Ever wondered what it’s like to be a digital nomad?
Read our digital nomad interview series where we talk to people living their own unique lifestyles abroad, while working online. No two stories are the same; get insight and advice from our peers and shed light on the efficacy of your own plans through the experiences of others.
Meet the Wagoners, a Digital Nomad Family
We are Heidi and Alan Wagoner, with our 2 kids Lars and Anya (15 & 12). We were on that Hamster Wheel of Life: get up, go to work, work more, get home, eat dinner, go to bed, rinse and repeat. There just had to be more to life than that! With only a few weeks of vacation per year, we just couldn’t provide our kids with much more than a sample of another culture. We were both had very successful jobs, but every year the companies were downsizing. We knew it was just a matter of time before it was our turn.
We decided to take matters into our own hands. We saved money, sold our home, quit our jobs and designed our own lifestyle.
We left the USA in August of 2012 and headed to Spain for 1-2 years. Our plan was to immerse the kids into the Spanish culture with a focus on them becoming fluent in Spanish. After our time in Spain, we had enough money set aside to stay in Spain another year or go for a different experience.
The family voted and it was off to a nomadic lifestyle through southeast Asia. This was an amazing experience for us. We met some wonderful fellow travelers and nomads and learned more about blog monetization and ways to earn an income. Here we are after nearly 5 years and we are still going. We are back in Spain as our home base, as we wanted to maintain our Spanish residency, which provides us easy access to the rest of Europe.
How did your friends and family take your decision to become digital nomads?
There were two camps of people, those who were envious and supportive and those who thought we were crazy. Both sets had plenty to say about our choice, but those who thought we were crazy just couldn’t understand and there was no way we could change their minds.
Our best bit of advice is to go with your gut, learn from your mistakes, and don’t let others provide excuses for you not to live your dream.
Were there any sacrifices you had to make to become full-time travelers?
Our biggest sacrifice was not having a steady income and being further away from family and friends. That said, once you downsize your life into a suitcase, we found you don’t need nearly as much money to live.
The more stuff you have, the more your life costs you. It is crazy! Once you are down to just the clothes you need and being able to move from place to place, we found it to be far less expensive than living in a home we owned, with 2 cars and 2 jobs.
We do miss seeing our family and friends more frequently, but we lived in North Carolina before moving to Spain and our family lived in the west or northeast of the USA. So, we were always a flight away, now we are just a longer flight.
What was a recurring challenge in the beginning, and how did you overcome it?
In the beginning, it was difficult to adjust our mindset to living minimally. We missed certain food and things, which took time to realize those things weren’t needed.
We were hanging on to what we had, rather than focusing on what was in front of us to discover. After a couple of months, this mindset was easier to grasp and it keeps us moving forward today. Always remember the past, look forward to the future, but be sure to live in the moment, enjoy the now!
How do you earn a living from the road?
We have various streams of small income sources and investments. We have published 4 eBooks about obtaining a resident visa in Spain, driving in Spain, education in Spain and a kid’s cookbook. We also offer consulting for people wanting to move to Spain. We run 2 blogs, Wagoners Abroad and Almunecar Info, both of which are monetized with affiliate links & ads. In addition, we do freelance writing and there are a few other sources, which keeps us going. We currently make enough to continue, but we are striving to making enough to save and invest more.
Our best sources of income come from our personal consulting services, our eBooks and freelance writing work. Two of these streams depend on our personal time, so we would love to expand more into making more passive income. This would free up our time to work on more projects. We love waking up and seeing how many eBooks sold, as that is really a passive income. Of course, we need to keep them up to date with current information, but it isn’t a monumental or time consuming task.
What is your most popular blog post of all time?
Without a doubt it is our post How much did it cost to live in Spain for 1 year. Our first 3 years of travel, we shared our exact costs for everything. We are talking housing, electricity, flights, food, toothpaste, toilet paper, the works. We kept track of all of this for our own purposes and decided to be very vulnerable and share it with the world. It doesn’t mean another family of 4 would spend the exact amount that we did, as there are too many personal variables involved. For example, the style of accommodation or transport can vary significantly. We have stayed in youth hostels and 5 star resorts, it is all a mix for us and sometimes we deserve a splurge.
Do you leverage your blog for free hotel stays or free swag? Are you open to sponsored posts?
You bet we do! Since our blog is well established and has some clout, we do take advantage of free hotels stays as well as activities. I loosely say “free” as they are loads of work, because we usually write about our experience. We are fortunate enough to be able to work with tourism boards and individual hotels often. We are certainly open to sponsored posts, but are very particular with whom we work. We don’t want to pepper our readers with non-family travel posts, nor do we want to recommend things we don’t personally support.
What sort of monthly budget does a digital nomad family need?
We started off with a budget of $3000 USD a month and have stuck to that for nearly 5 years. Actually, we have learned a few tricks here and there, so often spend less. When we have a home base in Spain, many expenses are lower, but we travel more as vacations. This makes the travel part a bit more expensive.
When we were nomadic, we still had the same budget, but because we were moving more rapidly things were a little more expensive. In southeast Asia, accommodation and food was less expensive, but because we were often moving each week, transportation was higher. We also knew we could experience more activities and splurges, so we usually spent our budget.
Did you ever make any mistakes where you left money on the table?
You know, I think we have been trying to dabble into too many things trying to make them all work. Recently we have been giving our focus to one thing at a time and that seems to be going much better for us. We have yet to hit the jackpot and there is so much more we would love to learn about other streams of income. We need to stay focused and see each stream through.
Are there any monetary perks to traveling as a family?
When you have smaller children they may stay free at the accommodation and possibly free meals. There is almost always a discount for kids on transportation too. We found when traveling southeast Asia with tweens, we often had to get 2 hotel rooms as most places would only accept 3 people. There are times when it is slightly more expensive with kids, but in general it isn’t much more.
Which countries have you been to?
Okay, there are too many to mention! Alan and I have been to 50+ countries and I believe our kids are up to 28 countries each. During our year in southeast Asia, we covered Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore. Of course, we have been to numerous countries in Europe as well: Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Scotland, England, Ireland, Hungary, Morocco and more! We are Americans, so we of course have the USA and have been to Puerto Rico, Turks & Caicos, Jamaica, Mexico and more too.
Which places were the most family-friendly?
Without a doubt Spain in very family-friendly. Children are just part of life and no matter where you go kids are accepted and allowed to be kids. Family is a big part of the Spanish culture and it is great for our kids to be exposed to this environment. We also felt that Chiang Mai Thailand was very family-friendly as well. Everyone was nice and would go out of their way to greet and speak with the kids.
How do you balance parenthood, living abroad, and work?
This is a tough one to balance. When they were younger and we are on the road, we often took turns. One of us would get work done while the other was off with the kids exploring and then we’d switch. Other times, we got work done after the kids went to bed or before they got up. Now that they are both teens, they pretty much occupy themselves and we can all work on projects together or alone. We make sure that no matter the age, we all get quality family time and experiences.
What about school for the kids?
While living in Spain, the kids attend public Spanish schools. This is your standard brick-and-mortar building with a full day of class. When we were nomadic, we were doing home school. We wrote quite a bit about this on our blog and there are many different variations of what home school can mean.
As parents, we found it difficult to transition into a “teacher” and it was a bumpy road to begin with. Once we relaxed and stopped trying to duplicate traditional school at home, the teaching and learning became more natural and easier. The options for education are limitless and abundant online and in person, no matter where you are.
How do you find time for a little romance?
Oh that is funny, believe me you get very creative. When the kids were a few years younger, we would give them some change and let them walk down the street to go get an ice cream cone. It was much easier when they were young, now that they are teens and more aware it takes a little more planning. Occasionally there is the spontaneous moment or the kids are both out with friends, so that is nice to take advantage of too. We do feel comfortable leaving them home alone, while we go out for a meal or with friends.
Your kids are growing up fast –how will you handle their own independence?
Lars just turned 15 and he will soon venture off on his first solo trip to Madrid. He will be volunteering at a language immersion school, so he will be surround by people keeping an eye out for him. He will just be alone traveling the 4 hours there and back and will be greeted by a school staff member upon arrival. He is itching to go on a big trip with friends, but as parents we are making him wait a few more years. It is tough letting him spread his wings on his own and we know he is fully capable, it is the rest of the world which gives us a little pause.
How do you navigate things like insurance and health care?
When we are in Spain, we purchase health insurance directly from a Spanish provider. It is so inexpensive compared to the USA. We pay just €120 a month for full medical coverage, including eyes and dental. When we were nomadic, we purchased travel insurance and paid cash for any routine medical or dental visits.
In Thailand, it was only $10 for an orthodontist visit, about $25 for a teeth cleaning, so it was very inexpensive to just pay out of pocket.
Which bloggers influence you, personally?
I think we have many sources of inspiration, but most recently I have been learning loads from Sharon at “Where’s Sharon” and “Digital Nomad Wannabe”. I think it is providing a clear path of how we need to move forward as a business. We just need to keep the focus and do the work.
What internet tools can you absolutely not live without?
Oh, this is tough. Of course, we use Gmail and WordPress, but also love Gumroad, Paypal, Mailchimp, Canva, and all of the social media (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and more).
What’s the most important thing in your suitcase?
Sorry to say, but it is all about our electronics! Each of us have a laptop and now mobile phones too. They are all handy for work, play, education and keeping us occupied during long travel days. Also, we have power strips that accept U.S. and Euro plugs. They go everywhere with us!
What online communities do you recommend?
There are countless Facebook communities for family travel, but my favorite is likely Families on the Move.
If you could speak with yourself before you became a digital nomad family, what would you say?
You really can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t let your fear or the fear of others talk you out of your dream, your vision, your ideal life. You don’t always have to know the “how” or all the details to get your life moving in your desired direction. You just need to be able to make those first steps and then you will see what paths open for you.
Some of which may never have been in your thoughts before that moment. Allow yourself the opportunity to let life present itself to you, rather than trying to have it all planned to the tee. For me, the dream is to travel, experience and connect. For others it may be different, but follow your passion and live your dream.
Where can Hobo readers find you?
Related: Advice for Digital Nomad Parents
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