Kelly Wiersema, Business Owner - One Way Nomad of the Week
Tel. +31 6 28 37 61 36
City of Origin: Zaandam, Netherlands
Current Digital City: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
First Digital Nomad City: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Current Job as a Digital Nomad: Owner Virtual Assistant Business
Previous Non-Remote Job: Worked in a call center as a University Student. I’ve never had a full-time job, as I started my business straight out of university.
How long have you been a Digital Nomad?
What made you decide to become a digital nomad?
I've just always been obsessed with traveling. As a kid, I traveled often with my mom to faraway places. Then when I was older, I started backpacking and going on longer trips, like over a month long. I traveled through Europe and Asia (some trips were solo). And then I thought:
‘How awesome would it be if I could keep doing this?’
That's what I wanted. I wanted to be location independent and just go wherever I want, whenever I want. But I was just never sure how to do it. I didn't necessarily think you had to be wealthy to be a digital nomad (or any other misconceptions). I just didn't know how to do it. I knew I wanted to, but I just didn't know how.
What was your biggest fear of this transition?
When I picked Playa Del Carmen, I was scared because I wasn’t sure I would like it. I decided that I needed to sublet my place here in the Netherlands. But what if I didn’t like it in Playa del Carmen? What would I do? I couldn’t go back home because I was subletting my place, and due to the worldwide COVID restrictions, there weren’t many other options.
What if I go halfway around the Earth and I’m having a miserable time?
That was definitely a fear that I would go to a place and absolutely hate it. What would I do? I started to get a bit of income, which gave me a sense of security. I thought I could only go up from here or stay the same income-wise. I didn't feel like I would suddenly lose my clients, leaving me with nothing. Once I realized that, ‘I thought - I can do this, I can do this.’
How did you make friends?
Through Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups. I think choosing groups specifically for ‘digital nomads in the area’ is the best place to start. And then through those groups, you meet other people, like friends of friends, and then your circle just expands.
Through those groups, I can honestly say that I have formed close friendships with a few people. The amazing thing is that because there are certain ‘digital nomad hotspots’ around the world. I’m pretty certain I will see them again soon(ish) in another ‘hotspot’.
Even while I was living in Barcelona, there were friends and people I knew from Playa Del Carmen there, and when I was in Portugal, the same thing happened! I feel like the longer we're going to be in this ‘digital nomad scene, the more it will happen that you will know someone already when you go to a new location. I feel like in almost every place I go, I will know someone already, which is pretty cool.
What made you pick Playa Del Carmen as your first Digital Nomad City?
I did an internship during my studies in Cancun. I did not like Cancun one bit; I heard about Playa Del Carmen but never actually visited it. And then, it was the peak of COVID lockdowns worldwide, and I was getting a little depressed at home. I was thinking, “I need to get out of here because it's lockdown after lockdown after lockdown. At this point, I'll just take whatever as long as I'm not here [In The Netherlands] and there's warm weather”.
And then I looked at the world map. The options were pretty limited because most of the world was closed down. My original plan was to go to Bali; I bought a $500 business visa, which you needed to get in. That was so much money for me then because I really wasn't making much of an income yet. But I bought it anyways, and then the border shut a few days later. So my business visa went down the drain, and I needed to come up with a plan B.
And then I was deciding between the Canary Islands in Spain or another option that ticked my boxes, which were: limited COVID restrictions, cheap to live, beach, warm weather, and a decent digital nomad community. Playa Del Carmen ticked all those boxes - however, it's only an hour from Cancun, and I really didn’t like Cancun. But something just told me it's not the same.
I don't know what it was, it was just a feeling, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Playa del Carmen wasn't even my first or second, or third choice or anything. Nothing else was open. But now it will definitely be my top choice to go. Though, now I feel like I have to explore other places.
What is the biggest struggle you currently have
as a Digital Nomad?
I definitely struggle with work/life balance. I've done so many social things in Playa Del Carmen I feel like I wasn't working enough. While I’m in the Netherlands, I feel that I take too much on my plate and I work too much. So I feel like that work/life balance is something I still have to figure out.
However, the truly biggest struggle I deal with is guilt. I often feel very guilty being away from home so often, especially towards my mom. She fully supports what I do (and she would’ve done the same if she was my age, so she understands). However, being an only child, I just can’t help to often feel guilty.
It really does comfort me that my whole family is so supportive and that they just want me to live my life in a way that makes me happy, but yeah, the guilt will always be a struggle, I think.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started nomading?
That a place you enjoy vacationing in isn’t the same as a place, you enjoy living in.
For example, I was in Lagos, Portugal earlier this year. I couldn't really call Lagos a city; it’s pretty small. I've been there twice on vacation before. My friend, Vanessa, lived there and my other friend Maria was going to be there as well. I thought, ‘okay, I'll have my friends, so that's fine.’
However, the digital nomad community there was almost nonexistent. I still feel that I wouldn't choose that again just because I feel like the community was too small for me.
Now I feel like I know how to pick the right places pretty well.
What characteristic is most important to managing work/life balance?
But the tricky thing is that we must also live in the moment. We can't just live by working non-stop and not actually enjoy the perks of being digital. So that's really important too. You need to be able to reap the benefits. I feel everyone struggles with that balance, at least to some degree.
Where is next for you?
So, I’m currently in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The next stop will be Da Nang, Vietnam (my friends will be there). After Vietnam, I want to live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, since there’s a massive digital nomad community there. And after that, of course… Bali! I’ve been trying to go for the past 2.5 years, and now it’s finally possible, so that’s very exciting!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a Digital Nomad?
JUST. DO. IT! ”Feel the fear and do it anyways,” like my friend Jocelyn always says. But honestly, that’s exactly how it is. 100% - just do it! Don’t let fear stop you! Fear is a good thing. It means you're about to do something really exciting and life-changing. 99% of the time, I can tell you this will turn out amazing. So just do it. Step out of your comfort zone.
A tip for when you want to decide on which place to go: do a bit of research before you go somewhere. If you're not sure about a place, look up FB groups and Whatsapp groups. Does there seem to be a lot of activity on those? Then that’s a good indicator that there’s a decent digital nomad community there and that it’ll be easy to meet people there.
Interested in working with Kelly?