Robert Schrader of Leave Your Daily Hell has travelled extensively around the world and been published in major media such as CNN, USAToday, and The Huffington Post. We chat to him about taking things for granted, being a nice nomad and future projects, including an airline news blog and a blog about the sexual side of travel.
Travel is a luxury to many, how do you afford your travels?
I took my first overseas trip when I was 20, still studying and made less than $1,500 per month, working as a waiter. I learned to afford traveling the same way I learned to afford living on my own: I saved a lot; broke down the expenditures into the “Big Three” — transport, lodging and food; and adhered strictly to my budget.
Now, over the years, I have devised ways of making money on the road; I also earn more money, so I have to adhere less strictly to budgets. But the underlying methodology — and, more importantly, the discipline — has remained the same.
How did you become location independent?
After spending most of 2009 unemployed and living off credit cards, I made a surprising choice: I moved to China to teach English. This did three things: It allowed me to work someplace where I was making significantly more money than my cost of living; it exposed me to opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been available to me; and it allowed me to travel to exotic destinations like Thailand and Cambodia at the drop of a hat, which is ultimately the factor that motivated me to put the rest together.
While I was teaching, I moonlighted for blogs like Shanghaiist and, eventually, major media sites like CNNGo, at the same time tutoring students on the side to earn more cash. Then, about 9 months after arriving to China, I happened into an opportunity to produce Web articles for a digital media company — and I took it! Although my earnings were meager — I got paid as little as 15 USD per article — I wrote fast and well enough that I could make $3,000 or more every month. I did similar work for the next 18 months or so, traveling to more than 30 countries in the process.
In March of this year, I began making money directly from my travel blog, Leave Your Daily Hell. And, just recently, I’ve launched my own boutique Web services consultancy, which has afforded me even greater opportunities, both for financial gain and for travel. I’ve also launched BadAirline, a blog dedicated to airline service and airline complaints, and Travel Photo Garden which, like it sounds, is all about travel photography.
A lot of people are afraid of becoming “location independent” and leaving friends, family and belongings behind. You don’t seem to have this problem, so what are you afraid of?
Oh, I do have these fears — my sense of adventure just conquers them! I think my fear is of becoming too free a spirit, becoming a lost soul. You meet these older travelers — and I’m not saying all older travelers are lost souls, but rather that most lost souls tend to be older travelers that never stopped wandering — and you just get this impression of utter dissatisfaction from them. Because let’s face it: Living a life of unbridled freedom can cause you to take everything for granted.
So my fear is, essentially, a fear of becoming ungrateful and unable to relate to my family, friends and other people I love the most who, for better or for worse, don’t like to travel as much as I do. To remedy that, I do a lot of spiritual exercises related to gratitude and thankfulness. I also do a lot of yoga. Is it new-agey? Maybe. But if going from being unemployed and depressed to traveling the world basically at my leisure has taught me anything, it’s that there is absolutely a metaphysical dimension to our world.
What are the benefits of being a global nomad?
The benefits are that I know my options. I know, for example, if Leave Your Daily Hell and SchradR Media and all my other creative ventures go bust, that I can go volunteer at a hostel in the Andes, or teach English in China or Korea, or do a yoga teacher course in India. Part of the reason I felt so hopeless in the year before I moved to China is that, as I mentioned, I was stuck in the American “bubble” — and “bubbles” exist for every country! So more than the travel itself, or the financial benefits that may exist, it’s knowing, quite literally, that a whole world of possibilities is out there. It’s expanded my perception of what it means to be alive.
And what are the drawbacks (if any)?
Absolutely! In addition to what I mention about the hazards of becoming a “lost soul,” anxiety and fear are common emotions I have to ward off. I also, believe it or not, get homesick.
For example, I flew my sister to Thailand in October — yes, I am a nice nomad, who gives my frequent flyer miles to the people I love! I was about 5 months into a trip I had no intentions of stopping just yet, and the idea was that seeing her would kind of give me a family “fix” to keep my going. Well, I about died when I saw her off at the airport a couple weeks later and sure enough, I was on a plane back to the US by the end of the month.
(Cute fact: I didn’t tell her I was coming home, and I walked into her work one night unannounced to surprise her. The look on her face was more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen during my travels.)
What items do you always travel with?
My electronics: My MacBook Pro; my iPhone; my Nikon D5100 DSLR. Without these, I can’t run my business; and I can’t travel. I also sometimes carry my own Wi-Fi hotspot! Bagwise, I carry a Swiss Gear MAXXUS backpack and a simple, canvas duffel bag from American Apparel.
And speaking of apparel, I travel simply. I like v-neck t-shirt, tank tops (singlets for you Aussies and Kiwis!), skinny jeans, cutoff shorts, a couple “nice” shirts and pairs of shoes for when I go out; a pair of really rugged sneakers; several pairs of socks and too many pairs of underwear; Havaianas flip flops; lavender-scented deodorant; fluoride-free toothpaste. Oh, and Aveda Botanical Kinetics get cleanser, for a blemish-free face.
You’re probably getting the picture by now: I travel with a pretty set-in-stone material entourage. Set in stone but simple, don’t you think?
Do you think that you will ever settle down in one place?
It depends on what you mean by “settle.” For example, I plan to own a home or apartment, have a long-term partner and consider one place — probably Austin, Texas, where I’ve lived on and off since 2006 — my home. But I don’t think I will ever be able to live without traveling at least a few months out of the year. It would be nice to find a special someone to do it with though!
In addition to your blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, you also offer Travel Coaching. What are some examples of people that you have helped with Travel Coaching or examples of people that could benefit from Travel Coaching?
Yes, I do indeed offer travel coaching. Essentially, travel coaching is the opportunity for people who have the money, maybe the time and the desire to travel — but lack the practical know-how — to have me as their global concierge. I can do essential research for them; help them choose places to travel, study and even live abroad; or even embark on their own long-term career breaks and travel journeys. Right now, for example, I’m helping a young woman named Kim move to Italy and teach English, with the eventual goal of getting admitted to an Italian culinary school and becoming a bonafide Italian chef. The cost of my sessions is high — they start at 250 USD per hour — but again, the service is premium. I’ve published nearly 600 free posts and pages for people who prefer to do it themselves and at no cost.
We hear you are adding another travel blog – tell us about it!
I’ve actually added two — and will add a third very soon.
The first one, as I mentioned earlier, is called BadAirline. It’s a consumer advocacy resource that holds airline accountable by allowing passengers to permanently publish — and socially share — complaints about them. It’s also home to an airline news blog, which spotlights examples of poor airline customer service. Contrary to the name and this description, the aim of BadAirline is positive: I want airlines to realize they need to fix their problems, rather than throwing money and miles at dissatisfied passengers.
My other project currently in existence is called Travel Photo Garden, which focuses on my travel photography. There’s a static portion of the site which spotlights my best photos from around the world, while the blog features photo essays that call attention to specific destinations. For example, I just published one about HDR travel photography.
The third project is kind of in-limbo, unfortunately, due to an unforeseen technical problem. When it is up, however, I recommend that only people over the age of 18 read it. It’s about the more sexual side of travel — told in a way that’s engaging and intellectual, obviously. I don’t do erotic fiction.
You’re also starting a blog/website development consultancy to your creative arsenal – what’s that about?
Yes! As I also mentioned earlier, SchradR Media is a full-service Web consultancy that helps people grow their businesses and creative endeavors online. We provide top-notch Web content and search-engine optimization; cutting edge Web design and user experience; and we work with individuals and companies to develop branded social media campaigns to get the word about their amazing new websites out. We’re also branching into mobile Web development.
What do you do when you’re not travelling?
I live quite a boring life when I’m “at home” in Austin, TX. I bike a lot — 10-15 miles per day — do yoga, go to a lot of happy hours, spend time with friends, drink too much coffee and occasionally indulge in, um, herbal refreshments. I also date men that are, by every measure, far beneath me, but something about their contentment with their ordinary lives attracts me. But eventually, this slovenly manner of living inspires me to get back on the road.
Your blog is all about inspiring other travellers. When do you feel most inspired?
I feel most inspired early in the morning, before anyone else is awake. I love the darkness that comes before the light; and seeing the first light come over the horizon.
Why the name Daily Hell?
It comes from a song by my former favorite singer, Tori Amos. The song, which is called “Welcome to England,” tells the story of a woman that crosses the ocean for love, and the struggle she endures trying to stay who she is even in a dramatically different surrounding. The refrain talks about “[bringing] your own sun”; the line “Leave Your Daily Hell” comes in like this:
You must let the colors violate the blackness
There is a magic world in parallel
So leave your daily hell
What’s your idea of travel hell (if there is such a thing!)?
Someplace without Wi-Fi! Oh, and I don’t really much like places where being gay is illegal.
What’s next for you?
I have some trade show-type conferences to attend in January, and may be attending (though, sadly, not speaking at) a TEDx Talk in February. My next travel conquest will be South Africa, I hope.