Interview with Charlotte Poole - Digital Nomad
Ms Poole was the first Vawn & Boon catsuit model, way back in 2012, when we were just starting to learn about the fine art of pattern cutting PVC catsuits! Since then she's had a terribly exciting life as a freedom loving digital nomad — selling her digital marketing skills remotely, whilst travelling the world. In this interview we catch up with the beautiful globetrotter and find out about her life on the road!
Hi Charlotte — please introduce yourself ^_^
Hey, I’m Charlotte, a ‘digital nomad’, budget backpacker and solo world traveller, originally from Leicestershire in the UK.
In 2013, shortly after you obtained your Master’s Degree (with distinction), a bizarre Daily Mail article appeared, comparing you to Alicia Silverstone's character in the Hollywood film Legally Blonde! The article was then swiftly syndicated throughout the British, Australian and North American press. What was your reaction to the article and were you strangely flattered to be compared to the magnificent Elle Woods?
Honestly, I was mortified. Something which should have been a harmless article in a women’s magazine became national and international news overnight.
At the time I had a somewhat popular blog on Tumblr. One day I received an email from a journalist who told me “I can put together a story about you being ‘the real life Legally Blonde’; having obtained two degrees whilst looking like Barbie, and maybe a few of the small gossip mags will pick it up and you’ll get a couple of hundred pounds.” At the time I was a new graduate with no job and so I agreed to the story.
The next morning she called to tell me that I was in all of the major national newspapers, that I was on page three of the Daily Mail and that Day Break wanted me on the show the following morning. I declined – and again the next day when they offered me more money. Following that I refused every other TV offer; Big Brother, Snog Marry Avoid, a Saturday night show in Ireland and a talk show in Poland. I knew better than to walk into the Lion’s den; to be scrutinised by the media and torn apart by the general public.
I did, however, agree to an interview with the Daily Mail. They came to my house and photographed me; insisting that I dressed entirely in pink. I hated every second of it and didn’t leave the house for a week afterwards. Fame isn’t for me.
The article also touched upon your now defunct Charlotte Elizabeth persona. Who was Charlotte Elizabeth, why did you create her and do you feel she ultimately had a positive impact on your life?
I’ve given a reasonable amount of thought to this question over the years. And a couple of therapists have shared their two cents also.
I suppose you should look at my creation of Charlotte Elizabeth in much the same way as you’d view a man dressing up in drag. She was my hyper-feminine, hyper-glamourous, extroverted alter ego.
Basic psychoanalysis would suggest that I created Charlotte Elizabeth out of necessity. For me, high school was hell on earth. I was bullied, I was painfully insecure and I thought I was ugly. And so, I had something to prove.
And how can a young girl prove once and for all that she is beautiful? By becoming a model. And it was Charlotte Elizabeth who stepped in front of the camera – in six-inch heels!
Later, Charlotte Elizabeth became more of a creative outlet. Though her, I could express myself artistically, both through the medium of make-up artistry, as well as online, where I experimented with web design and creating the Charlotte Elizabeth ‘brand’.
Nowadays, many young people feel compelled to create a personal brand or an online identity, but I was doing it before Instagram – before ‘selfie’ was even a word! And I was good at it.
Did she have a positive impact on my life? I would say so, yes. But I’m happy to have let her go. I feel much more at peace with myself now.
After graduation you were head hunted by one of the UK's major sex toy retailers, where you worked as a Marketing Executive before making the decision to go freelance and take your digital marketing skills on the road; the last five have seen you live the life of an archetypal digital nomad. What was the catalyst for your bold decision to travel and how many countries have you visited?
I was tired of the same four white office walls. I was tired of “How was your weekend?” every Monday and “Doing anything fun this weekend?” every Friday. I knew there was so much more to life.
When I was at university I had a long-term boyfriend whose father lived in the Far East. During the summer holidays of our second year, we flew to his home in Hong Kong and then on to Malaysia and Indonesia. That’s when I caught the ‘travel bug’.
Since then I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia and I have travelled to more than 30 countries.
What is it that you find so special about Thailand, and why does it keep pulling you back?
In the beginning, I was drawn to Thailand by the same qualities that attract every tourist. Thailand is exotic, it’s hot, inexpensive, the food is delicious and the local people are friendly. If you want to party all night on a beach, you can. If you want to explore golden temples and then relax with a traditional massage, you can. Thailand has something for everyone. And even the not-so-underground sleaziness of the place attracted me.
But now, Thailand is so much more to me than a luxury tourist haven. Bangkok was my home for three years and I know the city; I know which bars have the most interesting cocktails, which restaurants have the best vegan cuisine, which parks are the most beautiful, which minivan to take to the beach, how to buy fruit, in Thai, at the local market... No where has ever felt more to me like home than Bangkok. But more than anything else, it was the people. So many of my best friends live in that vibrant city and now that I’m no longer there, I miss them dearly.
Independent budget travel can be dangerous — what are some of the oddest and scariest scenarios that you have found yourself in?
I have a lot of stories; some of them funny, some of them shocking, some of them truly horrific. But I survive. I won’t share anything too traumatising right now, but something that happened to me last summer in China is a pretty good example of what can go wrong as a solo female budget traveller.
I’d flown to Zhangjiajie, a stunning region of China which has more than 4,000 tall, thin mountains, which, above the clouds, appear to be floating. It was those same mountains that inspired James Cameron’s Avatar.
When planning my journey, I’d realised that, after my evening flight, I’d only need to be in the town for six or seven hours before catching a bus to the mountains, and so I decided that, rather than spending money on accommodation, I’d just sleep for a few hours in the airport.
In Heathrow or Gatwick, that wouldn’t have been a problem, but in Zhangjiajie, it was a different story.
After alighting the plane and collecting my bags, I had a quick walk around the small airport and found a row of empty seats. “Perfect!”
And so I laid down across them, put on my eye mask, hugged my backpack and went to sleep.
The next thing I knew I was being shaken awake by a security guard. I slid off my eye mask and all the lights are out. There was not another person in sight. It was just him and I.
At this point it was about 1 a.m. and the airport was closed. I didn’t even know airports closed! Apparently, in small mountain towns, they do.
I sat up and tried to explain my situation. He didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Mandarin. And so I tried to gesture that I wanted to sleep for the night in the airport. He nodded and then wandered away.
I laid back down, feeling very unsure, wondering whether it was okay to try to sleep again…
A few minutes later he returned. He sat at my feet and stared at me, silently. His breathing was heavy. He was in his sixties, balding and carrying a few extra pounds around is midriff.
I sat up, said nothing and stared down at my feet. He moved closer. Then he pointed to staircase leading to the floor above;
“My bed” he whispered. His breath was so foul it nearly choked me.
“Your bed?” I asked, confused.
He pointed to me and then to himself; “You and me, my bed.”
“NO!” I asserted.
I jumped up, put on my bags and walked briskly towards the main door of the airport.
Ever so slowly, he shuffled along behind me and then opened the door.
I walked out, he locked the door behind me, and then, I didn’t know what to do.
It was pitch black. There were no hotels with in a walkable distance – especially not at that time of night with no light and carrying near 20 kilos of luggage... There were no trains, no buses and no taxis. I called a few hotels to ask if I could pay for a lift from the airport and they all said no and that I would have to wait until morning.
And so there I sat, shivering, enduring mosquito bites, using a bush as a toilet and wondering if the old security guard would ever come out to look for me. There was nothing to do but wait for sunrise…
Everything looks better at sunrise.
You've been an early adopter of a plethora of digital technologies and digital currencies — so I was surprised to learn that you are an avid meditator and yoga practitioner. Tell us a little about your healthy non-digital routines — what type of meditation do you practice and what benefits have you found in yoga and meditation?
For the most part I practice mindfulness meditation – a type of meditation which focuses on being present in the moment; becoming aware of the body and of the sounds, smells and sensations around you. I’ve found meditation to have had a very positive, calming effect on my life; helping me to feel less anxious and to better focus on my work.
What’s more, often in life we’re so consumed by our thoughts that we fail to ‘stop and smell the roses’, so to speak. The practice of mindfulness helps me to, albeit temporarily, quiet the endless dialogue of my mind and actually SEE the trees, HEAR the birds and FEEL the breeze on my face. It would be wonderful if every person could master this skill. With the practice of mindfulness, you can forget your worries and realise that you are just here, now, in this moment, and that realisation is a very powerful one.
In stark contrast to your quiet, relaxation pursuits, you were recently partying in Croatia with your best mate who's a dominatrix! How was that?
It was a lot of fun. Croatia was country number eleven on my Eurotrip this summer and my best friend flew out to join me for four nights on Hvar. We partied every night and, quite amusingly, didn’t pay for a single drink the entire time we were on the island. Everywhere we went we were invited onto fancy boats, into VIP (and once I was literally picked up and carried into VIP). It was definitely a memorable holiday. Although we’ve both agreed subsequently that we need to go back to Hvar one day soon as we hardly saw the island in daylight.
In spite of my spiritual pursuits, I’m still a party girl at heart.
I recall you were reading Khaled Hosseini A Thousand Splendid Suns on the day of your Vawn & Boon shoot in 2010. What's been your favourite read of 2018?
A Thousand Splendid Suns is still my favourite book. I should read it again someday.
My favourite read of 2018, although certainly not a new release, is probably Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor. As someone with a keen interest in meditation who lived in Southeast Asia, I struggled to understand how the very practical teachings of the Buddha had much at all to do with the ritualistic worship that took place in temples. If Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, who were people worshipping?
I once asked that question in a Bangkok expats group on Facebook and it was met with a lot of backlash. I was called disrespectful and nobody considered or attempted to answer my question.
Buddhism Without Beliefs talks about how Buddhism came to be institutionalised as a religion to empower sovereign states. The book explains awakening without mysticism, and how you can observe the Buddha’s teachings even as an atheist.
Finally, what's next for you?
Thus far I’ve only ever explored two continents; Asia and Europe, but next week I fly to the continent of North America. I’ll be spending two weeks in Cuba and then flying to Mexico City, where I will probably look for a small apartment.
Bangkok proved to be a fantastic central base from which to explore Asia. Mexico City could be a good spot from which to explore North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, Mexico as such a rich culture. It would be a privilege to experience the country as more than just a tourist – and to learn Spanish.
But nothing is set in stone. My plans change on a weekly basis!
You can keep up with Charlotte's adventures over at her Instagram International Mermaid — be sure to follow her to view her juicy video stories and see what life on the road is really like for a blonde bombshell!