A Guided Tour of Lifestyle Design, Location Independence and Digital Nomading

As mentioned last week, we’re going to feature more of the “big picture” and the stories behind entrepreneurship and online business building here. This is the first…

The famous “working poolside” cliché really exists.

In 2009 I set off on a road trip that would change my life. My wife and I packed up our Subaru with everything we thought we’d need over 9 months and headed off on our first sabbatical. We even brought our dog Kinsey along.

The plan was to head south into Mexico and travel around the country, stopping for between one night and a month in different places.

I had just left the startup I poured almost three years of blood, sweat and tears into. Caught with our pants down in the 2008 financial crisis without revenue to keep the company afloat, we had to go back to the VCs with hat in hand. It was terrible timing.

The “traditional” VC-backed startup experience was an incredible learning opportunity, but it didn’t turn out how I had expected. Instead of blissfully enjoying the freedom of being self employed, I ended up with less control over my life than I did in my former corporate consulting gig. The combination of having a co-founder, an office, employees, investors, advisors and a board of directors added up to a whole lot of responsibility and little flexibility. We were building a “startup” with one goal: get really big really quickly, regardless of the lifestyle it requires to get there.

I didn’t go into the startup with a clear idea of the lifestyle I wanted to live while building it, and that was a big mistake. A business without other specific goals can quickly become consumed by growth and revenue at any cost.

The Mexico trip was meant to be a big pressing of the reset button for me. It was time to take a step back, recalibrate, and carefully plan what I wanted from my life and my career.

And something very unexpected happened on the trip. In every place we stopped, we met people who weren’t rich or retired, but somehow had crafted careers and lives that allowed them to live in foreign countries every year, or to travel indefinitely.

This was my introduction to the concepts of lifestyle design, although I didn’t know it had a name. I hadn’t read the 4-hour workweek or anything like it. Instead, I was shocked that people really lived like this. Somehow it never occurred to me there might be an alternative to getting rich or retiring early that had many of the same benefits.

Within a few months on that trip, I started a blog to chronicle our trip, to share stories of people we were meeting, and to ask myself and others some hard questions about work and career and how the two could be better integrated.

That blog was originally called Free Pursuits, then it transitioned to CorbettBarr.com, and now it has been merged into Think Traffic, which you’re reading now. I’ll explain more about the transitions later, but the important thing is that starting the blog marked an incredible turning point for me.

(The article you’re reading now contains many links to articles that appeared on my original blog. If you’re interested, you can read still read most everything I wrote there in our merged archives here)

I fully embraced the idea of building a business that allowed me to live the life I wanted to now, without waiting to hopefully get rich one day, or retire early.

I simply wanted to do work I love in a way that gives me freedom to travel, to choose my schedule, to work with great people, and to choose interesting projects.

Simple, right?

I dove headfirst into the world of lifestyle design, location independence and digital nomads. It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I did eventually build a business that made all of that possible. I wrote a complete guide about how this all happened called 18 Months, 2 Blogs, Six Figures, which you can download for free.

Since the original sabbatical, we’ve returned to mexico, traveled europe, spent about 50% of the past three and a half years traveling. I started Think Traffic, built a team and grew the business considerably. We’ve now served over 3,000 paying customers through courses like How to Start a Blog that Matters and Traffic School.

Sometimes I still have a hard time believing it’s all real. For so long it seemed like an impossible dream or myth that existed only in books and blogs.

Maybe you’re at that same point, wondering if it’s worth the struggle. I wish I could tell you it’ll all be worth it, but that’s for you to decide.

To help you make a decision, below are several things I’ve written about lifestyle design, location independence, digital nomads and lifestyle business over the years.

Please enjoy them, email or tweet me any questions, and pass this along if it’s useful.

Oh, and if you’d like to hear more about these topics at Think Traffic, leave a comment below and let us know.

Here is your guided tour:

Essential Reading

Lifestyle Design


Lifestyle Business + Starting Up

Location Independence and Digital Nomading

Published by

Corbett Barr

Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.

51 thoughts on “A Guided Tour of Lifestyle Design, Location Independence and Digital Nomading”

  1. I am now sure that you will be rocking us more than usual after merging the 2 sites. Please corbett slow down, My mind willnot be able to take all this tips :)

    I am joking, I want you to rock us more and more.

    Ahmed Safwan

  2. I’m so glad I discovered the lifestyle design movement when I did because I was starting to head down the traditional start up route.

    My first realisation was that I didn’t have to get a job – I could create my own. Then I got swept up with all of these high cost zoom to the top schemes and ideas and, while I was excited, I did feel a bit giddy. Then I came across AONC and this whole world appeared. Now I’m trying to show it and the concepts that go with it to the young people who might never stumble on steps one or two.

    Can’t wait to read more :-)

  3. Oh jeez, I’m going to be up all night reading these articles! Congratulations on the merge, I think it’s awesome, and a big thank you to you for all the inspiration you’ve given me over the past 2 years.

    PS – you haven’t travelled anywhere until you’ve visited us in Cape Town :)

  4. I love the idea of lifestyle design and creating a business that supports the kind of life you want to lead, rather than working to afford the lifestyle you’d like to have. I recently quit what I’m pretty sure was my very last ever part-time-job-unrelated-to-anything-I-really-want-to-do-but-must-have-to-pay-the-bills-until-I-can-get-enough-client-work-in-my-small-biz-to-support-myself job, and it feels damn good! Here’s to creating a lifestyle biz and forging your own path — love this life. : )

    I’ve been reading both of your blogs, but am really digging the merged version — so much great content to read — and re-read!

  5. Hey Corbett,

    First off, I totally loved the way you organized this post to point your readers back to all that valuable content you migrated from Corbettbarr.com – I mean, this is a perfect example of how resourceful a blog post can be, while keeping things simple.

    Location independence has always given me the ‘kick’. The idea of being where you want to be without being tied down with your ‘job’ is probably everyone’s fantasy. But not many get down to actually take the risks and do what it takes to fulfill it.

    I think it’s great how you were able to live the life of a ‘digital nomad’ and share it with all of us, cause trust me, that’s a huge inspiration. I’m pretty sure as ThinkTraffic grows, things will get a lot more interesting for you and as well as for your readers.

  6. Man I could not be more at the crux of the decision making process than I am now. Super relevant and terrifying post because it’s so relatable right now. Proof that alternate forms of happiness exist is so incredibly warming.

  7. Check the most clicked here and it will be how to turn $3k… to more money.

    Corbett, its real, you just have to believe it and you are living the life already.

    Its now time you launch a product whils walking your dog and see 6-figure launch day. that”s the power of the internet and glad you defined your style.


  8. Hey Corbett,

    I finally visited your blog last week, after hear a lot of other bloggers talking about it. I am glad I did, I really like the advice you give and your blog is one of three that I read consistently now.

    I love this article and the one thing that really hit home was “Sometimes I still have a hard time believing it’s all real. For so long it seemed like an impossible dream or myth that existed only in books and blogs. ”

    I so feel this way right now, I read about your success, and Pat Flynn, Adam Baker, and all the others. It’s feels like I’m ice skating up hill on a daily basis, I have to tell myself daily though to just keep my head down, plow through the opposition, and keep focused on my life goals.

    All the hard work will be worth it one day. Thank you for all the great advice you give to newbs like me, I can’t begin to tell how much I appreciate it.


    1. Hey Adam, glad to have you here. Thanks for following the recommendations to tune in.

      Yes, I remember that feeling of “ice skating uphill” as you put it. I’m not sure what got me through, except sheer will and determination, maybe a little too much self belief, and the generosity of others like Chris Guillebeau who was so open in sharing what worked for him through his blog and free guides.

      The passage of time makes everything seem clearer now, but I do remember how confusing and cloudy it all seemed back then. All I can say is you have to be patient and have a slightly longer-term vision.

    2. Hey Corbett,

      Thanks for the response! I knew when starting my journey of my lifestyle design that it wasn’t going to be easy.

      It’s my only hope that once I’ve achieved my goals, that I can pay it forward to my own community and tell them that it’s thanks to you, and the others, that give away what worked for them when they first started out.

      The hardest part of the whole thing is staying motivated and knowing that all the work is/will pay off one day.

      Thanks again!

  9. Corbett – simply an inspiring story and thanks for laying out all these great posts to dive into more in the future. I definitely like how you’re hitting on the “big why” behind the tactics.

  10. Corbett,

    Perfect timing!

    I just launched my website and have begun the “earning” leg of my journey. The inspiration that your article provides, along with the list of past writing on the subject, come at a great time for me and many others like me, I’m sure.

    I’ve done the “imagineering” of my future lifestyle already. Your articles will help push me along on the path that I dream of for myself and my family. You know, kinda like the life that you and yours are already living!

    Thanks for doing what you do!


  11. This concept or lifestyle has fascinated me for years… really since I met my wife 6 years ago. We both became certified SCUBA divers and enjoy traveling someplace sunny every six months (on average). Often dreaming of being able to do it for 3-6 months at a time.

    Honestly, I think it was on your site a few years ago when you shared a place you were staying in MX that I really got jealous!

    However, as with most, there’s several things (excuses) which always seem to hold us back from being able to do this. Mainly my student loans from an undergraduate and graduate degrees. Although we both realize we could make it happen if we really wanted to I guess. And we are working towards that as our goal some day.

    Honestly, to be location independent, to wake up each day and work when I want from where I want seems impossible to imagine.

    It’s such a different mind set or reality. After working my entire adult lives to this point for someone else. And I also watched my father work his ass off his entire life in construction to retire and pass away suddenly a year later at age 65.

    My wife and I have made a commitment to travel. We have a travel savings fund we put into each week. I guess our thinking is why put all that extra money into a retirement account when we’re not even sure if we’ll ever be able to retire, or even physically be able to travel when we do.

  12. Corbett so glad I saw this. I wrote something similar about “working poolside” recently when I had that moment when I realized that’s exactly what I was doing.

    There are so many people out there that want to design their lives but I think many are unconvinced that it’s actually possible. I think it’s a matter of, like you said, embracing the lifestyle you want without waiting to retire or get rich. I’m certainly not rich but I am lucky enough to live the lifestyle I want simply because I’ve embraced it.

    Inspiring post, thanks :)

  13. It’s funny, Corbett, that it was a certain lifestyle that has been my goal this entire time… not necessarily a specific kind of business or financial goal.

    Over the last year, I’ve signed up for and unsubscribed from dozens of blogs. Believe it or not, your blogs have been the only ones I could stick with indefinitely. It was about 4 months ago that I realized why. Everything you produce has that underlying sense of living a better life. Though you teach what it takes to get there, it’s obvious that the end result is what motivates you… not necessarily your means of getting there.

    For those who are in it for the long haul and have possibly worked in undesirable conditions for far too long in the past, you’re the perfect guy to follow.

    I’m digging the merge so far. Keep killing it, man. :)


  14. Hi Corbett,
    Thanks for this. I’ve recently become location independent and a lot of it is thanks to the principles you’ve taught here. Between your posts (I’ve been a subscriber since last year) and your Build a blog that Matters course, (And I’m also on the Million Dollar Blog list, but with a different site) I’ve started a local business, ramped things up, am free of the corporate life and am on pace to do close to half a million this year. It took me all of 8 months to pull this off.

    Just wanted to say thanks man. I would be happy to share more on how I did it anytime. But it’s crazy that some of the principles you teach just appear so simply on the outset that from the outside it may seem to simple to be true. And then you try it, and you’re like…oh snap!!!

    Anyhow man, thanks again.

  15. Hi Corbett,

    This is an awesome and inspiring post. How you made the “sabbatical” leave that changed your life.

    I know looking back during the day, it seems so hard and impossible, yet you were still able to achieve the lifestyle and live the dream that you want.

    You’re an inspiration to all of us, especially us (Think Traffic) Students.

    BTW, launched my site and would love to hear your feedback.


  16. Corbett,

    Such a great perspective.

    Most people aren’t able to step outside of themselves (and the daily grind) to really evaluate how things are going what truly matters.

    Glad to see your two sites merge together seamlessly!

  17. Hello Corbett:

    Thanks for posting and linking to so many great articles on Lifestyle Design. I read the 4 Hour Workweek years ago and despite the fact that much of it was hype and not to be achieved by many mortals, it altered my ideas on what was possible. Since then I’ve begun online freelancing and moved into starting a blog, which I have yet to monetize.
    Even if location independence is never achieved the tips on how to work smarter and be more efficient are priceless.

    Thanks again Corbett.

  18. Thanks for the great post Corbett.

    Just starting to explore your blogs. I signed up for Start a blog that matters and really enjoy it so far. I also was a part of the Hustle Project with you and Adam Baker. Are the archives available online?

    I think it is good you point out that not everyone who wants freedom from 9-5 needs to become a blogger or even be online. I want to start a blog to share some of my writing and photography, especially during my travels with my family. If it can turn it into a business later on that would be a huge bonus.

    I’m very excited to share that my family will be moving to Paris next year for a sabbatical of undermined length. (A minimum of 6 months). We fell in love with the city back in 2010 and I can’ t wait to soak up the lifestyle there without worrying about work. I “work” as an EMS helicopter pilot and love flying but feel like I need a break from it for a couple of years. It’s hard to explain but I have some other goals (like living abroad) that I don’t want to wait on any longer. Life is short so don’t put off your dreams. Keep up the good work and keep the greasy side down (as we say in my business).

  19. Hi Corbett! Well this is the great example of getting or generating ideas from the normal life into your professional life and that’s been great, I love reading the whole article and gives also something to work about.

    Thanks for sharing great information. :-)

  20. Hey Corbett

    Loving the combo of Think Traffic with more of your story.

    There is so much valuable stuff linked in with this post, so its going to take me a while to get through it :)

    I have a dream of establishing a lifestyle that allows myself and my husband to skip winter each year by travelling to somewhere sunny and warm during the cold months. Mexico is definitely one country on my list.

    Once upon a time I wouldn’t have thought that this sort of dream was possible, unless we saved and saved for retirement and then hopefully had enough funds to support it.

    What you have taught me and others is that it is possible as long as you carefully study what works and then put the effort in and persist over the long haul.

    Too many people I know are very sick and dying from cancer in their 40’s and 50’s.

    Life really does have a use by date – no point in waiting to live it.

    Looking forward to getting to know more about you here on Think Traffic Corbett.

  21. I think that it is really impressive what you have been able to do Corbertt. I’d love to create a situation for myself that enabled some choice and flexibility, but to be honest I’ve never been able to really find a way forward.

    I’ve attempted the blogging thing for a while (couple of years) and given sufficient effort I’ve been able to drive traffic and make a few dollars, but I think my enthusiasm was for the discovery of a cool new medium (blogging) rather than the topic.

    I’m definitely missing something, but I just don’t feel like I have a particular passion for anything… stuff I’m interested in sure, but only to a certain extent. Maybe it’s laziness, but I just seem to lose interest or motivation to continue. I’d love to be one of those people that are consumed by something so entirely that it is all they can think about, learn about and do, but I just don’t seem to have it in me.

    Any advice for someone in this particular situation?

  22. Excellent post. People forget its not about the DESTINATION its about the JOURNEY.

    Since we know we are always between storms it is best to learn to play in the rain isn’t it? someone somewhere said that.

    I had a similar experience in the crash and have since focused on life and living more than income and money. If life is a game there has to be a way to WIN right?

  23. I have just recently found this blog…sad but true. However, you asked if there was anything that we would like to know more about.

    I guess the one thing that every blog owner wants to know more about is self-promotion for traffic. We can all get on Twitter, Facebook, etc., but the fact of the matter is, if you don’t have many followers or friends, you just aren’t going to get traffic from social media sites!

    Any secrets beyond auto-piloting Tweets, buying real Facebook fans, etc? Or is the secret to all of this just allowing time to take its course after a long time of converging on these social media sites? Would like to know more, because I think if a person likes your updates and tweets, then it’s a good chance that they will visit your site.

  24. Corbett – What an amazing list of resources you have put together. I can imagine so many folks still up and reading, excitement stirring in the pits of their stomach!

    You have just given a truly generous gift.

  25. Corbett,

    Thanks for the inspirational post.

    This is the part that resonated with me the most:

    “I fully embraced the idea of building a business that allowed me to live the life I wanted to now, without waiting to hopefully get rich one day, or retire early.”

    This is such a great point. With some creative thinking, you can come up with ideas regarding living how you really want to live now instead of waiting.

    It’s important to let go of the limiting belief that it can’t happen right now. Perhaps it can.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  26. Your ideas is very clear and i think you have done a very great job in transforming ThinkTraffic and help a lot of people with your knowledge and that’s why things are going on well for your site. i must say this…..well done Corbett.

  27. Good for you Corbett. I too quit a very successful corporate job which was mainly consulting, planned a 1 year ‘sabbatical/move to the countryside experiment’ which was to be followed by a permanent move to the South of France. In the end, that 1 year has turned into ‘until the kids leave home’ which will be about 9 years but in the meantime we are financially free via various projects, location independent, and living life 100% on our own terms.

    The main point was to spend at least a year with the kids rather than miss out on their growing up as lots of working parents do – in the end we’ve simplified our lives considerably into the bargain and the wonders of technology have enabled lots of amazing side ventures with the use of skype and the growth of things like cloud computing.

    I’ve never really considered VC funding anything – it just looks like having a different kind of boss.

    I do believe some of the political and economical changes happening at the moment are also leading people to consider things differently too…

  28. Ah, Lifestyle Design.

    I’ve actually just switched lifestyles – Melbourne, engineer, 6 fig salary.
    Now living on 10 acres near Byron, 90% paycut and focussing on my online biz’s (coffee, cycling and online media/marketing).

    The LD scene is littered with endless success stories; Chris G (I dig Chris Guillebeau, a lot), Corbett, Johnny Truant and more.

    Here’s the deal. Lots of “here’s what I did” and endless success but a lot of missing info on REAL how-to’s.

    Having just been through this, it is not all beer and skittles. But that is a story for another day.

    What I am saying is don’t be wowed by success. There is a lot of failure and hard work behind every success story.

  29. You’re killing me with these resources 😉 Might have to skip the workout today and get a much greater than usual dose of inspiration, starting at the top with 18 months, 2 blogs, 6 figures…

    Remain. Awesome.


  30. I discovered ‘lifestyle design’ just after I had my daughter. I knew, without doubt I wouldn’t go and work for someone else again. I had always dreamed of starting my own business, from home. Then I discovered through the books and blogs about lifestyle design that I could actually start a business doing something I loved. So the birth of my daughter was the catalyst for me to sit down (while breastfeeding at 2am :-), and consciously decide what I wanted our lives to be like and what business I wanted to start. I want my daughter to know that she can be really happy in life, that life is meant to be enjoyable and that she can make an income doing something she is really passionate about. I think that’s one of the best things we can teach our children. As always, love reading your posts. Cheers

  31. Hi Corbett,

    Such great info here. I’m a artist (original indie solo artist) and struggle at times with how to apply these tips to my music.

    Any tips on how to think of it? The product being me and my songs. I keep coming back to ‘remarkable’. Is being remarkable enough? I feel it’s only part of the process.

    Love reading your work.

    A. J.

  32. Hi Corbett,

    I’m not a huge blog reader, but yours stands out as precise, informative and very helpful when I feel overwhelmed with starting a new business with a new baby. It seems like I’m always super far behind.

    It’s content like this that helps me see the big picture in a better glow of sunlight. You manage to keep it honest, tangible, insightful and inspirational in few words.


  33. I’ve not been with the Think Traffic family for long, but I’ve learned so much. Your style of writing is very personable, so I’m able to really digest everything you deliver… and you definitely deliver a helluva lot of information.

    But it’s the good, useful stuff. Nothing more.

    I appreciate you linking to all the juicy posts here. This goes to my bookmarks for future reference as I build traffic to my website.

    Thanks for your hard work to help other online marketers/bloggers.



  34. Hey Corbett
    It’s great to hear a bit more about the reasons why you do what you do. We all have our reasons, me included. I chatted to you once about it when I was involved in your course – create a blog that matters. It was a great course I needed after a severe illness which led to my Inspired Camping website, and now Inspired Freelance. Similar to your own story, it’s amazing how adversity often leads to something completely different… And I want to take the opportunity to thank you for the role you have played in my own story.

    1. Thanks so much Sarah, it’s great to hear I’ve had an impact :) Congrats on the new site, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you sometime soon.

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