Originally from The Netherlands, I have always travelled a lot. Curiosity, a sense of adventure and a strong need to learn, guided my trips to over a 100 countries. I have been to places as diverse as Haiti, Transdnistria (a non-existing country!), Madagascar, French Guyana and Colombia. Being an entrepreneur, my business background was not enough to understand everything I saw. Out of curiosity I did a Master study in Latin American Studies and Anthropology. No matter where I travelled, however, after a few days, weeks or months, I always returned to the Netherlands.
In the past 5 – 10 years my needs changed. I did not want to be on the road so much; travel so fast anymore. In stead of trying to see it all, I preferred to stay longer in one place, to feel at home there rather than a visitor. I alternated between a few locations I had grown fond of: my home in Amsterdam, my fathers place in Miami, my boyfriends house on the Caribbean island of Curacao and a small farm we were restoring in the heart of Mallorca.
Still I was restless and have not stayed in one place for more than 6 weeks.
One day in november 2013, when I went to get a new passport in the city hall in my home town of Amstelveen, they refused to extend my passport. Apparently there is a law stating that you are only allowed to register in the Netherlands if you stay at least 4 months on that exact address. According to the government I travelled too much. Since I did not spend 4 months in the country I was told that I could no longer use my address as my official residence. ‘But it is my own house!’ I objected. ‘And I don’t live anywhere else. This is the only fixed base that I have…’
Esther shares her story in this TEDx speech and on the TMBA podcast
The part about her being fired out of her country starts at 9:25 minutes
My protests went all the way to the Minister and the national media was fascinated by my ‘case’. But the rule was applied strictly. ‘We are sorry, this is the law. The system is just not fit for mobile citizens such as you’ was the end comment. As a result my company could no longer be registered at the chamber of commerce. I nearly lost my bank accounts. Got kicked out of the health insurance, could no longer vote, lost rights to social security, pension and all other privileges Dutch citizenship offers. The only official institute that still considered me a Dutch citizen was the IRS (Dutch Tax). They still wanted me to pay taxes!
That was the last push I needed to truly become a global citizen. I rented my house to expats (providing me with a modest income), registered a company on the BVI (no taxes, so no need to keep track of costs) and decided to focus on my opportunities instead of the limitations.
As a motivational speaker I only need to be at a specific location when I am booked for a presentation. As an author I can work from anywhere. All my archives are digital, so I always have access to my documents, pictures etc. My website and social media can be updated from anywhere. As long as I have wifi I can choose to be wherever I like: sometimes in a city, on a beach, in a spring like climate or in a ski resort.
Planes and communication technologies have made the world smaller than ever. The opportunities are limitless. I meet more and more digital nomads. Writers, IT people, coaches, artists who have chosen to live like this.
Depending on the choices you make, life is often cheaper on the road than in a western metropolis. Not having a house also means a lot less hassle: cleaning, repairs, utilities etc. are now arranged by the hotel, airbnb host or friends I stay with.
Of course there are some drawbacks. You really need to minimalize your possessions and not be attached to things. They get lost, stolen, they break or damage easily. Internet is very important, but unfortunately slow or unstable in many places. Sometimes it is tiring to live out of a suitcase, to constantly have to reinvent the things we once not even thought about, such as doing laundry.
It takes patience and creativity, but there is a solution for everything: I found a way to get a new passport (there is a special ‘window’ for homeless people in the Netherlands. Guess I am the only one with their own house and company), IKEA family in Spain offers good and cheap worldwide health insurance, even if you are not a citizen of Spain.
The inspiration I get, the people I meet and most of all the sense of freedom I have acquired more than make up for the drawbacks.
What would your ideal life look like?
<– Check the Handbook for World Citizens (Dutch) for the full story of how I became a nomad.
Or read the Digital Nomad book (English): How to Live, Work and Play around the World. The most complete guide to this lifestyle with lots of practical tips. –>