They travel as a family through the world selling jewelry.
ZIPOLITE, Mexico- The streets of Mexico’s beach towns and backpacker epi-centers are lined with traveling craftsmen selling their wares. They sell leather bags, footwear, miscellaneous curious, but, mostly, they sell jewelry. I had nearly become immune to what these traveling jewelry sellers are vending, as it is all so remarkably similar to each other — wire wrapped earrings, leather bracelets, beadwork necklaces, cheap custom name necklaces, semi-precious stones, woven bracelets, and macrame everything — that when I came to a table selling something a little different I stopped in surprise.
I looked down to find very high quality, ornate, hand crafted silver rings and bracelets that had a style to them that I could not place as being replicated from other sources. The jewelry that I was looking upon truly had a face to it: it was unique. I picked up a ring and inspected it further, I peered into the red stone, the solid setting, and the silver swirl designs around its body. I pride myself on being able to recognize quality, and I had found it in the ring I was holding in my hand.
“That is garnet,” its maker informed me in Spanish. I picked up a few more rings and the artisan told me in succession where the gems came from. Some came from South America, some from Mexico, and others as far as Eastern Europe.
The artisan was tall, had a baby in his arms, was red headed with the top and sides shaved short and a few long dread locked rat-tails dropping down upon his back. We talked a little more in Spanish, which he spoke solidly, although I could not place him as being from a Spanish speaking country: he looked thoroughly Irish, though could not detect the give away accent.
“Where are you from?” I finally asked him.
“Inglaterra,” was his response.
“So you speak English then?” I returned to a tongue I feel more comfortable speaking.
“Sometimes,” was his simple response.
I requested an interview. The artisan accepted.
For the past couple of months I have been traveling around Mexico interviewing other travelers who make money to travel from running independent micro-businesses. I have interviewed delegates from trades as various as location independent SEO consultation to baking and selling cookies in the street, but all of the people included in the series live the double dream: they work for themselves and travel perpetually. I had been looking to add an interview with a traveling jewelry artisan since this series began, as this type of work is relatively popular amongst long term travelers in this part of the world, but, perhaps due to their high frequency, I wanted to interview a nomadic artisan who made truly spectacular jewelry.
I found this in Zipolite as I peered into the handcrafted silver ring with the garnet stone.
The artisan’s name was Dan, and he now travels around Mexico in a van selling his jewelry with his Argentinian wife, Niki, and their one year old son. The family makes all of their travel funds from their jewelry business combine with Niki’s fire dancing skills. They generally sell their wares on the street, but also take mail orders through their website, NomadFusion.com.
After taking a degree in cultural anthropology and growing disillusioned with development work in Africa, Dan turned nomad in Venezuela. It was here that he began learning how to make macrame and other types of jewelry, and soon began selling his work in the streets. Now with a way to fund his travels from the road, Dan hitchhiked through Colombia and continued north to Central America. Add three years to this scenario, and Dan can be found traveling around Mexico with a wife, a child, and a thriving jewelry making business.
As I looked through the Nomad Fusion collection, I found myself draw to the hand crafted silver work. I asked Dan where he learned how to silversmith, and he replied that he picked it up around a year ago from a friend in San Cristobal de las Casas. With two workshops added to this initial training, Dan is now making very high quality and unique silver jewelry.
For his silversmith work, Dan says that he needs to travel with a soldering iron, a laminator, a blow torch, and pliers, adding that you, “Definitely need the torch and pliers.” He hauls these work tools as well as his supplies, family, and travel gear inside of a van, which had been converted into a home.
Out of curiosity, I asked Dan where he gets his silver, and he replied that, as the price is controlled by international trade values, he can just buy it from banks or other silver brokers. The price is usually set to reflect the global market. He then told me that he uses 925 or 915 silver. 925 is 92.5% silver and the rest copper, but Dan says that 915 silver is easier to work with.
I then began quizzing Dan as to the specifics of his profession, and was told that he generally divides his work up into two district shifts. Sometimes he rents a house for a month or two and works ten hours a day producing jewelry and replenishing his stock. When he is not producing, he is out selling in the streets, working 3 to 12 hours a day. I was clearly talking to a nomad who did not choose his way of life to avoid work, but to enjoy working.
Traveling with a family
Dan’s one year old son goes to work with him. He hangs out in his arms, naps on a little mattress kept near the vending table, or plays with other kids in the street, including my own daughter.
“Has having a child changed the way you travel?” I asked Dan.
“Well, you already know that,” he spoke with a laugh, and then added, “It does, but not as much as we would have thought.”
I surely did know this well, after spending nearly a year and a half on the road with my daughter, the challenges of traveling with a child are great, but not as great as I, too, would have thought before doing it.
“I have become more responsible, more careful, take less risks, don’t move as fast,” Dan added.
We then had a laugh about how the most difficult thing about traveling with a child is the traveling part: once you land somewhere, life is good.
Traveling jewelry artisan conclusion
“Do you make a good living?” I asked Dan as sort of a loaded question.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he replied with a laugh, and then told me that he sometimes brings in 50 pesos a night, sometimes 2,000.
I have found that most travelers doing independent micro businesses — myself included — often earn only enough money to travel on into the next day. Many of us do not make nearly what we would working our professions in more of a sedentary setting in the USA or Europe, but we also live on far less money and tend to value our freedom of locomotion and work over larger paychecks and an idea of security.
It is possible to travel into a new life. It is my impression that Dan found himself at a dead end of sorts after completing his anthropology field work in Mozambique. So he moved on to South America and hopped the wave of happenstance that takes all travelers from place to place, from experience to experience, and through life changes that could not be imagined at a journey’s onset. On the road, Dan met the woman who would become his wife, he had a son, learned a trade, started a business, and created a life outside the bounds of schedules, bosses, and formal employment.
I ended the interview by asking Dan if he thinks he will going to keep going, if he plans on traveling, making, and selling jewelry into the future with his young family.
He replied that he certainly will, “What else is there to do?”
To view more samples of Dan’s work or to purchase some of his jewelry, go to Nomad Fusions.
This story is part of our Independent Travel Business series.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
January 6, 2011, 5:27 pm
A nice change of pace to see a street artisan that isn’t a wealthy Argentine hippie wanna-be trying to piss their parents off by bending wire and selling it on the street abroad.
I wonder how much crime he/they have had to deal with. And now having a child… it makes you a much softer target for such things.
I also wonder what it’s like to take vehicles across country borders in the Americas. I always have the impression that it’s a nightmare of bureaucracy and fees.
January 7, 2011, 1:44 am
Inspiring article! Made something that want’s to be loose wiggle inside of me. 🙂
May 3, 2012, 1:59 am
The life of a travelling merchant is tough, and not many people like this vagabond-like lifestyle. To really make enough to support their family, their wares must truly be unique and highly desirable. I like the jewellery that he sells. Those silver rings would really sell if he knew how to peddle his stuff online.
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