On the Road

How to Disappear

If you search the internet for information on “how to disappear”, you will enter a whole new world. You’ll find husbands fleeing their wives, defrauders absconding from justice, spendthrifts taking flight from the burden of debt. There are entire communities dedicated to discussing which Caribbean tax system is the best, how to get a cheap passport from Burkina Faso and when to change your cellphone number. People want to escape private and government investigators alike. Shady real-estate brokers seem to be especially knowledgeable on such matters, offering properties in the most favorable countries for devious escapees.

When I first read about these topics, I was captivated but I didn’t know what to make of it. As a student, I didn’t pay any taxes at all. I had no debt. And hell, I certainly didn’t want to buy real estate in some banana republic to which I had never been. Yet in some way, “disappearing” lingered as an intriguing notion in my mind for years to come.

After school, instead of serving my time in the army (obligatory in Germany but avoidable), I did civilian service in Colombia. Once finished, I began to study in different German and Colombian cities. When my wife got a job in El Salvador, I lived with her whenever I could. In 2009, I finished my thesis in the beautiful city of Cartagena, in northern Colombia, and embarked on a large trip through the rainforests of Venezuela and Brasil, while developing my writing skills. After that I moved to Bogotá for some time, where I programed websites and made translations for an Austrian entrepreneur. Only there did I remember the disappearing community of the Internet. Out of curiosity, I looked to Google once again, and found that there actually was a simple way to attain what I had done unconsciously through my amateurish ventures. It was like disappearing without the tax fraud – and it had a catchy name, too: location independence.

As it turns out, disappearing from your original place of residence is now completely within the bounds of possibility, even for the ordinary and upright citizen. Instead of doing your job in a cubicle, hacking data into a computer, why not dump the cubicle and take your computer to a white-sand beach somewhere in the Caribbean?

Probably the best application of the whole idea is what location independents call geo-arbitrage. If you manage to earn your money in dollars, pounds, or euros, but spend in Thai bahts or Colombian pesos, favorable exchange rates will convert your meager paycheck into a reasonable salary. As a consequence, you will be able to either improve your lifestyle, or reduce your working hours.

Location independence is not for everyone, of course. If you have to supervise people in your office or pour scotch for the drunkards in your bar, you probably won’t be able to work from your tropical paradise. Even if you convince them to come along, a location independent pub is probably an impractical business idea in the long run.

But, if you are employed and mostly working on your own anyway, it might be worth a try to convince your boss to let you go. As a start, ask to work one or two days a week remotely from home. Frame it a productivity-enhancing experiment. Cheap laptops, ever-expanding wi-fi networks, VoIP services, and remote intranet access through “virtual private networks” make it possible.

Freelancers, on the other hand, will have even fewer problems in taking the plunge. Nowadays, a huge number of location independent people are writers, designers, programmers, coaches, and consultants.

When starting out, it obviously helps to have clients already. You may lose some of them due to your decision to go location independent, but it is a worthwhile sacrifice. Increase your client base by marketing yourself actively on the web. Once you’re out there, clients can come to you from all over the world. It’s helpful to get your message out through whatever online medium you prefer: email, blogs and Twitter are all good channels. Also, you can offer your services on freelance platforms like eLance.com. Payment may be humble at first: competition may come in the form of a lot of smaert kids from India. Geo-arbitrage is not a one-way road.
To get moving fast, teaching English is a popular way to pay the rent in your new home while building your company or your portfolio and client list. Dilettanti like myself might even end up working as a tourist guide from time to time in whatever place they happen to be, while the real location independent professionals will set up automated businesses that make a good deal of money and don’t require more than a few hours of maintenance each week.

In order to avoid financial meltdown, some further preparation is advisable. Apart from making sure to save enough money to survive at least your first months on the road, building multiple income streams is one of the best strategies to pursue. If you are employed, try building a sideline business before resigning. As a freelancer, avoid being dependent on only one or two big clients. If you have some expertise in different areas, you may even try to mix various areas of work and passion: a copywriter who speaks more than one language may also be a great translator, and a hobby musician may earn some money giving guitar lessons while keeping his main job as a web designer.

Another major recommendation before going location independent is to get rid of stuff. Selling your belongings on eBay will be quite liberating and can generate some easy money for your travel fund. Also, you wouldn’t want to carry too much stuff around when you’re hiking through Patagonia or looking for the best beaches in the Americas. How much you offload depends on your preferred pace of living. While I personally like to stay in each city for at least a few months, other location independents will choose a backpacker lifestyle and only remain for a few days in one place.

Whatever your personal approach is, don’t forget the fun once you’re out there. In the end, disappearing from the office and the bad weather of Central Europe doesn’t benefit you if all you do in the Caribbean is sit inside and hack into a laptop. Go out, meet people, get to know the area. There won’t be any snoops following you, assuming your disappearance wasn’t related to tax fraud.

New Escapologist

This article was first published in New Escapologist, issue 3. Republishing it here is a shameless attempt to conceal the fact that I still haven’t finished my next post for the (slow) tempo giusto series, as I am currently traveling on (slow) trains through the (slow) country of Austria and passed the last 48 hours in areas where wifi isn’t heard of and people confuse my laptop with a travel typewriter. It is an even more shameless attempt to activate your consumerist desires, forwarding you to the marvelously redesigned New Escapologist website and shop. Issue 3 is not only beautifully typesetted by Timothy Eyre, it also features shockingly intelligent articles  by some of the greatest brains of the escapologist fringe group, including Brian Dean, Tom Hodgkinson, Neil Scott, Tom Mellors and, of course, editor Robert Wringham. At £6 for nearly a 100 pages it’s a real steal – allegedly, it’s so cheap that even the editor doesn’t make any money with it. Although to be honest, I don’t buy that story. Robert probably finances his extravagant playboy lifestyle with the revenue.

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JC Hewitt March 25, 2010 at 11:45 am

This is a fine article.

I suspect detailed pieces like this might be more marketable in encrypted newsletters.

Why debase the value of these strategies by sharing them with the general public?

Fabian March 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

The first shot of H always is free. I am looking forward to build my own chain of paid unemployment offices and location independent agencies from 2011 on.

Milo March 26, 2010 at 5:40 am

Excellent work Fabian. Just wish I was brave enough to travel like this. In fact maybe I am just too lazy? Anyway I will check the mag out as it sounds interesting!

Fabian March 26, 2010 at 6:50 am

Thanks Milo! Don’t be afraid… laziness can also be cultured on the road! ;)

Tim April 1, 2010 at 3:52 am

Yeah, I bought the whole series. Just waiting for it to get to me here in the USA.

When I told them it was you who shot me over to them, they just said “Ah, so it was Fabian.” Sounds like they know you. And I’m sure they appreciate the publicity. Heck, it got me to buy the Escapology series.

Thanks for tipping me over the edge.

Fabian April 6, 2010 at 6:24 am

Yay, good decision! Hope you enjoy it! Issue 4 is already in the works… :)

biofutur April 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

hola amigo.
I’ve just found out your letters-blog from the inner side.
I love it and your sensitive way to feel the live. I’ve Disappeared too some times ago already, but under another way than yours, more sedenterized in a way, building my own world and environment and home.

As I’m french speaking I’ve translated your letter. I’m posting it heredown, and I’d be delighted to post it on my blog with your authorization.

If you have any correction or suggestion …

biofutur April 26, 2010 at 6:06 am

here it is –>
DISPARAITRE?
by Fabian on March 24, 2010 (the friendlyanarchist.com)

Lorsque vous cherchez sur le Web « comment disparaître » vous entrez alors dans un autre monde. Vous y trouverez les maris fuyant leurs épouses, les fraudeurs se cachant de la justice, les flambeurs surendettés cherchant à échapper à leurs créanciers. Il y a des communautés entières consacrées à discourir, quel serait le meilleur paradis fiscal dans les Caraïbes, comment obtenir facilement un passeport du Burkina Faso ou bien quand il faut changer de numéro de téléphone cellulaire. Et il y a aussi tous ceux qui veulent échapper aux détectives ou aux inspecteurs de la police. Il y a enfin les intermédiaires spécialisés sur le sujet, offrant et services et propriétés dans les pays les plus accueillant.

Quand je parcourus ces sujets je fus captivé mais sans encore savoir ni le pourquoi et ni le comment. Comme étudiant je ne payais d’impôts et n’avais aucune dette, je ne songeai donc nullement à acquérir une demeure dans une République à Bananes encore inconnue. Oui en quelque sorte cela me mis une puce dans le crâne qui s’assoupis pour quelques années.

Après mes études scolaires, au lieu de faire mon service militaire obligatoire en Allemagne mais avec possibilités de s’en dispenser, je fis un service civil en Colombie. Une fois achevé, je commençai mes études dans différentes villes universitaires allemandes et colombiennes. Quand mon épouse trouva un emploi au Salvador, je la suivis comme je pus. En 2009 j’achevai ma thèse sur la magnifique cité colombienne de Carthagène et m’embarquai dans un large périple dans les forêts vierges du Venezuela et du Brésil, tout en m’exerçant de l’écriture. Après cela je retournai à Bogota pour quelques temps, où je travaillai à la création de sites Web et fis le traducteur pour une société Autrichienne. Et alors la petite puce du « comment disparaître » de la communauté Internet se réveilla. Je me remis à Google pour trouver qu’il y avait un moyen tout simple de le faire et je l’avais réalisé sans le savoir grâce à mes petites errances d’amateur. Cela était de disparaître ou plutôt de se libérer de toute attache et domiciliation.

Ainsi il apparaît que disparaître sans résidence principale est tout à fait dans le domaine du possible autant pour le citoyen lambda que pour le citoyen averti. Au lieu de continuer a faire votre boulot dans votre cabane, ressassant données dans votre portable, pourquoi ne pas laisser tomber l’alcôve et aller planter votre potable dans une plage de sable, par exemple aux Caraïbes?

Sans doute le meilleur exemple de tout cela est de subir ce que cette délocalisation vous entraîne à faire, un arbitrage géographique. Que vous gagniez votre vie en Dollars, en Sterling ou en Euros, mais que vous les dépensiez en Bath thaïlandais ou en Pesos Colombiens, vous vous rendrez vite compte que le taux de change vous est favorable, convertissant votre maigre revenu en un niveau de vie acceptable. En plus cette conséquence est une meilleure qualité de vie et moins d’heures de travail.

Se libérer de toute attache n’est pas à la portée du quidam bien sûr. Si vous avez à encadrer tout un service ou si vous devez verser à boire aux clients dans votre bar-tabac, vous ne pourrez continuer à le faire de votre paradis tropical, même si vous les convainquiez tous de vous suivre. Etre sans attaches, ce ne sera pas bon sur le long terme pour conserver un business.

Mais si vous êtes quelque peu libre de où travailler ou plus ou moins à votre compte, cela vaut la peine de convaincre votre boss ou donneur d’ordre de vous lâcher la bride. Pour un début, essayez un ou deux jours à partir de chez vous. Maintenant les portables sont très bon marché, le wi-fi est répandu, il y a tous les VoIP-LAN-Extranet qui vous permettent de vous connecter de partout et à toute heure.

Les travailleurs indépendants auront encore moins de difficultés à faire le plongeon. De nos jours ils sont une pléthore de programmeurs, écrivains, consultants, professeurs.

Quand on commence, c’est évident qu’il vaut mieux avoir déjà quelques clients. Mais il arrive d’en perdre dans la migration. C’est un sacrifice nécessaire quoique il soit facile à présent de lancer son marketing sur le Web. Une fois que vous êtes au dehors rien n’empêche quelqu’un de venir à vous du monde entier pour être votre client. C’est préférable de relayer sa communication par tout moyen que vous trouvez ou préférez, quid des blogs, Twitter, forum, eMails. Il y a des plateformes spécialisées comme eLance.com. Ah bien sur vos services devront être bons marchés au départ. Pour l’informatique la concurrence venant d’Inde est impitoyable. L’arbitrage géographique n’est pas une voie à sens unique.

Pour y aller on peut déjà enseigner le Français ou une langue, cela paye le loyer en attendant de se faire de clients et monter sa boite. Moi-même (l’auteur) je me suis mis à faire le guide quelque soit l’endroit où je me trouvais. Mais le vrai migrant professionnel doit s’arranger pour se faire une plateforme de business autonome pouvant lui générer de l’argent tout en ne lui demandant que quelques heures par semaine de maintenance et de suivi.

Afin d’éviter la catastrophe financière, un peu de préparation n’est pas superflu. Bien sûr il faut avoir de côté suffisamment pour survivre à vos premiers mois de vadrouille, et pouvoir mettre en place de multi sources de revenu, c’est une stratégie avisée. Si vous avez un boulot, essayez en marge de créer votre business, vous démissionnerez ensuite. Vous êtes un travailleur indépendant, alors ne soyez pas dépendant de seulement un ou deux gros clients. Si vous avez une quelconque expertise dans quelques domaines, essayez de les mixer et surtout d’y mettre le sel de la passion : un gribouilleur qui parle plusieurs langues peut se révéler un excellent traducteur, et s’il est musicien amateur, il peut gagner des sous à faire des leçons de guitare tout en conservant son job principal de webmestre.

Une autre bonne recommandation avant de vous délocaliser est de tout laisser tomber et de ne rien garder. Vendre vos affaires sur eBay vous libérera totalement tout en générant une partie du pécule dont aurez besoin en voyage. Et puis de quoi auriez vous besoin en faisant de l’auto-stop au milieu de la Patagonie ou sur une plage de cocotier dans le golfe du Mexique. Moi-même si j’aime bien rester quelques mois dans chaque ville d’étape, d’autres au contraire se contenteront du sac à dos et ne resteront que brièvement au même endroit.

Quelque soit votre démarche personnelle, ne pas oublier que vous le faites pour l’enthousiasme. Car enfin disparaître du bureau et oublier le temps pourri d’Europe pour s’enfermer aux caraïbes et de taper sans s’arrêter sur votre portable, cela vaut il la peine ? Sortez, rencontrez les gens, comprenez le pays. Il n’y aura pas d’espions puisque vous ne disparaissez pas pour des raisons fiscales.

Fabian April 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

Merci, Biofutur, I just dropped you a mail!

biofutur April 26, 2010 at 11:27 am

A lot of Gracias my friend. Te contesto.

IngmarsGross January 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Excellent article…. I am now working on similar idea (just in borders of EU… I am not yet ready to go outside EU)
Keep up the good work… those posts with advices is the best ;)

I clicked some ads to give you regard for your work… (hope you get money for clicks :) )

Fabian January 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Hope you’ll make your disappearance real! :)
There aren’t any ads in the classical sense here, just a couple of products I enjoy using… so there’s no money for clicks, but that doesn’t matter the least. Still appreciate it! :)

courses hippiques July 28, 2012 at 10:45 am

It’s hard to find well-informed people in this particular subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re
talking about! Thanks

D.C. October 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm

great points altogether, you just won a new reader.

What would you suggest in regards to your post that you simply
made some days in the past? Any certain?

Fabian October 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Thanks, but I’m afraid I don’t understand your question!

Sophie May 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm

It sounds like the perfect “getaway”

But I can’t help thinking, that, this in some way also sounds much easier than it would actually be. At least for someone like me? I’m 22 and I live in Scandinavia, Europe. It would take so many years for me, just to prepare a “journey” like those you describe. After all, it is not certain, that you would have job opportunities every place, city, country that would be possible for you to go to. And I’m thinking, if I really want to leave my so-called home, and start a new life someplace else in the world, wouldn’t I need to apply for visa’s and my rights to work, if my intensions is to live legal with no fear of being caught, locked up or send back home? I don’t know if that is a matter that would take time or something you can just do, with no questions asked, cause I never disappeared before.

But I want to disappear. I find it to difficult for me to build up a good way of life here where I live. Here, I don’t like how my future looks like. And I don’t function well, in this kind of society. It may sound stupid. And what a depressed teenager would sound like… But I’m sure, that I want to go away. Not, to not exists, but to get a different life from what is achievable here. I have no need or expectation, of finding great success, and get rich or anything. No, I would be completely satisfied, with a silent job as a part time diving instructor someplace sunny, and a hobby as taken photographs of nature and press photos here and there. If I could just leave everything, everyone here, and go somewhere to start from a new beginning. Even if I would have to work harder then I’d ever known to get there.

So what would your best advice be to one who has no money, no education, with this kind of need to disappear?

Fabian May 18, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Sophie, your questions and doubts deserve a longer answer. I’ll be in touch by email! Quick spoiler, though: Being 22 and from Scandinavia are great starting conditions! :)

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