Successful Nomads: Chris Backe

In Successful Nomads by Virginie0 Comments

HIS POST IS PART OF THE SUCCESSFUL NOMADS SERIES

Have you even wondered how people can travel and support themselves at the same time? It’s not as difficult as it seems! To show you that there are already plenty of people doing it, and that you can do it too, we’ve interviewed different kinds of nomads. They were all given 30 questions, with a minimum of 10 to answer.

Chris Backe is the one answering them for us today!

Chris Backe is the blogger behind oneweirdglobe.com and the publisher behind chooseaway.com, the choose-your-own-adventure guidebooks to real-world cities. He’s written 20+ guidebooks and itineraries to various parts of the world, and has been seen on Atlas Obscura, io9, the Daily Mail, and dozens of other publications. If you see him without a coffee or beer in his hands, something is seriously wrong.

Chris Backe March 2011


1) Where are you from?

I’m originally from the US – born in Hammond, Indiana, about an hour from Chicago. I also lived in Asheville, NC as a kid, where my parents still live today. Went to college in Kentucky, and lived in Lexington, KY for a few years before moving abroad and becoming a nomad.

2) What is your background?

I was homeschooled all the way – 1st to 12th grade! – and was a Business major with a Music minor. My parents didn’t even have passports until a few years ago, and have lived in the same place for decades. After graduating I had an odd string of jobs – mattress salesperson, accountant with the state government, teacher of computer classes at the local library.

3) What is your job?

I’m a travel blogger, author, book publisher, photographer, and web developer. My two main projects are over at oneweirdglobe.com, my main travel blog covering offbeat and bizarre destinations around the world, and chooseaway.com, a series of choose-your-own-adventure guidebooks to world-famous cities.

4) How much money do you make per month?

Typically a solid three figures per month, with a more variable amount coming from web developing and from selling domain names.

5) How long have you known you wanted to be a digital nomad?

This isn’t quite like when you’re 5 years old and say ‘I want to be a firefighter’… You don’t really know it’s a lifestyle for you until you’ve had a chance to taste the freedom. For me, that was when I was teaching English in South Korea – after a couple of years, I began taking blogging more seriously and looking at making money from places other than teaching. It wasn’t until March 2013, when I moved to Thailand, that I began making the digital nomad lifestyle a full-time one.

6) How did you start your online career?

Staircase! I started with a blog, which became the inspiration to write some books. With books came a greater awareness of how to write books, so I offered a few courses on how to self-publish books. I later started doing web development based on what I had learned from my own blog and other projects. Later on, I started a series of travel guidebooks based on the network and experience from everything else….

7) When did you start your online career?

March 2008, technically…? LOL. I was blogging more to friends and family at the time, but I was taking it seriously all the same.

8) What is the biggest mistake you made when you started?

Not connecting with other bloggers and networking with other people in the industry. I guess it happened because I started in Korea, where there were some bloggers, but they were only known in Korea. If I had gotten out of Korea, I might have begun meeting people that were traveling the world and had made connections years before.

9) Looking back, what do you wish you knew when you started?

Taking on more projects than I could handle was a big mistake. Even as an experienced digital nomad, for most of 2015 I found myself flitting about between a thousand different ideas I wanted to develop. Pick one – maybe two! – and focus, focus, focus. Everything else gets shunted while you’re actively building your business(es).

10) What did your friends/family thought of you being a digital nomad?

I didn’t really have an example to follow. 2008 was a bit early on the curve. My family…? I’m not sure they understood, and even now 8 years later, I’m not convinced they understand today. I didn’t have a lot of super-close friends in my pre-nomad days, and I’m not sure they’d have understood it in any case… These days the term ‘digital nomad’ is a bit better-known, and success stories are popping out of the woodworks all the time.

11) Where are you right now?

As I write this out, I’m in Cuenca, Ecuador, but we’ll be moving onto Peru and Canada in the coming months of 2016.

12) How often are you on the road?

Laura and I are slow travelers – typically we’ll stay in a country for anywhere from a couple months to a couple years. The amount of time ends up being based on how much weird stuff there is in the city, while considering how long we’re able to stay on a tourist or other easy-to-get sort of visa.

13) What is a lesson you’ve learned from being on the road?

I’ve written entire posts on this topic… If I had to boil it down to a single lesson, though, it would be to always be in a position to plan ahead, and to always be in a position to change your plans. Never feel like tomorrow is completely set in stone, and never feel like tomorrow is to be completely left to chance. You don’t have that many days on this planet, and you’re never guaranteed tomorrow.

14) What is your favorite place in the world?

Erg, it’s so cliche =) I guess I’ll return to the city where I feel like I came into my own – Seoul. I spent 5 years here, connected with a bunch of fun people, met my wife and got married here…

15) What is the most important thing when it’s time to choose where to go next?

How much weird stuff is there? To a certain extent, how long can be stay and how much will it cost to live there.

16) Are you a carry-on person or a checked luggage person?

I am FINALLY down to one checked bag and one computer bag. It’s kind of a cheat, since we shipped about 1 ½ bags worth of stuff on to Canada (stuff we don’t need and wouldn’t use for the next couple months of traveling).

17) What do you always have on you that you couldn’t live without?

A smartphone and 3G connection!

18) What kind of lifestyle are you living with the money you make?

A frugal one – a fair bit of the income stream fluctuates based on the month.

19) How much time do you spend on your business versus how much time you spend exploring the place where you are?

We typically work Monday to Friday, with Saturday and Sunday being our travel days. While in Ecuador, we’ve shifted travel days to Fridays and Saturdays since so much stuff is closed on Sundays.

20) How do you make a new place home?

At the risk of sounding counterintuitive, we don’t. We stayed in an AirBnB in Quito for two months – moved in and moved out in a matter of hours. Maneuvering furniture and otherwise setting up a little work space is probably all that’s really needed in most cases. Yeah, our place might feel a little impersonal, but we rarely get many guests that are concerned about the fake flowers or the paintings on the wall…

21) What are the essential skills to have as a digital nomad?

Computer literacy. You don’t need to be fluent in geek talk, but knowing how to use Google, understanding at least some basic HTML, how to use at least some of the basics of WordPress. Being able to connect with people anywhere is a great skill (and yes, this is a skill – it may not be as natural for introverts, but connecting and networking are skills that can be learned by anyone).

22) What is the best quality a digital nomad can have?

CONFIDENCE! You’ve gotta have it for so many aspects of our lives… It’s what gives you the oomph to go out and try something new, in a new country, where you don’t know anyone.

23) What is the best advice you could give to someone wanting to become a digital nomad?

Know yourself. Yeah, it’s cliche, but knowing you (and/or your travel partner, spouse, kids, or anyone joining you on the journey) means having the context to making the decisions that make you (all of you) happy. This means knowing what makes you happy, what values you want to live by, what things or possessions are worth keeping with you, etc.

24) What is the most important thing to keep track of?

Your… sanity? I swear I left it RIGHT HERE and now it’s gone… Seriously, though – if you’re blogging or writing about travel, your notes and your photographs will stick around while your memories will not. That’s why I always take pictures of the sign by where we enter (or something with the place’s name on it), along with any signs that explain the place, any signs that show admission costs or hours, and so on. That sunset over the mountains makes for a beautiful picture, but adding the rest of the story to said picture makes the whole thing come alive.

25) Follow your passion or follow the market?

Of course there’s a middle ground, and I dare say trying to balance on that tightrope is the best place to try and be. It helps to get ideas for what people want (pain points and idea extractions are great and all – but remember how many people wanted a smartphone before the first one came out? Exactly – people don’t always know what they want.

26) Money isn’t always consistent. What is the best way to deal with that?

Lean times, I’ll put myself out there a bit more. I’ll have time to respond to more people that say they need help with revamping their website or whatever.

27) What is the mistake everybody makes that you wish you could stop them from doing?

Not doing their research before arriving! I read a rant recently about how a fellow travel blogger was furious because he got fined for not validating his train ticket before boarding. A one-minute read of the city’s Wikitravel page would’ve saved him a decent chunk of change. Related: people showing up at the airport, green and uninformed as can be, and simply accepting whatever they’re told by the locals as gospel. How naive are you people?!

On a more ‘digital nomad’ sort of note, assuming the coffeeshop or the co-working space is THE place where they’ll finally get stuff done. The space is not important, your mindset is. If the co-working space has the fastest internet in town, fine – get there, get in the right mindset, and kick ass. If the coffeeshop has some great coffee, fine – smile at the cute barista, then get to work. You have to be your boss and taskmaster.

28) What do you have to say to people too scared to leave their day job?

Insert that quote about how it became more painful to stay rolled up in a ball than it was to spread your wings and fly. Or something like that. Too scared? You’re not ready yet. Stay there. Get scared. Get inspired. Get pissed off. Get to feeling something. Corporate drones are called drones because their feelings / emotions / desires have been beaten out of them by a world that doesn’t give a sh!t about them.

29) What are the awesome benefits of being a digital nomad?

My life is mine to live. I own it all. Those epic destinations, those epic f##k-ups, and those epic moments when all you’re doing is spooning with your wife. I own it all.

30) What is the downside that nobody sees?

Loneliness, or getting sick of the people you travel with. For better or worse, my spouse and I need to work in separate rooms, doors closed, go for walks to get away from it all. You’ve gotta be like a bee and see some new flowers – one reason why I love finding quiz nights or networking opportunities or chances to be around other bloggers.

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