For the ninth episode of the DNQ Interview Series, I’d like to welcome Nanouk Mulder, a blogger at Digital Nomad with Kids who travels the world with her husband and kids! Nanouk dropped a nice comment at the start of my DNQ Interview Series hoping to read digital nomad family interviews. In turn I contacted her to see if she would be interested in talking about her own experiences! I’m excited to share this interview because it is quite rare to come across a nomadic family, and I was really interested in learning how Nanouk does it.
I bombarded Nanouk with questions, and she delivered some detailed, comprehensive answers so I thank her for that! Without further ado, here is my interview with Nanouk.
How to Travel as a Digital Nomad Family with Nanouk Mulder
Sharon: Tell us about yourself!
Nanouk: Hi, my name is Nanouk, and I travel with my family as digital nomads. My husband has a remote job, and I am a freelance writer. We also have our own business building websites. Since my husband is into coding, and I’m a total SEO and writing geek, it’s a perfect combination!
Before we left we had a big house, office jobs (although I worked part-time), and a station car…you know, the normal life. We thought we needed all of this to start a family, but we were both so unhappy! So in June of 2015 we listed our house for sale. We thought it would take a while, but surprisingly it was sold in just three weeks. We bought a trailer, quit our jobs and left with our 1-year old son. Our family traveled in a trailer through France, Spain and Portugal. It was such an awesome experience! It had its downsides as well, but we learned a lot about ourselves and life in general.
Our family and friends were totally surprised by the way, and we received a lot of negative comments. “We were irresponsible parents, not providing any stability for our baby etc.” In my opinion this is nonsense, and you probably agree. Kids need only one thing, and that’s being close to their parents.
Our son is now 2 years old (and he’s doing fine by the way!), and we have a tiny baby girl in the making. We had only been on the road for six months and are currently back in The Netherlands to deliver our second baby here. We want to leave again next spring when our baby is a few months old.
Sharon: That is such an amazing story! I love that you went for it despite what others said. So why did you feel unhappy with the office job, house, and car?
Nanouk: There were several reasons why we felt unhappy with our job and house and such. First, we bought a house with my husband’s big salary. Then he needed to hold on to this job to pay the mortgage, and the pressures of keeping the job gave him such headaches.
Also, we both felt irritated by the mentalities of the people at our jobs. At my husband’s job it seemed important to work lots of hours per day and be visible at the right moments at the coffee vendor, while the quality of your work didn’t really matter. I experienced something similar at my day job as well. They expected me to be at the office from 9 to 5, even if I finished the job early and delivered high-quality work. I wasn’t allowed to leave the office, and as a “reward” for my hard work, I got more boring and repetitive tasks. Around this time, I started considering freelancing.
Sharon: That makes a lot of sense. You said you learned a lot about yourselves and life as you trekked through France, Spain, and Portugal. What kind of learnings did you make? Do you have any opinions or thoughts from before your journey that have changed after coming back to The Netherlands for your second child?
Nanouk: When we first left with our baby, I was shocked by the amount of negative comments about our departure. They would say we were irresponsible parents and such. I felt so insecure! I had the urge to defend myself and our decision, but at the same time, I was scared those commenters were right. Now I know better!
We made the right choice to leave, and it is the right choice for us to leave again with our 2 little kids. Most people think of stability for a child in the form of a brick and mortar house, childcare, and a school to go to every day with some clubs or hobbies in the afternoon. This is a certain kind of stability, but not the stability we want to offer our kids. We want them to learn and develop at their own pace, with our safe guidance instead of that of kindergarten teachers. We want them to play outside when they want to, and not be hidden inside a school building for a fixed amount of hours per day (like all office employees are). I now feel secure about my opinion. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned on the road.
Sharon: Do you think it is a lot harder traveling as a family than solo? What obstacles have you faced?
Nanouk: Traveling solo has its drawbacks and hurdles as well. The thing I hear from lots of solo travelers is that they get lonely. Even if they have lots of people around, they can feel lonely inside the group. When traveling with your family, you will not experience this kind of loneliness since you have your spouse and kids around you all the time. But then again, your spouse and kids are around ALL THE TIME. This can be exhausting!
The hardest thing for us was to find the right balance between traveling, nursing, and relaxing while finding enough time and energy to work. The answer for us was slow travel. We stayed in one place for two weeks to two months. We sometimes didn’t leave the campsite for a few days. We divided working and nursing hours just to get some work done. The sightseeing could wait.
When you travel solo and you don’t have demanding deadlines every week, you can travel more flexibly. For us, we always need to consider the well-being of our baby first. That’s priority number 1. He still sleeps 2 to 3 hours during the afternoon (thank God!) which gives my husband and I time to work. But when the baby decides to sleep only 1 hour, it’s just too bad for one of us (no more working time)! It’s back to diapers and bottles again.
I wouldn’t say traveling with kids is harder than traveling solo. It is just different.
Sharon: How long did it take to set up your business? You and your husband seem like such a power couple with you guys handling both SEO and coding!
Nanouk: Setting up our business took us so much time! We thought we would be up and running within a month, but we were so wrong. The problem was that we wanted to set up our business remotely. We still had our residency in the Netherlands but we knew that we had to unregister it in the near future. Setting up a business in the Netherlands (which takes around 1 day) was therefore not an option. After six months of Googling and asking questions to lawyers and fiscal professionals, we decided to set up our business in Ireland. This took us 5 more months than expected.
We definitely are a golden team! We complement each other: my husband is a real IT nerd, while I’m the writing and SEO geek ;). Our first website ranked on the first page of Google only a few weeks after launching.
Sharon: Was it scary, financially, to build your business on the road without having formulated it before your trip?
Nanouk: That’s a great question! When someone asks advice about how to start as a location independent family, I advise them not to do it our way unless they have a serious amount of savings. We sold our house with profit. So when we left, we had our savings as a backup. I found it scary, but it was a calculated risk.
We also had the confidence that my husband would find a new job if we ran out of money. It turned out that this confidence was justified. When we came back a few months ago, my husband found a new job within one month. But we actually could have lived for another 2 years without worrying much about money. Of course, we wouldn’t have let two years go by using up all of our savings, but it was nice to have it as a backup. When we leave again next spring, our business will be more developed, which feels better!
Sharon: I’m glad it worked out! How much did it cost to buy a trailer? If you wanted to move to another continent would you sell the trailer in the future?
Nanouk: We bought our trailer in a second-hand market. We were really lucky! The trailer was relatively old but the previous owners took really good care of it. It is still in great shape! We bought it for €9.000 (around $10.000). We already owned a car that could tow the trailer, so that saved us a lot of money.
When we travel to another continent in the future, I think we would sell our trailer and car. It depends on the destination, but if we go to the US we would probably buy an RV. For other continents, I think we would travel with Airbnb and use public transportation and such. But first we want to explore Europe with our trailer!
Sharon: Awesome. Europe will take some time to fully see :). I saw on your blog you had around 40,000 Euros saved after selling your house and other belongings. Do you think this is a decent amount for other families with kids?
Nanouk: €40.000 is definitely enough for a family! Less is possible as well. I know of a family that travels through central America with their baby and have only €2.000 savings. I wouldn’t jump in like that, but I am a bit more risk averse. It also depends on what your (probable) earnings are. If you have a steady income or have the prospect of a steady income in the near future, you can easily take the leap with fewer savings.
Sharon: I know another blogger (Sharon Gourlay) who travels with kids and ended up moving back to Australia for their kids to go to school. Do you do “road-schooling” while abroad? Would you move back for when they start Elementary school/Middle school?
Nanouk: I love her blogs Digital Nomad Wannabe and Where’s Sharon! I’m a huge fan! For us, school is still far away. My son turns 2 this November, but we are already reviewing the possibility of road-schooling. Although I question myself a lot (am I able to teach them to read?), my husband and I intend to give it a serious try. The more and more we read about it, the more we feel good about the idea of road-schooling. Why put kids through 25+ hours a week in school in a crowded classroom when they can learn so much in real life? I know, we are privileged to even give it a thought as lots of people in the world don’t have this opportunity. But we do, and we are thankful for this.
Sharon: Is your son able to make friends abroad, and does being exposed to different surroundings enable him to pick up on new languages?
Nanouk: Our son is still very young and he easily makes friends with everyone. He made friends in Spanish play gardens and on Portuguese campsites. But again, he is still very young, so in time we will see how it pans out. I’ve read a lot about socialization on the road, though, and I’m absolutely not worried about it. The way kids (and grownups) socialize in mainstream society is the norm; socialization on the road is different but it is still socialization. Kids make friends wherever they are and whatever background they have. Even the language doesn’t matter. And if we notice that our kids are unhappy on the road, we can decide to stay in one place to settle down.
Regarding learning new languages, our son only speaks a few words of Dutch right now. We raise him in Dutch because it’s our mother tongue. In our opinion, it is important to become fluent in one language (in our case, Dutch) and when they are ready, they can learn more. We think that there will be a moment when his interest in learning another language will spike. He could be 4 years old or 10, but because of the traveling, we think this moment will come sooner than later.
Sharon: What is the reasoning for delivering your second baby in The Netherlands?
Nanouk: The healthcare in the Netherlands is really good and giving birth at home is still normal in the Netherlands. In other countries, being pregnant and giving birth is very hospitalized. You even have to pay extra for a home birth! On the other hand in the Netherlands, a home birth is free while giving birth in a hospital (without a medical reason) is charged.
Also, during my first pregnancy, I was very sick. I threw up for months and wasn’t able to leave my bed. It would be very hard for my husband to take care of our son on his own while working as well. We decided to go back to the Netherlands so my parents could help us. This was a very wise decision. Not only was I sick for weeks, I’m also experiencing pelvic instability and cannot take care of our son full-time. We need the help of my parents a lot! Thankfully they retired this summer and are more than happy to help us out. We even made plans to travel together next year. They want to buy a trailer as well, so then we become one big happy digital nomad family!
Sharon: Do you have a specific goal with your life abroad?
Nanouk: What a difficult, but interesting question! This is something really good to think about. My first reaction was no, I don’t have one as we just live the life we want to live. But maybe that’s our goal! I want to develop a life for us that is completely balanced. A perfect life or a completely happy life doesn’t exist. But in my opinion, a life that we are all satisfied about is key. If someone is satisfied with living in a house and having a 9 to 5 job, then that’s great! I sometimes wish we were, but we are not.
Our goal is not to see the whole world. We love to travel, and there are still a million places on our travel wishlist. But ticking these places off our list is not our objective. We want a life where we can decide for ourselves where we sleep, eat, and earn our money. No boss telling us to be at the office for a certain amount of hours. No school to rush to every morning when our kids want to sleep in (our 2 year old sleeps until 8 AM every morning), play outside, and learn at their own pace.
We hope we can create a lifestyle in which my husband and I earn enough money with us both working around 20 to 25 hours a week, so we have enough time for our family. I hope we can keep doing the work that we like and that we can see beautiful places all over the world. With slow travel, no mortgage, and a good amount of minimalism, I think this is a realistic goal.
I really loved Nanouk’s honesty, and I look up to people who follow their gut despite the norm. This is exactly what I want to promote on my blog – to live the way you want to live. Being nomadic as a family is entirely possible, Nanouk has proven this! Nomadism can actually be a great way for children to learn from different cultures and people around the world.
If you want to get in touch with Nanouk, here are her links!