- Stephanie Smolders is a marketing and business coach as well as a writer and traveller alongside her partner Peter Beukering.
- Before their journey began four years ago, Smolders saved up $US13,500 and Peter saved up $US25,000 to have a financial safety net before quitting their jobs.
- They made money while travelling by finding work online, from English teaching and copywriting gigs to social media management and virtual management consulting.
- Smolders and Beukering also grew their travel website and social media presence and began to develop partnership deals with hotels, allowing them to cut back on living costs.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When my boyfriend and I first met, I told him that I had always planned to travel and not live in one place. And as fate would have it, he had similar ambitions.
Peter is from the Netherlands and I’m from Belgium, so we soon set off for a destination nearby (the south of France), with no return ticket and no set plan. People thought we would be back in a heartbeat. Yet here we are, four years later. Most people at our ages (I am 29 and Peter is 30) would be eager to settle down, but we’re still going strong searching for that next bargain flight.
Many say that we must have racked up quite some savings, and we did: approximately $US38,500, which had required a lot of hustle and strategic planning, as well as selling most of our things. Looking back, we know we could have made it work with a fraction of those savings, as most of it went towards building our business.
We took the jobs we had done in the past and found a way to execute them on a remote, freelance basis. The new roles were maybe not as well-paid as what we were earning before, but it was a start. Peter was able to occasionally work with management consulting clients. I already had a handful of social media management clients and copywriting gigs, and I supplemented this with online teaching, earning on average about $US14 per hour. I was also able to use the platform Italki to teach Dutch, as I have a bachelor’s in education.
We spent the first year getting used to life on the road and growing our travel Instagram
Our first three months travelling were spent house-sitting in France. We ran the owners’ bed and breakfast and travelled slowly, wanting to immerse ourselves in the country and culture as much as possible while also getting used to not having a home of our own.
Travel writing and photography helped us further cut down on our travel expenses. Peter was quite handy with a camera and I was already running my own travel blog at the time.
Soon, we were able to develop barter deals with hotels and restaurants
We were fortunate that our content creation skills helped boost our travel blog and opened doors to partnerships with hotels, restaurants, and even tourism boards. That’s when our travel website, Tourist Exclusive, was created.
With every invite at a partner hotel, we’d usually post four to six photos on Instagram along with an article on our website. It was a barter deal, and in return we would get accommodation, food, and activities.
We learned it’s important to keep costs low, and think of new ways to make money
Our cheapest months were in France and Indonesia due to house sitting opportunities and the fact that we had barter deals with luxury hotels set up. Both of these helped us cut back on accommodation.
We also made sure to track every dollar spent, and set weekly financial dates to go over our financial status, including both personal and business savings. Peter created an excel sheet for an overall view on our finances, and we track our spending with the app Moneylover. This was a game changer, especially since we had no clue how much we could spend every day when we first started.
At the start of year 2, we decided to put more effort into our business
A year into our journey, Peter and I decided that we were ready to level up. At this point, our travel blog was still more of a hobby, but we soon saw changes as we began to focus our energy into growing it. It still blows my mind how it was able to reach almost 90,000 followers and thousands of monthly website visitors.
We decided to combine our skills and create our own company. With my social media and copywriting skills, Peter’s business experience, and both of our backgrounds as entrepreneurs, we created an online marketing agency.
This allowed us to do consulting for A-list brands and create strategies for amazing companies all around the world. Even with all that responsibility, Peter and I continued to travel, and we visited nine more countries.
But not having a permanent home was starting to take a toll on us
It came to the point where we wanted to prioritise our privacy and focus on building the company rather than taking care of someone else’s home. That’s why towards the end of the year, we decided that we wanted a base and started renting a house.
Having a home base can definitely be worth the extra cost
If you’re planning to travel to various cities in one continent, having a base might be something worth considering. This decision kept our transportation costs low since we didn’t have to pack up our whole lives (four suitcases each!) every single time.
In year 3, we began to see our hard work start to pay off
Time to scale. We onboarded a number of employees and freelancers so that we could focus more on the strategy and consulting side of business.
On average, we earned $US1,500 during our first few months. After continuous hustle and many sleepless nights, we achieved our highest month and brought in a total of $US30,000 in August 2018. After that, we consistently earned $US10,000 to $US15,000 every month.
This was the year that we started to reinvest back into our business. I feel like many people are scared of putting out money when they are just getting started. But we found that the more we reinvested, the more we saw the growth of our ventures. We had higher-quality of work and automated some of our systems to make time for more strategic work.
Business tip: Reinvest money back into your business. This helped us buy ourselves more time to focus on what we love (effectively boosting our income more) rather than allowing one task to take up so much of our time. Outsourcing is one of the best investments you can make as a digital nomad and business owner.
By year 4, it was time for a pivot, so we started slowing down
After running the agency for two years, we knew we wanted to change something. I realised that I wasn’t meant to manage an agency, as I wanted to focus on using my marketing expertise and creativity, and not spend all my time on project management.
We made a lot of changes, including closing down the agency. I chose to focus on my coaching business while Peter started developing a product-based brand. We are still very much involved in each other’s businesses, but on a different level.
It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly
This was a tough decision to make. We had invested in the business to the point that we had almost no savings left. The scariest thought? This time around, we didn’t have the safety net of a steady income. Although we knew the challenges it would bring, we decided to take the risk to be able to focus on our passions and long-term dreams.
We became more flexible and open to new adventures
During times when we were short on cash, we learned to become flexible and open-minded to flight deals and this helped us continue to travel.
In fact, we found business class tickets for roughly the same as economy by searching the web and being open to different routes, like flying from Paris to Cairo and Cairo to Kuala Lumpur. It might not have been the ideal route we wanted, but it would have been a shame to let such a bargain pass by.
There is always a way to make it work — as long as you are willing to find it
We’ve slowed down with our travels, and we now have our base in Malaysia. We travel at least once every six weeks, but it’s nice to have a place to call home after all that exploring. We currently focus on our own businesses and projects. Today I’m coaching entrepreneurs in effectively using online marketing. We currently rely on my coaching income which is on average $US3,000 a month, plus savings from our time running the agency. Peter finished a seed round for his new company and is using all his income to reinvest back into that business.
I’d often hear from people that they wish they had the funds to travel, and I won’t deny that travelling is indeed a privilege… but if you also aspire to live in different places and see the world, you can make it happen. We have been in a situation, twice, where we had to restart again from scratch, and we learned there is always a way to make it work – as long as you are willing to look for it.
The author and her partner are safe and staying self-isolated in their home in Malaysia. This piece is not intended to encourage irresponsible travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business Insider is looking for more real-life stories about travel and digital nomads. Got one to share? Email Laura Casado at
This article was originally published on Business Insider April 4, 2020.