An interview with Ian From the Digital Globetrotter

Question 1: Why did you start travelling?

I’ve always been passionate about history, which was my favorite material in high school. I actually wanted to become a history teacher when asked what I wanted to be, around age 14. But I never wanted to teach Canadian history to kids that are more interested to play football in the field… I thought better to live history by my own, on my own travels! That definitely makes it more interesting!
I went to an Expat School from France in Quebec City, which connected me with many expatriates, mostly French. I made good friends and my best friend at the time, Romain, invited me to his hometown of Nantes in Western France to spend the summer. I was 17 at the time, and although my parents thought I was in in Nantes, we actually packed a hockey bag with both all our stuff in it, and started travel all around France. With fake Id, we could check in hotels even though we weren’t “legal age”. Two years later, after working in a kitchen at minimum wage to stack up some savings, I would continue the journey around Europe to what would be the real start of my travel adventures.

Question 2: Why have you travelled for so long?

Thanks to my digital nomad lifestyle I have set up in 2002, with a good foundation, you can travel as long as you wish! That’s an important concept, because I always meet these gap year English students or sabbatical year travelers that give themself one year off work and spend their savings on a one time adventure, before they get back “on the grid”, get married, get a decent job, etc.… They always ask me how I do it, or how lucky I am… It’s not about luck, it’s about the system that you put in place to create sustain travelling. Once you have figured out a system that will let you travel forever, and if this is really what you want, there is no need to stop. I guess this has been my strength compared to other travellers, as I have started very young, at the time when Internet business was just starting to become accessible.

Question 3: Do you feel like you want to stop anytime soon?

First my goal is to finish travelling the 196 countries of the world, and then, I’ll just do it again and again! Actually if it wasn’t about the fact that I am near my goal, I wouldn’t even count because I just enjoy travelling back to my favorite countries on and on. For the past year (2016), I’ve been very busy with work, haven’t travelled to a new country since 13 months, but still travelled to about 40 countries that I have already been. Travelling is not just adventure, as it is with most countries that are left in Africa for me. It’s about enjoying. And I love to come back every year to Europe as well as South America!

Question 4: Tell us some of the craziest experiences you have had…

There are so many in the basket. I guess my solo trip from Senegal to Ivory Coast was one of the most challenging, as there are 8 countries to cross, with little to no tourism industry and infrastructure, and especially not for overland travel. Using public transport, the same available to Africans, it’s a rough ride!
I remember this time I arrived to Guinea-Bissau, packed 10 people in one of those little cars they called “7 places”, which meant 3 people in front, 4 in the back, 2 in the trunk and 1 on the roof sitting over everybody’s luggage. Travelling this way makes it very exhausting, specially when you need to stop every 20km for police check points, get out of the car, unpack luggage for inspection, give the typical bribe to the official, and get everything back into place!
So when I started planning the hardest leg of the trip, the 300km between Guinea-Bissau’s Capital to Conakry in Guinea, also known as the worst road in Africa, I looked at the facts and online forums suggesting it takes 3 days and is not very safe, having many highway thefts reports, I decided to pay a guy to take his motorbike and go straight through the Jungle. This way, we could get there in 2 days, stopping in route to Boke for a night. It would make it much more interesting! There was actually no road; it was a dirt track about 1 meter wide…  We spent 2 days crossing shallow lakes (yes, straight through them), rivers, going up mountains. The guy was hanging on to my backpack in front of him, while I had my bigger backpack attached to the back of the bike, barely any space to sit… We crossed a bunch of those typical African villages where people don’t wear much cloth at all and where they hardly ever seen any white guy like me! The expression on their face seeing me on that over packed motorbike was priceless 🙂

Question 5: What are your favorite countries to travel in?

This is the question I get most of the time, and its so hard to answer because I prefer different countries for different reasons. I have favorite ones for living, favorite ones for travelling, favorite ones for culture, favorite ones for food, favorite ones for adventure travel, favorite ones for beach and chilling, etc.… And that changes all the time as I change myself.
But to answer a simple question, I have to come up with the obvious one. If I had to choose only one country to spend the rest of my life, I would choose Brazil. I love this place, its huge! The best way I can describe it is that its not just one country, it’s like a little empire. The Spanish decided to split their American Territories into small 18 small countries while Portuguese Empire stays as one. Every state is so different and could easily be countries themselves, Rio de Janeiro, is so different to Sao Paulo, in turn so different to the south of Brazil, and the north, Bahia state too! There are 26 Brazilian states, very comparable to the 18 Spanish countries in terms of size and importance. So yes, Brazil is still my favorite year after year, no wonder I have spent more than 4 years all in all in this amazing country!

Question 6: What countries could you see yourself settling down in?

Definitely Brazil as mentioned already, but I probably won’t settle any time soon, just because I can’t stay in one place just yet… There’s too much to see and discover!  If I settle, it will be in many different places at the same time. I always need to come back to Europe, always back to South America and of course South East Asia too!
I like the idea of sailing as a way to settle and get a bit of stability, on one of those 40 feet mono haul sailboats. This is a dream I have for several years and have even enrolled in a sailing class of the ASA (American Sailing Association), where I have received a license for Coastal Navigation. I’m just a bit young to do this now, but at one point I will go this direction to see how it goes! I life the idea of sailing around the world with a partner and even kids, landing in different ports every now and then for a month or more, and set sail again!

Question 7: What are the most important lessons about life you have discovered from your years of travel?

You only live once… So take your best shot!
I’m not sure it’s my best lesson, but that’s the one that comes first to mind. For me, it directs my motivation forward! Living with no regrets is an objective I am trying to achieve every day of my life.

Question 8: What would you say to people travelling for the first time?

Make sure the foundations are sorted before setting off. That is one thing I want to focus a lot on my website, to help first time travellers get on the right foot at start. It’s very important to be open minded to erase some of the concepts that society has brainwashed us to believe. You don’t necessarily have to work an 8 to 5 job the rest of your life, neither do you need to get a mortgage like everybody else… Marriage is neither mandatory… There is another path to follow which many of us travellers are already doing. And it is, to my eyes, pure freedom, and pure happiness!

Question 9: The most extreme thing you have done?

One of them could be travelling the 14 South Pacific countries during the typhoon Season… Very risky for your life as well as for your wallet because if you miss just one of those expensive flights, you lose the rest of them and can remain stuck there for weeks. But pre-booking is essential for your wallet, as it gets pretty expensive very quickly.

Question 10: What would you say to your younger self?

When I started I had no mentors, no models… Being one of the first, if not the first digital nomad out there in 2002, I didn’t know which direction to follow. So I was going much slower, guided by my senses and feelings… Spent a lot of time in Brazil and Spain while I was testing online stuff and didn’t know of any success stories yet. If I had known that 15 years in 2017 there would be a thousands and thousands of people living the same way I imagined, I would have speeded up the process no doubt about it! I’m not on a rush anyway, for me, it’s a lifestyle, not a competition.

Question 11: How difficult is it having relationships with constant travelling?

I’ve had girlfriends while on the road, one of them a Brazilian for 2 to 3 years. It’s definitely not easy…  and sometimes a distraction to your focus of living new experience and looking forward to your travels. It’s always important to stay focused and having to “miss” somebody, call home, etc.… It’s hard on the system. Do I recommend it? Maybe if it’s something very serious. But for those little relationships, you really need to ask yourself if this has the significance of a future for you, or just a momentarily story. Most people I meet can’t make it work. Being single is also part of travelling extensively; being single definitely helps in meeting new interesting people on the way.

Question 12: What’s the most important thing you could say about travel?

I guess it depends on your priorities, for me it was something so important that I dedicated my life to it! It’s the definition of Freedom that I always imagined! I would never look back; I know this is the best thing for me.

Question 13: How can you afford to travel for so long?

This is the concept of Digital Nomad, which is the theme of my, a website dedicated to help people step up their travel game and getting ready to do the same as I did with all the tips and advice I accumulated along the way through 2 decades of travelling. Unless you are a millionaire, which I am not, working online as passive income while you travel is the best a way to make money to fund your travels. I don’t make much, I don’t want to be a millionaire, I just want to have enough to fund my travels and live the way I imagined back in 2002. If I had focused on my business 100% with no travelling, I’d probably be very rich by now, but I wouldn’t be the person I have become with these incredible experiences I have lived through those 173 countries I’ve been to date. Its important to balance in life, and for me, balance is about work, travel, as well as focusing on health, love and improving myself as a human being every day.

Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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