The nomad lifestyle is gaining momentum, and more and more people are becoming location independent to travel the world while working online.
When I visit my family and old friends in Spain, they always say: “How lucky you are to be a digital nomad and travel the world.”
Then I always ask the same: “Why don’t you guys do that?”, and the answer is always: “We would not be able to do that, with the house, and our jobs here, you know…”. Or sometimes “With our children, traveling is impossible for us.”.
Before traveling, I had a 9-to-5 job in Spain, so did my husband. We had a house, of course, and lots of liabilities in Spain. We don’t have children, but we have met many couples that travel the world with their kids.
So it is not about luck. It is about making choices, and compromises. It is not a lifestyle for everyone, of course. But I can’t think of a lot of people who can’t be permanent travelers if they want to. I even met a digital nomad in Bali who traveled in a wheelchair.
At the same time, I think that what my friends and family have is a romantic view of what traveling is. This view, propelled no doubt by Instagram and the media, sometimes eclipses the fact that we are human beings too. We need to do our groceries, we get sick and need to visit a doctor and, sometimes, we need to take care of our beloved ones if we don’t travel alone.
That’s why I was so glad that Don and Martina agreed to join us in an interview to share their experiences as slow travelers, parents and digital nomads. So without further ado, let’s start!
Welcome! Please introduce yourselves, who you are and what you do
We are Don Ouwens (33, from the Netherlands) and Martina Danelaite-Ouwens (29, from Lithuania). Don is a (UX) product designer and Martina is a journalist and a UX copywriter. We have two boys, Dominik (4) and Benedikt (2).
Why traveling in the first place?
We’ve always loved travelling ever since we were kids. We both traveled extensively with our families. So, when we met and got together, we just carried on. We just get itchy feet a lot and cannot stay put in a single place for a long time, and at some point, we have to move again to experience new things, try new foods and explore new cultures.
As cliché as that sounds, it really drives us forward in life. We guess we just realize that our original country is just one place on a huge planet, and we’re eager to see more.
You travel with your children. Some couples have the misconception that once they are parents, they cannot travel because of their kids, what would you tell them?
Initially, we thought so too, but we were determined not to let kids slow us down. Especially when they are babies and toddlers, they are so easy to move with since they have just basic needs.
Now it’s gotten a little trickier with Dominik as he wants friends and more stability, but we try to slow travel and immerse ourselves in cities and communities, to allow him to find friends and activities that he can do on a regular basis.
We love traveling with our children, letting them have the experiences that some people will never have in their lifetime. But obviously, it’s not about ‘collecting’ experiences, more about making them respectful and well-rounded individuals aware that their life is just a tiny spec on the planet and there are bigger things than just their own needs and wants.
You are slow travelers. Why did you choose to travel slowly, and what benefits does it bring to you?
Slow travel inspires us, professionally and personally. Fast traveling, when we are skipping town and moving hotels every few days is just too chaotic with kids. Things get forgotten, lost, we miss out on experiences and we just can’t handle it.
We’d rather spend a week in one tiny town, really getting a feeling for the culture, the food and locating the best bakery, than seeing one big city per day for a week and ‘ticking it off’ a bucket list.
And even pre-kids, we loved to get to the fundamentals of a country more than a few days could allow. When we’d go somewhere, we’d go for at least a month to find nice places to eat, explore beyond the traditional tourism spots (and to be honest, we hardly ever do those ‘to do in city x’ types of attractions that you find on Tripadvisor. Slow means less strain on the planet’s resources too, which is important to us.
How is traveling as a family different from traveling alone?
Well, there is a bit more planning now and a whole lot more stuff. We try to pack and travel minimally, but the younger the kids are, the more bulky stuff they have that we bring along.
And our daily life is more about finding playgrounds and kid-friendly places than going out for meals or visiting museums. We don’t necessarily mind that, because visiting playgrounds and meeting kids allows us to intermingle with local families, sometimes getting invited to local homes, events and so on, which allows getting a more real taste of culture.
What are the main challenges for you related to traveling?
Every time we move, it’s the hardest for us to get social contacts. We fall into a routine fairly quickly, because that’s just what’s needed for our family to function and for the kids to stay happy.
But working full-time and juggling the kids, AND seeing new destinations, has got our days and days off filled pretty tightly. Then we mostly rely on fellow parents from childcare settings to make friends.
How do you reconcile work, with traveling and your full-time jobs as parents?
Obviously, it isn’t easy, because there is quite a lot on our plates to juggle.
We try and plan longer stays and arrange some form of childcare, be it a kindergarten or a nanny, so we can have uninterrupted time to work.
Otherwise, we just have very long days, waking up before kids to work and going to sleep later than the kids to put in a few hours at night too. It’s not a very healthy schedule, but we make do. We’re hoping it will get easier with kids getting older.
How do you handle aspects such as education, or making sure your kids play with other children?
Since our kids are quite small, there hasn’t been any need for formal education just yet. But our older son has gone to local daycares in Croatia, Chile, the Netherlands, and other places.
We try and find local childcare settings that would take us on a month-to-month basis, which isn’t always easy. But we had some good luck with alternative schools, such as Montessori and Waldorf.
For young kids, we think that playgrounds are probably the most important in terms of socializing and learning, so we make sure we hit those at least once a day. Otherwise, we try and seek out other traveling families that are nearby to plan meetups or find ex-pat families even to socialize with.
What’s in your future? Travel plans? Exotic destinations?
For the next half-year, we will be basing ourselves in Vilnius, Lithuania to allow the boys to go to daycare as we try and hopefully have some breakthroughs in our business and our career.
And we are definitely planning some longer journeys for 2020, we’re thinking Georgia and Mongolia.
I am an advocate of traveling and the nomad lifestyle. I don’t pretend it is something everybody has to like or enjoy. It is definitely not for everybody. But for people who really want this freedom, there are not a lot of things that can get in your way.
Not your job, or your house, or your family ties, obligations and liabilities. Not even your children. These are all excuses. At the end of the day, it is all about making your choices and knowing the compromises you need to assume.
The story of Don and Martina is both inspiring and down-to-earth, in a way that shows the everyday reality of two slow travelers who happen to be parents. I can’t thank them enough for sharing their story with us.
Thanks, Don, Martina, Dominik and Benedikt!