Where are you from?

I’m from the good ol’ Midwest — a super small town in Indiana to be exact, which is very well known as a “fly-over” state. I mean, I get it, it’s not the most exciting place in the world, but Hoosiers (people from Indiana) are some of the best the U.S. has to offer. If you’ve ever met anyone from Indiana you know what I’m sayin’ - just good people, you know?

running in hometown

What do you do?

This is such a great question for someone who has a normal job. It’s funny, when I was in the startup grind back in the day when I lived in San Francisco asking this question was pretty much the way that people said hello.

But, being that I’m a nomad at it’s truest definition, it’s a little harder to articulate what I do these days. Like I said, in the past I lived in San Francisco and dove head-first into the startup scene and eventually made my way through some good and some not-so-good startups on my way to working for Lyft as one of their first 75 employees. Lyft is what I would consider to be one of the magical startups and working there was like hitting the Silicon Valley lottery. Great people, awesome product, and amazing office/culture. With Lyft I was able to travel to Manila in the Philippines and work on some operations projects for a couple of years, which is what really kicked off the nomadic lifestyle that I have today.

lift in manila

I guess the last year was kinda unique as I really didn’t work a “real” job and instead decided to move to China to learn Mandarin. I still managed some smaller projects online to keep a little bit of money rolling in, but the couple years before I was able to save enough cash to not really have to worry about working for a while. Honestly, I can’t imagine trying to learn Mandarin while working a full-time job - there’s no way I could do that.

One example of how I make some cash while traveling is my Fiverr page where me and my team of designers create different types of pixel art. Here’s a fun video that we animated to announce when I was traveling to China.

How are you nomadic?

A nomad is someone who wanders around aimlessly, not really planning too far ahead in life. I can totally relate to this and having some sort of unknown in life for me is mandatory as one of my biggest fears is feeling too comfortable day-to-day. So, keeping some sort of mystery alive no matter where I live is important and being a little nomadic is a great way to keep things interesting.

But besides loving to travel around and experience new cultures, I’m also very minimal when it comes to what I need to live. I can pack everything I own into a backpack and have even simplified my toiletries into just the basics. Currently I’m trying to even simplify the way I drink my coffee so I don’t have to add any sugar to it. I already dropped adding milk a while back and I’m almost to drinking it straight black, but not quite. Too much? Maybe, but keeping things simple makes me happier in the long run.

What’s your favorite part of being a nomad?

There are a few things I really love about the nomad lifestyle. First, when I touch down into a new place I really enjoy figuring out how things are done there as a local. Whether it’s a new town I visit in the U.S. or in a completely different country across the world, diving into a new place and getting a good handle on it is always a fascinating experience for me. The food, the people, the places, the transportation, the good, and yes — even the bad. It’s all part of taking in a new culture and environment.

But, after hopping from country to county for a while I felt more and more like staying in one place for a longer amount of time and going deeper into a culture. So, instead of going in and out quickly I chose one place to hang for a while so I could truly immerse myself like a local (or as close as I can get). That place ended up being China, but of course, even when I lived there for nearly a year, I still kept my life simple and never had much more stuff than it took to fill up my backpack.

What’s your least favorite part?

To me there really aren’t too many downsides of living this way and I have really grown to love the nomadic lifestyle. But, if I had to pick a few things that can be rough I would say always being an outsider in a country can be tough if you’re not used to it. Especially in a place like China where the language barrier is super tough to break through.

Not seeing my family also kinda sucks sometimes, but thanks to the interwebs staying in touch with them isn’t too bad. Also, I always spend a couple months with them around the holidays in the U.S. so I can catch up with them and see how big my 10 nieces and nephews are getting. Damn, they grow up fast.

i have a big family

I don’t know, for me the ability to travel the world and experience so many different things is so awesome that missing some other things doesn’t really bother me. It’s a big world out there and getting to see it for myself is a top priority in my life, so I’ve optimized for that and want to keep doing it as long as I possibly can. It’s how I roll and I don’t plan to settle down anytime soon.

What’s your craziest story?

Oh man, this is a tough one. Crazy quickly becomes the norm when traveling and living in other countries. For example, just last week I was doing my thing in my Indiana hometown when my old boss messaged me and asked if I wanted to fly over to Manila for their Christmas party and a Steve Aoki concert. You see, the thing is, when you meet people like my boss you realize that to him me traveling all the way over to Manila is just a little flight away - no biggie. To him it’s not the actual 25-hour trek across the world that it takes to get there, which I guess I kinda like and have grown to appreciate.

Of course I said yes and before I knew it I was helping a Filipino girl at Manila’s biggest and newest dance club to get hit in the face with a cake by one of the world’s top DJs. You see, when you’re a nomad, this is the new normal and it’s pretty awesome.

getting caked

My other favorite story is when I first traveled to China a couple of years ago and met an older Chinese guy on the way to the Great Wall from the visitor center after I decided to walk there (which no one ever does). We ended up walking to the wall, going to a museum there, walking the wall for a while, and hanging out for over 3 hours together without saying a single word of English until the end when he shook my hand and said “I go home now.” He was an amazing guy and we took one of my favorite travel photos of all-time, which is us jumping up on the Great Wall. Man, that guy had some serious energy.

jumping with guy on great wall

But, if that wasn’t crazy enough, I then decided to continue walking by myself past the newly restored wall and into the older, more dangerous part that you’re really not supposed to walk on. After a couple more hours I met a couple (the only people I saw on the wall the entire time) who told me about a small village I could walk to and stay the night at (which I hadn’t planned on doing). It sounded good to me and for the next 16 hours I would find the village, figure out where to stay there, get directions to a bus the next morning, and thanks to several friendly Chinese strangers eventually find my way back to my hostel in Beijing after 4 hours of bus rides. Oh, all of this without being able to speak a word in Chinese. A friend of mine published a full story about this on her website, so you can check it out if you want.

But yeah, crazy is very common these days, which I like. You have to keep it weird and keep it a little crazy, right? 🙂

What’s next for you?

Well, right now I’m finishing up my trip over to Manila by spending a few days in Shanghai with one of my Chinese friends who’s going to come back with me to the U.S. for a couple of weeks. She’s been to Los Angeles before, but never to a small town like where I’m from, so I’m sure it will completely blow her mind. She also has a very small family (as most Chinese do), so getting to see my huge clan in action, especially during Christmas, will be crazy. I can’t wait to see what happens.

After Christmas we’re going to rent a car to drive across the southern part of the U.S. and back over to Los Angeles where she’ll fly back to China. I’ve never really explored the south before, so I’m excited to road trip through it along the way. Then, after I drop her off, I’m also planning on driving back across the U.S. through a more northern route, which will probably include stops in San Francisco, Portland, Denver, and my friend’s new brewery in small-town Minnesota. Being a nomad, the plans are still being figured out, but I’m sure it will all come together just fine. It always does.

Finally, after hanging with the family again for a while I have a feeling I’ll be heading back to China to continue learning Mandarin. I’m already at a decent day-to-day level, but still need some more time if I’m going to be anywhere near fluency (which would be game-changing). It’s not going to be easy, but I love the challenge of learning and living in China is the only way I feel like I can make it happen.

Well, that’s it for me — if you want to chat about learning Mandarin or need a good school recommendation, please send me an email at ryan.hupfer@gmail.com or hit me up on YouTube or Facebook. Thanks and here’s to all of my fellow nomads out there — keep living life and above it all, keep it weird.

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