We had the pleasure to spend five months in Chiang Mai with Warren and Besty Talbot a digital nomad couple who were there with the same aim as us – to work on their location independent business. Warren and Betsy write about Living the Good Life at Married with Luggage and have now written an impressive three books (for sale on Amazon). Their writing is as inspirational and fun as they are in person.
1) How long have you been travelling and where have you been?
We’ve been traveling since October 2010 and have been to Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Antarctica, a 5-week crossing of the Atlantic by ship, England, Scotland, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Thailand.
2) What made you decide to become digital nomads?
We decided to sell everything we owned and quit our jobs after two people very close to us suffered life-threatening illnesses. We had been slowly adjusting our lives for several years to be more about what we enjoyed and less about work, but it really struck us after those incidents that life is short. So we gave up our careers, home, car, and possessions to travel full time.
When we started, we didn’t actually intend to work, but it didn’t take us long to realize we loved the lifestyle and didn’t want it to end, so we started pretty quickly building up income instead of living off our savings.
3) How do you fund your travels?
We started with a 5-year travel fund thanks to an aggressive savings plan the two years before we left. We paid off our credit card debt as part of our “rebalancing” effort in the years before we made the decision to travel, and that is the single best financial thing we ever did. We also sold everything, so we have no ongoing maintenance costs for things we left behind. We carry everything we own with us.
Since we’ve been gone, we’ve been doing a little bit of web development and business consulting, but our main business is writing and selling books. We have written 3 books during our travels and sell them through Amazon.
4) Do you find it difficult to balance travel and work? How do you manage it?
We don’t believe there really is a balance, at least in terms of day to day. We focus more on the overall balance and set aside work times and play times. For instance, we’ve been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for six months working on a book we launched in March, and now we head into four months of travel and enjoyment. We’ll continue to work on our business (book promotion/interviews/guest posts and the occasional business consulting or website gig) as we travel, but it will be a much lower priority than before where we worked almost every day. Thailand was work for us, and China is play.
That said, we will still work for probably an hour a day and reserve one full day for work per week during our travels. You can’t have a business and totally check out for months at a time, just like you can’t work for six months straight without any fun (we did manage to hike a few times, go whitewater rafting, feed elephants, and enjoy more than a few happy hours with other travelers while in Thailand).
5) You have published three books in the last six months. The first was sold on your own website but the later books were sold only in Kindle format on the Amazon store. Why did you make that decision?
It was due to market demand and the ease of distribution through Amazon. We had so many people ask for it via Kindle, and the response since then has been overwhelming. Plus we have zero effort in delivery, technical issues, payments to affiliates, or trying to get thousands of new readers to our website every day (you can’t keep selling the same stuff to your same audience week after week – ongoing sales rely on an influx of new customers).
With Amazon, we are exposed to thousands of new potential buyers every single day who then come to our website to check it out. We’ve seen a growth in our overall website traffic, signups to our mailing list, and to our Facebook page since putting our books on Amazon in addition to the income from sales.
Our latest book is now available in print via Amazon as well as audio book, which is a new thing for us. We’re always listening to what our readers want and trying to provide it as much as we can while maintaining our nomadic lifestyle. So we’ll see if we add this as an option for the rest of our books depending on how this goes.
6) How can a new author market their book and increase sales on the Amazon Kindle store?
1. The key to great Amazon sales is to have enough downloads to register on the algorithm Amazon uses to display your book to shoppers. You know what we’re talking about – the “recommendations” that come up while you’re shopping or the “other people who bought this also bought X” kind of thing. We don’t know the specific number to make that happen, but the more you sell the more often you’ll come up. Having a “free day” for your book to increase downloads seems counterintuitive, but in the long run it helps because of this algorithm. (You have to be signed up in the Kindle Select program to be able to offer 5 “free” days within a 90-day period.)
2. Another tip is to have plenty of reviews. We sent out review copies beforehand so we could have several on hand the week the book launched. People are hesitant to buy a book with zero reviews, and they can tell when you’ve asked your friends to write them. (Of course your friends will still do this for you because they like you and want you to succeed, but you also need others.) Send them out to readers, other authors in your genre, and book review services to get your reviews up, and make sure you give people plenty of time to do it.
3. Last, we’d recommend a pretty solid promotional strategy with guest posts, interviews, a press release, and some kind of excitement around your book launch with a link to your Amazon sales page. We had a virtual launch party and a signature cocktail and menu created for our book, which made it more like a party and mimicked the book club we want readers to do after reading it. Writing a book is hard, but the work really starts afterward because you can never let down on the promotion. It is your baby, and you have to make sure to get the word out until it has enough momentum to go on its own (and then you still have to keep promoting it).
7) Your latest book Strip Off Your Fear is about overcoming the fears that hold us back. What advice would you give someone who wants to travel or become a digital nomad but is scared of making the leap?
Making the decision to do it is the hardest part. Once you commit, you’ll be amazed at how easily things fall into place and how good you become at adjusting to situations and solving problems as they arise. We wrote about this extensively in our Dream Save Do book, and again in Strip Off Your Fear.
If you want a dream bad enough, you’ll do the work to make it happen. If you don’t want it bad enough, you should probably consider shelving it and finding a more appropriate dream to make happen. We all think it would be cool to be an astronaut, but very few of us will put in the time to become one, and that’s okay.
The worst thing you can do is stay in limbo, doing nothing while you continually evaluate your options. To pick one, you have to give something up on the other. There is no way around this, no matter what dream you follow. You can’t have it all, so stop trying and you’ll make your life a lot easier.
8 ) You managed to save enough in two years for a five year round the world trip. How did you do it?
We did it through an aggressive savings plan, selling a lot of things on Craigslist (an online classified section in the US), and working part-time jobs to add to the mix. We cut out everything that didn’t move us closer to our dream lifestyle – cable television, eating out, vacations, etc.
But we are very social creatures, so we did adjust to having happy hour instead of nights out, potluck/BBQ parties instead of dinners in restaurants, and matinee movies instead of full price. It is important to note that we gave up things that didn’t go with our new dream lifestyle of nomadic travel (cable TV, hair color) but simply adjusted the price of things we wanted to keep, like hanging out with friends and enjoying good food/drink. When you make it about the lifestyle you are moving toward instead of looking at it as a sacrifice, you will have a far easier time saving the money.
We spent a lot of time on this in the book Dream Save Do because the mental aspect of saving is much more complex than the actual logistics of saving, especially if you are doing it for months or years to reach a specific goal. You can’t stop living while you wait for your dream.
9) What are some of your favourite off the beaten track destinations?
We loved the trekking in Northern Peru in the Cordillera Blancas. It is a magnificent skyline of tall mountains, glaciers, and rural villages, and we loved visiting Kuelap, the ancient pre-Incan fortress just discovered in the 1980s. It is as magnificent as Machu Picchu but only gets a fraction of the visitors because it is not on anyone’s radar…yet. The Quilatoa Loop in Ecuador is one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen. We also loved Antarctica and climbing the rugged and gorgeous “munros” with a hill walking group in Western Scotland. You can see we are outdoorsy people and generally love hiking.
10) Where are you heading to next? Do you think you’ll ever settle down in one place?
We are heading into China next for 3 months of hiking and exploration and then to Mongolia for the centuries-old Naadam games (sort of like the Mongolian Olympics). We don’t envision ourselves settling down anywhere permanently, but we are big fans of slow travel. In fact we are considering a one-year house sit as we write this, so we are open to settling down in the right scenario…for a while.
We were both fairly nomadic before we set off on this travel lifestyle, moving every 2 years or so, so we probably won’t stay in one place too long. There is so much of the world to see, we can’t imagine staying in one place permanently.
If you enjoyed this interview then read about other long term nomads in our Nomadic Interviews series.
Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.