My Life (in a nutshell)
My name is Jeff. I spent seven years in China, from 2012 to 2019, which is where I was until I moved to Manila in January of 2020. I moved to China in 2012 when I accepted a position as an English teacher at an English training school in Dalian. Needless to say, this was a move that changed my life forever. Things got worse before they got better, but when they got better, they got MUCH better.
I came across an article sometime around mid 2013 about a guy named, Johnny Ward. It was about a young Irish man who moved to Thailand with very little money and taught English while traveling when he could. He talked about how he read Tim Ferriss' "The 4-Hour Workweek" and how he learned to make money from his laptop anywhere in the world. He explains how he made over $1,000,000 from blogging, building websites, brand partnerships, sponsors, affiliate marketing, and eventually with real estate and his media company that he started. That's all the inspiration I needed to discover what I was meant to do with my life. Travel.
I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois (USA) called, Cambria. It has a population of around 1,300 people. I grew up with a single mother who worked very hard, loved to travel, and is probably the only person who has ever loved me. I had a typical Midwestern American childhood that consisted of boy scouts, little league, talent shows, theme parks, road trips, and of course those wonderful holidays with the family. My parents divorced when I was very young. I was born in San Antonio, Texas on Lackland Air Force Base. Both of my parents were in the Air Force. In fact, both of my parents were born in Texas as well (mom in Austin, dad in Houston). So, I guess I'm actually 100% Texan. Most of my family lives in the Houston area. I just had to mention that. If you're from Texas then you understand. I've never had many friends and I've never been able to fit in with any group of people. Does that make me a loser? I don't know. But it sure has allowed me to focus more on myself, while minimizing distractions and maximizing my productivity. Honestly, I don't mind being alone. People tend to get on my nerves unless they make me laugh.
In 1997 I graduated high school and joined the Army when I was 18 and served three years. I did my basic and AIT at Fort Knox, Kentucky, then was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where I was an armor crewman (19K) while also driving HEMTT trucks and performing the duties of a fueler (77F) and cargo driver (88M). I'm a disabled Army veteran with an honorable discharge. After the Army, I spent a year reuniting with my old self and my old friends back in "SO ILL." In 2000 I was evicted from my apartment because I partied too much, so then I had to think about what to do next. Around the beginning of 2001 I started school as a business student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I studied Marketing. It only took me about 7 years to complete my Bachelor's degree. Well, I was only actually in school about 5 and a half years. I finally cleaned my act up and in the spring of 2008, I finally graduated and moved to Texas to work on my MBA at Stephen F. Austin State University. It was a brief stint that lasted about a year and a half and after graduating there in 2009, I then made preparations to move to Miami to attend the University of Miami to work on my second Master's degree. Too much school, I know, but I wasn't going to turn down a chance to attend a Top 50 institution. Besides, the two and a half years that I was in Miami were the best days of my life (and the most difficult).
After graduating from UM in the spring of 2012, I was trying to figure out what my next move was going to be in my life. I mean, I had three college degrees and I was still young (33). I could have stayed in Miami and improved my Spanish and tried to land some executive management position or even a mid-level management position or entry-level gig. But the #1 concern that I had after graduation was STUDENT LOANS. I spent 10 years in college and managed to rack up about $100,000 in debt. OUCH. So, I was willing to take ANY job so that I could have some kind of stability and be ready to tackle the student loans after my 6 month "grace period" was up. After all, I couldn't spend the rest of my life in college, right?
I explored the Topple Career Center's employer database, a resource available to UM students and Alumni. Topple, at the time, was ranked in the Top 20 in the nation for university career centers. I even met with a couple of Topple reps that helped me to polish up my résumé and coach me on interview skills and all of that. There were a lot of great companies listed in the Topple database and there were career fairs year-round at the University. I always excelled at sales and that's what I was aiming for. But a couple of different listings caught my eye during my search and that was "Teach in Japan" and "Teach in China." I had a friend who was teaching in China and I had never been outside of the United States. I was hungry for adventure and given that I was still young and single meant that I had no excess baggage (pun intended) to keep me from exploring more of the world. I applied for both, but ultimately decided to accept a position as an English teacher at an English training school in Dalian, China, a coastal city on the southern tip of the northeastern Liaoning province and peninsula.
While dealing with a recruiter in Ft. Lauderdale, my new boss in China, my current bosses at my jobs in Miami, my classes, and shuffling with my upcoming graduation I spent over a whopping $3,500 to gather ALL the documents and pay ALL the fees and travel expenses that were necessary to get to where I needed to go. Graduation was in May. Then June rolled around and off I went. A journey that would change my life forever and for the better.
I spent two years in Dalian working two separate one-year contract jobs back-to-back, getting exploited, underpaid, underappreciated, among other things. I also had the honor of working with some Goddamn God-awful people who were a bunch of drunks, druggies and criminals. I knew that I couldn't just leave anytime soon because I had student loans that I needed to tackle. After all, I had already spent a shitload of money and learned all about China and the ESL Industry, why start fresh with something else? If anything, I needed to at least earn a return on my investment and pay off those darn student loans before I could even consider anything else. At the time, teaching English was my life and my only source of income so I needed to learn to like it and learn how to profit from it.
As the old saying goes, "when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade." You see, Chinese people know that they MUST have a strong command with the English language because it IS a global language and in order to compete with the rest of the world, it IS a necessity. Therefore, people are willing to pay a lot of money to learn it. China has more than one million millionaires and also has the second largest economy in the world. There is a lot of poverty but there is also a lot of wealth. I was wise to do my research before I came to China and learned that Chinese people will pay an English teacher between $25 to $50 dollars an hour (or more) for English lessons. This constitutes anything from a conversation in Starbucks to working at private kindergartens to having evening lessons in people's homes teaching their children with a book and a dry erase board. Many people who teach English in China make a lot of money from this kind of private work, aside from their day jobs. Needless to say, if a person knows how to market themselves and is motivated, they can make some serious money in China. Also, almost everything is negotiable and this includes your salary at your job and items you purchase on the streets. Many schools will pay foreign English teachers a high salary because they are more in demand, more rare, and are more difficult to replace. Foreign English teachers are also excellent marketing tools for these schools. Due to the high demand for English education in China, the ESL Industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and everyone is trying to tap into it somehow. There are teachers, recruiters, investors, entrepreneurs, and corporations trying to establish partnerships, ownership, and sponsor entities relative to the ESL Industry. People even turn their apartments into "cowboy schools" and recruit students. There are online teaching platforms like Cambly that allow people to teach from anywhere in the world. Teaching salaries and private work combined with the very low cost of living in China can add up BIG time. People who are native English speakers can find numerous jobs in China. It really depends on who you are and what your lifestyle is like. After just a few months in China, with some business acumen, I learned how to exploit the ESL Industry and profit from it.
In 2014, After two years in Dalian I accepted a new teaching position in Wuhan, a city in the central Chinese province of Hubei. This is a much better city than Dalian, with better jobs and better people. This is when things changed dramatically for me. Not only did I lose my mother and break up with my girlfriend of three years, but I started making more money at the same time and managed to pay off my student loans after four years of making non-stop payments. My life started to really look up when I took my first trip to Indonesia in 2016 to meet a friend whom I'd met online, for Christmas. That's when the travel bug started to really bite. It was a wonderful trip that made me want to travel full time, non-stop. I finished my contract in Wuhan in July of 2019. I then took three months off and went back home to the United States. While there, I spend two months on the road in a Nissan Sentra rental car while I embarked on a 20,000-mile (32,000-kilo), 25-state road trip. I recorded as much of it as I possibly could and now I'm turning the footage into a documentary called, "Heritage." In October of 2019, I was going to begin a one-year contract in Beijing and do one more year of teaching in China, that was to start on January 1st, 2020 and expire December 31st, 2021. I completed my probationary period that was from October 19th, 2019 to December 31st, 2019, and at that time I informed my employer that I would not be starting my contract on January 1st. I decided that 7 years of teaching English in China were enough for me. I moved to Manila, Philippines around January 1st, and made it out of China a week before the coronavirus outbreak. This all reaffirmed my faith in God.
January 1st, 2020 marked the beginning of my career as a full-time, freelance digital nomad.
From 2020 to 2023 I was able to drive through 48 U.S. states in vehicles and record a project that I call, "Road Trippin' USA" and this year I will begin releasing 40-minute vlogs (episodes) in seasons on my social media platforms.
2022 was a year when I attended six travel conferences. I consider this a bad investment, one that I learned from, and one that I will help others to learn from and be proactive about. Some conferences are better than others and I while I was attending all of these conferences I did get to meet new people and learn some new skills, though I also experienced some drama and disappointment. Either way, they weren't a waste of money, just bad investments.
Surprisingly, as of 2023, I've accepted a new position as an English teacher at an English training school in Changsha, a Chinese river city located in the Hunan province in central China (about two-hour train ride from Wuhan). I never thought that I would go back to China, as I considered it taking a step back, but actually, I am taking one step back so that I can take three steps forward. I'm calling this year in China my halfway-point intermission, since I'm halfway to traveling to every country in the world. Also, it will give me a chance catch up on travel media content, make new investments and recharge. Speaking of new investments, my newest investment will be as an Executive Contributor for Brainz Magazine, an opportunity that I was recently selected for. I'm grateful for this as it will help boost my brand and travel business, Outcast Vagabond, and allow me a great deal of global exposure to showcase my work.
The #1 question that professional travelers get asked is, "how do you pay for it?" I mentioned some ways above in the beginning of this article. I will also mention that there are a million ways that you can make money online. However, I can't speak for everyone so allow me to just speak for myself. First of all, I'm single with no kids and I am a light social drinker who does not smoke or do drugs. I have spent the last 15 years living a very frugal lifestyle. I was never just a college student, I was also working several jobs at the same time. In college, I was an SRA (student resident assistant) for four and a half years. This means that I didn't pay rent for those four and a half years. Most of my food was also covered. I didn't pay rent in Wuhan in the five years that I lived here because it was covered by my employer. In other words, it's not that I make a lot of money, but rather I save a lot of money. I started investing in 2006 when I opened my first CD (certificate of deposit) at an Edward Jones office in Carbondale, Illinois. I became a serious investor when I opened my Fidelity account in Miami in 2011. As a business student I learned quite a bit about money and how to make it, and how to make it work for me. I learned what it means to have to spend money to make money, both in the classroom and firsthand. Growing up, my family was below middle class and we all learned how to do without and be happy with it while at the same time appreciating every penny that we had. I know the cold hard feeling of being broke all too well. So, I learned early on that by working, saving, investing, and distinguishing between needs and wants, I can pretty much live a prosperous life (by my own standards).
Some people get into web design and build commercial websites and place Amazon ads (or others like Mediavine or CJ Affiliate) on them. Their goals are to create and automate hundreds of websites like this and cash in on them. YouTube also offers a program to monetize your channel and make money through ads with your videos.
This is known as Affiliate Marketing.
A lot of full-time or part-time travelers will cooperate with businesses and help to promote each other's brands.
This is known as Brand Partnership.
Popular and well-established travel bloggers will get paid to participate in speaking engagements and interviews, which help to promote their brands to new audiences and gives them more publicity.
These are known as Press Trips.
Many travelers also get paid to contribute to major travel publications with their personal skills that include travel writing, travel photography, and travel videos along with consulting and editing.
These people are known as Freelancers.
Eventually, like many "heavyweight" digital nomads, I'm going to aim to have sponsors who pay me to promote their products and services through my blog. This is one of the best ways to fund your travels, in my opinion.
This is known as Brand Ambassadorship.
There are many travel conferences year-round worldwide, but my personal favorite is Traverse and is one that focuses on connecting travel bloggers with sponsors. Traverse has speakers and offers workshops and tours to help people to improve their travel brand and learn more. Traverse is what I consider to be a "fully loaded conference" due to offering more than just sponsor showcase booths. Other conferences, such as ITB Berlin or WTM London are what I call "showcase conferences" that focus mostly on connecting buyers and sellers, but also offer a bit more than that.
Many travel influencers also sell merchandise via their websites and write eBooks about their travels. These eBooks can include guides to places with valuable information that you can't find on these established commercial websites, that tend to sugarcoat everything. Sometimes these eBooks are for sale and sometimes they are free.
Some travel bloggers even sell online courses that include articles, pictures, and videos that teach people how to monetize their travels and do it in a professional, responsible, and ethical way.
Many career travelers are also known to offer paid tours around the world in various regions.
Once again, there are a million ways to make money online.
Another question I get asked often is something like, "Jeff, why did you teach English in China for so long when you have three college degrees, including an MBA?!" My answer is almost always the same. I tell people that I came to China for several reasons but money was a motivating factor, especially considering that they are always hiring and I had to tackle my student loans. Besides, whoever said that teaching English in China is a crap job?! There are so many opportunities in China for people like me. I have also worked as a conference coordinator for a company called BIT Congress, Inc., started my own recruiting business (now defunct), and have been paid to edit dozens of papers for people to make sure the English is correct. I have also coached corporate people on Business English skills. In China, I made more money than I ever have in my entire life. The job that I had at my school in Wuhan was the best job that I've ever had, except for the one I have now, working for myself as a freelance, full-time digital nomad. The school I used to work for in Wuhan is a subsidiary of a larger umbrella company that is one of the largest companies in China. That school, RISE, is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange and I used to own shares.
Again, I tried to extend my contract with my school's headquarters in Beijing, after I finished my 5-year contract in Wuhan, and do one more year. But I decided that 7 years in China was enough for me, and left after my probationary period was up on January 1st, 2020, which is when my new contract was to begin. Initially, I was actually going to attempt to work on extending my contract with my school to become a part-time mobile employee who would recruit, consult, and help with marketing and business development. I would have been able to do these tasks from anywhere in the world while traveling. I was looking to get away from the teaching side of the school and more toward the business side. I thought that if I purchased enough shares of stock as a foreign investor, with five years teaching experience with the school, and with three college degrees, this would have put me in a unique position to negotiate a new contract with them. Chinese people are some of the best people you can work with. There is almost NO domestic crime in China. Being American in China is like being a celebrity. Everyone wants something from you, whether it's a selfie, money, knowledge about the USA, general conversation, English lessons, friendship, marriage, whatever. But things worked out differently for me.
Beginning in 2020, I started working as a freelance, full-time digital nomad (based in Manila) who travels the world and gets paid to promote products, services, and destinations for different clients. I focus on heritage travel.
Now let me ask YOU a question.
If you were me, would you choose a 60+ hour, sludge and grudge, cubicle career in a big city for a high salary with benefits, while serving a pushy boss, playing office politics, and killing yourself to get ahead?
Would you rather work for yourself, whenever you want, wherever you want and get paid to see the world while learning about other cultures, seeing something new daily, and meeting new people all at the same time?
I guess when I lay it out like that, it's not hard to make your choice.
But we all choose to live our lives the way we want, right?
We live in the "digital age" and I choose to take advantage of that.
I believe in individualism, freedom, happiness, and prosperity.
I also believe that every travel influencer has a moral responsibility to promote tolerance with their travels.
I've never considered myself a real smart person. In fact, I'm a late bloomer and a slow learner, and this forces me to be cautious about meeting new people, focus on details, and over-analyze my decisions. I've never had a "just do it" attitude. I believe that every action (or inaction) has a consequence, and that slow and steady wins the race.
According to psychologist Dr. Rich Walker, people who engage in a diversity of experiences are more likely to feel positive emotions than negative ones. I can tell you from my experience as a traveler, that is absolutely true.
I meet new people almost every day and when they ask me about my life, I like to joke and refer to the movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) was a good man with a good life until his wife and her lover was murdered by someone else. Nonetheless, Andy was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn't commit. For years he lived with guilt and shame and was treated like a prisoner, along with the other prisoners. But Andy knew that he was innocent and he was clever enough to escape from Shawshank Prison, while at the same time fucking the warden and the guards who fucked him. He crawled through a mile of sewer shit to escape and ended up squeaky clean on a beach in Mexico, free as a bird. Of course, I've never been married or locked up, but I've been to several beaches. The theatrical movie poster quotes, "Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free." Amen.
One of my goals as I travel is to try and understand the people that live where I travel to. I try and understand why they act the way they act, believe what they believe, talk the way they talk, do what they do, and why the place I'm in is like it is. A lot of these questions can be answered by not only engaging with the locals and doing one's research but by simply understanding the history of a place. History answers a lot of questions when it comes to culture.
A cultural education is the best kind of education.
A more important goal with my travels is to make volunteering and philanthropy an essential part of my life. I feel that I can also help to raise global awareness of some of our world's most pressing humanitarian issues. I don't want to give back just to help others, but also to help keep myself from feeling like a selfish, privileged American who fails to understand what real poverty and real suffering is by turning a blind eye and pretending that is doesn't exist.
I've always considered myslef an artist before anything else.
Thank you again for visiting my website and I hope that you will keep up with my blog and join me as I travel the world. There are arguably 197 countries on this planet and I will either travel to every single one of them or I will die trying. This website will constantly be changing as I add and update information on it with pictures, videos, and articles. Please sign up for my weekly newsletters, subscribe to my YouTube channel, "like" me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I promise you that you will be inspired, educated, and humored along the way.
The freedom that comes with travel is priceless.
If you're gonna live, LIVE!!