Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll of Uncornered Market have almost a decade experience living abroad. After five years of living and working in Prague they began a nomadic life while continuing to work remotely. They are three years and counting into their vagabond existence with no end in sight. They offer some fantastic insight into their lives in this interview.
Please tell us about your travels so far?
We’ve been on the road for a little over three years. That may sound like an outrageously long time, but it wasn’t planned that way. When we quit our jobs and sold everything to take this journey, we thought we would travel around the world for 12-18 months. But sometimes life just takes over.
Once we started traveling in Asia, we realized it would take much longer to explore in the depth we wanted. For us to understand a place we need to visit more than the capital city; we spend time in smaller towns and rural areas to collect a variety of data points and experiences.
On this journey, we have visited over 35 countries throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Central America, South America. This may not sound like a lot of countries for three years of travel, but we usually spend from several weeks to two months in each country.
Currently, we’re in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a breather. After some difficult (yet rewarding) travel in Bolivia and Paraguay, we’re enjoying being still and taking some time to process and plan.
Here is a full list of the countries we’ve visited on this journey .
Your blog says you left jobs in the Czech Republic, are you from Czech originally?
Neither of us have Czech roots. Our decision to move to Prague in 2001 was simple: we wanted to experience living in Europe together (we had just come from two years of a long distance relationship — Audrey in Estonia and Dan in San Francisco). We had spent months traveling around Europe as backpackers, but understood that living and working abroad is a very different beast. So we researched and networked in countries in Central and Eastern Europe that were not yet in the European Union (i.e., making it easier for American citizens to get long term visas). We chose Prague based on a variety of data: people and culture, job opportunities, ease of visa, cost of living, etc. Friends and family thought we were crazy to uproot from San Francisco to move to Prague without jobs.
Within a few months we each found employment. Dan found a job as a director in a software development company and later took on several consulting projects, including his last — running a financial transparency program for Vodafone.
Audrey worked in legal and tax issues in the former Soviet Union, ensuring that the journalist offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty throughout the region (20+ countries) were squeaky clean.
As you may have noticed, our previous jobs are very different from the type of work we do now. There’s a reason for that.
Although we both had stable jobs and a good life in Prague, the curiosity bug bit again: we wanted to see the rest of the world. After talking about traveling the world for years, we took the plunge at the end of 2006. We quit our jobs, sold most of our possessions and donned backpacks. This decision – to leave the stable lives we had created and go into the unknown – was the hardest thing we’ve done on this journey.
Do you have a home base somewhere that you return to regularly?
We’ve taken breaks here and there with friends in Central Europe and family in the States, but we’ve essentially been living out of our backpacks for the last three years. Prague is still a base of sorts. We still have a business registered in the Czech Republic and we return every couple of years to renew our residence visas. We did give up our apartment there, so we stay with some very kind – and patient – friends when we return.
Fortunately, we are able to manage our administrative and financial obligations remotely. Thank goodness for online banking, tax returns and the ability to manage almost every type of account online. When the odd piece of physical mail does arrive, my mother is a saint and faxes it to us (it arrives as a PDF via email) so we can take care of whatever it is. Occasionally, we have to find a physical address in a foreign country to receive new ATM/credit cards when the old ones expire.
We do own more than what we carry on our backs, however. We have a small (1 meter) storage unit in Prague and my father and mother each store a few boxes for us. There were certain things we couldn’t part with – a few books, an old school map from East Germany, photos, etc. Having said that, the longer we’re away the more we forget what we own.
Why is your blog called Uncornered Market?
The name Uncornered Market was to communicate openness and sharing — ideas and experiences. While travel is a critical component of our lives and is critical to understanding our world and our lifestyle management, we didn’t wish to limit our brand to travel.
What do you mean with, “measuring the Earth with our feet?”
Just to be clear, we are not literally walking around the world. We do walk a lot, that’s true. And we travel by land most of the time. But the phrase “measuring the Earth with their feet” is a reference to Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The quote seeks to capture the essential difference between theoretical and experiential knowledge by contrasting the learning process of book-learned knights of the court with the experience-seasoned knights errant who experience the world first-hand. As we read the quote on a monsoon-swept beach in Thailand during our first month on the road, we realized that it not only captured us and our curiosity, but why in search of satisfying that curiosity, we would risk a safe existence to do it.
Does your blog make you any income?
We do make some money from our blog with ads and affiliate sales, but it was not our plan for the blog to be our main source of income. We use our website more as a portfolio to illustrate our thought process and our creative skills and abilities.
Do foresee turning your site into a full-time income?
Our goal is to maintain a lifestyle that draws from a variety of sources of income, a mix of services and products. Our website, Uncornered Market, will play a role in revenue generation, but not as the only source.
How do you make money now?
Essentially, we are freelancers who work from wherever we are in the world. We carry our office with us. Over the last few years we’ve earned money through selling photos (e.g., for annual reports, web and magazine use), writing articles, executing custom photography projects (e.g. profiling microfinance programs), implementing websites, and cutting a few custom advertising-partnering deals involving our website, Uncornered Market.
If your focus is developing and transitional countries where reliable internet access (or even electricity) can be a pipe dream, managing life and business can be difficult and extremely frustrating. We once spent eight hours – each of us on separate computers – in an internet cafe in Burma implementing an ad campaign on our website that needed to be done ASAP. In the States on a regular internet connection, it would have taken about thirty minutes.
Additionally, it is not easy to find the right balance between exploring the places you visit and working. You don’t want to spend all the time on your laptop looking for cafes with wifi when you’re in a place you want to see and explore. At the same time, you can’t ignore your business for too long. So although we spend much of our time traveling in remote areas, we do take breaks in cities with infrastructure and internet access in order to maintain our website, our correspondence, and our client relationships. It’s important to always be networking and pitching ideas to keep on people’s radar and to find new projects.
Many people don’t realize that choosing where you travel (e.g., Southeast Asia vs. Europe) and how you travel is as much a factor in the money discussion as how much income you bring in. We travel on a budget mostly in developing countries, meaning that sometimes we stay in places that most of our friends would never consider and we eat a lot of street food (e.g., dinners for $1-2). It’s rare that we take flights, mostly because we want to travel overland to see the subtle changes in landscape and people in the countries we visit, but this is also a cost decision. In other words, our daily expenses are relatively low compared with what they would be if we mostly traveled in the United States, Europe or Australia/New Zealand.
Have you worked anywhere while you have been traveling?
If you mean, have we taken up work locally (e.g., teaching English, bartending, etc.) while we’ve traveled, then the answer is “no.” Some of our work is location independent (e.g., implementing a website for a client in the U.S. while living on an island in Honduras), while some is location-specific. For example, we have been contracted for multi-day photo shoots in countries where we are traveling.
Is your work paying for your travels or are you using savings as well?
When we set off on this journey, we expected to travel for 12-18 months and saved accordingly (e.g., no car, no apartment, no debt). In the first few months of our journey, we began to pick up freelance work, thereby allowing us to extend our time on the road. We have continued to find projects and grow our business along the way.
While we cover a significant portion of our expenses through projects, we haven’t covered it all. But we are getting closer.
What have been your most and least expensive travel destinations?
Most expensive: Europe
Least expensive: India, Burma, Nepal
(In much of South Asia, Southeast Asia and China, we can both eat well and live comfortably for around $30 per day).
How long do you expect to be traveling like this?
TBD. What drives us is our curiosity and experiencing the countries first-hand. We’ve traveled through much of Europe, Asia and Central/South America, but we feel that we need to spend a chunk of time in the Middle East and Africa to get a better understanding of the world and be able to make comparisons between it all. The answer we usually give is about two more years, but it could end earlier or later depending upon certain factors (projects, health, whether we’re still enjoying the journey, family, etc.)
Do you think you would want to be a perpetual traveler?
Travel has always been a part of our lives together, so we can’t imagine not traveling regularly. Even after finishing this particular round-the-world journey, significant chunks of the world will remain unexplored (for us).
But, we don’t want to travel perpetually the way we do now (i.e., full time). The constant movement and almost constant problem solving (accommodation, food, visas, transport, etc.) becomes tiring after a while. Your head becomes full of observations and you need time to process everything. Our goal is to eventually settle down, while maintaining a lifestyle that allows the flexibility to travel at will. Not an easy task.
What have been your most and least favorite travel destinations?
Most favorite destinations? Always a difficult question. Among the memorable: Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pamir region of Tajikistan, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, India, Guatemala, and Bolivian salt deserts.
As for least favorite destinations…this is a hard one without offending newfound friends in these countries.
Do you have a favorite country that you would like to move to more permanently?
Before we set off on this journey, we had a few destinations in mind as potential homes. So far, Bangkok, Saigon and Buenos Aires remain in the “we could see ourselves living here” hopper. We enjoy active big cities that balance a large international community with a strong local culture. Access to good, fresh food is also important to us.
What is your next destination?
We are working on that as we speak. It’s likely that we will travel in and around Argentina in the short term (Patagonia, Mendoza, Salta, Cordoba). However, we’re talking with a client about doing some projects in East Africa, which may limit our time in South America this go around. Stay tuned. We’ll update our site when we work it all out.