She reminds me of Moana. Maybe it’s her look. Maybe it’s the fierce sparkle in her eyes, her confidence, or her independence. Maybe it’s her adventurous spirit and her eventful life. Maybe it’s that she’s a wayfinder and a leader. Maybe it’s her cheerful smile. Or maybe it’s her lifelong relationship with nature.
“Only in Suriname can you sleep in the purest jungle on a private island where no one will ever find you, catch piranhas, and light dead trees around the island as candles.”
Those words alone say a lot about Michelle Maree, founder and CEO of The Nomad Escape, a platform that offers digital nomads an escape from the “ordinary” to a safe haven where they can find “community, clarity, and confidence” to take their lives and businesses to the next level.
Before launching The Nomad Escape in 2019, Michelle worked as a business development manager in the corporate world. She “loved” her job, but it didn’t give her the complete freedom she wanted to savor in life.
She pursued freedom not only to make the most of her time, but also to inspire others and help them connect with like-minded people to achieve their personal and professional goals.
That’s how The Nomad Escape was born.
For Michelle, the transition to entrepreneurship came naturally. After all, she’s an artist and believes that entrepreneurship “is an art to begin with”.
Between 2014 and 2018, she breathed new life into “old and forgotten” pieces of tropical wood in Suriname with her “Design by Nudu” brand, while raising public awareness about their sustainable use.
Now she’s channeling her creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and ability to build something with limited resources through her bootstrapped business, The Nomad Escape, where she’s showcasing a new kind of art—the art of group dynamics.
“There’s an art to bringing the right people together and creating a learning environment where they feel safe to share and learn,” Michelle says.
Whether through Nudu or The Nomad Escape, she’s always strived for “a better world” and wants to forever “learn, explore, and inspire”.
To realize this vision, Michelle and her team host events in different parts of the world, including their signature “Nomad Island Fest“, the next edition of which will take place from December 1 to 7 on the enchanting Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.
Michelle, a social impact entrepreneur, is confident that the event will be the “#1 digital nomad event of the year” in terms of value-add and impact as they handpick members of The Nomad Escape community.
In her answers to my 70 questions, she explained why the concept of “community” is so close to her heart. She also told me how growing up in an environment of drug and alcohol abuse and a poor money mindset served as the fuel for her quest to create a space for herself and others to learn and grow.
But, as she points out, The Nomad Escape stands out from other nomad-related programs. What makes their platform different, she says, is their “holistic approach” to program design that helps people grow in almost every aspect of their lives. The Nomad Escape, according to Michelle, is also known for its attention to detail to give people an “experience” rather than an event.
And their track record of hosting over 1,000 remote workers during their programs and Mastermind sessions and working with top industry leaders–like Apple, Microsoft, TikTok, Nike, KPMG, and J.P. Morgan–shows they’re a force to be reckoned with in the thriving world of digital nomadism.
Besides The Nomad Escape and her life journey, Michelle also shared her thoughts on other topics such as the book she’s writing about remote working, how she’s trying to make peace with her past instead of running from it, the best dating tip for digital nomads, wood, a hard truth about digital nomadism, a soft skill that many digital nomads lack, a great myth about passion, why she calls Madeira “the Bali of Europe” and, of course, fresh coconuts!
Read on and I assure you that you’re in for a treat as Michelle’s answers contain many valuable nuggets of information. Let’s dig in and enjoy!
1- You call the members of the Nomad Escape community “Escapers”. Who’s an “Escaper” and what are they escaping from (and to)?
An “Escaper” is someone who’s bold and dares to leave the known and comfortable for something greater in life. A life lived on their own terms. A life where they can be location independent, pursue their passions, and work daily to become a better version of themselves.
Most Escapers are (aspiring) entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers working in every digital field imaginable. Startup founders, business coaches, crypto enthusiasts, digital marketers, spiritual leaders, content creators, software developers, course creators, etc. You name it and we have them in our community!
We’ve hosted people aged 22 to 65, all eager to learn and connect with like-minded people who value freedom, personal development, human connection, and growth.
They’re escaping from the ordinary, usually a life and environment where they aren’t surrounded by inspiring people, and to a learning environment where they can find the right people, learn from them, and find support on their personal and professional journey.
2- You only accept those into your programs and events who have the “right mindset”. What’s the attitude you look for in an “Escaper”?
Someone with a positive and resilient attitude who doesn’t victimize themselves and hold themselves responsible and accountable for their own growth and development. Someone with a “sparkle” in their eyes who’s hungry for life, growth, and new experiences.
Someone who’s willing to share with others, is non-judgmental, and is open to learning from all the different perspectives people in the group may have. Someone who embraces the unknown and takes risks to live a life full of growth and impactful experiences.
3- A song that could be the theme song of The Nomad Escape?
Hard to say! Maybe a few, such as:
- Daydreamer – Karlk (feat. GuitK)
- One Day Baby We’ll Be Old – DJ Jason Medallion
- Unstoppable – Sia
- Level Up – Ciara
- Moment 4 life – Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake)
Or any other song that has to do with growth, a strong mindset, and positive energy.
4- You describe yourself as a “social impact entrepreneur”. What’s your definition of “social impact”?
Social entrepreneurs are often willing to take the risk and effort to bring about positive change in society through their initiatives. I’ve been involved in various educational projects, started businesses focused on sustainability and raising awareness, and today I focus on building and growing supportive communities for entrepreneurial minds, most of whom work solo behind their laptops, risking isolation, loneliness, and burnout.
5- You invite people to book a free “discovery call” with you? Why do you call it that?
Because people who book this are interested in an experience with us and want to discover how we can help them find inspiration, community, and confidence to improve their business or lifestyle.
6- Something you want to face in life instead of running from it?
The difficult relationship with my parents and the story I tell myself about myself in relation to my past. Due to an unstable family situation where my parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol and there was a lot of violence, I could no longer live at home when I was 14 years old.
I grew up in state-run shelters and foster care. That shaped me a lot, and I’m still struggling with trauma. I need to change my attitude about money and deal with the issues my parents still have today. I do a little self-reflection every day and recently had an ayahuasca experience that’s helping me deal with it better.
7- The Nomad Escape is a safe haven for…?
Everyone. Anyone who cannot be fully themselves in the environment they come from and the people there don’t understand their way of thinking.
8- The best way to avoid travel burnout?
Travel slow! Keep a routine! Work normal work hours, find “fixed” friends, create a home away from home.
9- What’s the “Power Hour” at The Nomad Escape?
An hour of hyper-focused coworking, with others acting as your accountability buddies.
10- Your very first job?
Waitress and dishwasher in a restaurant on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. I lied about my age. I was 13 but said I was 16 because I wanted to make money.
11- You once wrote on Instagram that we should be conscious of how and where we spend our time. What would you never spend your time on?
In an environment where people victimize themselves, are passive, and blame the government. I come from such an environment. I go to see my parents once or twice a year, but I leave as soon as I can.
12- Your favorite event hosted by The Nomad Escape so far? Why was it so special?
A tough question! I liked them all! The first Nomad Island Fest last year was special because it was the first major event with about 75 people for a week and we worked with a great team. The Nomad Jungle Fest was also special. Hosting a group in the middle of the jungle in Tulum is very unique.
13- How do you think digital nomadism will have evolved in the next three years?
It’ll have grown larger and the average age of the nomads will have changed. The people who reach out to us today are both younger and older than before. About three years ago, the average age was between 28 and 45. Today, students and 55-year-olds are applying because they see that they can study or work abroad while traveling.
14- The two things you think about most every day?
My father and The Nomad Escape.
15- Fresh coconuts?
Yes please! There’s nothing better in the world.
16- At Nomad Escape, you believe there are three important things in personal and professional life: People, Purpose, and Pleasure. If you were to add another concept that starts with “P,” what would it be?
17- The craziest thing on your bucket list?
Two months riding alone on a motorcycle through South America.
18- A hard truth about digital nomadism that cannot be ignored?
It can be lonely and make you restless.
19- Something you think you’ll never do again?
Putting energy into people you can’t help.
20- You say, “I have my dream business, dream team, dream community, dream life, and dream office.” What would you say to people who say you can’t have it all?
Yes, you can. Look at me!
21- Digital nomad visas?
Smart! Nomads should take advantage of it.
22- The most memorable team building activity you’ve organized for a corporate client?
Connection sessions where team members personally connect with each other on a deeper level.
23- Who are your “influential five”?
- Hosam Mazawi – Nomad Escaper, great friend, amazing entrepreneur, and financial advisor
- Carla Biesinger – Nomad Escaper, great friend, amazing entrepreneur, and marketing advisor
- Emanuele Righes – Nomad Escaper, great friend, and mindfulness coach
- Laura Kuklasse – Nomad Escaper, great friend, and health and nutrition coach
- Martim Cafe – Nomad Escaper, great friend, and a young, crazy, spiritual life enthusiast
24- The Nomad Escape has hosted over 1,000 remote workers during various programs and mastermind sessions. What makes a good host?
A host is a community builder, workshop facilitator, and leader. The host is kind of like the dad or mom of the group, guarding the culture, values, and goals of The Nomad Escape.
It’s a job for a true “people person” who enjoys being surrounded by people and gains energy and motivation by connecting and hosting people.
The host is able to manage group dynamics in structured settings such as workshops and group activities, as well as in unstructured settings such as a lounge evening. They pay attention to details and make sure everyone in the group feels included.
25- The most important lesson in marketing and sales?
Be authentic. Work with systems and automate.
26- How to prevent “community” from becoming a hackneyed word?
It’s already happened. It’s like the word “sustainability”. I think if you want to distinguish the real community builders from the others, you can ask the question: Would they commit their own time and resources to building one?
Companies and consultants often say, “Community is key.” But if they weren’t being paid, they wouldn’t be doing it.
When I first started, I built my community with no resources or support, just sweat equity. Now that I’ve gotten very skilled at it and can offer great value to my clients, I can charge high-ticket.
27- Your team is spread across several countries. What’s the best advice for scaling a distributed team?
Daily stand-ups, weekly meetings, and at least quarterly meetings.
28- What new skill do you think you can learn in a week?
29- A great myth about passion?
That it’s always fun and easy to do what you have a passion for. The most passionate people find it hard to stop and unplug from work. That they’re passionate doesn’t mean they can’t burn out, be exhausted, or struggle.
30- Something that many people get wrong about digital nomadism or remote work?
That it’s a vacation. Most nomads, especially entrepreneurs and freelancers, work longer days and on weekends because they’re building their foundation and it’s hard to unplug unless you work in an office that closes its doors at 5 p.m. or on weekends.
31- Something you can only experience in Suriname?
Only in Suriname can you sleep in the purest jungle on a private island where no one will ever find you, catch piranhas, and light dead trees around the island as candles.
32- A crucial soft skill that many digital nomads lack?
Saying “no” to social activities. Not all of them, but traveling to a new place means new people, new places to explore, and new events. So it’s sometimes hard to just stay home to recharge your batteries, without having FOMO.
33- You say remote work is for anyone who has the “right work attitude”. What are the three most important elements of the “right work attitude”?
Discipline. Dedication. Structure.
It can be the future. I’m not a specialist in this field, but considering that the current monetary system isn’t optimized for the digital and independent world, it makes a lot of sense.
35- You once created the brand “Design by Nudu” and helped raise public awareness about the use of sustainable tropical hardwood in Suriname. Why did you choose the name “Nudu?”
“Udu” means “wood” in the Suriname language, Sranan Tongo. The “N” stands for “New”. I breathed new life into old and forgotten wood.
36- Your favorite Nudu design? What’s the most special thing about it?
The Chieftain. It was a real cow skull turned into a work of art. It was literally bringing a “dead” thing back to life by making it a functional work of art.
37- Is there a lesson you learned from the Nudu experience that you still apply in your personal or professional life?
Yes, you can build something from nothing. You don’t need big investments or expensive tools to create a business or works of art. If you really want something, you don’t wait for people or funds to support you, you make it happen.
38- Will we see a new Nudu art collection?
Not soon. I’d love to, but the wood you find in Suriname just isn’t available in Madeira. Also, you need a proper workspace for that, which I don’t have right now, and it’s not a priority for me.
39- Is entrepreneurship more of an art or a science?
It’s an art to start with. There’s no perfect formula for entrepreneurship. It starts with an idea, and from idea to implementation, there are steps that can be very different and personal for everyone.
At a later stage, you can definitely apply certain principles, structures, and strategies that have been proven to help you professionalize and scale, which would be more of a science.
I love the book “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman and the course “Invest in Your Leaders” by Cameron Herold that helped me restructure my business.
40- How has art influenced your entrepreneurial style?
The creative part, thinking outside the box, and building something with limited resources.
41- Does art play a role in The Nomad Escape?
Yes, the art of group dynamics. There’s an art to bringing the right people together and creating a learning environment where they feel safe to share and learn.
42- Something that only a handful of people know about you?
That I love (old school) hip hop, rap, and R&B. Tupac, Biggie, and Wu-Tang Clan. Yes please!
43- The best investment you’ve ever made in yourself?
Growing The Nomad Escape. My own network, skills, and mindset have grown so much through all these amazing experiences and people.
The strongest and most beautiful material in the world.
45- The first step toward location freedom?
Surround yourself with people who are already location independent, develop digital skills, and learn how to sell online.
46- A question you get asked a lot. And your answer?
The question you just asked! Many people want to know the first step they should take to become location independent. And my answer is the same as above.
47- The best part of your daily routine?
Preparing oats with peanut butter, cinnamon, and banana.
48- You’re writing a book. What are you most looking forward to sharing with readers?
Yes. The title of the book I’m writing is “21 lessons learned as a location-independent entrepreneur”.
I’m excited to share that mindset and environment are crucial to building a life on your own terms.
49- One principle from the corporate world that has helped you in your life as a digital nomad?
Structure. Escaping the 9-5 day doesn’t mean you have to work until late, etc. I enjoy working within regular office hours to structure my day and life.
50- Something you learned this year that you didn’t know existed?
So much! For example, the sales strategy of a business owner of a large roofing company, who was CEO of his own company for 29 years and was responsible for marketing and sales.
The strategy that helped his business explode was to buy old phone numbers from other roofing companies that were no longer in business and forward those numbers to his office so that the other companies’ old customers ended up with him.
51- A tip for dating as a digital nomad?
Take time to get to know each other. Be honest from the beginning about what your intentions are. If you like each other, schedule time to spend together and explore new things and places. Nomadic life is fast and makes it hard to build a relationship.
52- Is there a dating app or platform for digital nomads that you would recommend?
Haha, The Nomad Escape of course! In our previous escapes, some people found love and now live the nomadic lifestyle as a couple and have even built businesses together.
One couple built a retreat business, another travels the world in a van and is now building their e-commerce business, and another couple moved to Thailand. She quit her job and became a social media manager, something she had always dreamed of.
53- “Your best life is only one decision away” is the motto of The Nomad Escape. Aside from starting your own business, what’s one decision that changed your life?
Leaving the Netherlands.
54- Instinctive decisions or conscious decisions?
55- If you had a warning sign, what would it say?
STOP comparing yourself to others. It ends in depression or burnout.
56- Is there anything you learned during the pandemic and quarantine period that inspired you to make a change?
Yes, don’t live too long with your colleagues. Separate work and leisure. That’s what burned me out.
I love it. I’d say it’s the “Bali of Europe.” I enjoy living there. It’s a hidden gem where you can literally be above the clouds on breathtaking mountains within 40 minutes and drive to the beach to swim.
58- When should you quit a job that doesn’t fulfill you?
I think you should quit your job when it’s really eating you up, you feel miserable when you wake up in the morning because of it, and you’re losing the person you truly are. But we need to be realistic: People need to eat and have financial resources to take care of themselves.
So do your calculations before you make a decision. If you meet one or more of the following three points, you can be location independent:
- Have sufficient funds to support yourself for at least six months, up to a year.
- Have skills you can use to make money, online and offline.
- Have a plan: Even if you don’t know where you’ll end up, you should at least know how to make money on the road.
Love it! A great example for The Nomad Escape. I met great people there, and Mindvalley authors such as Jimmy Naraine speak at Nomad Island Fest events. Also, I met one of my new team members there.
60- Digital nomad families?
Super cool. Definitely a goal for me.
61- What musical instrument best represents you? Why?
Ukulele. It’s compact and easy to travel with and brings a cozy atmosphere to any social gathering.
62- The photos you post on social media are beautiful. What’s a good tip for taking photos?
I use an iPhone 13. Use portrait mode and a filter that smooths your skin. And good lighting.
My #1 value.
64- Nomad Island Fest 2022?
Soon! From December 1 to 7 on the Madeira Island. It’s a “special edition” event of The Nomad Escape. People describe it as a mix of a mini Mindvalley, a Tony Robbins show, and Club Med. It’ll be the #1 digital nomad event of the year because we select our community and choose quality over quantity.
65- You wrote a heartfelt Christmas letter to The Nomad Escape team and community last year. If you decide to write one this year, what would the title be?
How a summer in the Estonian forest helps you refocus.
66- Your biggest takeaway from 2022 so far?
Work with a team.
67- The Nomad Escape?
A bootstrapped global community of location-independent professionals. We help people find community, inspiration, and confidence to take their businesses and lives to the next level.
People who join us build new businesses, collaborations, friendships, products, and lifestyles. And it’s all through a week-long, peer-to-peer mentoring program.
We’ll grow to become the most connected community of online entrepreneurs and inspire millions of people to live life on their own terms.
68- Michelle Maree?
Michelle will never be done learning, exploring, and inspiring. She’s a passionate visionary who’s crazy enough to put passion and people before money. She can’t stop talking about entrepreneurship, ideas, and mindset. She loves to dance, explore, practice DJing, inspire people with her story, enjoy nature, and cuddle cats. And she isn’t afraid of the unknown.
69- Is there any question you’d like to be asked but wasn’t asked in this interview? And your answer?
There are actually two questions!
1. What’s the “why” behind The Nomad Escape?
There are two “whys”.
- My upbringing: I come from an environment with limited opportunities and resources, a poor money mindset, and many issues such as drug and alcohol abuse. I was fascinated by why some people succeed and others don’t, and found out at a young age that environment is crucial. At The Nomad Escape, we create an environment with the right people that you can learn from and grow with.
- The lack of community I experienced as a digital nomad myself: While traveling the world years ago as a digital marketer, I had freedom but couldn’t find the right people to brainstorm with. Even when I worked in coworking spaces, I sometimes felt lonely and couldn’t find support. I decided to create something for people who want to deepen and enrich their journey and find support in a community of like-minded people.
2. What makes The Nomad Escape different?
We facilitate a holistic experience. While many other nomad programs just put people together and host a few parties or workshops here and there, we’ve developed a proven program with a holistic approach where we pay attention to every aspect of life to help participants grow personally and professionally.
Our experienced and passionate team facilitates top-quality Mastermind retreats for your professional and personal development. Breakthroughs in your business and life are in our DNA.
We’ve organized over 25 escapes and events across Europe and beyond. We’ve helped startup founders to create 7- or even 8-figure businesses and find greater clarity, confidence, and a supportive community that elevates their business and life.
70- Any final thoughts, Michelle?
I’m excited about the future. Each person I host opens new doors, new perspectives, and a new network. Everything I’ve done so far in my life wasn’t planned.
I’ve had extraordinary experiences and jobs over the past 10 years, all of which have had something in common: I’ve been able to inspire people. I believe this is just the beginning, let’s grow together. See you in Madeira! Secure your spot now!
Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.