Published on March 3, 2014 | by Francy


Digital Nomads: Derek cultural enthusiast and perpetual wanderer

After the interviews to Stephen Lioy and to Mel, digitals nomads who have decided to leave all behind them and to travel the world and experience a new way of living, today is the day of Derek, a cultural enthusiast and perpetual wanderer! Let’s find out the ins and outs of his nomadic lifestyle in this interview!

Who is behind Holidaze?

My name is Derek Freal and I am a cultural enthusiast and permanent nomad. When traveling I focus more on learning about the culture of the region rather than visiting all the tourist hotspots or taking pretty photos. I want to make friends with some locals, go where they go, do what they do, eat what they eat. There is so much to do, see, and learn in this amazingly diverse world, why would I want to travel halfway around the world just to sit in a bar with a bunch of white people and drink beer? Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good beer — I’d just rather be drinking it with the locals as we share information about our different cultures, beliefs and practices.


At the start of 2009 I quit my promising corporate career and hit the road. After several years primarily spent in Asia and Central America I returned back to the States to find all of my old friends married and with kids. It soon became apparent that we couldn’t hang out and chat like the old days because of the time-consuming demands associated with raising a family. I also realized that I was wasting a lot of money paying for a house, truck and motorcycle that I was never even home to use. So at the start of 2013 I sold all of my possessions and hit the road again, this time vowing never to return to the States.

According to the Urban Dictionary the word Holidaze has 2 different meanings, the stress before major holidays, the day in which the stoners consume a lot of marijuana! Which one fits for your blog?

Hehehe great question. Honestly neither one fits perfectly but if I had to pick one it would be the latter. It’s no secret that I am an advocate of marijuana — I’ve written about it before on my blog, even did an expose of sorts on the California cannabis industry after working out there. (In fact depending on your choice of Google search terms that article pops up #2-#5 in search results and the resulting traffic still shocks me.) I also have found that people all over the world smoke marijuana, regardless of whether or not it is legal in their country. I sometimes joke about how I’ve found marijuana in every country I visit but the truth is I never actually look for it — it finds me. I make friends with “cool” locals and one thing uniting cool, creative, forward-thinking people all over the world is marijuana. Cannabis brings people together. It is not a drug but a natural, God-given herb.


My personal choice behind the name HoliDaze was of a completely different motive. For me, traveling is a bit of a “daze.” Everything is new and exciting, sometimes even overwhelming. I am constantly in awe, a permanent daze, over the things that I learn and witness on a nearly daily basis — even after having spent nearly five years transversing the globe. I am not on holiday but in a “holidaze.” And one of these days I am going to have to submit a third definition of holidaze to the Urban Dictionary.

Your site is made up of a blog, where you write about your adventures, but also of the travel community you created! Who are its participants, what is its mission and what does make it different from the others?

Back at the start of 2012 I had an idea for a travel site, a kind of community. See, the problem with travel blogs is that so many are active for six months or a year and then fade into oblivion as the blogger stops traveling or loses focus. I figured why not make an open site, one where travel lovers of all types — budget backpackers, luxury addicts, hostel owners, even armchair travelers — could contribute information and advice on the locations they know best. I didn’t want to make it strict, as in I had to edit and approve every post, but rather keep it open and free. For the first few weeks it was just me writing there about some of my experiences in my early years of travel, however soon a Twitter friend and fellow Texan, Bob of The Travelling Fool, joined the site. Since then around 125-150 different travel lovers have joined in, some only writing one article but others publishing a dozen or more.

Let’s jump back to 2008 now, when I took a three-month leave of absence from work and got a flat in Tokyo. In order to update my friends back in the States on my adventures while abroad I decided to start a blog on Blogger. My writing back then was laughable — only someone who actually knew me in real life would even want read it. But I wasn’t thinking about travel blogging back then, just wanting a way to let me buddies back home know that I wasn’t dead. For the next few years I would write a post every few months until 2012, when I bought the HoliDaze domain. As I was setting up the travel community I decided to also import my old blogger posts into WordPress and set up a subdomain ( to document my adventures. On this half of my site I am the only author and I don’t accept guest or sponsored posts.

Frozen Mountaintops

Through 2012 90% of site traffic was to the travel community portion of the site but in 2013 that started to shift. Now as of Feb 2014 80% of site traffic is directed at my blog. I am still trying to find a way to better merge the two halves but unfortunately as I am living life out of a backpack now, always on the road and rarely with reliable wifi, this is a task I have yet to accomplish. Hopefully over the next few months I will be able to accomplish this.

The title of your travel community is “Some eat, others try therapy. We travel” but also you taste local cuisine during your travels! And what a strange things you ate from raw cobra organs to balut! Why don’t you tell us something more about these food experiences you made?

It’s funny. When I first went to the Philippines in 2008 I was afraid of balut. I ate local food, sure, but that was one thing that grossed me out beyond all belief. For the next two years I dated a local Filipina and made many subsequent trips back to the Phils but never dared to try balut. However over the years since I’ve eaten many questionable, controversial and taboo things, from insects to scorpions and horses, even dog. No monkey brains yet but that one is a bit tougher to track down now as it has been banned in many of the regions formally associated with it. As I like to tell people, “Don’t be afraid of what I eat. Be afraid of what I won’t eat.” In January of this year I made my first visit back to the Phils in four years and so it was only fitting that I ate some balut. Wasn’t as bad as I had originally thought.

Browsing your web site I noticed you are able to provide people with a lot of services: house sitting, freelance writing, web design, advertising, so one is naturally led to wonder how can you succeed in doing so many things, and what’s your background?

Although I do all of them I certainly have not found success in every one, at least not yet. I’ve only done two house sits, one in America and one in Indonesia, and not near as much freelance writing as I’d like. Web design is the one I’ve had the most success with and this year I am starting to target travel bloggers and businesses in the travel/tourism industry with a new site advertising my abilities,, and of course a discounted rate. I designed my first site when I was 16 or 17 and have been doing that freelance on and off ever since. However my real work, the job I did for five years and the one that gave me the savings to travel for these last five years without having to find another “real” job, was in the IT field. I don’t miss it.

Rumor has it that you are also an actor, would you like to tell us more about this experience you had in Indonesia?

I’ve been to 20-21 countries so far but never had the luck that I did in Indonesia. It all started while sitting at breakfast one morning when a lady came up to me and asked, “Hey, are you Derek?” After two photo shoots and a screen test the director picked me. Then it was only the night before flying out to the set that I was informed “So you’ll be staring alongside Riyanni Djangkaru.” I didn’t know the name at that time but turns out she is a famous Indonesian traveler and former TV star turned magazine founder and save sharks activist. We hit it off the minute we met and became instant friends, often so busy chatting and joking that we wouldn’t even hear the director yell “Action!”

Film Derek

After becoming friends with Riyanni and continuing to spend more time with her after filming wrapped I started meeting other influential Indonesians. These include travel writers, actors / actresses, even a few musicians. As they started following and talking about me on Twitter my Indonesian following ballooned. Other things like my appearance on an Indonesian game show also helped. Before long I started tweeting in Bahasa Indonesia and just two weeks ago wrote my first post in Indonesian (and English, of course). While I am not yet 100% fluent I hope to be soon. Meanwhile the production company that did the film is working on pitching a couple different ideas for travel TV shows to the networks back in Indonesia so hopefully by the end of the year something will come to fruition.

You manage 14 different social media sites/profiles to distribute your work and you have great results in terms of people who follows you back! Why did you decide to join FB, that is considered one of the most popular social medias, at last?

My problems with Facebook are many. For starters it does a lot of harm too — countless relationships have ended due to FB drama, people have gotten fired and in some cases not even hired simply because of something they posted or commented on. Also people spend way too much time on there, especially when traveling abroad. Get off your phone and explore what’s around you. Then add in the fact that the site is openly monitored by the government and mined for data and I wanted nothing to do with it.

However over the years I’ve been denied press trips and other opportunities simply because I couldn’t provide promotion via Facebook. So finally, at the end of 2013, I broke down and joined but purely for work, not for personal intentions.

Some months ago you decided to sell all your possessions and leave all behind you for a 4-Year RTW Adventure! How did you come up with this idea? And how was preparing for it? Did you plan an itinerary or go where the road leads?

I did this because 1) I was spending too much money on my house and vehicles back home, not to mention plane trips back, and all for no reason; and 2) I had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the American government and what my tax dollars were supporting. As far as preparations, well I looked at a map and tried to find the longest distance I could travel by land/sea only. I decided Indonesia to Lisbon, Portugal would be my course and then mapped a rough route through as many countries as I could, including all 7 of the -stans. For the next four weeks though I was so busy liquidating all my possessions that I didn’t even have time to do any traditional planning, like research land transportation options or necessary shots. Once everything was sold I bought a one-way ticket and off I went.

Derek's travel planning

One big thing to know about me is that not only am I an advocate in slow travel but also in not making travel plans. I have found that the best adventures and experiences occur when you don’t make set plans. I don’t plan anything, not anymore. I used to. In fact I was supposed to meet three prominent travel bloggin’ buddies in Kuala Lumpur at the end of August but at the last minute I missed my flight and instead decided to extend my visa in Indonesia. Two days later I was approached to do that film. Had I stuck with my plan that never would have had that opportunity and then certainly never have become so well-connected in Indonesia. And then who knows where I’d be now 😉

As you wrote in your blog you don’t consider yourself a travel blogger but a cultural enthusiast and perpetual wanderer! Why would you like to underline this difference? And how do you define a digital nomad?

Too many travel bloggers write about the same tourist hotspots. I understand why — lots of people visit them and therefore lots of people are searching online for information on those locations. However I find this gets boring after a while. I can only read so many posts on the best things to do in Paris or see some ma photos of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore before I get sick of it all. I like to go to places other foreigners don’t — like Banyusumurup, a tiny traditional village in Indonesia that makes all of the keris, the traditional Indonesian daggers.


The only downside of this is that I don’t have luxury resorts in Bali or hotel chains offering me free stays anymore because my audience doesn’t give two cents about those kind of posts, which they could read about on so many other blogs. As such I spend a lot of money on the road and that is part of the reason why I’ve had to start pursuing additional sources of income, like web design and freelance writing, to allow me to keep living the expensive lifestyle that I’m used to.

In my mind a digital nomad is someone who has found a way to make an online income while also continuing to wander from country to country. It isn’t always easy to do but luckily thanks to the increased prevalence of wifi it is possible.

Many people imagine the digital nomad’s life as a life full of adventures, beautiful places and interesting encounters but at the price of some privations due to the time used to live instead of working. But you said something different, tell us more about this expensive lifestyle of yours!

That is the downside of things. Readers see our photos, the hear our stories and salivate over our adventures, but they don’t see the hard work that goes in behind the scenes. There are visa/customs hassles, 18-hour bus rides, missed flights, traffic jams, language barriers and dozens of other issues we have to deal with, both anticipated and unanticipated. It all takes a toll on us, both financially and physically. And that’s just for long-term travelers, let alone the digital nomads and travel bloggers. We also have to add on top of that the daily workload and nonstop emails, those loved and hated social media requirements one must constantly keep up with, not to mention the countless hours and sleepless nights spent slaving over a computer editing photos and videos.

Needless to say the stress gets to us. However I combat this by splurging on myself in the form of nice places, exquisite food and top-notch drinks. So yes, my bills add up. But I’ve gotten used to this lifestyle and I’d rather hard to maintain it then settle for anything less. I woudn’t change my life or my career for the world.


Do you have any advice for people considering long term traveling?

Long term travel isn’t for everyone. It can be very demanding, from simple things like being homesick or not being able to buy souvenirs because there is no room left in your backpack, to other more complicated things such as not being able to maintain a “normal” relationship. I recently wrote a post entitled The Occupational Hazards Of Travel Blogging but most of the things on that list apply to all long term travelers, not just bloggers.

As far as advice goes, just know what you are getting yourself into. It’s isn’t all sunny days and glamorous photos — there is also lots of stress associated with long term travel, especially for those blogging as well.

About the Author

Hi! My name is Francesca I love travelling, getting in touch with new lifestyles, new ways of thinking and most of all always discovering news places around the world! I like reading travel books and magazines, art and food. These are my passions that I try to share with you.

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