Traveling With a 'Powerless Passport'
My “how I quit my job to travel” story is different. I’m from a developing country with a “powerless passport” — as a Philippine citizen I can only visit 60 countries visa-free — and I was brought up to believe that world travel is a luxury meant only for the privileged, the rich or the retired. Yet, in my early 20s, I’ve visited more than 15 countries in two years, all while building a profitable and stable online business that funds my lifestyle and enables me to work less than three hours a day.
It all started two years ago in a dingy cafe in Makati, Philippines. I was 21 years old, and was working for a big investment bank, earning very little money as a new graduate and with little to no time for socialising.. As I joined my friends at our usual table, three strangers asked us for directions to their hostel. We started chatting, and ended up talking for the rest of the night. They were full of travel stories, and I was captivated by the way their eyes lit up as they talked about their adventures. They had an excitement for life and a confident aura that I hadn’t previously encountered — they seemed to believe everything was possible.
Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam
Meeting those nomads inspired me to take my own leap of faith. That same year, I quit my job to travel the world.
My family and friends thought that I was out of my mind. I had little to no money – definitely not enough to travel through wealthy European countries or in the US – and I’d been brought up to believe that a corporate life was the only way to secure a future. I also knew that getting visas would be a challenge.
The odds looked bad. But that’s what pushed me. I wanted to prove to others and to myself that our life circumstances should never hinder us from going after our dreams.
Plan and work smart
With meagre funds, I knew that I had to make smart decisions right from the start, so I spent two months preparing before handing in my resignation.
I made a point to not only do the things that I love, but also the things that I’m good at. I brushed up on my knowledge of graphic design, web development and online marketing. Passion can push us to do amazing things, but without the right skill set, it can prove futile.
Once I was confident about my knowledge, I successfully scoured for clients on freelancing platforms — and I didn’t stop there. I knew I needed a well-paying client that would employ me for an indefinite amount of time. I got testimonials from my previous corporate clients and talked to everyone I knew. Within weeks, a Swedish online branded merchandise company hired me as their marketing manager to promote their brand across the US, UK and Japan; ensure the quality of their product listings; and come up with new product ideas, among other tasks.
Through this, I ensured a steady cash flow for the first year.
Paragliding in Manali, India
Have a long-term plan
Worried about my Philippine passport, I started off by visiting visa-free destinations. Thailand and Hong Kong were my favourites, due to their dynamic culture and the complex flavours of their local dishes.
By the time I decided to visit Europe, I figured out how to more easily get a visa while travelling on a developing-world passport. I kept records of my recent earnings, savings and tax documents to prove financial solvency. And I used proof of my previous and future travels to establish that I wouldn’t be at risk to overstay in the country.
After 12 months, I launched my travel blog, iAmAileen.com, to share my adventures and to garner opportunities through partnerships with tourism boards and travel brands. In exchange for online exposure and promotions, I was invited to all-expense-paid trips or at times, given remuneration.
Next, I started work on a budding online business idea, Adalid Gear, selling outdoor and travel products online. Not a lot of travellers deal with physical products since handling inventory and shipping can be a pain while on the move. But I saw the chance to outsource those processes. I partnered with big providers like Amazon that could handle all processes, which lessened our workload and enabled the business to operate remotely. It’s been so profitable that we have expanded from the US to the UK, and plans to sell in Japan and Germany are underway. I’ve made enough money to rent an apartment in Belgium, and will use it as a home and office base as I keep travelling and expanding my business.
Whitewater Rafting in Dalat, Vietnam
How to make success happen
My advice to being successful is to simply follow three important principles:
First, take advantage of the online realm because there are tons of web opportunities that you can earn from. By freelancing online, I was able to compete with my global peers and avoid being paid developing-world prices for my skills. And by building my business online, I was able to expand rapidly in a short amount of time. There are many online platforms that optimize traditional processes like shipping and logistics; it makes sense to make full use of those.
Second, always think long term to create your own sense of security. Volunteering in return for free accommodation or food, although a common traveller approach, is not a sustainable way to travel. Think about how to own a remote business that will keep you going on the road for years. I’ve met travellers who run yoga classes and plan to set up their own school, or teach English and are developing it as a remote career.
Third, connect with experts – and always do proper research. I’ve made sure to proactively network with relevant entrepreneurs and travellers. When freelancing for the Swedish company, I talked not only with my manager, but also with the CEO himself. This gave me more knowledge about the industry – which led to the idea for my remote business. I’ve also made full use of online forums to chat with knowledgeable and experienced people in my field.
Today, I am no longer working for anyone else, and the way I see it, I have truly secured my future. I have built my own dream, no matter the odds!