Last year, I was sorting through travel blogs, searching for authentic travel bloggers (bloggers who actually traveled and are continuing to travel) in order to interview them for my fledgling blog TravelCheapBlueprint. Among the slew of blogs that surfaced, one stood out from the rest, a blog called Journal of Nomads, a beautifully photographed, almost quiet blog by two travelers, Cynthia (Belgium) and Niko (Canada), who travel around the world without taking airplanes.
Immediately, I bookmarked this blog as a favorite, and read through it’s blog posts, watch their videos, and look at the beautiful photography. (To be honest, a part of the reason why I’m drawn to this blog is it’s simple and consise premise–“a journey around the world without taking airplanes”. Without flying? Nice. I’d rather take a ship than a plane. I want to find out how these people do it.)
The more I read their blog posts and watch their videos, the more curious I became about Cynthia and Niko. I had to talk to these people. They’re so cool, adventurous, and courageous.
I contacted them and they agreed to an interview. Here’s the results. Enjoy.
An Interview with “Journal of Nomads” duo Cynthia and Niko.
1) Cynthia, in your blog post titled Ask and it is given – uncommon love story, you mentioned how you had been solo traveling for some years, you were turning 30, and you felt like it was time to stop walking around in endless circles.
Then, your friends lent you a book, and what happened next is such an amazing story.
Can you tell me, in detail, what your life was like before you reached that point, the mental and emotional state you were in when you reached that point (where you felt you were walking around in endless circles), how you got the book, and what happened next?
Becoming 30 was a turning-point for me. I had enjoyed my travels up until that moment but at the same time I felt that I wasn’t going anywhere in my life. Travelling had been my purpose when I just started at the age of 26 but now it had become a lifestyle and I wanted to find a purpose within that lifestyle. I was a bit confused, wasn’t 100% sure of what I wanted and mostly, how I could bring my new dreams and ideas into reality. My friends in Ireland suggested to read the book Ask and it is given to get more clarity, so I did. They lent me the book and I spent my evenings in the forest reading. On my 30th birthday I decided to follow some tips that were mentioned in the book. One of them was to write down a wish list. I noted all my goals and dreams for the coming years and imagined how it would feel if they would manifest.
Not long after that, Niko – who I only knew via my parents and Facebook – contacted me and suggested to go grape picking. At that moment I had no idea that this would be the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life.
2) Your website and social media pages are inspiring to me because they both exude a feeling of authenticity. At the same time, you both are authorities in your field but you come across as genuine and honest. What’s the story behind how you built the website and your social media accounts and, speaking of “Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest your Desires”, what is your intention and desire for the website and social media?
In the beginning, neither of us had experience in building websites or growing a social media following. It was a slow and long process and it taught us a lot about patience and determination. We decided to split the work load and each tackle one aspect of the enterprise. Slowly but surely Cynthia became proficient in web-design and photography while Niko approached the whole process of video creation and social media marketing with a positive and resilient attitude.
With our website and social media platforms we’d like to create a resource that would enable people from all around the world travel in an efficient and sustainable manner. We also enjoy sharing our experiences and stories with our engaged community. We’d also like to create a long-term residual income from our website.
3) Your website is, quite literally, the most amazing budget travel website on the internet today for a few reasons — you offer a vast amount of valuable content that you can start to use immediately to travel on a budget, as well as resources on how to make money while traveling. Did you build the website yourself? How many hours, days, weeks, years, to it take to get the website to be so content rich?
We’ve been curating some of our best content and stories during the last 3 years. We have to point out that we had both been travelling for years (Cynthia 4 years, Niko 7 years) before we started blogging so we had a lot of first-hand experience and stories to tell. It takes a lot of time and effort to create good and useful content but it’s definitely worth it!
4) I’m surprised your website does not have a “The Nomad Lifestyle Blueprint”, an ebook, or course, or video series, wherein you share personal stories and tips on how to travel on a budget, in a PDF ebook for $37 dollars, or even a more extensive course, you could call it “The Nomad Lifestyle Academy” that you sell for $20 a month or a one time fee of $97 dollars. Any plans for that in the near future?
We’re already in the process of writing a book but there’s no hurry. We like to focus on one thing at a time and we want to provide our readers quality, not quantity.
5) Now that Niko is traveling with you, a cute girl, is it easier for him to get hitchhiking rides?
No. Niko being a charming man has always been able to get rides pretty quickly. It’s all about the attitude and the body language while hitchhiking.
6) Do you ever experience cabin fever—wherein you and Niko are in an isolated space (tent, cabin, part of the country) and you end up bickering over little things? If so, how do you deal with that?
We sometimes get cabin fever in winter, like this year when it was -28 degrees Celcius outside and we couldn’t really go hitchhiking or trekking somewhere. Cynthia also has a hard time being in big cities and since we’ve been living in the capital of Kyrgyzstan for the past 7 months, it has been a challenging time for her. But when she focuses on the fact that this is all temporary and necessary to become financially free (we’ve been working online), she can accept it more easily.
We barely bicker over small things and if one of us does, we point it out to each other and become aware of it. We help, support and motivate each other during challenging times.
7) When traveling for extensive periods of time, what sort of things do you miss about the conventional life? (For example, hot water, internet, NetFlix, coffee, etc)
A fridge filled with healthy food! Fresh fruits, vegetables, etc and being able to cook it properly in a well-functioning kitchen! Internet nowadays can be found everywhere. As for hot water, it’s not guaranteed even when we’re renting an apartment in a city (we currently don’t have hot water for a whole month 😀 ).
8) Now that you’ve traveled to so many places over the years, when you return to your hometown or a hometown kind of place for 6 months or more, do you feel that “you can’t relate to normal people”?
We barely return to our hometowns. Niko spent 20 days in his home town in the last 6 years. Cynthia recently went back for a brief visit. During those moments we’re just happy to see our loved ones. It doesn’t matter to them or us that we live such different lives, what matters is enjoying the short time we have together. We don’t see our old friends as ‘normal’ or ‘different’, we see them as equal human beings living their choices.
9) How did travelling shape your views and change your perspective of people who lead conventional lives? Those who work 9-5 jobs, stay in the same place, hang with the same friends, etc?
It’s all a matter of choice and if the conventional life makes them happy, then we wish them well. Travelling doesn’t necessarily equal ‘living the dream’ or ‘ profound inner happiness’. It’s all about what you want to do, what your dreams and goals are, what makes you excited about life and that is perfectly possible while living in the same place for your whole life, being surrounded by the same people every day.
10) What are your thoughts, and please be honest, about the “travel and lifestyle bloggers” and “travel and lifestyle influencers” on Instagram who are posting seemingly perfectly curated pictures of meals, fancy hotel rooftop swimming pools, luxury cars, private jets, expensive hotel lobbies, etc?
Dreams and illusions sell well and we doubt that people who follow these instagrammers, actually believe those pictures to be the truth. Unfortunately, these photos are the representation of the things that a lot of people seek nowadays. It’s a transaction. Those instagrammers create beautifully crafted images that appeal to the masses. We don’t really put much attention to it and don’t really care about it. We only follow instagrammers that appeal to us and with whom we build a relationship. But we do know how much time and energy goes into creating these beautiful photos and we wish them all the best!
11) Regarding your monetization of your lifestyle (how you are making money from your travel lifestyle), what is the percentage breakdown? For example, do you earn 50% of all your income through affiliates, 25% from teaching online, 25% from part-time jobs? What’s the general overview?
At the moment, our main income comes from online teaching. We both teach English online to Chinese students. It’s a great way to make money while travelling the world since making a decent income from blogging is a long-term process. We don’t like to put all our eggs in the same basket so we have part of our income coming from our blog but also from teaching, promotional videos, freelance photography and writing gigs.
12) What are your experiences travelling as a woman versus travelling with your boyfriend? When you travelled solo, did you get propositioned for sexual favours? If so, who did you deal with the situation?
I enjoyed travelling solo but I do feel more comfortable when I hitchhike or camp in the wild with Niko. However, I never had any bad experiences while travelling alone, not even when I traveled solo to Uzbekistan. I did get invited a few times for a date, which I always kindly refused but that’s as extreme as it got. I’m just more cautious when I’m alone and try not to get myself into situations that don’t feel right. I always listen to my instincts.
13) How do you stay healthy when travelling? Generally speaking, do you lose weight, keep your average weight, or gain weight while you are travelling? (When we travelled in France, in one of our accommodations with our WWOOF hosts, we gained weight because of all the bread we were eating. LOL. At another place, we lost weight due to the manual labor and meager food rations. LOL.)
We usually tend to do a lot of callisthenic exercises when we are travelling for longer periods. Whenever we start renting an apartment like we’re doing at the moment in Bishkek, we will look for a local gym with a cheap membership. Our weight doesn’t vary too much but we had a very similar situation to yours in Georgia. We both gained a lot of weight since the food there was composed mainly of bread, cheese and massive amounts of the sweetest red wine.
14) Before you leave for your long-distance travels, do you have a daily budget allowance? If so, what is it? Since you are pro-budget travelers (ProBu Travelers), do you usually stay within that budget?
We don’t really have a daily budget allowance. We don’t refuse to spend money on good meals and wine since most of our transport is done by hitchhiking and we mainly spend the night in our tent. Since traveling is our lifestyle, we like to stay comfortable and healthy and that often means treating ourselves to good and healthy food.
15) What’s the worst job experience you’ve ever had while traveling? What’s the best job experience you’ve had while traveling?
Cynthia: My worst job experience was when I was working in a fancy restaurant in Australia. I didn’t mind the job itself but I just couldn’t connect well with the managers.
My best job experience was working on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Up until this day it’s still my favorite job ever! It was physically hard but I loved being outside in nature while herding sheep and caring for newborn lambs! I would do it again any day!
Niko: I don’t really have a ‘bad job experience’. I really enjoyed all the jobs I did around the world: from being a street performer, working in an orphanage, being manager in a restaurant in Morocco to teaching in a university in Mexico. All those jobs brought me different insights and skills.
16) What are your favorite things about traveling? Please write them on a piece of paper or type them onto your computer or tablet. Then, ask your partner what his favorite things are about traveling? Do they match? I am curious! 🙂
Yes, they do match. We’re both lovers of adventure, culture, beautiful landscapes and delicious food.
17) Do you have a favorite country? Do you have favorite countries?
Niko: Mexico is my favourite country! It’s a wide variety of cultures within the same country.
Cynthia: My favourite countries are Ireland and New Zealand because of the beautiful nature, the fresh air and the friendly people. I especially love Ireland, this country has something mysterious with its legends and Celtic stories.
18) What countries do you intend to visit in the future?
Our next destinations will be Nepal, Morocco and maybe Mauritania.
19) Does travel ever start to feel repetitive and exhausting? If so, what do you do to overcome these feelings?
It did in the past when we were travelling at a much faster pace but we overcame that by taking it slowly and staying longer in the different countries that we visit.
20) Do you get a lot of travel gear mailed to you, like backpacks, shoes, electronic items, for you to review?
No. Being in countries where it’s hard to have a postal address makes it difficult to receive mail.
21) When you cross the border into another country, do you have to get vaccinations? Vaccinations, with their combination of mercury and thimerosal are known to be toxic and dangerous. How do you deal with this?
If the vaccination would be a requirement to enter a country and we would absolutely want to visit it, we’d probably get the vaccination. However, we’ve never been in this situation before so it’s a bit hard to say.
22) What is in your backpack? Niko? Cynthia?
We both carry more or less the same gear. Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, clothes, cameras, a drone and laptops to edit our footage and work online.
23) For Cynthia, what was in your backpack when you first started traveling? What is in your backpack now that you have your current travel experience?
I used to travel with way more clothes, jewellery and shoes than I have now. I don’t need all these different outfits to travel. I only want to carry the essentials and what I need on a daily basis to live and travel. Since I always have to carry my backpack, I want to travel as light as possible.
24) Cynthia, you mentioned how your entire life changed after reading “Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest your Desires”, and then taking action by writing down your wish list. Do you currently have a wish list? At the moment, are you reading books that are “Law of Attraction related? If so, do you have intentions for the future?
No, I was able to integrate all of these notions into my lifestyle. Now I don’t really have to read about it anymore as it’s something that I do instinctively.
25) Niko, you know how to speak French, English, Spanish, Arabic (Derija), Italian, Turkish, Portuguese, and you are learning Russian and Chinese! How long does it take you to learn how to speak a language? What is your technique and method to learn a language? What courses do you recommend?
I think if one studies two to three hours a day, one can easily learn the basics of a language in three months. I will usually start my day by listening to small 30-minute audio lessons designed by a brand called Pimsleur. Then I will try to download all the learning pdf’s I can find related to this language online. I will also curate a list of YouTube language lessons in my target language. I try to break my daily practice in chunks of audio lessons, video lessons and flashcard practice to make sure the learning process stays fun and doesn’t get boring or repetitive.
26) For both of you, how did you go about eliminating your possessions to go minimalism to travel? Was there a method? If so, what was it? What is your advice to eliminate extra stuff in order to travel abroad like you both do?
If it fits in your backpack, it doesn’t weigh too much and you absolutely need it, bring it. If it doesn’t, ditch it. 🙂
27) What’s the best advice you have for someone who wants to travel, who is hungry for adventure, but is scared and afraid, since so much of the TV and internet news broadcasts fear-based journalism about the dangers of other countries?
Our only advice would be to watch less TV and watch YouTube videos of actual travelers that showcase first-hand real experiences, like our YouTube Channel. 😉
28) You both seem so happy and awesome. Do you ever get depressed or unhappy while traveling? If so, what do you do to feel better?
Travelling is for us a lifestyle with all its ups and downs, just like everyone else. So if we feel depressed or uninspired, we download the latest NetFlix TV series, close the curtains, wrap ourselves in a blanket, make some hot chocolate and let the healing process begin.
30) Are either of you religious? Did you grow up in religious households? If so, did that shape your life or perspective in any way?
No, neither of us is religious in any form or way.
31) How do your parents feel about your travel lifestyle?
It’s not easy for our parents that they barely get to see us but they are our biggest supporters. They just want us to be happy and they know that this is the lifestyle that we wanted and created for ourselves.
32) When your parents were your age, were they traveling, like you were? Do you feel you got the travel “DNA” or “gene” from them?
Niko’s parents never really travelled much. My mother loves travelling and often went on long journeys when I was a child. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s DNA- related since it’s really about making your own personal choices.
33) Regarding your website, how do you build it? Do you do some things and Niko does other things? Do you hire someone? Do you build it yourself? Do you update it weekly, monthly? What is your schedule regarding the website?
We did everything ourselves, from building the website to creating the content and the promotion of it. We divide the tasks according to the skills we each have. We try to update the website on a weekly basis.
34) For someone who says “I want to travel but, I have no (money, time, one to go with, don’t know how) … “ what is your advice for them?
Stop using excuses. If travelling is really what you want, you’ll find a way. Otherwise, it’s because you like the idea of travelling but you’re not really ready to take the steps and make your dream a reality.
35) Do you see yourself traveling in 10 years? Where do you see yourself in 40 years? Is that something you think about?
We will probably still be travelling in 10 years, at least that’s the plan but probably not as much and as intense as we’re doing now. Plans and goals change like we change with the years so we’ll see how our lives will evolve.
36) Any last words of advice or thoughts that you would like to leave with people reading this?
The world is waiting for you. Don’t let it wait too long. All it takes is a decision. It’s always better to regret doing something than to regret not doing anything.
Thank you for the interview, Cynthia and Niko. You are inspiring.
Be sure to find out more about Cynthia and Niko and their travel adventures, by visiting the websites below.
Follow the Nomads on:
Sign up for their monthly newsletter by clicking here