If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that it has always been my goal to paint you the complete picture on long-term travel. Not just the glamorous highlights and Instagram-worthy sights, but the numerous challenges you are bound to face on your own adventures as well. What better way to do so than by bringing in other experienced travel bloggers to share their different perspectives and stories from the road?
So with that, I’m happy to kick off my first ever travel blogger interview. I’m beyond excited to have my good friend Michael Hulleman from Hobo with a Laptop here to start us off.
A Little About Michael
Michael Hulleman is a Canadian internet marketer, ecommerce specialist, author, and cryptocurrency enthusiast turned digital nomad. He was born in 1981 and he’s been nomadic since he was 18, although he only made a lifestyle of it in 2013 when he moved abroad –this was the first year he’d ever seen a palm tree, and that’s when everything changed.
To make his story more interesting –after hiring and working with a virtual assistant from the Philippines for a few years, they met in 2016, instantly fell in love, and got married shortly thereafter. Now he’s joined by his wife Oshin and for now they spend most of their time drifting around Southeast Asia.
Let’s start with the basics. What drove you to pursue the nomadic lifestyle?
There’s too many reasons – long Canadian winters, for one. The high cost of living. The feeling of living a meaningless existence. Getting laid off. The death of a friend. Family politics. The lack of adventure and ungroomed green spaces. The financial crisis. The rise of social justice warrior language police in my home country. The radioactive snow from Fukushima’s nuclear disaster landing on my front lawn. The sense of urgency that it all created like a knot on the back of my neck. The strong desire to test myself, and how everything felt like the Truman Show. The fakeness couldn’t win me over.
Inspired by an old AT&T ad, having moved around a lot, and already working online fulltime –the only thing missing was a beach, cold beer, a language barrier, and some palm trees.
Once someone decides being a digital nomad is the life for them, what should their next steps be?
Keep your mouth shut. When you begin trying to figure out how to be a digital nomad the first thing you’re going to want to do is tell everyone. The truth is most people will think you’re crazy, or think you’re abandoning them, or start sending you articles about ISIS in XYZ country, or simply debate the idea out of existence –using fear as a pivot. “You can’t run away from all your problems”.
Can I swear on this blog? Because f*ck that guilt show.
Save your money, do the research, and make sure you got one foot out the door before you talk about it. You will save yourself all that debating, uncertainty, and face by silently preparing first.
And you’re going to have a lot of obstacles to overcome, so don’t rush it. Get your life in order, don’t leave anything behind you’d be embarrassed by, and don’t pack more than the biggest sized bag you can carry on (I recommend never checking your luggage). Burn all the pointless mementos.
Beware the desperate nomads, we’re not all friendly. Have an emergency fund, a backup income source, and sharpen your skills. And leave the rose-colored glasses at home or you may wind up going back with your tail between your legs.
What can people who are just starting out on their own travel blogs or online businesses do to set themselves up for success?
Whatever you do, do everything yourself for a while. Learn SEO. Make lists of how to do every task you know how to do. Then hire a VA and use those lists to spell out every single task you expect of them –never leave anything to common sense, because that’s subjective. Reach.
If you have a blog you care about, never outsource the writing. Do that much yourself. Even sponsored posts. Never use iWriter. Never use SEO services from Fiverr. Write a book about your niche. Game as many search engines as you can, like YouTube, SoundCloud, Amazon, and others. And never hesitate to reach out to your gods and offer to work with or for them. I’m still glowing after getting mentions from several authorities in my niche. These guys were my inspiration.
Never underestimate yourself. And read my blog.
Making mistakes is an inevitable (but necessary) part of traveling. Any examples from early on in
your travels that you feel taught you an important lesson?
I almost died because I drank the Koolaid of youthful immortality. When you travel you’re exposing yourself to pathogens, parasites, cheap beer and cigarettes, poorly made condoms, a rainbow of street drugs, hookers, and getting raped –most things you probably won’t experience or can’t afford in your home country. If you’ve got Peter Pan Syndrome, it won’t end well.
While I didn’t check all the boxes on that list, I know people who have; watch your back, stay vigilant, never leave a drink unattended, and always have a focus on living in a healthy, clean way. I know I sound really dark, critical, or even arrogant –but this is the sort of thing you’re not going to find on any travel blog and I just want to keep it real.
The night life in Asia is often Rated R. Stay mindful. Choose your friends wisely. Avoid self-destructive people. Any one of these things can make you miss a day of work, snowball, and make you fall off the hamster wheel.
Every traveler has that one defining moment that reaffirms why they do what they do. What was yours?
Don’t tell anyone but I cried behind my sunglasses when I saw my first beach in Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand. I sat on the beach for hours just staring like an idiot. I video messaged my mom and I told her I loved her.
When I met my virtual assistant for the first time after a few years of working with her, I lost my breath.
I also never knew how humbling a CT scan in Bangkok would be –nobody spoke English. I felt like I was inside Area 51.
But that palm tree in 2013 –that was my moment. It just didn’t compute. And then it did. And it changed everything.
Any final advice for those who are on the fence about whether or not the nomadic lifestyle is for them?
Matt, you’ve been awesome allowing me to come onto your blog, speak dirty to you (and your readers), and shamelessly link to just about every meaningful article on my own blog. I owe you a lot.
If I had one final thought –respect The Struggle.
One day you’re going to have to kiss her goodbye and move on, and it’s so much harder than anyone realizes.
Success is always bittersweet. I had a real hard time during my second year of Asia, but the third and fourth year made up for it. Now in my fifth year, I’ve had my ass kicked, I’ve been chewed up, boiled and distilled. And I can tell you that living the digital nomad lifestyle will either spit you out or chisel you. Not everyone will walk the same line I did, but that’s the thing –nobody knows.
Whatever happens, let it wash over you and don’t fight it. And as Alex Garland’s famous novel-turned-Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster movie stated –“if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably working”.
Also, be sure to download his awesome eBook, Digital Nomad Escape Plan!