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Ep. 245: How this offbeat traveller turned a sabbatical into a permanent world adventure with Marek Bron

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In this episode, I speak with Marek Bron who is a travel blogger at Indie Traveller, which focuses on off-the-beaten-track destinations and adventurous travel.

Marek’s life of travel originally began during a career sabbatical almost 10 years ago, which inspired him to travel the world and build a successful travel blog.

Besides Indie Traveller, Marek is also the author of Travel the World Without Worries, an inspiring guide that shows you how to cast your worries aside and travel more and travel further.

The book helps you in a step-by-step way to turn that dream trip you’ve always wanted to take into a reality.

Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone. Thank you so much for being here. I’m really to speak with my guest today. I’m here with Marek.

Hey, Marek, how are you?

Marek:

Hey, Debbie. I’m great. Thanks for having me.

Debbie:

Thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to talk all about your journey. Can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Marek:

Somehow I knew you’d be asking that question. I suppose I’ve had an offbeat life because I’ve always been sort of leaning forward and doing the next thing. So that has involved living in different countries. I’m from the Netherlands, but I lived in the UK for some years. Now I live in Portugal. Briefly, I lived in Spain as well.

And almost 10 years ago, I was a little bit frustrated with my career and I didn’t really know where things were heading. I was let go during a mass layoff and it was not even the first time that had happened. And I thought, “All right, what is going on? What am I doing here?”

And decided to go traveling. The idea was I would get a visa for Thailand, a two-month visa, and just spend two months in Thailand, kind of clear my head, and then maybe work on my CV a bit and figure out where things would head next.

But that didn’t happen. I loved traveling so much that I just kept going and I used my savings and I turned that two-month trip into a two-year trip and I just kept going. And that that was still the best thing I’ve ever done. And that trip made me realize I wanted to be a travel blogger. And I wrote a book about my long-term travels, and then I started a website to support that book. And I managed to turn this into an income.

And ever since I’ve been living a location, independent life, working online, and I’m traveling around the world.

Debbie:

That is pretty incredible because you took something that was really upsetting. Well, for most people, that would be really upsetting, right? To be let go from a company. And you turned that something into something positive, and now you have a whole business from that.

What was that transition like for you? Was this something that you just thought of and said, “Well, I don’t really wanna go back to that job and I wanna create something for myself.”? Can you take us through that whole thought process that you had to turn into a business?

Marek:

Absolutely. I think it was a step-by-step thing, really. I don’t think I immediately envisioned having a successful travel blog and all that. I just knew… I should maybe back backtrack a little bit. I was working in the games industry at the time. That was my thing. I was a game designer. I worked at this game publisher for a while as well, but it can be a very volatile industry.

Some projects don’t work out, some companies have to make reorganizations. So it was quite frustrating working in many projects where things just didn’t pan out. These projects never saw the light of day. And I had to reboot several times go to another company and get started again.

That was the thing that was bothering me at the time and the fact that I had to move to certain cities or places in order to do that job because the jobs are in specific locations.

I think when I was traveling on my big journey, there was a point where I thought, “Okay, I wanna also do something,” ’cause I’ve been having all these adventures and it’s great, but I wanna spend some time on the side also creating something. And that was my book, which is called Travel The World Without Worries. And in that book, I wanted to sort of tell other people about my experiences going on a big journey.

Marek Bron working remotely

So it started as, “Okay, I can make a product, I can probably put it on Amazon and that will just be a side thing, and let’s see how that works. And maybe I will return to what I was doing previously, but then I also have this book that I’m selling and it’s a nice extra every month.” That was the original thought.

But things escalate because the book is a little bit successful and then you’re like, “Okay, I should have a website to support it and make people more aware of it.” And that became the travel blog, Indie Traveler. And so step by step, I rolled into it further and further.

And then, it’s true, something that was very negative. I felt very upset about the part of a layoff. It’s not fun. But later on, I realized that the redundancy payment that the company had to make at a time was basically the seed capital for my next venture, which was travel blogging. So, that worked out really well. Yeah.

Debbie:

That is pretty incredible that it kind of just took you into a different journey that you didn’t even know your life was gonna go into and completely different.

And I think what’s so interesting about someone like you, Marek, and other people that I’ve interviewed is most oftentimes we are kind of just placed in these situations and then you think your life is gonna go one way and it takes you into a totally different position, right? That you never even would’ve imagined it to take you. So I love that you took that step. Because if you didn’t get laid off, you would probably still be doing what you are doing before.

Marek:

Absolutely. And it’s so easy to be stuck in a routine and do the thing that you think you’ve chosen and which may not be exactly the right fit.

I remember things at the time in my previous career being so important, they felt so important at the time. This one meeting, this one raise or whatever it is. And in hindsight, they weren’t important. It’s really nice to be able to take a step back and to think about, “Okay, what do I really want to do?”

And I’m really grateful that I got the push in the back. It was kind of done for me by going through that layoff experience. But then being able to reinvent yourself is such a wonderful, wonderful thing. At times it was a little bit scary because you don’t know where your next thing is quite heading towards just yet.

So we have to keep pushing at certain times, but I’m very happy to have been through that process and now come out the other side and do something I love doing and to be able to do it from anywhere. That’s amazing.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And I think that when you’re in that situation where you go from you mentioned going from one company to the next, there is a lot of uncertainty to that, right? And kind of questioning where you fit in. But when you find something that you really enjoy, it’s such a nice feeling to have that; to feel like you are in a place where you need to be.

So that must feel really good ’cause it takes a lot of…

Marek:

It does. Absolutely.

Debbie:

Yeah, right? It takes a lot of soul searching and then sometimes you don’t even know you’re searching and then it just finds you like the way it did with you.

Marek:

Absolutely. One of the things I enjoy now is that as a creator, I can just do the kind of things that either excite me or I know they’re commercially interesting. I can pursue those things.

And I remember working in these larger companies, how frustrated I felt with all the processes and I’m sure many people can relate to this where it’s meeting upon meeting or you know that the company’s making a wrong decision and everyone knows it but there’s someone making the decisions at the top or whatever it is.

In larger organizations, there are so many more ways you can be frustrated with things and being more nimble, and being able to pursue different things in my business and creatively that I think are interesting. That is such a wonderful gift really. And in such a contrast to what I experienced before.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And I think you mentioned this too, when you are in a corporate situation, you feel like these meetings are so important, talking to these people, these deadlines are so important. And then when you finally do something on your own, and then you kind of take a step back and you really reevaluate, what’s most important to you and it becomes a totally different world.

And the things that you thought were completely the most important things, now, they’re not even in your scope of reality and it’s such a different world. So what has that been like? Can you tell us the difference between those two things?

Marek:

I mean, working for yourself is definitely very different. One thing that I think you have to be capable of is a little bit of self-reflection and a little bit of self-management. In the beginning, I think I was so eager to make this work and it was working a little bit, but not as much yet as I wanted it to work.

It meant that I was probably spending too much time doing too many things. I was going overboard sometimes working into the night, creating more content so that my website would be in a better place. I think that’s good, at least for a little while, if you’re really passionate. After a while, I think it’s more important to prioritize and to say, “Okay, these are the things that are important to me or to the business. And I’m gonna focus on these things.”

Marek Bron at Borobodur

And being able to say no is also very important when you’re working for yourself because there’s an infinite way in which you can keep yourself busy. There’s always more you could be doing, and you’ve gotta be able to give yourself permission to make choices and say, “Okay, this thing, I’m not gonna do this thing that I am gonna do. ”

And what’s been very interesting for me is weighing the potential work against the potential lifestyle. So some things may be really worth it in terms of what you want to do with your blog, in my case, or with your business. Other things may not be as much worth it as much if not doing it gives you more free time for instance.

You can be in control and kind of decide, “This is what I want in terms of lifestyle. And this is what I want in terms of earnings.” And you can kind of weigh those against each other.

Debbie:

Yeah.

I think that’s such an interesting thought process when you think about it because I had to learn this myself too, where you just think about the money and it’s really great. The money’s great. And then as years go by, as months go by, I start to realize that this is not really the trajectory that I see my life going in the future, how I see my life in general, right?

And it just seems like you’re going into this hamster wheel of just working towards something that you don’t even want. And that makes me think about why would I even leave a day job because that’s what I was doing to now doing something on my own and still doing the same thing.

Marek:

Yes.

Debbie:

So there is definitely a difference between the life that you see yourself having and working towards that and just working for money because you’re still gonna be going against that, especially in the beginning when you’re just trying to make ends meet. And this is such a hard thing for all of us, right? ‘Cause you wanna make money you want it to succeed.

And then if you actually try to take a step back, then you’re like, “Oh my gosh, it’s not really going to where the life I want it to be and I’m kind of in the same hamster wheel in that sense.” So that’s a tough thing to realize too, when you’re in that position.

Marek:

It’s very true. Like, I think maybe the hamster wheel that you’ve created for yourself is maybe easier to justify in the beginning when you’re in startup mode and you’re like, “I gotta make this work. Okay. Bam, bam. I’m going for it.” That’s a phase that can be quite exciting as well. And it’s a good thing.

But if you find yourself just sticking to the hamster wheel, having just replaced one hamster wheel with another, that is not probably where you wanna end up. So yeah, you can think about, “Am I hitting diminishing returns with something? Am I just doing more work, but not getting as much out of it if I just keep going?”

And maybe you wanna keep some time to travel for instance, or have a bit more time on the weekend. These are possibilities that you have if you’re in control. And I think that’s great. I love to work, I’m motivated, I like to be productive, but I also like to have my life. And I think that’s very cool if you can think about that balance a little bit more.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And it’s really up to what you want your goals to be, right? Like, if you wanna be a billionaire in a multi multimillionaire, your work is always gonna be endless, but at the end of the day, if you want to be happy, you don’t have to worry about money.

You can work less and actually live pretty decently and if you’re willing to move somewhere that it costs you a little bit less, but you’re earning decently. If you’re earning like US dollars and you go to like South America or in Asia, or even parts of Eastern Europe, there’s just a lot of places. Your money goes a long way.

Marek:

Absolutely. I see that a lot.

So I live in Lisbon, which is becoming quite a remote work capital in Europe and you can earn dollars or euros elsewhere and find their expenses much lower here. Some of them are also just working four days a week and they have a long weekend. These things are possible if you’re trying to design your lifestyle and you’re trying to make remote work, work for you.

Another thing I’ve noticed in traveling to many different countries is that it can also be quite cultural. In some cultures, it’s okay to prioritize your lifestyle a little bit more sometimes. Whereas in other cultures that is kind of seen as slacking off, for instance.

Debbie:

Like, the United States.

Marek:

Absolutely.

Yes. I was gonna mention that actually. Yeah, no, America has a very like work first culture for sure. It’s among the most work-focused cultures. I think I’ve seen with the exception of maybe Japan. I had to go to Japan in my previous career. And there, people are basically living from their desks. They eat there, they sleep there. It’s kind of nuts.

So that’s another extreme, I don’t think America’s quite at that extreme. But like I sometimes hear people make jokes about the French spending too much time having lunch and that kind of thing but that’s great. You’re having lunch.

Debbie:

I know. I’m like, “I wish we do that here in the US, having siesta in the middle of the day.” And as you mentioned that, Marek, like people, literally sleeping and eating on their desk and just always constantly being stressed. I can’t even imagine being 70, 80 years old and looking back and your entire life and just knowing that this is what you did with it.

I don’t know what happens after we die. I don’t know if there’s an afterlife. None of us knows, right? But if this is the only one we’re going to be living with, that is such a waste of an opportunity that we may never have. That’s kinda sad. That’s really sad that there are certain people that do that.

And I don’t know how many people actually enjoy doing that. I mean, if you enjoy it, go for it, but I’m just like, “I’m pretty sure 99% of them don’t.” So that’s kind of sad to me.

Marek:

True.

I guess the model has quite changed with this generation. It used to be back in the day, you work hard, you work hard, you work hard and then you’re retired and you play golf for a while, or I dunno what you do. And now it’s different because the opportunities are different. Some things are more difficult as well, I think, for maybe millennials today.

But there are also opportunities that didn’t exist before. And I think the pandemic has shown this to way more people now. This has truly been a revolution because working from home has shown a lot of people that there are other ways of working, not just in the office.

And I’m seeing it in Lisbon. There are so many people coming here who are now considering themselves nomads or remote workers. They’re loving it ’cause they get to live in a different place. It’s a new experience and you can choose where to work. It can be a coworking location or a cafe or it can be from home. It’s very cool that we have that kind of flexibility now.

Debbie:

Yeah. That’s true.

It is so much more that we can do right now. And I think if you can take advantage of that and I think most people can, you should definitely do it. And I know there’s a lot of fears that go into it. But I think, like you mentioned, the pandemic kind of pushed a lot of people towards it, even though if you’re kind of reluctant, but you had no choice.

So now, hopefully, a lot of people that were kind of on the brink were able to see what it’s like for them, which is such an interesting time that we’re living in.

But for you, Marek, I know that this time period right now is very difficult for a lot of bloggers, especially travel bloggers. What was that like for you? How did you pivot? Did you do any changes with your business to kind of make it a certain way to make it thrive during this pandemic, this whole craziness right now?

Marek:

It’s definitely been crazy. And I could not have imagined that like in March last year, what was it, that suddenly my revenues would go down by 80% or something like that.

Debbie:

Wow.

Marek:

You never imagined that kind of scenario, right? Fortunately, the travel blog was in a good place already, so I managed to get the pandemic alright. And I guess for a while, I spent a little bit more time writing about work from home and about remote working because I could see that this would be a big trend.

But mostly I tried to use whatever travel opportunities I still had and to build for the future because I had the idea that in a year or two years, or maybe three, people will go back to travel and I want my business to be ready for that.

Marek Bron Travelling

And I just kept going and, yeah, my approach was just built for the future, make more content that people will enjoy later. And luckily I didn’t have to pivot you much. And luckily, my blog was a little bit diversified within it in terms of income streams.

So for example, my book kept selling really well through the pandemic because people were at home. They wanted to imagine traveling again in the future and they read my book and that was fantastic. And there were other income streams that related more to sending up a freelance business or being location independent.

These kept going while the pure travel stuff like the bookings that maybe I would get commission on, those were gone for a while. But that was okay, there were other things in the mix. And so having actually many different revenue streams within your business is really helpful during times like these when some of them may go away for a while.

Debbie:

Yeah. I hear that a lot.

And there were some people that didn’t have multiple streams of income and now because of the pandemic, they were able to do that. And in some ways it’s kind of a good thing, right? It’s a blessing in disguise because now if something else hits your business, if you have multiple streams of income, you’ve had a year and a half, two years, to build something else, which is really nice.

So again, taking something negative and turning it into a positive is always a good thing. We wallow in self-pity for a little while, and then you could only do that for so long and you have to learn how to pivot and do something else. So I love that.

Marek:

I think actually in a crisis like this, it can force you to make your business more resilient. And I’m actually very happy. It was annoying to have only a limited travel opportunity during this time. I focused a lot more in Europe where I’m based, but that was also, on the other hand, also great ’cause I didn’t have that much Europe content before.

I was mostly Asia and South America focused. And now, I have all other continents that I’ve really gone and explored and maybe that wouldn’t have happened. So now I’ve got three major areas on my site. People can see destination guides for and so on. So, I’ll get out of this a little bit better. That’s nice.

Debbie:

Yeah. It’s true.

You get to explore more of what’s locally that you never would’ve seen before.

So let’s go back a little bit to when you transitioned to become a blogger. And this is probably a question that most people ask you, how long did it take for you to actually make this into a full-time thing, a full-fledged business that you can make income in?

Marek:

I would say that probably two to three years is what it took to make it my full-time thing. I had the benefit of starting the blog while I was traveling and not having to rely on it yet. I had my savings. So that was nice. I think if there’s too much pressure to have to get money from a business straight away, especially if it’s an online business, it can be very stressful.

If you give yourself a year or two and you can do it as a side hustle or something like that, I think that makes it a lot easier. The thing with travel blogging or blogging, in general, is that you’re usually waiting for the algorithms to give you a shot basically.

If you expect a blog to immediately get traffic from Google or social media, it’s probably not gonna happen because you’re a new site and Google doesn’t trust you yet and maybe your site will disappear next month. So you’re gonna have to just be there for at least a year, just online for this to start happening.

And I think many people get frustrated after six months or something and think, “Ah, this is not taking off.” Well, it may take off exponentially if you just wait and keep going.

That’s really important with launching a website I’ve noticed. Because once you get through that, you’ll start getting more traffic and the first 100 visitors a day or something is kind of feel really, really difficult but the next 100 will be a little bit easier. And the next 1000 will be even easier. It’s kind of a snowball effect, right?

So you gotta be very happy with very small improvements in the beginning. If you push through, it’s possible to make a full-time living out it. That said, like, a lot of people are saying travel blogging is the thing and it’ll make you lots of money – it’s not guaranteed, right?

So some people are hyping this up as a way to make a living online that’s guaranteed but that’s definitely not the case. I also see lots of people doing all kinds of other interesting businesses online that maybe make more sense than travel blogging like an e-commerce site or something like that where you have a direct revenue stream.

But yeah, I’m very happy that it worked out the way it did. And occasionally I had to be very persistent I would feed the checks coming in and be like, “Oh no, this is not enough yet. When is this gonna happen?” But it did and yeah, luckily it worked out that way.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And I think the thing that I always try to emphasize is people now think we all should have these like instant gratification type things. And anything that’s worth anything, you have to really put your effort in, and it does take a long time. For you, Marek, several years in fact, before you finally saw the fruits of your labor.

And yeah, being a blogger, it’s not overnight. You’re talking about Google Analytics, that stuff takes months and months. And sometimes you’re talking about a year or longer. So if you’re thinking of doing something that’s instant, then blogging is definitely not it but it pays off later on because a lot of the things that you do now, Marek, are things that you can make money in while you’re sleeping.

Your book is paying you while you sleep. I’m sure you have all the revenues on your website that pay you, that you don’t even need to work. So yes, it does take a long time, but like Marek said, you have to be really persistent, consistent, and be okay with not getting anything instant because it’s not gonna happen.

Today you put in a blog post and then tomorrow all of a sudden you’re number one on Google and there are just hundreds of thousands of people that come. Like, that’s pretty much impossible for the most past.

Marek:

Absolutely.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself in the way you got your business up and going. You really have to be persistent. And I think perhaps in the age of TikTok and such, people are expecting things to blow up immediately but that’s usually not the case.

When I started my blog, I think several weeks in, I did go viral. And I went viral on Reddit and I got like 10,000 visitors on the first day. It was a deluge of traffic. Guess what? It really didn’t benefit me very much because all those people came and they quickly went again. They saw my one viral article.

Marek Bron working on a hammock

I didn’t have anything else on the side yet. I didn’t even have a newsletter subscription box or anything. There weren’t enough other articles to keep people around. And so they just kind of left. So I had this early exposure to going viral and it taught me that it’s not everything.

In fact, what really got me where I needed to be was to create a library of content, have a newsletter, get all that engagement there and get people to follow me for a longer period of time. It’s much better than just having an article go viral and that’s it. That was your moment of fame. That’s not how it goes usually.

Debbie:

Yeah, it’s true.

And I’ve heard this before, like if you are not ready for success, then it’s really not gonna go anywhere. Like, if that had happened to you now, they would’ve kept coming because you had had a huge library of content for them to keep coming back to.

Marek:

Exactly.

Debbie:

Such a good lesson to learn. If you’re not ready for it, it doesn’t stay. And I don’t know if you’ve heard these stories of like lottery winners where they lose all their money after like a year or two and they’re back to square one because they don’t know.

Apparently, they did a study on lottery winners who win millions and millions of dollars and they’re not used to, or they don’t understand how to actually keep it. And they’re so used to the lifestyle that they had, that they actually would spend it all and then go back to where they were.

So it’s kind of interesting, when you’re not ready for something, like, your mind and your psyche brings you back to certain things.

Marek:

Organic growth is sometimes underrated.

Debbie:

Yes.

Marek:

Like, just steadily, it gets better and better and better. And you learn from each of those steps. That is so Important.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And that’s where really how you grow. And also the fact that it makes you feel really good every time. You appreciate it because you work so hard on it, right? But it takes a long time.

Marek:

Yeah. You gotta be patient.

Debbie:

You have to be patient to get to that point. I love that.

So, Marek, let’s slow forward to about 30, maybe 40 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you wanna be remembered for?

Marek:

Ooh, that’s a big question.

Well, something that gives me a lot of gratification is when I get an email or a letter from people saying, “Oh, I read your stuff. And it really changed my travels or even changed my life. There have been people who wanted to meet up with me for this reason when they passed through Lisbon.” I think that’s really nice.

So, knowing that other people have benefited from something that you do is always awesome. And well, 30 or 40 years from now, I hope I’m doing something offline. I don’t know, maybe brewing some beer or whatever.

Debbie:

That sounds awesome.

Marek:

Yeah.

I think this is for another 10 or 20 years. And then I would love to just have a legacy that’s a bit more local, maybe in the community. Maybe I’ll be making the best craft beer of some town that I’m living in. I’m not sure.

Debbie:

That sounds pretty cool. You’ll be like, “Visit me here.” I mean, it could be another part of your blog. It’s like, “Come visit me to get the best beer ever.

Marek:

Exactly. Yeah.

Just like cross. Those businesses can have synergies.

Debbie:

Exactly.

Marek:

There you go, beer and travel.

Debbie:

Yeah. That makes total sense.

People do travel for stuff like that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you put it in together with that. I love it.

Well, thank you so much, Marek, for being here with us. If our listeners wanna know you better, where can they find you?

Marek:

So they can find my blog at Indie traveller. And if you just type in indie traveller into Google, it will be the first result.

Debbie:

Perfect. Love that. Easy, easy to find. So make sure you do that. And also you can click on the link on our show notes as well at theoffbeatlife.com.

Thank you so much, Marek, for being here. We really appreciate you. And it was so nice to learn about your journey.

Marek:

Thank you for having me. It was a real pleasure.

Listen to Marek’s extended interview where he shares how to take long-term career breaks.

What you’ll find:

In this episode, Marek will walk you through the steps of taking long-term career breaks.


Follow Marek:


Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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