98. How this blogger left the American dream to work on the road and do long term travel with Elena Tchijov
This week I speak with Elena who is a full-time traveler and co-founder of Travelingbytes.com, a blog where she shares resources, experiences, and opinions about long-term travel.
Elena and her husband started their journey like many of us, striving to live the American dream, but one day woke up and realized they wanted to do something more. So they left their corporate jobs and started their own business in order to live a nomadic lifestyle while working on the road.
Listen on to find out how Elena and her husband left the American dream to do long term travel.
Hey everyone, I’m here with Elena, how are you?
Hi Debbie. I’m fine, thank you.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your backstory and why you live an offbeat life?
Currently I am a full time. traveler. My background up until seven years ago was fairly common. I worked in the IT industry in the United States for about 12 years. It was a nine to five job. And I guess I had what everyone calls the American dream. Having the house, having the car and going into the office every day.
It became boring, so in 2010 I quit my full time job and started my own company with my husband. We started our own consulting company, and started asking ourselves why do we need to stay in one particular place? Why we can’t we move to different places? So, that’s how it all started and we moved from the east coast where we lived for years.
Our first big move was across the United States to Seattle where we stayed for a year. It was interesting. It was something new, but we decided that we also wanted to go to other destinations.
So in 2013, our first stop was Thailand and we ended up in Chiang Mai, which is the digital nomads capital. We stayed there for half a year, learned a lot and since then we just kept traveling around the world.
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That sounds like an amazing life from living the American dream as everyone says, to living your own dreams, to living this digital nomad lifestyle, becoming location independent and also moving all over the world. Did you have a small child when you started this journey?
No, we had a child when we were very young. I think the idea that we can afford this lifestyle is because our child is a grown adult.
You have nothing to keep you from leaving home.
Exactly. Technically, it was a big part of this decision. I know that some people, they do travel with children and I admire them for that full heartedly, but I’m not sure if I can do with myself.
The first steps to take to become a full-time traveler.
That’s a really hard decision to make when you have a child to do that. How did you decide to be location independent and to take your life and just uproot it and start traveling the world? What were the first steps that you took in order to accomplish this dream that you had?
So, the first step would be doing a lot of research. Because I remember that we got the idea of doing this lifestyle by reading a post from Reddit. Somebody posted, Hey, I’m a digital nomad and I thought it was interesting and started becoming more curious about the lifestyle.
It was actually about nine years ago, so it was not that common back then. So we did quite a lot of research about what’s involved. What are the pitfalls and what’s good and what is bad?
There is information that you need for example, what do you do with your finances? How do you handle your banking? What do you do with your health insurance?
So, a lot of research went into that, which was interesting but also tedious. But I do like to do research so it wasn’t that bad. So, we sold the house, sold all our possessions and we ended up literally with three bags because we discovered that we have a lot of electronics that we need to carry with us.
That’s how it all started but before we left we have to figure out our financial situation, and other preparations. So it took about probably half a year to settle everything before we left. It was not a fast decision.
There’s also a lot of things that you don’t realize that you need to think about. One of the things you mentioned is how to do banking when you’re international and health insurance of course, especially for Americans. That’s really important.
There are so many little details that you didn’t think about and you took for granted when you’re in your own country that you really have to start thinking about one year traveling abroad. For example, your visa and we’re also going to give you more details on all of these things during our extended interview with Elena because we’re going to talk about how to do slow travel. So I’m really excited to dive deeper into this.
When you were doing traveling full time, what was the biggest setback that you encountered and how did you usually handle it?
The biggest setback you can experience as a digital nomad.
When we started about seven years ago the biggest setback was the quality of the Internet. There were times during our travels that we could not get an internet connection and we could not even reassure our clients that it would not happen again because the internet was unreliable.
Our setback was not about feeling uncomfortable in a new environment or climate. It was an Internet connection. With years it got better and right now there’s definitely been a huge difference. We don’t have any issues no matter where we go.
Obviously, I did have my fears and I was concerned about how to talk with local people and other things that I thought would be an issue. Once we did travel, I never felt like I could not communicate, sometimes it was using hand gestures. So, I guess the biggest issue was the internet.
Elena, let’s go back to your current business right now as consultants. Can you give us a little bit more information on what you guys do and how you were able to transition that into digital nomadism?
Transitioning to become full-time digital nomads.
Lucky for us we are both are in the tech field. There are different types of positions that are meant for digital nomads, like a software developer or a social media manager, because you deal with your clients virtually. In the beginning, there were people that wanted to have on-site consultants. We got lucky because our clients did not care where we were located.
Eventually, over the years we were able to select our own clients, and we have been very selective with who we work with. Because it came down to what our goals were and we both wanted to travel as long as we can. Our goal is not to become millionaires, but to actually have enough income to cover our travel expenses, so we can have our lifestyle.
I guess every person has to make their own choices. I do know that some digital nomads actually want to grow their wealth. So that’s probably a bit different story.
How do you find clients when you are on the road.
It’s different for everybody and you guys are doing it because you also enjoy your work and then you could get this added perk of being able to travel from anywhere. Was it really difficult for you to find a client, especially when you’re on the road? I’m sure you found clients before you started traveling, but what about when you are on the road?
We built our client base back in the day when we just started our business. We got a lot of our clients through networking. We chose to keep our current clients and not expand our business because we wanted to keep it smaller.
Again, we decided that we’re just going to sustain our lifestyle. In the future, we may change and grow our client base. That would be different. But for now, we are just working with the pool of people started with us a few years ago.
That’s a really great way of diving into this, is to prepare yourself with your business before you leap into this full time. Not just leaving your nine to five, but also preparing your business and clients for this already. That’s a really smart way of doing this.
You have been doing this for quite some time and I’m sure you’ve met a lot of people. What has been the worst advice that you have ever received?
When I was still working full time one of my bosses wanted me to become an executive and go the more traditional route. To become a manager and to eventually become an executive, but I realized that I didn’t like it.
New Speaker: I tried to do it for a while and at some point, I had to say, enough is enough. So, it may come as a surprise for many American’s because from my impression – work is everything. But for we, I wanted to see the world and work is not everything.
And it’s interesting to see because our clients, for example, Australia, they don’t have to work 12 hours per day. They work hard, but there is also life outside of their jobs. The same with Sweden, Portugal, and with other countries which have a different take on how you should live your life. So, I am glad I didn’t take the advice of my old boss.
It’s different for everybody. And it definitely takes a different type of mentality to become a digital nomad because you become your own boss and there’s more responsibility even though you have more freedom, but you also create more responsibilities for yourself and most likely working twice the amount of hours sometimes that you used to do in your day job.
Yes, actually being a digital nomad requires a lot of discipline. If you don’t learn self-discipline, then I believe that you cannot succeed because it’s easy to get distracted and that usually leads to some unpleasant consequences.
How to create income while on the road.
How were you able to create income from the start and how do you continue to create income today?
Our sources of income have changed in the last few years. My husband still continues with development. He is doing that full time and I switched more into travel planning because it requires a lot of planning and research.
New Speaker: You need to do logistics and obviously you don’t need to have a travel agent. So I moved more into travel-related tasks and also writing about our travel stories and advice on our blog. So this is more my side of the business.
Let’s fast forward to 20 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
I would like to promote slow travel. I want people to understand the difference between tourism and slow travel?
For example, with tourism people come to a place and stay there just for a day, maybe for a week. Without really knowing the place and just to take pictures and then go home and tell their friends about it. Slow travel is more about environmental awareness and learning about local people or trying to understand cultural differences.
For example, we spent three months in Japan and we lived in a small town, not in a tourist location. And I could understand why some Japanese people, they don’t like tourists just because they are such a different culture and do not understand and take the other peoples cultures into consideration.
So I guess what I want to leave as a legacy to teach people that you need to be careful, travel is wonderful but you need to do it wisely. You need to be smart about what you do and you need to learn instead of just visiting.
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I guess we see it so much more now with people who just want to take photos for social media and they don’t really take advantage of what they can learn from the people and the culture. And it’s not just about taking that pretty photo but really learning about the culture itself and what the place is really about. And if you’re just there to do that, then you might as well just stay home and Photoshop yourself if you’re not going to experience the place firsthand.
Because the beauty about traveling is not just the place that you see, but also the culture and the people that you experience and being outside of your own world and outside of the norm.
Is there any question that you wish people asked you more of?
I guess the question that people probably need to ask themselves is what’s your goal? What do you want to achieve? Because I often people see a lot of digital nomads who find a community and end up being stuck in that community and do not go out of it because of comfort.
What’s the point of traveling far away to end up in the same environment. You can stay at home. You need to be curious and you need to challenge yourself to go outside and you need to realize that you need to put some efforts into that.
You already took that leap to go outside of your home town. Now you’re traveling. Why should you stay in that one specific group of people? It’s all about experiencing new things. Even if it’s slow going, you should at least try. And it’s always going out of our comfort zones that will lead us to more experiences and more chances in our life. And that’s the really exciting part of all of this.
If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
You can find me at travelandbytes.com. You can find me on twitter @travelingbytes.
Thank you so much, Elena for speaking with us today and I am really looking forward to checking out more of your adventures on your website and we’re also gonna put a link to that on the website. Thank you, Elena.
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