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How To Rebuild Your Life Post-Pandemic – Maybe We Don’t Need Them Anymore

Spinning the lockdown tragedy positive.

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ASTORIA, NYC- I was wiped out too — just one of the gang (of 50 million Americans) left unemployed by the pandemic. I travel for work, my web properties are focused on travel, the raw materials of what I produce come from travel, and what makes me valuable is that I travel. Before March I could not have imagined a day when travel was not possible. No business ever has a contingency plan for zero customers. My business had no contingency plan for zero travel.

Publicly, I’ve lamented my position — an entire year of speaking engagements, big media projects, and the usual array of freelance gigs, completely gone — but privately I did not bemoan my fate. The opportunity in the crises was easy to find: the global overreaction to the Covid-19 pandemic has gifted me the time and space to put my head down and finish big projects and start new projects and businesses from the ground up.

At some point during the lockdown in NYC I remembered my days of living out of a backpack, where I’d say things like, “If I only had a US address I would do …” I had to laugh at myself: here I was whining about how I lost my work while I had the raw ingredient that my broader business strategy was always missing.

There were so many ventures that I planned to start over my years of travel that were hampered or vacated due to my lack of a constant — and preferably American — address. I would consider starting up a drop shipping operation, producing my own branded products, and flipping everything that could be flipped just to watch as my itinerantcy buggered it all away. The 365-day a year style of travel provides many ways to make money … on one hand … while making many business opportunities far more difficult on the other. Ideally, you would travel freely while maintaining a business base — or multiple bases — in key locations. In most cases, you at least need a point person on the ground in the market you want to be most active in.

But I tried to do that once, and it didn’t work out so well:

Remember when I used to sell Vagabond Journey t-shirts around ten years ago? I had one of the best woodblock printers in NYC design and carve out a Vagabond Journey logo and print up some shirts with it. The results were incredible and they sold well, but … I relied on my sister to send them out, and … well, I’ll put it like this: I’ve had to “Sorry, dude” people way too many times when they asked what happened to that t-shirt they ordered but never received.

So I forgot about selling things, flipping shit, and the plethora of other ways to hustle a living. I just wrote, shot video, and made a living in media. I told myself — falsely — that there was no other way for me, and I put all of my focus on that singular objective. It was what I like doing anyway, and I became successful at it. I made a living traveling the world and writing about it. It was a dream … and like all dreams you eventually wake up and ask yourself if it was real.

Like many others through the course of the lockdown, being prohibited from carrying out my usual routine yanked me outside of it. I was able to peer inside my life and be like, “Hey!!! What’s going on in there!?!”

Or, more pressingly, why am I still so happy being so poor?

The seeds of this sentiment were actually planted back in February when I was in Austin, Texas shooting a documentary about digital nomads. I interviewed Ian Schoen, the co-host of Tropical MBA podcast and co-founder of the Dynamite Circle business collective, for the film. As I sat in his garage that was full of expensive race cars and motorcycles that sat next to his big, beautiful house I got to thinking about how this dude was the same age as me, travels the world like me, but has a lot more of everything than me. Where I spent my time writing about what I’m interested in, he was starting companies and building generational wealth for himself and his family. Why haven’t I ever bothered to do this?

It may sound funny but that was the first time I’ve ever asked myself that question. Even while interviewing multi-millionaire CEOs or big time entrepreneurs for Forbes I always maintained this odd disconnect between them and myself. They seemed to be from another world and I would peer into their lives inquisitively, feeling as much akin to them as I would a pygmy in the Congo. But this dude, Ian Schoen, seemed to be a “one of me” — a peer, someone who came from the same place and started walking the same road as I did but took a sharp left where I just kept going.

I need to make up for lost time.

“Everybody is hustling now, man. It’s crazy,” my real estate broker told me the other day when we were hanging out in front of a restaurant.

We have been severed from the office. We have been cast aside by our employers. We’ve had our pay cut or have been furloughed. We’ve been abused. Now, do they really think we’re going to walk back into the fold as if nothing happened? I don’t believe so. We’ve had too much time to think, and we’ve realized a few things.

“People get up and go to work to make other people richer. All of your bills are someone’s passive income.”Chris Johnson

Revisit the Independent Travel Business series.


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Filed under: Epidemics, Investing, Money, New York City, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

24 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Lawrence Hamilton August 14, 2020, 3:52 am

    What are some of your business ideas?

    Link Reply
    • VBJ August 14, 2020, 10:22 am

      They’re coming.

      What are you doing for money now?

      Link Reply
      • Lawrence August 15, 2020, 5:00 pm

        Hi Wade,

        Currently I work at a halfway house which helps people with ”small” criminal offences who are being rehabilited back into society. Help them get driver’s licenses, go the gym, etc. Mixture of boring/stressful but gives me a lot of time to read and occasionally time to work on other things. It’s one of those great programs that is a complete clusterfuck of govt/private funding which means I am insanely overpaid. I honestly don’t know where the money comes from…it’s one of those things where if you look at someone’s budget they are paying like 186 dollars for a coffee. Legalised corruption, but hey I guess we help people and I get paid a bunch so…….

        My wife and I recently played the real estate game for the first time. Crazy pandemic dip and rebound (it’s a long boring story) ended up with us owning an almost completely paid off apartment in the center of Newcastle about 5 minutes from the beach. All it really involved was knowing a real estate agent, paying a lawyer 1400 bucks (a lot of money, I admit) and signing about 500 documents. I had the same reaction as you did…why have I not done this earlier? When I was 24 I would have called this ”phony” or a sell out move. I think my major health problem a couple of years really grateful. I am simply grateful that my hand moves when I want it, so you just take things in stride. This little apartment should be a bit of a family heirloom, it’s going to be a little gold mine.

        I also made a decent little bundle playing the defi crypto markets. I can’t really recommend that, as the best I can tell it is just gambling with hipsters. I just got a good tip. It’s not an insane amount of money either, but the kind of bonus that if I got 15 years ago meant I would be traveling for two years.

        Hope you are well.

        Link Reply
        • VBJ August 17, 2020, 11:10 am

          Hello Lawrence,

          That sounds like some pretty good work. Yes, take that active income and turn it passive! Good call on the apartment. Let’s do an interview about that soon. Are you going to rent it out?

          Good play in the crypto market! I’ve never ventured into that. A long time ago I thought I was too late to get in … but now it seems as if I would have been early haha. It seems like a huge amount to study to get something out of that would better be put towards stocks or real estate.

          Haha, yes, we both would have called ourselves sellouts for what we’re doing now. It’s nuts when you realize that playing with money is a game akin to traveling. You make moves, take shortcuts, get lost, and conquer obstacles en route to getting between point A and B. I’d like to hear more about what you’re heading.

          Link Reply
      • Jack August 16, 2020, 6:39 am

        Have you thought about verifing your site for Brave Rewards so that it’s easy to send you a tip or monthly contributions…I know you have a Donate button, but Brave Rewards is just easier to use and you can be as anonymous as you want to be. If you don’t know what Brave is, it is a browser based on Chrome that rewards people BAT tokens for using the browser as they normally do. The BAT tokens can be used to tip websites, give regular monthly payments to websites, distributed evenly across the sites you view, or simply sold for money.

        Link Reply
        • VBJ August 17, 2020, 4:31 pm

          That’s interesting. I had no idea what that was until I read this comment. I actually just got an email notifying me that someone sent me a BAT token and I deleted it thinking it was spam haha. I will look into it!

          Link Reply
          • Crypto man August 19, 2020, 7:24 pm

            I was the one that sent you the brave rewards. It was an experiment. Guess it failed 🙁
            But it is still there for 90 days! Email address is fake.

            Link Reply
            • VBJ August 20, 2020, 8:57 am

              Haha cool! Yes, I thought I recognized your name! It’s funny that Jack wrote that comment on the same day as I got that BAT from you. Good thing! I was able to successfully retrieve the mail and started up a BAT account. Thanks for this!

              Link Reply
              • crypto man August 20, 2020, 1:12 pm

                The stars lined up! Thanks Jack! Should be interesting. I use coinbase pro to buy and send Bat, if that is of any help. Go BAT!!!

                Link Reply
                • VBJ August 20, 2020, 2:24 pm

                  Excellent! I created the accounts, etc, and it seems as if VBJ already had already earned 15 BAT. With your contribution we’re up to 16! This was something that just a few years ago seemed like a fantasy. It really could be the new way to make a living from a website … or at least another stream od sustenance. Thanks for this!

                  Link Reply
  • Georgiy Romanov August 14, 2020, 8:31 am

    Man, I feel you pain as no one else. I look at you with the same envy as you look at these people. But the only difference is that I call myself a traveling journalist, although in fact I sit at a full time job that gives me nothing but paying bills and buying food. And every morning I always ask myself  the same thing: How can I turn those things over, how can I escape from that prison?

    Not so much time ago for the next few months I handed over scrap metal and saved those money to buy a proper microphone. Every day. This equipment allows to produce better videos for which I get nothing. And a few days later a friend of mine invited me to work as a wedding operator. I hate this business, but this is money and the ability to hold the camera so I agreed. For the next 8 hours I earned my 1 month income. WTF? 
    Life would be much easier if I stop fighting and accept the system, but sometimes I get the feeling that my life is a constant battle in the hope of finding freedom, while others enjoy this freedom. Or it is just an illusion… I don’t know. Not so much people really honest in the Internet because they must be successful!

    In any case, I set a goal for myself to travel along the New Silk Road and this idea gives me strengths to keep going and changing my life for a better. In next month or two I hope to see new turnover point!

    Link Reply
    • VBJ August 14, 2020, 2:36 pm

      Hello Georgiy,

      I wouldn’t necessarily say I envy them. It’s more like they make me look at myself and be like, “Dude, what were you doing? You were in China during its economic rise and you didn’t make any money?!?” Then when we look at the fact that I had the language skills, knew the relevant players, and understood — and even wrote about — the system it makes things even more unbelievable. I guess I didn’t want to make money then. Because being in China during that era and not making loads of money must have been a choice.

      But I guess I did have some good hustles there … I sold visas for a while — that was interesting — and I ran a recruitment operation which produced surprising returns for how much time it took. But I just didn’t have the will then to make money. I may have been fearful of not being poor. How could I be a vagabond if I had money? haha.

      My advice to you is that you should stop viewing what you do as an art but as a business. You should stop focusing on what you like and more on what people want to buy. Your content about riding bikes in Japan is cool and really well done but nobody is going to pay for it. In the global conversation it just isn’t very important. It’s one way or the other, man: either invest your time into an art and don’t worry about making money or invest your time into a business and give people what they want. This of course doesn’t mean that you can’t do both, but treat your hobby as a hobby and your work as your work. Don’t expect to be paid for your hobby. Focus on issues in Russia (or wherever) that’s relevant to the global conversation. Read the international news, find out what they’re saying about wherever it is that you are and then go out and find the real story. Just start producing and publishing it on your own — don’t expect a news outlet to give you a job or even a commitment. Just produce high quality, relevant content and wait for them to come. It’s like fishing.

      Wedding photography is a good way to make money. Keep doing that. You should also write about your work selling scrap metal. Make a little first person documentary about it. It probably won’t make any money but it is interesting and it will help with your personal branding. It also gives your storyline some conflict — struggling Russian traveler selling scrap metal to make money to travel.

      Link Reply
  • Trevor Warman August 15, 2020, 3:25 am

    So you are gonna print more T shirts?

    You used to sell visas ? Any old blog posts about that?

    Actually i think u should run for office. Or mayor. Imagine.. the first backpacker becomes president. If an actor can, (Reagan). my basis being, u seem to have got this hole covid shit sussed, when the powers that be have fucked it all up… Europe is slowly locking down… but am doing good here,

    Link Reply
    • VBJ August 17, 2020, 10:58 am

      Don’t know if I will print more. I will get in touch with my friend who made them and ask if he is still doing it and would like to print up some more. I still have a box full of them that I’m going to start selling again.

      Running for office? That would be funny. My motto will be “Not one of either of them.” I’d vote for me haha.

      Gov officials seemed really tied up on this issue. On the one side they have very powerful corporations and (corporate-influenced) health and regulatory bodies telling them one thing, on the other hand they have the more independent scientific community telling them another, and on the other other hand they have the media-manipulated public demanding something else. And then you have the business community that’s being decimated…and then the bean counters who are like, “You know, if you keep this up we’re not going to have enough tax revenue to run our city, state, country …”

      Good times!

      It’s seeming like you’re flowing like a river through this thing: moving around the boulders and changing course when hitting obstructions. Good traveling!

      Link Reply
      • Trevor Warman August 17, 2020, 11:35 am

        I dunno how long b4 the river stops flowing.. countries are being added to the red list daily. Options were limited now the noose is slowly tightening. Again. A bit daunting.. but the words r flowing..

        Link Reply
  • Jack August 15, 2020, 8:53 pm

    Real estate is where the money is at in the US. If you haven’t bought a place then you should and ride that wave….the government purposely props up the real estate market and a lot of paper wealth is built that way…and it’s a gateway into equity markets. I’ve known that game but it’s not a game I want to play…not because I think it’s a sellout…or anything like that, I just am not motivated by money. There was a time in my life where I was cashing $20k checks every Friday but for what? Most people don’t even believe the story I tell of things that have happened to me and the things I’ve done. Money is about the least important thing to me and it doesn’t motivate me at all.

    A good example: To keep my wife from having to do deliveries when no one else shows up, I signed up to do deliveries. The money I make doing those deliveries I just buy pizzas for the workers. I’m not doing it for the money. I get tips from the deliveries and I just want to tell the people not to tip me lol

    “I hate those people who love to tell you
    Money is the root of all that kills
    They have never been poor
    They have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas”

    I really do hate those kind of people when they talk about the evils of money when they have never been poor and broke. See those are two different things. You can be broke but not poor and you can be poor but not broke. Broke is a temporary thing, poor is a condition. When someone tells me they were poor back in college because they had to eat ramen, I laugh because that was temporary. They were broke, not poor. I grew up eating generic Tastee O’s with water because we didn’t have money for milk. I ate mayonnaise sandwiches because we didn’t have anything to put on the bread other than mayo. I knew all about food stamps and welfare because my family was on and off it all my time growing up and it wasn’t because my parents didn’t work. They worked. We were poor always and broke most of the time.

    Me? I just want enough food for the family, a place to live, our health, and peace. If my kids can get a good education and get out on their own, then that’s all that matters to me. My oldest just joined the military and that’s what he wanted….1 down and 4 to go.

    But I also know that this isn’t what others want out of their life. I’m blessed with a wife who feels the same as I do. She has the comfort of mind to know that she can quit at any time she wants and we are ok. But it’s not for everyone and I’m glad it isn’t. This world needs the people who have drive and ambition to build things and that drive and ambition takes many forms. God bless those that want to build wealth for their family. That is just as valid of a choice as the one that I have made.

    And that is the real beauty of it all, when we have the right to choose how we live our lives, we all win. Having a garage full of expensive cars and a huge house is not bad or evil and neither is choosing to live by the beach and spending your day fishing. 🙂 It’s just another choice.

    And I am rambling. I really look forward to seeing what ideas you come up with, Wade.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ August 17, 2020, 4:22 pm

      Hello Jack,

      I love these little glimpses into your background that you give us. Just little pinhole peepholes that make us want to see more.

      Yes, real estate seems to be where it’s at. Like the Chinese position: no matter what happens at the end of the day you’re still left with something that people can use, and that will always have some kind of value.

      Yes, and now seems to be the time to buy. The real estate agent friend that I was talking with talked all about the low interest rates and lack of demand: “If they want a million offer them $500 or $600 thousand.” I should probably jump into this in some way.

      I agree with your take on wealth. If showing it off makes you happy, go for it. If not, then do something else that makes you proud.

      About poor being a being a condition, I agree. It’s an element of culture, a mentality, rather than a particular lack of money. I’ve mastered being poor as though it was an art. But the returns that I’m getting from this are starting to wear thin. I’m ready to do something else.

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  • Bob L August 17, 2020, 10:31 am

    Still have that shirt.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ August 17, 2020, 4:33 pm

      Cool! Is it getting time for a new one?

      Link Reply