Freedom and Independence: How I Finally Found It.

Freedom is the main driver for most digital nomads and alternative lifestyle seekers that I've met as well as for myself. The secret is simple, we've created a life where we are both location as well as financially independent. Most people are born into the lives they live based on a 25 mile/40km radius of where they were born, grew up, or went to school. Their friends, hobbies and beliefs were assigned to them through their parents, school, or just out of convenience of what was close by.  If nothing in your life was really sought out or chosen, are you really free?

It's not that I didn't like my life or my friends back home, but at the end of the day, I know that half of the things I did were simply because it was the normal thing to do, logical next step, or it was the only option available. Now I get to choose where I live in the world, what I do for work, how I spend my days, with whom I associate, and even what language I speak. I've never been this free, and now more than ever I am eternally grateful to have so much choice, freedom and independence in my life. But I have to remember that it was a choice, every little decision that we've made these past 10 years determine who we are today, and what our lives are like. We don't have a choice on where we were born, or things, both positive and negative that have happened to us, but we do have the choice on where and how we choose to spend our future.

Step 1: Location Independence 

This part looking back was actually the part that I thought would be most difficult, but in reality was actually the easiest. Leaving the life I was born into back in California seemed like the hardest thing in the world to do, but in reality, the only things that were actually holding me back were material possessions as well as my own beliefs and fears. 

After reading the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, I decided to give location arbitrage a try. I saw the logical benefits of being able to enjoy an endless summer, lower costs of living, as well as a taste of retirement now, instead of waiting until we're 65 and older. But if you've read my chapter in 12 Weeks in Thailand, you'll know that it wasn't an easy transition to sell all of my things, and give up stability back home for the unknown. 

But looking back, being trapped in America, even though I was lucky enough to have lived in a nice part of it, was still a trap. High costs of living, yearly contracts for everything including internet connections, gym memberships, cell phone plans, and housing are all designed to keep us trapped paying into the system and running on a hamster wheel forever. It wasn't until I decided to give it a shot and get rid of everything to start over that I realized that I may have had a of things in life, but I wasn't ever truly free until I got rid of them. Here's the talk I did at the Nomad Summit Vegas conference that sums up these steps.

Step 2: Material Independence 

This is a step that a lot of people, including digital nomads still haven't fully cut the chains off of yet, but until they do, they won't realize how freeing it really is. Too many of us have responsibilities of things we either have to drag along with us wherever we are in the world, or simply take up mental space in our minds back home. This can be anything from having an apartment or house that you're still paying for back home, or even a storage container filled with stuff that you have to think about. 

When I first started traveling, I would carry the maximum allowable check in luggage possible, which as an American it's often two 65lb bags, which are 30kg each. That's over 100lbs of crap I needed to lug around whenever I went, which severely limited how often I'd want to travel, move, or even look around. I thought that by having more stuff I would have a better quality of life and more options. It made logical sense that fitting my entire life into just two suitcases wasn't really that many things, and that by buying more things from home and bringing it to wherever I was in the world, I would be more comfortable and enjoy living aboard more. I was wrong. Material independence has come not by buying and carrying around more things with me, but actually by having less. 

It's a strange concept I know, but until you actually experience it for yourself, it's hard to believe. But the things we own, really do end up owning us as Fight Club pointed out. Two years ago, I started traveling carry on only with just a 60L soft duffle bag and it's been the best decision of my life. Needing less things, moving around easier, and just having less clutter in my living and sleeping space has really freed up my mind and has made traveling a joy instead of a chore. Here's a video of everything that I carry around with me as I live out of this bag year round. 

Step 3: Financial Independence

For many people this would seem like the logical first step, but as important as it is, having the first two get in the way often makes it harder for us to even get here. Also, we don't need as much money to get started living freely as we might think. Buying less stuff, needing to maintain and replace less things, and having a lower tax burden while living in cheaper countries is the fastest way to start achieving financial freedom for both now as well as for our future.

Having enough excess money to do things like rent instead of owning, and buying things to give away when we're done with it, have all made my life that much easier. Since I rent where I live, and everything comes fully furnished, it's never my responsibility to make sure things are maintained, repaired, fixed, or replaced. I never have to go furniture shopping, call the plumber, go to the mechanic, or run errands. Sure it's a bit cheaper to buy a scooter to drive for 3 months and sell it for a similar amount when you leave, and that's what I did when I was on a tight budget back in Thailand and when I wrote and recommended it in 12 Weeks in Thailand, but now that my time is much more valuable than my money, I'd rather just spend $100 a month renting the bike and giving it back if it breaks, needs an oil change, or whenever I leave.  It's the same with living full time in hotels, airbnbs, and serviced apartments.

I love having a house cleaner come once a week to change my sheets, sweep the floor, and even pick up and drop off my laundry, as the little amount of money it costs me, gives me back my Sundays. It's insane that back home, we would work 5 days a week, M-F, spend Saturdays recovering, then Sundays shopping, running errands, and cleaning the house. There was no time left to even enjoy life. Now it feels like I'm living the retired life 7 days a week and I wouldn't trade this freedom for anything. 

Step 4: Freedom of Thoughts

America is the country best associated with freedom. It's on our flag, in our constitution. However, with all of that freedom, it seems to have caused many Americans to become entitled and feel like they all unique and somehow all special. It's created a country where people are easily offended, victim minded, and everyone is self important. But to make things worse, the country has become more divided than ever. You can be shunned, attacked and even fired from your job just because of your personal or political beliefs, regardless of which side you're on.

Watching the news has will cause fear, anxiety, and anger on a daily basis, and if you join in on the conversation, you'll be surely hated and blamed by the opposing and sometimes even your own side. I had no idea how valuable this was, but by being completely location and financially independent, I now have a complete sense of freedom that I didn't realize was even necessary. I now have to choice to take part in the fight between the left and the right, cops vs. civilians, or not, and I have chosen to sit this one out.  I think both sides have their problems and  I don't think there will be any true winners in the outcome. Call me a draft dodger, unpatriotic, or whatever else you can think of for not wanting to take part or get involved, but having the choice not to be in the middle of it all, and still being okay whether Trump wins or loses again, or if the job market goes up or down, is my freedom, and I've created it.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "FU Money" in the past, and the definition is simple, having enough money that you don't care what other people think of you, say about you, or even try to do to you. For me, that amount is actually less than we might think it is. Having the above freedoms allows us to simply move somewhere else where we're treated better, or sending in a way where our problems no longer exist. Some may call this escapism, and maybe it is. But if those are my choices, I'd rather live carefree and independently for the rest of my life than have to deal with the bs that comes along with normal life. You may not agree, but that's the entire point of this article, you don't need to. It's not just me, places like Sri Lanka, Chiang Mai, and other hotposts are filled with expats, full time travelers, surfers, digital nomads, and lifestyle designers who have escaped our "normal lives" back home. The following video was filmed just a few days ago, while America is locked down and in panic mode, things are carefree and joyful here in Sri Lanka.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope on this independence day, you find or create your own freedom. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and I sincerely hope you are enjoying your day. 

With love from Arugam Bay,

Johnny FD

Leave a Comment! I'd love to hear from each one of you! 

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  1. What does freedom mean to you? What have you done to create it?

  2. Freedom in having the options to do things which one like to do at his/her discretion.

  3. Johnny, you are such an inspiration, and I hope you realize, you are making an impact in this world, you are putting your dent in this crazy world..

    love the fact that you are chilling out in a country 99% of people never heard of, and you realize how disconnected from this CRAZY USA you are now.. how COVID didnt change your life much at all!

    Love your updates and the recent videos showing people how good life can be when you dont follow the typical american dream life (nightmare to many)..

    keep it up man, and i hope to one day soon meet you somewhere amazing!

    peace brother, happy 4th of July! remember your gold watch today ;)

    1. Thanks for that Adam! Comments like this mean a lot and encourge me to continue taking the time to write and share blog posts like this as well as an alternative lifestyle worth living.

  4. Hi Johnny,

    In addition to my above comment, I will like to highlight that your blog and video are inspiring to me. I cannot say the same for all but believe that the same views should apply to most of the readers. Keep it up and I will be looking forward to your next update.

    Stay healthy and happy always.


  5. Hi Johnny

    Wouldnt you like to settle down one day?
    Family kids etc?


    1. Part of having financial and location independence is having the option to have kids and not worry about working 40 hours a week and commuting 2 hours a day and never seeing them, or stressing about money all of the time.

      If I had kids I would be able to spend time with them and work from home, take long trips, etc.

  6. Good for you Johnny and a real inspiration. I am starting to live the dream in Phuket and really enjoying freedom and life. I just need to develop online income.

    1. That's awesome! Enjoy your time in Phuket! I lived there for a few years doing Muay Thai and MMA as written about in the 12 Weeks in Thailand Book.

  7. Johnny, how would you change your life style if you would earn 1m more right now?

    If at all. How do you use your money?

    1. I probably wouldn't do that much differently to be honest. But I'd fly business class more often, especially on long fault flights over 8 hours, and I would probably stay at expensive hotels more often, but probably just for 2-3 nights at a time for special occasions or to change things up from time to time. Other than that, I'm happy with my lifestyle now.

  8. Love everything Johnny says. I would most likely follow the same plan he developed, without already knowing it. I don't "need" expensive things, I would just love to know I could have anything I wanted because I would have the money to do it....and to enjoy an expensive night at a nifty hotel once in awhile would just cement my freedom to choose even more. My goal is exactly this...but I feel I already have it because of my choices in life.


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