- Sergio Najera quit his six-figure engineering job because his company wouldn’t allow him to travel abroad.
- He currently works full-time in a gaming startup while traveling around South America and Europe.
- As told by insider reporter Hannah Tway, he says the tradeoff was worth it.
This essay is based on a conversation with Sergio Najera, software developer behind the app-driven tabletop fantasy game Pericle: Gathering Darkness.his Words have been edited for length and clarity.
I was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. My father is from Mexico and met his mother there. When I was her 3, we moved to a small suburb outside Minneapolis. It’s where I’ve lived most of my life.
During the pandemic, I worked as a software engineer for a large Minneapolis-based company. Traveling abroad has long been a dream. So when we went remotely, I asked if I could work from Puerto Rico temporarily.
I was very transparent with my manager. I spent the next few months wondering if there was a reasonable way to do this, and the answer was no.
So I decided to sneak a little. I talked to a bunch of friends and ended up with this VPN setup that allows you to hide your IP address and work from Puerto Rico. . All in all, it was a success and reassured me that this is what I wanted to do.
All this under the premise that no one knew where I was. But I’ve cut corners a bit — I’m not 100% sure how I got caught, but the security team tracked my IP address and made sure I wasn’t in his zone in the US or Caribbean time zone. is said to have been confirmed.
So I got a message from the director the last two days before we headed back to Minnesota. He asked where I was and wasn’t technically lying that I was in the United States (or at least part of the United States), but he and I both knew, so I made a fuss.
He wasn’t so thrilled and asked me to stop working until I got back to America, so I obliged. It was like a slap on the wrist.
I left the company because of the strict policy on business trips for employees.
Fast forward a few months and I’m planning a bigger trip, a month and a half in Peru.
My company was very strict. If you want to work outside of Minnesota, you need special permits. Well, working from 7,000 kilometers away was not an option.
At the end of the day, I tried so hard to stay. I am not a lawyer. I am neither a technical expert nor an accountant. I’m just a guy who wants to travel. But there are these complicated rules that make it easier for remote he workers to work in different states, much less different countries.
With flights and Airbnb booked, and a trek through Machu Picchu, it really was a do-or-die situation.
Around the same time, a game I was working on with a friend called “Pellicle: Gathering of Darkness” started in earnest.
We had a successful Kickstarter, raising $182,000 and hiring some full-time employees. So I had several options: (1) Quit my job and find a solution (2) Cut my salary in half and get a cool job that I started as a fun project on the side (3) Try to find a contractor job.
I decided to take a startup job because I had the flexibility to work wherever I wanted and that was a real priority. I started in his April and am still with them. The game will be released this spring.
At my previous job, my base salary was about $115,000, with 401(k) benefits and matching, my total compensation approached about $140,000. Currently my cash salary is only $60,000.
I’m not saving as much money as I used to, but my “pleasure per dollar” is higher
I have traveled to Spain, Morocco, Holland and Argentina. I am planning a trip to Brazil and Chile next.
If you want to live in Europe but want to live a little cheaper, you can go to places like Croatia or Bosnia that are a little cheaper than places like Italy. Even in Spain it was cheaper than in Germany, Switzerland and Holland.
I love Europe, and maybe I’m just looking through rose-tinted glasses, but I truly feel it fits my lifestyle better. Nutritionally, finding healthy foods is pretty easy. Also, the culture is not so grind oriented. I never work 70 hours a week.
If you want to go very cheap, you can go to places like Argentina where I am now.
Eating out here every day can be cheaper than buying groceries and cooking at home. For example, I went with a friend to this little empanada shop and for US$4.5 he ordered 8 good sized empanadas and her a bottle of wine.
When people say they can’t afford to travel, I always ask them how much their rent is. Whatever they pay is always more than what I pay for housing. We’re aiming for $32 to $1,000 per month. Airfare is the most expensive. But once you get to your destination, you can be very frugal.
You can easily find a hostel or a cheap Airbnb if you plan wisely. You can easily find places for $25 a night in many places around the world.
Choosing London or Berlin is really expensive. Even Valencia and Malaga in Spain weren’t so bad. Or go to South America, choose a capital city you like, and it will be cheaper than paying rent in America.
I am still fully committed to the Roth IRA and am saving to pay off my student loans. It’s not like I’m saving money because I spend more money on activities and weekend trips compared to Minneapolis.
But I can say that I spend my money more wisely. Because the amount of pleasure per dollar is much higher. I’m a very intentional budgeter, saving for retirement but still able to do most of the things I really want to do.
From making friends to making sure you can work productively, traveling full-time comes with its challenges
I’m more outgoing, but I still get lonely. You can be in a city of 5 million people, but sometimes you’ll be completely alone. For several weeks, I was working in a small room, talking only to my wife.
It’s one thing to have lunch with a group of people, and another to spend time with a friend you’ve known for 15 years who cares and loves you. What has helped me is calling people I haven’t heard from in a while to see what’s going on in their lives.
There are other smaller challenges, such as setting up telecommuting properly. You can’t actually work from the beach — so where do you get your Wifi? How do you see your screen?
A good internet connection is required, especially if you are in a meeting. Office chairs are another big one. I bought this cushion for travel so I could put it on any Airbnb chair.
Ideally, you have a workspace separate from your bedroom. It’s the bare minimum I personally need. You can’t work in a cafe like some people do. I like to stay in quiet places. This will also help you sleep.
Traveling made me realize that there are different lifestyles outside of the American grind culture.
I am very extroverted. Every day I talk to strangers on the street. I actually got this from dating books.If you want to find someone to connect with emotionally, you should do what you love.For example, I met a really cool guy while rock climbing. My friends love to surf, so they go to surf towns and meet people with the same hobby. I also met a friend at the cooking class.
My best advice for landing in a new city is always to do a walking tour.It’s a good way to meet other travelers. My other secret tip is sharing Airbnbs. Now I’m at his Airbnb and he has two other rooms rented out and people coming and going. I’ve met some absolutely kind souls doing this—it kind of feels like college.
My wife’s job is a bit inflexible, so she’s still based in Minneapolis and flies out to visit from time to time. Stayed for a week. It’s been about 2 months since I started solo activities.
Different time zones can be tricky. We’ve learned the hard way that not speaking often (meaning every day or every other day for us) can really strain both of us.
That doesn’t mean we’re texting each other all the time all day long. , that’s how I think we managed to do this.
If I were to die today, obviously the things I would miss most are my family and friends. But what I regret is not seeing the world enough.
To be very specific, the reason I’m really drawn to leaving everyone, including my wife and family, behind for a while is because there’s so much to learn about how to live life.
When I went to Europe for the first time, it was a shock. The streets are much narrower, people are more active, and there is a health system. It makes us realize that there are many ways to live life. I think we are really stuck in the patterns of America and where we were born and raised.
You may think life is very hard, but when you go to Argentina, people literally can’t afford a house and may never buy one because of inflation. Is it terrible?” you start to realize.
For me, I want to see the world. I hope that I can live a better life with a more open mind to what lies outside the tiny little box I grew up in. I just want to be happier.
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