Stella is a Dutch and German-born social nomad, constantly on the move, who makes with her business an impact in the world. With a captivating enthusiasm in her manner of speaking, she managed to give me an insight of her journey, adventures in Africa and upcoming inspiring projects. With 22STARS she empowers families in Uganda to rise above poverty by helping them to design and sell jewellery. She also has a foundation that sends more than 98 children long-term to school and gives them weekly meals, medicine and clothes. In addition, she hosts workations in Uganda to bring Digital and Social nomads over here to co-work together with locals to make a change.
Where are you living now?
I am living… nowhere. In 2008 I travelled around the world for 9 months. In 2010 I left the Netherlands to study abroad and have different expat jobs. Since 2014, I am completely focused on 22STARS and I have no expat life anymore and no fixed address. I am a couple of times a year in Uganda for my projects. When I am not there I am anywhere. Right now I am in Kampala for about 4-6 weeks. I don’t know yet when exactly I will leave. But in May I need to be in Colombia for the Nomad Cruise, on which I will give a talk
What’s your favorite thing about the this city?
When I travel I am mostly not that often in big cities anymore. I usually travel to smaller places, like right now- in Uganda. Obviously the capital Kampala is big, but I am not all the time here. I just spend a few days in a national park up north, and now I will be in a small village close to Jinja. What I like about Kampala would be definitely the people, who are extremely kind and sweet. Also, in Kampala you can find really good restaurants and eat something else than rice and beans.
What’s your LEAST favorite thing about the city?
As with the other bigger cities, I do not like the traffic jams and pollution.
Is there a little known fact about the city people might find interesting?
Well, the most interesting fact I would say would be: HUG YOUR BODA BODA GUY! You will soon realize that moving on a boda boda (motorcycle) is the easiest and fastest way to move around here. However, as traffic can be a bit chaotic I recommend you to really hold on strong to your boda guy not to fall off the bike…
Where is your favorite place you’ve ever lived and why?
I would go with Cape Town in South Africa. I really loved it a lot! There are nice restaurants, nice people and the scenery is just gorgeous. I loved hiking up Table Mountain, Lions Head, etc. And also outside of Cape Town, you will find lovely beaches and beautiful landscapes.
What is your LEAST favorite place you’ve ever lived and why?
I cannot really say that I have a LEAST favourite place because in my opinion, every place has its charm. When I am in someplace I do not find that attractive at first, I kind of make a game out of it to find its hidden gems and secrets and understand what the locals like about it. I do believe that a lot of times when we feel bad about a certain place, it has more to do with our mindset than actually the place itself.
What was the EASIEST country you’ve ever visited (i.e. easiest immigration, easiest to open a local bank account, etc)?
I lived a few months in Curacao in the Caribbeans, which is a Dutch Island. Since I am from the Netherlands it was quite easy for me there- everyone spoke Dutch and they even sold Dutch food. Fun fact: they still had the old Dutch gulden and not the euro.
Have you ever had any problems in a country? (i.e. immigration issues, getting robbed, etc.)
When I travel I always try to have 4 eyes in my head and calculate risks very well. Fortunately, nothing bad has ever happened to me even though I’ve travelled to more than 20 countries in Africa and some countries that have a negative travel advice. I cannot say that I always felt safe, as I didn’t but nothing bad ever happened. I always seem to run into an angel that helps me out of certain situations.
Do you prefer one region of the world over another, and why?
Not really, I love variations and I love all parts of the world. Every place has something special and when I am moving there is always something that I miss from a certain place, but then I also get something new and exciting for it in return. For example, although it is easy for me in some African countries as they speak English, I also really loved living in China where couldn’t understand nor read anything. It was a completely new challenge which made me learn other communication skills and to look at the world in a different manner.
Is there anything that would make you settle down and stop traveling as much?
My family. If something bad would happen to my parents and they need my help and/or need me to be there, I would immediately stop traveling and come back to them.
Who has been the most influential person on your travels (someone that encouraged you to start, or someone who has influenced you along the way)?
I can definitely say my mother! She moved with me to the Netherlands when I was 6 years old. When I was a teenager we would go on trips together with her and every summer she would send me to her family in Italy, where I would be staying for 2 weeks with my Italian family who do not speak a word of English (and I could not speak Italian).
I guess since I am little I am used to be by myself in a new environment. When I grew older (over 21) and started traveling my mother always encouraged me and she would even visit very often in places all over the world. She joined me in China, Vietnam, Miami, HK, Mexico, the Caribbean, and last year she even came to Uganda and went camping with me.
If you were coaching a new nomad, what would you recommend they do to get started?
One of my favourite quotes is: ‘What you do for yourself dies with you, what you do for others lives on forever.” I would recommend every aspiring nomad to keep that in mind and make it an incentive for starting their business/travels.
Always ask yourself whether you’re giving back with what you do and if not, how you can make that happen. Make a difference to the world with what you do. Surround yourself with positive people that believe in you and uplift you. And try to not get distracted from your end goal, or let any setback bring you down.
What country would you recommend a new nomad go to FIRST?
Uganda. Don’t go to all the countries where everyone already goes. Try something new. Uganda is safe and the people are extremely friendly.
What is one country that you have not been to but is high on your list, and why?
Oh, I have so many countries! I would love to go to Japan, as I think they have a very interesting culture, amazing food, and a beautiful country. I also would love to visit all the -STAN countries since I have never been in that part of the world, even though I have already researched the visas requirements. For some countries, it is very hard to get a visa and some are obviously not that safe. So, in the end, I thought it would be better not to travel there alone by myself but first find a travel mate to join me.
What was the most unexpected surprise you ever encountered as a nomad?
The kindness and goodness of people. When I am traveling I always find so many amazing people with a good heart who help me or other persons around me.
What was the biggest mistake you made that other nomads can learn from?
Being too afraid of failing. In the beginning, I was very hesitant in doing things with 22STARS, as I thought that perhaps it was not a good idea or perhaps I should look for another job which is more safe and stable. So you could say I had a slow start.
In addition, do not try to do everything by yourself. I should have outsourced things earlier and should have surrounded myself earlier with the entrepreneurs who lift me up, think alike and understand the challenges that I am facing.
How do you meet new people while living the nomad lifestyle? Do you ever get lonely?
I travel a lot in Africa by myself, therefore it can be a bit lonely indeed. However, when I am not here I meet up with my friends from the digital nomad community. I bumped two years ago in Cape Town into many digital nomads, then I met them again in Tarifa and went a few times on the nomad cruise trips. In May there is another nomad cruise and many of my friends will join again from all around the world. We are really like a little community and I cannot wait to meet up with them again.
In the meantime, I chat with my friends frequently and I have even started organizing workations in Uganda, to get more people over here! I see that many people are hesitant of going to Africa- they think that the internet here does not work or that it is not a safe place which is really not true. Uganda is an amazing country. And while you are here you can get involved in many social projects to also give back to the local community of the country that you are visiting.
To read more about Stella Romana Airoldi and her projects visit her website 22STARS.