At the age of 23 Nikki left her marketing job in England to take a break. She booked a one-way ticket to Nepal and went on her first solo-backpacking trip. What came soon later was the realization, that it’s possible to travel long term without going broke, that the life of travel is possible. If you work for it!
As Nikki didn’t want to return to corporate world, she searched and eventually found her way to sustain the lifestyle she wanted to have now.
I read Nikki’s story about two months ago. She has written a book about her journey from inexperienced backpacker to worldwide entrepreneur. And I loved this book. Because it’s a book about backpacking and backpacker’s built business written BY BACKPACKER. It’s fun. It’s helpful. And it’s easy to read.
Here I have prepared for you an interview with the main character of this story – traveling entrepreneur, Nikki Scott!
Please, tell us a little bit about yourself!
When I was 23, I had graduated University with an English degree and I was working in an advertising agency in Manchester, England. After two years in the corporate world, I was becoming disillusioned with the stressful 9-5 (or more like 8 PM) lifestyle and craved a life of travel, adventure and spontaneity. I booked a one-way ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal to begin my journey trekking in the Himalaya. It was an awe-inspiring start to my solo-backpacking trip!
After Nepal, I travelled through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia having the time of my life. I had a flight booked to Perth, Australia where the plan had been to find myself a ‘real’ job. However, after six months backpacking, I just didn’t want to go back to the Western world. I wanted to do something creative that would allow me to keep adventuring!
Whilst on the road, I’d had an idea to start a backpacker magazine. It would be a collection of stories from different travellers and it would be distributed for free in backpacker hostels all over the South East Asian backpacking trail. This tiny idea became a reality in 2009 when I launched South East Asia Backpacker Magazine!
To my surprise and delight, the magazine became a huge hit amongst backpackers and travel businesses. Hundreds of people wanted to write for the magazine and hostels and adventure companies were willing to advertise to fund the printing. The magazine became my entire life. After five years living in Bangkok, Koh Phangan and Kuala Lumpur and travelling extensively across South East Asia, I set up a HQ in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai and built a small team to help me grow the flourishing business.
A few years later, I was able travel to South America to start South America Backpacker Magazine and I now live in Barcelona where I launched Europe Backpacker Magazine. I also founded an adventure trip booking website, ‘Backpacker Bookings’, giving people the opportunity to book popular backpacker trips in South East Asia. And so the venture grows!
I recently published a book about my experience starting the business in Thailand, what life is like as an expat and some very personal challenges I faced whilst living in Asia. My book is called “Backpacker Business: One girl’s journey from wide-eyed traveller to worldwide entrepreneur”. I poured my heart out in this. I hope you like it!
Why was Southeast Asia your first destination?
My starting point for my adventure was Kathmandu, Nepal as I had always wanted to see the highest mountains in the world. As a kid, I had read about epic ascents of mighty peaks and I wanted to gaze upon these mountains for myself.
My next destination, Thailand, interested me in particular because of Buddhism, yoga and of course those drop dead gorgeous beaches! It didn’t hurt that Southeast Asia was also very cheap!
How old were you when you went on this trip?
I was 23 when I left for my first solo-backpacking trip. I had worked two years in an office and studied three years at University in England. Even though that doesn’t sound like much – I was ready for a break!
For how long time you were backpacking at that time when you realized that you don’t want to return to your old life?
If I’m honest, I think that I had made the decision never to go back to England as soon as I stepped on the plane to Kathmandu! At that time, however, I just wasn’t sure how I could make a life of permanent travel and adventure possible.
Whilst backpacking, I met people from all over the world who were earning money as they travelled – English teachers, yoga teachers, adventure tour leaders, dive instructors, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs, globe trotters, digital nomads, travel bloggers and hippies!
After about six months, my idea to start a travel magazine seemed the best plan to give me the life that I so craved – and I could help others with my travel tips and stories too!
So you started your business at 23?
I was 24 when I launched South East Asia Backpacker Magazine.
Did you have any business experience back then?
When I first started the magazine, I had no experience running a business at all, nor publishing a magazine or book of any kind! I was very much learning as I went along! Plus, even if I would have had business experience back in the UK, doing business in Thailand is a very different beast!
It was a challenging and exciting time where I made good decisions and bad decisions and learnt a lot from my mistakes.
How long it took for you to reach profitability with SEA Backpacker magazine?
When I launched the first issue of South East Asia Backpacker Magazine, my goal had been to break even in terms of costs. I had wanted to get enough sponsors to cover the cost of the printing, which I managed to achieve, with a lot of blood, sweat – and tears!
Luckily, my dad was living in Thailand at the time I started the magazine and I was able to stay with him while I worked on building up the magazine. It took me about a year before I was able to earn enough money to move out of my dad’s house and get my own (shared) apartment in Bangkok.
During the first year of growing the business, I would stay up until the early hours of the morning and work on the magazine. I never switched off nor took a day off, mainly because I loved working so much!
Everywhere I travelled in South East Asia I would knock on doors in an effort to get advertising revenue to help to print the magazine. I printed business cards, created posters, made t-shirts, approached backpackers in the street, and did everything I could to spread the word about the magazine. I think my passion is what made the magazine a success, without this passion I would never have been able to dedicate so much time and effort to it.
So at first you were running your business from Thailand. In few sentences, how was it? Would you do the same now?
Opening a business from Thailand is a challenging experience in many ways. As a foreigner, you will need a Thai business partner, an office, and four Thai staff to every one foreign worker. It can be difficult, and expensive, for many entrepreneurs to get started, particularly if you don’t speak Thai language.
As I was dealing immediately with other Thai businesses, it was essential for me to set up a Thai business before I started approaching people to work with. I was lucky to have my dad’s girlfriend, a native Thai, to help me with everything.
Most interesting situations you got into while running a business in Thailand?
There were interesting situations that happened every day whilst running a business in South East Asia, this is why it was so fun and addictive, and at times frustrating!
Imagine your business colleague praying to Buddha to get more advertising sales, imagine going to see the government in Vietnam to speak to them about distributing an English travel magazine in a communist country, imagine doing business deals on dive boats, in meditation centers, down dirt tracks and in beach bars.
No day was ever the same! And for more in depth stories, you’ll have to read the book! ;-)
You as a traveling entrepreneur must have met a lot of people, who are traveling a lot. What most of them are doing for living?
There are lots of opportunities to work abroad (I mentioned many above), but I think that the most popular way to earn money whilst travelling is to teach English. There is a lot of demand for learning English in South East Asia. The wages are high compared to the cost of living and jobs can offer a lot of free time so people can travel or pursue other hobbies and interests.
There is also a huge rise in the number of digital nomads, people working on their own business from their laptops from anywhere. As WIFI is now available in even some of the most remote places, I think the number of people taking their careers to the road will only increase. It’s good to stay in one place for a while, but to have the flexibility to jet off whenever you want and not worry about asking your boss for ‘holidays’ is a wonderful feeling.
Did you enjoy reading the interview? Then read Nikki’s book about her journey from wide-eyed traveller to worldwide entrepreneur. I’m sure you will love it! I did.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.