Your perspectives change when you are traveling alone, with a companion or as a family. In this episode, digital nomad mon – Julia shares how she transited from a typical office life to traveling long term and now raising a nomadic family. We speak about mindset changes to take the leap into a nomadic life, how regret is the worst feeling, and tips on managing family time with traveling and business.
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The following is an extremely summarized version extracted from the transcript of the full conversation. I strongly recommend listening to the podcast for all the valuable insights. You will also hear more detailed and contextualized stories from the guest(s), as well as pointers from me in a two-way conversation.
Hi Julia! Let’s start with an introduction of yourself and story.
I have to go back to 2011 when I started the travel thing. I quit my job in Germany, where I’m originally from, and I decided I wanted to have a break. I was working a lot, I had an exciting job in Munich for a communications agency, and every day was different. I had a lot of events to run and organize. I was living for my job; there came the point when I realized it wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be. I noticed that I needed something to change. I wasn’t sure what it was. But a friend of mine suggested I take a break and go traveling for a while; she had just come back from a year in Mexico. She said it was the best decision she’d made, and she gained a different perspective on her life and what she wanted to do. I thought it was crazy, and who would like to hire me if I go on a three to six-month trip. Back then, I had a completely different mindset. I thought my CV looked perfect; I’d been to university and had all the necessary career steps to get me where I was at that moment. But for some reason, it still resonated with me, and this nagging voice was there. It didn’t take me long because I was exhausted. I was sick for a few weeks, and I couldn’t get rid of a cough. My body was sending me signals, and something had to change; maybe my friend was right, and I should go on a break. So funnily enough, even though I thought it was only a break, I sold everything. I needed to get rid of all this stuff because I didn’t want to rent out my apartment; I didn’t want to move my things to a place and pay monthly for storage. So I sold everything and the items that I couldn’t sell, I was lucky enough to put up my parent’s basement, and it’s still there. So I got an open ticket around the world that let me travel in one direction. All I needed to do was pick a location with flexible dates. It was dangerous because it meant that every time I got to a place, I could make up my mind again and extend my stay there, which I did every time.
I started in India; I went to Singapore and all those Southeast Asian countries, and I went to Australia, New Zealand, South America, then I was supposed to go home. But by the time I got to Bali, I realized that I planned out this timeframe that didn’t work. I was already three months in, and I hadn’t even done half of my route. So, I had to readjust my plans. So the three months turned into one year, and by the end of the first year, I was traveling through Chile, and I met my partner, who’s the dad of my children, in the middle of the Atacama Desert. We met, we fell in love, and this was another motivation for me to make it work because, by the end of the first year, I realized I don’t want to go back to Germany. I had met many inspirational people on the way; I saw different lifestyles. I realized it’s not only in your home country where you can make money; there are different types. I mean, I had heard that before and seen other stories, but it dawned on me when I was traveling; this brainwashing machinery back home where they always tell you, you have to follow a particular path is bullshit. I was like literally waking up. I took my life into my hands and did whatever I wanted to do and not what other people said. It’s a process with baby steps that led me to these decisions and the mindset I have today. I took a few different choices, and I canceled my return ticket to Germany; I decided to stay with a guy and try to find out if my feelings were more profound or just a fling. We’re still together after nearly ten years, so it was a good decision. We both had the travel bug, and we talked nonstop about how awesome traveling is and how awesome it is to see the world. He was actually on his way to Brazil back then. He had quit his job due to an economic crisis in his country. So we were both in that stage where we said something new has to come, we will use traveling as a channel of finding what we want in life. It was luck that we both had the same mindset. I don’t think it was a coincidence, but you can use the word coincidence or perfect timing. Then we started traveling together.
When you met your husband, was he traveling for a vacation or long-term travel?
It was a little bit different for him. He quit his job, but he always wanted to go to Brazil, so he took the opportunity to travel to his neighboring countries. Then he wanted to go back to his country and get a new job in his engineering industry. He’d studied for a long time and wanted his career to continue. But at the same time, he wasn’t happy with it, he had done everything he was supposed to do for his career, but it wasn’t fulfilling him. We were heading from South America to Asia, and my crazy idea was to get our diving instructor licenses and make a living from teaching diving. When we were in Thailand, someone offered him a job back in Chile. We were also a relatively new couple, and we weren’t sure that we would spend our lives together at that point. It was a very uncertain stage, and it took him some time to decide against the job because this job meant security and following an everyday life as everyone else does. Then there was little me telling him, what if we find something else to make this work, and what if we stay together and do this on our terms? I was persistent in convincing him that there was more to life; he always says it’s my fault that we’re doing this.
During this time, what were you guys doing for income? Or were you traveling using savings?
I had a hard time convincing him because it was my word against his, lowering funds. Luckily, a few days later, we met a Chilean guy in Bangkok on vacation. He lived in Australia and told us Australia was amazing. You can make money so easily as there were jobs for everyone. He said his salary was triple as much as in Chile, and you can save.
It’s a no-brainer when you are under 30 and have this opportunity. In my case, I got a working holiday visa for one year, and he had to get a student visa, but it wasn’t hard. Both visas allowed us to work there, make money and save some money as well; it meant we had more time to think about what we’re going to do next. We got there and worked in random backpacking jobs like waiting in restaurants, working in a hotel, being a concierge, and parking cars; for me, it was fun because I had never done that before. I got approached by former clients from the agency that I used to work in, and they asked me if I would work on their projects remotely. That’s when it clicked for me because I realized that I could make money in my profession and not have to slave away parking cars doing something I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life. Then I realized that I had to do something else and scale the work. If I could do that for them, I could do it for other people. One thing led to another; I met people in Australia who knew about my professional background, who needed help with translating texts. I did many different things, not only marketing, PR, and social media. I was freelancing in copywriting, translating, doing transcripts for an app; it helped me understand that there are different options out there that could be done online and make money. It helped both of us get rid of that thought that you could only make money working in an office or your home country. That was the breakthrough for our money mindsets.
What was your mindset like when leaving your corporate job for odd jobs?
Looking back, I love my family and friends who called me out and said I was crazy. They were supportive and always thought she’ll be back eventually. Everyone knew that this was only a faze. It was refreshing for me; it helped me get clearance on what I wanted, as I was so close to burnout. I had to put a lot of energy into work back in Germany. Doing things that didn’t require as much energy but still got me money was a simple way of just surviving and figuring out what I wanted. Of course, I wouldn’t say copy my example.
You can, and it could lead you somewhere, but that is why today I’m a coach and help people set up an online business correctly. It’s always a nice anecdote, and it helps people understand how vital mindset is. It is one of the first modules that I always go through when I start coaching. I can tell and give all the advice out there, but no plan is good enough if you’re not in the right mindset. You must believe in it and realize you are the one who will make it happen. If you see someone else who has done it, this is inspirational motivation. If she can do it, I can do it too, because I want to stress that I know I’m not special. All the people I’ve met have motivations and skills that they have picked out and want to focus on; this is key. They’re unique people like you and me. I think everyone can try out this lifestyle at least once in their life; I’m on a mission.
I have a podcast, and every time I finish the episode by saying my mission is accomplished if you guys try it out once. Your old life is always there waiting for you. It will always be there; you can always go back. The number one obstacle or fear that most people have in the beginning is, what if I go and when I come back, will anyone ever hire me. That’s bullshit, especially nowadays, in times like Covid. Employers are looking for more open-minded people that can organize their day independently. Once you taste this freedom, I highly doubt you will want to go back. I’d say it’s dangerous.
Even if the only thing you take away from your trip is that at least you had the guts to try it out. I think it’s the worst thing to get to the end of your life and think I wish I had done that. I think that would be one of the worst feelings to have. So, try it out; simply go for it.
Building relationships has always been a challenge for digital nomads, what’s your secret?
Well, I mean, I don’t know why we crossed paths, but the moment I saw him, I knew he was the one. It was bizarre, and it sounds cheesy; I’m not making this up. I remember looking at him and thinking if I talk to him, I might like him. Then we ended up talking by accident, and one thing led to another. We had exchanged numbers and went our separate ways. But after a few weeks apart, we couldn’t stop thinking about each other. It was weird. We talked about it, and we were both in the same stage of our lives. I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked if he was in a corporate job and I was working nine to five in an office job. But because we both wanted to travel, we both were open to whatever happened. We were both open to a new relationship. We both had past partners, but we were ready for something new; it was perfect timing. He is a great guy, one of the best. I consider myself lucky, really lucky. At the same time, we have a very intense relationship because we were always together. We didn’t have a dating phase because we immediately moved in together or lived in the same hostel. So there wasn’t space for us to let the relationship grow. Then there were times of crisis, we thought about separating, we were fighting a lot and coming together again. We’ve been through all the stages like other couples as well. I don’t say it’s all fairy tales and honeybees. If you ask him today, are you happy? He may say no, she didn’t clean the dishes today. But maybe tomorrow, he will say yeah, of course. It’s amazing.
Do you think that starting a relationship on the road is a good thing?
It’s so individual, as is the question of starting your online business on the road because it requires a lot of effort and dedication, and persistence. What we did was full-on, we started dating and started an online business on the road, and then the kids came, so many elements in our lives that I’d say if you can, do them separately. It’s going to be a lot easier for you if you can focus on one thing at a time. Life never plays according to plan, and we should embrace it every time and at every stage that comes our way. If you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend back home, and you’re now thinking about doing this travel thing, and if you can’t convince him or her to come with you, do it anyway. Because if she or he is the one, they will wait for you; they might even get inspired by your activism and courage. Or if they’re not the one and you could find your true inner self on your travels because that’s important. I was traveling solo for one year before I met him. It gave me a lot of time to focus on myself, and it was a journey around the world for me and a journey inwards. I’m not saying that I found myself within this one year because I did lots of crazy things. I ticked things off my bucket list. I was pretty busy finding out what I wanted from this travel trip. It helped distance myself from my past relationship and helped me find out what I didn’t want in my next partner.
How is has travel changed from a solo traveler, to a couple, and now with kids?
Traveling solo is an experience that I wish everyone experienced because it pushes you out of your comfort zone. I think this is so important. It helps you become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable if that makes sense. For example, I sat having dinner alone; I was in Singapore, and I had to go out and grab dinner all by myself; it was so weird for me. I was scared and didn’t want anyone to speak to me; I was insecure. I had fears that people would approach me, and I felt uncomfortable. I still had to do it because I needed to eat, and then slowly but surely, I was easing in, and I thought even talking to random strangers while eating isn’t that horrible? It removed lots of my shyness, and I realized that being open towards other people benefits you because each conversation can bring a spark into your life and a new perspective. It’s so refreshing; what I hated, in the beginning, turned into one of my most favorite activities throughout the trip. These were extremely valuable experiences because now, I’m not afraid of reaching out to other people in my business; it can be applied to the online world because many businesses work by reaching out to people. There is no blockage or fear, or resistance, which I know many people suffer from.
When you travel alone, you can choose whatever you want to do at your own pace. It’s nice to have, but at the same time, I have to admit I am a people person and love hanging out with people. I missed this when I was sitting and watching sunsets on my own, not talking to someone about how awesome it was; it’s different when you can share happiness. But I don’t regret having the first few all to myself. I am very grateful that my partner came into my life, and I could relive the same moments and the same feelings and share them with someone special. So yes, I’d say this is one of the most different things, and as soon as you have someone else in your life, you adjust to each other’s needs. You realize what you love might not be the same, but you compromise and find alternatives. I think this is also the beauty of this lifestyle, teaching you flexibility and staying flexible. Flexibility is one of the key factors that I discovered for myself. Whenever something unplanned comes my way, I make sure I look at it positively and embrace the change, making it work and fit it in. I escaped my old life because I didn’t want that routine anymore. So why would I now cling to a routine if it’s not necessary?
When you have kids, everything changes, and you do have to adjust everything; your needs are not important anymore. In the beginning, you only worry about how the little ones are feeling; where do we need to feed them and clean them. If I wanted to wrap this all up and the past ten years, I’d say my solo travel year was speedy; I wanted to see as many bucket list things as possible. The couple phase, the five years of traveling with my partner, was a mixture of slow and speedy travel. As soon as our first son was born in 2017, we made sure that he was travel proof by taking him on a road trip and looked at how it would be traveling with kids. As soon we passed the test, we just decided to go to places we already knew that there are other families, so we were in the same environment and had good connections. I picked places where I knew I could have those commodities that I thought were necessary for the beginning.
My eldest will turn four in May, and the little one will turn two in May. They’re ready to go anywhere with us whenever we felt good; our kids felt good. So if you’re worried about traveling, and if you’re tense and nervous, it will mirror in your children, and everything can blow up and turn into a nightmare. As soon as you realize you’re just moving from one place to the next and the journey is the fun part. You have to make every minute as comfortable and entertaining for them; the journey is the goal.
Was traveling with kids always part of your plans?
No, it was always on and off; up until my 30s, I was convinced kids weren’t in our plans. I was not so sure about the topic. My partner wondered how kids would change everything. He has a big family, and he’s the second eldest of six brothers. When he was a child, he had to take care of the little ones, which meant work. We had this mindset for a long time. Then hormones and your biological clock play a part, and I started thinking what if. I was at a Nomad event, and we were having a conversation and talking about the future of nomads. What happens when all the initial nomads who started this lifestyle get to this stage in life when they decide if they should have children or not. There was a heated discussion about creating schools worldwide to make it easy to get an education on the road. This was the first time I thought kids don’t necessarily mean an end to our lifestyle. We had this conversation, and we talked about not getting any younger and not wanting to be a 40-year-old mother. If we’re going to do it, we should do it now. We had an entire year of travel plans laid out when I started getting tired and having cravings. I was wildly in shock because I didn’t think it would happen so fast. But I embraced the change but continued with our travel plans. During this time, I was offered a business opportunity in Melbourne, and we decided to go back to Australia so the baby would be an Australian citizen. I was five months pregnant, and we were in the process of arranging our paperwork when we got the news my mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I was extremely emotional, so we canceled everything in Australia and booked tickets to Germany. That’s why my first son was born in Germany. After being outside of my country for more than five years, it was hard for me to get back into the system. We decided to stick around for a while to see how my mom does and spoiler alert; she’s doing great. Seeing her grandson grow and come into this world gave her such an energy boost, and she was so happy. She didn’t need any chemo or any therapy afterward. She was just with us; it was amazing. I don’t say that you can cure cancer with a newborn, but it helped a lot in her case. We hung around for a while and made some trips from Germany within Europe. After he was one, we decided it was time to travel around the world again.
How do you juggle family, work, and travel?
It’s a constant process and learning curve. We have set up a decent system for us, but it took us some time. In the beginning, we both wanted to always be there for our children. Our second son was born in Spain; we were there for six months for his birth. We had to adjust our schedules, but we had this idealistic vision that we could be there for our children and make money. It didn’t work well. After some time, we had to split the work. I would get some work completed then swap with my partner; it’s a pretty good system. We plan our weeks using a calendar; we fit in all our appointments and make it work. Our type of work also allows us to adjust our schedules. My biggest recommendation is if you have children or if you plan to have children make sure that you can set up your online business so that you can take one day off, even if it’s a Monday.
How do you manage child education while traveling?
So, for now, we are not in the age group where they must go to school. Obviously, with life, you can learn something new every day and let them pick whatever interests them. We help them write and read. We tried kindergarten with our eldest, but he wants to hang around at home. He’s happy when he can play at the beach or in the garden, counting seashells or constructing with wood in the garden; he gets his lessons in everyday life. I’m not worried about it. Every new input helps encourage their little brains to learn. I’m open to options, but I’m not under this pressure. I live this lifestyle not to be forced into systems. So why would I now impose something on my children when I think it’s not necessary? I’m sure he’s going to learn reading and writing one day, and I don’t care if he does that now or if he does it later. I would be worried if he cannot do that before turning ten, but of course, I’m just kidding. Education is one topic that people must rethink again because sitting in school doesn’t mean that you learn something.
If you look at my four-year-old, he speaks Spanish and German. After all, we speak that at home, but then he picked up English because most people speak English here. He knows some Thai words, and the neighbor’s boy is Russian, so he has picked up some Russian. It’s incredible to see how they pick up things like sponges. I don’t have to worry that much as a parent; at least that’s what I believe. Children are trained to be open-minded, flexible, and have all the skills that I think are important in modern lives.
What’s the most common question you get from people interested in being a digital nomad? And what’s your advice on that?
Interestingly, I have a mixture of typical clients. Some of them are aspiring digital nomads, and they always have the basic questions, how do I do it? What countries are the safest? How do I connect with communities for my children to play with? How do I do it with health insurance, visa, etc.? I enjoy talking about these things, and I’m happy to help anyone getting started. Then 50% of my clients already have an idea or have already set up an online business, but they want to get help. They say they aren’t reaching their ideal client, their income isn’t stable, or their idea isn’t good enough; they need validation. So I help them create their online business and scale it to make their brands more visible on social media. The range of questions is very different. But because I love this lifestyle, and I’m an advocate for the nomadic lifestyle, I want people to try it out once, and if they have questions, I’m more than happy to help them. At the same time, I’m passionate about marketing; that’s my professional background. I think social media nowadays is one fantastic tool to get seen, connect with your clients, and eventually make a sustainable income. I’m combining it and helping in both areas.
Do you think Covid has increased the number of people interested in becoming a digital nomad?
Yeah, absolutely. Covid has been revolutionary because many people are now pushed towards thinking of and coming up with new ideas and looking towards other options and lifestyles. I’ve been approached a lot more in the last year. I’d say it’s good not only for people who are either creating an online business or looking into remote work freelancing because there are opportunities out there for everyone. If you want to run a business and work remotely, companies are now more open to that. Making that shift and transitioning to remote work now is a good option. Building a sustainable portfolio and position yourself as a remote worker out. I think it’s a smart move.