Merel van der wouden
Merel van der wouden
Dutch. Digital nomad and #girlboss who paved her way from corporate to dreamlife.
Home: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Countries Travelled: 50
With her laptop, Merel works anywhere in the world she fancies as long it has Wi-Fi. Her real life is chockful of instaworthy moments of Bali, LA, surfing, beaches, yoga, volcano treks, bikinis, deserts and other hipster photographic gold. The #travelenvy her instagram posts evoke though, with her working under a palm tree by the pool, is the product of actual hard work. Armed with her Master’s and leaving the corporate life in traildust, she now works remotely as a negotiation coach empowering women. It’s hard to keep track where she lives, but we can assume it’s somewhere cool.
The Call To Travel
Women wear many hats. I think it’s safe to say ‘traveller’ is one you wear — you’ve been to some amazing places! What made you put that hat on and start your mission to see the world? Was there a significant pivotal moment or did it happen gradually?
When I was younger we would go camping with my parents and in the winter we would go skiing. Active holidays, but always in Europe.
When I was 13 I took my first plane ride to Greece together with my mom. I started to get really interested in different cultures, religions and languages. When my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday it was always a flight ticket to a far destination.
When I turned 18 I asked my parents for a ticket to Mexico. From there on it happened fast!
In 2009 I decided it was time for more adventure and went to study a part of my Master’s in Singapore (National University of Singapore, Law School).
We know it’s hard to pick, but if you had to pick just one, what would you say was your favourite trip ever?
This is really hard. If I go by how happy I felt, it will be Hawaii! I won (!) a trip to a 3-day yoga festival called Wanderlust in Oahu, Hawaii. The beauty of Hawaii, the festivals ambiance, the nature, the culture, the vibe, seeing turtles while surfing, running along the beach and seeing baby seals, pink sunsets, well everything was so special.
Got any funny stories from your experiences out in the world?
When I was trekking in Peru, I had to go to the washroom in the middle of the night. It was dark. I got stuck in the mud.
We found out later was a pile of cow poo. My friend couldn’t stop laughing! I was in flip flops and it was everywhere between my toes…I’ll always remember that.
Bonus fact: there were no showers, as we were trekking for 5 days to see Machu Picchu.
How big a role does travel play in your life?
I think travel is part of me, so it’s one of the biggest roles next to love and sports. Travel is freedom!
The Power of Travel
For Women & Personal Growth
As a female traveller, did you face any barriers or naysayers when you first wanted to travel independently/lots? How did you overcome them?
Naysayers. Yes I did and I always will, but that’s ok. A lot of people who tell you not to go to certain places haven’t even been to those places. I remember that my dad called me, when I was about to leave Ecuador for Colombia by bus through the FARC area, and told me he would pay my ticket to anywhere as long as I didn’t go to Colombia. People back home had told him it was extremely dangerous for his daughter to travel to Colombia. I didn’t take the advice (sorry dad!) and went to Colombia to have an amazing month! Little side note: that same night another bus got stopped by the FARC and a France journalist got hostaged.
Barriers as well, you have to be careful when you’re alone as a women, but just be smart. Know where you’re going, know the culture, know what’s ok for women and what is not, adapt to the local rules. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. I sometimes had bad feelings about certain taxi drivers in Ecuador. I would not get in!
Have you ever encountered a difficult situation that tested your strength, and taught you something new about yourself?
Yes, I’ve encountered so many difficult situations like getting hospitalized in rural areas or having no money or working ATM’s. The best lesson I learned is: stay positive and look for solutions, don’t go negative, because there’s always a way!
Would you say that travelling has had a strong impact in making you who you are today? Meaning, if we took away all your travel experiences, if you had never travelled, would you be a different person?
Totally. I’ve learned so much about different cultures, religions, languages, norms and values, but I’ve learnt even more about myself and some of my limiting beliefs. Beliefs I was taught from a young age growing up in The Netherlands. Life and traveling is an endless discovery.
What’s the single best thing in your life, anything at all, that has ever come out travelling for you personally?
I think I learned to be more compassionate. Understanding that people come from different backgrounds and have different norms and values. My norms and values are not necessary the “right” ones. You have to be open to learn from anybody and flexible to adapt. As soon as you learn that, traveling can be so amazing. You meet people from all over the world and you learn so much.
Has travel ever been a remedy?
Yes, totally. Bali was my remedy. I choose Bali to find and loose myself, to get to know myself better, to do a mindfulness course and learn to surf. During this period I ended a long term relationship, fell in love again, broke up again and never felt so unhappy in my life, but I came out so much stronger and happier. I found myself gain.
It’s not uncommon for girls to be told they shouldn’t travel solo, or without guys. What do you say to that?
I understand it’s a little bit more dangerous, but just travel wisely. Don’t ever let fear hold you back!
Despite everything you have accomplished, I’m sure you sometimes still get negative comments. What are some of the sexist nonsense you get often, but never let it stop you?
“Why are you still traveling? You should get married and have babies. ”
“Did you graduate from Law School? You don’t look like a lawyer! ”
“You must hate men, because you’re a feminist”
“When are you settling down and buying a house?”
Under Her Cape
Experiences on the Road
Why did you decide to quit it all and build your own empire?
I was working 4 years as a Business Consultant in Toronto and I felt I didn’t live purposeful enough. I knew I could do better by doing something I’m passionate about.
What do you do as a Negotiation Consultant?
I teach women the negotiation strategies to successfully negotiate their salaries/fees.
Is it great being a #girlboss?
Its amazing! It gives me freedom and there’s a big group of supportive women around me.
What’s the hardest part of this journey? Do you ever regret it?
The hardest part for sure is the unstable income. Going from a competitive salary to living like a student again.
I never regret it, but to be honest: I don’t regret a lot of things. In life we live and we learn, it’s about the journey.
What is it like dating when you’re travelling long-term?
It’s complicated, because you both have different travel plans and sometimes you both don’t want to change plans! When you’re older you sometimes travel with a certain goal, to find yourself, to learn a language, to surf at certain destinations, so when do you let love stop that? As you can guess my relationship ended.
When you travel, you meet men from different cultures, with different looks and different ways. How has that shaped your expectations or appreciation of men when it comes to dating?
I think it’s amazing that we meet different people. It changed my expectations and appreciation as well. I think I’m a much better match with Latin or Spanish men than Dutch men. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t gone out and travelled!
Have you ever fallen in love while travelling?
Yes, I did when I was living the digital nomad life in Bali. I fell in love and I decided to join my new love for a campervan surftrip in Australia. Waking up next to empty beaches, surfing with dolphins, no toilets, no showers, but just us, the surfboards and nature. It was amazing!
What should girls look out for when dating travellers?
Just be aware of the different cultures and expectations. Be clear and communicate. Never do something you don’t want. Also understand that everybody is on their own journey and not necessarily looking for love.
What is the best thing about travelling solo?
That you make connections much faster and that you only do what you want!
Does it ever get lonely?
Yes it does, but I think that’s good, because in those times you get to know yourself. You ask yourself the questions, why am I feeling lonely? I deal with it by asking those questions to see what is the underlying cause.
When you first move cities, how do you make friends?
The best way is to join a sport club or a community. In Toronto I joined a run club and made the best friends within a couple of weeks and ran 2 marathons with them!
How do you keep fit on the road?
I work out a lot. I try to be active every day. From surfing to running to high intensity training in the gym, to yoga and surfing. I love it all!
What advice do you have for young girls building expectations and measuring themselves against what they see on Instagram?
That’s a tough question, but I think it starts with acknowledging that we should not compare ourselves (easier said than done). Everybody is unique and when you can be truly yourself and be authentic, you’re amazingly strong. I hope girls understand that Instagram is sometimes a really fake world, but great things can happen on Instagram as well.
Reflections and Pearls of Wisdom
Empowering Other Women
What are your top 5 beauty and fashion items you cannot do without?
Dry shampoo, day cream, eyebrow gel, razor and toothbrush.
What would you say to any girl who is out there thinking she would like to travel the world, but is afraid to do it because she’s been told she’s “just a girl”?
Go and travel! Its the best and you will meet amazing and like minded people along the way.
If there is one thing you could say to your younger self what would it be?
Live your life, find your passion and purpose, be fearless, be compassionate, do what your tells you to do, live and learn.
And for the last parting pearl of wisdom, What is one thing you’d like every woman to know that could help her lead her best life?
YOU’RE AMAZING and you got this! Better an oops than a what if!