It’s that time of year! A time when we sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I’ve been writing these “Looking Back” posts since 2012 and I’m sad to say that for various reasons (some of which you’ll read about here), I missed writing about 2022.
Most of 2022 was amazing and we had some very memorable moments – like celebrating our 15th anniversary together in Cyprus, an epic press trip to the Bahamas, living and traveling around Slovakia for almost 3 months, and spending Christmas in Canada with our families.
However, the end of 2022 and into the first few months of 2023 were very rocky times and we found ourselves flailing. Luckily, the tumultuous start didn’t last, and we transitioned our year from questionable to awesome!
Each year has a feeling or theme, and for us, the word that comes to mind for 2023 is transition and transformation: of who we are, what we do, and the life we lead.
In this post, I’ll start with the craziness. Even though it was so messy at first, this was a fantastic year overall, and I’m excited to share our wins and failures with you in this post.
Flailing into 2023
For much of 2022, we were working on the documents needed to obtain residency in Bulgaria (more about living in Bulgaria below).
It’s a very long story, but after months and months of gathering the (many) documents required to apply for residency, our lawyer called.
It was Friday evening and we were sitting on our couch in the house we rented in Bulgaria. He was calling to let us know that we had five days to go to the Bulgarian consulate in Canada and apply for the long-stay visa, otherwise one of our documents would expire.
We knew we had to go to Canada eventually, but we should’ve still had months before we needed to apply. How could this be happening?!
Since everything took so long to do (appointments, gathering documents, notarizing/apostelling, etc.), the validity of one of the initial documents we had procured from our home country of Canada was about to expire.
If that document expired, we wouldn’t be able to apply for the long-stay visa, and ultimately, residency in Bulgaria. All of our hard work would have been for nothing.
Our lawyer called us on November 13th and by November 15th we were on a plane from Bulgaria to Canada – the most direct and only reasonable flight option for a whole week. If something went wrong or we missed our connecting flight in Poland, we wouldn’t make it on time. There was a lot of pressure on that flight!
Luckily, we made it and on the morning of November 17th, we went to the Bulgarian consulate in Toronto with all of our paperwork to apply for our long-stay D-Visa.
We applied on the very last day it would have been possible. The Bulgarian consular general even told us so with a funny smile as we handed him our documents.
Now all we had to do was wait and hope we’d be approved. The consulate said it would take around 5 weeks for the visa to be approved (or denied).
Spending the Holidays in Canada
Since we were already in Canada (mind you, on the other side of the country from our families), we decided to spend Christmas and New Year’s with our parents, siblings, and relatives. Rather than waiting around in Toronto for 5 weeks for the paperwork to come back, this sounded like a much more enjoyable idea.
It was the first time we’d spent Christmas at home since 2013.
It was cold, snowy, and oh-so festive! We went ice skating and tubing at the ski hill. We danced and mingled at three Christmas parties. Nick went hunting with his brother, we went for snowy hikes and bowling with family, and we laughed, ate, and drank too much!
We rang in the new year with my family and celebrated Nick’s grandma’s 80th birthday a week later with loved ones. It was a great visit back home and an excellent way to start 2023.
At the beginning of January, we heard back from the Bulgarian embassy and our visas were ready for pick-up in Toronto. We received our long-stay visa for Bulgaria! This was the first step to obtaining residency, with more to follow once we returned to Bulgaria.
Even though we were so relieved the stars aligned and everything was approved, we had something in the back of our minds…
The Rocky Start to the Year
This is difficult to write, and we haven’t shared this publicly yet. But, at the end of 2022 and into March of 2023, we were considering selling Goats On The Road (I know, I can’t believe it either).
We had been feeling off and in a creative slump (which started during the pandemic), and with all of the new developments around AI, we were feeling deflated and as though we probably wouldn’t have a business for much longer.
We were being very “doom and gloom” and (as it turns out) overreacting about the whole thing. At the time, however, we thought we should exit our business and move on while we could.
We planned to sell just the website itself, without our social media accounts and Nick’s blogging courses. I wanted to keep our connection with our readers on social media, and Nick wanted to continue teaching his students. Two aspects of our blog that we both adore.
We had no idea what we would do for a job and income going forward, but for whatever reason, at the time it felt like the right thing to do.
Goats On The Road had been our life for 10 years. This was an incredibly hard decision to make and I was literally crying when we pressed the “submit” button on the selling platform.
Were we making the right decision?
We listed our website at a high price and we received a lot of interest. We ended up doing 5 serious calls with venture capitalist firms who were interested in purchasing our site and adding it to their portfolio.
Of those 5 calls, we received 3 official offers. Financially, they were excellent, life-changing offers. But, the terms of the agreements didn’t sit right with us and we declined all of them.
During all of the offer calls, we had to list the amazing aspects of Goats On The Road to these buyers, including audience engagement, income, analytics, brand strength, and potential for the website. What ultimately happened during those calls was that we sold our site back to ourselves.
This whole process reminded us of why we love Goats On The Road and it gave us a huge push to keep moving forward and ignited a spark within us. We had so much clarity on what we wanted to do going forward with our business!
We decided that we were going to keep our website and we doubled down on it, investing our time, energy, and love, implementing all the best SEO practices we have learned over the years – and within 6 months, we doubled our traffic. Woohoo!
As soon as we decided to not sell and removed our beloved website from the listing platform, it was like a huge weight was lifted. We could breathe again.
We’re Residents of Bulgaria and Have a Base
I’m thrilled to say that in February 2023, all of our paperwork cleared and we received our ID cards. We are officially residents of Bulgaria. We’ve transitioned from full-time digital nomads to having a home base where we’ll travel from frequently 😀
The entire process was tedious, stressful, lengthy, difficult, and filled with endless amounts of bureaucracy, but in the end, we succeeded and are so happy that our persistence paid off!
In this article, we listed one of our major goals, which was to have a base where we could live, and do small trips from there. A place where we could unpack and make our own. Somewhere to have roots so we weren’t constantly moving from place to place. Here’s what I wrote in that article:
“Ideally, that destination would have forests, mountains, beaches, and rivers. A place with lots of amenities, a community of like-minded people, and beautiful accommodations for rent (oh, and Nick says he needs there to be fly fishing).
Our perfect place would have a variety of restaurants, fantastic wine, and numerous fun things to see and do. I’d like it to be affordable, comfortable, and have a good vibe. It also needs to be well-connected to other parts of the world. “
Our new home in Bulgaria checks all of those boxes, except for the community part. We haven’t really found that yet, but to be fair, we haven’t been trying. We’ve had so many of our awesome nomadic friends come to visit and stay with us that we haven’t felt the need.
A big thing that was wearing on us over the past few years was knowing that we couldn’t stay anywhere for more than 3 months. Particularly during 2020/2021 when many borders were closed and there were many rules and restrictions on entry requirements.
Tourist visas are typically valid for 3 months, or 6 months in some cases. And the entire Schengen Zone is a 3-month stay. So there was always this feeling that we “have to leave soon”, and we were always discussing “where should we go next?”.
Now, we have somewhere we can stay for as long as we want! Completing this major life goal has transformed our lives and our overall mental health and well-being.
The Year Transforms!
By this point in the article, so much has happened and we’re only in March of this year. It’s incredible just how much went on during the first few months of 2023. Luckily, it was (mostly) all downhill from there.
The good news was we had already rented our house before getting residency, so when we returned to Bulgaria from Canada, we didn’t need to search for somewhere to live. Now that we knew we were legally allowed to stay in the country, we settled in and made the house more our own.
We made improvements to the yard: bought an inflatable hot tub, a BBQ, a fire pit, and a hammock, and we even planted a small garden. Inside the home, we decorated some more and added some personal touches.
We almost adopted a dog, rescued 3 kittens from certain death (and adopted them out), and bought a new vehicle as well – lots has happened!
Exploring our New Home
We first came to Bulgaria back in 2016, so we had seen some of the country, but there was (is) a lot more to explore.
We headed north to the historical city of Veliko Tarnovo, taking in some of the enormous communist-era monuments along the way.
Next, we went southwest to the mountain town (and popular digital nomad city in Europe), Bansko. We’d been here before, but this time, we were meeting up with entrepreneurial friends old and new.
It was such a wonderful visit with this group of like-minded people, and after many chats with them, it solidified to me that we made the right decision in keeping Goats On The Road. We also had some other blogging friends come to visit us and had a great time showing them around – this was a very friend-focused year as well!
Finally, we went northwest for a few days of fly fishing. Apart from those three longer trips around the country, we did many trips about an hour from our home – hikes, fishing spots, wineries, and little towns.
Travels Abroad to Seven Countries
For us, the point of having a base isn’t so that we live there year-round. The point is that we can go on trips and know that we have somewhere that we’re looking forward to returning to. This year, we managed to travel to 7 different countries.
First up was a 5-week trip to Grenada, our home away from home. As always, we had an incredible time catching up with our close friends, island hopping around the Grenadines, visiting Carriacou, and lots of liming. My birthday was spent on a private sunset sail, while the very talented artiste and friend, Akheem, serenaded us. It was amazing.
This would be our first time visiting any of the Scandinavian countries! Our close friends, Tom and Anna, came to stay with us in Bulgaria for a week and after that, the 4 of us flew to Copenhagen, Denmark.
The trip was filled with eating, exploring, laughing, drinking…and witnessing the two of them getting married.
We fell in love with Copenhagen. The numerous parks, colorful buildings on the water, and friendly people were some of the highlights. We also met up with a Danish friend of ours, Kristine, while we were in the city who showed us around!
After Copenhagen, we parted ways with our friends and took the train to the city of Malmö in Sweden. This student city was a lot of fun. While we were only there for 2 days, we found the city very enjoyable. It was picturesque, walkable, and had some great restaurants and wine bars.
From there, we continued to the capital of Sweden, Stockholm. Here we joined a walking tour, and explored the old town and a few other areas – Östermalm, Södermalm and Norrmalm. We spent 3 days and only scratched the surface of this stunning city.
While not a new country for us, this year we returned to Greece to visit a new island in the country, Paros. We were there for Tom and Anna’s second wedding! Together with 33 of their closest family and friends, we celebrated their union.
Paros is a gorgeous island and our 8 days there were spent hanging out with new friends, wedding festivities, and exploring the island by car. Nick and I had 3 days to ourselves before anyone arrived.
We based ourselves in Naousa and zipped around the island checking out different coves and beaches, quaint villages, bars and restaurants, and coastal walks. This trip to Greece for our friend’s wedding was a definite highlight of the year.
Nick’s dad was in the hospital, so without hesitation, we booked a last-minute, 3-week trip to Puerto Vallarta at the end of September.
Within 3 hours, we had planned, packed, and booked flights, accommodation, travel insurance, and a taxi to the airport. We were on our way: Sofia -> Frankfurt -> Mexico City -> Puerto Vallarta.
Thankfully, everything is fine now and he’s recovering. But, it was an incredibly stressful time.
To round out our international travels this year, we headed on a road trip north to Romania for Nick’s birthday. Not only were we celebrating Nick’s special day, but it was on this day exactly 15 years ago that we quit our jobs, sold our possessions, and headed off on our life of travel.
Romania was a new country for us, and we enjoyed our 5-day trip to Bucharest and some surrounding areas. We ate at fabulous restaurants (both traditional, and upscale), did a day trip to the Delau Mare wine region, soaked in the impressive Therme Baths, and walked all over the city. It was a great trip!
Apart from now having a home base, the other major transition for us this year has been how we look at our business and what we want for it.
In terms of traffic to our website, it wasn’t where it should have been – where it deserved to be after 10+ years of hard work! The fact that we were just “keeping it afloat”, simply wasn’t acceptable to us.
Once we knew in our hearts and minds that we were keeping Goats On The Road, we went for it! We hired a large team of expert writers on various topics, two virtual assistants, an editor, and a manager and we both spent a lot more time giving the blog the love it deserves.
We made building up our brand and site a priority and between the time that we planned to sell, and now, we were able to double our visitors to the site.
But, that’s just one small part of what we did. We both wanted (want) to be more creative and have even more of a community connection.
Nick has been working hard on updating and creating new content for his Blogging Kickstarter Course and his Advanced SEO Made Simple course as well. He’s also been trying to build up our YouTube channel again.
I’ve been managing our teams behind the scenes, but also sharing a lot more on social media and brainstorming our next venture for the new year.
We’re putting a focus on our community (that’s you!), and are working on a program to help digital nomads and aspiring digital nomads find ways to make money online, spend less while building up their businesses, and live and travel abroad.
We’re very excited about this…stay tuned! And, if it’s a program that you think you’d be interested in, send us an email and let us know what you’d like to learn about the location-independent lifestyle.
Goals and Thoughts for 2024
Heading into the new year, there are a few main goals and things that we want to accomplish.
Investing in Ourselves
By this I mean, investing in ways to improve ourselves – mentally, physically, and business-wise. We’ve taken the first steps even before the new year has arrived, and we’re currently involved in a coaching course to learn how we can create the best offer for our students, and be the best coaches and mentors possible.
I’ve also signed us up for Bulgarian language lessons (wish us luck!), and there are a few interesting conferences that we’re planning on attending in the year. We want to continue to grow and evolve, and not be afraid to spend money on things that will help us do that.
Traveling to New Countries
This past year, we only visited three new countries and the others were repeats. This year, while we do have a couple of repeat favorites planned, the goal is to visit some new destinations to see interesting cultures and sights, and to have some memorable experiences.
Health & Wellness
Since I didn’t do the 2022 roundup post, you didn’t read about us losing a lot of weight – Nick dropped 40 pounds, and I lost 20 pounds. We got inspired by the 4-hour body by Tim Ferris and after losing the weight, we started to work out with weights and HIIT programs.
I’m proud to say we’ve maintained our weight for more than a year now and will continue focusing on our physical health as we head into 2024.
Buying a Property
This is a bit of a lofty goal, but not out of reach. The main thing is that we’re not sure exactly where to purchase the property and whether it’ll be an investment property or our primary residence.
Thanks to Our Tribe
As always, but even more so this year, we want to thank you for being a part of our tribe. In case you don’t know, a group of goats is often called a tribe 🐐 – how perfect is that?! (They’re also called a “herd” but that’s not nearly as cool)
As we’ve transitioned our lives from full-time digital nomads to having a home base, we’re feeling less stressed and more inspired and capable of creating impactful content for you. This year you can expect lots of exciting things from us!
Our business is going to be branching off in different directions to be more of a community – we want to work more closely with the people who read this blog and follow us on social media and who have dreams of a prosperous, digitally nomadic future.
Wishing you a happy and healthy year ahead!
Dariece & Nick (the “Goats”)