Thursday, April 26, 2012

My biggest travel fear

Well, friends, I think it’s time for an update. Jim and I are finalizing our travel prep before shipping out of the country on May 7th. We thought that we had gotten rid of 95% of our belongings, but apparently there is still a lot left! We look forward to spending the next week packing up, donating, and selling all of the remaining stuff.

Being compulsive list-makers, I think we have approximately 37 lists going right now. Actually, to be more accurate, Jim has 13 Excel spreadsheets and I have 14 handwritten notes on scraps of paper. Some of the lists cover the exact same topic, but were written at different times. There’s just something soothing about writing a list, isn’t there? Making a list decreases my anxiety by giving me one less thing to remember. At some point, I plan to post copies of our packing lists as well as our tips on 101 things to do when embarking on a life of long-term, worldwide travel.

But for now, the most pressing thing on my mind isn’t making sure that I remember to bring my passport. Nor do I have any anxiety about the countries we’re visiting or the fact that I’m not fluent in Croatian, French, or Afrikaans. Heck, it doesn’t even bother me that we only have 2 nights of accommodation booked in Croatia (our first stop) and will be “winging it” for the remaining 5 weeks. All of these things are challenging, but they will get sorted out because they have to.

The one thing that keeps me awake at night is... worrying about a reliable internet connection!

That’s right, folks, I said an internet connection. After spending years in front of a computer in graduate school and then being tethered to a Crackberry at work, my biggest concern is having an internet connection. Can you believe it?

Wanna know why? Well, friends, I have a confession to make. My name is Natalie and I’m a digital nomad. A digital nomad is someone who works remotely in order to live a nomadic lifestyle.

There are lots of employment options that bode well with the lifestyle of a digital nomad. For example, many long-term travelers generate income from photography, graphic design, web design, blogging, and writing. What all of these have in common is an ability to work anywhere in the world using “digital” technology.

My personal goal is to develop several revenue streams that allow me to become location-independent. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m establishing several different options for making money using only a laptop and an internet connection. That way, I should have the ability to live and work anywhere in the world I choose (subject to immigration restrictions), as long as it has a reliable internet connection.

As you can see, since my livelihood is dependent on the internet, it’s very important to have access 24/7. Unfortunately, this means that I am not traveling the world on an extended vacation… I will be working as a digital nomad!

Lists, lists, and more lists!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Waka Waka, This Time for Africa!

And the latest addition to our itinerary is... drum roll, please... South Africa! We'll be spending three months on the Western Cape for a housesitting assignment. More details and photos to come.

What does South Africa have to do with Shakira, a soccer ball, and Fozzy Bear?

South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup. Its official anthem was Shakira's "Waka Waka, This Time for Africa." Check out a clip below!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Our 2012 itinerary is complete!

And the next thing we knew, we were booked through December.

Great news, friends -- we've accepted another housesitting assignment! It's amazing how quickly our travel plans have developed. Last week, we were considering a year in Costa Rica. Now, we're set to spend the last few months of 2012 on an entirely different continent. That's right, folks, we're not headed back to the Western Hemisphere just yet.

Where are we going? Sounds like it's time for another game of Name that Place!

What does she:

Have to do with:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Housesitting Business

Over the past few weeks, Jim and I have learned an important lesson about housesitting: even though there's no money involved, it's still a business!

As housesitters, we're offering a service to homeowners. This service may include caring for a beloved pet, checking the mail, or even gardening, depending on the situation. In exchange, we receive non-monetary compensation, such as a rent-free place to live. Everything is negotiable and no two situations are exactly alike. Both parties have to agree to the terms and feel like they are getting a fair shake.

Once we've made contact with a homeowner (or they've contacted us) via a housesitting website, the next step is to set up a call. This is usually done via Skype. Since most of the homeowners we're talking to are overseas, Skype is a free and easy way to hold video conference calls.

Our initial call is a chance for us to see and hear each other -- an important gut check! -- as well as get more information about the home, neighborhood, and housesitter's responsibilities. First impressions are important, so we make an effort to smile during the video conference calls. It's definitely a two-way street, with both parties scoping each other out and asking questions. Being a good listener can be just as important as talking!

After we finish the call, we usually ask for 1-2 days to think things over and discuss amongst ourselves. We don't assume that we've been offered the assignment unless the homeowner has clearly said so at the end of our call. But the ball is usually left in our court to determine whether or not we're interested in pursuing the assignment.

So what are some of the reasons why we might turn down an offer? In our recent experience, there have been two major sticking points that made us think twice.

First, we need to be fairly compensated. Since no money is exchanged, we're not talking about dollars and cents here. Our "compensation" is what the homeowner offers us in exchange for our services. Clearly, this includes a home to live in. On top of that, the homeowner may also provide:
  • Transportation to/from the airport
  • Use of a personal vehicle, especially if public transport is unavailable
  • The cost of utilities, including electricity, TV, internet, phone, and heating
  • Regular cleaning or landscaping services
  • Payment for immigration-related expenses, such as long-stay visas

In exchange, we're willing to provide 2-3 hours of house work, care for their pets, stay on their property every night, and cover our own food and personal expenses during our stay. Housesitters also pay for their own flights to the location of the housesitting assignment. We may ask for additional compensation for anything beyond these basic services.

The second sticking point is being compatible with the homeowners. This might sound obvious, but it's easy to underestimate its importance. Homeowners and housesitters need to feel comfortable with one another to maintain an open, honest dialog. We love working with homeowners who are friendly, helpful, respectful, and reasonable -- that's the kind of people we want to do business with!

We were sad to hear that many homeowners have been let down by previous housesitters. Some housesitters didn't show up or cancelled at the last minute, while others didn't respect the homeowners' property or pets. There is a lot of trust involved in these arrangements, but believing that people are generally good, trusting your intuition, and doing some quick Google searches can go a long way in terms of building credibility. This is good news for any of you who might be interested in international housesitting -- there are clearly lots of opportunities available for reputable, responsible, and professional sitters!