Hello there, I’m Antonio from BalkanDigitalNomads. I was the most unconfident person you can imagine, but in 2016. I just started with solo-traveling and nomadic lifestyle. After these experience, my life totally changed and my goal is to inspire people to travel and improve their lives and lives of others. Traveling and experience are the best teachers, don’t forget that!
I want to thank you on having me in this interview series, it’s such a pleasure to share my experiences with other travelers and people who’re just preparing to take their first trip.
Yes, I’m running a travel blog called Balkan Digital Nomads. In the beginning, my friend and I started the blog as an idea to share our digital nomad lifestyle experience with other people in Balkan area. Right now, we’re covering many topics as we realized there are so many opportunities that can allow you to travel almost full-time on a very tight budget.
We’re doing all kind of things and collaborations on our blog. You can find topics about studying, working, volunteering abroad and of course, digital nomad lifestyle. Our mission is to show people there is more to life than simply following the script and fall into the system.
We hope that our stories, interviews and experiences will inspire at least one person to take the similar route as we did.
Where was home prior to you starting the nomad life? and do you still go back? How easy is it to return home whilst roaming the world?
Well, I’m still not a “full-time” digital nomad as I spend the majority of my time in my hometown.
Anyway, home seems much different now than before! I feel very disconnected to the majority of people there as I’m coming from a small city where everyone is caught up in the system. When I’m at home, I’m always planning and wandering about the next location.
Right now, I’m in “all-in” regarding chasing the freedom as I’m currently living in Vietnam teaching kids English in remote areas (volunteering). That is the perfect opportunity as I’m able to literally live without any costs as the project gives me accommodation and three meals for free. I’m planning to bootstrap this travel blog to another level, so I’ll be able to be free when it comes to traveling and experiencing different cultures.
I just want to look at the map and say “I’m going there”! ?
I must say it’s not that hard to return home after a short trip, but it’s a hell after a longer one. For instance, when I was living in the USA, it was so hard to return home and I was really depressed for some time. I felt like my family is there and I really enjoyed each moment!
The key is just to start doing different things once you’re home as the worst thing is to fall into the routine!
How would you describe the term nomad life in your own words?
At first, it’s very hard to decide to leave everything, pack your things and just go. There are so many things to deal when it comes to mindset. I really believe that the mindset is everything, so if you want to be involved in this kind of lifestyle, better be ready always to adjust your mindset.
Nomad lifestyle to me is just the ultimate expression of freedom! Of course, you have deadlines and clients, but you can’t compare it with a regular 9-5. You’re not bound to any location and you’re experiencing so many things on the road which you simply can’t learn from any book.
When did you start the nomad lifestyle and why?
Basically, I started with it after my return from the USA. I was working there for three months and when I returned home I just wanted to find a job. Luckily, I met Ian (another part of BDN) and he was doing some freelancing at the time, so he introduced me to it. Soon, I found the client and I started to spare money for the trip.
At that time, I was still in college, but I can’t explain to you how uninterested I was for the lectures and things you’re being taught there. I simply neglected the college and focused all my time and energy on working on my skills. I dropped out the college to chase this lifestyle and many people tell me I’m stupid, but I guess they’re still brainwashed by the system, right?
I’m living this lifestyle for around year and a half. As I said, I haven’t been on the road all the time, but I’ve managed to travel and work in 5 countries during that period.
There are so many different opportunities today in the world as the globalization and technology make it easy to travel around. I just started and there are so many things to learn, so many places to visit and so many cultures to experience. I really don’t see the end and I haven’t thought about that to be honest.
I guess there is not an end as I don’t label myself. I’m just an individual who’s chasing freedom and that’s basically the life-long journey.
What are some of the pros and cons of being a nomad?
When it comes to pros, I would say freedom and flexibility. Basically, you’re in the charge when it comes to finding your clients and projects. In the beginning, I was struggling with that, but right now, I’m able to work on the things I love. I would never work on the project that doesn’t interest me. You’re also flexible with your working hours, so it totally depends on your routine and how do you want to spend the hours in your day. Sometimes, I’m feeling lazy in the morning and during the day, so I don’t work during that period, but start to work at night. It really depends on how I feel at the given moment. If I think I’m not 100%, then you won’t see me working (except there is a deadline!).
The biggest con for me are the people and connections. I met so many amazing people during my journey, but it sucks when they leave. You know, everyone is on their own journey, but it’s hard when you connect with someone and you know they are leaving in few days. Saying goodbye isn’t a thing I’m good at, but I’m working on that. The amazing thing is a technology so you can always follow their journeys and wish them the best.
How log did it take you to prepare fr the nomad life?
I didn’t prepare as it was totally natural transition. I was sick of following the rules and having the same life as everyone else so I chose freedom. I’m kind of guy who’s always ready for the adventure, no matter how crazy it sounds.
For instance, at the beginning of this year I was living in my hometown and I’ve become sick of close-minded people and I wanted to leave, but at the same time I didn’t have enough money for the longer trip! I found out one interesting volunteering opportunity in Vietnam, I applied and here I am! I plan to stay at least six months and if everything will be fine, I’m not leaving until I explore a whole SEA.
What types of places do you stay in when traveling?
I definitely prefer staying for longer periods (3 or more months). The reason is that I really want to experience the culture and short stays don’t give you that opportunity. I’m avoiding big cities and touristic places and usually travel to remote places where you can’t see another tourist. That way, you get the most authentic experience of the culture.
I usually stay in homestays and hostels. I just need a bed, roof over my head, a table, reliable inter-net and tons of coffee. I’m not a demanding guy when it comes to accommodation, but there are some things that I simply need.
The big question everyone wants to know (how do you earn an income to travel full time?
My source of income is working for clients on different projects. Right now, I’m working in a digital marketing field in travel niche. When I don’t have enough money to travel, but I just feel like I want to travel, I volunteer. It’s an awesome way to live abroad while working for the clients or your own project.
My ultimate goal is to make my own projects profitable so that I could focus more on that and less on clients.
Do you have any tips for people that want to start the nomad way of living? Can you recommend any particular countries to start with?
Oh yeah! Don’t wait for the perfect moment and just create your opportunity. I would say go to the countries where you can support your lifestyle. In my opinion, SEA is a good choice as the culture is very strong and diverse, food is amazing, people are so nice, you will meet many other digital no-mads and costs are low.
I started my digital nomad journey in Koh Lanta, Thailand as I wanted to be on the island that isn’t packed with the tourists. I spent around $800 per month (excluding plane ticket). If you want to start with digital nomad lifestyle full-time, I really advise you to get to the point where you’re earning about $1,000 per month. That sum can make you through almost all countries in the SEA and you won’t feel like anything is lacking.
For instance, I’m in Vietnam right now where I’m teaching kids English as a volunteer and I’m basically spending around $100 – $200 per month! It’s a perfect way to experience the culture, connect with people and bootstrap your business.
I read a lot of blogs of other nomads, so that’s the way I find my next locations. After few trips under my belt, I just know from the instinct which country I want to visit and why.
What types of things do people need to plan before starting the nomad life?
Hmm, first of all checkout everything you need to get to the country. It includes visa and flight ticket. These two things are essential. When you have more information on that, then you should plan your budget!
Check out the prices of food, accommodation and leisure activities. When you have everything on the paper, then you will know how much money you’ll need for the planned period in the country.
When it comes to health insurance, ALWAYS invest in it! Probably you won’t experience anything bad, but in case you’re injured or not feeling well, then you can use health care in the foreign country for free. These things cost tons of money, especially in SEA. Backup money is a smart thing to plan. I always try to have at least for a flight ticket back to home if something goes terribly wrong.
Basically, take your time and plan everything before starting your trip! Especially research the destination you’re planning to go. Check this post out on how to Plan Your Trip Like A Pro.
Have you had any scary or funny experiences whilst travelling?
There are not many scary experiences I’ve had, but definitely one of the scariest one was when my friend fell off the bike in Thailand. The bike was totally crashed and I was so scared about his well-being! Luckily, he didn’t break anything, but we spent like the third of our budget that was intended for a month trip. Also, the fact that we didn’t have a driving license wasn’t that encouraging, especial-ly when a local man asked for money as friend’s motorbike hit his car. It was the situation “Give me the money or I’m calling the police!”. I know it was stupid to do it, but at least we learned a lot.
That day was so crazy! I drove him to the hospital and on our way back the tire on another bike broke down on the way back to the hostel and we managed to get lost in Phuket. We didn’t have water nor any money on ourselves. It was really scary, but at the same time we looked at that experience as an adventure. ?
There are so many funny experiences along this journey and it’s hard to pick one! I would say the funniest one was in Thailand when we partied in Koh Lanta for the first time. We were around 6 kilo-meters from our hostel and we decided to go back from the club at some moment. At the front of the club, there were so many tuk-tuk drivers offering us a drive, but we declined, even when the driver decreased his price few times. I was in the mood for walking but didn’t know the actual distance. Somewhere in the middle of the way, we just lay on the street taking a “nap”, but we heard a car in the distance so we continued. Then I remembered checking 7-11 for some water. I bought water and I saw my friend holding four ice-creams! We had a ritual of buying ice-creams whenever we were in 7-11.
How many countries approx have you lived the nomad life in? Did you encounter any visas or immigration issues?
I’ve been living a nomad life in five countries. Montenegro, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Thailand and now Vietnam. As I’m coming from Croatia, you don’t need a visa for the first three countries. You need a visa for Thailand and Vietnam, but it’s so easy to get.
For instance, my whole visa process for Thailand lasted around 10 minutes. Vietnam has an e-visa system and I easily got a business visa with multiple entries for three months. It hugely depends on the country you’re a resident, so always check the requirements before applying.
As a full-time nomad (what is your back up plan) if the money or work runs low?
Going back to my home country and working from my parent’s home until I get enough money to fund a trip. Basically, that’s my last option as I feel I’m not growing in that environment. Also, I must say that I never have a backup money. I’m just going with the flow and I believe I can make it any-where, especially working as a bartender abroad if things don’t go how I planned.
The next option is volunteering for the exchange of food and accommodation. You can work on your business while doing a meaningful thing for zero cost.
Do you do use any freelance work sites to obtain work from?
At the beginning of my journey, I used a lot of freelance sites. The main sites are Upwork and Outsourcely. Right now, I’m not using any freelance site as I don’t like the way they’re treating their members (especially Upwork). After some time, you connect with so many people and it’s easy to work on project through recommendation.
Upwork is a bit tricky to get the first client as there is so much competition so be ready to lower your rates until you complete few projects. After that, it becomes easier to score projects. Again, I don’t recommend anyone use Upwork as they have huge fees and they’re treating their members pretty bad. I was there for a few years and completed so many projects, but after some time I just stopped to use it as I was working outside the platform. One morning I’ve got the email that my account is suspended as my skills aren’t demanding. Like WHAT? That’s the moment I realised that I don’t want to have a mediator between the clients and me.
When you reach a particular destination – how do you find work? Do you have a strategy or do you try ad secure work before you arrive?
I always make sure that I have a stable work before I reach the destination. That’s the must!
In Thailand, it was a bit tricky as I was looking for the client for two weeks. It’s not a pleasant feeling when you don’t have cash in your pocket and you don’t have a project to work on! Always be sure that you have a stable client that pays for your expenses in the country you’re currently in!
What factors do you consider before travelling to a country for the nomad life?
It’s really subjective thing. For me, I’m picking less touristic places that are often rural. I just can’t stand tourist crowds and I’m actively avoiding it! Always make sure that Internet is stable and you can have it anywhere. Also, the cost of living is another factor I’m putting in the equation. I’m aiming for the countries that cost me less than $1,000 to live a month in.
The perfect countries, in my opinion, are from SEA region in my opinion and you can’t go wrong with them. If you’re a person who loves summer and tropical weather, then it’s a no-brainer!
Have you encountered any issues with adjusting to local customs or the culture whilst you have been travelling? What about language barriers has this been an issue anywhere?
I didn’t experience any issues except a language barrier. For instance, in Vietnam it’s very noticeable! People really can’t speak a word on English and they just continue speaking Vietnamese to you even if they see you don’t know a word! It becomes so annoying, but Google Translate do the work and it’s not that big problem anymore.
Do you travel solo as a nomad? If so what are the pros and cons of this?
I tried to traveling with a friend and traveling solo. I’m a huge fan of solo traveling as you’re on your own, which means you don’t need to make compromises on things you want to do or experience. Everyone has their own taste which means if you’re traveling with someone you’d better be ready for compromises. I started to hate it as it takes away my freedom in a way, so that’s a part of reason I started with solo-traveling.
There are many benefits of solo-traveling and I deeply believe that kind of traveling is the best teacher as you’re on your own which means everything is up to you! In general, people are very helpful, so even if you’re stuck somewhere, they will help you to get outside the situation. Many people are scared of solo-traveling as they think they will be alone but believe me you won’t be alone! It’s easier to connect and meet new people when you’re solo as we’re social creatures and it’s hard not to talk and socialize with people once you hit the road.
No matter how much you’re good at socializing, there will be times when you’d just wish that one of your friends is with you as sometimes you’ll feel lonely! It’s important to not stuck in that feeling as it’s perfectly normal. Just do something amazing like taking a hike or visit some amazing place and you will soon feel like a new!
Has been easy to make friends and socialise – whilst travelling around as a nomad?
It depends! If you’re surrounded with English speaking people, then it’s easy, but if there is a language barrier, then it will be a huge struggle! It’s literally impossible to connect with people if there is a language barrier.
When I started with solo-traveling, I felt like being pushed to engage in conversations. That’s proba-bly because I didn’t want to feel alone. Right now, I’m mainly avoiding casual talks as I’m not interested in that kind of talk anymore and it just drains my energy. If I feel like there is no connection between the person I’m talking with and me, I will walk away. I don’t want to spend other person’s time nor my time, so I think that’s the best outcome. 🙂
So, I would say it totally depends on your mindset and it’s a skill! After some trips and many different people, you will become very confident in meeting and socializing with new people.
Do you have any money saving tips for flights / accommodation? Any recommended sites to book on?
Not actually, but I found out that buying a plane ticket few days before a trip could save you a lot of money, especially if the plane is half empty! I’m basically checking the tickets on cheapoair.com, but when I see an offer I just go directly to flight company and see if they have some discounts or special deals. That approach landed me a round-way ticket to Thailand from Belgrade for $500.
What country are you in at present? How have you found the nomad life there? Any recommendation for places to check out or places to hang out for nomads?
Currently I’m living in Vietnam in a small town located in central Vietnam. There are not many things to do around and you can’t meet any tourists, which is perfect for me. Be aware, as it may be a bit hard for solo-travelers, but it can be so great if you’re trying to bootstrap your business as you don’t have many distractions and you can focus on things that matter. When it comes to nomad communities in Vietnam, I’m not an authority as I’ve only been to Hanoi so far, but I must tell that there are so many cafes around with AMAZING coffee and stable internet connection. You will be able to work from any place even in remote areas, so don’t worry about the internet. I find Vietnam as a perfect place for nomads as it’s very affordable, the culture here is very strong, people are warm and hospitable, internet is widespread and the most important, coffee is strong!
When it comes to other places, I really suggest you to check out Koh Lanta and famous KoHub there. I wrote a comprehensive review on KoHub, so if you’re planning to go there, then take a look to this review.
Basically, you can work from anywhere in the world as long as you have a stable and reliable inter-net connection. If you’d like to connect with like-minded people, I strongly suggest that you check coworking spaces. These are a bit more expensive, but you’ll get really great conditions to focus on the work while networking with other professionals.
What has been some of your top highlights from travelling?
Oh, it’s very interesting question, but also, it’s very hard to give you a short answer without writing a whole book! I’m a kind of motorbike lover, so I really enjoy riding a motorbike around. One of the most memorable moments I’ve had during traveling was driving around Koh Lanta and simply exploring the island that way. There are many hidden stunning places around and it’s very stunning when you’re driving a bike and the sunset is following you on your ride! Really memorable one!
Another one I’d like to include is definitely exploring Halong Bay avoiding all tourists and having all the place for myself! It’s very stunning to sit at the top of the mountain during the sunrise while over-looking breathtaking wonder! You should definitely do it if you’re in Vietnam!
What is on your bucket list?
It’s interesting, but I don’t have a bucket list! I’m the very adventurous guy and when I see a place I just book a ticket and go there! I’m craving for the tropical climate, palms, sandy beaches and cold ocean.
However, there is one place I’m thinking of visiting for a long time – India. I just want to live in India for a year while exploring all the states and really learn more about this amazing culture and people. As I’m into motorbikes, I’m planning to do a motorbike ride from Hanoi to Saigon which will take me around one month to complete, but yeah, that’s one of the trips I’m very eager to experience!
How do you see the future of nomadism?
I see more and more people start with this kind of lifestyle as it became very easy and affordable to travel and live abroad. Technology and globalization did their part, so it’s up to you if you want to break outside the system and explore the world. Believe me, the world is sooo beautiful and there are so many amazing people and cultures around!
Many companies became more opened to remote work, so as long as you have the right skills and mindset you can make it anywhere!
Has being a nomad taught you any life lessons?
Again, I could write a whole post on that, but I will put only two lessons that were the most important on my journey so far!
The first one is to always face your fears! It’s easy to avoid your fears and just be paralyzed by your fears. When you start facing your fears, that’s the time you’re going outside your comfort zone and that’s the moment you start to live. It’s very hard at the beginning, like very very hard! But you have to do it as there is no way around! If you want to grow and experience life, then just do what fears you the most. After some time you will notice that you became so much confident and your perspective will become so broad that the things that feared you before seems like funny things now.
Another one is that the world is generally a beautiful place filled with amazing people. As long as so many people told me negative stories about the world, I must say I can only count few negative stories during two years of extensive traveling. People will tell you many things based on things they hear on media, but then you ask yourself “Are these people ever been to the places and experienced these places?”
Sorry for only two lessons, but I really don’t want to write a whole post here! ?
Any nomad tips?
Start small and work on projects you’re passionate about! There will be many ups and downs but you just need to preserve through hard times as good times are much more rewarding! Imagine yourself as the rock standing in the ocean and being hit by waves. The rock is just there and can’t be de-stroyed by these waves (obstacles and challenges). Work on your mindset as well as you’ll need a very strong mindset if you want to make nomadism your lifestyle.
Please share one quote you love.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
Social Media Links: