I loved my job. I was a digital project manager for a great company that treated me well. Add to this, I was one of the youngest employees at the company who managed half-million-dollar campaigns. We had kegs of beer, whiskey Thursdays, and, debatably, the best view in Chicago. Things were going well. I was comfortable. Word to the wise: never stay in that comfortable zone. It will eventually shift into the equivalent of wearing cement shoes.
It was a beautiful Thursday morning in Chicago. I was pumping myself up for a great client meeting. However, as I walked into the office, my boss stopped me abruptly. I was promptly informed that I had to be let go. Just like that, I was cut loose.
Another suggestion: ALWAYS BE BILLABLE. You’re viewed as more valuable when you’re perpetually making money for the almighty company.
Okay, so I didn’t have a job anymore. Although it was more than aggravating, I figured there were two prominent paths for me to take. Either embark on the trip that I’d desired to take for years or get a new job. I decided to travel.
Southeast Asia for three months, here we go!
Here’s the thing: I’ve worked for and applied to many digital agencies. At the end of the day, they’re all fundamentally the same. In my mind, this was a problematic issue. Listen, I love the fancy offices, the sweet perks, summer hours, and all that other good stuff. But… it’s limiting.
With this in mind, I launched my own digital marketing agency. The central vision? Work whenever and wherever. Due to my personal experience with being an employee, I hired freelancers rather than employees. This way, I pay what they feel they’re worth and I am able to charge my clients less. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m determined to make it a complete success.
Returning to my Asia trip, I convinced three friends to fly out to Southeast Asia. I also persuaded my girlfriend to join me for a month. In total, the plan has been to stay here for at least three months (maybe longer depending on circumstances): one month with friends, one month alone, and one month with my girlfriend.
Starting in Bangkok, we made our way up to northern Thailand, and shortly after, to Vietnam. We enjoyed a three-day boat cruise to Ha Long Bay—a spot which felt entirely like visiting a different planet. We eventually made our way down through Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). While sitting in a small Vietnamese café, I wrote these very words. The vibe was just right—a mix of old and new, East and West, surrounding me were young Vietnamese professionals who chattered about work. Meanwhile, Westerners tried to decipher the hieroglyphics on the menu, and students labored over their schoolwork.
Sidebar: To save you from a long rant about how great everything was, I want to point out a couple of those “Wow, we did that” moments from our trip.
It’s true that when traveling to a different country, there’s never a dull moment and whatever can go wrong probably will. After two attempts at playing with elephants, a typhoon warning, a wrong hotel reservation, two motorcycle crashes, train tickets purchased for the wrong month, and so much more, we decided just to roll with the punches. We’ve been mildly trolled by this new adventure.
It would be a boring story without some comedy and drama thrown in for spice. But, let’s get back to the positive points of interest:
Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai (Loy Krathong): This was awesome. It was something that I had wanted to be a part of since the first time I saw it online. Thousands of people gathered around to light lanterns and dispatched them into the sky. Our hotel was fairly far from the festival, and it was about 95 degrees outside (35C). You guessed it, we were late. So we had to run through the length of the city to catch the beginning of the festival. Dripping in sweat, we stood amongst thousands of people gleefully watching the lanterns float up and away. It was wicked hot, loud, and wild. But, somehow, with all that noise, I was able to find peace by watching the lanterns trace their rhythmic patterns above the crowd.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam: Ha Long Bay is a series of over 1600 mountainous islands spanning over 1500 km. Had this truly been another planet, it was a world significantly more beautiful and breathtaking than my home planet. During this three-day cruise, we kayaked with the 20 or so people from our boat and explored a surreal, untouched group of islands—a truly remarkable experience that I will remember forever. Did I jump off of the 4th floor of the boat into the water? You bet I did.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai (Location 7): What can I say about this particular expedition besides the fact that it was incredible? It opened up my eyes to a couple of things. First, please make sure that you do not support circuses, riding elephants, or the mistreatment of wild animals. These are magnificent creatures. Second, I was deeply inspired by how passionate the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team was about their elephants. When they spoke about the elephants, I could hear it in their tone and see it in their eyes, they possess a profound love for these animals. I couldn’t thank them enough for doing what they do. By all means, if you have the opportunity, visit this sanctuary! Play with the elephants, swim with the elephants, feed them, and hug them. It’s a badass experience that you won’t forget.
The moral of this story? Don’t get trapped in an office only to realize you wasted your youth working to make someone else rich. It is just money. Make memories, make friends, and continue exploring.