Reimagining Location Based Careers and How to Get Started

Jon Merrill

I’d been chasing one thing my whole life: cooking.

Kitchens were this endless wealth of challenge, rough around the edges with caffeinated staff using pirate language. The farther I chased the dream of being a chef, graduating with a B.A. in Hospitality from Washington State (Go Cougs!) and a Masters in French Cuisine, this apex of refined perfection continued to extend beyond me though. Eventually I was hired to run a kitchen of my own, shaping young minds, some barely able to drive, but that deeper richness still evaded me. I knew that the world was hinting at something larger, that at age 26, I still had so much more to discover. I packed my backpack with my chef knives and a camera, sold everything I owned, and set out with less than 60 pounds of belongings… that was three years ago. Now I’ve cooked alongside the world’s best chefs and run my own freelance business.


Often you might find yourself dreaming of a life and career you wish you had. Feeling that odds are stacked against you and barriers are too immense to overcome, most individuals simply retain this dream as nothing more and nothing less. However, statistics show each year more people setting off into their unknown horizons seeking to reshape their lifestyle.

This shift in individual and collective self discovery towards a deeper understanding isn’t a new trend. Traveling has always been a catalyst of this for me in this. And now, powered by digital learning, people are discovering their passion, figuring out the skills need, and pursuing journeys head on with new tools, strategies, and thinking. Whether putting old-school trade skills to work or exploring into the fast growing, tech careers available today, it’s no surprise that people are finding liberation to break free from traditional job settings for finding locational independence.

Whether success is found within this attempt is a whole different conundrum. Time and money play a huge part in this, thus it’s no surprise there is an over saturation from those who want to do it full time. The real problem is that there is a lack of originality coming from these individuals creating a watered down mentality, often simply sorted by who came first. General travelers and students studying abroad in general are on the rise, but people are not compensating their effort to live freely through disruptive approaches. This quickly growing trend of working from wherever often ignores their true passions, instead creating a broken record. The transient professional overcompensates by trying to create a greater breadth in their work to generate wages rather than creativity.

Herein lays the lynchpin of some major problems. People want to live a free lifestyle of gallivanting around the world, but often won’t think beyond themselves, and thus ignoring the public good. I too wanted to seek a deeper ROI from my daily life. I realized early on if I learned to cook well enough, anywhere in the world would accept me as a cook since everywhere in the world people must eat. This simple epiphany for a teenager didn’t play out as smoothly. Years played on, education and experience was built, but I wasn’t in the driver’s seat leading my own charge. There was a deeper purpose buried underneath, but in order to find it a change needed to happen, so…

I began saving. Doing everything I could to put money together. I hustled and scrapped by. Cut costs and eliminated frivolous spending began showing results within months. It was when I liquidated every life possession that things really added up. Aside from my passport, backpack, some clothes, a camera and my chef knives, I put a price tag on everything by removing all sentimental attachment. I had to if I ever expected…

To take a leap of faith. Nothing will always be perfect when you are stepping outside of a comfort zone. It’s the growth from these challenges that you look back on and see that without them you’d likely still feel stagnant in your life. I thought for years I must have every detail in order. The truth is the exact opposite, and is even better. In order to harness uncertainty, I was willing to believe that a net would catch me before it was too late. The world may seem brutal to many, but good people present themselves when you need them most if you…

Remove all preconceptions. The places and experiences you think you will enjoy the most can fall short to the places and experiences you expected nothing to come from. When you take that step, you need to be open to the unknown. This is where most people trying to make a life on the road end up failing. They take a safe approach to doing something cookie-cutter with the rest of their industry peers rather than…

Being creative with the design. It’s no phenomenon that companies like Uber, AirBnb & Square are reshaping the way that everyday life is handled. We live in a time when no industry is safe from disruption by an App developed in the basement of someone’s parents house after they dropped out of college because they had an idea worth pursuing. When I began traveling, it was to simply work in the world’s elite kitchens and see what I could discover on a personal level as a chef. What I found was that far more opportunities lay out there if I was willing to use my creativity outside the kitchen since…

Adaptability breeds longevity. While working in the best restaurants of each region I travelled, I was writing for my own sake. Those blog posts began getting noticed and I started making some money on the side. Yet, as I met travel bloggers, I realized they were all saying the same things in most capacities. Animated versions of travel guidebooks. My qualm was, “Am I just the Chef Travel Blogger?” Enough people were asking me unique questions about what I was finding, I started to look beyond my simple desires to cook and write. I wanted to give my journey back to others, no matter their lifestyle or location.

Perhaps we could create something that does more to engage and teach those asking questions, or better yet, those who don’t know what questions to ask but are interested anyways.

About “GenDIY”
Young people are taking control of their own pathway to careers, college and contribution. Powered by digital learning, “GenDIY” is combatting unemployment and the rising costs of earning a degree by seeking alternative pathways to find or create jobs they love. Follow their stories here and on Twitter at #GenDIY. For more on GenDIY, check out:

Jon Merrill is Founder and CEO of The Vagabundus Project. Follow Jon on Twitter, @chef_vaga.

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1 Comment


I find a bit of an irony in this piece and my own story. While you spent your time trying to excel as a chef, to me cooking was little more than a means to an end when it came to traveling and I couldn't wait to get away from it (though I do miss the pirate mouth part of it all).

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Vagabundus.

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