I’ve loved learning and sharing about different travel lifestyles through my interview series thus far, and today it’s time for part 4. If you missed part 3, be sure to check out my interview with Laura, a full-time global nomad. This week’s interview gives a unique perspective on how to travel full-time with an emphasis on minimalism and sustainability.
Can you share a little about who you are and your background – where you’re from, how you met, how much did you travel growing up, and how much solo travel vs together as a couple?
- My name is Paul Ryken. I first traveled overseas in my early twenties during a military exercise in the South Pacific. After I left the Army, I spent 17 years traveling around the world as part of my business of timing sports events. I have spent the last 12 years away from my home country of New Zealand – the first 9 living in Sydney, Australia and the last 3 traveling full time.
- My life and business partner, Sandra Rosenau, is originally from East Germany. Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, her first overseas trips were to Hungary when she was 14, and with her school class to Poland when she was 15 and the Ukraine when she was 16. Since the end of the Cold War, she’s traveled extensively, visiting 37 countries before we’d even met, and lived in several countries in Europe and Australasia.
- Sandra and I met in 2010 in Sydney when we were paired up for a Latin Dance performance at the dance school we both attended. We became friends and decided to embark on a three-month dance-themed trip around the world. As we planned this trip, we started to become more than just friends. We visited all the countries where the dances we knew originated from: Tango in Argentina, Zouk and Samba in Brazil, Bachata and Merengue in the Dominican Republic, Salsa in Cuba, and Mambo in New York.
- A bit of a testing point whether our relationship would still flourish when together 24/7 for an extended period, that trip in 2012 laid the foundation for our journey today: Discovering we had found our soulmate in each other, we married in December 2014. Realizing that our comfortable yet draining, middle-class life in Sydney wasn’t really what we wanted, we started to question our values, simplify our life and put our energy where our hearts are.
- In 2016, we quit our jobs, and sold or gave away most of our possessions. We now travel full-time with carry-on luggage only, earning a living from our investments and our website.
What sparked your interest in travel?
Travel was a work requirement for me, at least initially. As a timekeeper, all I would ever see for years were airports, hotels and sports venues. Not much else. In 2009, after a conversation with a well-seasoned adventure traveler, I went to Cuba for the
first time. My love for Latin Dance at the time helped, my lack of Spanish did not. I did fall in love with the country and its people though, and Sandra and I have returned twice since.
Tell us a little about your emphasis on minimalism and sustainable travel. Have you always embraced this lifestyle or was there something that caused you to make a change in how you viewed travel?
We were never materialistically minded to begin with. But we did have stuff, especially Sandra, who moved her stuff from one country to the next. For us, minimalism isn’t just to live with less stuff though. Minimalism means that we live consciously and question whether something we have or do is aligned with our values. Sandra wrote about it in Minimalism and Happiness. When we started our website three years ago, our emphasis was on promoting minimalism and traveling more generally (albeit with carry-on only). But as we explored the world, met people from different cultures, and expanded our horizon, we also realized that we, as travel bloggers, carry a responsibility.
We contribute to the (over) popularity of places we write about. We want people to travel because we believe through travel, we can overcome prejudices and contribute to the development of the destinations we visit. But we all need to travel in a (more) sustainable manner, and that requires us all to be more conscious in the way we travel and spend our funds. While we’ve always been environmentally conscious, we only really focused on promoting sustainable travel since 2018. We also focused more on the sustainability of our gear for about a year.
As for (changes we’ve made to) our lifestyle and the way we travel:
- We still fly when appropriate, but definitely look at alternatives first. We enjoy public bus and train travel between cities and countries.
- We dislike (and discourage) cruise ship tourism due to the negative impact it has on the environment and local communities.
- When looking for accommodation, we stay at locally owned properties which enables us to learn from our hosts and put money back into the community we’re staying in.
- When we buy groceries, we use our own grocery bag and refuse plastic bags provided at the (super)market.
We all can and need to make changes in our lives, whether we live stationary or nomadic. And as bloggers who promote minimalism/simple living and sustainable travel, we must live by example.
How has your minimalist lifestyle influenced your lives and the lives of those around you?
Before we adopted minimalism, we were subjected to societal pressures and consumerism, just like everyone else. But we are no longer. Because we are not tied down by physical possessions, we can choose how we want to live our lives and how we earn a living. All our decisions are guided by our personal values and goals. This more intrinsic focus means we live in the here and now and are happier people because of it. It’s actually very liberating when you discover how little you actually need to be happy.
We love interacting with our hosts and other travelers we meet on our journey. We talk to them about our lifestyle and our experiences, and how adopting minimalism can help them (re)focus on the aspects of their lives that are actually important to them.
We’ve met people in their 20s and 30s who are disillusioned about society and are looking for alternatives, and we’ve met people our age group and older who are working through major life changes (divorce, empty nesting etc.) and are looking for a better way of living. As for our immediate families, they accept our decisions and are influenced by our minimalist lifestyle, but aren’t minimalists themselves. We respect that. Our lifestyle is what we want, and it may not suit everyone. That said, we do have friends who have made significant changes in their lives due to our influence.
Before you became full-time travelers, what did you both do for a living?
Sandra was a management consultant working for Commonwealth Bank, Australia’s largest financial institution and I was a product manager for Dimension Data, a multi-national IT systems integrator.
How long did it take you to transition into full-time travel and what were the biggest hurdles?
After our 3-month trip in 2012, we purchased a large 4-bedroom townhouse in Sydney. One of my sons wanted to move in with us (hence the extra bedrooms) but delayed his move by a few years, so we ended up living in a house which was way bigger then we needed. While it was the right decision at the time, we quickly realized that the lifestyle we were living did not match our values. By the time we got married in late 2014, we had decided that we would work towards selling our house and possessions over the next two years. We had planned a longer trip in October 2016 (as I wanted to run the New York City Marathon with my son when he was 20).
And we also knew that by then, Sandra would have had her 10-year work
anniversary, which meant she would receive 13 weeks of paid long-service leave.
While it was a bit difficult at the beginning to let go of things, once we had started it became easier and easier. The biggest hurdle was saying goodbye to our dear and close friends who we had gotten to know in our adopted country.
What is the most rewarding part of being able to travel for a living?
For me, it’s sharing the journey and learnings with someone who has the same personal values. Doing something we enjoy together. Might sound corny, but it’s true.
The other rewarding aspect is being able to meet people from different walks of life and get to know them, their culture and their way of living. We are fortunate and somewhat privileged to live this life. On the other hand, we made the conscious choice to live that way. And others can too.
What are the hardest things about traveling full-time?
The hardest thing is not seeing our family and close friend as often as we’d like. We do get to catch up with them when we visit every year or so, but it is always fleeting.
Apart from that, there is nothing really hard about our lifestyle. We have become pretty good in adjusting to a new country, culture or language.
What is your main source(s) of income while traveling and how long did it take until they could fully support your travels?
When we sold our house, we paid off our mortgage and invested our funds into a diversified portfolio of assets. We also started our website. Then last year we purchased a property in Queenstown/New Zealand, refurbished it and now rent it out as short-term accommodation. While the dividends, interest, rental income and small income from our website don’t cover our travel expenses yet, we are working hard to close the gap.
Although we developed a three-year plan for our travel and lifestyle blog to break even, our web and marketing expenses still outweigh our blog income. This is partially due to our personal values (we don’t promote products or services we haven’t used and are happy to recommend) and partially due to us making rookie beginner’s mistakes (we had no idea about SEO and many of our older posts are not optimized) from which we are still recovering.
What is your favorite mode of transportation – plane, boat, train, bus, bike?
Train, by far. In 2016, we traveled from San Francisco to New York by train over 7 days – with stops in Denver and Chicago. It was slow but comfortable, and we saw sights we wouldn’t have seen if we had flown, like the Nevada Desert, the Rockies, and the Hudson Valley.
If you had to choose the top 3 destinations you have visited, what would they be and why?
Only three? That’s a hard one…
- I have been to Cuba three times now (and Sandra twice), and we would happily return in a heartbeat. The culture and people are amazing. We enjoy the food, the family/community atmosphere and especially the music. There is a vibrancy and pride in the country, because or in spite of the political situation or limitations placed on the country by the US, we have not experienced anywhere else.
- Ecuador would be my second destination. This small but diverse country has everything: beaches, rain forests and wildlife (just think of the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands) and mountains over 5,000 meters high. You can stand with your two legs in the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time (as the Equator cuts right through the country, hence its name). And if measured from the earth’s center, the highest mountain in the world is not Mt Everest but Chimborazo in Ecuador.
- Slovenia is very similar to my home country of New Zealand: with snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes and rivers flowing through deep gorges. With it’s green, eco-friendly attitude and gorgeous national parks and reserves, it’s a destination we will gladly revisit. Oh, and did I mention the traditional Slovenian food?
What tips or advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a life of minimalism, whether at home or on the road?
An easy one to start with would be to declutter your physical environment. We’re not just talking about (re)organizing your wardrobe or your kitchen but actually removing anything that you don’t use and that doesn’t give you value. Ask friends and family members what they want to have, sell larger, more expensive items and give away anything that is still in good nick to charity/thrift stores: One (wo)man’s trash is another one’s treasure. How do you know if something gives you value?
If this is a challenge, we suggest you set some time aside and actually think about your personal values before you start decluttering. BTW, while for many people minimalism starts and ends with decluttering their physical environment, you can apply the same principles across all aspects of your life:
your health and fitness
your business or career
your relationships, etc
What tips do you have for those who want to travel full-time? Any investments you would recommend?
Most importantly: Learn transferable business skills that are location-agnostic. By choice, we don’t work for other people or companies right now. But if we did, our skills and experiences as a management consultant and product manager could be applied in any country and any industry. They’ve certainly helped us develop our own business.
Secondly, be prepared to work hard as success doesn’t happen overnight. Start building your location-independent career before you leave your current one. And take a hard look at your expenses. Cut out anything non-essential and start saving – you’ll need those funds. Consider having a home base. Full-time travel can be tiring – for us, that’s after about 9 months on the road. We use our short-term rental in Queenstown as our home base when we are in New Zealand and Sandra’s parents’ home when we are in Europe.
Check-in with your friends and family on a regular basis. Life goes on without you, children grow up, changes happen in the lives of your loved ones – so keep in touch and catch up in person as often as you can. You still need a support network.
Speaking of loved ones: if you’re single be aware that it might be harder to meet a partner on the road. You’ll meet heaps of people traveling, but the relationships you’ll be able to form tend to be more transient. If you’re traveling as a couple, be aware that you’ll be with each other up to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and as many years as you choose to. Communication and the willingness to compromise will be super important, otherwise, your travel adventure will be short-lived. As for investments, our biggest tip relates to time. Spend time in the community you happen to be in. Learn about what is important to them and what are their challenges, and ask yourself how you being there can make a difference.
Where can we find you on social media?
Emily again! Did this interview make you think about how you could travel more sustainably and use more sustainable practices? I will definitely be thinking about how I can declutter!
Thanks for reading. Before you go, you might enjoy reading about my tour with Intrepid, as they place a large emphasis on sustainability.
My Balkan Adventure Tour with Intrepid Travel