My guest today is Liesbet Collaert who has a lifestyle that is very different to those of us who rarely stir from our comfort zones, except for the odd couple of weeks holiday.
Let’s find out more about Liesbet before finding out Belgium, her favourite leisure pastimes, the impact of modern technology and the five experiences we should all tick off our bucket list. Liesbet also shares some of her photographs from her travels which will certainly create wanderlust in most of us.
About Liesbet Collaert
Liesbet Collaert is a bilingual translator, proofreader, freelance writer and photographer from Belgium who has been writing and traveling her whole life. She specializes in sailing and cruising articles and has been published in all the major US, European, and Caribbean sailing magazines. Her (feature) stories and photos have appeared in Cruising World, Sail/Multihull Sailor, BWS/Multihulls Quarterly, Islands, Latitude 38, Latitudes & Attitudes (discontinued), Living Aboard (discontinued), Yachting World, Sailing Today, All At Sea, Caribbean Compass, Zeilen, and Varen. She has also been interviewed by IWAC (Interview with a Cruiser project), World Reviewer, Multihull Sailor, Infogem, and Flair, and has contributed to extensive cruising surveys for All At Sea and Caribbean Compass.
Books available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liesbet-Collaert/e/B073C9F8TW
And Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Liesbet-Collaert/e/B073C9F8TW
Liesbet published two walking tour guides of the Caribbean capital cities Marigot and Philipsburg when residing in St. Martin/St. Maarten on her sailboat Irie and is currently working on a memoir about her eight-year cruising journey in the Caribbean and South Pacific, incorporating her unique life’s experiences. While she is a very independent and free-spirited soul, her American husband Mark Kilty has played an important role in the last decade of her life. They are currently roaming about the United States while taking care of other people’s homes and pets.
Yosemite National Park – California
If your country of birth is not the country you now live in, tell us about it and what you miss most.
My home country is Belgium, where I was born, grew up, studied and worked for a few years as a primary school teacher. One summer in 2003, at age 27, I set out on an overland adventure in the US and Canada with my then American boyfriend (whom I’d met in Australia in 2001). One thing led to another, and I never returned. I have been a full-time nomad and “world citizen” since then, traveling and living in campers, on a sailboat and – for the last 2+ years – in other people’s homes as a house and pet sitter, while making money as a freelancer along the way. Currently and in the near future, my husband and I will remain in the United States, until I get my citizenship. That will be my new path to freedom and less border hassles!
I try to go back to Belgium once a year, to visit friends and family, which are – as you can imagine – the “things” I miss most from my native country. There are certain local foods and delicacies that I crave when abroad, like pastries, fresh bread, wholesome dairy products, extra dark chocolate, Liege waffles, and, of course, our biggest specialty of all: Belgian fries, as they should be called instead of French fries. And, before you wonder why I’m not mentioning our world-renowned brews, I am, indeed, a rare Belgian who does not like or drink beer.
While Brussels is often called the capital of Europe, Belgium is a bit of an underdog. I always compare my country to New Zealand in relationship to Australia, or Canada in relationship to the US. I like it that way. Just like those countries, we pack a punch and are small, but significant. There are many historical cities worth a visit – my favorites: Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, and Ieper. But, if you ever visit this densely populated place on a European tour, don’t blink or you miss it!
Society Islands, French Polynesia
Which is your favourite leisure pastime?
I guess that would be travel. While I had a pretty normal European youth, where my parents would take me and my brother on annual summer vacations to Southern Europe, I have always had a desire for adventure and the unfamiliar. I’m curious, I want to explore. As a teenager, I saved my pocket money to travel, leading to a 5-week hitchhiking odyssey to Italy with a friend when I was 17, and summer getaways throughout Europe and India later on.
I was raised in a modest way, financially. Being frugal my whole life, meant I could mostly live it on my own terms, incorporating lots of budget travel. I wasn’t (and still am not) interested in gadgets or “stuff” and saved most of my income to explore the world. Back in Belgium, I rented an affordable apartment and biked to work. I used public transportation or borrowed my dad’s car to venture further afield. I have never owned a house or a car, but collected incredible memories instead. It is amazing how liberating it feels to just pack up your things and move on.
Travel defines my life and lifestyle, but it is the act of flexibility and going with the flow that brought me to where I am now. After graduating as a teacher, I backpacked around Southeast Asia for a year. That’s when my real sense for adventure was awakened. After two years at work in Belgium, I jumped on a plane to SE Asia again, adding Australia and New Zealand to the itinerary. This year of backpacking, I’d set out on my own. It was incredible, and I learned that, with so many like-minded souls out there, I was rarely ever really alone or lonely.
I returned to Belgium for another two years, which brings me to that fateful July of 2003. A year and a half of RVing in the US and Canada led to another year of camping experiences in Mexico and Central America. My future husband and I contemplated moving to Belize after that, but settled for a 35’ sailing catamaran instead. We found our new floating home in Annapolis, Maryland, after two months of tent camping, with our two big rescue dogs. Yes, we had two dogs on our drive to Panama and back as well. Initially, we had the Bahamas in mind as a cruising destination, but, eight years later, we found ourselves in Tahiti, where we sold our trustworthy Irie in 2015. Since then, we have been roaming the US as full-time house and pet sitters.
Fatu Hiva, French Polynesia
What is next? Well… we recently bought a camper van. Think about the potential! We have a reliable roof above our heads in times of need again, and a means to explore… South America, maybe?
In your lifetime, what event or invention has most impacted your own life or work?
There is only one answer to this question for me: the internet. When I first started traveling, I kept “in touch” with post cards, letters, poste restante (general delivery at local post offices) and expensive international calls. My parents might have been happier about this invention than me! Thanks to email and Skype, my husband and I have been able to keep in touch with loved ones all these years. Blogging has made my life “easier” since 2007, when I started logging stories and photos online about our adventures on our sailboat Irie, instead of writing and emailing monthly reports to a group of friends and family in English and Dutch.
On a work level, the internet is and has been indispensable for me and my husband. It has allowed us to work from the most remote places. Yes, that need to work has restricted us in terms of where we could go or anchor, but we partly solved that by inventing a long-range WiFi (and now also cell data) device to grab weather reports, stay in touch, and work from the comfort of our boat. We turned this product into a business in 2009 from St. Martin. My husband has been running our Wirie business successfully ever since. I earn extra income as a freelance writer and translator. Without the internet, we could not maintain our nomadic lifestyle.
What are the top five experiences or activities that you feel that everyone should complete in their lifetime?
- Before getting married, I would suggest every couple to travel with their partner for a full year, being together 24/7. That will make or break any relationship! And, no, I’m not suggesting to do so on a 35ft sailboat. If this is not possible, you should at least live together for a few years and go on several vacations as a couple. Not only will this enlighten you about your compatibility level and give you quality time to really get to know each other, but, the shock of being in each other’s company full-time when retiring will be reduced.
- Do at least one thing to expand your horizons or get out of your comfort zone. For me, it was bungy jumping, but it doesn’t have to be this extreme. An unfamiliar yet invigorating experience will teach you a lot about yourself and your (lack of) limitations.
- Whether it is a bucket list, dreams or goals you have created with not-to-be-missed activities, sights or experiences-of-a-lifetime, make sure you do at least one of them before it’s “too late.”
- Which brings me to not necessarily an experience or an activity to be completed in your lifetime, but a general and foolproof suggestion: do not postpone what is important to you now if at all possible. Really. It might be a cliché, but you do only live once and there is no way of telling what the near future looks like. Enough with the excuses! If there is a place on this earth you are dying to visit, please, (please, please) don’t wait until you are retired. So much can change, and I’m not only talking about your health here. Although, until a life-threatening event happens to you or a loved one, it is hard to realize how meaningful this plea is. Believe me, you don’t want to wait until something drastic happens to understand the importance of my suggestion. Go. Now! Do it. Now!
- Travel, of course. It is mind-opening. It is enriching. It gets you out into the world, meeting extraordinary people, savoring exotic foods, experiencing different cultures, witnessing the most amazing natural sights and, my favorite, it provides unique opportunities for wildlife encounters in their natural habitat.
The Abacos, Bahamas
And, just for fun, since I know this question is probably on your lips… My favorite places in the world so far? The Galapagos Islands for wildlife, the San Blas Islands in Panama for its indigenous indians, French Polynesia for its hospitality and cultural celebrations, Barbuda for the beaches, the Eastern Caribbean for sailing, South East Asia for architecture and affordability, Australia for diversity, and the Western United States for its National Parks.
Work in progress, plans for the blog in the next year, any special upcoming events?
I am currently working on a memoir about a decade in my life (my thirties), incorporating the joys, trials, and tribulations of a life less ordinary on a 35’ sailboat. It is a story about love, loss and living in the moment, meant to entertain, inspire, and surprise the reader, and keep them wondering what’s next on this crazy journey called “my life”.
With my memoir and my other writing, I hope to encourage people to enjoy life in a way that might not be mainstream. Unfortunately, because of this desire to explore and the guilt of sitting behind my computer when it is a nice day out, and all other kinds of distractions, projects and unexpected circumstances, this memoir appears to be a long-term project. The first draft is finished, but I need to cut it in half and shape it into a compelling narrative. I do hope to finish this book by the end of 2018.
No upcoming plans for my Roaming About blog yet. I enjoy writing it and sharing my experiences and photos from the road and while house and pet sitting. I know my topics could be more informative, focused and themed, and the posts more engaging, but I find it hard sometimes to find the energy and time to create “perfect” blog posts.
Maupiti, French Polynesia
Favorite piece of music:
Anything from the Eddie Vedder album “Into the Wild” (the soundtrack of the movie with the same name) – the story, movie, location and music resonates strongly with me.
The soundtrack to the film: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Music-Motion-Picture-Into-Wild/dp/B000WDXNSQ
©Liesbet Collaert images.
Connect to Liesbet
I am sure that you have enjoyed this interview as much as I have and Liesbet is looking forward to your feedback. Thanks for dropping by.. Sally.