Five years ago he had everything, yet he was far from being happy. After deciding to changing the course of his life and becoming location independent, 'the traveling Dutchman' Jasper Ribbers now lives the life of freedom he always dreamed of. We talked about Airbnb, writing an ebook, podcasting and using Tinder on travels.
What do you do for living?
I have several income streams. The main one is the apartment that I rent out on Airbnb. I have a travel blog that makes a little bit of money. I also sell a book on Amazon – Get paid for your pad which is about Airbnb hosting. In addition, I write a blog Get paid for your pad which is also about Airbnb. I have affiliate links there and I use it to sell the book and video courses that I do on Udemy.
I also do some coaching on how to create a great listing and some self improvement coaching on the side. So it's a bunch of different things, which I like.
How does your typical work day look like?
When I wake up I jump into shower, make myself coffee and then write down what I want to achieve that day. I still use old fashion pen and paper. I make a to do list, think about what's a priority and what's the most time sensitive thing I need to get done for any of my projects. I usually focus on one thing for a few weeks and then move to something else. Although during that time I still can be in a sort of maintenance with other projects.
Do you use any online tools for productivity?
Not really. I have a scheduler for appointments which saves me a lot of time because scheduling interviews via emails is a bit of pain, especially with different time zones. I found that when I use some sort of program to figure out tasks that I have to do I spend more time making schedules than doing work.
What dangers have you encountered leading a location independent lifestyle?
I personally love this lifestyle, I've been doing it for five years and it suits me very well. In the beginning I had to get used to not having a fixed location and I didn't feel comfortable everywhere I was. Nowadays I just feel at home wherever I work. As far as the downsides of this lifestyle go, it's kinda annoying that you can't have too much stuff so you have to be very efficient with things that you do have.
To give you an example – I'm creating a lot of courses on Udemy and in order to create professional videos you need to have a good headset. I record my videos on my Macbook Air with the built in camera but I also have a professional camera. But it only works if you have a tripod so you have to carry a tripod with you. And then if you want to create a professional background you need to carry around a green screen, which is fairly big.
That's my problem right now – I'm flying to Bangkok tonight and my green screen is too big to fit in my suitcase. I'll see if I can check it in with me or take on the plane. If they charge me extra I may as well buy a new one.
These are the kinds of challenges you have to deal with.
The other thing is productivity which has been already mentioned. It's hard to be very productive if you're constantly on the move. One thing I do to combat that is instead of staying in one place for a week or two I try to have big periods of year when I stay at one place for one or two months. Then you can really settle down and get to some sort of rhythm. Get to bed at the same time every night, go to the gym every day... Just a normal routine that people do every day. It's hard for us to have but such routine is the most productive way.
One of the posts on your blog was about doing a Udemy challenge this year. How is that going?
I've published three courses so far and two more courses are about to be published in the next week or so. My goal for the next two months is to finish the other five courses. It's going to be a lot of work and that's why I'm flying to Bangkok and stay there for two months. I'm literally going to sit in my apartment and work every day.
Could you elaborate on the writing process of your book?
I wrote the book in January 2014 when I was in Medellin, Colombia and the draft didn't really take that much time to write. All the information was already in my head so I just had to put it on paper. What did take a while was the other stuff you need to do in order to publish a book. You need to edit it, proofread it, then you want to make some changes... It almost feels like the book is never ready so at one point you just need to say ‘Okay, this is it.' There are always improvements in the making. You want to rewrite certain paragraphs, change the sentences a little bit....
That took about two months or so, just proofreading and editing and getting the text content ready. Then you also need to think about the layout and hire somebody who will help you with the pictures and make sure everything looks nice. Formatting is important as well, choosing the letter type, headings, table contents, all that kind of stuff.
And then there's the cover which also needs to be designed. There are a lot of things that come into the process that you don't think about when you're starting to write a book. At least I didn't. I was thinking ‘Oh, I noticed that a lot of people don't really know how to do Airbnb.... So let's write a book about it.'
I didn't really think about the rest of the process. Also, if you want to launch it on Amazon you need to make a plan and prepare the launch. I took a month to do that. I think there are 30 million physical books on Amazon so if you just put a book there, sit back and watch, nothing is going to happen. No one is going to find you. You need to choose the right categories, keywords and then build up a bit of hype before the launch so a lot of people will buy it in the first few days. Amazon notices that and starts to showing it in different lists that are out there.
In the end of the day it's a pretty complex process that took me eight or seven and a half months, from starting with writing to actual publishing on Amazon.
Did you use any online publishing tools?
No, I have a friend who knows a lot about publishing and who helped me with this. He actually published it under his label but it's pretty straightforward to launch on Amazon. It saved me from spending time reaching out to publishers and having to write a query letter to each. I soon realised that it was going to be diffiuclt getting my book published by an independant publisher so when he offered to do it for me, I jumped at the chance. You can do it yourself if you want.
During your visit in Surf Office Lisbon you also gave a presentation on how to market a book on Amazon. What would be one tip you could pass on?
It's all about the launch really. You need to build a certain amount of momentum during the launch to make sure your book hits the best selling lists. If it doesn't then it's hard for people to find a book because there are so many out there. I would say making sure that your book is visible is the most important thing. Then what's also important is choosing right category, keywords and building a hype.
Reaching out to everybody you know, not just friends and family but also people who have blogs in your niche, maybe you could reach out to newspapers... You need to spread the word so when you launch it, you launch it with oomph and it gets immediately a lot of sales.
In your opinion, is it feasible to live just from selling books these days?
If you want to make a living just selling books you'll have to write a lot of them. One book is not going to do it, unless you write a New York Times best seller, which is very hard if you don't have the audience. Most of the people who write New York Times best sellers have a very large audience so they get a lot of sales from people who already know them.
The success of a book is not so much about the quality of the content. The content has to be good but you can write an amazing book and if no one knows about it then it's going to be very hard to get a lot of sales.
So if you want to make living of books I'd say you need to publish at least ten of them. There's also some sort of synergy – if someone buys some of your books then your other books will probably show up elsewhere on Amazon as well.
Just to give an example – my book makes about 500 – 600 dollars a month on Amazon and it's ranked in the top 50 thousand books which is the top 2% of the books on Kindle. That gives you an idea – if you're in the top 2% then you can expect to be making around 500 dollars a month. But if you have ten books that all make that, it's 2000 dollars.
I think that's the only feasible way for most people. Of course, exceptions are there, but this is a realistic expectation.
And then there are other ways to monetize your book. I would recommend to use your book to sell something else.
Did you write your book with the idea of adding another income stream or was it supposed work as your personal promo?
Honestly, I wrote it just for fun, I didn't really have any expectations. I just felt that it could be helpful for people and I didn't think about the income.
I was making a lot of money from the Airbnb apartment so I didn't need another income stream. But then when I launched the book I sort of got into it and we received a lot of feedback. So I thought ‘Hey, this is kinda cool, I like talking about Airbnb. I like writing about it so let's start a blog.' Then I started a podcast, interviewing Airbnb hosts as well. And I thought ‘Why I don't make a video course?'
So I did it for fun but when you actually combine it with everything, the book sales, affiliates, the video course and the counseling I do, it's getting to the point where it's making an income that I can almost potentially live off.
How do you manage your Airbnb flat while you're away?
I have a cleaning lady but she's more like a manager of my flat. She takes care of everything. She cleans the apartment a couple of hours before the guests arrive, she waits for them, check them in and show around. If there's any issue she's always around to take care of things. It's a perfect setup. All I need to do is to communicate with guests, send them information and manage the listing on Airbnb. It doesn't take me more then 15 minutes a day.
What's your view on the future of shared economies?
I see it as a revolution when people have grown to realize that their assets, their knowledge and skills are something they can share and monetize individually. Right now, people are still very attached to their belongings - their house, car, boat or whatever they own that could be shared.
But I think there is going to be a mindset shift and people will get used to sharing those things. And maybe not be so personally attached to their stuff.
If you think about your car, on average, cars are taking up space in 95% of time and you use it on road about 5% of time. It really doesn't make sense, it's just an inefficient way to use resources.
In the end of the day, a car is just a piece of metal and some other components and so why wouldn't you share that? A lot of people will say yeah, but it's their car and they saved up money for it and it's almost like a part of their identity and they don't want anyone else to drive it.
But I think this is going to change, although it will take 10 to 15 years to happen. Eventually the whole sharing economy could be anywhere from 15 to 25% of the total economy.
You can be heard on a lot of podcasts, both hosted by you and those, where you appeared as a guest. Is there any particular reason why you chose podcasts for promotion instead of, let's say, written blog posts?
I prefer to talk to write, I really like talking. And it's also very efficient, recording a podcast takes me 30 minutes. If I wanted to write that much content that would be probably 3000 - 4000 words which would take me two hours or such.
I published a couple of interviews on my travel blog recently and those were recorded interviews that I wrote out. It took me so much time to write out that interviews, because when you write you have to make sure that everything is well written, there can't be any mistakes in it... When you talk, mistakes don't matter. You can make pauses, you can jump from one subject and go back, do all sorts of things and no one is going to notice or think that it's weird. But if you write it out like that, people are going to be like ‘What is this? This is a really bad written piece.' So it's just more efficient to talk instead of writing.
As for the podcast interviews that I do, I appear on a lot of them mostly because they just asked me to be on their podcast. It wasn't really a thought out strategy. I went to a podcast conference and met all these others podcasters and they just asked me to be on their show.
I heard that you're a fan of Tinder. Do you use Tinder on your travels?
I do, I really like Tinder, I think it's a great app. Dating can be challenging when you're constantly on the road and Tinder is very easy to use and a convenient app. You even have Tinder Plus where you can connect with people in locations even if they are not there yet. Just change your location to wherever you are going to be and you can start connecting. I've heard of some people deciding to use websites similar to birmingham escortdirectory.com while they are on the road because they don't have time for a relationship and just want a good time. I don't think that approach is for me but each to their own.
What do you think is the best strategy for Tinder?
I think that majority of people look mostly at the pictures so you want to have some good pictures. Things that people don't tend to like are selfies. Or, if you're a guy, don't choose a profile picture with your shirt off. Those are things to avoid. Just make sure that your profile picture is a good photo and it shows your face. It's good to smile and show what your life looks like. If you travel a lot then maybe show some pictures of your favorite destinations or activities. If you are a kite surfer, then show some photos with kite surfing so people get an idea what kind of person you are.
As for the messaging, the one thing you want to avoid is to ask all those boring questions what a lot of people do. Don't fire off all that stuff like ‘Hey, what are you doing, where are you from, blah blah...' that's just boring and if you don't know somebody it's asking for too much investment.
Be playful and funny, make some jokes, don't take it too seriously. If you make somebody laugh, then you make yourself pretty attractive. And, if you get to meet someone from it, remember that as most experts recommend, there is definitely a need during a date to have some fun and flirtation. But unless you are looking for a casual hook-up, dates are a way for you to see if there is a connection between you and the other person. Look for shared values and opinions, as well as interests. If you have little in common and don't have an interest in appreciating the other's views or interests, then the chances are that the relationship won't get too far.
What was the moment when you decided you want to change your life and become location independent?
I worked in finance for 6 years and I found myself in a situation when I was living in Chicago and achieved everything I ever dreamed of. I was driving a sports car, had an amazing apartment and a beautiful girlfriend... I had pretty much everything. I felt I should be feeling really excited, happy and fulfilled. That's what the society is structured like. When you're young, you think that you need to get a good job and make a lot of money and everything will be cool.
When I reached that point i just felt like something was missing. I wasn't that excited, I didn't feel like I had anticipated. So I kinda thought ‘If this is not it and if nothing more comes if I keep doing this, I can sit in this office for another 10 years and all that's going to improve is that I'm going to have more money, I don't see how that is going to bring me a lot of happiness.'
That's when I realized if that doesn't work for me, I have to figure out what does.
I always had in the back of my head this dream of being completely free to go wherever I wanted and travel the world, learn languages, cultures etc. So I thought I could try that.
Since the moment I left it's been an incredible journey. I've been to over 60 countries and met an incredible amount of people. I learned more in the last 5 years than in the first 30 years of my life. I couldn't possibly imagine that.
I don't even relate to the same person I was those years ago because it seems like an eternity. I guess our memories and the sense of time work in experiences - the more memorable experiences you have, the more time seems to have passed.
When I was still working in the office, I was living from holiday to holiday. The day after I came back from a holiday, I would book another one. And then I would just sit there, thinking I wished the time has just passed and I could fast forward to the next holiday.
Now it's the other way round. I'm having so much fun and there are so many cool things I want to do, so many places to go... Everything is so awesome that I want the time to stop because I don't have enough time to do all the things I want. I need more weeks in the month, I need more days in the week and I need more hours in the day.
Have you visited many coworking places since you became a digital nomad?
I have been to some. There was also a cool one called Cross Campus, they do a lot of presentations and have a huge whiteboard where people can just put stuff if they need help. There was a lot of interaction going on, a lot of engagement, people were organizing dinners, events... That's how I got into it.
Coworking is a fairly recent thing, it hasn't been around for a long time. But one of the things I'm super excited about is Coboat. I booked four weeks in Coboat and I'm really looking forward to that. I really like being on a boat, I like ocean, tropical warm waters, snorkeling, diving and all that kinds of stuff.
The only problem has always been that you can't work on a boat. And these Coboat guys have fixed this, they created the ultimate lifestyle for me - sitting on a boat with other entrepreneurs, working together, masterminding and exchanging ideas and at the same time you can wake up in the morning and jump off the boat, swim around in tropical waters and dive in. At 5 o'clock you can be sitting there, sipping a cold beer and watching the sun go down. I don't know how life gets better than that.
What do you like about the Surf Office concept?
I really liked the idea of Surf Office. It's kinda like a hostel with an office and it's perfect for digital nomads. You have everything like in a regular hostel or hotel but you're surrounded by entrepreneurs. Connecting with them and exchanging ideas is one of the best things you can do for any business.
Being a digital nomad and having an online business is not something you can do on your own. You really need support, feedback and ideas from a lot of people.
Staying in places like Surf Office you have the possibility to engage with other entrepreneurs. What's also great is that you have a good work environment which you wouldn't have in a hostel. Secondly, there would be a lot of 19 year old British and Australian guys being drunk. That's not a very productive environment.
If you could decide where the next Surf Office should be opened, where would it be?
I have two personal favorite places on Earth. The first one is Siargao in Phillipines, it's such an amazing place. It's very remote and it hasn't been developed that much yet, but surfing is amazing and there's definitely a little community up there.
The other place I would recommend is Florianópolis. It's one of the coolest places in Brazil, always lots of digital nomads around and it's great to surf there.
What are your favourite surfing spots around the world?
Siargao that I already mentioned is definitely a place you want to check out, I had the most amazing surfing experience there. By far, my most favorite places would be Florianopolis, Siargao and maybe Tamarindo in Costa Rica. Being woken up by a bunch of monkeys at 5am is pretty good because you have to wake up early to go surfing. Those monkeys were just hanging out right outside my balcony so every morning I had breakfast with the monkeys and then I would go surfing.
Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
I stopped looking far ahead because things change so quickly it's hard to predict. One of my goals in the next couple of years is to be one of the top instructors on Udemy. As for the lifestyle, I don't think much is going to change. I'm pretty much leading the life I want to live. I have a lot of goals I want to achieve - I want to be a really good kite surfer, learn to dance salsa, maybe a new language... There are all the different goals I have but I prefer to focus on the next year, maybe two years.
As a local, can you share some tips for places we should check out in Amsterdam?
I would recommend a neighbourhood. Most people in Amsterdam go to the center which is very touristy, I don't really like to hang out there too much. But there's a neighbourhood called the Pijp which translates to the pipe. It's just south of the center so you're still pretty close to the center, you can walk there if you want and it's also not far away from all the good museums. The Heineken factory is located there and a really cool street market called Albert Cuyp market. The Pijp is the trendiest and hippiest neighbourhood in Amsterdam. There are tons of coffeeshops, bars, restaurants, cafes, a lot of places to work, free wifi and there's really good food and drinks as well. If you're a digital nomad in Amsterdam, definitely hang out in the Pijp.