“Digital Nomad story” is a weekly story series sharing experiences and tips from nomadic entrepreneurs all over the world on how the being of a digital nomad actually looks like & how they’re rolling in their nomadic lifestyle. Join the journey!
My name is Stella,
I have a social business in designing and selling jewellery made by post-war victims in Uganda, in addition, I have a foundation to send children to school and this year I add a third thing to it, I will organize social workations in Uganda.
It all started already in 2008 when I decided to travel around the world alone for about 8 months. During these travels, I was regularly confronted with poverty and injustice. For that reason, I decided to do my Master’s degree in Public International Law and became a board member of SIFE Leiden, where I learned that the best way to help people out of poverty is by making sure that they can provide for themselves.
I wrote my thesis about girl child soldiers within the Lord Resistance Army and visited Uganda in 2009 to volunteer at an Aids Information Center and do research for my thesis. This is how my passion and interest for Uganda started. I interviewed for my thesis a couple of women who were making already jewellery from recycled paper. I definitely promote the idea of letting people earn their money instead of just giving them money out of pity. So after Uganda I was busy writing my thesis and thus still busy with Uganda in my head. I decided to order some more jewellery from them to give it to my families and friends with X-mas and thus help them.
At that time the idea of starting a business with them popped up in my mind, but I was still busy with my studies and internships.
In 2012 I decided to go back to Uganda and start up 22stars. At the beginning I never thought I would do 22STARS full time, it was just more something that happened. Besides 22STARS I also worked a couple of months for the webshop of Calvin Klein to do the German/English customer service to gain a bit more insight in the webshop/fashion industry. But I quickly realized that I needed to make a decision: focusing for 100% on 22STARS and go more often back to Uganda or stop the whole idea. It was not a decision of being self-employed or not, but of following my dream that I had with 22STARS or not. So as you know I, of course, decided to continue with 22STARS.
What’s your normal daily routine as a digital nomad entrepreneur?
I spend about 2 times a year a couple of months in Uganda. When I am in Uganda I focus on working in the field, which means I am visiting the women I am working with almost daily. I make new designs with them and check the production and quality. I also see what else they need, like counselling and medicine. And I make new interviews and take million of pictures. We started last year also a foundation to finance the school fees of the children and find long term sponsors. At the moment I have more than 55 children with long-term sponsor, of which several have sponsors from the Digital Nomad Community.
So in 2016 in addition to the jewellery business, I spend a lot of time in the Foundation. I visited all the different schools the kids, took their pictures, wrote down their stories, established the contact with the sponsors, etc. The sponsors get regular updates from them.
My stock from my jewellery is in The Netheleands, SO I ship it from Uganda to there. In the Netherlands my mom is living, and whenever an order comes in I email it to her and she sends it for me. When I am not in Uganda my work focuses on kind of everything and I can do all of that from my laptop, like making a new collection, writing the product descriptions, stories for the website, social media, finding new retailers, keeping contact with customers, making special edition collections, editing video’s and pictures, etc.
I really try to focus on the things that make the biggest impact regarding my sales. Also, I can work anytime day from anywhere, and every single hour counts!! Like an hour before breakfast, an hour during lunch time, at night etc. I work especially a lot at night or in the really early mornings. People are then still sleeping, and I have the feeling that no one disturbs me. So I can get a lot of work done and then in the afternoon I can do some fun stuff outside and work again in the evening.
Of course it happens that during the week I lose working hours, because I am travelling too much or do fun stuff during the day, and then as a consequence in the weekends I am sitting with my laptop at a party, because I first need to finish some work, or I would not go out at all on the weekend because I need to work. So yes I definitely have no 9 to 5 job but very in sequent hours. But well since I am always taking pictures, wearing my jewellery myself, talk to people about it etc. it sometimes feels like I am busy with it 24 hours a day. But I really don’t mind that, cause I love what I am doing.
What’s your favorite part about of being a digital nomad? & What’s the opposite – least favorite?
My favourite part is that I have every day so much variety, of course, that also has to do with the job I am doing. One day I am the jewelry designer, another day I am the inspiration speaker, the next day I am the 22STARS kids foundation manager, another day I run the jewellery store, etc. I am busy with 22STARS every day, but because it has so many different aspects I really love what I am doing. And the best is, I can do it location independent and time independent. So if I feel like working all night, I work all night. If I wanna work at home, I work at home. I love that freedom. It also allows me to co-work with a lot of other amazing people and sync my schedules with them.
The least favorite part is saying goodbye to people you had a great time with and who you would like to spend more time with. That is always really sad and makes me cry now and then. But it is part of it. Other least favourite part will probably make you laugh, but it’s true: I am travelling so much that I have no time to travel. What I actually mean to say is that I wanna go to Japan since a few years now, but every time I am somewhere else (like crossing the ocean with the Nomad cruise, or driving in a landrover through Africa) that Japan just never really fitted in my schedule so far… but well, let’s hope I got time in 2018 or 2019 or so…
What’s the first adventure that comes on your mind from your digital nomad career?
My first adventure was living a couple of months in Cape Town! I was shooting there my new jewellery collection of 22STARS, it was so much fun! I had a photoshoot with children, but also with professional male and female models. Thanks to the nomad community I had so many people giving me tips with my text writing, marketing, editing etc. I really had a great time. But then it was time to say goodbye and I went travelling alone by public transport from Cape Town up to Uganda, I hardly met any nomads on the road, but the experience was in one word just AWESOME!!!
What are the hardest things to keep up with while being a DN? What’s your suggestion for dealing with them?
Of course, no one likes to deal with disappointments and of course like in every business you will get them. I try to not focus too much on them. Just swallow it, talk with my best friends about it, have a drink and try to distract myself. And then not let it take me away from my path and continue with what I am doing. That is really the best way to deal with them. Keep your head up, and know that every closed door opens another one. Of course what I am doing is sometimes
Of course what I am doing is sometimes quite frustrating, especially at the beginning. I am working with women that fled from war, they had a horrible past, are uneducated, which means they do not know how to read and write and speak only their local language, are HIV positive, which means that they are taking heavy medicine and are often ill. So sometimes I feel frustrated when people get sick and I cannot help everyone or I feel frustrated when I have big orders for them, but they would not understand what deadlines are and I need to tell my clients in the USA that we will not finish on time, which will result in withdrawal from the whole order.
However, I learned a lot the past year and things are improving a lot. So when now something goes not as planned, I try to immediately look forward and learn from it and not let it stop me. In my first year when I started with 22STARS I had to deal with many disappointments, and I felt that they took away my energy, my positivity etc. so you can imagine if you start losing that, it will go only more down
So my tip to starting entrepreneurs is, surround you with positive people that believe in you and uplift you. And don’t let setbacks bring you down, try to not get distracted from your end goal.
Are there any online resources you find really useful and essential for your career?
Yes, I like social media. So I use a lot Instagram, seeing all those beautiful pictures make me smile and it’s a great way to see what is cool in the new place where I arrive, or which dish I should try. So for example, when I arrived in Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, I would check Instagram with that location and see where other people went and where I can take some cool pictures. Also, I tag locations in my Instagram pictures and make sure to use the right hashtags. It happened often that other people in the same place would contact with me cause they read about my business and story and want to meet. So for me, instragram is number one source. Other sources I like is FB communities, such as nomad soulmates, or girls love to travel, digital nomads around the world etc. They are quite helpful too.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about digital nomads?
I think the biggest misconception is that they think that we all just want to travel to cheap places, and just want to make enough money to survive and the rest of the day want to sit on the beach. So to change that, I am starting to spread more and more my message, how to make a difference as a Digital Nomad. I am inspiring others to be more conscious about how to travel and how they can make an impact themselves. This year I started to host Social Workations in Uganda, which is for remote workers, digital nomads and location independent people, so they can come coworking in Uganda, have mastermind sessions with local entrepreneurs, visit my projects and make an impact. Also, I am the co-founder of Digital Nomad Talks. With those talks we share personal impact driven stories, to inspire other nomads to make a difference with their business and way of living.
Being a digital nomad may include a lot of traveling. What are your tips & tricks for better travels?
So far my best travel tip is, use the POST!!!! I love to have nice clothes… So whenever I realize I got too much stuff, I just go to a post office and ship about 20 kilo of stuff to my mom’s place. In most harbor countries, this will not cost you more than 30 kilo if you opt for the slow post service. So yes it will take about 3 months for my stuff to arrive… but at least I can keep it. Especially, practical when going from colder to warmer countries. Besides
Especially, practical when going from colder to warmer countries. Besides that, I also leave a lot behind. Like every time when I am in Uganda I leave my shoes and clothes behind for the women over there.
During long flights or better said long bus rides I read books!! I travelled a lot within the continent Africa the last two years. I have been in more than 18 countries, and I can tell you a long bus drive (48 hours drives are rather common) is something different then a long flight…
Where have you experienced the strongest nomad community? Also, please share, if there is any place where you’ve found lack of it!
I found a quite strong nomad community with the Nomad Cruise people. Twice a year I join their cruise and cross the atlantic ocean, before and after the nomad cruise I usually rent a place with the other nomad cruisers for a month or so. This may will be my fourth cruise! Besides the nomad cruise I really loved Cape Town, Tarifa and Medellin as digital nomad hotspots. And then where is a lack of it? Well, definitely Africa…
Top 3 places to visit as a digital nomad
- Capetown, because I love the nature, the food and the people. And you can go kitesurfing in Capetown and it’s the perfect starting point for a long roadtrip.
- Tarifa, because I love Spain, it’s close to many cool places, it’s a small easy and convenient town. It’s good for kitesurfing. And I love making road trips from there. Like visiting Morocco or Portugal or Sevilla etc.
- Uganda, because I am going to host 4 social workations there this year, and people should definitely come and check it out. It will truly be a life changing experience!
What’s your vision of the future?
I think I will always travel in between a few places like I do now. So always go a couple of times a year to Uganda, visit my friends and family all over Europe etc. And then I would just like to add a few more home bases to that. I don’t believe in one home base but in several!
Anyway, regarding long term plans, I actually would love to share a bit more with you about the social workation. So the idea is to Reconnect with nature, connect with local communities and make a difference! Uganda has many talented people, learn from each other and grow together. With this trip, you will not only leave Uganda having made an impact on many people’s life, but it will also be a positive life changing experience for you. You spend two weeks in buzzling Kampala and one week in relaxing Jinja. Our first weekend trip will be OFFLINE camping in Murchison Falls National Park, spotting wild animals and hiking around the waterfall. Every week we will have two mastermind sessions to which Ugandan entrepreneurs and start-ups are invited for free. Also, every week we will visit twice the 22STARS projects in the field and show you how to make an impact. Besides city tours and fun stuff, you will have free time so you will be able to get your own work done!
Gathering all your current experience – what would you now say to your old self, back when you just started?
When I just started, I was scared to invest too much money in my business, because I was thinking too much about what if I fail, what if this happens, what if that… I rather should have just started taking risks immediately. But propably that’s also easier said right now,since I know that things turned out fine.
One of my favourite quotes is what you do for yourself dies within you, what you do for others goes on forever. I would recommend digital nomads to keep that in mind, and make it an incentive for your business/ journey start. Always ask yourself whether you are giving back with what you do, and if not, how you can make that happen. Make a difference to the world with what you do.