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Are you working as an engineer and feeling anchored to one location with the same depressive routine each day?
Does life feel like some kind of monotonous routine, making the same commute to the same cubicle each day?
Would you like a more enriched and free life, whilst still continuing to work in the field in which you are passionate?
Perhaps you want more adventure in your life, to be living in different locations and visiting crazy places such as the Dragon Temple Wat Sam Phran, then to return to your AirBnB and still be able to design a clients electronic project.
After working in engineering for 20 years and prior to taking a leap of faith that led me to freedom, I was the person shouting yes to those questions!
I woke today and made a coffee. I went outside and sat in the sunshine next to the pool. This is my morning routine at the moment, I live in a villa in Cyprus with my girlfriend. I am here for another 5 weeks at the time of writing and next we will travel to Italy.
I found my freedom. I feel happier than ever.
As I drank my coffee this morning I decided to try something different. Rather than write factual information about engineering topics, such as how to make an Arduino Shield, I wanted to write something about my journey.
I wanted to share some experience that could help someone like me, who needs a route out of monotony.
Now I am still early into my journey and whether I can sustain this lifestyle depends on how successful I will be in the next year. However the hardest part is done. I transitioned from monotony to the life I wanted. I became a digital nomad engineer.
In this article I want to share my experience in order to teach you how to do the hardest part. To transition from monotony to freedom.
How Do I Quit an Engineering Job To Travel?
Ok so you want to escape the rat race? You want to climb upon your bosses desk and finally leave that stinkin’ golden egg, just like you fantasized about after each of those weekly meetings where you got your ass handed to you?
It is very easy to fantasize about quitting your job and sailing off into the sunset to become a freelance nomad without a care in the world.
However in my experience, the reality is quite different.
The nature of working for an employer can feel like a prison at times and just like escaping from a prison, escaping from work needs a well thought out plan.
This can take time. A lot of time.
I can tell you it took me several years to get myself into a position whereby I was ready to execute my plan.
However the exact time will depend on who you are, where you are in life and exactly what you want to achieve. Maybe you can do it sooner, maybe it will take longer.
In its most simple form, this is the only answer to the question.
Q. How do I quit an engineering job to travel / be a nomad / work for myself etc etc?
A. You make a plan. You execute said plan.
Ok, that is massively simplified, but I wanted to emphasise the importance of planning.
In order to actually deliver you some information of use, we need to ask the next question.
How Do I Plan To Be A Digital Nomad?
I cannot stress the importance of planning enough. Planning is the fundamental thing required in order to succeed at anything, including a venture to become a digital nomad.
I have always been good at structuring and planning things… when I wanted to. When I felt like it. When I did not feel like it, well, then it was a total drag.
In my younger years I could be lazy. I skipped over planning elements in various ventures and projects. I failed many times in my youth.
As I got older I learned from experience just how important planning was. I saw success! I became a planning person, making almost a U-turn and becoming next to obsessive about it.
So, where to start?
I think the single most important question to ask yourself first is… how much money do I need per month to live? This is where I began my own thought process.
You need to be very honest and realistic with yourself and make this goal attainable.
Perhaps this question should be (temporarily) rephrased as… what is the minimum I can live off per month?
Once you have a figure in mind, this allows you to make goals. You can then build a plan around how to achieve those goals.
For example for me, my target monthly income in the beginning was $2500 per month. The primary goal then becomes how to build an income source that generates this amount of income.
You need to know how long it will take to build a business that generates this income. This will allow you to calculate the desired amount of savings required.
Time to build business (months) x Monthly living expense = Savings required
I like to think of savings and seed capital as one of the same thing. For me the most important thing was to invest money in buying my own time (my freedom) in order for me to invest that time into building the business that would sustain me.
As we have already answered the question how much is required for monthly living expense, we need to consider the next question in order to complete the equation.
It is worth noting at this stage one very simple solution to the equation. If we already have a business that generates our monthly living expense then our savings required will be $0.
More specifically this means one way you can tackle the problem is to build a ‘side hustle’ and grow it into a full time income prior to actually quitting your job.
Hats off to those who manage to achieve freedom in this way, but for me I found a problem. I tried and nearly killed myself!
Us engineers often work longer hours, especially during busy projects. I worked day and night for 3 months building my side hustle whilst trying to work a stressful job as an Engineering Manager. It nearly killed me!
However what I did manage to achieve was some success. Enough success to give me the data I needed to finish our equation.
After building a profitable website, albeit a small amount of money, I could extrapolate from these figures how much work was required to scale this up to my required income.
In short I calculated that it would require 260 days of work to achieve an income of $2500 per month. That is Monday to Friday for 1 year.
So I was able to finish my equation…
12 months x $2500 = $30k savings
Your journey will be different, it depends what you want to do in engineering in order to make money, more on that later.
The main takeaway is this; when you first start out there will be a time delay between leaving your job and making enough money.
I would highly recommend using your engineering skill to calculate as accurately as possible how long that time delay will be.
Then calculate how much savings you will require to fill the gap. Easy!
In my case I kind of accidentally started a business that I had meant to grow to enough so that I could quit my job.
However I quickly realised it was too much work to do this in any realistic timeframe whilst working full time as an engineer.
But the small “side hustle” that I grew prior to quitting my job gave me enough data to accurately calculate how much money I would need to save.
At this stage I understand the two most important pieces of information I need for my transition to freedom:
- How long will it take my business to self-sustain and pay me a regular income equal to what I need to live, and therefore
- How much do I need to save (seed capital) in order to have enough time to achieve this.
In my example I already stated that the savings required are $30k. Whoa sh*t, that’s a lot right?!
Well, yes. There are three things that you can consider.
- Remember the equation? You can reduce either the time it takes for you to become self-sufficient, or the amount you need to live from, in order to reduce the amount of savings that you require.
- This is a life changing decision. If you are older, do you have assets to sell? You would be surprised how far selling your car and a house full of junk can get you. If you are younger, you have time on your side, get into good habits and get saving rather than filling your house with junk.
- Are you the right person for this venture? I have many friends that talked about doing this kind of thing. But they are the masses, all talk and no action. This is ok, we need people to be workers and employees, there is nothing wrong at all with that. Be honest with yourself, do you have what it takes? If you can answer ‘yes’ to that question, make a savings plan and procure what you need.
So in order to kick start your journey you need a savings plan in order to raise the capital. For me this involved some selling and some saving.
I sold everything I own. Everything. Well, almost… I kept some small amount of engineering tools. More on that later.
This is not easy. It is not easy at almost 40 years old to sell everything you worked hard for. The big house, the nice car and everything else (that you don’t really need in life).
I did not want to store it. I wanted to go all in. I did not want to ever have to return to some storage unit full of junk that I don’t really need.
First I sold the house, it took 6 months. I then moved in with my parents for the duration of my savings plan. I lived very cheaply at my parents, saving a good amount of money.
Whilst saving I was selling all of my belongings out of a storage unit. God bless eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
All in all it took me 6 months to sell my house and 8 months of living with parents, saving and selling belongings to arrive in a position where I was ready to become a digital nomad.
All in I raised about $70k. I took the $30k I needed to live from during the growth period of my business and banked the rest in long term savings.
That’s my story. Yours could be different. Again the takeaway here is financial planning, it is important.
Once you have a financial plan, everything else falls into place around it.
For me I had calculated that my final pay day in March 2022 would mark the end of my savings plan. Therefore I would quit my job at the end of March.
My notice period at my job was 3 months, therefore I would resign the day before the factory closed for Christmas. Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!
I made all of this plan whilst my house was still on the market. I had a prediction on how much the house would sell for so there was some uncertainty.
You can have several factors that can change and throw you off course. It is best to account for these in the plan.
For me a change in house sale price could affect the timing plan, at worse it simply extends the time it takes.
Therefore it is not possible for me to design a critical path to the goal until the house sells. Once the house sells I can put a date on leaving work and booking flights for sure.
So to conclude this section, a brief outline of my plan looked something like this:
- Sell the house, once sold choose critical path to one way flight
- Once house sold, move to parents from house sale to one way flight
- Once house sold, move possessions to a storage unit
- Save n amount each month living with parents
- Sell possessions out of the storage unit
- Sell the car after winter
- Put all proceeds up to $30k in a savings account
- Put all proceeds beyond $30k into long term savings
- Cyprus to be first nomad destination, meet with friend there
This is just a summary. It is best to create some kind of timeline to follow. For me personally I did this in Excel, but you could use something as simple as a calendar or notepad.
It does not matter if you use the back of a beer mat or the world’s most sophisticated project management software.
If you want to transform your life and become a digital nomad, whether you are a writer, engineer or whatever your profession. You need a rock solid plan, period.
Can An Engineer Become A Digital Nomad?
I have read this question many times when related to a software engineer. I am not a software engineer but to me that seems easy. You guys just need a laptop, right?
Electronic engineering was easily my biggest area of interest in engineering, right from being a youngster and well before ‘digital nomad’ was even a thing.
For a while before I found a path and made a plan I was kicking myself.
I wished I had become a software/IT guy. To me it seemed far easier to take this career on the road.
Why did I choose an engineering career that requires a laboratory worth of equipment?! I thought there was no chance to realise my dream as a nomad without switching my career to IT and computers.
I was wrong.
ANY engineer from ANY engineering discipline can become a digital nomad. You just sometimes need to think outside of the box.
One of the most important turning points in my life was the point in which I learned to be very honest with myself about what I actually need in my life.
This point came during a turbulent time in my life. I had parted ways with my long term partner and was dating a new girl from abroad.
Some people in my life had some shitty opinions about this. I decided to take a break from social media for a month… two months… three months…
I had a realisation that social media was a total waste of time. Those who really cared about me made the effort to reach out to me.
Several months after I quit social media I went out with friends I did not see for a while. They were very interested to hear what I had to say about what I had been up to.
Why? Because they actually had no idea what I had been doing, it was not published on social media!
This is the point in my life I realised how beneficial it could be to get rid of things in your life that don’t really matter.
I mean really, be ruthless with it.
Do you really need social media, or does it just waste your time?
Friends and family who want to keep in touch will write you on messenger programs or video call with you. Social media is poison, at least when used in the traditional way like the masses.
So what does any of this have to do with nomads and engineering?
Well, I began applying this concept of the minimalist everywhere in my life. It was difficult to rid myself of belongings and cut off people who didn’t really matter at first.
However over time not only did it get easier but it became enjoyable. As I explained earlier I even managed to sell all of my belongings in order to help finance my business.
So take a look at what you are doing as an engineer. In my case as an electronics engineer, what do I need to do my job? I mean what do I really need?
In my case I had started this blog. My new ‘job’ within my own business would be to write and publish articles about electronic engineering and programming, among other topics of interest.
However there are many other things possible. As I left my job I was fighting off opportunities in consultancy as I just did not want to sell my time for money, but the work was there for sure!
You could consider some things like the following:
- Remote engineering consultancy
- Remote PCB layout designer
- Remote hardware engineer
- Engineering digital content marketer
- Engineering writer
- Engineering freelancer (such as with Fiverr)
I am sure there are many others, these are just a few examples.
Then apply what we just talked about and ask yourself the question, what do I really need in my life to do this?
I chose the 4th option from that list, and this is how I answered the question:
- A small kit of common electronic components
- A breadboard & jumper leads
- Breadboard power supply
- Raspberry Pi
- ESP8266 boards
- Some basic tools
- A portable soldering iron
- A multimeter and oscilloscope
I also extended this list into another related area that I want to get into, which currently exists as a hobby:
- One 5″ drone
- One 3″ drone
- Drone charger and batteries
- Action camera
- Drone spares and accessories
- Drone travel bag (for video excursions)
Once I had been very honest about what I actually needed in my life, I added to this list some other essential items such as my clothes, toiletries, dometic equipment like phone chargers and laptops and then I started to have a setup suitable for being a nomad!
The point I am making is really about the importance of learning to be very honest with yourself about what you need in life.
When you can be very honest about this, you will find that you need far less in life to be happy than what society would have you believe.
If you want to become a nomad, whether as an engineer or something else, you need to learn to scale things back to the essentials.
My travel engineering setup and packing tips really deserves a whole article to itself, or maybe several!
In this article we have discussed some of the thought processes required to transition from a monogamous job to the free and exciting life of a digital nomad.
Although it is not really specific to engineering, the points in the article relate a lot to engineering disciplines due to the kind of things that are required for such careers.
Most importantly one should have a plan that takes them from the moment they decide to go through with the transition right the way up to being self sufficient.
Secondly one should be very honest with themselves about what they really need in their life for work and also for happiness.
The person who chooses a nomadic life should also be a person who practices minimalism, especially when they choose a career path that has a tendency to require many physical items such as tools and parts.
I hope this insight into my own journey helped provide you with some motivation to begin your own similar journey, or at the very least a little entertainment during your lunch break 🙂
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