10 challenges of starting an online shop while travelling

I woke up this morning with about a million things running through my head, it feels like my brain is on overdrive most of the time, filled with stimulation, excitement, confusion, and lists of ‘things to do’. Starting your own business is something both incredibly exhilarating and terrifying all mixed in one. Sometimes you feel as though you are on top of everything, and other times you feel like you are frantically swimming to stop yourself from drowning. I know that sounds a little dramatic but this is ALL NEW for us.

The travelling trader team is a two man team. Patrick, my other half is the techno wiz and is still learning the in’s and outs of web development (this is the second website he has ever made) he also takes all of the photographs for the site. I look for our beautiful products, find the wonderful people who make them and am also the social media marketer.

Both of us are still learning. I studied Art and teaching and Patrick studied engineering. This whole business is new and we jumped into it whole heartedly knowing it would be a challenge but also knowing that we wanted it so badly.

I thought I would share some of the challenges we have faced starting an online business while travelling.

#1 The language barrier

When we first arrived in Sapa we needed to get business cards made.We thought this would be a breeze as Sapa is a tourist town and everyone has business cards but we were wrong. I don’t know what it is but some people in Vietnam are either scared or incredibly angry when they can’t speak or understand English. We walked into a few places which made business cards and when we showed them a picture and tried to explain what we wanted they just shouted “no!” and then ignored us. It took us a full morning to find a place that would let us explain what we wanted and eventually after gesturing and showing them pictures, we got our cards printed. This is just one example of how things tend to take a little longer because of the language barrier. It does feel amazing when you do communicate and create some kid of understanding without words 🙂

making business cards Patrick sitting with the lovely man who eventually made our business cards:)business cards

#2 Internet, or lack there of…

We are up in the mountains and although the internet is amazing when it is on, there are a lot of power cuts and we are left high and dry with no internet in the whole of Sapa. This is incredibly frustrating when starting an online business but we try and fill these power cut times with other work or just take it as a break time 😉

#3 Storage

Our little hotel room is our home. We work in here, sleep in here, and keep all our beautiful Travelling Trader finds in here. Things can get a little chaotic and we have had to become quite organised. Both Patrick and I tend to forget to hang things up but our little home needs to be kept neat and tidy at all times and we have assigned a bed for all of our beautiful stock and packaging. Cleaning and organising has now become part of our morning routine, which feels nice.

#4 Washing

I never even considered this when opening the shop but it is something that has become part of our working day. Because the jackets are made in the villages,  they sometimes have a little dirt on them or smell of fire. Our bathroom basin has become a hand washing station. We hand wash each jacket before it is sent off to its owner. I would love to buy a travelling bucket but it may prove to be more of an inconvenience then anything else.


washing jackets

#5 Photography and Styling

Photography is SO important for our site and although I am incredibly proud of our photography, it has been a challenge. We are both inexperienced photographers and both of us just have an idea of what we want. I have particular ideas in mind and sometimes they work but sometimes they just don’t. We bought a beautiful new camera before coming to Sapa and we are still learning the tricks of using it. Although we have some wonderful photo’s of our product we only get around 3 or 4 good ones from a shoot. It is very frustrating when you have spent a couple of hours taking photo’s to get back and find only a few good ones. I know it will take time and practice and soon we will be taking so many good photo’s it will be hard to choose one 😉

Checking photographs_

#6 Social media and marketing

This is something we are still trying to grasp. Our whole business depends on our social media and marketing. Although we have had an amazing response we still have a long way to go. Social media and marketing is an art and we are at the beginning stages of mastering it.

#7 Buying the ‘right’ finds

We are still learning what sells well and what doesn’t. Each item we purchase is a risk in a way. Some products go so quickly and others don’t. I am sure as we get more customers and sales we will begin to learn more about what it is that sells well and what it is that doesn’t. Luckily for me I LOVE each product and don’t mind stashing it in my bag and taking it a long with us on our journey.

shopping 2

#8 Payment methods

Paypal can be incredibly frustrating. We have had a number of phone calls to the other side of the world which has cost us a fair amount of Dong. We also forgot to account for the paypal services but are slowly putting that into our costing. Thank goodness all seems to be working but it is an ongoing process which we are still learning about.

#9 Posting and shipping

We haven’t been able to find a quicker postal service from Sapa and have resorted to using the Vietnam postal service. The people at the post office cannot speak English and seem to take their time sending off our packages. We are hoping to find a better shipping service in Thailand but for now we have to trust in the Vietnamese postal service. I do have faith 😉

#10 Take a moment to look up from your phone 😉

This business has been a huge scary leap for us. We jumped into it with little experience but with a lot of determination. For the first few days after launching the website I found myself constantly checking if the website was ok, or going onto Instagram or Facebook to see how many likes we had (Patrick calls them dopamine hits-ha ha). At one point we had finished a photoshoot and were sitting at the most beautiful cafe with a beer to celebrate and I found myself checking on my phone constantly and not even appreciating the beauty that surrounded us. Taking time off to look around and really appreciate where we are is also so important, this is a huge part of the reason for starting this business and we sometimes need to get off the computer or phone and take some time out of the virtual world to be in the real one.


These are just some of the challenges we have faced. Although they have been frustrating they have also been amazing learning processes. I feel like everyday we learn something new, which is what we want. Slowly everything will become a little easier and clearer. We are so passionate about Travelling Trader and just want to do the best for our customers as well as the artisans we work with.

Hope you enjoyed this post.


Travelling Trader


  1. Wonderful blog becca! Immensely proud of both of you for taking this leap of faith. Love the behind the scenes photos and reflections. Can’t wait to receive my beautiful jacket!

  2. I am so blown away by your enterprising spirit! I think it’s a brilliant idea (I had a shop in Jozi selling vintage clothing for 20 years) – and I know it’s even more challenging while you’re travelling. Well done, Becca … (and the photographer, too – they’re gorgeous) .. Hope it does brilliantly well.

  3. Ooooh! Becca, it all sounds so exciting, new, and somewhat scary! You have a good eye for it. Thinking of you lots and wishing you awesome times and glorious STUFF! Intrepid traveller you! Love from Marloe

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