Thomas Demetz, Traveler Balancing Work and Exploration in Panama

15 April, 2022 | Blog, Interviews


Thomas Demetz started with a goal of visiting the whole TCC list until, as he says, he discovered NomadMania. Thomas has left his home in the Dolomites and now resides in Panama, where he finds everything he needs. He doesn’t shy away from an adventure while seeking his perfect work-travel balance.


Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal


Thom, please tell us something about yourself. Where do you come from, where do you live now and what do you do?


I was born in Val Gardena in the Dolomites (Italy – Trentino Alto-Adige). It’s a great destination for hiking in summer and skiing in winter. I’m not spending much time there at the moment though. I’ve set myself up to live and work anywhere and manage all aspects of my life remotely.

While this lifestyle has its challenges and I won’t pursue it forever, it’s a fantastic way to spend a few years exploring the world and looking for global opportunities. I have recently relocated to Panama, which I now consider to be my home base.


My Place of Birth – Val Gardena, Italy


How did you first start travelling?


After graduating from high school, a friend and I flew to Australia, rented a camper van and travelled all around the country for two months. Broke but not ready to go back yet, I got a job in an outback sawmill for a few months and then embarked on a solo backpacking trip to Southeast Asia.

This journey opened my eyes, and when I finally returned home after ten months on the road, I was a changed man. I realized that an ordinary life on the school-work-retirement highway was not for me, and have focused on setting up a lifestyle that allows for frequent travel ever since.


Ciudad Perdida Trek, Colombia


You recently decided to leave your home country, Italy. Why is that? And how did being an Italian influence your travelling so far (in terms of the passport strength, your travel choices, etc.)?


Panama City is a great fit for my international lifestyle – a modern world hub with everything I need, including a very well-connected airport for easy access to the Americas and the Caribbean. I’ve already started exploring the surrounding countries! Panama is also very friendly to digital nomads, as it has no minimum-stay requirements and doesn’t tax worldwide income.

My Italian passport is solid and has always served me well. Talking about Italian food, football or politics is a great way to break the ice with strangers because so many people are familiar with Italian culture and have an opinion on it.


Hampi, India


Where does your dream come from – why do you want to visit all UN countries?


Travel communities like NomadMania actually helped shape that goal, because they keep me motivated, appeal to my competitive nature and show me what’s possible. Hundreds of people have visited all UN countries – why not me? I simply aspire to see as much of the world as I can.

I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge and think that travelling is the best way to increase my understanding of life and the world. Visiting all countries is the dream – I might achieve it or not, but the point is that as I pursue it, I keep growing as a person. The journey is the destination.


Sani Pass Lodge, Lesotho


You are currently at the count of 71/329 of TCC territories visited. What made you commit to this travelling list over all others and do you intend to go all the way until you reach 329?


Before I discovered NomadMania, the best travel list I knew was the one published by the Traveler’s Century Club. Visiting 100/329 countries and territories is required to join the club, which seemed like a big enough challenge when I came out of high school, so I set that goal for myself. I look forward to achieving it!


World Capital of Yoga – Rishikesh, India


When you get to a new country, where do you go before you go anywhere else (except for the obvious, of course)? What is the one thing that you are most interested in when travelling?


I usually start in a big city. It allows me to ease into a new country or region before venturing into remote areas. I’m very interested in observing and understanding how other people live. Cities, especially the capital, provide a good overview of where a country stands and what its challenges and opportunities are. I often talk about politics with the taxi driver I meet at the airport (or border) to get a first glimpse of the current situation.

I’ve never found a driver without a strong opinion! Once I’ve settled in, I get ready to venture deeper into the country. I love visiting remote areas and secluded minorities. That is where travel really turns into adventure.


Jökulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland


You recently fully turned to a digital nomad lifestyle. How do you manage your work while travelling and do you find it is difficult or does it give you more motivation to finish your work more efficiently and go explore?


There’s a time to sacrifice and work hard, and there’s a time to take it easy and recharge the batteries. Earlier this year I exited a business venture that, while very successful, prevented me from travelling for almost two years. Now it’s time to get back to exploring for a while.

At the moment my work consists mainly in doing research and managing assets and investments, which I can easily do on the road. I thoroughly enjoy being in business though, so there’s no question that I will dive into the next project soon enough. In the mean time, I’m working my way through the travel bucket list!


Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan


Please share some special travel stories that have stuck with you.


I always found that the times when you get in trouble make for the best stories. And I sure have my share of those, as I have an almost manic desire to leave my comfort zone to see what happens.

Some highlights include a too-close-for-comfort encounter with the second deadliest snake in the world in Australia, getting into a physical fight for taking pictures in a forbidden place in India, getting lost in the Colombian jungle and nearly losing my backpack while crossing a wild river, and being saved from walking into an ambush by a lovely grandmother in Mozambique.

While scary at that moment, these situations teach the best lessons. Adventure begins where your comfort zone ends.


Machu Picchu, Peru


What is it about travel that gets you excited the most and what keeps you going even when it is tough?


What makes me feel so alive while on the road is the fact that travel is the opposite of routine – every day is different and presents new situations and challenges. It’s impossible to unconsciously drift through the day – you need to be present, adapt to new circumstances and take decisions and chances all the time. I usually travel without a fixed itinerary and schedule.

I may know where I want to be in a few weeks or months, but try to keep the day-to-day flexible. That allows me to be spontaneous, take detours and seize opportunities that a tight schedule just won’t permit. There’s a downside though: anything that has to be booked more than a few weeks in advance is off-limits while sticking to this travel style.

Travelling doesn’t ever get “too tough” for me and I rarely miss home. After a few weeks in remote areas I’m usually glad to get back to a big city though!


Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam


How did your general view of the world change with travelling?


One of the most important things I learned over the years is that almost anyone in the world could become my friend – if only I got to know them and their story. No matter where you go, people want the same things… To take care of their families, make money, spend time with friends, have fun, get laid, and most importantly: be left in peace by their governments. Different as we may seem on the surface, we are more alike than we think.


Top of Mt. Huangshan, China


We have one question that we ask all of our guests, our signature question: if you could invite 4 people from any era to dinner, who would your guests be and why?


This is a very challenging question as there are so many people I’d love to meet. But for the sake of this interview, let’s stick to my favorite travellers. First I would invite Rolf Potts, whose highly-recommended book “Vagabonding” initially motivated me to go backpacking and travel off-the-beaten-path. I would also invite Heinrich Harrer, who spent seven years in pre-chinese Tibet and had many other adventures.

Next I would invite Alexander the Great, one of the greatest leaders and conquerors of all times. And lastly, I would invite legendary traveler Marco Polo, who left home as a teenager and spent an incredible 24 years in Asia before returning to Italy and telling his stories. Yes, that would certainly make for a very interesting dinner.


Royal Palace of Mandalay, Myanmar