Lifestyle Freedom Through Writing -
Let’s Really Meet Derek Pankaew


Derek -  Scuba Diving in BaliThis is something I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you. For about a year and half, Derek Pankaew has been providing great tips and advice about content marketing, but after the 76 posts he has kindly made for us, we don’t really know a lot about Derek, do we?

Hmmm…what has he been hiding? ;-)

Well the truth is, Derek leads a pretty exciting lifestyle and has been traveling the world for about a year and half so far, starting about 1 month after he started writing for us. Yes, that’s right…he’s been using his writing skills to achieve the freedom most of us only dream of.

Recently, I asked Derek a few questions that would give us the opportunity to learn more about him and even provide us with a few tips on how we can also achieve such freedom in life. Whether you’re traveling or just want to have more freedom and flexibility in your daily schedule at home, Derek is certainly someone we can look to for inspiration.

Meet Derek

Derek was born in Redwood City, California. He spent about 6 of his formative years living in Hong Kong and for the rest, grew up living in the San Francisco area with his mother, father and brother. He still considers San Francisco home, even though he is currently traveling the world. He hopes to settle back down there, start a business, get married and even have some kids.

Growing up, Derek had a passion for business and never cared much for school. Instead, at about age 13, he found great interest in the works of people like Robert Kiyosaki and Anthony Robbins and devoured whatever he could. To the chagrin of his parents, Derek dropped out of high school at age 16 and left college at 18, never completing his formal studies.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been doing his own independent study to carve out the life he has always hoped for. Derek says:

Business has always been my interest. Anything pertaining to business, from marketing to economics to finance to HR to raising capital to real estate to trading has always fascinated me. I never studied it in school, but I’m always reading books and listening to audiobooks. I typically read about 4 books a month, plus listen to podcasts like NPR’s Planet Money and Mixergy and stay on top of various internet and business related blogs.

So, I guess it’s no surprise that, at the age of 22, Derek decided to take his self-made know-how and put it to the test on the road.

Traveling The World

With only $2000 in his bank account, Derek left California and went to Thailand, the birthplace of his father. This was the beginning of his journey that he has been funding through his online writing efforts. Derek says, “I was earning about $1,400 a month from freelance writing at that time. It wasn’t much for San Francisco’s standards, but for Thailand, my first destination, it was more than enough.”

And so it began. While on the road, most of Derek’s income comes freelance writing because he says its the most reliable and steady source of income. He also dabbles in affiliate marketing as a secondary source of income. However, when it comes to earning money online he has dipped into a number of things including buying and selling domains, consulting and even online poker (what would his mother say?! ;-)).

Derek has traveled to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, England, Scotland and throughout the USA. Next, he is heading to Greece and Israel. He will likely be visiting Spain, Croatia, Latvia and Estonia. He is hoping to make it to Morocco and Egypt before he heads back to the Americas where he’ll start with Nicaragua and work his way down Central America and South America.

About his travel “wish list” he says:

I’m also very drawn to South Africa, more or less purely for the great white shark diving. I can’t really justify flying all the way down there and back up just to go shark diving; so at the moment I’m probably going to save Africa for a separate trip in the future.

I asked Derek is travels on his own or if he has a travel companion. He told me:

My trip overall is on my own. I very frequently meet people who I’ll travel with. For example, I went through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with a group of people that I met on the road. Occasionally friends will fly out and meet me somewhere in the world as well. By and large, travel companions usually stick around for 1 to 3 weeks. The trip overall though, which will probably last over 2 years, is solo.

Here are a few photos from his adventures:


Boating in Vietnam. Actually, one of my favorite experiences was bamboo rafting in Thailand, but I don't have any pics of that. On a bamboo raft, you half float half sink down a river. You're half submerged, so you feel cold, it's a little scary because you're not really floating but you are.


Remember how the Beatles stopped taking LSD and found a guru in India instead - then wrote the White Album? This was taken at the abandoned ashram where the Beatles wrote that album. It was closed when we got there, but we "broke in" by sneaking in the side.


Taken in India, next to the Ganges (river) in India. In India, cows are sacred and roam freely, so you'll literally see cows wandering main streets, even in big cities. This one such cow.

Chiang Mai

This was from the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai. If you've ever wondered what the 4th of July would be like without laws, this is what it'd be like. Kids were firing off fireworks in the streets at cars. People shoot fireworks from motorbikes. People throw crackers in front of tourists to freak them out. Much more dangerous than the states, but good fun anyway. By the end of the night, the sky was lit up by lanterns flying up in every direction.

Taken at Ankor Watt in Cambodia. Cambodia was devastated by war just 40 years ago, so there's still a sense of recovery and even some violence beneath the surface. Overall a very friendly place, but you can still feel a bit of the war in the air. Anyone alive in Cambodia today has a parent or grandparent who witnessed or participated in the war.

Fitting Writing into Your Travel Schedule

Obviously, it’s not always easy to find time to write when you could be out having fun instead, but Derek seems very organized in this regard. And actually, as one of his clients, I know that he always meets his deadlines and does stellar work. So how does he do it?

Derek says:

I use the Pomodoro Technique. (Derek also wrote a post about Pomodoro a little while back.)

Basically, I segment my work into 25 minute chunks of pure work – No bathroom breaks, no cellphone, no Facebook. I work 4 to 5 Pomodoros a day, generally. You could look at it as only working 2 hours a day, but the reality is my work day’s probably more like 5 hours, sometimes longer depending on how productive I need to be. If I was working with zero distractions at all, I could probably get all my daily work done in 2-3 hours.

That said, unless my day is jam packed, I usually do a Pomodoro then play some poker, browse Reddit/9Gag or just hang around doing not much, then do another Pomodoro. If I do need to finish my work quickly however, like if I have plans during the day and at night and only have a few hours to get things done, I could usually get my day’s work done in 2.5 hours.

I keep track of all my deadlines in one notepad file. They’re just a list of dates and the times by when they need to be done. Keeping along with my 5 pomodoro work limit, I only accept work that I feel I can fulfill on. I also manage my Warrior Forum post bumps so that I only bump my thread when I have a block of free days coming up. The goal is to manage my work so I fill exactly the amount of work I want to have, without taking on more and without taking on less.

I try to find co-working spaces in the various countries I go to. It depends how long I’m there for. If I’m in a country for 2-3 months, I’ll definitely try to find a co-working space, as working out of my bedroom can be a little depressing and unproductive. If I’m on the road, I’m perfectly happy working out of the hostel or guesthouse.

I think apart from that it’s just practice. Develop the ability to get things done quickly and get a good sense for how much work you can get done in a certain period of time.

Biggest Challenges

I asked Derek what the biggest challenge he faces on the road and you might be surprised it wasn’t earning and income. Instead he says:

One of the biggest challenges I face is balance. To keep up with my freelance writing, my traveling, my social life *AND* continue to build my other streams of income is extremely tough. Sometimes one area just completely falls off the wagon. I’ll completely neglect my future financial goals for example, or I’ll just go without much of a dating life for a little while.

Social life and dating on the road is very interesting. You more or less hit reset on your social life every few months. That means having meaningful friendships and relationships in your life is always something you need to actively cultivate, rather than just having a set social circle and/or significant other.

What About the Uncertainty of Income and What Will Happen?

I asked Derek what advice he would give to someone who would love to embark on a similar lifestyle, but were concerned about the uncertainty of it all. To this he said:

A human being’s ability to fight for survival is truly amazing. If you just throw yourself into the the unknown, you’ll figure out a way to make it work. If you find yourself in Panama with no choice but to make an internet income, you probably will.

That said – I wouldn’t just jump without a safety net at all. Try to hit about $1,000 a month first. That should get you by in most developing countries. Work online for 2-3 months before you leave so you get a good sense of how to get clients, how to deliver on work, how much work you can do in a certain time period and so on. Have a backup plan for what to do if a client source dries up.

Also, if you’re worried about the uncertainty of it all, it helps to know that the reality is that foreigners can find jobs in many countries *very* easily. Anywhere in Asia you can pick up a job teaching English, working at a hostel or working at a bar that caters to foreigners in under a week. The job market is actually much stronger for foreigners in entry-level jobs abroad than at home in the USA. That’s an easy fall back plan if things don’t work out.

I think the idea of making money online and traveling just seems a lot more uncertain than it really is. The reality is, the financial pressures while living in Thailand or Poland (expenses = $800 or less) are just so much less than San Francisco (expenses = $2,000+.) Your chances of living a financially abundant life are much higher abroad than at home. You have much more free time as well.

I think Derek’s advice is well-grounded. These days, a regular old job back at home rarely provides much security and by having the ability to seek out your own opportunities, you might find yourself in a much better place when it comes to financial security. Of course, it doesn’t help that traveling means you can often greatly reduce your cost of living.

Top 3 Tips for Traveling Writer Hopefuls

Derek has plenty advice for people who want to travel and write, but I asked him to narrow down his advice to his top 3 tips. This is what he told me:

1) Figure out the income you need to live in your first destination. It’s often much lower than you think and definitely much lower than any first world country. For example, Thailand you can easily live on $800 a month, food included. Then you can just buy a ticket and travel as soon as your income surpasses that number. Most people make the mistake of measuring themselves by the financial goals they’d need to hit to live where they are, rather than where they want to go.

2) Have at least 2 avenues for getting clients. It can be very nerve wrecking to not have a fallback plan. When I lost eHow as a client and didn’t have eLance and the Warrior Forum figured out, it was pretty scary. Today, I’m very confident that if I lost most of my clients, I could rebuild relatively quickly.

3) Track your expenses and your income meticulously. If you don’t know exactly what you’re earning and spending, it’s very hard to feel relaxed around money. You won’t feel “safe” about leaving until you do this. I wrote a post specifically around this as well.

With a plan and sources of work, you can get yourself there. And, of course, like Derek said be very detailed in your record keeping. It’s a great lesson for when you’re traveling or when you’re ready to settle back down.

Check out Derek’s Blog: Earn on the Road

Earn on the Road BlogAbout 2 months ago, Derek started his own blog to share tips and his adventures on the road. I actually didn’t know about this when I asked Derek to do this interview, but was glad to hear he had a place for people to get more information.

When asked why he started the blog, Derek said:

I want to create something that’s both a real asset and something that actually helps people. One issue I have with affiliate marketing and most methods of making money online is that I wasn’t actually *creating* anything real. I was just funneling traffic. My intention with this blog is to eventually turn it into the #1 resource online for people to figure out how to travel and make money. I certainly intend for it to be a money making site in the future. I’d say it was a combination of me wanting to do something that genuinely contributes to the world, a desire to create something real and a desire to create a more substantial business.

While the site currently focuses on earning through freelance writing, in the future Derek plans to interview other people who have earned money while traveling. Whether they worked as scuba diving instructors, online poker players, English teachers, WOOFers, people who’ve started business in foreign countries, people who have found jobs in other countries and more.

Be sure to drop by Earn on the Road and subscribe to Derek’s RSS feed. He even has a free guide Unlimited Travel: Earn Your First $1000 Online that you can download.

Before you go, here are a few more photos from Derek’s adventures. You may have seen these in the staff portion of our Reason Why Video, but if you haven’t seen them yet…enjoy. The snake one makes me shiver and shake a little each time I see it!

Volunteer English teacher in Laos


Scuba Diving in Bali

Derek and a giant snake in Vietnam


Skiing in Poland

Again, check out the Earn on the Road blog and feel free to post your comments and questions below.


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About the Author

Alice Seba
Alice Seba is the owner and creator of With a focus on using content to create relationships, loyalty and results from writing, she loves helping online business owners get more bang out of their content.

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  • Kelly McCausey

    Wow Derek! You’re kinda awesome ;)

    Thanks for sharing glimpses into your world.

    • Derek Pankaew

      Aww, cheers thanks! :D

      It’s a pleasure!

  • Paul Williams

    Brilliant, I love it!

    It’s so inspiring and energizing to witness someone going about their dreams, work and play with that much fun and zest :-)

    When my son grows up, wouldn’t it be great if he was like Derek? And maybe when I grow up I will be like Derek too… :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Derek Pankaew

      Thanks Paul!

      It’s not always fun and zest, there’s a lot of hard work too – But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. (At least for now! I’m gonna keep it up at least till the end of the year. Then we’ll see …)

  • Jeanne

    Wow…what a great read. My husband and I are talking about what it would be like to do this at the “other end” of our lives – in other words, we’re not spring chickens anymore! We’re having a great time planning our getaway.

    • Patti Stafford

      I know what you mean, Jeane. Our kids are grown, but I think we’re a bit too tired to backpack it. It would be awesome for a few weeks though. :)

    • Derek Pankaew

      What’s funny is that as I traveled, I realized how little I knew my own country. Others constantly told me “Wow, I wish I could visit America!” when I hadn’t even taken the time to visit my own backyard.

      If a big international trip isn’t feasible, a short domestic trip can be fantastic too :)

  • Alicia

    I love this post! What an amazing, wonderfully cool way to live. Ah, to be young again…! Anyway, I am really glad you did this interview as it, in unvarnished terms, shows how the goal of making and travel can be synchronistic – and more importantly, how to maintain that goal. Cool stuff! Thanks!

    • Alicia

      Correction – making a living writing

      • Derek Pankaew

        Absolutely! I haven’t found traveling to interfere with my writing at all. Actually, I think there’s a bit of a psychological cap on how much I can write per day. It’s almost like a muscle that gets tired. I can easily still work just as much as I’d be capable of working at home, while still traveling.

  • Patty Gale

    LOVE this post, too! WOW! I think I can echo what everybody else has already said.

    Derek, I’ve been reading your posts here and have picked up lots of great tips. Thank you for that and now especially thank you for sharing your life with us.

    Truly inspirational!


    • Derek Pankaew

      Thanks Patty! It’s my first time being interviewed about my life like this and it’s been a real honor to be able to share what I’ve learned.

      • Patty Gale

        For a first interview, Derek, you did a great job!

  • Patti Stafford

    Great post! We have no kids at home so we “could” pack up and do something like this, but not sure we can backpack all of Kevin’s musical equipment–that would be the thing we couldn’t leave behind. He would not be happy with just his acoustic guitar.

    But I do like the tip of striving to earn what you’d need to live on in the location you want to live. Maybe it’s time to up the goals. ;)

    Thanks to both of you, Derek and Alice, for sharing this awesome story!

  • Donna White

    What an interesting and very accomplished guy.

    Derek, you are truly living a dream. All the best to you.


  • Alice Seba

    Look at all these old farts…too old to hit the road. ;-)

    Just kidding, but for the old folks, we can get motor homes and make our way around the continent. And I’d bet stacks of cash there are plenty of backpackers that carry their guitars around with them, wherever they go.

    I will be 40 in just a few weeks, but still have young children. We have seriously considered getting a motorhome and seeing more of Canada and the US for a year. I would totally do it, but hubby is a bit of a homebody, so not sure if it will happen…even though iPads are VERY portable.

    • Patti Stafford

      Very true on backpackers and guitars–but he wouldn’t be happy with just his acoustic. He also has a cello, a violin, 3 electric basses and 2 electric guitars—plus the amps to plug them into, the keyboards, all of his recorders, his saxophone and his mandolin. Whew! I think I covered it all.

      We’d be better off doing the RV thing or short vacations. LOL

      • Alice Seba

        Sounds like he needs a big trunk to lug around! ;-)

  • Patty Gale

    Alice, if there’s any way your husband would consider it, I say go for it.

    We actually sold our house last summer (didn’t make a dime, but at least it’s gone). I guess you could say suburban life just is not for us. We moved into an apartment and are considering home schooling our daughter so we can do something similar.

    I don’t know if we’ll travel to the extent that Derek is, but you know… life is short and we’re only here once. I want our daughter to see the real world in person, not just through a web browser.

    • Jeanne

      Patty, I homeschooled my kids many years ago when it wasn’t even legal (they’re 43 and 40 now). I even got arrested one time. LOL One of our main reasons was to give us flexibility to travel. We had a blast. They then grew up and after college, they lived in different parts of the world. They are multi-linqual, great people and I’m thrilled to call them friends. They’ve married well, and my son and his wife are homeschooling their 3 boys. I wouldn’t trade those nomadic years for anything. And I really am gearing up for a second season…hope to see you somewhere.

      • Patty Gale

        That is awesome, Jeanne! (not that you were arrested, of course)

        That’s exactly the reason why I’m so looking forward to doing something similar.

        My daughter is 11, she’ll be 12 later this year and I want her to really experience life, not wake up one day at 80 years old and wish she did. I have too many family members who never left NY (I grew up on Long Island) and never experienced anything exciting their entire lives.

        Hope to see you somewhere, too! I’ll see if I can find you on Facebook.

  • Connie Ragen Green

    What an inspirational story! I am headed to Thailand this week, so this came at the perfect time. I love working from wherever I happen to be, as it suits my personality and lifestyle. I look forward to hearing more about Derek’s adventures in the future.


  • Praveen

    Hi Alice,

    Great article and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Just a small mistake above rankled, so this gentle message.

    Cow is considered holy by Indians, not because Lord Shiva rides it – actually He rides a bull; but bull is not considered Holy in the sense a cow is considered holy.

    There are so many reasons to consider cow as holy. Do you know so many people in India take care of cows when they are past the age of giving milk, instead of sending them to a butcher house?

    The reasons can be found in the brilliant article found at the link below, which I am sure you will also enjoy –

    Best regards!

  • Tishia Lee

    This post hit home! This is exactly the lifestyle I want…well almost. I want to travel but only in the states and to beaches. I want to be able to ‘live’ on a beach for one month a year. So many people tell me it’s not a possibility, I can’t do it…blah blah blah. But I’m a single woman and already work from home and with a laptop and internet connection I can work anywhere! So there isn’t any reason reason I can’t do it or make my dream come true!

    This post rejuvenated me and my dream. Thanks Derek for sharing this! It’s just a reminder of what working online and creating our own income can do for us!

    PS. I loved all the pictures until I came to the one of Derek and the snake…I am petrified of snakes and hate them. Seeing that picture actually made me jump, push my chair away from my desk and I had goosebumps! LOL Yes, I really do hate snakes that much!!!

    • Peggy

      Go for it Tishia!

  • Peggy

    What an inspiration you are, Derek! Thanks for interviewing him, Alice.

    I am almost an empty-nester and my dream of doing many “working vacations” starts in September!


  • Ruth

    It was great to read this post since I am actually doing the same thing! Funny, because I’ve read Derek’s blog before and didn’t realise it was the same Derek!

    I just wanted to leave my own encouraging comment here – if you want to do it, you can do it! There will always be people who say you can’t, but I see such a variety of people backpacking in Southeast Asia. Some of them are into their 70s and still going strong, some have kids, some got laid off back home and just decided to go for it, some travel for a month each year with a friend because their spouse doesn’t like to travel etc.

    It’s a really scary thing to decide to do, but once you do decide it’s a lot easier and totally worth it! If it’s in your heart, don’t listen to all the negative people. We are in the BEST business for doing this – whether now or at some point in future.

  • Alice Coaxum

    I enjoyed this interview and loved the pictures. It it wonderful that Derek is able to have so much fun and travel all over while supporting himself through work he chooses to do instead of being tied down to a boring job wishing he could do all of the things he does.

    The Pomodoro Technique sounds interesting. I may have to look into that because I’m always trying to find ways to manage my work time better.

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