When you think of digital nomads you probably think of laptop-toting bloggers, designers and photographers. After all, when all you need to run your business is a computer and a WiFi connection, it’s pretty easy to pack up and go.
What you don’t hear a lot about is product-based business owners packing their bags and taking their store on the road. Which is exactly why I wanted to write this article.
See Astrid Berendsen (along with her husband) has spent the past two years travelling the world while running an online store. Astrid creates and sells colourful jewellery for her eponymous brand Love Astrid and has managed to do so while travelling across South East Asia and Europe.
Me, jealous? Maybe a little….
I managed to pin her down and get her to answer some questions about how she runs her business day-to-day and the good and bad of managing a business while on the road.
[Note: this post was first published in November 2016. Astrid has stopped backpacking (for now) and is living in Melbourne with her lovely hubby and super-cute baby.]
Tell me a bit about your business/travel journey so far? What started first?
I started Love Astrid in 2014 on Etsy, but I only really started actively selling in 2015.
Meanwhile, we’ve been travelling for almost two years. So for about 75 per cent of the time I’ve been running the business, we’ve also been travelling.
In 2015 we travelled through South East Asia for about 8 months. Then we came back to Melbourne for a few months before leaving again in early 2016 for a 9-month trip.
Okay, so I can imagine that you’d have a lot of supplies to carry around with you. How do you manage that?
Daniel and I each carry a backpack. His backpack is full of both of our clothes, shoes, toiletries, all that stuff. My backpack only contains supplies for Love Astrid. It’s basically the same size as me. I have to carry all my equipment, findings and materials.
I also arrange to have supplies delivered wherever I’m staying. I email my suppliers about a month ahead, tell them the address we’ve booked to stay and just pray it turns up on time.
So planning ahead would be massively important right?
Planning is really important. I have to figure out what supplies I’ll need when to make all my products. And I need to have great relationships and communication with my suppliers.
Before we left on this trip, I basically worked out what 3 months of supplies looked like (which is what I can carry). Then I worked out when I’d need more of each supply, and let each supplier know where I’d be. So, when we were staying in Lyon, I arranged for my deliveries in Amsterdam.
It’s harder now because we don’t quite know where we’ll be in the next few months. And it’s also tricky because I know in the lead up to Christmas, it’s going to be busier.
One thing that helps is that we plan to be in each place for a month at a time so if things turn up late it’s not too bad.
What about shipping out stock while you’re travelling? I imagine it’s not easy to figure out each country’s postal system.
Before I left Australia I made lots of jewellery and left it with my friend who manages the Australian orders. And I’ve also posted batches of product back to her while we’ve been travelling. Most of our customers are international – like the US and Europe – so the shipping times are okay.
But I now know how the postal system works in 14 countries. Most of the time it’s fine, but when we were in Morocco I actually had to stop doing orders. Their postal system is shit – it takes so long. It was taking a month to deliver parcels anywhere and it was hard to know if people were even receiving their orders.
The travelling part of work-travel is just as important. How do you make sure you still get to explore?
One of the challenging things about work and travel is trying to keep a good balance between doing the work and being a tourist. We work 9-5 (okay sometimes 9-9) and then we explore on the weekends. And we also make sure that in the afternoon we stop and go for a walk – that’s one of our routines.
There have been times when we’ve taken one or two days off to visit neighbouring countries in Europe.
What do you love most about running your business while on the road?
I get so much inspiration from different places – especially when I was in Morocco.
And I always try to meet up with creatives in each place I’m in. And my followers on Instagram have got in touch to meet up with me. In Amsterdam we were at this festival and this lady grabbed me and said “Astrid?”. She recognised me by the necklace I was wearing. I said to my husband, “Daniel, I’m famous!”.
And what about the downsides?
It’s not glamorous and I’m not living an amazing lifestyle – we live out of one backpack and it can be tiring. Doable, but tiring.
There’s also the challenge of landing somewhere new and having to figure things out very quickly: where to get the groceries, how to get around, sourcing materials if I need something urgent and planning what to see.
Planning sucks. I’m not the best at it, but it’s the most important thing.
The most challenging thing is I feel like I can’t focus on growing my business. I have all these ideas about what I could be doing, if I were more settled.
What about the practical aspects. What’s made it a bit easier?
Whenever we choose a place to stay on AirBnB, we look through the photos and always choose one with big windows and lots of natural light. Even if it’s a bit more expensive, we’ll get the one with the best light so I can shoot my products.
For my Instagram flat lays and product photos, I have a white placemat I bought in Venice as the base. Then I shoot using my Sony A6000 and edit on my laptop.
And finally, what’s been the most surprising thing?
That it actually works. I was really surprised that I could do it, and that the orders would keep coming in. Since starting this trip, I’ve got five new stockists.
We both really love travelling and we want to have this as a lifestyle, even when we have kids.
Have you ever thought about hitting the road with your business? Do you have any more questions for Astrid? Leave ’em in the comments below.