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Traveler Interview: John of JetSetCitizen

A few weeks ago I decided to start interviewing other ‘perpetual travelers’ who are already living the kind of life I want to live. The first interview that I’m honoured to publish is with John Bardos ofJetSetCitizen. I hope you enjoy reading his insights about travel.


Hi John, thank you for this interview. Could you please tell us about yourself?

I’m a Canadian that lived in Japan for 13 years. I owned a small group of English schools for about 10 years. In 2008, my wife and I made a one year plan to sell our business, house and all our possessions to begin a new travel lifestyle. In March 2009, we reached our goal, one month ahead of schedule, and have been location independent since.

Why did you decide to start travelling?

I first left Canada, back in 1997 because I didn’t want to start working in a cubicle at some large corporation. I never wanted the traditional ideas of a good job, a nice house and 40 plus years of work until retirement. I’m an entrepreneur at heart so I need the challenge and excitement of uncertain activities like travel.

How long have you been travelling?

My father was Hungarian, so I had the opportunity to see Hungary a couple of times as a child. This was back when it was still under communist rule, so needless to say, it had a major impact on my view of the world.

However, it wasn’t until after I finished university that I really started travelling on my own. That meant relocating to Japan in 1997, and using that as a base to travel to Europe and Asia. My wife and I haven’t had a permanent home since March 2009.

Why did you decide to leave Japan?

After growing a successful business and buying all the consumer goods I wanted, I still didn’t feel fulfilled. I realized that the consumer lifestyle I was trying avoid, was exactly the life I created for myself. I was eating out in restaurants every day, drinking too much alcohol, watching too much TV and spending way too much time shopping or thinking about what I wanted to buy next.

My wife and I could have continued on that safe but unsatisfactory lifestyle, or we could give it all up for the unknown. We decided that we just couldn’t spend the next 20 years doing something that didn’t excite us any longer, so we made the decision to leave.

What’s your favourite country, and why?

This is a difficult question because there are good and bad aspects to every country. Here is a quick overview of my favorites.

Thailand – is a fantastic country to visit and live in. The food is amazing, people are friendly, the weather is hot, it’s safe, there are great cafés and decent internet. Most importantly it’s very, very inexpensive. Some of the problems are pollution and traffic congestion. As tourism continues to explode, I fear that Thailand won’t be so attractive in the future.

Hungary – My wife and I love Budapest in particular. It’s inexpensive by European standards, but has all the appeal of a great, culturally rich city like Paris. I love the food, cafes, live music, architecture and accessibility to the rest of Europe. Winters are dark and cold, so I don’t think I’d want to live there year-round, but it definitely is at the top of my list.

Japan – Japan, hands down, has the best food and culture in the world. I often say that Japanese culture is about two decades ahead of the rest of the world. There is such a massive appreciation for art, music, food made from fresh ingredients, environmental awareness and everything else that makes life worth living. It still is a little expensive, but compared to cities like Sidney, New York, Vancouver, London, Paris, Rome, etc. Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are becoming more affordable. My wife and I will definitely continue to spend more time in Japan and will likely set up a home base there again in the future.

What’s been your most memorable experience?

I can’t really say that I have a most memorable experience. I’ve never had any major problems, so I’m glad I don’t have any real bad memories, but I’ve had so many great experiences that none really stand out anymore.

There are so many beautiful churches and restaurants, jaw dropping natural vistas, incredible restaurants and kind people that it’s hard to pinpoint a single best experience. When every day is amazing, it’s easy to get habituated to the amazingness, however, there isn’t a day that I don’t appreciate the opportunities I have.

What’s your average cost of travel per week?

Of course, this depends on the country and how much is spent on transportation. My wife and I prefer to stay in one location for several months, and do very little moving around, so we keep our transportation costs lower than constantly nomadic travelers.

We also tend to spend more time in cheaper locations, just to save money. On average, I would say we spend about $400 per week for living expenses. Transportation costs probably add another $150 per week and are heavily affected by long haul air travel. We probably spend $6000 to $8000 per year on airfare.

What do you do to earn money?

I have several websites where I earn money through advertising and the sale of ebooks and other digital products. I also occasionally do some freelance business consulting. Overall, my wife and I keep our costs very low so that we don’t need to earn much money. Most of our time is spent on volunteer or personal projects.

What do you like and dislike about your lifestyle choice?

Getting away from a consumer focused lifestyle has been amazingly liberating. Instead of spending all our time buying things or working to pay for stuff, we have the time and freedom to do exactly what we want. I was never able to see how much my possessions influenced my life until I got rid of them.

It’s also fantastic to be able to really experience other cultures. There is a big difference between living in a foreign country and travelling there for a couple of weeks. Living in different locations helps me to see that every aspect of our lives is a social construct. From small things like how toilets work, to substantial aspects of society like government, work obligations and family expectations, everything about our lives is up for negotiation. We really can create and live any life we want. I don’t think I would have gained that insight had I not lived abroad extensively.

I really hate the travel part of a location independent lifestyle. Researching new locations, booking flights and accommodations and relocating is always very time consuming and stressful. I love being in new locations, but getting there is a pain.

How has it changed you?

I’ve definitely completely abandoned the rampant consumerism of the west. I have no desire to get a big house, new car or keep up with the latest fashion and trends. That stuff is all pretty meaningless compared to physical health and rich social connections. Travel is infinitely more rewarding than any physical product I could buy.

I think the biggest change is my awareness of the world. Watching a foreign country on TV is not the same as living in it. I care a lot more about what happens on this planet because I’m experiencing it first hand.

What advice would you offer people who are thinking about doing the same thing?

Travel is simple now. The whole world speaks English and the internet has made it possible to get information and reviews on anywhere you want to go. Don’t worry about life in other countries. You’ll find all the goods, food and services you want, all over the world.

The biggest issue most people have is how to fund a travel or expat lifestyle. Cutting costs and making money should be the biggest priorities. Ruthlessly focus on creating a business that creates value for others. Don’t start a generic travel blog or try to be a broad marketing consultant. Those things don’t make much money, unless you are at the top of your field. Find a simple problem that people have and get really good at providing the solution.

For example, don’t do ‘online marketing consulting’, instead focus on something targeted like creating wordpress websites for plumbers. Avoid popular ideas like creating a generic travel blog, an alternative might be to focus on a comprehensive travel resource for a single city.

Successful entrepreneurs make money by solving problems for a targeted niche. Don’t worry about following your passion or other trendy advice. Find the shortest route to the cash and your passion will come out of the lifestyle you create for yourself.

John, thank you so much for your time and effort in responding to this interview. I really appreciate it. I look forward to continuing to read about your own journey on your website, JetSetCitizen.

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