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Exploring the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain

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For the last 3 years I’ve been traveling full-time while working. For the last few years my focus has been t he project Refuga, that creates workations and adventure trips for entrepreneurs . A project that is super aligned with my own values and my lifestyle.

Johnny was super friendly to let me share some of my thoughts on starting a business while traveling the world. I’ve focused on a few things, that I hope you find interesting. In the post you also read about how I learned about Onestep4ward in Kenya 🙂

The 1-year test

When my girlfriend ended her Master, we really wanted to travel. All of our friends from University were about to apply for their first corporate jobs. The kind of path she also thought she would end up taking.

At this time we had lived back home in Denmark for a year after spending a year in China and we really wanted the freedom and to travel again, but at the same time her career path was going in the direction in staying in one fixed place with a normal job. The entrepreneurial path had never before been an option she had considered, but we talked about that it could be interesting for her to start her own business, just like me, so we could travel or just have more freedom.

When talking to other people who are thinking or dreaming of doing the same, it seems like taking the first jump is the most difficult and it also was in this case.

We ended up making a deal. We agreed that we wanted to try it for one year. We would travel and she would try to kickstart her own business. The idea was that if she didn’t earn any money at all, we could manage with my income and if she or we didn’t like to live like this more permanently, we could just move back. One year was – for us – a perfect period, because it’s enough to get good traction with a business, but also so relatively short a period that it’s possible to plan, finance and it’s easy to get home after just one year and apply for the jobs that all her friends from University did.

Needless to say, we really liked it and continued to travel full-time while working. But just making this small deal took the pressure off us both and I think it was a big part of that we had a great year and that she took enough time to get traction with her business.

“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in one day, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a year”. I can’t remember who made this quote (or if it was 1 or 10 years), but I think it’s so right. It’s amazing what can happen in just one year.

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Lunch during a Refuga trip to Elbrus in Russia

Better, more meaningful travel

One thing is being able to travel and to travel full-time, another thing is to do it in a good and meaningful way. It’s very easy to travel the bucketlist-way, just checking countries and experiences off.

In my world, travel is amazing because it can make an amazing impact on multiple levels. Being aware of what travel can actually do for you and the world, makes you consider how you travel. The reasons are probably super different from person to person, but I’ve to the conclusion that – for me – there is 3 main reasons to travel and I try to optimize these 3 things to make travel as meaningful for me and my surroundings as possible

#1 Learn more about yourself and how to live your life

For me traveling is a great way to experiment with different ways of living and thereby finding out how I want to live my life. It’s pretty insane that many people just take for granted that they are going to live the life just as their families. There are so many ways to live your life, so it makes sense to test different ways.

We have tried living in the country side, in big cities, traveling full-time, staying in a (very) foreign country (China) for a long period etc., and it’s just as a great way to find out what you like.

Traveling can also be challenging and put you in situation outside your comfort zone and that’s always a great way to learn about yourself, so it’s good to sometimes try to explore opportunities that challenge you.

#2 Understand the world around you

By traveling you see how other people are living and get an idea about the world around you, their culture and history. Understanding the world around you helps you appreciate the good things about your own country, but also see where things can better.

Understanding and experiencing the world around you helps you understand why other people think and do as they do. It’s a great way to build real empathy.

I think we would have less conflicts between countries and people, if everyone traveled some more with open eyes and minds.

To get a better understanding of the world, I think it’s important that you also travel to places that are quite different from where you’re from. It’s easy to go to exotic country, but mostly spend time with other western people etc.

#3 Distribute wealth

Traveling and tourism is probably the world’s biggest Industry, some say it’s about 10% of the whole world’s GDP. This means that there is really some power and money in the industry, resulting it in being one of the best ways to distribute wealth in the world (in my opinion).

As a visitor in a country it’s very easy to say to your self that you’re doing something good for the country you’re visiting because you’re spending money there, but unfortunately there is a lot of examples on tourism that actually harms the local community and nature.

Even though it’s on a micro scale, I still think it’s important that you have an idea about what kind of tourism that’s good and what’s bad, so you get as much for your money as possible. I’ve started trying to learn about this myself after seeing how much tourism has ruined in places like Gran Canaria in Spain and Koh Samui in Thailand.

If you want to start researching a bit about this, this is a good place to start .

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Hanging out with a family in the small country of Brunei, that was super friendly to show us around in their beautiful country for half a day.

Use local freelancers to plan your trips

If you tried to visit a foreign country where you know some locals, who takes you out and show all of the gems of that country or city, you know that there is a huge difference in the experience, compared to just following the normal tourist route or Lonely Planet guide book.

Coming home from a trip where you spent time with locals you often feel that you really got to know that country and culture, because you got some insights from people who live there. Everyone want these kind of experiences, but they are hard to find when you don’t know anyone in the country you’re going to.

Of course you can try to meet some locals and get some friends, but if you’re just spending a few weeks in a country, that can be difficult too. Especially in countries like Denmark, where I’m from, where people are not super outgoing.

At the same time you often spend quite a long time planning your trip, getting the difficult visas, invitations, finding stuff off the beaten track.

One thing, that has worked great for me, is finding local freelancers or virtual assistants on UpWork to help me do some off these things. My experience is that most virtual assistants on sites like that do some pretty basic work normally, so they always think it’s pretty fun to do a task like this.

I tried it in a handful of countries and it normally turns out that I also meet the freelancer and get to know them. The latest experience was last year, when I was in Kenya, where I worked with a really talented freelancer who is now a good friend. She even fixed a meeting with some of the best runners in the world, that we now have a partnership with in Refuga.

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We always try to pack pretty light. This was my own setup for 4 months work and travel in Asia.

Using your privilege to tell about your privilege

One of the first days in Kenya, we met up with Jackiya, the freelancer, in Nairobi over dinner. Just over that dinner we got a lot of insights into her life in Kenya and how she had created her own job via online work. An impressing story and of course a completely different world than our own extremely privileged lives.

Over the dinner we also started to talk about traveling and Jackiya really wanted to travel to other countries and continents. Something that is not the norm for the average kenyan person. She told us about this guy she was following online who was traveling to all countries in the world, who she was super inspired by, because he had created his own income online (just like her) and an amazing freedom. That’s how I learned about Johnny and I’ve been a fan since 🙂

Some months later, I wanted to invite Jackiya to join our Refuga trip to Spain. She had done great work for us, created great contacts in Kenya for us etc., so inviting her to Spain to join the trip, to visit a foreign country and meet entrepreneurs from across the world.

For her to get a visa, we had to write an official invitation to her. In the invitation, we wrote that all expenses would be paid, including flights, all food, a few days in Barcelona etc.

Even though it was an official invitation and we wanted to cover all expenses, she quickly got a no when applying for the visa, with no reason. Yet again, it was a reminder how lucky I am, being a danish citizen. We have one of the best passports in the world and can travel to almost all countries in the world pretty easily. It’s an amazing privilege that not many have.

Traveling a lot, I’ve been reminded of that multiple times and it’s been one of the best lessons I’ve learned during traveling. Being exceptionally privileged, being able to do stuff that 90-95% of the world’s population is not able to do, just because you were born in a specific place, is ridiculous and unfair.

I get extremely frustrated about it, every time I think about, but what can I actually do about it? I’m not sure, but I’ve decided to use my privilege to tell about my privilege every time I have the chance (like this post). It’s an easy way to spread the word about how unfair these things are and how how lucky we are. It’s also just a great lesson to appreciate what you have.

Nikolaj is 30 years old, danish and has been an entrepreneur for +10 years. To follow Nikolaj’s travels, find him on Instagram @nikolajastrup , read his Tweet @nikolajam and check out his project, Refuga, here .

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