by Nelson Santos
I discovered my passion for volunteering in my mid-20’s. Shortly after I made this revelation, I wanted to take this passion of helping those in need worldwide. However one major obstacle that brought my optimistic fantasies to a screeching halt was the financial aspect of it. How can I travel the world without any money? I always knew I could save money and then travel. I have heard countless anecdotes throughout the years of travelers working at home for a while to save some money, and then going off on an adventure, only to return home and do it all over again.
Don’t get me wrong; this plan obviously works for a lot of people, and more power to them. But I am a big picture kind of guy. I don’t want to end up in my mid-40’s and only to realize that I have no sort of savings because I spent it all on traveling. I want my life to be filled with a unique collection of rich memories and experiences, but not at the expense of my livelihood during my old age. I realized that I couldn’t sustain this way of life forever.
I needed to figure out a way to live and work in a different country at the same time. There are tons of opportunities out there, but it took me some time to figure it out. There were several times when I was ready to pull to trigger by buying a flight to India, only to cancel last minute because of all the second-guessing and self-doubt that filled my head. The endless chatter that rang in my head with questions like, how long will I reasonably be able to travel for? Will I come back to the same dead-end job? What’s the end goal? What sort of life do I want for myself?
I started to think outside the box. One day during yoga class and a long mediation session, I came up with a business idea called Smilingtimes: a positive news media outlet making people aware of the good deeds that are going on around the country and in the world. It would be an alternative to the major media outlets that constantly fill our heads with negative fatalistic thoughts. Like Mom likes to say, “C-N-N constant Negative News.” I’m not just picking on CNN, but the whole of American media that propagates the same negativity. I figured if I could get enough viewers to the site, I could support myself financially and be able to travel the world and make money at the same time. Not to mention that it would be spread the all-important message of love, humility and service towards our fellow man.
Unfortunately, the response was lackluster at first. I couldn’t seem to get a big enough audience to visit the website. There was, however, a silver lining. I realized that I couldn’t do this all on my own. In order to dedicate myself fully to my volunteer efforts while still managing my financial sustainability, I needed to reach out to other talented people to collaborate on my enterprise. That’s why sites like The Working Traveller are so important to the dream of living a unique and independent life. In order to fulfill our wildest dreams of philanthropy and globetrotting, we need to work together. We have to trade skills and resources in order to help each other in a meaningful and productive way.
I started reaching out to professional contacts with whom I had networked from my previous jobs, and soon I was revamping my website in new and interesting ways. I was speaking with content providers, graphic designers and marketers, people who brought something interesting to the table.
The best part of all this was that the entirety of my work, and the work of my new colleagues, was only tied down by our computers. I could grow my business anywhere, whether it be a fancy resort, or off a hot spot in some remote village. All I ever needed was my computer and an Internet connection. My dream was reviving right before my fingertips. I added another component to my website, I decided to sell shirts with a positive message of love and share them around the world as I volunteer. I knew at the end of the day I could start building my brand while I fulfill my dreams as a volunteer.
So I packed my bags. In May of 2016 I left for Alaska and started my adventure of volunteering around the world. Once you take the first step, doors open up for you. I didn’t necessarily have a clear holistic vision of my immediate future and my work at the start of my journey. I followed a few guiding principles, decided what made me happy, and soon, opportunities started to materialize after I took some initiative. I decided for myself that this life is my life, and I can choose to live it how I want.
It’s now a year and half later, and I am still traveling. I have successfully volunteered with over 15 NGOs around the world. I live my dream by expanding my business, which has a direct connection to my passion for charity, service and positivity. I made no compromises to my character in order to shape my life to my own desire. I may not be in my ideal position financially, but I’m not worried about returning home anytime soon to save up my money like a squirrel saving nuts for the winter. In fact, after having spent several months in Asia, I’m continuing my volunteering efforts onwards to the Philippines. Afterwards I have my eyes set on South America, and wherever the wind takes me.
I’m happy to tell you that working while traveling is something that’s possible. You can do it too. Whether you want to work, volunteer, or start your own enterprise, it’s all available to you. As soon as you decide deep down, what it is you want to do with your life, the path becomes clear. All you have to do is take the first step. My dream took 7 years to accomplish, but I’m the happiest I have ever been in my life. I live each day with the intention to give back to others and commit myself to the service of those in need, and I support my efforts through a business I have directed to suit my passion. I feel good by doing good, and I spread that message to as many people as I can. I’m no special success story; this type of future is available to anyone who wants to live it.
Nelson Santos started Smiling Times back in 2013 as a positive news media outlet that would engage people to smile more often. He can also be found on Facebook and Instagram. We also recommend checking out his Volunteer Overseas for free Facebook group.