The profiles below are real people with real stories.

Teachers, lawyers, chefs, accountants, stock traders, artist’s, onliners, entrepreneurs, even perpetual travelers; they’re all finding legitimate opportunities for lifestyles abroad.

Many plant a flag in one location while some are perpetual travelers working remotely, exploring locations six to twelve months at a time.

The first mover digital nomads were those who quit their jobs as graphic designers, copywriters, or other web-based positions.

That’s changing, spreading across many other non-computer based fields. Sure, technology will always be involved for delivery and communications, so you need to be up to speed on that, but you definitely don’t need to be a geek.

The subject matter and stylism of how you go about your own life is limited only by your imagination. 

Now, let’s look at a few cases ….

 Jodi Ettenburg, Lawyer Turned Soup Lover – Oaxaca, Mexico 

“Here’s the story of a girl named Jodi. She’s spending her life being a Roadie.”

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually met Jodi, but I’ve followed her for a long time and admire her discipline, cutting through all the distracting clutter along the way. That’s not easy for everyone, but it’s an essential ingredient to earning a living in faraway places.

Jodi is well educated, street smart, and had a brilliant upside in a legal career at home in the United States. Then it happened…

While taking a sabbatical in Serbia, writing a little travel blog for friends and family, the travel bug wrapped its loving arms around her and showed her a happier more fulfilling direction for her life.

One of her passions is food. Good food. Food that keeps you vivacious. So she expanded her blog to include teaching others how to stay awesome by eating good foods while on the road. Now it’s been parlayed it into something bigger, broader, more valuable. 

By following her passion of food she also uncovered the magical history and cultures of the people and their ancestors who prepared them.

Through her terrific writing style she conveys knowledge and understanding to her followers. Key!

She’s not an in-your-face marketer, but does offer valuable services that people are willing to pay for. Tours, speaking, eBooks are some of her income channels.

Jodi’s a great example of how to take your passion to another level by making it your life’s pursuit while enriching others in the process. Living this way one finds that work is not a job, it’s a lifestyle, it’s meaningful, and you love it.

Learn more about Jodi and what she’s up to by visiting her entertaining website LegalNomads

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 The Floridian in Ecuador 

At a seaside cafe in Salinas, Ecuador I met a young man who’d started an online newsletter publication for Expats thinking of moving to Ecuador.

He spent his time traveling to cities around the country looking for opportunities and insights, then passed them along to his 2,000 or so subscriber list.

In a matter of four years he’d been able to earn enough money by selling his services to build two small hotels and start a little farm in the foothills outside of Quito.

Prosperous traveler? You bet!

Well, he was, but now he’s out of business. Scuppered.

His downfall was spreading himself too thin in unassociated activities, going too fast, and spending too much money on spurious ideas. That’s a killer.

The riches are in the niches. Remember this.

It’s easy to get caught up in success and be lured into the temptation of expanding into unfamiliar territory, but that can put you in ditches, not riches.

You’re wiser and better off sticking with what works and building that to all its glorious goodness. 

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 Katie & Jeff – Seattle to Southeast Asia 

In the high misty mountains of Sapa, Vietnam I befriended a thirty-something couple on a footpath winding through hillside rice terraces.

They were volunteering part-time at a local NGO, Sapa O Chau teaching English to Hmong children and helping build trails in the mountains and valleys.

The trail system allowed locals to offer tourists authentic overnight homestay walking tours in the astonishingly gorgeous countryside. 

They were also earning money remotely.

Katie, an ex HR director, was working as an independent contractor preparing human resource operating manuals for companies back in America. 

The distance and time zones made zero difference. She could perform well and was earning decent bank.

Her husband, Jeff, an English major, had a gift for writing persuasive copy. He used this skill to earn about $4,500 a month creating website content for clients in America and fundraising materials for charitable organizations in Asia. 

They’d given up some comforts back home in Seattle, but they lacked nothing, were actually able to save money, and felt more energized, optimistic, and purposeful in their new lifestyle.  Awesome!

After almost a year in Vietnam they were soon heading into Cambodia, and then Laos. 

Katie and Jeff are clearly prospering travelers living an unconventional, very satisfying lifestyle. 

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 Belt Buckle Bob – Custom Made American Rodeo Belt Buckles. $40,000 a Month in Sales – 20% Net 

Phatty’s is a western sports bar on a leafy street in downtown District 1 of Saigon. Expats gather here to eat Eggs Benedict, tell tales of the trails, watch rugby on the tellie, and drink Bloody Mary’s.

I first spotted this 70 year old flamboyant looking character with a curly white pony-tail sitting in a booth thumbing through a jewelry catalog, flanked by three gorgeous ladies of Vietnamese descent.

I had to introduce myself!

Turned out Bob Berg was a well know maker of fine jewelry and belt buckles within the rodeo circuit in America.

He’d done very well for himself in his native Texas, but discovered he was happier, and could do even better, by locating his design and manufacturing in Vietnam.

True or not, Bob told me he was grossing $40,000USD with 20% margins by making his swanky products just outside of Saigon, and using effective internet marketing to sell his products.

He travels back to the States a couple times a year to attend trade shows, but the rest of his time is spent in his adopted home. He operates out of a five story shop house, has a cook, a maid, a driver, and plenty of bilingual assistants to help him manufacture and fulfill orders.

Marketing is done by an outsourced third party located in the Philippines. They keep his website fresh and are constantly emailing new products to existing and potential buyers.

Bob doesn’t speak a lick of Vietnamese, and he’s not very fluent in digital things either. Doesn’t care. He’s a designer.

He told me the key for him was hiring honest, loyal people, treat them with respect, as if they were family, and pay them a high wage (still way below mandated minimum wages in Texas). 

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 Rich Holman – Real Estate Rags to Riches – Medellin, Colombia 

In his early 60’s Rich had a big hankering to get away from the redundancy of everyday American life.

He was dissatisfied and bored, needing something new and fresh to keep him energized and stimulated.

Medellin, Colombia, nestled in a valley that stretches up the bulging verdant hills of the Andes mountains, seemed perfect.

He proclaims Medellin to be “The most contemporary low cost city in the world.”

From a tiny office in the tourist area of Poblado he and a local Paiso started a small real estate company. They struggled for the first two or three years but persisted, eventually building the company into the largest real estate investment firm in Colombia exclusively serving foreign investors.

Today, his company, FARInternational employs nearly 70 people. They sell, develop, and manage over 150 rental properties in the 4 most vibrant cities of Bogota, Cali, Cartagena, and Medellin.

How the heck did he do that?

If you ask Rich he’ll say big doses of luck were involved. Fact is, he worked his tail off, scrimped, saved, made some good hires, and brought in new technologies.

To attract investors, he spends his days communicating across the globe to bring attention to the unique attractiveness of Medellin. He speaks at international conferences and writes articles on the topic of Colombian investing.

He’s become the expert. 

Rich sees lots of people come and go, so he’s learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t when people want to stake a flag in a new location.

His list of advice includes being clear and sincere about your intentions, never fluff the truth, and be painstakingly responsive to customers desires. Long term, this ethical approach to business and relationships will reap ample rewards.

His cautionary bit of advice is not to get caught up in all the distractions that fiesta time can bring. He’s seen that many times, and it’s a surefire way to kill hopes and dreams.

With wine, women, and song you may have some fun.

But it wan’t last very long and soon you’ll be done. 

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 Chris McAleer – Chiang Mai Buddy 

For many years Chris McAleer was a Coca Cola big-wig in the International Human Resource division.

He stepped away from the lucrative executive life and now operates a successful company, Chiang Mai Buddy, serving the support needs of expats and visitors in Thailand.

His income and “benefits” aren’t what they were with the corporate job, but his prosperity quotient has never been higher.

His goals are to help expats integrate into a new culture and live peacefully with his Thai wife and their children.

Chris uses technology to operate and grow his business, gaining a following from strategic links, well placed online ads, writing pertinent articles and managing a large Facebook group.

In just a few short years he’s become the go-to guy for foreigner services of all kinds in beautiful northern Thailand.

He’s found his micro niche and works it hard everyday. 

Chris’ deep experience in international human resources gives him sharp insights on the kind of psychology needed to be successful living abroad.

Some of his keen observations include:

  • Read up on the local culture before you come, respect it fully when you arrive.
  • Patience and understanding will help you avoid burnout.
  • Develop local relationships with quality people, not the drifters.
  • Be above-board and reliable in everything you say and do.
  • Stay active with social communities.
  • Avoid getting sucked into negativity that makes one bitter and angry.
  • Learn the local laws and adhere to them.
  • Analyze yourself before making a decision about moving overseas. Psychometrics are fun and valuable.

If you haven’t already, read our post about the 16 Personalities. There’s a test you can take that will zero in on who you really are.

Business is business so they say, but when you’re doing business and living in a foreign country you must be prepared to make adjustments to how your accustomed to operating.

Another super resource in the area of adapting to culture is a book Riding the Waves of Culture

Highly recommended if it’s a topic of interest to you. 

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 Dan Gordon, US Tax Man – Bangkok and the Far East 

Early April 2010 I’d just returned to Bangkok after a couple months of wandering through China. It was tax time back in the States, and panic was racing through me to get my returns in.

That’s when I met the expert for expats, Dan Gordon.

Dan had taken his tax preparation craft from Seattle to Thailand so he could escape the depressive environment gripping the US during the financial crisis.

Turned out, he found a niche that flowered him with plenty of expat business in a vibrant city that he loved.

Initially, he found clients by placing ads in local online venues from the Nation, or Bangkok Post (where I found him). Little by little he gained a following and referral business started ticking up.

Today, Dan serves his American clients from Singapore to South Korea. He does tax preparation electronically without ever having to meet customers face to face. It’s all online.

After a few years of slow growth business is now thriving. Like any business, it takes time, patience, and delivering quality services customers want and will return for. 

For Dan, living in Bangkok was a dream. The cost of living was low enough for him to get by just fine while times were lean.

Even now, living with what would be considered a middle class western income, his low cost environment offers him the ability to travel more and sock away savings if he ever decides to retire.

I met Dan once, at a Starbucks across from Lumphini Park, but he told me we never needed to meet again, and he preferred not to, because traveling around meeting people was a waste of time.

My 2009 returns were submitted right on schedule, at about a third the cost of H&R Block. 

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 Mismanaged Expectations in Costa Rica 

Let’s call our friend Boggs. Early 30’s, curly ragmuffin black hair, coke bottle eyeglasses, mouthful of straight white teeth, single minded, bombastic.

Back in North Carolina, Boggs was a marketing consultant to law firms. He put together TV ads, billboards and other gaudy in-your-face greed tactics to induce people to call a law firm to get “what you deserve”. Better call Saul!

You’ve seen this unseemly stuff, right?

Boggs made gobs of money, and also had gobs of debt in his attempt to look important. BMW, Nordstrom suits, and a gated condoplex were but a few of his superfluous displays of apparent wealth.

When he started losing his touch he decided it was time for a change and came down to Costa Rica to see what he could stir up.

I met him at a real estate conference in San Jose. He was more timid than I expected he’d have been with that background, but I chalked that up to just being in an unfamiliar place.

He’d left his income producing work back home, but his debts followed him everywhere. He was desperate to make a minimum of $8,000 a month (in Costa Rica!?) to cover his monthly load.

Boggs was in no state of mind to make a go of it in Latin America.

Not only was there little to no demand for his services, even if there was, his prices were so inflated he had about as much chance as a mule running the Kentucky Derby.

Boggs wasn’t prepared for life in a foreign country, didn’t have the proper mindset and perspective, so he disappeared like a winter sun in Alaska.

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 Sea Glass Sally – Living the Caribbean Dream 

A ship goes down in a storm, the glass products onboard settle at sea bottom, erosion begins. Eventual result: Sea glass. Further result: Beautiful sea glass jewelry.

The 51 foot Beneteau, Kokopelli, a true glider on the sea, needed provisioning, so my friend and I docked her up at a slip in Marsh Harbor in the Abacos, Bahamas.

We walked to the supermarket and along the way eyeballed a funky little shanty house painted turquoise blue. It had big glass windows framed in rustic yellow, displaying some brilliant looking jewelry.

We were both married and felt just a tad guilty about leaving the girls back home in Colorado so we decided to have a look at possible payback gifts.

Inside, behind a bench, crouched over with protective glasses and a soldering gun was a deeply tanned braided blonde.

I seem to remember her name as Gretchen, but she was known on the island as Sea Glass Sally.

She’d come to the island as a tourist 8 years earlier. Working in New Jersey as a full time paralegal to pay the bills, and silversmith hobbyist to enjoy her free time.

You know where this is going, right?

We won’t go into all the details of Sally’s fun escape from drudgery to landing in paradise to pursue her passion, but I know you get it. 

With a little bit of nerve and the gumption to change her life for the better, Sally is now living her dream, and doing very well financially to boot. 

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This couple is following a strategy older than the tales of Marco Polo on the fabled Silk Road.

In a nutshell: They travel to exotic places, buy good stuff inexpensively, and sell it for a fat profit in another. 

In a small woodworking village just south of Chiang Mai, Thailand I spotted them closely examining a decorative armoir in a furniture shop. It turns out they were Canadians who owned a furniture store of their own in a tourist town in Nova Scotia.

They were hunting for bargains they could profit from back home.

They’d just purchased the ornate piece for the equivalent of $150 and were certain it would bring $1,200 to $1,400 at their summer shop. After shipping they’d net $1,000.

This was their gig! During frigid Canadian winters they traveled through Asia scouring for high margin exotic pieces they could sell for dough-boy profits during the pleasant Nova Scotian summers.


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