Brenda and Gawin are not your typical single, twenty-something digital nomads. They said goodbye to the rat race in the Netherlands and travel the world with their 2-year-old daughter, inspiring other nomad families to follow in their footsteps.
In this interview, Gawin and Brenda tell us what makes traveling with a toddler different (and sometimes challenging), what they do for a living, how much they enjoy their time on Gran Canaria, and what their life philosophy is.
Can you introduce yourselves?
Brenda grew up in a small town in the Dutch countryside, from which she moved to chase an ambitious career in Amsterdam. She combined her full-time job in the financial industry (financial adviser and coach) with part-time studying and board memberships for two organizations.
As board member of ICA she organized personal development events for more than 40,000 young professionals. A collaboration between the main Dutch banks saw Brenda teach primary school kids how to manage money. She is now a self employed personal and business coach. Currently launching Nomad Family, the website and community for traveling families who are working location independent.
Gawin grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Gawin started his first internet business at the age of twelve. Fun fact: Gawin actually became the Dutch national Lego building champion when he was 11 years old.. He also played team handball on a professional level for several years!
Gawin likes to give back by investing his energy and technical knowledge in projects that make the world a better place. He has been the CTO of Phonebloks, a concept that promoted the design and use of modular smartphones. He also worked with Archive.org, mainly on the the Wayback Machine. He works as CTO of Teamily, a project management tool.
As a speaker Gawin has spoken all over the world, he has a passion for technical innovation, guiding (remote) teams, and motivating groups. He is an introvert who really enjoys spending time in nature: hiking in forests, crossing rivers, climbing mountains and waking up in a hammock with beautiful views. He also loves photography and tries to combine his gear addiction with minimalism.
Together with our daughter Eliza, who is 2 years old, we travel the world.
What led you to travel?
Some terrible, life-changing events made us quit our 9-5 job, sell our house, our two cars, all our stuff, and travel the world. One of these events was Gawin’s burn-out in 2008 and another event was Brenda’s best friend dying from cancer at only 28-year-old. On top of that, Brenda’s father was diagnosed with cancer. These things changed our values in life significantly.
We didn’t want to postpone life until after retirement, when we would have bad knees or weak lungs or even worse. We didn’t want long workdays away from our daughter.
We had always loved travel but we were often limited to short holidays. Gawin had traveled a lot for work, but these business trips left no room for sightseeing. The idea to travel full-time and bring our work along with us, meant we could spend more time together as a family.
Traveling teaches us a lot about the world, about different cultures, different people, different environments. It really enriches us as persons, as it gradually gives us a better and more complete understanding of the world.
While the ‘unknowns’ can be scary and uncomfortable, we just have to confront them. This forces us into situations we have to learn to deal with. These situations expose our strengths and weaknesses in unexpected ways.
What kind of work allows this digital nomad lifestyle?
Brenda works as a personal and business coach and Gawin works as CTO of Teamily, a project management tool. He develops the app, making use of the newest technologies, and he creates the design.
He is also launching Nomad Family, which is Brenda’s and Gawin’s first work-related project. Gawin oversees the design and implementation of Nomad Family, while Brenda is responsible for all daily activities, communication and social strategy of Nomad Family.
When we started traveling we found a lot of travel information for singles or couples. But finding useful information on full-time traveling while raising a family proved to be a challenge. During this trip, we have met dozens of families who experienced the same challenges. This inspired us to found Nomad Family, a global community for nomad families. It allows location-independent families to really connect and achieve their ambitions.
The last 12 months we’ve put a lot of effort into building the app that supports Nomad Family. We have built it as a ‘side project’ because we needed the income from our main work, Gawin’s CTO position and Brenda’s coaching. Every moment we had a little free time –next to our day-to-day work, traveling and raising our daughter– we worked on the community.
We invite all traveling families and couples who (want to) work location independently, or just to join Nomad Family. Why? It’s full of blogposts for nomad families, and it allows you to promote your own blogposts and events.
Besides our current work, we have a long list of other projects, but our primary focus is really on making Nomad Family an awesome experience.
And of course, we both take care of our daughter, balancing it between all the projects we work on together.
What challenges does raising a child while traveling pose?
There are a lot of challenges. As first-time parents everything is new for us. Besides the things that every parent goes through, we do have some additional challenges.
For us providing a stable environment is key. Since we move locations a lot (24 ‘homes’ in the last 2 years), it means that our location is not stable. This means we need to offer our daughter other forms of stability, for example the morning and the bedtime rituals. Even when finding a quiet and safe place for Eliza is difficult, she feels comfortable knowing that after brushing her teeth it is time for family hugs, after that it’s changing diapers and reading a bedtime story together. The first three nights in a new place are always a bit more difficult, but after that, she feels at home.
One other obvious challenge is the change of languages. Right now, Eliza learns Dutch, English, and Spanish. We hear from other families that in the beginning this will make dealing with languages more difficult, but on the longer term she will benefit and learn other languages more quickly. We did drastically lower our traveling pace; we’re now staying in one place at least 1.5 months, but preferably longer. It’s a very rewarding experience to see our daughter pick up so many things from different cultures.
What do you miss from back home?
The real question might be: what and where is home? Of course, the most obvious ‘things’ we miss are friends and family. Even though we now have dozens of technologies to stay in touch, like messenger apps and video calling, there is nothing that can replace a warm long hug.
The Netherlands has four distinct seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and after spending several years in warmer climates we do seem to value the changes of seasons more.
What made you choose Gran Canaria?
Our main reasons to visit Gran Canaria are the climate, cheap flight connections within Europe and the wide diversity of activities. One day you can go surfing and enjoy the beach; the next day you can go to the mountains for a hike. The island has a lot to offer. Having a stable, high-speed, fiber-optic internet connection also helps in our situation.
Since we are European citizens, we do not need to apply for a visa. This makes things a lot easier as it prevents stressful situations like visa runs.
We had the pleasure of meeting really interesting people here, which made us come back several times. We like it so much that we decided to stay a bit longer this time. Amazing friends like Nacho from CoworkingC, Ruben from Sumando Tiempo, and many more have made our experience fantastic.
What do you like about Las Palmas?
As a city, Las Palmas has a nice mixture between offering commodities that only bigger cities offer and a local smaller town feeling. Everything is quite relaxed here, less rushed than in Northern Europe and the US. Most things we like to do are within a 15-minute walking distance: shopping centers, bars, schools, swimming pools, gym, CoworkingC, the beach, basketball with fellow nomads. Taxis are also really affordable, so if you really don’t feel like walking, taking a cab is a no-brainer.
What are your travel plans?
Coming from a life where most of our life was already fully ‘booked’ a year ahead, we now tend to plan as less as possible and stay flexible. We plan from 2 weeks until 3 months ahead and not more. It fits the local lifestyle way better and allows for more spontaneous activities. That means we don’t know when we are going to leave Gran Canaria. 🙂
What is your life philosophy?
Great question! We have several quotes that sort of guide us.
- Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
- Whatever your goal is, you can get there if you’re willing to work.
- Nomad Families are the future, let’s make the world our classroom and explore together, so join us 🙂
Besides these quotes, we like to simplify our own growingly complex lives. One way for us to achieve this, was by becoming minimalists. It sure wasn’t easy, but we now travel with two backpacks of 7 kilograms each, that is a total of 14 kilograms for our whole family.
On the one hand, it makes things a lot simpler. We know exactly what to wear since we only have one pair of shoes, always the same trousers and same jacket. Gawin can pack and unpack his bag with his eyes closed.
On the other hand, we have to get more creative in solving problems. We started reusing and recycling a lot of the garbage we produce. For example making toys out of empty water bottles, and using a cut-off water bottle cap as a funnel for use in the kitchen.
You will not only learn a lot about the world but maybe even more about yourself and your travel partners. Once you accept that this is a part of your own learning experience, it will enrich your life tremendously. At the end of the day, you will grow into a richer person.