arielcamus

@arielcamus

Why I left San Francisco to build my new startup while traveling the world

Career choices, budgets, travel tips, itineraries, and everything that matters explained in detail

Sleeping in a hut in the middle of the jungle in Palawan (Philippines)

One year ago, my girlfriend Gaby and I were talking about career choices and life dreams while having dinner with a friend in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

At some point in the conversation, I said in a cocky tone:

If I was not in a relationship, and if I didn’t have a dog, I’d quit my job tomorrow and leave San Francisco to start my new company while traveling around Southeast Asia.

To my surprise, my girlfriend looked at me and she said:

I will quit my job tomorrow, and we will leave our dog with my mom.

I was terrified. She was totally serious about it! And all kinds of doubts started kicking in in my brain: Is that really a good idea? Should I really leave a job that I enjoy in a city that I love? Do I really want to travel for a year? Can I really build a startup while traveling? How is that going to affect our relationship?

We talked about all those questions for a week, and then we made a decision: we were quitting our jobs right before Christmas, we were spending the holidays with our family, and then we were going to start traveling the world for a year, all while working full-time on building my new startup.

On December 2017, we quit our jobs, we organized a yard sale and sold everything we owned (we had a lot of stuff! Thank you Amazon Prime…), we left our apartment, we took a flight to El Salvador to leave our dog Luna with my girlfriend’s mom, and then we started our journey. Exactly as my girlfriend had suggested!

Selling everything we had in our yard sale, and our dog Luna welcoming the shoppers

It’s been 7 months since that, and we have spent 3 months in Vietnam, 3 months in Indonesia, and several weeks doing short trips to places such as Borneo, Komodo Island, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Buying fresh lobster from a local fisherman in Lake Toba (Indonesia)

Back in February, just one month after starting our trip, I also launched my new startup, Microverse. Since then, I have helped students from Taiwan, Serbia, Kenya, Spain, Morocco, Mexico, Canada and the USA become remote software developers and connect with life-changing professional opportunities.

We are now at the middle of our year-long trip, and I just wanted to take a moment to think about the reasons why we decided to take this long trip and recap on how we are making it possible, especially having to balance traveling and working full-time.

Why we did it

We did it because we could; because we were privileged enough to have the savings to travel for a year with no income (more on this later), and because our brains were used to the idea of moving from place to place without feeling much anxiety about it. I had already lived for 12 years in Argentina, 13 years in Spain and 5 years in the US before this trip.

Because the timing was right. It doesn’t happen too often that both people in a relationship are in sync to quit their jobs and radically change their lives with no major responsibilities to take care of. If we didn’t do it then, chances were that we were never going to have another chance like that one.

Because San Francisco is expensive and Asia is not. I was working for the company that had acquired my previous startup, and I was ready to quit that job and work full-time on my new company. However, quitting a job and staying in San Francisco was incredibly expensive. I needed at least $4,000 per month to live in San Francisco without any kind of crazy luxury. In Asia, we have managed to live really well with $900/month (more on this later too).

Because at the beginning you just need to get things done. Even though San Francisco is THE place in the world where you maximize your opportunities if you work in tech, what you really need when you are starting a company is to focus on validating your idea and its underlying hypotheses. The customers of my new company were not in San Francisco, so there was no reason for me to actually be there.

I can’t stress enough how liberating it has been to not have to worry about money and to stay focused on actually getting things done. When I was in San Francisco, I knew that quitting my job was going to limit my runway to build a company. On the other hand, keeping that job gave me a false sense of safety while stopping me from going all in with my new startup.

How we did it

We are both obsessive planners, so we started by making a detailed itinerary. We chose a region of the world, Southeast Asia, and we voted on the destinations we wanted to visit and the things we wanted to do. With all those decisions made, we drafted a spreadsheet with our itinerary. It’s a document that changes every day as we adjust our plans, but it’s been really helpful to give us some sense of stability.

We also saw this as an opportunity to go back into a more frugal way of living. After a few years in San Francisco of saying yes to almost every dinner and weekend plan, it was not easy to start exercising this muscle again.

We knew the best way to hold ourselves accountable for our spending was to set a total budget for the year, create a detailed budget per category, and to track our expenses on a daily basis.

So far we have been really good at keeping our monthly expenses within the limits of our budget, and here is how we did it:

  1. We set a budget for the year: $11,000. That’s equivalent to $916 per month.
  2. We created a list of categories for our expenses (e.g. flights, housing, food, travel activities, etc).
  3. We used blogs and websites like Nomad List to assign a reasonable amount to each category.
  4. We opened a checking account on Schwab because they offer unlimited ATM withdrawals outside the US and they refund you all the ATM fees.
  5. We created a savings account on Ally with all the money we needed for the entire year ($11,000).
  6. We created automated monthly transfers from the savings account to the checking account for the exact money that we needed for the month. Not seeing more money than what you actually budget for has been extremely effective.
  7. We created an emergency fund to cover living expenses for 4 months after finishing our trip and some additional money in case we had some kind of medical urgency (we also pay for a year-long travel insurance with World Nomad).
  8. Finally, we put everything else (all our savings) in index funds (we are fans of Betterment) to force ourselves to plan our lives (and budgets) around the idea that we can’t count on that money in the short-term. We can only count, to a certain extent, on the long-term performance of the index funds.
Celebrating a death anniversary with a local family and a Portuguese friend in Hoi An (Vietnam)

Here is the spreadsheet with our budget in case you are interested in seeing where our money goes:

Finally, we started using Mint to keep track of every single transaction, even if we pay in cash for a coffee that costs 45 cents.

At the end of every week, and every month, we can now see how we are doing with our budget and we can re-adjust our plans accordingly.

However, there is a very important question that I haven’t mentioned yet — If we are traveling all the time, how is that I’m finding time to build my new startup full-time? Let’s talk about it…

How to build a company while traveling

The short answer is that we are not traveling all the time. We have picked three home bases (Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand) and we are “living” in those places for several weeks and even months at a time.

In order to find a balance between traveling and working, here are a few simple rules that we follow:

  1. We work from Monday to Friday, at least 8 hours per day.
  2. We live, eat and exercise like locals during the week. This might sound boring, but everything around always feels new to us: people, food, culture, etc.
  3. Every weekend, we explore locally. This gives us the chance to play tourists at least a couple of days a week.
  4. Every three weeks, we take an entire week to disconnect from work and travel to unique places. By adding the weekend before and after, this gives us 9 days per month just for traveling.
Taking MMA classes in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) three times a week with a local trainer

Even if we were just living like locals without traveling every 3 weeks, this would still be an always surprising and unique experience. However, being able to take a “vacation” every month makes this an incredibly balanced way of living.

There is no reason why we should work 8 hours a day and take vacations once or twice a year. It’s just something we have agreed on as a society, based on the productivity levels that we want to sustain.

Technology is making us more productive, and that should come with the benefit of more flexible routines and work hours.

And, more importantly, being an entrepreneur means that I always have an unlimited amount of work to do every day. It’s not a matter of whether I spend 4, 6, 10 or 14 hours that makes it possible to build a successful company. It will never be enough. In fact, taking a week off every month allows me to find the space and the time to think in a more strategic way, find perspective, prioritize the little time I have available, and reach to the only two conclusions that really matter:

I can only achieve great things if I can build a great team to help me, and I only have one life to live. We have designed everything this year to be true to those two conclusions.

Many friends tell us they have always wanted to do something like this. Our answer is always the same: why don’t you do it? Most times, their answers are just a bunch of limitations imposed by society, and those limitations are not actually making them happier or more successful. Not in the short nor in the long-term.

In fact, we have convinced many of our friends to take a year like this and they are now traveling the world too. Even those who didn’t have enough savings decided to take local jobs or online gigs while traveling (instead of building a company) to afford their trip, and that’s awesome too!

Our friends Agu y Gigi, who decided to leave SF to travel for a year too, climbing Mount Batur (Bali) with us

What are you waiting for?

If you want to follow our adventures, follow me on Instagram and watch our daily stories. If you have questions or want to know about my new startup, Microverse, follow me on Twitter.

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