This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Theresa Feulner, who works remotely as a psychologist while traveling the world in a sailboat. It has been edited for length and clarity.
This story was originally published on Business Insider.
I grew up in a small city in Germany, and I remember being so curious about the world even as a kid. I’ve always had an interest in wanting to learn new languages and meet people from different places. I knew that one day I wanted to to as many places as I could.
I got my first taste of traveling in 2016, when I did an exchange program
I went to Granada, Spain. Since then, I’ve pretty much kept traveling and studying abroad. I spent a year and a half in Spain, a half-year in Mexico and then Columbia, and a half-year in Italy. After these experiences, I realized I wanted to continue to explore new places. It’s a great feeling arriving somewhere new and then, over time, really getting to know that location, the people, and their way of thinking and living.
Image credit: Theresa Feulner
When I met my partner Jan Athenstädt in Barcelona in 2021, he’d already been living on a sailboat for two years. It was clear that this was his and he wanted to continue traveling on his boat.
When we first started dating, we left the Barcelona harbor and sailed toward France and Sardinia. Our first journey together lasted around one and a half months. I quite liked it and thought it was beautiful to be able to jump in the water and go snorkeling whenever I wanted.
After that, I decided to live on the 32-foot long sailboat with my partner
I gave up my apartment, stored my clothes and belongings, and packed two backpacks with my things.
The truth is, you give up a lot when you live on a sailboat. We don’t have hot water for showers, there’s no grocery store around the corner, and you can’t just walk down the street to meet up with friends. However, I quickly realized that you don’t need many material things to truly be happy.
What I was most worried about before I decided to live full-time on the sailboat was the potential of getting seasick. I never had a problem with motion sickness before; it only happens to me on rare occasions now. I deal with it by staying calm and getting off the boat if we’re anchored.
The scariest thing that’s happened on the sailboat so far was a bad thunderstorm when we were anchored in the northern part of Sardinia in the early morning. It wasn’t likely that the lightning would hit us, but it was scary because we couldn’t hide from it. It was the first time I felt this feeling of being very alone with nature. My partner, who is more experienced with sailing life, assured me that we weren’t in danger. Even so, I felt very frightened.
Even though I live on this sailboat, I still work part-time
I work about 20 hours a week as a psychologist specializing in dating and relationships. We have a SIM card that gets us WiFi on the boat, and I usually work inside at the table. From time to time, I also work outside in the cockpit (an open well in the deck of the boat). Since we don’t have a table there, I just work with the computer on my legs.
When we anchor the boat close to a new city or town that’s not too rural, we can go on land and work inside cafes. Because I take confidential calls with my clients, I schedule those meetings on days when I have privacy on the boat while my partner works ashore.
Depending on how busy I am, I’ll either work the whole day or half a day, and spend the rest of my time exploring a city, hiking, snorkeling, or relaxing on the boat.
Even though I’m fully remote, I have a roster of clients and constantly have new clients find me. I’ve shared my information on platforms, like Complicated.Life (which costs a monthly fee for therapists to use), where people can search for psychologists who specialize in the areas in which they need help. New clients find me on those platforms, through Google searches, or directly through my website.
I’ve always been open and honest with my clients about living on a sailboat
They’ve all been fine with it. I think it’s because so many of the clients I happen to work with also travel a lot themselves or are ex-pats living somewhere else. I think they’re quite used to this travel lifestyle, and most aren’t surprised by my living situation.
There are little quirks to living on a sailboat that takes time to adjust to. For example, when it comes to showering, we usually just jump into the sea to get clean. We also have this little camping shower that we’ll use a few times a week since we don’t have hot or filtered water. The other major adjustment was sleeping in a cabin where it feels like you’re constantly moving, but it’s something I got used to quickly and now the slight movement makes me feel calm.
This lifestyle gives me the flexibility I never had before
Now I can work while also traveling to new places without having to worry about finding transportation or accommodations. Another huge benefit of living on a boat is that it’s very sustainable. Most of the time, we just use the wind to propel us forward and only use the engine when there’s no wind or when we want to approach a harbor.
Before I lived on the sailboat, I spent around 1,100 euros in living expenses every month between my apartment and daily purchases. My expenses fall in the 500-euro range now, since all I have to pay for is restaurants, cafes, groceries, and occasionally harbors or buoys.
While we don’t plan to live entirely on a sailboat forever, we’re hoping to eventually get a bigger boat with more space and head out during the spring until late autumn. Then we’ll head back to land for the winter season, maybe finding a place in Asia or even the Canary Islands as our base.