This column, “Escape Artist,” is a series about folks who have escaped. More importantly, this biweekly column is for those thinking about trading in their 9-to-5, leg-shackled-to-the-desk existences in order to grab life at the roots and forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in these collection of interviews are the digital nomads, online entrepreneurs and lifestyle trendsetters who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and go elbow deep to grab life by the roots.
Traveler and writer
Colin Wright runs Exile Lifestlyle, a blog that focuses on full-time travel, minimalist living and unconventional entrepreneurship. Colin founded a successful branding studio in Los Angeles and scaled it down in 2009 to take it on the road with him. He got rid of everything he owned that he couldn’t fit into a carry-on bag and now travels full-time. He asks his readers to vote where he should move for four-month stints and has visited more than 60 countries. He also writes books and founded a publishing company called Asymmetrical Press. In 2016, he’s focusing on TV and YouTube opportunities.
Paste Travel The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality is becoming more popular now. What are your impressions?
Colin Wright It certainly is, for better and for worse. I think it’s wonderful that more people are looking at the default post-Industrial Revolution life path they’ve been handed—school, work, marriage, kids, retirement, die and most of that time spent in a cubicle somewhere—because that means more people will figure out alternatives that work for them and what they hope to get out of life. More custom-made, individual-centric lifestyles.
On the flip side, it also means more people are purveying a pre-fab version of that lifestyle, as if it’s a simple thing to walk away from this system that the whole developed world is built around, declare yourself to be done with it, start a blog and you’re free. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen quit their jobs and leave the country, only to run out of money, shut down their blogs, and return home to take a job that’s worse than the one they left. I’m hoping what happens next is that a reality check is inserted into this message.
PT What was the “aha” moment that sparked lifelong travel in 2009?
CW For me it was a matter of getting really close to a (monetary and professional) goal I’d had for my entire adult life, only to realize that accomplishing it wasn’t really making me any happier or more fulfilled. If anything, earning all that money and achieving that professional success was draining me and making me less happy. I took a step back and looked at the big picture for the first time when I was 24, and I realized that I was running the wrong race. I was so fixated on outperforming everyone else and growing in this very specific way that I had allowed every other aspect of my life to atrophy.
I realized that I had just one life in which to do everything I’d ever do, but I was putting off all the important stuff until some indistinct time in the future. Travel was at the top of the list of things I was putting off until “someday.”
PT How does a life of travel and writing compare to your life before you got on the road?
CW There’s really no fair comparison. Today I do exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it. I surround myself with the people I want to spend time with, work on the skills I want to have, learn the things I’m curious about and create things that I’m proud of. It’s a complete 180.
Back in the day I had some good friends, but most of the time I was surrounded by friends of convenience: the people you spend time with because you sit next to each other at work or happen to live in the same building, not because you’re perfect-fit best friends. I spent my time on things that other people wanted me to spend my time on and worked primarily for the money, assuming that money would get me closer to things I wanted to do someday. I had lots of routines and habits and rituals that made much of my time a forgettable blur, one day blending in with the next.
PT You speak and write about travel, minimalism and the “exile lifestyle.” Why are these important to you?
CW They all tie together, if you think about it. Minimalism is about focusing on the most important things and eschewing the superfluous. With possessions, it means knowing exactly what you need to be happy and pursue your goals. Not owning stuff that doesn’t make you happy frees up more time, energy, and resources (including money) to invest in the important things.
The same applies to relationships. Rather than spending your time on harmful or draining relationships, spend more time with the people who truly matter. It also applies to your work. Spend less time on work that doesn’t fulfill you or help you achieve your goals so you have more time and energy to invest in the work that really matters. The term “exile lifestyle” sums up these lifestyle choices pretty well. When I started my blog seven years ago, I felt that society wasn’t oriented toward what I wanted from life, so I’d have to exile myself — in terms of geography, but also socially — to feel out how I actually wanted to live and spend my time.
PT Do you have a favorite travel anecdote you’d like to share with Paste readers?
CW I recently lived in a little town in the middle of nowhere in the Philippines called Mayoyao. I used AirBnB and found a rental that looked far away and tucked in a mountain range. I booked the home, not knowing what to expect, and found that just getting to Mayoyao was an adventure, requiring several modes of transportation and hours of driving along incomplete mountain roads half-covered by mudslides. While I was there, I lived amongst a group of people who were largely agrarian, working the same rice terraces that their ancestors a few thousand years ago had worked. My place was on a cliff and had an amazing balcony overlooking a rice terrace-covered valley. Though the electricity went out regularly and there were no restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, banks or ATMs — few modern amenities of any kind, in fact — the people were wonderful and the location was pristine. They dressed me in their traditional loincloth and fed me traditional dishes. They invited me to retirement parties and showed me hidden waterfalls. It proved to be a really inspiring, calming place. Perfect for a writer, in particular.
PT What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
CW I would suggest that first you take the time to figure out if you actually want to live a life like mine. This lifestyle is custom-made for me. Most people will want something a little bit different, particularly when they realize how uncomfortable long-term travel can be and how much it impacts your relationships, career and ideas about possessions and wealth. Before making any knee-jerk decisions, step back and look at the big picture. Figure out who you are, what you truly want, and what that ideal lifestyle might look like if put into practice.
Once you’ve got your goal in mind, trace it backward to where you are now and determine the first logical step. Fixate on your goal and take that first step as soon as possible. Pay off debts, lower your expenses, and generally do your best to reduce the number of unnecessary responsibilities and tethers you have holding you in place. Aim to enjoy as many waking hours of your life as possible, including those leading up to the achievement of your goals.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.