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How slow travel helps Danny van Kooten stay creative

Meet Danny van Kooten. His MailChimp for WordPress plugin just hit 1 million downloads and is now on WordPress’ list of 20 most popular plugins of all time- starting with an unfortunate case of appendicitis in Vietnam, during which he built MailChimp for WordPress from his hospital bed. He now travels while developing and marketing WordPress plugins for a living, so we asked him some questions about his digital nomad lifestyle.

Untitled-1Hospital stay in Vietnam 

As a digital nomad, how fast do you travel? Do you tend to stay in Chiang Mai and the Netherlands for long stretches at a time? What are some cool places you’ve visited?

I tend to stay in places for longer stretches of time with some short getaways in between.

For example, I spent last winter in (only) Chiang Mai but I did jump on my motorbike or in a plane to spend a few nights elsewhere whenever I felt like I needed a break.

Right now, I’m in the Netherlands getting ready for some leisure time in Belgium later this week. The rest of April will be spent working & attending an event in sunny Spain, after which I’ll be back in The Netherlands for maybe another month or two.

One of the most special places I visited is Sungai Lembing in Malaysia. It’s a relatively unknown spot which looks completely deserted at first. There’s a mountain with some low-hanging clouds which allows you to watch a gorgeous sunrise.

I arrived in the evening after spending hours being the only passenger in a local bus. After making some Malaysian friends who made a few calls they finally found me a place to sleep. Early next morning, the place was crowded with Chinese Malaysians and the sunrise was absolutely beautiful, the photos I took do not do it justice, it was unreal.

Don’t expect good internet or a multitude of hostels there though! :)

sungai-lembing-2The sunrise at Sungai Lembing 

Do you see a difference in your work and ideas while travelling and does your environment affect your creativity?


When I stay in the same place for too long (and get comfortable) I tend to procrastinate on my daily tasks more and more.

I find myself most productive in places where there’s just the right balance of comfort and new experiences. The few weeks or months after I find myself decent places to sleep, eat and work but where I still have loads of (non-work related) things to do or see are when I work best.

I seriously enjoy my work but having other things I am enthusiastic about helps me finish the things I planned to do in a shorter time span.

As for my creativity, it can be a little weird running a business from home in an environment where that’s not considered “normal” yet. My mother even used to think I was jobless in my first few years of working from home.

When surrounded by other people working on cool things from behind their laptop I find myself dreaming bigger and a little more willing to take risks.

What’s your daily schedule like, or does it change all the time? Any tips on productivity? Any apps and gadgets to recommend?

In warmer continents like Asia, I tend to start working about noon. Mornings are spent having huge breakfasts, getting some exercise in and writing down what I want to accomplish that day (using Trello or simply Google Keep). I enjoy motorbikes and beaches so if the weather allows, I sometimes take the afternoon off and then work a few more hours in the evening.

My daily schedule is actually something I’m constantly experimenting with. Since my business is growing at a crazy rate, there are certain required tasks I don’t like as much as the others. For me, it really helped pushing those things down to the end of the day. That might be different than what you read on most productivity blogs, but if I start my day with work I don’t like, I keep on procrastinating until it’s the only thing I actually get done that day.

thailand-motorbike-1On a motorbike in Thailand

What do you use for housing? Hotels, hostels or AirBnb? What do you think of new projects like Nomad House, which aims to provide a work and living space all in one, with other nomads as housemates? Would this be something you’d be interested in?

In most places I start out by spending a few weeks in different hostels. Since I’m leaving on small trips every few weeks I usually switch hostels then just to change the area I’m living and eating in.

If I’m staying in one city for a longer period of time, a decent co-working place is a must for me. This also allows me to not care as much about the place I’m living in, since I’m spending the majority of my time in the office or outside anyway.

To be honest, I was not aware of Nomad House yet but I did stay in a co-working hostel in Tarifa once, which I really enjoyed. It’s cool staying in a place with others who are there to work (a little). A very welcome experience compared to some hostels in Asia or Eastern-Europe filled with party-tourists, while you’re trying to work. :-)

SONY DSCTravels in Bali

Do you miss your girlfriend, friends and family while travelling? What are some strategies you have for being long-distance? Do you ever think about settling down or having kids?

Missing my friends and family is the biggest downside of travel for me. This is also the reason I am more interested in staying in one place for longer stretches of time.

I seriously enjoy being alone and am somewhat introverted, so it can take me a while to get really comfortable and enjoy myself with new friends I meet (drinking helps though).
Staying in one place for a longer period of time helps me building more meaningful relations with the people I meet.

Because of the internet it’s not that hard to be apart from my friends or girlfriend, the emotional connection is still there. The hardest part for me is being physically apart and not being able to share my experiences with them, except through words and photos and at second-hand.

I do think about settling down with my girlfriend from time to time but how, when and where is something we’re still working on. First things first though; she’ll be joining me for about 8 months of travel later this year. :-)

Have there been any mistakes or lessons you’ve learned along the way? What advice would you have for future digital nomads?

This is a surprisingly hard one but my advice for aspiring digital nomads would be to worry a little less and just go for it. You’d be surprised how easy it all is.

Oh and, if you’re having pain in your lower right stomach area, get your ass to a doctor. It’s probably not “just” food poisoning. ;)

Liked this? Read more articles on digital nomads.

How slow travel helps Danny van Kooten stay creative

Xiufen Silver interviews interesting digital nomads and helps organize Nomad List's meetups around the world. She's also a successful street style and fashion photographer.
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