Four months ago, I embarked on a journey to Asia. The main goal of this endeavor was to spend time with my amazing French girlfriend, so that we could get to know each-other better. We chose Chiang Mai, Thailand because we could stay longer here than we could in either the U.S. or in France, due to visa reasons.
Along with the length of time we could physically stay in Asia, came the alluring idea of cheap and “low cost living”. Due to the developing economies and leveraging exchange rates we could live on about half of what I was spending each month in Durango (rent here in Thailand has been about $140/mo for me). At first, this was a grand and exciting way to get ahead financially. Chiang Mai in particular, is also chock full of expats and young entrepreneurs starting businesses and living independent lives. I was excited about using my hard won skills and tools to help their businesses excel. I was excited to get some work in and stash some money into my savings, while traveling and spending time with an amazing woman.
I’m incredibly grateful for the time I’ve spent here and some of the people I’ve gotten to meet. That being said, as our Asia trip is winding down, I am pondering the influence that cheap had on our decision to come here and whether I will repeat it again or not. Or whether I will allow cheap to be an influence or a deterrent in the future. I’m not trying to gripe, nor sound snooty and ungrateful… When it comes to personal belongings and lifestyle I am rather a simple person… Those of you who have seen me walking around with my pants rolled up know that (because they were too long, but a quality brand that I purchased on sale). Or if you’ve seen my house (when I had a house) almost every single thing I owned I acquired used (or found, or traded). The mattress I slept on through college, I found in an alley during the city clean up days (it was clean enough and a very cost effective way to succeed and no longer sleep on the floor).
What I want to share from this experience is very pertinent, because the driving idea and decisions that I myself made, at their root directly relate to happiness. And in the end, I think that is what we are after.
So here it its… Agreeing to come on this trip with the largest constraints not actually being money, but choosing to “live cheap”, short changed my experience, quality of life, and happiness in many ways…
Example one: I’m a musician of 12 years. I love to write songs, sing and play guitar. It’s a passionate and nurturing act and practice. I have two beautiful guitars at home but did not bring either – 30lbs of video equipment took up that space on this trip. I wanted a guitar here, so started looking around and they were all of low quality. “Do I spend the money? or just wait and see if I can get a used one?” About a month in, a friend gifted me a broken guitar. It didn’t hold a tune and killed me to play it. I went to four music shops here and nobody was willing to fix it. If I had access to a bonfire, I would have burned the damned instrument, and give it the death it deserved. My intention to live cheap and save money, and my choice to not buy a decent guitar, cost me one of the most precious passions I have in life.
Example two: I was really excited to come here and use my video and photography skills to help other businesses succeed (and make some cash). I brought close to $10,000 worth of equipment with me (again this took the place of my travel guitar). I very quickly found out that these expats and digital nomads for the most part are running their businesses like their lives, cheaply. I had quite a few inquiries, but less than a 10% yield of actual jobs. Which was much lower than in the States. People weren’t looking to invest money making their products or services look awesome. They were seeking cheap and mediocre… When I started my business, I chose to only do the highest possibly quality work I could. I don’t release mediocre or cheap work from my studio, and with my overhead I can’t take cheap jobs. Even my discounted rates here in CM, gleaned three total jobs in four months of prospecting. To save money, I have resonated with too few of my community members for my taste, and actually made less money…
Last example: I’m an outdoorsman at heart… in my home state of Colorado I can identify 300 species of native plants, mushrooms and trees. Some of my best relationships are held with the natural world in the mountain environments of the Western U.S.. Chiang Mai, is the largest city I’ve ever lived in and I have had more that one crisis/near panic attack due to the density, the hustle and the smog/smoke and lack of access to solitude, darkness and silence. Getting out to more remote places is an option, and I made the choice not to fly down to the island bungalows or get lost in the jungle hills, because of the cost… To save money I sacrificed quite a bit of my sanity and inner peace…
In the end, my reflections are not about living excessively or living lavishly. Nor do I want to sound ungrateful for the colorful and diverse experiences I’ve had traveling in Thailand. In many ways it’s been great, and being with the woman I love makes it all worth it. I truly believe that money is just energy exchange. And the universe functions on what we ourselves put out there and ask for. If we want abundance we must embody it, call it forth from the universe and the universe will reflect it. Rarely does the universe give it directly and instantly, but it does deliver through curves and unexpected means, always. If we are limited in our ask, we will be limited in our abundance.
What I feel I did with the intention to “live cheap”, was just that… I shortchanged myself with intentions and the choices that supported them. In many ways I chose to put my passion, my community and my true self in the back seat. The insight I’m sharing, is the true cost to “living cheap” is much higher than I anticipated. The culmination of these intentions, I feel did affect my base level happiness in a negative and limiting way.
You never know, tomorrow you may get hit by a whiskey truck, or van loaded down with Chinese tourists. Are you truly living your dream? Have you composed the songs in your heart? Have you seen the vistas you need to see? Are you in the community that says YES to the skills and passion you have to offer? And most importantly, is perceived “cost” limiting you from living your true dreams?