Here’s a true inspiration for your nomadic adventures in 2015: Lukas Sommer shares with us how he chose to trade his skills to travel the world and what his experience with finding projects has been like. Learn from Lukas how to fund your travels by helping others on the road!
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what are you currently up to?
Hi, I’m Lukas and travel the world bartering my work as a web developer, designer and photographer. My journey has led me from Europe to Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Portugal, Holland and now to Brazil. I barter with mostly sustainable businesses, charity, eco-tourism and community projects that very often need an online specialist and don’t have the funding to pay for an agency or professional. I’m German and grew up in Portugal, in the south of Europe, blessed with a multilingual environment. I studied in Berlin and worked in various agencies and studios before departing on my journey. I guess the travel bug has always been in me, growing up in an expat community and since I first visited South America ten years ago. I only realised how flexible my job is after becoming a professional and spending some years at a desk. Right now I’m in Ceará in the northeast of Brazil, making my way to my next trade for an eco village in Bahia.
You have an inspiring philosophy about traveling and exchanging opportunities. Could you share it with us?
I decided to trade instead of working for money. Mostly at least, since I do need money, but all the projects on my website are trade projects. It’s an experiment, since it comes with a personal downgrade from my previous lifestyle and from a system that I feel to be too materialistic and consumption-based. It makes sense that by buying less and trading more, I won’t need to work as much as before and hopefully it comes with a smaller environmental footprint too (if I try to keep flying to a minimum). Basically, I’m working for room and board, for travel expenses, for new things I want to learn and experiences I want to have. The amazing outcome is the often unexpected generosity if you come along with low expectations and do a good job. I’ve been given a lot more then I asked for and made amazing friends along the way. Life got a lot simpler and it’s truly rewarding to work for the non-profit sector.
What are the most interesting collaboration projects that grew out of your philosophy and digital nomad lifestyle?
I worked on the astroEDU platform for the Leiden Observatory at Leiden University in the Netherlands for one month in October. I got an invite from Universe Awareness, a non-profit organisation that develops educational resources about astronomy to get children interested in science. It was fascinating to work with a lot of people that make a living with thinking the unthinkable, generating more knowledge and widening our horizons, studying our Universe to get more answers about where all this comes from. The Leiden Observatory was filled with a whole lot of them, studying anything from theoretical cosmology to researching on black holes or antimatter. I even managed to hang out with someone working at CERN. It was great to see UNAWE hook up to the volunteer organisation Openmind Projects that I had developed communication strategy for while in Thailand, sending them their “Universe in a Box”.
I also worked for the Community Recycling Network of New Zealand, spending a month building a website on an island near Auckland…
Openmind Projects team, Nongkhai, Thailand
How did you start your nomadic lifestyle and how challenging was this decision?
During one of my first long trips I had the Idea of a popup agency, which then developed into what I’m doing now. First I saw how expats in faraway places struggle to get design and online service. Then I realised that there’s this massive demand by NGOs, non-profits and community projects, specially in developing countries, to get their hands on a media professional. After a while I had a plan but it still took me over a year to break some of the ties from projects I had been involved in and responsibilities I had. I took a good bit of determination, I have to admit..
Near Queenstown, New Zealand
How do you find the new opportunities and projects to join on the road?
I do online research, but mostly now it’s word of mouth and get emails from all over the world inviting me. Obviously I get more requests from places where there’s good connectivity, so currently I’m researching to find my own path through South America for the next month. Pretty much everyone needs something done on their website, it isn’t hard to find new opportunities at all, but I have to chose according to my own vision of whom I want to work for and where my time is best invested. I want to make a good contribution but also visit cool places. I’m thinking I might take the leap to Africa next year, coming to the US is also an option.
UNAWE Office, Leiden, Netherlands
What makes working and traveling appealing to you? What keeps you doing it and what are your biggest rewards from it?
All these experiences provide inspiration and new skills. Travelling for a long time just being a tourist feels strange to me… mostly you just scratch the surface of what another culture or place is. It’s about opening minds, seeing the world with all it’s magical diversity and becoming a more compassionate, respectful human being. I’ve done amazing things in the last year on the road, beyond the tourist path and made many friends all around the world.
Gili Islands, Indonesia
What are the biggest challenges of being a digital nomad and how do you handle them?
There’re is a few!!! As mentioned I make a lot of new friends but you’re also constantly meeting new people and telling your story over and over again. It’s part of the game, but if you do it several times a day (e.g. while hitchhiking in New Zealand) it gets exhausting. In my profession the biggest practical challenge is, who would have thought, the internet connection. I’ve experienced that 3G often works better than the satellite connections on many remote places and that even in a remote valley in India you can be lucky and have a phone reception and access your emails. But very often I’m challenged and need to be very patient. With my travel concept, financially it only works with a shoestring budget, I had to learn that too. I work for clients back home to pay for my expenses, often the trade projects pay for travel or expenses, but I can’t do a lot of tourist stuff. Sometimes difficult since I’m often hanging out with people that are on vacation… :)
And of course sometimes you miss your best buddies or a good ol’ club night in Berlin.
What do you think is the weakest aspect of digital nomad community and what is the potential to improve it?
I’ve been doing what I’m doing mostly on my own. It’s been over a year and far from over but to be honest I haven’t come across a lot of the digital nomad community. Nomad List/ looks like a great resource, and I’m looking forward to connecting more in the future. Given my own approach, I do however hope that whoever is working from a country with low living costs, earning their western salary, sometimes thinks about their own impact and supporting local communities. It’s an amazing lifestyle, don’t get me wrong.. but if being a digital nomad is the next big thing we should aim for making it sustainable, not just where housing is cheap and internet fast.
What advice would you give to someone who is eager to jump into what you’re doing?
The higher the expectations the higher you fall. Be generous and you’ll be rewarded. Always carry sun protection, a refillable water bottle, a torch and a swiss army knife. Read about my journeys on goodthingseverywhere.com. ;)
On a train to Delhi, India
If you were forced to stop your nomadic lifestyle tomorrow – what would you miss the most?
The constant challenges, being outside and in touch with nature a lot more than before. Cursing on the internet speeds. Not knowing what’s next…
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How a web developer travels the world bartering his skills