Lifestyle Freedom Through Writing -
Let’s Really Meet Derek Pankaew
Written by Alice Seba
This 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.
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:
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?
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.
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
About 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!
Again, check out the Earn on the Road blog and feel free to post your comments and questions below.
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