More adventures and less stuff: How we moved beyond burnout and became a full-time, slow-traveling digital nomad family
Five short years ago we couldn’t have imagined the lifestyle we lead today. ‘World schooling’, ‘location independent living’ and ‘digital nomad lifestyle’ were terms that had not yet entered our radar.
Yet here we are in 2020, and those terms are firmly entrenched in our reality. For more than three years we have been living a full time, slow travel lifestyle.
Our entry into this lifestyle wasn’t gradual.
And it took ‘rock bottom’ for us to embark on this journey.
We wouldn’t change it for anything.
Here is our story. We hope it helps inspire you to step forward and live your best life, whatever that may mean to you.
The online business that was the catalyst for our radical change in lifestyle
This beautiful life is full of challenges. The biggest challenges can often produce the biggest learning opportunities, growth, and transformations.
In 2016 we were living in our home country of New Zealand. Our daughter was two years old and life wasn’t feeling so peachy.
Without going into the depths of it, this is the short story (well as short as I can manage to tell a story, lol!)
We had taken over a business that we thought was an amazing opportunity for our wee family. Colin was excited about the scalable nature of the business and it was a perfect fit for my purpose, passions and experience in health and wellness.
Although it was a physical product, we could systemize the business and manage it completely online. This was an exciting concept to us because an online business would be able to offer us the freedom to maximize our time together as family, for many years to come.
Colin systemized the business completely within three months. We put heart, soul, and endless time, money and resources into the business.
However, 18 months into it, we had to call it a day. We had underestimated the fact that we were competing against some very big players, and the level of investment that was really required to make that work.
More than just a financial hit
We were willing to put our house on the line to make the business work. It was a measured risk. As entrepreneurs we need to consider the concept of risk versus reward. Calculated risks are kind of like challenges. They lead to learning and growth, and add to the excitement of life. And Colin and I are all about living life, which we’ll get to soon.
The business risk didn’t pay off this time. We did lose our house, and also our rental a little later on.
But really, those are just “things”. What was worse, was that we were both completely burnt out.
I got the “flu” in the winter and didn’t recover for a very long time. Having been immersed in the health and fitness for many many years, this produced an incredible disconnect for me. I had extreme adrenal fatigue which had been gradually building for a long time. And yes, I was doing all the “healthy” things on one level, but I wasn’t able to keep up with everything I expected myself to do as a mum who wanted to spend time with her kid and keep a career.
As part of my health and fitness philosophy, I’m a big advocate for making small changes to produce big results. In this instance however, small changes weren’t going to cut it. You don’t recover from severe burnout by making small changes.
A big lifestyle change was coming.
The next chapter begins
We took on the business I’ve mentioned because we believed it would help us create the best lifestyle for our family. As entrepreneurs we know that sometimes you’ve got to “hustle”. But you’ve also got to know when to say “enough is enough”. Ironically, our “lifestyle” business was destroying our lifestyle, and there came a point where that had to stop.
As burnt out as we were, we knew that online business was the way forward for us. We were excited (well, as excited as you can be when you’re burnt out!) about the freedom that online business could offer. Going forward, we were going to adopt a simpler model where we could spread the risks a lot more. And we certainly wouldn’t be dealing with fresh produce again!
Colin and I have always been “life by design” type people. We’re purpose-driven, heart-centered, and we live with intention. Nothing had changed around our ‘big-picture’ vision or our family values.
As I mentioned, a big lifestyle change was needed for us to recover. We needed to get out of Christchurch and spend time recovering. The first step for us was to sell or give away whatever we could mentally cope with at the time and put some up in the attic of our rental. Sadly, we had to find a new home for our two gorgeous cats too.
We loaded the rest of our things onto a trailer for the long drive up to Gisborne, where we would spend a few months recovering at my mums house.
Our International Adventures begin
During our time in Gisborne we sifted through more of our things. It was clear to us that we wanted to have more adventures and less “stuff”, but still, there was only so much time and energy available to sort through everything. We still had lots of bits and pieces to tie up with the business, so we did what we could.
It became clear that we wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in New Zealand unless we got “jobs”, and we just weren’t willing to do that. Jobs would take us further away from our vision of unschooling our daughter and spending more time together as a family. To many people in the outside world, “jobs” would have been the sensible approach, but for several reasons, it wasn’t the right path for our family.
Both Colin and I had traveled a fair bit when we were younger and absolutely loved doing so. Once we got caught up in family life in Christchurch, travel was something that just wasn’t on our radar. International holidays weren’t exactly in the budget and there were a number of strings that were tying us down.
However, now we had the perfect opportunity to travel. We didn’t have a house, garden or pets to look after, and we already had a lot less “stuff”. Although there were still plenty of stresses, there were little bursts of excitement starting to emerge.
We were about to outstay our welcome at my mums house so we made the decision to go for it. To decide to leave on a one way ticket, without much of a plan. All we knew was that we’d start by visiting my sister in Singapore and would “start again” (like a pair of teenagers!) This included building our own online businesses from scratch.
Three years of slow traveling South East Asia
With most of our remaining “stuff” in the smallest storage unit we could find, we were off! In Singapore we decided that Malaysia was going to be the first place we’d “live” for a while. “Slow” is definitely the theme for our travel-based lifestyle. We wanted to make sure it could be a long term prospect for us, and burning out again wasn’t an option!
Basically, we started traveling as slowly as visas would allow. This has allowed us to have less stress as a family, as well as spend time on our online businesses. It has also allowed our dollars to go a lot further.
We spent around ten months in Penang, until we politely got asked to leave after our third “visa run” (lol!) After that, we got our first major house sitting gig in Bali, for just over five months. We’ve had other medium term house sitting gigs in Thailand (Krabi and Chiang Mai), KL, Malaysia, New Zealand, and in Singapore. When we had to leave a country we also got to visit places like Laos, Cambodia and Sumatra, Indonesia.
After four months back in New Zealand to welcome baby number two, we were off again. We had one extra family member and one less checked bag than when we had left two years earlier. And we’d said goodbye to the storage unit while we were home!
With a two month old baby in tow we wanted to start the next leg of our journey somewhere that we could chill for a while, so we began with six months in Hoi An, Vietnam. And after a little more time in Malaysia and Singapore, we spent our last two months in Asia (for now!) enjoying the beauty of the Philippines.
2020 and beyond
In March 2020 we arrived in rural France for a three month house sit, which has been extended a little due to current worldly events (you know the ones!). As I write this, our next move is in the hands of the French immigration department.
Will they let us stay longer? Who knows. We have two weeks left on our visas, and this is part of the excitement of the lifestyle for us. We’ve gotten used to less planning as time has gone on. Although this time around some of our choices may be more limited than usual, we feel excited for what is still to come (even though we don’t know what that is, just yet!).
Ideally we will spend a few years slow-traveling around Europe. We’ll continue to build our businesses, unschool our girls, and have many more adventures.
Colin and I love being a part of the world schooling community. Many of the unforgettable, real-life connections we have made along the way were made possible by first connecting in Lainie and Miro’s online world schooling community. We’d love to connect and are happy to help others in their world schooling journey in any way we can. Please reach out if our world schooling story resonated with you in any way, or if you have any questions for us.
Written by Elly McGuinness from Parenting, Passport and Profits
Elly is a mum to two young girls and alongside her partner Colin they live a full time ‘slow travel’ and location independent lifestyle. Elly has 20 years’ experience helping people to lead their fittest, healthiest life. She is an online holistic health coach and freelance writer. Colin helps professional bloggers to optimize their existing content so they can save time, increase organic traffic and improve call to action (CTA) conversions.
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