There is a quote by St.Augustin that says: The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. And while some dream about traveling around the globe, discovering new cultures, and growing on this path, others spend less time planning and actually go for it.
Did you ever feel burned out from your 9 to 5 job and you’ve simply had it with spending your everyday rotting in the office?
We recently wrote about digital nomadism and interviewed Tony Simonovsky, independent web analysts who is a true globetrotter working remotely. Today, we have a new face to introduce you to: Arnan de Gans. He is a web developer who specialized in creating WordPress plugins. He fell in love with the Philippines and travels around exploring the islands while working.
Remote working is our reality so we might as well take full advantage of it, right? If you thought it’s not possible to live in an actual heaven on earth and run your business with just your laptop, think again!
Arnan shared how he transitioned to this way of life and admitted he doesn’t think his case is that rare nowadays.Technology brought us together like never before and so you can communicate with people from different time zones with ease. Finding new clients and enabling them to hire you has never been a smoother process. We learned that being present online is not a question of why anymore: it’s the how you should be worried about. Differentiating yourself in cyberspace and setting up your website is what can eventually bring you revenue in the offline world – and the life you’ve only been dreaming about.
Read the full interview with Arnan and make sure to snoop around the interesting stories and travel adventures on his website, arnan.me!
Since when have you been living as a digital nomad? What was your job before and how did your everyday life use to look like?
Originally, I’m from the Netherlands. In 2014 (or so), I was fed up with the country and Europe in general. A few disappointments too much, I suppose. In the next 10 months, I tried to figure out what to do and then started preparing for my journey. Early on in that process, I decided that I wanted to go to Asia and then specifically the Philippines, and I have been touring around the Philippines since October 2015.
I’ve been a full time web developer since 2012. Before that, I had regular day jobs: I’ve worked in various technical fields including (junior) Data Recovery Specialist and doing repairs on Apple products.
After losing my job in 2012, starting something for myself made sense to me. Encouraged by people around me, I decided that professionalizing my services and plugins was the way to go. Turns out it was the right decision as sales for these plugins and services relevant to the plugins are now my main revenue stream.
How did the transition to that unconventional way of life affect your career?
I don’t think that moving to the tropics and traveling a lot as I do is all that unconventional. Many people do it these days. The only big difference is that I have no fixed home address. But that’s fine for me.
My current lifestyle so far hasn’t affected much of my activities or my career. Being Dutch and self-employed, I already lost most of the working benefits you’d get in a regular job. So, moving abroad didn’t change much. I work online, so as long as I have decent internet connection, I can continue to grow my brand and products. It’s pretty much business as usual. Except now it’s in a more sunny and prettier environment than back in Europe.
You currently work as a freelancer and develop WordPress plugins. What type of plugins, can you share some details about your work?
I develop the popular AdRotate plugin which is available for free, but also has a paid version called AdRotate Pro. AdRotate (Pro) aims to simplify advertising on WordPress websites for both professionals and amateur website managers so everyone can monetise their website.
At one point it was in the top 100 most popular plugins for WordPress. Currently the plugin is somewhere in the top 500 most popular plugins. Considering there are more than 40000 plugins available on wordpress.org – that’s not bad, I think.
Next to AdRotate I develop several other plugins:
‘No-Bot Registration’ to combat spam and fake accounts on WordPress websites and ‘Analytics Spam Blocker’ to keep your (Google) analytics free of referral spam. Currently, I’m hoping to grow these plugins to see where it takes me, and hopefully popularize them.
And lastly, I’ve developed a few payment plugins for WooCommerce. So people can use credit cards on those websites. These are mostly niche plugins with very small user bases, though.
AdRotate and AdRotate Pro are currently my main products.
How do you reach your clients? Are you active on some freelancing platforms?
Clients reach me, mostly. I’m not the kind of guy to follow leads or chase after people. I used to do that more though, actively responding to projects and job offers. Now I have a business oriented website where people can contact me. If they know my plugins are good, they may hire me for other things as well.
Also I’m visible via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WordPress.org. So far that has gotten me enough attention that I don’t really need to pursue other avenues at this time. I’ve looked at joining some services like Fiverr, Freelancer and similar platforms. Unfortunately, those sites are so convoluted and frustrating to use. That kind of workflow is not for me.
How did you plunge into the world of freelancing? Is there something you wish you knew about this venture when you made your first steps? What advice do you have for our readers in that sense?
For two reasons, really.
I’ve always been doing some plugin development for myself as a way of getting some extra cash and just as a hobby. After 2011, I sort of turned that into my full-time job. I’ve spent almost a year preparing my software and formulating a viable business model of what to do and how to do it. I think I went in with enough information to make it work.
The second reason is that in the job climate at the time, it was hard to find a decent job. So presented with little options, I wouldn’t want to end up working business hours doing things that didn’t mean much to me anymore. While that is fine for many people, it didn’t suit me.
As for the advice: the most important thing is to have a product or skill you can sell. Everything else is secondary. If you have something to sell, do your research and determine how much you need to earn on a daily basis to pay the bills the see if that’s viable. If you have nothing to sell, think really hard if you should start for yourself.
You are currently located in the Philippines. As a digital nomad, do you travel only across the island or do you have other future destinations in mind? What’s on your bucket list?
The Philippines has thousands of Islands. I’m planning on going to all viable locations for as long as the country will have me. So far, I’ve been to a bunch of touristy spots including Puerto Galera, Bohol, Bantayan Island, Cebu City etc. I did that by using public transport like buses and ferries. Recently I’ve bought a small motorbike which made me much more mobile. So I can travel more and more easily now.
I’m currently trying something new – to drive from Puerto Galera (Mindoro Island) to Dumaguete (Negros Island), which is a journey of around 900km, excluding the ferries. This will take me across three major islands. I’ve been on the road for almost 2 weeks, going from hotel to hotel. So far I like it enough to seriously consider doing more of that.
We’ve noticed you have a “Donate” button on your Arnan.me website, which is pretty clever! Are people willing to support you that way?
Sometimes I get a few dollars. Nothing really noteworthy so far. I’m lucky if I can buy some phone credit with it. I’ve also tried brand sponsoring last year, where larger brands could send me their products to try and promote, or discuss some kind of sponsoring deal (say a backpack or a jacket to review). But that didn’t work at all. Recommending products I use myself via affiliate links didn’t work either. Nobody seemed to care much. So I’ll stick with the simple donation button for now.
Giving the fact digital nomads are completely dependant on their laptops, how important do you think building online presence is? What role does your website arnan.me have in your career?
I think Arnan.me gives me a face or a personal side next to being just another web developer. My business site has little personal information about me other than the ‘about’ page which only gives some context to potential clients.
Plus, going to beautiful places results in beautiful photos that I’d like to share. And being in the Philippines (which on normal days is chaotic at best) inspires me to go on adventures that are worth sharing as well.
I write in a short format, which means the blog is more of a timeline with anecdotes than a proper blog. The world is being more visually oriented in recent years and my approach seems to make more sense. I try to keep people interested instead of presenting them with lengthy articles.
Why did you choose .me for your domain?
After considering my options for a while, I figured that if I were to make my site more personal and try to make the whole timeline idea a bit more personal – the domain name should reflect that in a proper way. No other TLD is more personal than .me, I think.
What are some of the challenges of the nomadic way of life? What would you say are the most positive perks of that lifestyle?
Money is definitely on the list of challenges: a vaguely defined weekly budget turns out to be essential for everyday life… At least for me.
Keeping track of the time is also a challenge. Sitting on a beach enjoying cold drinks is fun, but I also need to get some work done from time to time 🙂
Positive perks are being able to travel and not being too attached to the material things. Everything I own fits in two bags on a motorbike I own. This is very liberating, if you think about it. Having a house full of stuff only slows you down with pretty much everything you do.
Another big plus is just the experience. There are many people that lead similar lifestyles as me, but no one has the same experience as me, even if they’re also digital nomads. This adds a feeling of uniqueness to my life like never before.