Vanessa is 28 but looks at least 5 years younger. It might be the yoga she practices every day, it might be her dietary discipline, it might be her positive and bright attitude towards life or a combination of the three. As a matter of fact, Vanessa looks so young that, upon our first encounter, I wondered aloud how she was allowed to travel without an adult supervisor. She laughed and so our conversation began lightheartedly.
A broker breaks free
For 5 years at University in her native Colombia, Vanessa studied finance and dreamed of becoming a successful broker or Forex trader. After graduation, she applied for an internship with the Colombian Chamber of Commerce in Spain. She fell in love with the country and after the first year she needed a reason to extend her visa, so she began studying yoga, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). That gave her three more years abroad and a glimpse into what her future might look like.
During her time in Spain, Vanessa broke up with her boyfriend and bought a one-way ticket to New Delhi under a very strong impulse she needed to do something a bit more outlandish. While in India, she improved her yoga skills, studied meditation, spent time in an Osho retreat and volunteered for 3 months in Nepal.
Upon her return to Spain in 2012 she became acquainted with a spiritual mentorship group from Russia, who were touring in Western Europe. She became their translator and traveled with them to Germany, then to a retreat on the shores of Lake Baikal in Russia, where she had the chance to teach yoga for the first time. A couple of ex-university colleagues attended the retreat and, seeing the potential, invited Vanessa to be a full-time resident yoga teacher for a luxury boutique hotel in Tulum, on the Mexican Riviera Maya. She said yes and spent one year in Mexico, working hard and saving money for future trips. She didn’t feel like settling.
After the first full tourist season was over, Vanessa hopped on a plane again and crossed the Atlantic to visit Spain, Switzerland (where her father had moved in the meantime), Lebanon (to visit some not-so-distant relatives), then spent 50 more days in Nepal practicing Buddhist meditation. It’s there where she met a French woman who asked her: “Why go back to Mexico? Better travel to Thailand, there’s this island called Phangan, you will love it.” It was November 2016 and, after a quick trip back to her father in Switzerland, and a tour of South East Asia – Bangkok, Singapore – she made landfall in Koh Phangan at the beginning of this year.
With a little help from my nomadic friends
A personal note: I used to live on Koh Phangan for 18 months between 2009 and 2011 and I must say that this island had everything one could ever wish: amazing nature, fantastic beaches, good food, unparalleled nightlife and a very special vibe that makes it so popular with spiritual, creative people. I would have never left the island but for one reason: the Internet connection back then was terrible and I could not do my work properly. It used to take me half a day to upload an article like this one.
However, things have slowly improved and since the opening of the Beachub co-working space adjacent to the Sri Thanu Beach in March 2016, Koh Phangan became attractive for digital nomads. It’s where Vanessa’s transformation happened. It’s where I met her on a rainy afternoon.
“The money was scarce and my boss in Mexico was expecting me back, but I knew that I had more to do in Asia. So in February (which was when I was supposed to resume my work in Tulum) I made it public on Facebook that I was to run an online yoga course starting March 9th. I chose that very date because it seemed astrologically auspicious. I planned a full 3-week course including meditation, physical yoga, breathing exercises, yoga theory and philosophy.
A one month crash-course in everything.
I had to set up an online platform, create and upload videos, podcasts, reading materials and a 24/7 support channel so I could be in touch with my students whenever they needed me. Although I was fully trained to teach all these things in real life, I lacked the technical skills required to put my knowledge into an online product. I did not have the budget to hire skilled people. I didn’t even have a camera!”
The next 30 days were the craziest in Vanessa’s life. She had to find help. The guys at Beachub allowed her to use the premises (and fast Wi-Fi) for free until she got herself on track. Fortunately, a couple of videographer friends needed a model to test their new equipment, so she got the raw footage for free. But the rest she had to work and learn by herself.
“I learned video editing, audio editing, e-mail marketing, social marketing and visitor-tracking, a little bit of coding and much more in such a short time. I had entire weeks with only two hours of sleep per night. Sometimes, at 3 AM I was the only human being at the Beachub, doing handstands to boost my energy level. No time to sleep or to procrastinate. I had 58 people interested in the course out of which 18 signed up. I had to deliver what I promised. That month was a crash course in everything.”
Her fellow digital nomads helped a lot.
“These guys understand the meaning of hard work. If they see you busy doing something on your laptop they assume you’re doing something important and never bother you. But if they see you worried or asking around, they would jump off their hammocks to give you help and advice. I learned a lot from them and am very thankful.”
Eventually, the 3-week course was a success and Vanessa had all the reasons to be content: she built a project out of nothing, learned a lot of new skills and made some money in the process.
What next? How to plan freedom.
‘I want to keep traveling. There’s a summer retreat in Estonia which I really want to attend, but before that, I want to look into my online yoga course and perfect it. I don’t see it as a source of income anymore, rather a tool for self-understanding and evolution.
My family – although well-traveled and currently spread across the world – likes to plan everything in detail: from where they go on their next holiday to what books they are going to read this year. I’m not like that and I must admit that there’s a lot of uncertainty in my life because I never know what I’ll do next. But I don’t complain: look around at this beautiful place, the beach, the ocean, the trees and flowers, the chirping of birds, we are so lucky to call this a “workplace”. We should walk happy, calm and barefoot through this life.’
What helps Vanessa do her thing and feel protected?
‘The past few months brought me very close to meditation which gives me peace of mind, balance and helps me trust my intuition. When I start freaking out about what’s next, I meditate, I sit and talk with myself, I write it all down and explore where the problem is and how I should deal with it.
You see, everything we have “for sale” is actually a part of us that we give away to the world. We need to clarify our intentions: what do we actually give and why? I, for example, want to develop a way of sharing the best things that I’ve ever learned in order to make other peoples’ livesbetter. When my intentions are 100% pure, completely free of greed or vanity, I have no doubts that whatever I have to give to the world will be well understood and received. This makes me feel secure.
Maybe I won’t do this forever. I will need a place of my own at some point. But before I settle, I feel I need to make something of myself, build a sense of self that my soul can call “home”.’
The rain has stopped and the tropical Sun is smiling wisely through the scattered clouds as if it’s been eavesdropping on our conversation. I take off my flip-flops and I walk down the beach to my bungalow, happy, calm and barefoot.
Here’s a glimpse of Thailand’s breathtaking tropical landscapes and 2 of its digital hubs.