Life Lessons for Solo Travelers – Learning from Experience

Many of the life lessons I apply to solo travel I learned from past experiences completely unrelated to travel. My regular gig these days is bookkeeping and most of my life I have been in the accounting line of work. I also daytraded for six years and learned many life lessons that I can apply to my solo travels.

What does daytrading have to do with traveling?

It all started when I thought I wanted to be a stockbroker. It sounded like a great gig. It sounded important. I applied and was hired at Charles Schwab in July 2000. It didn’t pay as much as my accounting job but I was super excited about my future prospects with the company. I envisioned great opportunity for growth and the opportunity to learn about the brokerage industry. I was stoked!

I called it my ‘vacation job’ at first due to the 6 weeks of training that new recruits received. The pace was crazy  slow. Training was followed by 8 weeks of studying for the Series 7 General Securities Representative exam and Series 63 Securities Agent State exam. It was ridiculously easy for me. I did have a lot to learn and needed to study but 8 weeks was just way excessive. Getting paid to study, not a bad deal!

I am one of those lunatics that enjoys taking exams. I find joy in the challenge of test taking. I am lucky to have good memory skills. I sailed through the first three months at Schwab. The managers kept telling all of us that this was “the right place, the right time” and I believed it.

People tell you what they think you want to hear

My vacation job ended when I completed my exams (I scored 88% on both exams) and I began my (extremely short) career as a Registered Representative. That is the official title given to licensed stockbrokers.

In reality I was a sales representative. Yuck! A customer service representative. Double YUCK!!

I am a numbers person, not a sales person. And I certainly never had visions of becoming a customer service representative. I wanted to trade stocks not chat on the telephone. Nobody ever says wow, you’re a customer service representative, what’s that like?! right?

When Schwab clients called in I was supposed to help them out with my newly acquired Registered Representative skills. More importantly, I was entrusted by Schwab to discover and uncover any financial assets that the person owned with other financial institutions. I was supposed to convince people to move their assets to Schwab.

I hated my job. The “right place, right time” motto felt to me more like the Dr. John hit In the Right Place. Sing it with me now…I been in the right place but it must have been the wrong time….wrong wrong wrong….

When people want or need something from you sometimes they will tell you what they figure you want to hear in order to draw you in. I have learned to sift through the crap.

Timing is everything

In 2001 Schwab announced that they would be laying off employees for the first time in the history of the company. They had made the classic error of buying high and selling low. Schwab opened the call center in Austin Texas in July of 2000 just after the peak of the dot-com frenzy.

I decided it was the right place, right time to end my stockbroker career.

I heard from a friend of a friend that there was a company in Austin that was hiring traders and training them to daytrade the firm’s money. It was called proprietary trading. If and when I made any money, the profits would be split between me and the firm. I was told it didn’t pay much but it sure sounded a lot more interesting than my Schwab job.

On my interview at the daytrading firm I walked into a room full of guys and computers. These guys didn’t sit at desks. They were seated at folding tables, the kind you see at banquets, minus the white linen tablecloth and flowery centerpiece. The tables were lined up in rows with four guys per row clicking away on their keyboards, eyes glued to monitors.

There were several TVs with channels set to CNBC, which covered the financial markets all day. The energy and the vibe in the room was intense. This was not a call center. I was immediately drawn into the energy.

I didn’t want to be a stockbroker. I wanted to be a daytrader.

I made my escape from Schwab and started daytrading in May 2001 after I had completed the series 55 Equity Trader exam. I quickly realized that training was solely my responsibility. Sink or swim.

I received a few pointers from the daytraders seated next to me, and the boss gave me a booklet with some information about the daytrading software we used. I realized there was obviously no success formula for daytrading despite the slew of books, websites, and CD’s claiming otherwise.

The first nine months I lost money.  Most people lose money at daytrading and eventually have to quit and get a real job. I moved into an apartment that accepted credit card payments for the rent. I calculated how long I could continue daytrading. With the $1,000 monthly loan from the firm, spending it only on essentials such as food, gasoline, and auto insurance I was okay for another eight months or so.

At the proprietary trading firm I worked at nobody was ever asked to pay back their losses if they didn’t get the hang of daytrading. I liked the risk vs reward potential. I kept daytrading.

Here are 7 lessons I learned while daytrading. They have been good life lessons for my solo travels as well.

Measure risk versus reward – quickly

Every decision you make when you are daytrading could cost you money. Every decision you make while daytrading could make you money. Pretty easy huh?

After six years of daytrading I learned to make decisions fast. This is a skill that many people never acquire. I scanned through stock symbols, looking at the chart, bids and offers on the book, and had to decide within a fraction of second whether to get in the trade, and know when I was going to to get out of the trade.

I still fall into analysis paralysis mode every once in a while but the majority of the time I make decisions quick, a valuable skill for any entrepreneur, and it comes in handy while traveling too. Measuring risk versus reward is an important life skill.

Growth means stepping outside of your comfort zone

Daytrading is not for people who want a stable, consistent income every month. My biggest loss in a month was -$5,445.67 in November 2001. My biggest gain was $18,818.55 for July 2002. My biggest losing day was -$1,301.65 on December 7th 2004 and my biggest winning day was $3,497.91 on July 2nd 2002.

I was used to a regular salaried job. With daytrading I had no idea how much money I would make each month.

I was the only female daytrader at the firm for the first two years or so. A couple of other women tried daytrading and quit after a few months. I left the firm in March 2003 to daytrade with another firm that gave traders a much better split of the profits. I was the only female at the firm for the 4 years I daytraded there. Working with 50 – 60 guys and being the lone female was intimidating at times.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone helped me to acquire new skills and become more confident. Every time I travel alone to a new place I am stepping outside of my comfort zone. I learn from the experience and I grow as a person.

 

the voyage never ends. The mind can never break off from the journey - Pat Conroy

Once you have traveled the voyage never ends. The mind can never break off from the journey

 

Every day is a fresh start

I could tell you the exact number of shares I traded on every single day of my six years of daytrading. I have a spreadsheet with the total shares traded, total gross, net, and cost per share for every day. I kept notes about what was going on in the market each day, which stocks I traded well, and which stocks I missed out on.

I went from having only a couple of winning days each month in the beginning to having only a handful of losing days. The beauty of daytrading is that each day the slate is wiped clean.

Things can go wrong while traveling. Plans don’t pan out or circumstances beyond your control will wipe out your carefully crafted itinerary. Don’t let it get you down. Each day is a fresh start. Embrace the moment. I begin each morning with yoga and meditation to start the day with a fresh outlook.

Live in the moment – a valuable life lesson

The stock market is only as logical as the people trading it. Some days the market trades up when there is bad news. Sometimes a stock will sell off when their earnings numbers were good. The market is ruled by fear and greed.

For example the ‘burger sector’ suddenly sold off one day. McDonald’s was losing a lot of share value. The news announced that one cow had tested positive for mad-cow disease. Just one cow. In the trading world uncertainty is the enemy. Fear takes over.

One of our daytraders kept buying McDonald shares because he reasoned that one cow should not cause such a panic. He lost a lot of money. He could not wrap his brain around the fact that it didn’t matter what should happen. The reality was the burger restaurant stocks were selling off in a huge way. He kept buying and getting frustrated when the stock kept dropping instead of going up.

You have to live in the moment and react to what is happening around you. Past experiences feed the knowledge base but remember to look at each place you visit with fresh eyes as well.

Patience brings rewards

The fact that I struggled from the beginning of my daytrading career was actually a good thing. I didn’t have a net positive month (made more money than I lost & spent on transaction fees) until nine months of daytrading. I made $2,036.20 for the month of February 2002. Not bad. Except that I owed $35,810.24 to the daytrading firm. Losses over nine cumulative months, plus the fees for making the trades, plus the $1,000 per month I received as a draw. It all had to be paid back.

Every once in a while a new guy would make some quick cash and I would wonder why I could not catch on and do the same. I dropped the short-term envy of others quick success. Every one of the quick success stories ended in failure. Every single one. The early success resulted in over confidence. The guys actually thought they had some sort of natural-born talent at daytrading. Within six months each of them failed. I kept my slow steady pace.

While traveling there will be ups and downs. Everything will not always go as planned. Embrace the moment and learn from each experience. Cultivate your problem solving skills. Be patient.

How to save lots of money – stop buying stuff!

When I owed over $35K to the proprietary trading firm back in 2002 I learned how to live without a lot of extras. Here are a few of the things I realized I could stop spending money on so that I could afford to continue learning how to day trade for a living. These are the things you can stop buying and stop spending money on so that you can afford to travel more often.

  • I cancelled my cable TV
  • I went to the library to borrow books and movies for free!
  • I did not go out to eat at restaurants – I prepared my own healthy meals
  • I savored every invitation from friends to join them for a meal
  • I did not drink alcohol. Well except if someone else paid for it! Seek out happy hour events with free food and drinks
  • I did not buy clothes or shoes. It’s amazing how easy it was to just stop buying more stuff!
  • I stopped going to the hairdresser. I just let my hair grow longer. And longer.
  • When I did finally pay for a haircut I went to the discount places like Great Clips or Supercuts
  • I signed up for a travel rewards credit card that included a signup bonus so I could get a free ticket to go visit my family in Canada. I did this a few times. And since I was paying for my rent with a credit card I earned more points with the small amount I was spending on living expenses.
  • I stopped paying for yoga classes – I created my own yoga routine and began the habit of starting every morning with a half-hour of yoga and meditation at home.

Once it became a habit for me to stop spending money it was so easy. When you want something bad enough it is easy to make the choices that bring you success and happiness on the way to your goal. I actually found it difficult to begin spending money on anything beyond necessities once I did start making money.

You have to know when to move on

I had my best year daytrading in 2006 yet I quit daytrading in May 2007. Why would I quit when I just had my best year ever? Why not stick around and make some great money? Simple. I stopped making money. The market changed. There was more electronic trading and I did not adjust to the change.

From January 2007 until May 2007 I made $2,535.96 total for 5 months of work. Insufficient. I was using my savings to make ends meet. Time to quit. Time to move on to something new.

I could have kept on trying but I listened to my gut. I knew it was time to quit. I went back to bookkeeping and started my business.

Today I am still running my bookkeeping business but working remotely with a client base in Austin TX while I travel around the USA and Canada on my long-term road trip.

What are the life lessons that have helped you out when you travel?

About the Author

Susan Moore’s first solo travel experience was traveling around SE Asia for 7 months in 1993. It was life changing and extraordinary. Currently Susan is living a nomadic life, working and roadtripping around the USA and Canada. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook
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