THIS 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.
Sanne Wesselman is the one answering them for us today! You can find her at http://www.spendlifetraveling.com/
1) Where are you from?
I am from The Netherlands. I was born in the city of Leiden and grew up in the small town of Leiderdorp.
2) What is your background?
After finishing high school I spent a summer working in a restaurant in Spain and that’s where the living abroad bug first began to bite. I realized that I didn’t have to be in the Netherlands to obtain the bachelor’s degree I wanted but could easily study while living abroad through distance education.
It took a little longer than anticipated but I eventually graduated with a degree in International Management and Organization.
Although I always did well in school and I am sure they assumed I’d pursue a career in The Netherlands, my family have always supported my choices and gave me the freedom to choose a different lifestyle. I will always be grateful they didn’t criticize my choices and allowed me to leave home at a young age to follow my own path in life.
3) What is your job?
I am an online marketing consultant with my own company, A to Z Marketing
4) When did you start your online career?
While still studying and living in Spain, I co-founded a web design and online marketing company with another Dutch colleague. For me the main reason to do this was because without a degree the only jobs I seemed to be able to get on the Spanish coast were jobs as a waitress, shop attendant or secretary.
For over two years I combined this marketing business with a part time job (administrative work for estate agencies mainly) because I couldn’t live off my marketing work alone.
Although I started a business largely focusing on ONLINE marketing, I didn’t set up the business to be an online business. We focused mainly on local businesses as our clients and I often felt embarrassed that we didn’t have an office to invite clients to (simply because we couldn’t afford one). In every way I wanted to run a traditional business with staff, bills to pay and an office building that should get bigger every 2 to 3 years.
It was 2008 and the economic crisis hit. Although neither myself nor anyone around me had ever heard about the digital nomad’s concept, I started to look for opportunities abroad. With my colleague preferring to stay in Spain I was sure I could move somewhere else and still keep part of the marketing work going (albeit not 50/50 anymore).
This is how, when I moved to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten for a marketing project in 2008, I started my online career and became a bona fide digital nomad without ever having planned to live this lifestyle, without knowing anyone else who lived like this and without making any plans about how long to continue a life of traveling and living abroad.
I stayed in the Caribbean for 6 months and haven’t spent more than nine months in one country since.
I registered A to Z Marketing in The Netherlands and started exploring the world. I took on short term jobs or volunteer work in over 10 countries (both as an additional source of income for my initially very small business and also as a great way to meet people and build a life in a new, unfamiliar country) and I traveled all over the world.
5) Where are you right now?
I’m writing this while on a plane from the Caribbean island of St Maarten back to Holland. It is my mother’s birthday tomorrow so I am happy that for the first time in years I will be home for that.
6) How often are you on the road?
In the 13 years that have passed since I first left The Netherlands I have spent only a maximum of a few months at a time back home.
So in a way I am almost always “on the road” although I have to say I have never been a great backpacker and the older I get the less interested I am in moving to a new place every few days to make sure you cover a lot of ground just to tick off a lot of boxes.
For me it takes about three months to get a feel for a place, to get to know part of the local community and to feel I have lived somewhere instead of just visited. I am a big advocate of this type of slow travel and I actually prefer to call it living abroad (especially since I do work all the time and often find local clients). But, for all my Facebook friends who seem to think I’m on some epic permanent vacation, let’s call it slow travel 🙂
7) What is a lesson you’ve learned from being on the road?
It’s not a permanent vacation! Yes, it once was my job to swim with dolphins, I have partied on luxury yachts, stayed at some of the most expensive resorts in the world for free, slept under the stars on an uninhabited island, once had to chase an elusive donkey for hours… and many more mundane stories like that.
But those adventures add up to only a number of weeks out of my thirteen years of travel and living abroad.
The rest of the time I am working hard to keep my business going, to find reliable internet access, to once again meet new people, invest in them even though I know I will probably inevitably never see them again. I spend unfeasibly long hours researching cheap flights and deciding where to go to next.
It can be hard work and for someone like me who cares about real connections and doesn’t easily open up to just anyone it can get emotionally tough as well.
But, the longer you are “on the road” the more friends you have all over the world. I’m starting to notice I’m valuing the opportunity to visit them in the countries they happen to be in more and more.
8) What do you always have on you that you couldn’t live without?
My laptop and a credit card. I travel reasonably light and don’t think I need much. I have been living out of a suitcase for so long that I am used to not having much by now 🙂
Plus that’s where the credit card comes in: whatever you have forgotten or didn’t know you would need, you will be able to buy!
My laptop is the only exception. I had it stolen a couple of times and was in tears both times. I am very serious about my work. It is not only what allows me to live this life but it also is my life. It’s like taking away coffee from a caffeine addict: I felt lost without my laptop and all the time it took me to get back my lost data (this was before easy cloud storage) and then catch up on work again… hey I could have spent that time chilling on tropical beaches or partying on fancy yachts!! Just kidding 🙂
9) How much time do you spend on your business versus how much time you spend exploring the place you are in?
A good work life balance is hard for many people and it definitely doesn’t automatically get easier when you become a digital nomad…
I try to plan my work so that I can take some time off when fun activities beckon, when friends are visiting or when I am planning a trip to somewhere out of the ordinary. Of course I don’t always tell my clients I won’t be available on yet another week day because there is this cool hike I just have to go on.
So yes you will often find me bringing my laptop on crazy adventures and asking nervously if there is any Wi-Fi in this tiny mountain cabin or on that deserted island (which there was by the way!)…
Normally though I work 6 to 8 hours on week days and a few hours on weekends.
10) What is the best advice you could give to someone wanting to become a digital nomad?
Be flexible and be patient. Making enough money and finding a lifestyle you are comfortable with (countries you prefer, pace of travel, level of comfort/luxury) takes time.
Many digital nomads start in south-east Asia because it’s cheap and relatively easy to live comfortably and economically. That might be a great way to start for you as well. In places like Chiang Mai in Thailand or Ubud on the Indonesian island Bali it will be easy to connect with other digital nomads and you can learn a lot from their shared experience. But after a while you might decide you are tired of Asia and feel more at home in Europe or South America. Or you might decide you only want to live abroad three months a year. Do what works for you!
The same goes for the type of work you do: keep in mind it will almost always take time to make a comfortable living. Don’t be afraid to combine jobs: in Asia you could spend some of your time teaching English for some extra cash, in Europe you could spend a summer working in tourism, etc.
11) Money isn’t always consistent. What is the best way to deal with that?
Save! When my company wasn’t making enough money to live comfortably I took on short term jobs or volunteer work that offered free accommodation to live as cheaply as possible. I would then make a point of still putting some money aside and over time that money has helped me buy an apartment in the Netherlands which I now rent out to generate some extra income.
Traveling and living abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. It can actually help you save a lot of money. Just make sure to choose places that suit your budget and keep the more expensive places for when you start making more money or have saved enough.
12) What are the awesome benefits of being a digital nomad?
You are truly free!
I can choose to pack up my stuff tomorrow and fly to any place I want (with the only annoying limitation being visa restrictions of course… if only the world didn’t know borders!! 🙂 ).
That sense of freedom, not knowing where I will be next month, not being stuck somewhere because of a job, free to explore the world as much or as little as I want, that to me is priceless!