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Jet Set Zero by Rob on October 5, 2008

Jet Set Zero (dʒɛt sɛt ziːr1oʊ) The belief in, and practice of, a jet set life on zero dollars. Jet Set Zero is the belief that the adventures, experiences, and awe of a jet set life are possible for anyone willing to take risks and follow a dream with passion and dedication.

The Basics
Jet Set Zero is a story about four friends who decided to travel the world together and see where adventure would lead them. We started with two key ideas – first we would start from almost nothing working only modest jobs, and second we would document our journey to show others that it could be theirs as well. Our story starts in Seattle, where we work and save, and it follows us overseas as we pursue the adventure and awe of a jet set life.

We follow five simple rules:

1. We start modestly. We must fund ourselves on only 3 months of work, with jobs paying under $10 an hour.
2. We stick together and support each other. We must approach every challenge as a team.
3. We accept adventure in all its forms and with an open mind. We must actively seek out local experiences and stories wherever they take us.
4. We have to see it all, and the world is a big place. We must stay for no longer than 90 days in any location.
5. We want to share this dream with everyone who believes anyone has the potential to accomplish great things. We will listen and incorporate the advice and feedback of our community.

The Experiment
We didn’t just set out to travel the world together – we wanted to do it on a bare-bones budget, a budget within reach of anyone. With this in mind we set aside our professional jobs and savings, and took up simple jobs paying a simple wage. We wanted an accessible starting point so we decided on three months of housing and nothing else. It could be a friend’s couch, a graduation present, an investment with a group of friends–regardless, our start was 3 months in Pinehurst, a little suburb of Seattle. From there we got jobs serving coffee, folding clothes, and selling electronics for everyone’s favorite and familiar corporations, averaging $8.52/hour.

We lived as spartan a life as possible, eating on less than $1.20/person/meal, utilizing the public bus system, and foregoing restaurants, movies, long trips, even decent beer. It involved a lot of sacrifice, but it was only 3 months and you’d be surprised how far camaraderie can carry you. As it was well put, “being poor is brutal, but being poor with your friends is a lot less miserable.” In total, we pulled in $12,451 on 11 weeks of work. We managed to spend only $4140 during the summer – food, utilities, transportation, phones, insurance, and 5 outings. Our total preparations for travel–tickets, VISA’s, vaccinations, expat insurance–came to $4352. So we survived the summer to land in Vietnam with $3859, a healthy padding to get settled, find jobs, and have money to depart for the next country.


Summer: Seattle, USA

Our summer was brutal. Between 4 AM and 10 PM, on any given day, at least one of us was working a job that ranged from boring to grueling to demeaning. After an eight-hour day of folding shirts, placating the insane and insulting demands of an endless stream of customers, pouring 10,000 scalding coffees, and standing and standing, we would head home.

When we arrived home, we took off our shoes, set down our nametags, and started a pot of coffee. After a few restful minutes, we’d start again through sheer strength of will— slogging though emails, spreadsheets, phone calls and the myriad tasks that it takes to build a production company.

The summer saw us learning many lessons about hard work, and simple living. We figured out how to survive on a fraction of the income we were used to. The challenge was not only to get by on our meager earnings but to save as aggressively as possible so that we could ensure a September departure. On top of all of this, we took weekly trips, exercises that allowed us to get out of the house and learn how to film and work as a team. These trips took us to the beaches of Cape Alava, the forests of Rainier, and even the wilds of our local miniature golf course.

Though in our long days some tasks fell by the wayside, we were able to save enough to feel comfortable setting out for exotic destinations and after extensive discussion and consideration, we decided that Vietnam would be our new home for the next three months.

Fall: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
We arrived in Vietnam with almost no idea of what to expect. Over our hectic summer, we had worked almost every waking hour, which left us with precious little time to prepare psychologically or research much more than the logistics of our arrival. When we landed in Ho Chi Minh City on September 4th, we hit the ground running– pushing ourselves as hard as we had at home– and our morale deteriorated.

When we didn’t have fun, we wondered if we had chosen the right city. When we spent too much, it seemed as though minimum-wage travel was impossible. And when we couldn’t find jobs, we began to look for a way out.

We looked back towards one of our original destinations, Korea. With a booming ESL market, high wages and free housing, Korea made sense for four travelers with empty pockets. The country had clearer laws around filming, and its open government and free media stood in stark contrast to the risks we faced in Saigon filming and shipping tapes. But as we began searching for jobs, the commitment we felt to the journey caused us to reconsider. Why had we given up so much to be here, only to turn back so soon?

After long conversations and soul-searching, we decided to stay here in Ho Chi Minh City. Giving up was something we had never done before, and certainly something we were not about to start. Our decision to stay was an appropriate end to our self-doubt and an exciting way to begin our lives in this city.

In our second week, we quickly came to understand Saigon’s basic survival skills — xe oms (motorcycle-taxis), the ESL job process, local food, housing, and how to ward off an endless stream of street merchants.

Life quickly accelerated with amazing experiences seeming to come at every turn: a mob scene at the English-speaking club, challenging and interesting jobs teaching English in a foreign country, a Vietnamese LAN party (hell yes), a friendly guide to help us track down local goods, buying a motorcycle, learning how to ride the motorcycle, repairing the motorcycle, a wedding the highlands, riding elephants, moving to a new home, drinking snake wine, sampling delightful and terrifying local cuisine, finding totally obscure watering holes, making new friends, meeting DJs, VJs, and hitting the club, and it just keeps coming.

We’re not sure what happens next, but we’ll let you know.

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  1. Jet Set Zero // Our Finances: $1752 and Draining on July 19, 2010 8:30 pm

    [...] are possible on a bare-bones budget. Frankly, It’s been a constant battle. As we’ve explained, a hefty savings would have been much more comfortable than a summer of grueling jobs and [...]

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