THE lifestyle of the digital nomad suits Glanmire native, Stephen Palmer, who recently won the gold medal at the Irish blog awards in the Diaspora category for his blog, Irisharoundoz.com.
Stephen, 31, and his Polish girlfriend, Sabina Bugnacka, also run a popular travel blog called sunsettravellers.com. They work for themselves and get to travel the world, having started their foreign sojourn with a spell in Australia.
Soon after arriving there, Stephen started Irisharoundoz.com. Having graduated from CIT with a degree in IT support and having worked for a while in Cork, Stephen, who met Sabina while they were working in a call centre in Cork, travelled to the other side of the world five years ago in search of adventure.
The couple, who will marry next year in the Algarve, are seasoned travellers now.
When Stephen started Irisharoundoz.com, he wasn’t sure what it was going to be initially.
“I just saw a massive need for online communities and the Irish in Sydney. I kept working on it part-time while I did farm work and other jobs. One thing led to another. I quit my job in online marketing sales a year later and felt that if I put 40 hours a week into my blog, I’d have a good chance of success. And I had some savings. Sabina had a job. But it was still a risk.”
However, the risk has paid off. Stephen hasn’t had to look for a job in the last four years. In establishing the blog, he combined information necessary to Irish people moving to and living in Australia.
The blog carries information about money transfer services, shipping services, claiming tax back and flights, among other practical aspects of a new life in Australia. Using his own experience with additional research, he smooths the path for fellow travellers.
Stephen was able to monetise the blog as he attracted advertising from a money transfer company that he recommended. That was the start of it.
“The blog grew. It got ads. I got more and more traffic and now the blog has multiple sources of income.”
The couple, while living in Melbourne, decided to move to Bali for a while “because we didn’t need to be paying as much as we were living in Australia. After Bali, we did a lot of travelling for the next year. Later, we decided to set up our travel blog. It hit one million visits last week.”
After returning to Ireland for a while, the couple, ever adventurous, decided to move to Canada on working holiday visas. They are now living in the coastal resort of Cascais in Portugal. And they have set up a third blog, Irisharoundtheworld.com.
“The aim of Irisharoundtheworld.com is to connect Irish people living around the world.”
It also has practical information. That is key. Stephen says that for anyone thinking of setting up a blog.
“The best thing you can do is solve people’s problems. A lot of people don’t really care about what you’re doing unless you’re a well known person. But once you’re giving tips, you become useful and you can become a kind of influencer. With the Irisharoundoz blog, I was just writing about things I learned such as regional work and getting tax back, for example. I basically share my experiences and add information to that.”
At the moment, the couple are on a bit of a health kick.
“The lifestyle we have can come with a bit of laziness and occasions to have a beer at sunset. It can be easy to lose focus. So now we have an exercise routine. We go for runs and cycles.”
Stephen and Sabina say they are “not millionaires or anything like that”.
“We’re both comfortable, renting an apartment in Cascais. If we don’t work, we still get paid as there is a lot of passive income. We obviously put the work in over the years. The good thing is that we are motivated to work.”
While regular travelling may sound like an idyllic lifestyle, Stephen says it has its downside.
“You start to miss the stability of simple things like going to the gym or the cinema. You end up creating what you left. You’re looking to have your home comforts. Essentially, we just have our suitcases (and laptops). It is nice to unpack and settle for a while.”
The other downside is that the couple will find it hard to get a mortgage.
“Our income is sporadic because we’ve been hopping around so much. The chance of getting a mortgage would be quite slim. But we were in Bulgaria for four months last year for the skiing season. Apartments to buy there are pretty cheap so we might buy there and live there for a year or two and move on. This is a rough plan. Our plans change a lot.”
Many people are attracted to the idea of making a living out of blogging, Stephen says.
“But once they see how much work is involved initially and how long it takes to make money online, they go back to their jobs. It’s a learning curve,” said Stephen.
“Blogging is getting a lot more competitive now with people having this kind of lifestyle. There’s less and less chance that you will break through because there are thousands of travel blogs. But Irish bloggers are certainly doing great things. Once you get into it, there are a lot of meet-ups with people who are doing what you’re doing.”
Stephen says that another way of meeting people while blogging for a living is paying for co-working spaces for a fee of about $200 a month.
“You can pop in whenever you want. You have a desk, coffee and other people doing their own thing. The lack of stability in this kind of life is not for some people, however. But I knew I wanted to be my own boss.”