On an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday afternoon in July 2013, I left my apartment in St. George, Utah, to grab an iced tea. One cold drink and an unplanned three-hour road trip later, I found myself standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon's North Rim at sunset, staring speechless at one of the world’s most remarkable sights. I tried to breathe it all in: the red, orange and brown colours; the dropping sun; the vast depths and sprawling caverns below.
The moment was incredible for so many reasons, not least of which was that I could be present in that moment, at that spot, because of the life I had chosen to create – a life of location-independent living instead of the traditional 9 to 5.
I looked over at Ayaz Nanji, my then-boyfriend and now fiancé, and knew we were revelling in the same realization. "This is why we do it," he said.
Five months earlier, we’d been living in New York City, paying an exorbitant sum for an apartment that – while lovely – was still much smaller than many people's bedrooms. He was working at Google and I had a job managing the website of the popular US news satire show, The Colbert Report. One corporate vice president had once referred to us as New York City's digital power couple.
But the thing is, in New York City, you don't work 9am to 5pm. You work 8am to 8pm, or later. Your salary might sustain you, but too often it's at the expense of daily joy – there's no time and little energy to savour the small moments of a given day. We wanted more – and we knew exactly what we were missing out on.
In 2010, before we began dating, Ayaz and I had packed our backpacks and travelled the world for eight months. We traversed the globe, from Istanbul to India, across Southeast Asia, through Australia and New Zealand, then back across the United States.
We found great jobs when we returned to New York, but even then, we itched for a life that fed our souls more of what we craved: to see the world and create a life less ordinary. Two weeks of annual vacation just wasn't going to cut it.
So I set about figuring out what a less conventional life involved. Generally, I wanted to work for myself, maintain freedom in my schedule and be able to dictate the when's, how’s and why’s of my day-to-day. I wanted to stay true to my inner compass.
As our ideas about a less conventional life became clearer, Ayaz and I debated whether to leave behind all that was certain – our apartment, jobs and steady salaries, family and friends – to chase our passion for traveling. Despite feeling terrified, in April 2012 I made the leap into freelance work and spent a number of months accruing steady contract gigs as a digital content producer and writer. After Ayaz quit his job in February 2013, we packed our worldly goods into a storage unit, bought a car and set out to see more of the world.
We eased into our new lives cautiously, subletting furnished apartments on Airbnb.com, Homeaway.com and Craigslist. We moved first to Miami, where we spent blissful afternoons in Key Biscayne, warming our skin and spirits on the beach, snacking on smoked fish dip and sipping prosecco at sunset. From there we made the sojourn west, to explore the red rocks of the southwestern United States from a base in Santa Fe, and later to visit the storied national parks in Utah, Montana and Wyoming. In early 2014 we spent a four-month stretch travelling through South America. We ate beef and drank malbec in Argentina, ogled beaches in Brazil and climbed Machu Picchu in Peru.
Some days – many of them, in fact – we have spent long hours working at our laptops, funding our newfound location-independent life through contract work and freelance projects, and by running the digital content-creation agency we recently launched. Being location-independent isn’t a vacation. Nor is it a career that brings in the same income we had in New York. But it is a way of life that allows us to reduce our expenses and build our careers from different and interesting places.
The truth is, we're still trying to figure out the details of all of this; it's a work in progress. While being perpetually on the move is exciting, it can also be draining, and we miss our family and friends. We worry that a contract or freelance project could end, throwing our finances into uncertainty. And it isn't easy to explain our choices to others. While many people are awed by what we're doing, plenty of others are more than a little horrified. Still, these are the challenges we've accepted to live our version of a passionate life.
We’ve now spent nearly two years on the road, deepening our relationship and moving toward a more mindful existence.
In September 2014, Ayaz and I returned to Miami's Key Biscayne, the first stop on our location-independent tour. I thought we were there to revel in one of our favourite memories, to imagine how far we've come and how much farther we would go.
To my surprise, as we stood on the beach, Ayaz dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him. He asked that we be joined in this unconventional life forever, exploring and loving this great, wide world – and each other – with all of our hearts. With absolute certainty, I said yes.