Southeast Asia during my round-the-world trip and we traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam together. They’ve now been to South America four times, combining trips to see me in Buenos Aires with travels in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and elsewhere in Argentina. When I told them that my husband and I planned to be nomadic together, they were thrilled—now they’d have a chance to come visit us in other parts of the world, they said!
7. At what point did it occur to you that helping others find their Nomadtopia might be a business niche for you? What kind of research or background work did you engage in before offering services to the public? Did you find others doing this sort of work?
I’d had personal blogs for years, but started Nomadtopia.com in February 2011. I was looking for something that I could eventually build into a business, and this is obviously a topic I know a lot about and am really passionate about. At the beginning I didn’t know what it would be besides a blog, and it’s just this year that I’ve started offering coaching services. I also have some programs and information products in the works.
I didn’t do a whole lot of research, perhaps because I was already pretty well versed in the niche and know very well what people are looking for because I’ve been there myself (and still am). I have seen a few people offering “how to be a nomad” courses, but I’m turned off by some of the glamourizing of the lifestyle and thought others might be too, so I’m doing things my way. I decided to start coaching because I saw a need to get support from someone who doesn’t think you’re crazy; I help people figure out their own unique situations, and acknowledge all the worries and challenges that come along with it, but help them see that it’s doable.
8. All three of your websites offer a type of “coaching” service. Have you ever benefited from the help of a coach? Did you take special training in coaching?
I’ve worked with many coaches and have some good friends who are coaches. As I was making some changes in my editing business last year, several potential clients suggested writing coaching would be a very helpful service to offer, so I’ve been experimenting with that in the last year. I’ve done some training in creativity coaching with Eric Maisel. I’d love to take more training but haven’t found anything that feels like a great fit so far.
9. How does your income now compare to your income in a traditional job? How does your enjoyment of your work compare? Are there ever times you wish you had kept your 9-to-5 job?
So far I make less money working for myself than I did in my last 9-to-5 job, but I’m much, much happier. I love the flexible schedule and the ability to work from anywhere. I love having control over how I spend my days, who I work with, and what projects I choose to take on. Money isn’t a significant motivating factor for me, so as long as I’m making enough money to support myself and live the way I want to, I’m happy. Probably the only thing I miss about my old job is the camaraderie of having other people nearby doing similar work. It was great to just pop over and ask someone their thoughts on something. I’ve connected with people I can do the same thing with virtually, though. I worked a contract job in an office for about six months a few years ago. It wasn’t that bad because I knew it was temporary, but in the end it just reinforced my decision to be out on my own and not have to go to a certain place at a certain time. It’s hard to imagine ever going back to an office job indefinitely.
10. How do you decide where you are going next? Are the destinations ever determined by business or potential business? How often do you find clients as you travel?
A mix of factors come into play: weather, work, business and personal events, and more. To give you an example, here’s how 2013 is shaping up: we’ll be spending the first part of the year in Buenos Aires, visiting friends and family, regrouping from nearly six months of U.S. travel, and preparing our apartment for further rentals and home exchange. Then we’ll be going to Peru, where I’m co-leading a retreat for women entrepreneurs, and we’ll probably stick around that area for a while. In July we’ll head to the States for World Domination Summit and a family reunion, then spend the rest of the year somewhere else (right now we’re thinking SE Asia, because Roberto’s never been there, the cost of living is low, and it will be warmer than some other parts of the world at that time of year). I rarely find clients as I travel; it tends to work the other way around, that my travels allow me an opportunity to finally meet in person people I’ve been working with remotely.
11. Marketing seems to be a struggle for many people getting started in cyberspace. What method or methods have you found most effective? Were there marketing attempts that you will avoid in the future?
Marketing is still a struggle for me, too, but the most effective methods I’ve found thus far are word of mouth (especially for my editing work) and participating in events and trainings where I can connect with like-minded people; my relationships with people in those groups often leads to new clients and opportunities for collaboration. I’m just beginning to do some guest posting as a way to get in front of new audiences. I don’t think I have tried anything that I would outright avoid in the future.
12. Amy, your most recently offered services are focused on helping writers. What things led you in that direction? Are you planning a book about your experiences?
Actually, helping writers has been my focus for years, first with my editing services and more recently with private and group coaching. This work is a natural progression of my lifelong interest in writing and language. Conversations with several writers last year, and being in online programs with a lot of coaches, got me started down the coaching road. I am working on some ebooks to help people create their Nomadtopia (and an online program along the same lines), but I don’t have plans to write any other books anytime soon. I have been told many times over the years that I should write a book about my experiences, but I know how much work it is to write a book, and it’s not something I want to take on until I really feel called to do it.
13. You appear to be a very well-organized person. You are also focusing in several directions at the same time. How do you manage your time between editing, coaching, writing, and administrative tasks? Do you have times that are busier than others? Do you ever need to take on extra help to get everything done?
Ha, thanks! I think things always look more organized from the outside than they feel on the inside. It is hard juggling the different projects and tasks I have on my plate—not to mention the challenges of doing it all while traveling!—but somehow it works. Thankfully, all of the things you mentioned require different amounts of work at different times, so there’s some give and take to it. I definitely have times that are busier than others, but there’s not much rhyme or reason to it. I do sometimes refer potential editing clients to someone else if I can’t take on more work (I’ve determined that editing is not something I’m comfortable outsourcing, so I’ll either do it myself or refer the person to another editor).
I don’t have a formal relationship with a VA (but often think I should). My husband does help me with a lot of technical and design things for all my different projects.
Some of the most crucial things for staying organized if you’re running a business on the road are to automate as much as possible, to capture all your ideas and information in one central location so you don’t lose track of anything, and set up lots of reminders to ping you so you don’t forget to take care of important things.
14. One of your articles mentions the desire (and perhaps need) to move from only service offerings to a mix of service and products. Is it difficult to shift thinking and focus from service to product? Do you have a vision for the product end of your business?
Yes, this is an important consideration. I’ve known for years that focusing on editing would always put a finite cap on my income, and it was very frustrating to recognize that unless I’m at my computer editing, I’m not making any money. That doesn’t work very well for someone who travels a lot and would rather spend less time at a desk! I really love coaching and appreciate the more flexible schedule and lower time commitment that often comes with it, but it’s still trading time for dollars.
I don’t think the shift in thinking is difficult, because the motivation and benefits are clear. The challenge is to take something that’s traditionally service- or time-based and find a way to do it differently. I haven’t really come up with any satisfying ways to make editing a product, so I’m focusing primarily on products for Nomadtopia. I’m starting with a free ebook to help you discover what your Nomadtopia looks like, and I’ll be moving from that into some online programs that I’d eventually like to have set up as home-study courses, available for purchase anytime. I’d also like to make more income from affiliate sales for recommending products, courses, and services I love.
15. You recently married. Tell me about how you met your life partner. Was he a nomad? How has this relationship altered your business plans?
Just when I was starting to get a little antsy in Argentina and was thinking about where else I might want to go, I met Roberto. We met at a salsa club in Buenos Aires and were pretty much inseparable from the day we met. We got married in March 2012. When we met, Roberto had never traveled outside Argentina, and had never been on an airplane. But I could tell he had a nomadic soul; he just hadn’t had a chance to do anything about it! He tells me that he’d always imagined living a more unconventional life, but he didn’t have a lot of role models for that and wasn’t sure what it could look like. Meeting me opened up a lot of possibilities in his mind, and he’s loving life on the road.
Our relationship hasn’t altered my business plans at all; everything that is unfolding for me now feels like a natural progression and probably would have happened even if we hadn’t met. If anything, his support encourages me to dream even bigger and take more chances!
16. You have done an amazing job of creating the lifestyle, or Nomadtopia, you dreamed about in that office building of your past! What is the next chapter in your dream?
For the next couple years at least, the next chapter is to pretty much continue what we’ve started this year: we’ll keep Buenos Aires as a home base but spend a large part of the year elsewhere. We’ll rent out our apartment or arrange home exchanges, and work online from wherever we are. I feel really optimistic about everything, and I’m excited to see what opportunities and ideas come up in the future.
Amy Scott is a writer, editor, and coach who works from wherever she happens to be at the moment. Amy is also the owner of three related web businesses. The first is called Nomadtopia, where Amy offers information, encouragement, and coaching to potential nomads. The second is Nomad Editorial, which is the route to her professional editorial services. In addition to traditional editorial services, Amy offers coaching for book writers. The last of her sites is the newest. The Merry Inksters, which she founded with writer Shanna Trenholm, offers a community of support and accountability to struggling writers. You can also find her on twitter at @nomadtopia
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.