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Meet digital nomads Arijana Tkalčec and Matej Špan from “Shipped Away”

It takes a little courage and some solid adaptation skills among other things to leave your home and set off on a life of travel and adventure, renowned nowadays under the title “digital nomadism”. In this interview, we welcome two adventurous souls who share a passion for traveling the world and making a living while doing so.

Arijana Tkalčec and Matej Špan are digital nomads from Croatia and Slovenia respectively. Together, they run the travel blog Shipped Away and also document their travels on Instagram & YouTube. They also work as freelancers on various content creation projects, and Matej works remotely part-time for a company as a Software Engineer. For their solo business ventures, they choose to partner with Ruul.

We had the pleasant occasion to have a conversation on their travel stories and what it is like to live and work as digital nomads, with tips for those who are new to the nomadic lifestyle.

We are pleased to host you on Ruul Blog, where we feature tips, guides, and news for fellow solo talents. Let’s start by learning how you decided to pursue the nomadic lifestyle. How was Shipped Away born?

Arijana: We are both travelers by heart, and even though we hadn’t had the chance to travel much before we met, we have always dreamed of it. My lifetime wish is to have my own travel documentary show, and Matej has always talked about seeing the whole world.

When we met in the summer of 2018, we started traveling straight away, and after a few days of knowing each other, we already went on our first trip to the seaside, and to save money, we slept in the back of Matej’s old Golf Variant. We also went on a few trips in Matej’s old Volkswagen Transporter T4 van that he used in his horticulture job. So we just put an air mattress in the back, and off we went.

And in the summer of 2019, we converted a firefighter’s Citroen C25 into a campervan. We installed a bed, solar panels, and a shower and spent a month exploring some spots in Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia while working simultaneously.

Matej: 2019 was also when Arijana got her master’s degree in Journalism, so we were finally “free.”

So in December 2019, we finally bought our tickets and left for South East Asia in January 2020. Our wish was to explore 7-8 countries in about seven months. But unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we only managed to visit Bali for a month and then Vietnam, where we ended up staying for a year and a half.

In our minds, it never was a question of “if” we would pursue the nomadic lifestyle, but always “when.”

To put it simply, Shipped Away was born out of the desire to document our travels and share our experiences with other travelers or to simply inspire want-to-be travelers. We also have strong opinions on animal welfare, sustainable travel, and other topics we try to cover in our articles and videos.

We’re also building out Shipped Away to become a place where others could find information for starting their own nomadic lifestyle journey and also find tips about freelancing and digital nomad life.

What does an average (work) day look like for you? Do you have any routines and rituals?

Considering we’re travel bloggers, we move destinations more often than an “average” digital nomad would. It means we have a different schedule when traveling and when we’re stationary in a place.

As of the time of this correspondence, we are staying put in Kuala Lumpur for a month, and our ideal schedule would look something like this:

  • Wake up around 8 AM, have a short check of social media
  • Have coffee while prioritizing new emails
  • Get to work for a few hours
  • Hit the pool for some off time (30 minutes)
  • Back to work for about one hour
  • Prepare or order food
  • Back to work for a few hours
  • Hit the gym (around 9 PM, for about 30 minutes)
  • Do some more work up until 11:30 PM
  • Sleep by 00:30 – 01:00

When we travel and explore daily, our schedule looks completely different, depending on what we visit on a specific day. But it mostly comes down to exploring the whole day when it’s light outside and working through the evening. This works very well for us in SE Asia, where the days are not as long.

What are the greatest challenges of working and living as a digital nomad?

One of the greatest challenges as traveling digital nomads is visas, which usually don’t allow us to stay in a country for more than a month (at least in SE Asia and the Middle East). Luckily digital nomad visas are becoming more and more a thing!

Finding a balance between work, exploring, and leisure time is definitely a big challenge. Unfortunately, we often schedule exploring and work just fine but forget about rest/leisure time.

The lack of balance is a common problem for digital nomads who are also trying to build something of their own and not only have remote jobs. Separating work and leisure time becomes quite challenging when you know you have limited time to build something. Moreover, it comes with the cost of very quickly reaching a point of burning out or getting sick. So this is definitely something we’re trying to avoid.

You have traveled to many countries around the world such as Kenya, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia, and Turkey–which one was your favorite? What did you like the most about it?

As our travels to more countries were limited due to the pandemic, we haven’t had the chance to travel where we wanted in 2020, so we’re now back to South East Asia to see the places we wanted to see back then. And we always want to stay in countries longer than we would maybe need, so now we’re trying to prioritize slow travel as we enjoy it more that way.

Of the countries we visited, the two that come on top are undoubtedly Vietnam and Turkey. We’re probably a bit biased about Vietnam, as we did, after all, live and travel through the country for a year and a half, but we really loved our time there. The food was incredible (vegan heaven!), the people were welcoming, and the nature and landscapes were stunning.

Turkey, on the other hand, is a place that surprised us the most, as we didn’t have any expectations before our almost 2-month stay there at the end of 2021. We did a road trip from Istanbul down to the Turquoise Coast, passing by Bursa, Izmir, Fethiye, Kaş, and Antalya, and headed up through Konya and Ankara and back to Istanbul. We loved the various landscapes we passed through, and the people were friendly and welcoming wherever we went. And it also goes without saying that Turkish food also made our experience even better!

Arijana’s top destination is also Sri Lanka, where I (Matej) still haven’t been, so we’re hoping to visit soon. Again, it’s a beautiful country with such kind and welcoming people.

How do you choose your destination? What makes you want to stay longer in a country as you travel?

We are still very much budget travelers, often choosing our destinations depending on the needed budget, as we usually stay a month (or more if possible) in a country. Traveling full-time is much different than going on a trip, as, after all, you are on the road all 365 days a year. And moving locations often is more expensive than being based somewhere for a while.

So we first choose the general area, like for example South East Asia, and then explore the countries there.

Besides the budget being a significant factor in deciding where to go, it’s also the food and beautiful nature. We’re big nature lovers, so we have to have some nature available wherever we go.

What makes us stay longer in a country among the mentioned affordability, food, and nature, is undoubtedly also how welcome we feel as foreigners, let that be from locals or even expats. People can make your experience unforgettable or bad.

But the most significant factor is that it’s a warm weather country, as we wouldn’t stay in a colder place for a longer time. We prefer warmth.

Also, we love fresh fruit, so we love visiting countries with lots of fresh fruit year-round. That’s why we loved our time in Vietnam, where we indulged in plenty of mangoes, pineapple, jackfruit, dragonfruit, and so on.

What are some essentials of your “talent toolbox” (i.e. platforms and tools you use in your work and daily life)?

Our tools are categorized by the area of work that we do. For content creation, blogging, and video making, we use Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop and Lightroom, Grammarly, Epidemic Sound, SEO tools, and various mobile apps for quick captioning and graphics.

To run our solo business, we use Zoho Projects, mail solutions, and Ruul. Then, for storage and documents we use Dropbox and Google Workspace (One, Docs, Sheets). Finally, our travel essentials consist of SafetyWing for insurance, Wise for travel card, and last but not least NordVPN.

How did you come across Ruul? If you could describe Ruul in one sentence, what would that be?

We came across Ruul while searching for the best way to invoice our client with a tax-deductible invoice without having a company. It helped us out immensely.

Ruul is a super easy tool for any freelancer that needs to issue invoices to clients worldwide.

What advice would you give to those who are just getting started in their solo work journey, and want to try out the nomadic lifestyle?

Always remember that you can try out the nomadic lifestyle for let’s say a few months or even a year, and then figure out along the way if that’s something you would actually like.

The easiest way to go nomadic is to have a job that you could potentially change to remote; if not, there are hundreds of jobs you can do on the road. Do extensive research on what you can do beforehand. Remember that you can stay longer in places (like we do), so it’s easier on the budget. Then make fast-paced trips from wherever you choose to base yourself.

If you love socializing, choose to stay longer in places and select destinations with good expat communities.

One final tip: if you’re planning to be a digital nomad and be on the move more often, you DO NOT need a lot of stuff. Pack less clothing because you will soon discover that less is definitely more and that you won’t be wearing half of the things you take.

We would like to thank fellow Ruulers Arijana and Matej again for this insightful conversation. If you’re considering becoming a digital nomad, keep checking our blog & follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for tips to help you on your solo work journey.

To be featured on Ruul Blog and introduce your solo work, send us a mail at [email protected]

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Bilge Özensoy
Former aspiring academic & freelancer now pursuing writing and all things content, exploring potentials of new media under Ruul. Passionate about social movements, feminism & LGBTI+ rights.

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