Location independent professional coach, Carmen Bolanos is currently living in Brazil with her children. Carmen literally wrote the book on a digital nomad lifestyle; it is called The NuNomad. She shares her story and offers some great advice in this interview.
Please tell us a little about your background.
Well, my mother worked in foreign service in Colombia and my father was probably one of the original location independents, traveling for 18 years without returning and making his way on the road, so I’ve always thought I am genetically programmed to wander. However, I really didn’t wander much growing up. I did the traditional education, became the first college grad in my family and went on to get a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. I was in private practice in Austin, Texas, had 2 children and our 3rd on the way when my aunt in Connecticut told me about a training program in coaching for psychologists. I soon realized that because coaching could be done by phone I could let go of having the brick and mortar office, be home with my family more and BE MOBILE!
Previously in private practice if I missed even one day of work it was a major blow to our monthly income. I felt completely trapped – unable to take breaks. My husband’s family had a beach house in Connecticut and we couldn’t even visit because it cost me too much to lose work. With coaching everything changed for me. We were soon on the road to Connecticut. I would work along the way by cell phone, hotel phone, what have you. Small trips turned into bigger trips as I got comfortable that my technology would work and that my clients wouldn’t leave me. I remember one day letting my kids go through the Mardi Gras Museum in New Orleans while I did an hour call with a client and realizing, “This is AMAZING! We’re on vacation having a great time AND I’m making money to boot!” We stayed away longer and wandered further as time went on.
Where you are now?
Right now we are in Florianopolis, Brazil. It is an island off the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, connected by bridge. It is an amazingly gorgeous place known for surfing as well as many other outdoor sports. We’ve been here since July and will stay till mid December. We had never been to Brazil before but we had some friends here who suggested it would be a good place to stay so we decided to go for it!
How do your children enjoy your nomadic lifestyle?
This year’s journey has been the longest we have attempted so far. There have been some bouts of homesickness and some sibling arguments but other than that they are really excited to be here and are having a great time. It’s amazing to me to watch them learning Portuguese and developing friendships and social lives. Kids are so open to trying new things. It has really been a wonderful growth experience for them. They’re looking forward to our next destination, Oaxaca.
How are you educating your children?
In our permanent home in Austin, Texas, we had been using a Waldorf/Steiner school. The Waldorf curriculum was a great match for our girls who really resonate with the integrated style of learning. However, the private school tuition turned out to be too much for our family so in our last 2 years in the states I was homeschooling our youngest daughter through first and second grade. Here in Florianopolis there happens to be a Waldorf school as well. The tuition for 3 children is cheaper than sending only 1 in the U.S.! So, all three of them have attended school here. I also felt it was the best way for them to be immersed in Portuguese and develop relationships with Brazilian peers. As it turns out, many Brazilian teens here have learned pretty good English so the immersion idea has not panned out as well as I had hoped. Still, I think they’ve learned more Portuguese than they would have. The down side of this, however, is that we are somewhat responsible to stick to the school schedule. I would have liked to have been a little more mobile.
When we move to Oaxaca in the spring I will homeschool our two teens and they will supplement with art, music and Spanish classes. There is such a wealth of art in that area of Mexico! My youngest daughter will attend an alternative school there called Colegio Teizcali because she is absolutely thriving with having kids to play with each day. Private school tuition plus swimming for her will come to a grand total of $169 US per month!
How long do you typically spend in each location when you travel?
I like to spend at least a month. On this leg we will spend 6 months in Brazil and 6 months in Mexico because this time around I really want the kids to get a good grasp of the languages.
What does it cost to travel like you do?
I did a recent blog post of our numbers in the first two months and compared it to our numbers for life in Austin. On a monthly basis we’re saving close to $2000 per month by living in Brazil. Now, you have to take into account the cost of transportation and visas for 4 people to Brazil. I’m crazy about getting great airfare deals, so for us the total travel expense was around $3600 including visas. However, since we’re staying 6 months we still save. In addition, we leverage our home while we’re away. We’re currently renting the addition of our home to a woman and her daughter. The rental income in Austin exactly offsets what we’re spending on rent here. So that is further savings.
How do you earn an income?
I wish I could say I was wildly rich from our website, NuNomad. That’s not the case right now – it’s still a labor of love at this point. I make my money by maintaining my coaching business Dr. Coach Business Development. I coach people to achieve and maintain their personal and business goals. Of course, one of my biggest passions is coaching people to create mobile businesses and live nomadically. I have wonderful, loyal clients and I love watching their lives develop over time. In addition, my husband, who doesn’t care to travel with us, continues in his work as a programmer for the state of Texas. Without both our incomes combined we could not travel and maintain the home in Texas simultaneously.
Can you please tell us about your new book?
The NuNomad is a 200 page how-to guide for creating a location independent lifestyle. We cover everything from getting your mind into the right place with coaching exercises, to how to set up a mobile business, how to choose a destination, what to pack, immunizations, taxes, you name it! This is our second book and what I like about it is that it includes quotes and descriptions of the many real-life nomads we’ve interviewed through the years as well as access to a private section of our site where you can do some of the coaching exercises, get packing lists, etc.
My Nu Nomad partner, Richard Hamel and I have been working on this book for 2 years. Richard is a nomad of 9 years who has visited or lived in over 30 countries. When it comes to travel, he knows his stuff! His experience combined with my coaching background I feel gives us a unique set of skills to draw upon. We can also speak to solo travel as well as family travel since Richard travels solo.
There are a lot of new terms and definitions for travelers, digital nomads, location independence, etc. What is your take on all this?
You know, what I think everyone is seeing is the evolution of terminology to describe this new lifestyle trend. When we got into the game in 2006 with Nu Nomad there were several players already in the field but it still felt very “underground”. Since the publication of the 4 Hour Workweek, there has been an explosion of people wanting to create such a lifestyle. With that explosion, of course, has been a parallel explosion of terminology. Everyone is vying to “coin their term”. Of course the word, “nomad” comes up in many; ie “digital nomad” “technomad” “working nomad” “nu nomad”, so that seems to be a mutually agreed upon favorite word. I do think “location independent” is an accurate term. “Lifestyle design” kind of bothers me because the movement assumes that you want to design your lifestyle to be nomadic and yet I believe the term “lifestyle design” should be open to any type of lifestyle a given individual wants to design. Not everyone gets their thrills from world travel. It will be interesting to see it all play out over time. I don’t have my money on any particular term right now!
What advice would you offer for others thinking of moving abroad and supporting themselves online?
Hmmm. Loaded question. My mind hears two parts to this. 1) What advice would I have for others thinking of moving abroad? My advice – do it!! Do it sooner rather than later. We’ve got one life to see this beautiful world. Don’t let it get past you. 2) What advice would I offer for others thinking of supporting themselves online? Don’t put the cart before the horse. Online business is alluring because it’s easy to get an idea and throw up a good looking website for little money. It’s the “if you build it they will come” mentality, right? You think people will naturally flock to your site and start spending money. This isn’t the case. Online business is extremely competitive and there is a lot to learn about how to drive traffic, convert sales, build audiences, etc. before you’ll make anything close to an income to even support yourself in a third world country. If this is how you plan to support your traveling, get a good education about internet marketing, start your business and get a reliable income flow started before you hit the road.
That said, online business is just one way to make money while you travel. Think outside the box! I mean, how many people are going off to Thailand and then throwing up a blog with a picture of themselves and their laptop in a hammock saying, “look at me! You could do this too”. Don’t be another one in the crowd. Be creative. There are many ways to make money with mobile businesses. In my Meet the Nomads category of our blog where I have interviewed lots of nomads you’ll see not only website owners but balloon artists, trapeze artists, graphic designers, photographers, even an insurance salesman! Use your unique skills to create a career that reflects them – just create that career in a way that can be taken on the road.
Most long-term travelers seem to be in their mid-20s, Is it harder or easier for older travelers?
I think both categories have their pros and cons. People in their mid-twenties often have not yet developed careers or businesses to the point that they can sustain themselves on the road. It often takes time to get a business to that point. However, people in their 20s are often freer to be mobile because they haven’t yet married, started families or gotten themselves burdened with things like mortgages yet. Older travelers often have savings to draw upon or assets to sell to support their travel. In addition, they’re more likely to have mature businesses that can withstand an uprooting and still thrive. But the flipside is that older travelers are also often burdened with mortgages or other debts and are more likely to have spouses, children etc. which make travel plans a bit more complex. There will never be a “perfect time”. If you want to travel you just have to do it in spite of the obstacles you may face.
What are your future plans in the short and long term?
Well, short term is to finish up our time here in Brazil, take about a month at home for the holidays and then move to Oaxaca for the remaining 6 months. Our longer term plans are much sketchier at the moment. I will continue to develop Nu Nomad because I have a lot of passion for this lifestyle and then see what the future holds!