International Man: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Brandon Pearce: I'm Brandon Pearce and I'm 31. In 2009, after my online business took off, my family and I decided to leave suburban America, sell all our “stuff,” homeschool our kids, and travel the world together with just our carry-on luggage. Traveling has been an enriching and life changing experience for us, and we've grown in ways we never expected.
IM: How old are your children?
BP: We have three kids, ages 8, 6, and 10 months.
IM: What made you decide to leave the States?
BP: There were several reasons, but the main ones were that we felt like we were stagnating in our growth. We were going through the motions of a productive and fast-paced life, but we started to see more value in “stopping to smell the roses” and in taking advantage of new opportunities. We realized that having more material possessions didn't really make us happier, and that seemed to be the focus of the culture we were surrounded by. We also wanted to give our kids the chance to meet different kinds of people, learn new languages, and expand their minds in unique ways. Here's a post I wrote in 2009 that explains more details about why we left.
IM: Did the possibility of traveling only open up because of the success of your portable business, or had you been wanting to leave for a while?
BP: I hadn't really considered living overseas until my business began to be our main source of income. After reading the 4-Hour Workweek and other books, and quitting my job, I realized there's a whole world of experience we were missing out on by living our entire lives in the same town.
IM: How did your family feel about moving? Have they been enjoying the experience so far?
BP: Most of our extended family were a little apprehensive about the idea. They were concerned for our safety and didn't want us to take the grandkids away. But, we did have some support and encouragement as well, and we've enjoyed it when family has come to visit. All four of us (at the time) were very excited about the idea of selling everything and traveling the world together. We had our own apprehensions and fears, and it was a lot of work to prepare for the move, but worth it in every way. We have no regrets about this decision. It's by far been the biggest catalyst for growth and change in our lives, and has brought us closer together as a family.
The kids have enjoyed traveling. They've been able to play with endangered animals and volunteer at rescue centers, learn new languages, make international friends, see ancient ruins, tour farms and see different kinds of plants and wildlife, learn about historical sites in person, and so much more. It's been fun and educational for all of us.
There have been some challenges as well. We've gotten sick a few times, though probably less often and less severe than we did back in the states. We've had to deal with getting lost, crazy roads, communication barriers, finding friends, etc. We also got robbed once, which was not pleasant, although thanks to preyproject.com, I did get my Macbook Pro back. Dealing with constant change can also get old, and planning trips takes a lot of time. Sometimes I feel like I just want to settle down somewhere, but usually after a few months, I'm ready to start traveling again.
IM: How do your kids like getting homeschooled? Have they had the opportunity to make friendships with other children? Do you follow a specific curriculum?
BP: Most of the time, they love it. But they're still kids, and they'll complain about being bored or tired at times. We have tried to remind them that they've got a pretty special life, and there have been times when they've told us they feel like the luckiest kids in the whole world.
Making friends has been easier when we've stayed in places for longer periods of time. For example, we lived in Costa Rica for two years (although took several long trips to other countries during those years). This gave us the chance to be part of a community and make friends. When we're only in a place for a few weeks, it's a little more challenging, but we've made some friends that way, too. Even if we only hang out once or twice, sometimes those friendships can last until we see each other again.
We don't follow any homeschool curriculum, but we try to cover all the subjects, following the kids' interests, and we mainly use the Internet as our source. There are so many free and high quality educational resources for learning online at any age, and our eight year old is always telling us about things she learned by searching Google on her own. The girls also have their own blogs where they write about their experiences and they email to stay in touch with relatives in the States. Homeschooling can make it more difficult to find friends, though, especially if there isn't a big homeschooling community in the area. So when we go back to Bali in May, we'll be putting the kids in school for one month to give them a new experience and hopefully help them make some more friends. We may even put them in full-time next year if they like it. We'll see how it goes.
IM: Why did you choose Costa Rica at first?
BP: My wife already spoke Spanish, and the rest of us really wanted to learn it. We also wanted a place that had nice weather year round, was tropical and green, and had a more laid back, relaxed culture. Plus, my step-mom worked for Jet Blue, so we could fly there free on stand-by, and some relatives could visit us more easily, too.
IM: Tell me a bit about your experience in Costa Rica… What did you like most? Least? What made you decide to leave?
BP: I enjoyed the time we spent with friends there, the fun day trips we'd take to different parts of the country, and even just the time relaxing at home talking and enjoying the views. What I liked least was the safety. While it's arguably the most developed Central American country, it still has its fair share of petty crime (as I mentioned, we got robbed). And we felt like we always needed to be on alert and make sure everything was hidden or locked down, especially after we got robbed. The roads were also in poor shape with lots of potholes and dangerous curves. It's also one of the most expensive countries in that area.
We were actually ready to leave 6-12 months in, just because we wanted to explore more of the world. But then, we discovered my wife was pregnant, so decided to stay and have the baby there (which we did at home in the bathtub with the doctor and midwife present – a neat experience in itself). And I'm so glad we stayed, because we met so many great friends that second year and enjoyed living in a different part of Costa Rica (Escazú instead of Grecia).
IM: OK, so then you decided to move on and chose Bali?
BP: It actually took us quite a while to choose Bali. After exploring much of Central and South America, then coming to Asia to see Malaysia and Singapore, we realized that big city life really isn't for us. It's convenient, but we'd rather live more in nature, in smaller towns, and visit the city on occasion. Bali, especially Ubud where we're living, has such a unique and interesting culture, friendly people, easy language, delicious food, incredible natural beauty, and is very inexpensive. Here's a post about our first impressions of Bali, along with some prices.
IM: How would you compare Indonesia and Costa Rica? Would any be easier for a foreigner to transition to?
BP: While there is much to love about Costa Rica, I found its culture (like its food) to be a bit bland. Bali, on the other hand, has a rich Hindu tradition and their architecture is very interesting and beautiful, with temples and shrines every few steps. Bali is also much cheaper than Costa Rica, and many people speak English. It also feels safer to us, but that probably depends on the area you're in. I haven't been anywhere else in Indonesia.
As for which is easier to transition to, it's hard to say, but Indonesia does have stricter visa requirements for US citizens. You can travel to Costa Rica for 90 days on a free tourist visa, while Indonesia charges $25 to enter for 30 days. You can apply for a 60-day visa that can be extended each month for up to 6 months, but you need to apply before you get there, with a recommendation letter from an Indonesian citizen.
The biggest disadvantages to Bali for me were the roads, the mosquitos, and the slow Internet. The roads themselves are actually pretty good, but the driving is horrendous (much worse than Costa Rica), with motorcycles weaving in and out constantly at top speed. It's quite scary and probably better to hire a driver for $200-300/month rather than brave the roads yourself. And while mosquitos can be found everywhere in the world, they seem to be especially abundant near the rice fields where we're staying. Maybe other parts of Bali wouldn't have as big of a problem with them. And, you can actually get fast fiber Internet on Bali, but you have to go to the city. In Ubud, you're lucky to get a 768kb wireless connection. The maximum we've seen in our area is 2mb, but it costs over $300/month (est. USD).
If you're looking to move abroad and want an easy first country, Malaysia is a great place to start. It's English speaking, has a well-developed infrastructure, is culturally diverse, fairly safe, tropical, and affordable. They also make it easy to visit (90-day tourist visa) and have easy options for becoming a resident. The weather can be a bit hot in some areas, though.
IM: What – if anything – do you miss from America?
BP: I miss the wide, straight roads, and the ability to order anything from amazon.com and have it delivered to my door in 2-3 days. My kids sometimes miss being surrounded by people who look like them. We stand out a lot in the places we've been to, and the kids get more attention than they want sometimes, with people touching their hair or wanting to take their picture.
IM: Tell us a bit about your business – you mention on your website that you work only 5 hours a week… was it difficult getting it to that level? And does your business still grow at that level of hours?
BP: I originally created Music Teacher's Helper in 2005, not as a business, but to help me save time in my own piano studio (I was teaching about 10 students at the time). I didn't have an efficient way to track my student's lesson schedules and payment history, and was frustrated by how much time it took to deal with those tasks. I made a simple program to track it all, and a way for students to login and check their own schedule and payment history, so they knew how much money to bring to their lesson. When other teachers saw what I had, they wanted it for themselves, and also asked for other features. So I turned it into a business and started selling subscriptions. It grew slowly at first as I fumbled through learning how to run a business. But now it provides for my family and enables us to live anywhere in the world.
In terms of 5 hours… yes, it took years of working almost every waking moment to get to this point. But it was SO worth it! I used to do everything in my business myself, from the design and programming, to the customer support and marketing, and it took so much time and energy. When I finally started automating the busywork tasks and outsourcing everything else, my time was freed significantly. Yes, the company still grows every day, even when I only work 5 hours per week. Of course, it does grow faster when I put more effort into certain activities, and I often do.
IM: Have you experienced any troubles from running your business abroad?
BP: There have been a few times the Internet has gone down when I really needed to do things, but it's never been the end of the world. I've had to learn to get better at going with the flow. But now that I have staff to take care of things, I don't need to be constantly connected. I also have my iPhone as a backup connection and get a local SIM card wherever I'm at.
IM: Any advice to would-be travellers, entrepreneurs, young families?
BP: To would-be travelers and young families: If you have a desire to travel, I encourage you to make it happen. Even if you can only travel for a few weeks or a few months at a time, do it. It will change you and enrich your life. You don't need an automated online business either to make this work. There are places you could live well for under $1,000/month, and there are so many ways to earn money online or while on the road. There's a Facebook group called “Families on the Move” with currently 160 members, and their financial situations are extremely varied. You can make it work, too. Hint: Long-term slow travel is much more affordable than quick 2-week vacations.
Entrepreneurs: If I can take a crazy idea like administrative software for private music teachers and make a living with it, chances are you can do the same with something in your life. Chris Guillebeau is about to publish a new book called The $100 Startup that shows you how. I've read a preliminary copy and it's full of great tips and motivation to help get you started. I also do business consulting for entrepreneurs looking to create an online business, and am working on my own book about how to create an online business, but it's been on the back burner for a while as I've been too busy traveling.
IM: Great, thanks Brandon. Where can people go to learn more about you, your travels and your business?
If you enjoyed this interview, you might like our complimentary report, Educating Children in Expatriate Environments by Bill Drake.
This report is available for members of the International Man Network. For more information, click here.
One of the benefits of choosing an expatriate lifestyle is the opportunity to expose our children to other cultures. At the same time, it is important to us as parents to be able to provide our children with the best possible formal education. Because of the varying strengths and types of schools that will be available depending on where we choose to live, we will have to take a pro-active role in planning our children's education. This e-book explores a wide range of information and resources that are available to help us do this. It provides vital information on the special challenges we face educating our children while living the expatriate dream. It also can be used as a tool to plan for those important events that occur during a student's progression from nursery school through college while living overseas.