Name: Paul Sanders
Current Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Next Destination: December whirlwind to Copenhagen > Grindewald > Zagreb > Phuket
Behind the Postcards is an interview series I'm doing with nomadic souls from around the world sharing their story from going from "normal" to nomad. I met Paul over year ago at DNX (Digital Nomad Conference) in Berlin. Since then we’ve crossed paths in both Denver and Chicago. And probably cities to be named in the future. Today we talk travel adventures, digital nomadism, workout routines, and a lot more.
N+C: What's up Paul?! Thanks for doing the interview. Can you share with readers who you are?
PS: Hey everyone! I'm Paul, and I like to think of myself as a designer of life more than an entrepreneur. I realized early on in my life that I was addicted to travel and the feeling of always exploring something new to see what it added to me. The best place to reach me right now is Instagram or Twitter where I'll update my profile link to new things that emerge. @heywherespaul for both.
N+C: To start, what was your first solo trip and why that location?
PS: A bit of a strange one. I had found out about this monastery that had been converted into a Japanese macrobiotic resort, where you can go as a traveler to get a health diagnosis and eat a macrobiotic diet. I signed on to their work-study program and spent a brutally cold winter in the Berkshire mountains cooking Japanese food. There was just something that sounded so unique about the experience and I had to go. I stayed in the dorms and met a ton of amazing people. With no TV or easy way off the mountain, we all became close over nights of separating rice from rocks, talking and dancing.
It's always been my core values to design my own path, remain debt free and listen to my intuition.
N+C: What is your travelosophy? (Travel philosophy)
PS: It's always been my core values to design my own path, remain debt free and listen to my intuition. I travel to give myself new perspectives, learn about other cultures, and it's incredibly important to me to adapt to the location I'm in. After years of travel, I think it's one of the most important things a human can do to grow beyond themselves and understand the world for the community it is.
N+C: How have you been able to fund your nomadic lifestyle?
PS: Early on I recognized the opportunity to use a laptop to be location independent. I learned software development and started freelancing, which turned into founding a software company. And there's no better feeling than logging on to work from a riverside cafe in Ljubljana or a ski cabin in the Rockies.
N+C: Is being a “digital nomad” just a trendy lifestyle choice of the 2010s decade or will it become a new norm of the future?
PS: I think that while the concept is definitely trending now, it speaks to the real human need to identify with something beyond ‘work’ and the need to connect with others and our natural desire for adventure. The growing network of coworking spaces, while in one way are very similar in structure to offices we've escaped, are forming what I think are the grounds for huge, flexible, ongoing collaboration wherever your talent is needed in the world at any time. This concept will just keep evolving.
I obsess over quality work and meeting deadlines so that no client is unhappy or has any reason to think my lifestyle is detrimental to running a successful business.
N+C: What advice do you have for someone who wants to combine both work and travel for a living?
PS: Put. Money. In. The. Bank.
The first thing I did was save enough money to get me through 4 months of 0 income. I've never dipped below that in 9 years. Money concerns can cause you so much stress. Do whatever it takes to save some reserves first.
Second, prove your system before heading out so you know where money will come from. For me, that meant a software company plus a few key clients that give me ongoing work and who know I travel. I obsess over quality work and meeting deadlines so that no client is unhappy or has any reason to think my lifestyle is detrimental to running a successful business.
N+C: Is there a city or country that you’ve been to that was totally different than you’d thought it would be?
PS: All of them. I'm terrible at predicting what a place will feel like. Bhutan was not the peaceful country full of meditating monks I expected. Bangkok was way hotter and crazier than I expected, but with oddly silent, immaculate trains. I didn't expect Portugal to feel so incredibly modern and hip. And I'm always touched by poverty where you don't expect. Driving past run down shacks in Costa Rica to get to your nice beach side villa, hearing their stories of how the US will reject a truckload of their difficult to harvest bananas if brown spots are detected, really puts things in perspective.
If we are hanging out at the top of Mt. Everest and you need fingernail clippers, I got you.
N+C: What’s the most unique thing that you pack when you travel?
PS: Great question. I wish i had a more exciting answer. I'm a total diva when it comes to flying though. I pack my own blanket, snacks, noise canceling headphones, pressure relieving earplugs, and I don't go anywhere without fingernail clippers. Your whole day can be ruined by a distracting jagged nail and I’m not having that. If we are hanging out at the top of Mt. Everest and you need fingernail clippers, I got you.
N+C: Ha! I actually always have finger nail clippers too. I hear you bro! What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made while traveling that you wish you could go back in time and tell a younger you DON’T DO THIS?
PS: Too much travel in too little time. I had booked a 4,000 mile road trip in just over 2 weeks with stops in 7 cities plus a wedding. Terrible idea. It was rough. Near the end I wanted to abandon my car and fly home. I had a hard time enjoying anything I because I was constantly tired. Slow travel is infinitely better than trying to do too much. I hear people who have a 1 week vacation and they are going to 5 cities in 3 countries so they can “see it all”. I cringe and want to stop them.
Also I never book 6am flights anymore. I don't care how good the deal is. It just feels awful. But also, I love for my last experience of a place to be a reflective breakfast before hopping a train or flight, so I book my departures around noon if possible.
N+C: I really like that reflective breakfast idea. It's a good note to depart on. Lastly, I know you frequently rock climb. But a reality of travel is that it can break routines that you develop. How do you build time to rock climb and create routines on the road?
PS: I do actually bring my climbing gear with me on US trips. It fits it the outside pouch of my suitcase. The climbing community is fantastic for connecting, I highly recommend it for meeting great people. For international travel I don't try to keep an exact routine, but rather build into my week times for hikes, dancing, yoga, skiing, and just walking and hauling a suitcase often feels more intense than a day at the gym. So, I see ‘movement’ as the routine rather than any particular exercise. But, let's be honest here, I'm focused on consuming as many pastries as possible when I'm traveling. I see it as my duty to appreciate a country's local baking culture.
N+C: Yes, let's be real. Routines are great to keep, but unless your trying the local pastries, street food, or other famous local dishes, you're going to be left feeling unsatisfied and your day unfulfilled. And if you peel off a jagged wrapper too quickly and crack a nail, you've got that covered! Thanks so much for sharing your experience and travel philosophy with us Paul! Be sure to follow this world nomad at @heywherespaul because otherwise you're going to be wondering.
All photos are courtesy of Paul Sanders.