By Sanne Breimer
Matt and Peter know each other from high school. Now they share an apartment in Saigon, living the remote lifestyle as entrepreneurs and friends together.
“We’re constantly talking about how fortunate we are to do this together. We’re beyond the point of hurting each other’s feelings, talking truth never is out of malice.” When talking to them, you can tell Peter and Matt have been friends since they were fourteen years old in high school. Although they’re “radically different personalities”, Peter is the vocal one, Matt the creative spirit, they’re “pretty compatible” at the same time. Which is important when you share living space on the other side of the world, far away from family and friends.
Work on the relationship
It was when Peter crashed at Matt’s couch that they got the idea of leaving the United States to work location independently. Peter’s career in finance ended in December 2018 and he wasn’t sure what to do. Matt at the same time was preparing his remote lifestyle from out of Los Angeles and invited Peter to stay with him for a while. “I was in a transitional phase and Peter was in a quarter-life crisis”, as Matt puts it laughing. They decided to go on a road trip together to “check if we could hang out in a confined space for more than two weeks”, says Peter. In only fourteen days, they travelled to nine different places, among which Big Sur, San Francisco, Portland, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, so most of their time was spent sitting in a car together.
With that experience in the back of their heads, it wasn’t hard to decide to share an apartment for a year in Saigon, Vietnam. There was a little strain at first, with Peter having high standards of cleanliness and Matt calling himself “creative, with lots of organized chaos”. But in the end, the discussions always lead to a deeper connection. Matt: “We both learned that even though you’re right, it’s not always efficient”. Peter adds: “People ask us all the time if we aren’t sick of each other, but we’re not at all.” They do work on their relationship though, almost like couples do. “We have a religious routine on Tuesdays, at 7 pm, when we stop with what we’re doing and go out for a drink. The nuggets we discuss for business at that time, are a spring of creativity”, says Peter. “It’s our time to be introspective”, as Matt puts it. And when Matt’s girlfriend comes to visit, they even have a roommate-night, when they read together and share ideas from their books. Matt: “For us, this journey is a great period for self-development”.
Everyone thinks they can make it here
Do they feel lonely sometimes, even though they’re in this experience together? “Peter more than me”, says Matt. Peter explains: “Because I travelled by myself till April, to Chiang Mai, Singapore and Bali. And this is my first time doing international travel, I’m new to everything. Loneliness came through, but I’m quite a social person. Staying at places like Tribe Theory in Bali for example, made it very easy to meet likeminded people. I’ve met new friends with whom I stay in touch online.”
When Peter visited Matt in Saigon, he initially thought of staying for a month. But after three days they got an offer to rent an apartment together for a good price in one of the best neighbourhoods in the city. As a person who likes to think things through, deciding to stay for at least a year in Saigon was a very spontaneous move for Peter. Matt is Vietnamese by ethnicity and already wanted to discover a little bit more of his identity in the country. “I fell in love with Saigon because of the energy”, he says. Peter complements: “It reminded me of Bejing 20 years ago. There is a level of optimism that could be felt from the rich to the poor. For example, there are very little homeless people.” Matt tells about the Vietnamese hustler mentality: “I’m not trying to generalize, but nobody really plays a victim. Everyone thinks they can make it here”.
Drunk on freedom
It almost sounds like The American Dream. They both laugh. Matt: “Yes, but maybe globalism does that. There is unprecedented capitalism coming in. We can feel that everyone within the city feels the movement upward.” Peter used to work in finance back in the United States: “I feel fortunate to observe the developments over here. There is Chinese, Japanese and South Korean capital coming in, but no Western capital. In finance, in the States, we’re desperate for opportunities, but here the opportunities are vast. I want to learn about the financial possibilities for Western countries, which means I need to understand how the political game is played as well.” Peter has a long term approach of trying to have some impact with introducing a higher level of financial transparency to South East Asian countries.
By learning the language, eating mostly local food and doing non-profit activities once a while, they’re blending in with the local community to understand the country and its people better. “There’s a strong mix of locals and foreigners in most of the nice places we visit. There’s a lot of language and cultural exchange. It’s not always like that in other countries”, says Matt, comparing it with his experience of living in The Philippines for three months.
Both men aren’t planning to move back to their former lifestyles any time soon. Matt is building his business in digital marketing. He started the podcast ‘Remotise’ to help others to start living a remote lifestyle. He experiences the challenges of staying disciplined and staying focused as no other: “Sometimes I fall into the Youtube rabbit hole and spend two hours of watching videos online. It is easy to start this lifestyle, it is much harder to sustain.” Peter complements him saying: “When you first get a taste of it, you’re drunk on freedom and options. But it is really important to know thyself and set daily accountability challenges.” They decided to hold each other accountable, setting goals and buying each other lunch when one of them fails to reach the target. Matt: “We should buy a whiteboard!”
Living the real digital nomad life
The image of the digital nomad life looks very attractive on social media platforms, but both gentlemen say it’s far from reality to sit on a beach with your laptop, sipping from a fresh coconut and being productive at the same time. Peter admits he thought he could pull it off, setting up his own youtube channel ‘Zero to Nomad’ on advising digital nomads on their finances. He still wants to expand his financial coaching business but decided to use his youtube channel to report on his journey, the raw version, rather than putting all his energy in creating super polished content. Peter: “It felt disingenuous at a certain point and that’s actually the reason why I escaped the corporate life in the first place. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur nowadays. With the technification of everything, everyone wants the big bucks. But the reality is that it’s hard work”. Matt: “Sometimes you have to work all day!”
It doesn’t stop them from continuing this “high level of soulsearching”. Matt: “I probably stay in South East Asia for another two years and then return to America to buy a campervan and travel around the US, Canada and Mexico. And after that, there’s a possibility of me living on a boat, especially when 5G internet connection comes.” Peter won’t be following him on that path: “The ocean scares the crap out of me. I’m going to build my version of a digital empire on the mainland”.
Pictures by Julia (IG: chineseschnitzel)