Hi Bianca! Can you give us an overview of your background (who are you traveling with, how long have you traveled, what made you want to go the digital nomad lifestyle etc.) so we can put a persona to the content that follows 🙂
Myself, my husband Robert, and our then 3-year-old son left South Africa in March 2017. We decided on this lifestyle for a few reasons. Firstly we did not see a future for ourselves and our son in South Africa, being on a slippery slope downhill plus it was just not a safe country anymore. We lived on high alert all the time without realizing it and the cost of living was very high in comparison to the quality of life. We were also not fans of the conventional 9-5 separate lifestyle. We wanted to explore the world and basically be “ free “
We have always been entrepreneurs, involved in marketing in one form or another and then later my creative husband became a self-taught screen-printer. Combining his marketing and graphic design background he helped launch a few clothing and other screen printing based businesses. He also gave classes on how to screenprint from home on a budget and had some major clients he printed for. He loved it and we worked very hard. After my son was born, we decided we did not want to swap hours for money any longer, we wanted to explore this world together as a family.
Honestly, we had no idea how we were going to do this but we were determined. So we researched like crazy for 3 years on how to move our skills online and become location independent. Through our research, we found other individuals and then families living this world schooling lifestyle, they inspired us and kept us going when we thought this may be an impossible dream.
One important pillar of a sustainable nomad lifestyle is the financial aspect. Tell us more about what you do and how do you keep the business going while working remotely.
We do lead generation for clients while offering skills training online through our online courses.
We are starting to scale down client work while we focus on our own products and services.
Since we are nomadic, we try and automate as much of our online business as possible via custom conversational chatbots. Our online screen printing course runs on complete autopilot and I have not had to answer questions for over 6 months, the chatbot handles support.
We are about to embark on an exciting new venture that will also be automated via chatbots and custom scripts.
With so many things going on, how do you balance family time, work, travel, and child education?
We have our little routine. In the mornings, we all get to work after breakfast. Our son will either watch something he is interested in or play games such as Minecraft or anything creative, (building with Lego, do art or play with his toys).
When we are done indoors, I will take him outside for some outdoor playtime and look for other kids. We often have local friends we connect with as we travel slowly and meet up with them. That is about as routine as we get.
We go with how we feel. We work when we have to and when we don’t, we explore! We enjoy walking down the local street in a foreign country, trying their food, or speaking to some locals. It’s all spontaneous.
It took some time to set it up but we are definitely working towards automating all our income in the future so we can spend more time exploring and less time working.
As for my son’s education, the world schooling method is to follow the child and expose them to new things to see if they are interested in them; to learn from the world around them as they experience the day. It’s very organic and happens naturally throughout the day. We often find ourselves exploring new things late into the night because an interesting question or topic has been brought up and has caught my son’s interest.
He is 5 years old and we take him to places he would be interested in like the Dinosaur museums, play parks, or aquariums. We do interesting activities like releasing turtles in Malaysia or going on swamp and firefly tours. As he gets older he will join classes like gymnastics, robotics, dance, karate, art, or whatever is available that might interest him.
As a family, what factors do you find are most important for you when selecting a location to base it, and why?
We always need a good internet connection and we like to base ourselves near some body of water. If not an ocean, at least a river/lake, or even just a swimming pool.
We always make friends wherever we go and most places are safe in comparison to where we came from. If we know of another traveling family in an area we are interested in going to, we will make an effort to try and meet up or stay near them.
We have met up with so many traveling families along the way, including a nice group of them in Chiang Mai. Quite a few families came and met up with us for weeks at a time in Malaysia and Vietnam.
I also connect with alternative schools or free schools and communities, we will go past them if possible. We also look at what there is to explore in the area. We are still so new at this that every place is cool and we can’t wait to explore whatever it has to offer.
We look for learning or volunteering opportunities like English teaching in Vietnam for a month. We might go to Siberia Russia, stay in a yurt and experience Siberian life while teaching English to the kids.
What do you find are the pros and cons/challenges of schooling your kid using the world as a classroom, rather than a structured education system?
Honestly, we can’t see any pro’s for regular schooling over world-schooling. Our son is a confident and happy kid. He is able to communicate with kids and adults from all over the world without understanding their language.
At first, I was concerned that being an only child and not in school, he would struggle to play with kids and make friends, but my primary role as his mother is to “ find kids” for him.
He has made so many special friendships with local and traveling kids; I suppose the hard part is when we part ways and he misses them.
However, thanks to technology, we can video call and make plans to meet up again somewhere else in the world. I was also not sure if this child-led learning of education would work, but human nature proved we have enquiring minds and learning is natural and fun.
He has taught himself about colors, numbers, even all the dinosaurs and their habits. He knows all their scientific names and so much information that he is happy to share. This applies not just to dinosaurs but anything he finds interesting.
Coming from South Africa where the passport is not as strong, how do you work with/around the passport limitations for traveling.
We travel within our parameters and apply for e-visas where necessary. It’s always a game to see where we can go visa-free, visa-on-arrival, or e-visa and for how long. It was quite challenging to find cheap flights from Bangkok to Georgia (the country in Eastern Europe). We could not enter the EU without a Schengen visa and for that, we could only apply in our home country, so that was not an option.
Luckily we saw that we had 90 visa-on-arrival days for Russia. We took that route which turned out fantastic, as it allowed us to tick off a bucket list experience of riding on the trans-Siberian train.
Are there any other key challenges that you face as a digital nomad?
Our lives as Digital Nomads are much easier, much cheaper and way more fun than our lives in South Africa. Although I had to convince my husband to do this at first, he admits that we will never go back. All I can say is that we do plan on “ Planting flags “ which means to set up a few bases and eventually get new passports to allow easier travels to more areas.
We have agreed that if and when our son says he wants to settle, we will find a place close to the sea that we are all happy to settle in and can easily travel from.
In summary, our challenges are so minuscule they are just “life”. We just need internet and accommodation, the rest falls into place when we are there as we are not shy to make friends and speak to people.
What advice do you have for families who wish to go nomadic? What preparations should they make or are important?
Research is key. I virtual-traveled for three years before we left, meaning I literally planned out and worked out a budget on everything.
I would pick a destination and start with visas. I would play around on the airline booking sites and plan routes and costs. I would search for information on accommodations, the food we could eat, sites we would see, how we would get around.
I would look up the local language, learn the basic words to get by, and check if there are other communities, digital nomads in the area, or traveling family hotspots.
Transportation, safety, vaccinations, dangers, areas where we would like to stay in the cities, absolutely everything I could think of.
By the time I was done researching I could probably write a tourist guide on the destination.
The other thing is Mindset, it is so important.
I remember a South African Expat saying to us before we left. “ It’s not that easy out there, it’s different “.
I responded with “ Good, we are looking for different “
My point is – don’t leave and expect things to be as they are back home, enjoy it being different even if it can be frustrating. Enjoy the experience and adventure. That’s the fun of it.
We are also not looking for a home so we don’t enter a country with a critical eye and complain about the slow service or the lack of this or that.
Our motto is that we don’t ever get too local, when we start getting too into the politics or the people politics and complaints, we move on. Although we do prefer to stay in very local and non-touristy areas.
Enjoy the experiences, enjoy being together, and enjoy it for as long as it lasts.