Finding Joy Building a Community in Tblisi, Georgia After 12 Years of Nomadic Life (Candy Treft’s Story)

This post is brought to you by one of the only items Candy always travels with  – a camera. She says the rest can be obtained along the way!

This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!

Candy has a fantastic story of becoming a nomad. She started as a traveling nurse in the US and later around the globe. Today, she’s settled in Tbilisi, Georgia. We love her emphasis on building community with other nomads as well as the locals. Be sure to check out her coloving and coworking space in Tbilisi if your nomading adventures take you there!

Thank you for being here with Freedom Is Everything, Candy!

Key takeaways from Candy’s interview:

“It’s totally ok to be scared, but don’t let that stop you from traveling. It can be overwhelming not knowing how to get around, what to eat, or the local language, but the uncomfortableness is so worth the stress. There is no better education than travel. Putting ourselves into new situations, seeing new places, and meeting new people is how we learn. You can certainly do your research ahead of time, but nothing will replace being on location.”

“I think if you’ve ever declared yourself a nomad, you’ll never not be a nomad. If you truly enjoy the ups and downs of moving locations several times per year, then you’ll never not be able to do it. But, there are times when one needs to settle for some time, to recollect, reflect and breathe easy.”

“Get involved with at least two communities: locals and other nomads. One, there is no better way to see the “real” side of a place other than through the locals. What are the best sites, best places to eat, favorite customs to experience–these are people who have lived, breathed, and experienced their city, and there’s no better perspective than theirs. Two, other nomads make other nomads feel welcome and comfortable from the get-go. There is a shared experience and knowledge between nomads, and you can make friends quickly with other nomads.”

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

Candy sits on a low stone wall next to a turquoise painted building with three kids sitting next to her

I’m from a small town in Indiana. Nothing too exciting there, but throughout my life, my big dreams and tons of ambition led me to become an entrepreneur. I’ve now done two start-ups: The Gypsy Nurse—a travelling nurse business and LOKAL—a cowork and colive business in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country). I don’t count countries, but I’ve probably traveled in over 50 countries and 48 of the 50 USA states (Alaska and Hawaii are still on the list). 

What I strive for in any of my work is to create community. Creating connections between travelers and locals is what I stand for and is the foundation for my current business. LOKAL was born out of a desire to have a home base for myself but to also create an environment where travelers felt at home as well. Having a “home” means integrating into the local community, and so, my team and I host many events that encourage travelers passing through LOKAL not just to interact with each other but to become life-long friends or colleagues.

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life? 

Many nomads (if not all) will say that they can’t quite articulate what it was that was missing from their lives, but something pushed them to give up life as they knew it and go on the road. It’s the same for me. I needed something more. As a travelling nurse, from 2004 – 2016, I already had the nomad life in my veins, living in many parts of the US. Stationed for 13 weeks in each location was just enough to get to know it but not long enough to get complacent with it. 

Being able to travel internationally seemed a dream. On a solo, international backpacking trip, a chance meeting threw me and my true inspiration for the nomad lifestyle together, Wes “Johnny Vagabond,” and through our many conversations in many different countries over many glasses of wine, I knew the nomad lifestyle was for me. But, I wasn’t independently wealthy, so I needed to make money along the way.

Long story short, I became The Gypsy Nurse. 

I worked on my startup “The Gypsy Nurse” for about seven years, 2012-2019, when running a booming business by myself became too much to handle; I sold the business and started looking for my next business adventure.

Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your business.

LOKAL was born out of a desire to give travelers a place where they could instantly integrate into two communities: other nomads and locals. Having traveled myself and knowing the importance of the two differing perspectives, I wanted to create a place where I could give that to others. I first visited Tbilisi in summer 2019 and saw it was an up-and-coming location for nomads. The cost of living is low, and the internet is good. I had an inkling that this could be a good location for a Cowork and Colive business, as no one else was doing it. I started a Facebook group that same summer, Tbilisi Digital Nomads, to gauge the interest of Tbilisi as a digital nomad haven, and by May 2020, there were 1450 group members. (We’re now at 3259 members.) I knew then that Tbilisi would be a good location to start this business. 

LOKAL soft-launched in Nov. 2019, official launch in Feb. 2020, and a re-launch in April 2021. I had some hiccups in the beginning, as new start-ups often do, not to mention COVID complications, but the business is in a good spot now (literally and theoretically), so I’m feeling confident that I made the right decision to base in Tbilisi. 

What caused you to stop nomading? 

Candy sits on a downed tree in the jungle with lots of green plants around her

Does one ever stop nomading? I think if you’ve ever declared yourself a nomad, you’ll never not be a nomad. If you truly enjoy the ups and downs of moving locations several times per year, then you’ll never not be able to do it. But, there are times when one needs to settle for some time, to recollect, reflect and breathe easy. 

I’m a busy body. I’m always doing something. After I sold The Gypsy Nurse, I took some time to reassess what was important to me to use that as a driver for my next career adventure. What came about was community. I love being around people, especially hosting them at events or parties. I love creating an environment that is welcoming and open, and fun. 

Through my backpacking trips, I’d stayed in many hostels or coliving places, and one of those trips took me to Tbilisi, the capital city of the Republic of Georgia. When I was there in Summer 2019, it was just starting to be on the radar of digital nomads, and I saw that there was an opportunity for a coliving and coworking business. There were no businesses that were combining the two, and so that’s what my mind settled on—starting a colive and cowork place in Tbilisi. 

By the end of 2019, I returned to Tbilisi and founded LOKAL. I’ve been here since! So, for now, I’ve stopped nomading; just not forever! My hope is that once LOKAL is up and fully functioning; I’ll be able to continue my nomad life using Georgia as a home base. 

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

Obviously, Tbilisi is high on the list. I love the diverse history here, the fact that it’s still developing, and the burgeoning nomadic community. The fact that Georgia has nearly everything you could ever want: mountains, sea, city, villages…just makes it even more appealing to me.

Other places that I’ve loved were Mexico – Mexico city holds it’s own charm; San Christobal de las Casas, and the entirety of the Chiapas region is remarkable. The food, culture, and weather top the list. Same for Guatemala; weather, culture, and ease of life are just a few reasons to give this part of the world a look. 

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

Get involved with at least two communities: locals and other nomads. One, there is no better way to see the “real” side of a place other than through the locals. What are the best sites, best places to eat, favorite customs to experience–these are people who have lived, breathed, and experienced their city, and there’s no better perspective than theirs. 

Two, other nomads make other nomads feel welcome and comfortable from the get-go. There is a shared experience and knowledge between nomads, and you can make friends quickly with other nomads. Fellow travelers provide a different perspective to the locals, and getting another angle to a place is always good. 

Additionally, be flexible. Don’t run a rigid itinerary – be open to doing something in the spur of the moment, go someplace you hadn’t planned, join a new acquaintance at an event/dinner/other. Just let life happen… 

If you’re a woman, person of color, and/or LGBTQ, what should other people who identify similarly (and who haven’t traveled much) know about traveling/nomading? 

candy treft smiles at the camera while wearing glasses on her head in a white room

It’s totally ok to be scared, but don’t let that stop you from traveling. It can be overwhelming not knowing how to get around, what to eat, or the local language, but the uncomfortableness is so worth the stress. There is no better education than travel. Putting ourselves into new situations, seeing new places, and meeting new people is how we learn. You can certainly do your research ahead of time, but nothing will replace being on location.

For someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur in your field, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend? 

Ask yourself if you have stamina. Being an entrepreneur, especially in the start-up phase and more especially if you’re a solopreneur, requires your dedication every minute of every day. You need mental capacity to make decisions and the time required to research. 

Ask yourself if you thrive on stress. It’s not always smooth sailing; there are plenty of downs to go with the ups. Sometimes they are unbalanced, and you have more downs. If you don’t handle stress well, you may rethink being an entrepreneur. 

Ask yourself if you’d love to see the positive impact your product can make. LOKAL has given me so much joy. To see travelers and locals interacting, becoming friends, talking business, partnering for business has been so rewarding, and it’s what keeps me going every day. Without all of the goodness that LOKAL is spreading and creating, I wouldn’t be able to keep going. 

Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain customers and scale your business? 

Facebook has been huge in getting the word out about LOKAL. Also, any PR opportunities, like the first-ever Colive Awards, interviewing with applicable magazines and bloggers, connecting with other cowork businesses outside of Tbilisi. 

What digital tools do you use for your work/business?

What don’t I use? Trello, WordPress, Zoom, Google Meet, WordPress, Slack, and so much more.

What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals? 

I’ll be honest that I’m not where I want to be, but COVID threw a wrench into so many start-ups that I’m not letting it discourage me. With that said, I’m nearly at a breakeven point for monthly expenses and have hired several Georgian staff members. 

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world? 

Travel somewhere different, eat a meal with someone from another culture, listen to a story from a person from another generation, shake hands with someone from another country. 

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without? 

Credit card and camera…anything else can be obtained along the way. 

How can people learn more about you and your work?

Facebook LOKAL Tbilisi 

Instagram LOKAL Tbilisi 

LOKAL Website 

 

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.