These Nomadic Nerds From Norway Left Their IT Jobs To Travel The World Full-Time & Create The World's Best Travel Content
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Maria & Espen
Maria has visited over thirty countries across four continents.
17th Jun | 11 min read

Table of Contents

    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with travelers from 170+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together. In this post, we're highlighting Nerd Nomads, a travel blog focusing on adventure travel and epic encounters, created by Maria Wulff Hauglann and Espen Egeland from Norway. They left their IT jobs to travel the world and established a travel blog in 2014.

    Maria has visited over thirty countries across four continents. She has an MBA and a master's degree in computer science. She left her IT job in 2018 to pursue a life of full-time travel.

    At the age of 19, Espen booked a one-way ticket to Indonesia in pursuit of excitement and embarked on his first journey as an independent traveler. Since then, he has traveled to more than 30 countries and six continents.

    You can also follow Nerd Nomads on Instagram as well. 

    Espen & Maria_Forbidden_City_Beijing_Kina_2005

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    How We First Met & Why We Decided To Travel Together

    We both grew up in Norway, Espen in Oslo and Maria in Tromsø. We met during our studies in Computer Science at the University of Tromsø and soon found out that we shared a mutual passion for traveling. We decided to take the last year of our master’s degrees in Computer Science in Australia. During that year we explored Australia as much as possible.

    After finishing our master’s degrees in 2005, we took off on a three-month journey through Asia. Our adventure took us through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and China. That trip changed our life, and from that moment we were hooked on traveling, adventures, and challenging our comfort zone.


    How Frequently We Travel & What Activities We Enjoy While Traveling

    We usually travel full-time and spend at least six months a year in Asia. With this pandemic, however, we haven’t done any international traveling since 2019!

    We have been traveling mostly in our home region of Northern Norway for the past two years, but 2022 will be the year that we head out into the world again. We are currently planning a six-month trip to Asia. 

    Some of our favorite activities are kitesurfing, hiking, skiing, yoga, and surfing. We are also foodies and love finding local restaurants, markets, and cafe gems.

    We also enjoy exploring national parks and seeing wildlife like in Sri Lanka where we spotted wild elephants, leopards, deer, crocodiles, and colorful peacocks and birds.


    How We Decide Where To Go Next & How Long Each Of Our Trips Last

    We love Asia and have been focusing on this region so far. Asia is so vast and fascinating, and we feel that we have still only dipped our toes in this part of the world. Within Asia, we follow our hearts and travel where we want. Although we must admit that we have a habit of revisiting our favorite countries - Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia are countries that we often return to.


    We are slow travelers and like to really explore each place we visit, and we take a ton of photos and videos. Often we spend months in each country we visit. This enables us to write in-depth articles and travel guides that are thoroughly researched and filled with the sort of local gems, sights, and attractions that you often only discover by living in a place for a while.

    Before we go, we will read tons of guide books, travel blogs, and other travel resources and have sketched out a rough travel route with the main sights before setting off. But we like to be as free and flexible as possible so that we can make changes along the way. When we have decided on a location, we usually just book transport and a hotel for the first couple of nights. The rest we figure out as we go. A big part of our research happens while traveling and our favorite thing is to talk to and hang out with the locals. That way we get tips on the best restaurants, cafes, hotels, and sights directly from the people that live there.


    How We Pack For Our Trips

    Packing is not our favorite part of traveling, and Maria tends to over-pack and bring way too many dresses. We are definitely not carry-on only people.

    Each of us travels with a big 80 l bag (with wheels) that can be converted into a backpack + a camera backpack as a carry-on. Espen travels with a small traveler guitar as he is an eager guitar player. Maria has a yoga mat in her bag, and a ton of mosquito repellent after having Dengue Fever a few years back. Cameras are of course mandatory for us when we travel. Packing cubes are also lifesavers as well as noise-canceling headphones.


    How We Manage Work & Travel

    Since we spend a lot of time at each place, we’ll regularly take some days off from exploring to work on Nerd Nomads. But it is a struggle to find the right balance between working and traveling, and it can feel overwhelming at times. That’s one of the main reasons why it is important for us to travel slowly. When we return back home to Norway, we have a ton of work to catch up on and photos to edit.


    Cool Travel Experiences That We Can Share

    There have been so many memorable experiences but one of the highlights was a three days boat trip to Komodo National Park in Indonesia. Just an amazing out-of-this-world experience! Seeing the gigantic Komodo Dragons, snorkeling among gracious Manta Rays, sleeping on a remote beach like Robinson Crusoe with the milky way above our heads, and witnessing thousands of bats fly over our boat in the evenings was just amazing. 


    Another cool experience was when we stayed at a Buddhist temple in the mountains of Koyasan in Japan. Koyasan is one of Japan’s most sacred sites, being the center of Shingon Buddhism. The mountain village is full of monk-run temples surrounded by lush landscapes and dark forests. We visited Koyasan in December and the winter cold and frozen landscape gave the whole area special tranquility and beauty. We really enjoyed talking to the monks and learning about their lifestyle, eating their vegetarian cuisine (called Shojin Ryori), and joining the monks in their morning prayer and meditation.


    Inspiration For Starting 'Nerd Nomads'

    In short, with Nerd Nomads we are on a mission to create the world’s best travel content!

    Our goal is to create travel articles and guides and take photographs and videos that we ourselves would find inspiring and helpful when planning a journey. Guides that are accurate, detailed, up-to-date, and based on our personal travel experiences, both the good and the bad.

    We decided early on not to accept paid or free travel, go on press trips or publish sponsored content. Instead, we prefer to travel independently and pay for our trips. That way, we can go where we want, have authentic local experiences, and maintain complete control over every word written on Nerd Nomads.


    Our Favorite Memory Of Meeting New Friends & Exploring With Locals

    One of the best things about traveling for us is meeting new people, both locals and other travelers. We have been fortunate to make many friends along the way, that we come back and visit regularly.


    In the small mountain village of Ella in inland Sri Lanka, we went on several hikes with a local 82-year-old guide who was the sweetest and most charming gentleman we have ever met.

    He took us walking in the tall mountains covered by a sea of green tea bushes, wearing his sarong and walking on bare feet. On one of our hikes, he took us to visit a local Hindu village where we were invited for tea by one of his childhood friends. It was such a fantastic and unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

    Countries We Have Traveled To Together & Our Bucket List

    We have probably traveled to more than 30 countries together. Traveling to us is, however, not about the number of countries but more about the experiences. 

    Some of our most remarkable adventures have been to Asia. Adventures that were especially rewarding were hiking and canoeing in the tropical rainforest Taman Negara in Malaysia (which is impressively 130 million years old!), diving with huge gracious Manta rays in Komodo National Park in Indonesia, kitesurfing in Kalpitiya in Sri Lanka, and exploring China from north to south during winter by local trains where nobody spoke any English. 

    Hiking along the Great Wall of China, exploring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and seeing the old cathedrals and colosseum in Rome and Paris, are travel memories that we particularly cherish. 


    We do have a bucket list of places we want to visit, and the list keeps growing. On our travel-wish-list are some of the biggest wonders of the world like the pyramids in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Petra in Jordan. A trip to Africa is also high up on our list - with the classic safari experience, Victoria Falls, and wild gorillas safari. We also have some Asian countries on our list, like South Korea, the Philippines, and Borneo where we have never been.

    How We Keep Track Of Our Expenses When Traveling

    Many of the Asian countries are low-cost, at least compared to Europe and the US. We also try to avoid peak seasons, as the shoulder seasons or off-seasons are much cheaper. And since we travel slowly, we negotiate long-stay prices with hotels and apartments. 

    We eat like the locals and mostly seek out street food, and markets, and only once in a while do we eat at more expensive restaurants. When eating at more expensive restaurants, a tip is to opt for their lunch menu instead of dinner as lunch is often way cheaper and in some cases the same dishes. 

    Also, you can save a lot on using local transport, like local buses and trains. And we love walking and bicycling which is also great exercise and a brilliant way to see the surroundings. We do a little bit of travel hacking and save up bonus points with some loyalty/ credit card programs that we use to get discounted flights.


    Our Say About GAFFL

    GAFFL is a fantastic site where you can find new friends and travel buddies. On Espen’s first trip to Asia back in the pre-internet era, he actually put up a note in a travel agent store in Oslo seeking a travel buddy. He got several responses and ended up going to Thailand and Bali with a complete stranger that later became one of his best friends.  

    With GAFFL finding a travel buddy is much easier, and solo traveling to new places is not as scary anymore, and I think it will help more people step out of their comfort zone and travel more. 


    As for other apps and websites, we use TripIt to organize our bookings for our upcoming trips, Skyscanner to search for cheap flights, and Sonya to keep track of our expenses and receipts

    Major Obstacles That Face

    These days, our main obstacle is definitely the pandemic! It has made traveling much more difficult by closing a lot of borders, especially in Asia. And for the countries that are open for visitors, you have to plan ahead more, keep updated on ever-changing restrictions, and do a lot of paperwork. We also have families and a dog back home that we miss when staying away for too long.


    Advice For Travelers Who Desire To Travel Full-Time

    One of the very few good things about this pandemic is that it is now easier than ever to work remotely and to become a digital nomad. With everyone being stuck working from home for the past two years, it seems like employers have become more open-minded towards having employees working from wherever (as long as you have internet). This means there are now more opportunities to find work that can be combined with traveling and exploring the world.


    Things We Wish We Had Known When We First Started Traveling

    I wish I knew to relax more and not to worry so much about everything. While things go wrong from time to time while traveling, most things are fixable and it usually works out well in the end.


    Travel has shown me that there is more to life than climbing the career ladder and working 9-5. Through meeting people from different cultures, I have become more confident and open-minded. I now know I can handle overcrowded old buses, squat toilets, and strange food. We have actually learned a lot about ourselves through traveling and met some amazing people along the way. Travel has shown us that doing what we love makes us happier than having a lot of belongings.

    Other exciting travel stories you might enjoy!

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