The pancake nomad

Meet Robin Vogelaar. He’s not your typical Dutch consultant. Several years ago, when Robin’s apartment was sold, he decided to invest his money in travelling. Despite working 60-70 hours per week in the Netherlands, Robin still has the energy to visit a new city each weekend and organise Dutch pancake parties. Last year,  he spent 51 out of 52 weekends abroad.

Having couch-surfed in over 100 cities, Robin’s life is one big bucket-list: volunteering with solar energy social enterprises in Tanzania, eating sushi in Tokyo, camping at the Grand Canyon, dancing samba in Brazil, helping microfinance projects in Jakarta…

We caught up with Robin in Vienna.

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North: What inspired you to organise these pancake parties?

Robin: It started in Hong Kong a few years back. A classmate cooked Chinese food for my friend and I. To return the favour, we decided to cook pancakes for 30-40 classmates. Back in Amsterdam, I started hosting events at home. The events grew from 10 people and were initially themed, like Italian pizza parties or Japanese sushi nights. At one point, I decided to standardise everything, turning it into one theme: a pancake party. I did it a few times at birthday parties when I was traveling to Belgium or Berlin – nearby cities.

At one point my house was sold in Amsterdam so I had to ask, shall I rent a new house or invest the money I earn in my travels? Right now I don’t live anywhere. I don’t pay any rent. I just spend money on travel. Initially I organised events at people’s places. At one point, I was quite constrained by the amount of parties that my friends had, so I thought, I’ll just organise parties out of nowhere. Using Facebook and couch-surfing platforms, I’d create the party in Paris, for example, and see who could host it. The parties grew so much in popularity that right now I just write to hotels, hostels and bars to see if they want to host it.

North: Where have your pancake parties taken you?

Robin: I’ve hosted pancake parties in almost all the European capitals and in the bigger countries, maybe in the top five cities, so the United Kingdom, Germany, France, etc. I’ve also hosted it in all the capitals of Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries. I’ve done it in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bangalore, Tanzania and Darussalam, Casa Blanca, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, New York, Boston and Montreal.

“Right now I don’t live anywhere. I don’t pay any rent. I just spend money on travel.”

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North: Is there one really memorable event?

Robin: The nicest memory I have is from Jakarta. There was a rich American expat who invited me and many others to his big house. That was the biggest event so far, with maybe 150 people attending. It was really weird to see everyone eating pancakes, then getting in a swimming pool and doing karaoke (which is very popular in Jakarta).

North: How long do you see yourself throwing these pancake parties?

Robin: I’ll continue to do this until I don’t like it anymore, or I get bored, or if I feel I want to do something else. I’m thinking of evolving this concept into something else. Around Christmas, I held a pancake party with refugees in Amsterdam. I’m also integrating the parties to feature live music and other types of workshops. I can also see it broadening into more exclusive places, maybe like a boat party, in an airplane or train. Weird concepts, I like that. Or I can see it growing even bigger, like maybe in parallel places, like one party in Berlin happening at the same time as in Zurich.

Pancakes

North: Have you ever considered running a start-up model?

Robin: I don’t want to commercialise it. The only way in which I can see companies being involved is if they are food companies delivering free food making the event nicer, or music companies, or hotels hosting the party, then I’m completely fine with them charging for drinks, for example. But I don’t want to earn any money.

North: Do you have any advice for people who might be wanting to kick-start something like this in their own cities?

Robin: My advice would be to start really small. It’s really difficult to organise this party from scratch hoping 200 people will show up. Try to tag along to birthday parties or existing events and then make your own concept out of it and have it featured somewhat so you get recognition for your concept. It depends if you want to do it as at travelling thing or keep it in your own city. If you keep it in your own city, it would be easier as you can rely on your core base of friends and then have it expand, really encouraging them to bring more people.

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North: What’s next on your travel list?

Robin: I’m heading to Brazil and South Korea, as well as Vietnam and Cambodia this summer.

North: You mentioned earlier it can be pretty exhausting traveling all the time. Knowing you’re booked out 3-4 months in advance, what do you do to combat exhaustion?

Robin: I try to sleep a lot. When I’m really, really tired I try to put things in perspective and say, even if one party doesn’t work out or people don’t show up, it’s fine. It’s just one out of many. The concept is not even that important. It’s just an excuse to connect a lot of people in a city and have fun.

group.jpgInterview by Milly Arsic. Photography by Branislav Brúder.

Share some pancake love here.

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