Nomading around the world with one backpack and one WP theme to sell

Thomas Ehrig from Dresden likes to keep things simple. He’s fine with just one backpack on his travels and lives off one WP theme he created. After visiting Surf Office in Gran Canaria back in spring 2015, he traveled across Vietnam, keeping his business location independent and sufficient to fund his lifestyle.

Thomas, could you introduce yourself?

I’m a 29-year-old with an entrepreneurial spirit from the beautiful city of Dresden, Germany. Professionally I currently prototype, design, develop and support best-selling WordPress themes.

Which countries have you been to over the past few months?

I kicked off 2015 in Prague, which is only a two hour bus ride from my home town. After that I went to Budapest by train. There is something magical about Eastern Europe in winter that I can’t put into words. Or maybe it’s just because this winter was the first one in a long time I have spent entirely in Europe, who knows.

I got to experience Amsterdam for the first time, and I can tell you, there will be a sequel. In April/May I had my first co-living/working stay in Gran Canaria, at the Surf Office. From there I went to Rome (twice), with a very vivid 12-hour-saturday-night-stopover in Barcelona (thank you Vueling for cancelling my flight six hours before departure).

I spent a full month in Vietnam, which I consider the highlight of my trips this year (so far). Climbing the roof of Indochina in the north of Sapa (you can’t call this ascent a hike, really). Travelling all the way down to the island of Phu Quoc in the very south of Vietnam, with stopovers in Da Nang, Hue and Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), and back up to Hanoi.

Does it mean you are entirely location independent now?

Yes, 100%. I was lucky enough to find a tenant who took over my place with all my crap (I mean belongings) in the beginning of 2012. Which was just perfect, zero hassle. I can’t imagine selling everything you own one by one on eBay. Who does that?

Let’s get back to beginnings. How did you become a digital nomad?

By intention. It was a long, step-by-step process. I started to experiment with it before the 4-hour workweek introduced the whole lifestyle-design concept. I don’t actually like to call myself a „digital nomad“. But for the lack of a better word, that label describes it pretty well. As a movement it has become a trend/fashion, and the pretty picture many paint of it doesn’t live up to reality. I am trying to build this into a sustainable lifestyle, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime, few months period.

Are you still freelancing or doing anything else to sustain your lifestyle, apart from selling WP themes?

Nothing else for profit, no freelancing. I am very much into creating products and processes with great people.

How long did it take to work your business up to make it pay your bills?

I started doing things my way since I quit university at the end of 2006. I was enrolled for an incredible 111 days, no kidding. I have founded a few companies before, all in totally different industries. My current endeavour in the WordPress space took nine months until it paid the bills. This might sound like a short period, but it’s also the result of living a minimalistic/nomadic lifestyle. Plus, being aware of and mastering your spendings, which makes paying your bills so much easier.

What is your present hardware & software setup?

When it comes down to it, the tools you use don’t matter as much as people or advertising want you to believe. Having said that, I spend my money where I spend my time.

At home I am happily sitting on my Aeron Embody, working with my 13“ Macbook Pro Retina + 27“ external screen, bluetooth trackpad and keyboard, Bose Soundlink Mini. When travelling I bring my iPad Mini 2, and some noise isolating in-ear headphones (RHA MA750i) as well. Even for someone like me, who doesn’t work from coffee shops, it’s an absolute must to listen to SoundCloud all day long.

Software-wise I use Chrome (Dev Tools, Workspaces etc.), MAMP, Coda and SourceTree to get my work done.

Do you have any favourite apps or online tools you could recommend?

This is a topic I could indulge for hours, but let me just briefly mention my must-have apps/tools.

- Slack for all team communication. No more email, thank you.

- Evernote to take all kinds of notes

- Google Hangout for video conferences

- 1Password to manage hundreds of website logins

- Dropbox/Google Drive to store and share certain files

- Pocket to save all interesting articles for later consumption on my iPad

- Momentum dashboard (a Chrome browser extension)

- Time Out

- RescueTime

- Clearly

- Grammarly

- aText

- OmmWriter

- WriteRoom

- Divvy

- Numi

- Flux

How come that you sell only one WP theme? Have you tried making and selling any others?

It’s a pretty common practice to release a new theme every few weeks in the hope to win the theme lottery, when it’s really about quality over quantity, in my eyes.

Also I don’t see any point in spreading myself too thin. If you are 100% confident and commited to your project’s success, which is my #1 requirement for any project I am working on, then why work on another project at the same time? Working simultaneously on multiple projects has never done me any good.

“There’s no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A.” — Will Smith

Focus matters. This is especially true and visible when you start out as a one-man show with very limited resources.

Yes, I will create other WordPress products. Actually, I am laying the groundwork for a new theme at the moment.

Quick shout-out: I am always hiring, and looking for driven folks to collaborate with. If you think you’ve got what it takes to build the next world-class WordPress product, I would love to hear from you.

My very first WordPress theme “Worx” I retired just a few days ago. It has done its job after making it into CreativeMarket’s Top 100 of the year 2014.

When you came to Surf Office, you had only one backpack so you seem to be a very light traveler. What are the most important things you won’t travel without?

That’s always funny. I still remember how unbelievingly Hana looked at me when I pointed at my backpack in response to her “Where is all your luggage?” question.

Let’s say I like to travel with the least amount of stuff I actually need. That doesn’t always has to be a backpack only. But in most cases it’s enough. I brought my bicycle to Spain and Australia, and I was glad I did, despite the additional effort it required. The more you travel, the more sophisticated you become packing. Same principle as in any other area of life.

Nowadays all the cool kids like to travel with hand luggage only. Don’t do it, if your only reason is to avoid 20 minutes wait time at the airport to pick up your luggage. Or if you stay at one place during your whole trip. Just pack more and enjoy yourself.

Trying to fit everything into a backpack won’t work for most people, especially for the less experienced traveller.

The most essential things I bring on my travels are: Macbook Pro, Huawei Honor 6 (hands-down best price/performance ratio smartphone), iPad mini, Kindle, in-ear headphones, myVale flip-flops, pair of glasses, sleeping mask and ear plugs. Everything else is optional.

What did you like the most about your stay at Surf Office?

If I had to name one thing: the people. But there is so much more to it. Peter and Hana executed the whole coliving/coworking concept just very well. Kudos to you guys.

Knowing you will have a place to live, work and people to connect with, from the moment of your arrival, makes your whole trip so much more enjoyable and less stressful.

Did you establish any daily routine there?

I didn’t stay long enough to really call it a routine, but I am big on waking up without alarm, which also worked well at the Surf Office. I think rise and shine was around 9am, then breakfast and a short stroll to the office where I worked (surprisingly productive) until lunch, which I always had outside at one of the many small restaurants sprinkled along the beach promenade. Mostly with other folks from the Surf Office.

After that some more work, and then attempting to master the art of surfing. Dinner and the evenings were often spent together with the Surf Office community.

As you’re from Dresden, can you share recommendations for cool places that are worth visiting there?

I am somewhat out of touch with my home town, due to long periods abroad. For me one of the main benefits of being “at home” is to get a crazy amount of work done, as there are far less distractions, compared to visiting exciting new countries and places, where you don’t feel like working all the time. So no coworking tips here.

To satisfy your cultural curiousity I recommend to explore the historical “Altstadt” of Dresden, which is breathtaking. In a nationwide survey Germans saw Dresden as their country’s most beautiful city. I think that says it all.

Nightlife can be enjoyed in “The Äußere Neustadt”. Definitely one of the liveliest bar scenes in all of Germany. Extremely high concentration of bars, clubs, and cafes.

A visit and hike in the “Sächsische Schweiz” is a must-do, when you are in the region.

If you should ever visit Dresden, which you should ;-), then drop me a line. I love to catch up with like-minded people.