Nomads are people, whose lifestyle is based on constant travel and moving from one place to another. In the community of freelancers the term „digital nomads“ is becoming more and more common. It is a lifestyle, although it always doesn’t need to be for the whole lifetime. People who can make living simply by their ability and talent, together with a notebook and good Internet connection, have the possibility of traveling around the world while working. One of the first digital nomads in the Czech Republic is Vitezslav Valka, graphic and web designer. He goes on the road each year for several months, along with his wife and to daughters. They travel across the Europe in their caravan.
One of the first digital nomads in the Czech Republic, Vita Valka. He travels with his wife and kids by a caravan.(Mostar, 2014)
That is the beginning of an article Kristyna Makova made with me. We talked together about how it is possible to work for people you’ve never met and how to travel in the meanwhile.
Of course, earlier the job use to work in a way, that it was impossible to arrange anything without a personal meeting/meeting face-to-face. Lots of coffee was drunken and lots of diesel consumed, but nowadays everything is different. Very few clients ask for a personal meeting. It’s common to talk via e-mail or Skype – sometimes with a video and sometimes without. I have many clients that I’ve never seen in person and we only arranged stuff by email. The whole communication just happened in a written form. It has moved forward in the last two or three years. Very few people find it strange when I say: „I’m not in the Czech Republic, lets have a Skype call.“
By mentioning this, you’ve hit the main topic why I invited you to the studio. Because you’re not just a freelancer, but also a digital nomad. At least for part of the year.
Exactly. It’s something that has carried us away a few years ago. I think it was around 2011 or 2012. Because I’m a freelancer, I could never take a classic vacation in the sense of shutting down for two or three weeks. I’ve always had to work for clients as a support, in order to make everything go as it was supposed to. I enjoyed traveling for a long time. I took my girlfriend, now my wife, too.
But it wasn’t nomadism until the kids. Because with them, we had to figure out the easiest way to move from one place to another. After our daughters were born, there were suddenly more things to deal with when traveling: stroller, diapers, food and so on. On the road we like to change the location, because we want to discover as much as possible. Carrying all the stuff around from one hotel to another after two nights wasn’t very convenient. We realised that the solution could be getting a caravan. We bought one in the spring of 2012 and begun our journey to Croatia along with our four month old daughter. We discovered that it works, it’s manageable. Ever since we go once, or twice a year, even for several months.
„Each day is a little bit different when you travel. You always change your location. So you always perceive something new.”
Being a digital nomad – what does it take?
Digital nomad is most often a person who works on his computer. It means that his only or at least the main working tool used to earn money, is a computer with Internet connection. Well, if you put it together with traveling and you mix it well, it becomes a digital nomadism. It’s not a vacation.. You can’t really stop for a week and just walk around the mountains or anything. Each day is a natural combination of discovering the location you’re at with your work for the clients. I’d say that in comparison to working at home, where the day has much more order, the working schedule while traveling is very flexible. Sometimes it changes from day to day.
Does flexible order mean the same thing as chaos?
It can look that way from the outside. But when you have an idea, what you want to accomplish, it’s more about being ready to deal with stuff as they come. It means, that when the weather is good, we can go outside. But I have to constantly keep in mind that I can’t be behind schedule in my work for clients. Or I have to arrange such a deadline, that I have a space for potential delay. When you travel, there’re many variables you don’t count on.
When we are on the journey, of course I don’t do as much as back at home. On the contrary, on the road I have much more inspiration and greater intake of perception. I feel like the brain work on higher level, when it gets impulses from the outside, than when I follow my schedule at home – by just waking up, going upstairs and I’m at work. I’m done in the evening and it doesn’t involve any surprise nor risk of bad weather or defect on the caravan…or anything else.
So working with an ocean view is more interesting than sitting in an office staring at a wall, right?
„I think traveling will help my daughters to have better perspective in the future, to know more what they want.”
Definitely. On the journey all perception comes because the schedule of each day is laid out differently and the location always changes. So it is not that much about the view, but more about messing up your „status quo“, that is mainly stable at home. Each day is completely different, when you travel. I adapt everything to the family – because I want everyone to be happy, to know the neighborhood – and to work at the same time, because it must be done to get paid for it and to have something to eat.
Which parts of the world have you already traveled with your family? And how long have you stayed on the road?
We found out, that spring time is the best time for traveling. And a three-month long journey is about right. We visited most of the southern European countries – from Turkey, which is actually Asia, to Morocco, which is already Africa. We prefer Spain because the local culture is great and we love the food. I also found there co-workers to cooperate on a common project. They both live in Spain. One of them is a German who moved to Spain, so he is basically a stationary/stable digital nomad. The second is a Spanish guy living in Madrid. Last year, we made a round trip to Portugal, and at the same time we dropped by and I worked with them for about a week. Then I continued with my family our journey across Europe.
On the road, do you meet with other Czechs living abroad for a long time, or with any other freelancers?
If I know, that someone I know lives on our route, I try to plan the journey so we can meet. That’s how we met for example Petr Favour, who established co-working center in the Canary Islands and Lisbon. Or we keep meeting Robert Vlach in many places, the last time were the Canary Islands, funnily enough. We’ve spent longer time in France. With some people, we rented a family/summer house there for a few weeks, so we put the caravan away in the campsite and we lived in airbnb.
I think it was in Provence, right?
A house in Provence, that’s a dream! Did something happen to you on the road that surprised you a lot? Something you wouldn’t expect to happen at all? I say that one can get ready for everything, but probably not everything, right?
It’s more like shattered fears. I used to worry a lot about our safety. I thought that we’ll have to lock everything in the camp and fear every day about what’s gonna happen. But the reality is different. The campsites are safe and there are usually much richer groups of people with more expensive caravans, so we would not be the first target anyway. I also worried a lot about the girls, how it’s all gonna work with them. But we found out that the campsite are really nice. They’re relatively safe, cars ride slowly in there, there is no traffic and also it’s limited space. The girls can ride bikes, scooters, play outside and we don’t have to worry about them much. So the discovery was quite positive.
Last year we also tried staying in the „stellplatz“, which are basically parking lots for caravans and trailers. You only pay very little, or nothing at all. So you can say, you are actually sleeping in a parking lot. We worried about that as well. We kept thinking – how will it work-? We kept imagining the thieves banging on our doors at night. But the reality was once again very different. So it’s more about each person having his fears. I’d say we didn’t expect very much, so many of these things surprised us in a very nice way.
When you look at your daughters, do you feel that your traveling gives them something extra what their peers don’t have?
Absolutely. I am convinced of this, because it also enriches me by seeing things from a greater perspective, in a larger frame than if I were in the same village every day, always seeing the same. Great question remains, if it’s better to keep the children in local community, let them have deeper knowledge of their environment, or to pull them out of it, which is what we partly do, and it breaks the kids friendships a bit. I can’t decide that. But we’ve chosen our way.
We try to combine it nonetheless. We’re not away for the whole year. We are on the road for about three or four months a year, apart from that we are in the usual circle: school/kindergarten – neighbours – kids playing together. We try to maintain some balance. I can imagine longer journeys and I don’t think it’d make thing worse for them in the future, more the other way around. I think it’ll make them see things from different perspective, maybe it’s gonna be easier for them to figure out what they want to do in life, what’s more important for them.
People are full of fears and most of them are completely unnecessary. Everything’s usually the other way around.
When someone starts doing something little bit out of the box, people usually see him as a freak in the beginning. After some time he gets more and more admiration and kudos, and then he suddenly becomes the ace that does something no one else does. Did this also happen to you?
That’s exactly how it happened. When I said we’re going to buy the caravan, everyone just shook their heads. Not even my wife was able to take it at first. But it lasted just about three days and then she told to herself: „The girls will be able to be outside more, we’ll know more things, we won’t have to carry around our luggage, maybe it won’t be that bad..“ So the acceptance was fast. But family and friends, they’re really freaked out about that. They’re scared for example by the idea of going to Turkey with the caravan. Morocco was later, so it wasn’t such a big surprise, it was quite alright.
So it’s exactly how you said. We’re the first ones to write about caravan and family nomadism and we inspired many people…from what I know, at least few dozens. So I’m very happy about the result. It mesmerized me so much that I just felt the need to share it and publish the articles on my website. The story started to spread itself. I’m satisfied.
„We’re the first ones to write about digital nomads in Czechia and it inspired many people, at least few dozen of them.”
What did inspire you to buy the caravan?
We traveled around Europe before, only in the car and it was just us two. We’ve seen a lot of caravans and trailers along the way. And I always thought about it. I kept telling to myself: Why do people buy them, when it’s so expensive and they only use it one week per year? And it becomes less valuable each year. So I started to dig a little deeper and realized, that it actually doesn’t cost that much, that you can also buy used caravan. Ours was about 4000€. When you compare it to the price of accommodation, you find out, that it pays off in couple of months. It’s basically risk-free investment – even if we sell it, it still paid off. And off course traveling with family is much more comfortable like this.
There are people thinking about becoming freelancers, traveling the world, becoming digital nomads. When you look back, is there something you’d like for someone to tell you before you started? Something you would advise now to the people who are considering this lifestyle? Is there something you had to learn the hard way?
I think one of the main factor, that are often overlooked, is self-organisation, the ability to plan everything, also with the space for mistakes, to be able to have enough space and time for everything. Because for the clients it really doesn’t matter how my schedule look like, that I travel somewhere. They just need to get what they paid for. But it’s a basic rule for freelancing itself. No one else does it for you. If you plan it wrong, the client won’t be satisfied and won’t recommend you – which is one of the key principles to make this life-hood work.
So it’s important to set your priorities. There’re days when I’d love to go to zoo with my kids, but my clients isn’t happy with my work and I just have keep working on it. Family goes to zoo or sea without me and I stay in a caravan working the whole day. You have to be able to say: there’Re some boundaries and this is my priority right now.
„People always think of reasons why not to overcome themselves. But if you do it, it’s all worth it. And it doesn’t apply only when it comes to nomadism, but life in general.”
Is there something I didn’t ask and you would like to add…? Maybe something not many people ask…
Perhaps… that I wouldn’t be scared. Most of the times people have worries and fears about what could happen, but it only makes them stop, and they only limit themselves. They think that they can’t, that it won’t work in their case, because they have families, work…anything. They think of reason why not overcome themselves. But if you do it, if you accomplish that, the reward is amazing. And it doesn’t apply only when it comes to nomadism, but in life in general.
So it’s about taking your life in your own hands, accepting the responsibility and set out to freedom?
Exactly. The rules of this world aren’t made up by anyone better than ourselves. So we can set them up as we want, we can redefine them so they suit us, so everything works, and in the autumn of our lives we will be able to say to ourselves: It was all worth it, we had fun in life.
Original interview published for Czech Radio.