by J. Kim Wright, Publisher of Cutting Edge Law
Updated November, 2016
People often ask me about being location independent. What is that?
Location independence is a growing trend among technology and knowledge workers. A location independent professional—or digital nomad—utilizes new technology to design a lifestyle that allows them to live and work wherever they want—be it from home, the internet cafe, on the beach, or even from the other side of the world.
Location independent professionals frequently work as freelance writers, photographers, affiliate marketers, traders, web designers, web developers, graphic designers, programmers and often other working holiday jobs such as teaching English (TESOL or TEFL). Sometimes they simply pick up odd jobs as they travel, such as fruit picking or WWOOFing. Minimalism for the sake of light travel is frequently emphasized, but not required.
The blogosphere and prevalence of social media makes it much easier for anyone to share their ideas with a global audience and build a successful business online. With the increasing availability of free and cheap WiFi internet access around the globe, a nomadic, entrepreneurial lifestyle is increasingly possible for people to attain.
It can be described in many ways. I travel all the time. My mail comes to a UPS store and they forward it to me wherever I am. My work does not require me to go to an office every day. Instead, it has me traveling around to conferences, speaking engagements, visiting teaching, consulting and to meet interesting and inspiring people.
When I started this journey, I thought I'd be gone for three months. I'd been traveling to conferences so much during the last half of 2007 that it didn't make sense to keep my house. I was in a life transition that included relocating my office. I wanted to videotape some interviews and get the website rolling. I thought I'd spend a few months on the road, make the videos and then go back to practicing law. It hasn't exactly worked out that way (and that is a good thing). After those first months, the next leg of the journey beckoned. At first, I extended the time in three to six month increments. Now, I can see many months into the future.
People ask: Do you have an RV?
Well, no, I don't. In the past, I traveled with a travel trailer on a few vacations and one cross-country trip. It was enough to cure me of the romantic notions about an RV. The set up, extra fuel and parking challenges just aren't worth it. Besides, I enjoy staying with friends, making new friends, and finding the best deals on websites. [Like $50 for Hyatt Regency in Stamford, Connecticut, cheaper than parking in Manhattan!] In the past, I often camped, rolling a sleeping bag out under the stars. In recent years, I've been without my car more and I left the gear in storage. In 2015, my car was in an accident and was a total loss. I haven't replaced it.
People ask me: How long do you stay in one place?
Sometimes I move from place to place almost every day for weeks. Sometimes I am stationary for a while to teach, think, write or collaborate. Three times, I've spent several (winter) months in Key West. I spent three months in New Mexico in 2009 and established it as my official residence. Now I go back there every year. Since my dad died in 2013, I've spent more time on the family farm in Florida. Otherwise, the longest I have stayed anywhere was Colorado - three consecutive house-sitting gigs had me based there for most of 9 months, off and on. (Of course, I wasn't really stationary. I made side trips to New York, New Mexico, Arizona and twice to California during those 9 months.)
People ask me: Where is all your stuff?
Most people find it hard to realize that I don't have much stuff. Before I started this journey, I had a three level log house on a mountainside near Asheville, NC. It had a hot tub and an amazing view of the sunset over the Smoky Mountains. It had all the usual furniture and appliances and monthly bills that go with owning a residence. It was, as they say, the "whole catastrophe."
At first, I culled my possessions down to what would fit in a 10 x 10 storage unit and some furniture that some friends kept for me. After three years on the road, the belongings in storage didn't seem so important and I ran an ad on Craig's List, donated a bunch of stuff to the local Goodwill, released the things my friends had, and put a few boxes in my sister's closet. Later, I pared down even more. Things that had sentimental value went to family members who wanted them. I even scanned my photos and distributed them among family and friends.
Months later, after my time in Colorado, I had accumulated a lot of winter clothes and camping gear. Often when I accumulate things, I donate them when I leave. After my Colorado time, I decided to rent a 5x5 unit to store them until I finished the next leg of my journey. I rented a small space in Taos, my official hometown. Later, I realized that it wasn't working to have storage. For what rent was costing me, I could have replaced everything a few times.
The women's shelter thrift store was the recipient of a lot of my kitchen and housewares. The men's shelter was happy to get the camping gear and hundreds of bottles of hotel shampoo. A local school welcomed paper, pencils, and art supplies. My mom offered a closet for the rest (about a carload, which includes the videotapes of the interviews, saved for posterity.)
I now could list everything I have and I still think I have way too much stuff. The less I have, the freer I feel. My father used to say that I would eventually get down to a backpack. It is a nice idea, but traveling to so many places does require a varied wardrobe.
What do you carry with you?
I converted my book collection to Kindle. I scanned and stored most of my documents and uploaded photos to the cloud. I am pretty obsessive about backups. I guess it could be said that I hoard information. Luckily bytes take up little room.
When I fly, I obviously can't take it all with me. I tend to err on the side of taking too much technology, enough to fill my rollerbag. I'm pretty good at predicting what clothing I will need. After having unexpected outdoor time in Australia, I will never leave my hiking boots behind again. The more I travel, the better I get at planning. And, yes, when I am flying around for weeks at a time, I do check baggage.
People want to know: Where do you go when you have down time?
I am blessed with friends around the world, and sometimes I get to visit them as I move from place to place. Many of those friends have issued standing invitations. Most are lawyers who are doing amazing, ground-breaking work. They're colleagues in the integrative law movement who support what I do and show their support through providing me a place to stay.
When I get a paid speaking gig, I try to book other events on the route or nearby, reducing downtime. I never have time to visit everyone on my route and generally my choice about where to stop and visit has to do with whether I was invited. Occasionally, when I don't have somewhere else to go and need a break, I check into a hotel or go camping. I visit family and friends for holidays. My kids don't have a place to come home to - I go to them when we want to get together.
At first, I did this because of my commitment to a possibility that is larger than my need for comfort and security: the transformation of the legal profession, a world where lawyers are peacemakers, problem-solvers and healers of conflicts, being midwives of transformation for their clients and the world. That focus lives within a bigger mission of creating a world that works for everyone.
I chose to focus on a profession that is foundational to our system of government and reflects the way we relate to each other. I figure that transforming the legal profession and having transformed lawyers working on problem-solving, peacemaking and healing is a step in the right direction toward a world that works for all. Lawyers are a distressed group who are capable of making big change in the world when inspired and fully expressed.
As I traveled, so much more opened up. The American Bar Association recognized my work by naming me a Legal Rebel, "finding new ways to practice law, represent their clients, adjudicate cases and train the next generation of lawyers." I was asked to write a book which became an ABA Best-Seller and was named a flagship book for the ABA. My vision has gone from fringe to approaching mainstream.
It has been a spiritual experience for me. Every day brings a new miracle. I live in the state of amazement. I get to enjoy the beauty of Nature along with being inspired and blessed by the people I meet along the way. I have tens of thousands of Nature photos. The places I've seen, the people I've met and the miracles I've experienced have been gifts. I've learned to let go of more than things. I no longer feel attached to things going a certain way. My goals are more like suggested directions and I can go with the flow. I love my life and the opportunities for growth and adventure.
How do you afford this?
Most people can't imagine that I do this without a security blanket. No, I don't have a fixed income or big pot of savings somewhere. I keep my expenses extremely low. For income, I do speaking and training. I coach lawyers. I am resourceful and resilient and blessed with a supportive community.
Friends and colleagues make contacts for possible speaking engagements. We explore the potential impact, number of people who will be reached, and potential funding sources. Institutions tend to have budgets. When possible, we have one as a sponsor to pay my expenses and sometimes an honorarium. I was living in the gift economy before it was cool. Most of the time, my paid speaking and coaching engagements fund the next leg of the trip, helping to open up new communities and connect people in new places.
Where do you vote and file taxes?
My legal residence is New Mexico. Originally, it was just a matter of convenience. My car license plate expired while I was there and I changed my residency. Over the last few years, I have found that I love the state and I like being domiciled there. (And it isn't just the green chile, but that helps.)
When will you settle down?
Before I went to law school, I drove taxi in Florida. Several of my regular customers were homeless guys who spent the winter down south. They hung out at a truck stop and the town square. They'd call a cab and get a ride between the two places. Sometimes they called because they wanted to get warm in the car and I'd let them ride around with me for a while. We became friends. I recall a particular conversation with Eddie, an elderly man who told me he was almost 80. With Social Security income, he saw that homelessness was a choice for him. He described how it was hard to live in a house when the whole world had been his home. He liked to sleep where he could see the sky and stars, close to Mother Earth. Living in a house seemed constrictive after the expansive life he'd been living. I have never forgotten that conversation with Eddie. I understand it at a new level. I love so many places. For the foreseeable future, I will continue to travel.
Home is truly where the heart is. I've learned to be at home wherever I am. There are times when I think of settling in one place but the next trip beckons. I'll know when it is the right time, when I find the right place to settle down, if that time does come. [My mom hopes that will be with her.]
How can I get in touch with you?
Some people are reluctant to call because I'm traveling. Don't be. Since I'm always traveling, I have systems in place. For example: I have a Google Voice number. 682 463 9529 will reach me, wherever I am in the whole world. It forwards to my mobile phone AND to my computer. If you leave a message on the Google Voice, I get an email and a text with a transcript of your message. I can forward the Google number to a landline or VOIP phone. I am rarely out of internet communication for more than a couple of days.
Of course, like everyone, I am not always available at a moment's notice. I get backed up with too many emails. I have appointments all day or deadlines. If it is urgent or quick, I can often call you back quickly for a moment and answer a question. (Email is an even better way to do that.) If it is time for us to have a long catch-up conversation, that may take longer. I like to find a time when we can be open-ended and explore whatever is on our minds. I've found that the time opens up when it is really important and that everything happens on the perfect schedule.
If you want to mail me something by snail mail, it is best to ask me where to send it. It takes time to forward the mail. Most of the time, I can receive mail at my next destination.
Here are some photos from my travels. (The format adjusts according to your screen, so excuse any wonky formatting.)