It wasn’t exactly wanderlust that spurred Michelle Sander to set out to work with Marketing clients remotely in Malaysia, then Thailand — with plans to hit several other spots around the globe over the following year.
This story was originally published in Josephine Magazine
It wasn’t wanderlust because it wasn’t about the places, per se. But even without that traditional motivation, Michelle Sander did have good reason for embracing the adventure.
“For me, traveling is really about the people,” she says. “The idea of collecting people’s stories: That’s what drives me.”
Sander grew up in St. Joseph and graduated from Benton High School before attending the University of Utah on a dance scholarship. She ultimately graduated with a journalism degree, going on to write for various publications before transitioning into marketing and branding.
In the years after college, she remained mainly in Utah before finding herself back home about a year ago. Her dad was sick, and after his passing, she stayed to help her mom — all the while maintaining her marketing career, with her employer allowing her to work remotely.
Although this work situation came about by default, it also came with the epiphany that she could work — and live — just about anywhere in the world.
“Home is where the Wi-fi is,” she says. “As long as you have a good connection, you’re fine.”
Currently, home for her is in Thailand. And her work is with her own business, Michelle Sander Consulting, which helps other businesses discover and communicate their brands.
Sander is with a small group of like-minded world-travelers, many of them also Americans. She notes that they all can be described as location independent or digital nomads or even a little tribe of expats — but not as tourists. And that, really, was a significant part of her aim in choosing this adventure: To experience the world not as a visitor hitting the high points but as a resident getting a real feel for the people and culture of a place.
“It feels like I’m collecting hometowns,” she says, adding that putting down roots for a longer period of time allows for experiences she couldn’t have otherwise — such as an adventure trip to find hidden waterfalls that didn’t turn out as planned, since the rainy season was yet to start and the waterfalls were dry. But in having plenty of time to wander, her group happened upon a breathtaking ocean vista accompanied by a beautiful beach.
“Those are the kind of things you can’t plan for,” Sander says. “They’re what you see when you decide to live in a place for a while.”
Her travel itinerary thus far, beginning in late August, had her in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for about a month before moving to Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand, in October. In November, she relocated to the neighboring island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, then spent time in Hanoi, Vietnam, before returning to Thailand to spend most of December in Chiang Mai.
Along with several other travelers, she’ll spend Christmas in a castle in Florence, Italy, and will remain in Europe to kick off the new year — with plans to also immerse herself in Portugal and Spain before moving on to the Netherlands.
Of course, as exciting and enriching as all of this is, living in foreign countries while also maintaining a career does come with challenges. In Thailand, for example, the power sometimes goes out — which limits her ability to work and communicate with clients. And even things that are inherently positive, like a workspace with an ocean view, can be a distraction until she’s had a chance to adjust.
Then, of course, are all the issues that can come up when you’re halfway around the world from the comforts and conveniences of your native country. Sander has found, though, that these difficulties often are also opportunities to see the best in others.
“Once you travel, you really see how nice people are,” she says. “Wherever you go, people are keen to help. It really helps establish the idea that we’re all just trying to make our way in the world and help where we can.”
Life-affirming experiences like these provide plenty of inspiration for her other chosen adventure: Writing.
“Whenever I put pen to paper, I never know where it’s going to go,” she says.
She adds that her passion for storytelling plays out not only in her consulting work but also in her personal writing, including a book and a travel blog. Anyone interested in these can follow her Facebook profile at facebook.com/MichelleSanderMedia or visit her website at MichelleSander.com. She also has a business website for her Marketing Consultation services, MichelleSanderMedia.com.
And for those with an urge to follow their own adventures, she has some words of advice.
“Whatever your adventure is, start today,” she says. “You don’t need much; just put your plan in motion, take the first step and keep taking steps day after day.”
As for her next steps, she knows she may not know all the specifics of how her future will pan out — but she does have a great template for shaping it.
“I wouldn’t mind if my future looks like the last few months, over and over again,” she says.
Written by Erin Wisdom