Hi all! For the first post of the year, I’m starting with the new feature here on the blog, the interviews! I made a call on a Facebook group I’m in to interview fellow travel bloggers who are students like me. Laura from plantbasednomads.com replied and I instantly loved the blog! The design is great for me and the fact that she combines being enrolled in a distance learning degree, following the digital nomad lifestyle and being a vegan looking to tell her readers where to eat vegan or vegetarian food is great! Certainly useful and I’m looking forward to more guides and vegan recipes.
It’s also a good coincidence that this is my first ever interview to another blogger, and also the first travel post of the year, because my lifestyle challenge for the year, not included in my 2017 resolutions post, is…
Cook mainly vegetarian food!
I may write about this challenge and my motivations for it later on, and I’m sure Laura’s blog will be one of the inspiring ones. Let’s get to know her experience!
What are you studying?
I’m currently in my final year of studying for a BA (Hons) Childhood and Youth Studies. I chose to major in this because I was planning on becoming a pre-school teacher and this degree seemed the most appropriate preparation for postgraduate teacher training that could be done by distance learning. I’m not too sure about this career choice anymore and I’m currently looking at Masters degrees in completely different fields, from Digital Marketing to Global Health. I need to make my mind up soon!
What came first in your life? Becoming a digital nomad or starting a distance learning degree?
First I was a traveller, but studying online came before becoming a digital nomad (which really just started about 2 months ago for me). It was actually my then-boyfriend who inspired me to study online. We met while travelling and after a few months I was supposed to move to Nepal to go to university there. He was going to move to China to teach English and really wanted me to go with him. When he told me about The Open University and their distance learning programmes I got really excited and decided to change my plans and instead move to China with him. I don’t regret that decision, as it has enabled me to live in lots of different countries instead of being stuck in just one place for 3-4 years. Plus, that boyfriend and I got married this year, so changing my plans for him was definitely worth it.
What are your favorite aspects of distance learning when compared to a traditional degree? And what are the least favorite?
The main benefit for me is that it allows me to study from anywhere in the world. I’m quite restless, and I haven’t stayed anywhere for a full year since I was 17. Being able to just drop everything and move to a new country without sacrificing my degree is amazing. Besides the location-independence, I also love that I can fit studying around my own schedule. In the first two years of studying online I was working full-time as an English teacher and spent the evenings and weekends studying. I wouldn’t have been able to fully support myself financially if I had chosen a traditional university, as I would have had to attend lectures during the day. Plus online degrees are often cheaper than traditional ones. I also love that I don’t need to waste any time going from home to university, so it’s quite perfect for my busy schedule. The major downside of studying online for me is that you don’t get to experience the social aspects of going to university. Yes sure, there’s online tutorials, forums and Whatsapp or Facebook groups which do allow you to connect with other students. But it’s just not quite the same as actually meeting all these people regularly in real life.
Blogging, traveling and studying, it’s not an easy combination by any means! How do you manage to stay organized and have time for social and self time, any tips?
Honestly, it’s a struggle sometimes. The most important thing for me is to have a set schedule and daily routine. I’m definitely a morning person, so I use the morning time for the most demanding task: studying. I use the afternoons and evenings to work on my blog and social media presence and the weekends for exploring, meeting up with people or moving to a new place. If I’m on a long train journey, I definitely use that extra time to get some reading done. The most difficult thing I had to learn was that I didn’t have to do everything perfectly. I don’t need to get the highest grade, a good pass is perfectly fine. Once I understood that, my life became much less stressful. I still have to remind myself to take time to look after myself, to eat well and exercise or to just relax and spend time with friends (or other travellers).
How many countries have you visited already? If you had to choose right now one favorite from the top of your head, what would it be and why?
India! I honestly didn’t even need to think about that. India was the first country I visited as a backpacker outside of Europe and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this place. I can’t really explain it, but anyone who’s been to India will probably understand that there’s just something magical about it. It’s loud and messy and dirty but there is a certain beauty in the chaos. When I first set out to travel 4 and a half years ago, I originally only wanted to go to India for three months before returning home to go to (traditional) university. That obviously didn’t happen, and my three month backpacking trip has yet to end. When I left India after six months (only because my visa was expired) I genuinely started crying in the airplane because I really didn’t want to leave.
How many countries have I been to? Oh wow I quickly need to count. I think 31. I travel quite slowly, so that list isn’t as long as it could be after 4 and a half years of travelling.
You have three passports: Swiss, German and South African, that’s pretty uncommon! What is your favorite thing about each of these countries that you could recommend us?
I honestly know NOTHING about Germany. Which is quite embarrassing as I grew up in Switzerland which is literally right next to it. But I only ever visited Germany to see my cousins. I also hate speaking high German, as Swiss German is really different and I always end up sounding like an idiot when talking in proper German with someone. I honestly prefer speaking English than German. Which is also weird, because my dad speaks ‘proper’ German and I grew up speaking it, I just somehow forgot it.
Switzerland is an amazing country and there’s so many beautiful places here. The main attractions are definitely the mountains. Unfortunately Switzerland is also super expensive. If you’re on a budget, my best advice is to try and stay somewhere with a kitchen. Restaurant prices are absolutely ridiculous and your wallet will definitely thank you for preparing your own meals.
I was a teenager when I was living in South Africa, plus I was staying in a very strict Christian boarding school in Joburg. This meant I didn’t really have the time to explore on my own. My friends and I did drive up to Kruger Park once, which was incredible. Other than that, I was pretty preoccupied with sneaking out of boarding school at night to go clubbing. I was a terrible teenager and if I could go back in time, I would definitely not spend every free minute trying to break as many rules as possible and instead actually explore South Africa. The only real advice I can give you is to be careful. There are some areas in South Africa that are actually dangerous (especially in Joburg), there’s a lot of crime and if locals tell you not to walk around in a certain area, just don’t do it. So be careful and be a bit selective about where you’re going. There’s lots of beautiful, safe places to visit.
You have a plant-based/vegan diet. Has it been easy for you to find vegan food in restaurants of the countries you have visited?
It’s definitely possible to travel anywhere while eating a vegan diet. Certain countries will be easier than others. The most important thing is to be prepared. Don’t expect people to speak English and definitely don’t expect people to understand the word vegan/ vegetarian. Whenever I go to a new country I prepare a note in the local language explaining that I am vegan, what veganism is and a list of foods that I don’t eat. I also try to learn how to say these phrases myself. There’s also Happycow.org, which is a website that shows you some of the vegan options near you – an absolute life saver! There’s actually a lot of amazing vegan options all around the world. My favorite food so far is probably Chinese and Vietnamese food. The vegan restaurants in these countries are absolutely mind-blowing.
For how long do you stay in each country in average?
I generally stay around 1-3 months in each country. That’s usually how long my visa is. But I’ve also once stayed 6 months in India (which still wasn’t enough, India is huge), lived in Thailand for 9 months and spent 10 months teaching English in China. Right now my travelling speed is definitely moving every month. I personally find that this suits my schedule best. I generally don’t see much of a place during the week, as I’m really busy with studying, social media and blogging, while my husband is bound to a laptop all day as he is teaching English online. The weekends are spent exploring. If we moved faster than that I would either get no work done or won’t actually see the place we’re staying at. I think my travelling style has changed a lot since becoming digital nomads, as I spend more time working/ studying than doing fun things – but then again, that would be the case with traditional university/ work.
What is your main advice for other students interested in pursuing a distance learning degree while being digital nomads?
Don’t underestimate the work load. Just because it’s online, definitely doesn’t mean you need to do less. It’s very easy to fall behind schedule, so you need to have good time management skills. You need to make studying a priority. I chose to study full-time because I wanted to finish my degree in the same time a traditional degree would take. I’ve had to turn down so many invitations to go for a night out or even just to meet for coffee because I had to finish an assignment. When I was working full-time I pretty much had no social life. If you don’t want that to happen, definitely choose to either work part-time or study part-time. Now that I stopped teaching English and instead focus on blogging and social media, it’s a bit better as I can make my own schedule. I can study in the mornings when I’m actually awake and do less demanding tasks in the evenings. But time management has actually become more difficult that way, as I can’t rely on other people at all to tell me to go to work. What helped me most was creating a set schedule every day. I always wake up at the same time, eat at the same time, do university in the morning and work in the afternoon. That way, I don’t just sit around procrastinating.
Thank you so much, it was a pleasure! Where can we follow your journey on social media?
- Blog: http://www.plantbasednomads.com
- Instagram.com/plantbasednomads (This is where I’m the most active!)
I hope you enjoyed Laura’s experience and advice as much as I did! Now it’s your turn to follow her to show your support 😉