Visions of famous people exploring fabulous foreign places fill the mind with longings and daydreams. Those visions are far from the reality of real life, except perhaps in the minds of people like John Bardos and his wife. They decided to become jet set citizens, living a nomadic life, experiencing different places and building relationships with people of different cultures. In 2010 they sold their home and business and hit the road, the airways, and/or the seas to explore the world.
John’s website JetSetCitizen is not a recording of his travels. It is instead a combination of encouraging and empowering others with ideas and resources to explore the world themselves and philosophical reflections on particular experiences.
John passionately believes that people today have the opportunity to live and work from anywhere in the world they choose. Along the way he has developed a minimalist philosophy and an understanding that for him people and health are the top priority. Underlying all of his work is a call to rethinking what it means to be a good global
1. John, I understand you lived in Japan for 13 years before becoming a Jet-Set Traveler. You are originally from Canada? What took you to Japan? What kind of business were you involved in? Did you do much traveling during those years?
First off, I’m not a jetsetter. I actually hate that term because the meaning is about luxury travel and excessive consumption. My use of the term is more about being a global citizen.I think travel can increase understanding of global issues, but not if you are jumping from resort to resort.
Yes, I’m originally from Canada. After university and a failed business startup, I had little interest in starting a new career at the bottom of some large corporation. I was frustrated and life felt stagnant so I needed a big change. Leaving the country seemed the best way to accomplish that.
In Japan, my wife and I started a small group of English schools, as well as, a business creating online games and activities to teach Children English. We owned and operated that business for 10 years before selling everything in early 2010. For the first few years in Japan, I didn’t travel much. I made a couple of short trips to Korea, a trip to Thailand and visited Canada but our money was mostly reinvested in the business in the early years. After, the business started growing we had many more opportunities to travel and typically took several international trips every year.
2. Tell us about how the dream to live on the road came to be. Was it a long process or an instant of knowing? What made you realize it was possible? How long did it take to get from the decision to actually hitting the road?
My first decision to move to Japan happened fairly quickly. I had long wanted to go to Asia, but it was more of a vague dream for several years. One day I finally realized that if I didn’t do it then, I may never do it, so I bought a plane ticket to Japan that departed one week later.
The decision to leave Japan was much bigger because I was married and now had a successful business, house, car and all the other possessions that go with that lifestyle. Our lives were very comfortable, but after the business started to mature and the excitement and challenge of a startup was gone, we grew increasingly bored and unsatisfied.
My wife and I talked about doing something different for 3 or 4 years, but never did anything about it. We always made excuses about waiting for some imaginary time in the future when the conditions would be perfect to leave Japan. We weren’t willing to trade our security for something unknown, so we didn’t take action.
After years of excuses, we finally realized that there never was going to be a perfect time, so that day we made a one year plan to sell everything and leave Japan. I wrote a blog post about it shortly after.
After it was published on my site, there was no turning back. All our decisions from that point forward were based on leaving Japan. We beat our one year deadline buy about a month, so it took about 11 months from the decision to leave and actually leaving Japan.
3. You sold your business, your home, and your cars. What did that feel like? What was the hardest possession to part with? Do you have any regrets now about letting that possession go?
Getting rid of everything was a lot more work then we anticipated. Luckily we had family in Japan to help, because we weren’t finished cleaning out the house when we left the country.
We had a lot of nice possessions that we certainly enjoyed, but getting rid of everything actually felt really good. It feels so liberating to not be tied to possessions and a physical location. It’s amazing how much our possessions can own us.
We were always thinking about chores like cleaning the house, maintaining the car, shopping for new electronics, gardening, etc. Our lives were our possessions. Once our things were gone, we were suddenly free to focus on what we really wanted.
I can’t say I really regret giving up any possessions. We had a great vehicle in Japan that we practically had to give away because resale values are so low. Also, we built a double-walled sound proof music room in the house that I also spent a lot of time in. However, if we kept the house and car, we would still be in our old lifestyle, so really, I have no regrets. They were only things. Things are easy to replace.
4. You wrote about couch surfing in one of your blogs. What is that like? How often do you couch surf? Have you ever been nervous about a place you were going to stay? What is the most unusual situation you have found yourself in?
Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to meet new people and get an insiders view into a new city. You really get to know people when you live with them for a few days. We’ve only done it about 4 or 5 times, because it can be quite time consuming to find a place to stay.
There is always some trepidation when going into a strangers house, but the reviews on the couch surfing site take away most of the fears.
I guess the strangest situation we were in was staying with a Turkish couple in a one bedroom apartment in London. They were great people and we stayed with them on two different occasions, but the apartment was tiny so we slept in the middle of their kitchen/office/living room.
5. Your blog is a huge encouragement to people who are drawn to a nomadic life style or in your terms drawn to being a Jet Set Citizen. What things would have been helpful to you when you were starting out? Were there things that you worry about and seem silly now?
Thank you. The world has changed so much in the last 20 years. When I started traveling alone, the internet was still in it’s infancy so people didn’t carry laptops or smart phones and finding accurate information online was difficult. It was hard to arrange accommodations in advance. You had little idea what to expect.
It is so easy now and airfare is cheaper than ever. There are western style cafes and restaurants everywhere. Most people you encounter will speak English. There are so many fantastic online resources for any type of information you want. There is no absolutely no comparison to what it was like in the past. I would love to be 20 years old now in this world. There are so many opportunities and a global lifestyle isaccessible to almost anyone.
On my early trips abroad, I guess I had images of Hollywood movies or US news networks where foreign countries are generally portrayed as corrupt, war zones where getting kidnapped or shot is always a risk. Living abroad made me realize that people are pretty much the same everywhere. Don’t believe what you see on TV. One of the scariest places I’ve been in recent years is my home city of Calgary late at night while taking the train home from downtown. I’ve never had that feeling in a foreign country.
6. One of the things you have written about is not to count on a travel blog bringing in a lot of income. Does your blog generate any dependable income? How else do you generate income on the road? Is it more stable now than when you first started?
My JetSetCitizen.com site doesn’t make much money. I do that on purpose. I don’t want to have promotional sales pitches or constantly promote affiliate programs just to make money. Building the trust of my audience is far more important.
I have other sites that generate income, although it is still not a huge amount. Our living expenses are low and we have savings and other investments so earning an income online isn’t a priority.
7. You wrote a touching blog about an Afghanistan refuge you met in a café. Is it difficult to begin conversations with strangers? Are there places you feel more welcome than others? Are there any topics you generally try to avoid?
Having meaningful conversations with strangers is difficult. Most people don’t open up so quickly as the person you mention. Couchsurfing meetups are are great way to meet locals, although we haven’t attended one in a while.
With my JetSetCitizen.com blog, I find that I am meeting many more people online first, so that it is easier to connect in person when we arrive in a city. For that reason, blogging is hugely beneficial.
I don’t really avoid any topics. People are people everywhere, so I talk about what I would to anyone. Some people share a lot, others don’t.
8. What does it mean to you to be a global citizen? How does it impact the decisions or choices you make? As you meet people in various parts of the world, do a majority see themselves as a global citizen?
Many Americans and Canadians in particular have a very narrow view of the world. Sure western culture and governments have had a domineering effect on the world, but that is changing fast.
Traveling lets you see that there are alternative and largely better ways of living then the excess consumerism of developed countries. Mass produced factory foods, car focused suburban sprawl, massive houses with endless gadgets, big box stores and a very corporate driven industrial lifestyle in general, are not advances. They are
impediments to our health and quality of life. We have a lot to learn from developing countries where family and community still take precedence.
Developed nations are consuming and polluting a disproportionate amount. I think it is absolutely atrocious that hundreds of millions of people in the world don’t have enough food or access to clean water, while obesity has become an epidemic in richer nations.
We are all on this planet together. Being global citizens requires more international connection and understanding. We can bury our heads in the sand with regards to global warming, pollution, environmental destruction and abject poverty in the world, but those problems are not going to go away by turning on the TV and going to the shopping mall.
To be honest, air travel is one of the worst contributors to climate change. That is a problem I still haven’t adequately reconciled for myself. Although, I love travel, if I truly want to be a responsible global citizen, I will need to fly much less.
I’m trying to improve by no longer driving, buying carbon offsets for air travel, eating very little meat, consuming very little, living in small accommodations, not eating processed food, etc. However, ultimately becoming a global citizen will require much less travel. Think globally, but act locally.
There are many travelers in the world, but I don’t think there are many global citizens. To really learn about a foreign culture you have to live there, learn the language, make friends with locals and learn the history. A tourist is not a global citizen.
9. How is being a good global citizen connected to helping others? How do you make a difference in the world? Has your perception of making a difference changed as you have experienced more of the world?
I think it is all about helping others. Real meaning and personal satisfaction in life can only come from contribution. Marketers have sold us the idea that we can buy purpose and meaning in our consumption of products, but I think we all know that type of happiness doesn’t last.
In Japan, I thought I could make myself happier buy purchasing more things. More possessions only increased the stress and time required to maintain those things.
I still haven’t made the full contribution I need to the world yet. My wife and I are doing more volunteer work, I’m promoting social good more on my sites, I’ve organized meetups and conferences around doing good, but I’m still a relative novice.
My perception of what needs to be done in the world has definitely changed because of my travels. Witnessing the pollution, poverty, sex trade and other problems of the developing world is a great wake up call.
I don’t think media or our history books paint a very accurate picture of western government’s roles in the world either. International politics are often portrayed as good versus evil, with countries like the US, Israel and the UK always on the right side.
Experiencing foreign cultures and meeting locals helps you to realize that there are too sides to every story.
10. You are committed to living a non-materialist life. How do you curb the desire for materials things? Do you ever collect mementos to remind you of a place, experience, or special times? Do people ever give you gifts that you are not able to take? How do you handle it?
Not having a permanent residence is the best way to minimize materialism. You can’t buy things that you can’t take with you. We never buy local mementos or souvenirs.
Most are cheesy tourist products anyway. Even if we did buy them, we wouldn’t have a place to keep them.
We try not to accept gifts, but if it is rude not to accept, we just thankfully take it and give it away to someone else.
11. As I read several of your blog posts, I sense a deep ethical undertone. Who or what influenced your thinking? Have you studied ethics or philosophy?
Honestly, I’ve always been very business minded with a focus on profits and efficiency. It wasn’t until I got older and started experiencing deaths in my family first hand that I finally realized that without health and personal relationships, we have nothing. My old ideas of profits at all costs were myopic and immature. I don’t think I’m so ethical. It is more about focusing on what is important in life. If you care about your health, you don’t eat processed food. If you care about the planet, you reduce your consumption. If you care about your family, you consume less and spend more time with them. I think it’s simple.
12. How do you define success for yourself? What makes a day successful for you?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Health comes first. If you’re sick, it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how big your house is. After, that comes quality time with friends and family. Everything else is secondary.
To that end, a successful day always involves eating healthy, fresh food and getting some exercise. My wife and I spend lots of time together and we also try to meet others regularly. Then comes the projects we are working on and trying to contribute something to the world.
I also really enjoy reading and playing guitar, so I make time for myself everyday as well.
Success is no longer about money to me. It’s about quality time for what I think is important.
13. Tell me about some of the countries you have seen. Is there an area that you like better than others? Are there places that you feel more at home than others? Do you ever return to the same place?
We’ve been all over Asia and Europe. Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of our favorite cities because of the great food and inexpensive living. We also love Budapest because of it’s cafes, great art and music scene. Istanbul is another amazing city that I’m keen to return to. Other cities like Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Melbourne and Munich are also great but they are very expensive.
We often return to the same places. It’s nice to see new countries and explore the world, but we are not into sightseeing so much. We go for the quality of life different
14. Are there places that you long to experience but have not yet? How do you decide where to go next? Do the people you meet along the way open doors to new places and new experiences?
We still haven’t been south of Mexico, so we hope to explore central and South America soon. Visiting family and friends in Hungary and Japan will come first though.
We don’t really make plans that far in advance. We just do what we feel like. We’ll be in Asia again all winter, but after that, we don’t have any plans yet.
15. In one of your blogs you discuss scientific advancements that will extend life expectancy significantly. I’m curious about how you envision life in retirement. Do you have plans to settle somewhere in particular or will you be jet setting to the end?
Science really is amazing. It is hard to believe that average life spans have increased 20 years in the last century. New advancements promise that this is only the beginning.
Obesity, is reducing lifespans in the west, but those who stay healthy will definitely live longer.
I think the notion of retirement is obsolete. When the retirement age of 65 was introduced in 1935 in the US, average life spans were only 62 years. Offering a pension if you reached 65 years old made sense then.
Now that average lifespans are past 80 in many countries, retirement ages will have to change to reflect that. It’s an economic necessity. Governments just can afford to pay retirement benefits for so many years.
I do what I want in life now. It’s not about work or retirement. This is my life and I will continue this path as long as I’m healthy. To that end, I hope I never have to retire. I hope to be doing this work until I die.
I’m not sure how long we will be actively traveling. Air travel is very destructive to the planet, so we will be flying much less, but living abroad is very important to us. That is a hard problem to reconcile.
We will probably set up a home base sometime, somewhere, but we still have no idea when or where that will be.