By John Sonmez June 1, 2015

The Simple Programmer European Tour Begins

I’m sitting here writing this post on a plane heading from Iceland to Paris, as I’m about to embark upon a 3-month journey.

A lot of people have asked me if it is a vacation.

In a way it is—but it’s also not.

I don’t really think in terms of “vacation” anymore.

This is my life. I can live it anywhere I want.

Depositphotos_13869291_mNow, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m just beginning to discover and explore my newfound freedom.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was subject to someone else’s terms for my life; relegated to their timetable.

Well, that’s not completely true either. I was blinded by the illusion that I didn’t have control over my life.

That illusion made me think that I had to wake up at a certain time every morning, drive into an office and give my best hours and work to someone else.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying everyone has to be an entrepreneur.

I’m not saying there is any shame in working for someone else—hell, I did it for most of my adult life.

I’m just saying that, I—like most people—used to think that was my only option.

But, within the last 5 or so years, I’ve discovered a whole new world. A whole new set of options. A completely differently reality. The real reality.

So, in part that is what this post is about.

It’s not me bragging about how I’m traveling around Europe for 3-months, because woah, look at me. (Ok, some of that.)

It’s not me telling you that you have to go and do what I did and that you need to quit your day job and start your own business to be successful or happy in life. (Ok, some of that too.)

It’s about me sharing the journey, telling you how I did it, and sharing with you how you can do the same—if you choose.

Let’s start with my plan… what am I doing?

Well, like I said before, this trip is sort of a vacation, but not really.

I tend to work really hard in bursts and then try to relax a bit, but not completely.

For the last few years, I’ve been working hard for about 9-10 months of the year and then taking about 2-3 months to travel and just do the minimum to keep Simple Programmer running smoothly.

So, during this trip, I’ll still be blogging. I’ll still be handling a bit of business and I’ll be making some YouTube videos documenting the journey and sharing some of my thoughts along the way.

But, I’m mostly going to try and chill, enjoy some time with my family, and relax and reflect on the future and my life. (I’m going to get very philosophical, as I’m sure you can already tell with this blog post.)

If you are a client of mine and you are reading this, don’t panic. I’ll still be taking some calls, and working with any of my clients that are on retainer, but not taking on any new engagements.

Oh, and I’ll also still be recording Get Up and CODE episodes and the Entreprogrammers podcast of course—at least as much as possible. I’m not missing the Louvre for it.

Where am I going? (And why am I in this hand basket…)

Depositphotos_11155958_mSo, if you've read this far, you are probably curious about where I am going.

I’m glad you asked, let me tell you…

I’ll be starting out my trip by visiting Paris. I’ll be staying there for about a week, then heading to…

Berlin, for about 3 more weeks…

And then—since my wife planned the itinerary and wants to bounce us back and forth as much as possible—western Ireland, where I’ll drive on the wrong side of the road for three days, avoiding sheep and angry leprechauns to finally end up in Dublin. Where I’ll be staying for another 3 weeks.

And then… I’ll be hopping on another plane and flying into Brussels to get to Bruges where I’ll be spending a few nights before taking a train to Amsterdam.

3 weeks after that, I’ll be hopping back on an aero-plane and queuing up to embark for London. (See what I did there, chap?)

The London stay will be just two weeks, because London is expensive and I’ll be running out of cash by then, so I’ll finally be heading to Iceland. (Reykjavik to be exact… Ok, let’s just call it Iceland.)

And we’ll be staying there for another 2 weeks, where my wife thinks she’ll have the balls to go on a helicopter tour, although she’s afraid to go on rollercoasters a bit trepidatious about going on some roller coasters, because how much more scary could a helicopter flying over a lava-spewing volcano be than a Disney ride?

Ok, ok. So, we won’t talk about how for the first 30-ish years of my life I was deathly scared to go on any rollercoasters and I thought that the Dumbo ride at Disney world was a “scary-ass-ride.”

And—I have to add this, because my wife says I do—I apparently claimed—with good reason—that Big Thunder Railroad almost decapitated me, hence the rightful application of fear. (I still don’t believe the ride is designed for someone who is 6’3” and they just assume that most people will duck.)

Ok, and that’s it, then we are going home.

Holy crap, are you rich?

No, well, not like I can buy a fleet of Lamborghinis rich.

In fact, the whole trip is going to cost me a grand total of around $4.5k.

Yes, that’s right.

How, you might ask?

Well, I’m mostly going to be doing home exchanges with other families from the locations we are visiting.

What in tarnation is a home-exchange, you might ask?

It’s basically when you swap homes with a complete stranger and they break all your shit, go through all your personal belongings and scare the hell out of your neighbors when they say “du haust” instead of good morning. (I don’t even know what du haust means, I just heard it on a song.)

Which would you like more of, philosophy or rambling?

Let’s go with philosophy since I’ve already rambled enough.

So, back to how I did this.

Obviously, you don’t have to be rich to let people stay at your home and book cheap, super-economy, you-are-only-allowed-half-of-a-carry-on-per-person airlines.

But, what you do have to have is time and location independence.

Well, you can do it with just location independence, but your boss might get a bit antsy if you are signing on to work from different countries every week and posting all these pictures on Facebook of where you are visiting when you are supposed to be working.

Getting time and location independence isn’t easy, but it’s a lot more achievable that most people think.

Most people achieve this by becoming a freelancer or entrepreneur, but it’s even possible while keeping a day job, see Tim Ferris’s 4-hour Workweek, for a good example.

In it, Tim talks about how you can first get your boss to let your work remotely, then automate a large portion of your job so that you can eventually do what takes most people 40 hours of goofing off at an office to do in about 10, leaving you an extra 30 to goof off wherever the hell you want.

(Side-note: I’m not wholly convinced this is possible—at least for most people—but, try it out and let me know how it works.)

Wait a minute, are you retired, or don’t you claim to be?

I tried to not go off on another tangent, but I’m operating with very little sleep, so I feel it is critical—at this very moment, in the middle of this blog post—to address this.

In my best-selling book, “Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual,” (see how I plugged it right there… so smooth), I mention that I retired at 33, yet it still appears that I am working, and working hard, so what gives?

Well, if you actually read the book, you’d know that I define retirement to be when you don’t have to work, not when you sit on a beach sipping Mai Thais and catch the early bird special at Denny’s.

There is a certain freedom in knowing that you can quit doing whatever you are doing, whenever you want, and you can just chill or do anything else you want with your time.

Some sadistic part of me likes the stress of running a business and working ridiculous hours to produce copious amounts of content every week.

Back to how you can do what I am doing…

Ok, no more tangents—I promise.

I want to tell you a little bit more about how you can do what I am doing without becoming rich or retired.

Honestly, it starts with belief. Belief that living a life like this is possible and that you can do it.

Most people don’t believe either. They are skeptical about anyone doing anything besides living the life they are living. They place artificial limits on themselves and others, because they are afraid.

Afraid of what it might mean if the current view of the world they have is wrong.

Afraid of what it might mean if they aren’t living up to their full potential.

Afraid of what it might mean if they had to face risk and failure and start taking their life and decisions into their own hands.

I know, because I was afraid.

The first few times I tried to break away from the system and go out on my own, I kept my foot tethered to what I thought was security.

I tried to live in both worlds by reducing my risk while pretending to be an entrepreneur.

First, I took a job with a friend who already had a business and tried to eventually become a partner in it, but insist that he pay me a salary during that transition.

Then, I formed a company with a couple of other friends and business partners, but also required a salary to join their venture.

At the time, both of these choices seemed like the right things to do, but I didn’t realize that without risk there is no reward.

I was trying to cheat the system and get a free pass by straddling the fence.

I wanted to have my freedom cake and eat it too.

That doesn’t mean you have to jump out of a plane without a parachute

Flying manIn fact, if you’ve read my series on How to Quit Your Job, or my post on The Hacker News Generation: Afraid of Hard Work, you know that I’m not an advocate of taking a huge, uncalculated risk.

I’m actually pretty conservative (remember I think Big Thunder Railroad is trying to decapitate me).

Instead, I advocate putting in hard work over time—while you keep your day job.

I’m a big proponent of building your freedom business on the side, not taking out your entire life savings and betting it all on a roll of a die.

And I firmly believe that it all begins with marketing yourself and building a reputation in the software development industry.

Just last week, I was able to bill a client $5,000 a day—not because I’m the best, as much as I like to think I am—but, mostly because of reputation.

When I started consulting, my rate was $50 an hour, then as my reputation (not my skills) grew, it went to $100 and then $300 and now I’m pretty much not accepting work for less than $500 an hour.

Again, this isn’t to brag, this is to show you just how effective and important marketing yourself is.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy work, but it is at least very rewarding.

This whole blog, the Simple Programmer empire is really based on that idea.

All the content I put out each week, every blog post I write, is aimed at building more and more brand recognition and getting my name—and the Simple Programmer name—out there as much as possible.

That’s why, if you haven’t already enrolled in my free, email course on How to Create a Blog to Boost Your Career, I highly suggest you do it.

Creating a blog is an excellent place to start building a reputation online.

It’s exactly how I got started and still one of the most important factors in my branding and marketing today, as evidenced by this very blog post.

(If you want to really dive in and get a short-cut to buying your freedom, you might also want to check out my How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer course, where I show you the exact strategy I would use to build up a personal brand and reputation in the software development industry today.)

How does marketing myself and building a brand make me a successful entrepreneur and allow me to travel the globe?

The connection might not be apparent at first, but building a reputation and personal brand is sort of like a magic key that opens up all kinds of doors.

When you have a reputation—and especially when you have an audience—you have a lot of options.

If you want to get a regular job, you can, but now you can get a much higher salary or perhaps set some terms that regular, salaried employees might not be able to. (Perhaps you can negotiate location and time independence.)

If you want to become a freelancer, you can pick up clients easily as they will be seeking you out, and—more importantly—you can bill at ridiculously high rates, because people want to work with you specifically.

If you want to be an entrepreneur and sell a product or service, you’ll have an audience that is ready and eager to buy what you are selling.

Creating my blog and eventually expanding my marketing efforts to other domains has allowed me to do all three of those things, and I’m not alone. I know many software developers who have had similar experiences.

It’s all about creating value

But, here is the thing. All of this is nice and it’s great to travel the world, bill ridiculously high consulting rates and possibly retire early, but it all has to be based on one critical thing: providing value to others.

I love this quote by Zig Ziglar that sums it up perfectly:

“If you help enough other people get what they want, you’ll get what you want.”

A lot of people get turned off by marketing and self-promotion, because they see it as sleazy.

A lot of people think building a personal brand and marketing yourself is all about you.

The truth is, it’s not.

It’s all about the people you serve.

Every morning when I get up and sit at my computer, I try to think about those people. I try to think about you.

You gain credibility, you gain value, by rendering useful service to others, not by just talking about how cool you are or what you’ve accomplished.

When you help other people, when you help them get what they want, you end up getting what you want. There is no other way.

Anything else is taking without giving and whenever you try to take without giving, you always end up paying the bill—with interest.

There’s a really good book, that has an unfortunate name called “The Millionaire Fastlane.” I highly recommend you read that book.

In it, the author, MJ DeMarco, talks about how the way to make a million dollars is to provide value to a million people—it’s that simple.

The way to make a billion dollars, is to provide value to a billion people.

I’m sitting in this plane right now, getting ready to take a 3-month trip around Europe, not because I got lucky, not because I’m super talented, not even because I’m extremely good looking—I know that was going to be your next guess—but, because I figured out a way to provide real value to a whole lot of people…

…and you can do the same.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."