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Ep. 218: How this digital nomad shares how to experience creative travel with Alex Schnee

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In this episode, I speak with Alex who is a travel blogger at Alex on the Map and hosts the podcast Nomads on the Map, both of which focus on digital nomadism, online entrepreneurship, and creative travel.

Listen on to find out how Alex has been able to experience sustainable creative travel. 


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Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am super excited to be with my guest today. I’m here with Alex.

Hey, Alex, how are you? 

Alex:

Hey Debbie! I’m doing well, how are you? 

Debbie:

I’m good. And it was so good to talk to you before the interview because you told me you live in Brooklyn. I live in New York City too so I was like, “Oh my God, We’re neighbors.” 

Alex:

It’s funny how in New York it’s like you live in a totally different borough but your neighbor.

Debbie:

It’s true. We’re New Yorkers, we’re neighbors. It doesn’t matter if we live like 20 miles from each other, we’re still neighbors. 

Alex:

Absolutely.

Debbie:

So, Alex, can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life? 

Alex:

Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, I’ve lived kind of an offbeat life forever. I was homeschooled growing up so I was really used to doing things a little bit differently. I did not attend a public school, so I had a lot of my own free time to do things. 

I determine my own schedule. My mom let me choose which things I was going to learn first. And then once I got it done at one o’clock in the afternoon, I had the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. And I really love that.

Once I went to college, even, I had a lot of free time. I really like the idea of being able to crack my own offbeat life. So pretty quickly on, when I started my career, I went and worked for USA Today in Florence as their foreign correspondent there. 

And so I was working remotely pretty right out the gate of college and loved it and knew that that was something that I wanted to continue doing and that I love. I worked remotely for several different companies as well as myself over the past, oh, geez, it would have been seven years now. And I’ve been able to travel all over the world which has been fantastic.

But yes, it’s kind of been offbeat all the way around. 

Debbie:

Your background is really interesting, right? Because you were working, like you’ve mentioned, remotely before this was like an “in” thing. And it was just a part of who you are, a part of your life, and what you are already doing.

How did that even come to fruition? Because back then, no one really knew how to handle what working remotely was. That must have been a really great company that you started with because, for the most part, people didn’t do that. 

Alex:

Yeah, I got really lucky. I was right out of college with pretty much no experience. I had written a novel that was published when I was really young but that was my only real work experience. So when I got the opportunity to work for USA Today, which was basically going around and trying these restaurants and hotels and bars and writing about it, which was the dream job living in Italy. I loved it.

I was really, really lucky and it didn’t pay at the time but the experience was more than enough to kind of cover the fact that I wasn’t getting paid a lot. It was also in Italy so it wasn’t as expensive as New York, the United States, so that was nice.

I just really got lucky with that position and being early on in remote work, it was kind of weird that I was doing it. It wasn’t something that everyone was like, “Oh wow!” Even when I became a digital nomad and had trouble with my husband later, that was more than norm. 

But even then at the beginning, it was kind of weird. It was a weird thing to do. Everyone was kind of like, “I don’t understand.” I had to explain it to them and even then they didn’t really get it. 

Debbie:

I want to dig deeper into that, to those conversations when you were mentioning to people. In New York, especially, they ask you, “What is it that you do?” I think this is like an American thing right? The first thing is like, “What’s your name? What do you do?” 

And for you to be like, “I go around in Italy and I eat food and I review it,” how did those conversations look like? Because I can just imagine people’s faces like, “What? What do you do?” 

Alex:

That’s exactly what their faces are like. It was really interesting because for the longest time I didn’t think people thought I actually worked. I think they just thought that I had a ton of money which I didn’t and that I was just going around living my best life or going into debt or something like that. 

So really explaining it in the beginning and saying, “Okay, this is a viable way to work and live,” was almost impossible. But it eventually started catching on and maybe not necessarily that type of job that’s kind of one in a million but the remote work attitude and people taking their work with them became more of a thing the longer it went along. 

And so, yeah, it’s been really interesting too because it used to be kind of cool. I would be like, “I work from home, I’m a remote worker,” and then now everyone does it so you’re like, “Oh, man.”

Debbie:

They’re like, “Yeah, me too.”

Alex:

Yeah. I’m not as cool as I was.

Debbie:

Me, too. I was forced into it. 

Alex:

Exactly. I hate it. I’m like, “No, it can be really cool I promise. It’s a lot cooler than it seems. 

Debbie:

Yeah. I keep saying this: I think the people who were forced into remote work during the pandemic are not getting the real experience of what it’s actually like because this is not how it is, everyone.

Like, you have so much freedom when you’re working remotely, so much freedom with your time, you can do whatever you want, or obviously, as long as you do your work but that’s another conversation and itself. Making sure you balance all of that stuff. 

But I actually want to go back to something that you mentioned, Alex, was that you wrote a freaking novel when you were really young? Okay, let’s go back to that. What was this novel about? And obviously, it was good enough for USA Today to take notice of you.

Like, you had no freaking experience. You wrote a novel and then they’re like, “We’re going to take you to Italy and you’re just going to write about food, enjoy it and we’ll pay for it.” Yes, it doesn’t pay as much but damn, that’s a crazy experience. What the hell was this novel about? Tell us.

Alex:

I’m a little embarrassed about it now because it’s been like 10 years. Oh, it’s been more than that since I signed the contract. So it’s been a long time. It was about Shakespeare, it was about the dark lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets and I wrote it when I was sixteen but it got picked up by a publisher and I signed my contract at 17. 

Debbie:

Wow. 

Alex:

And it was an amazing experience for me. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about marketing. I learned a lot about just dealing with people. Again I was able to write it ’cause I was homeschooled and I had a lot of free time. I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.

And it was a great experience. I’ve learned a lot from it and it really did propel my career afterward because writing is at the heart of everything I do. I love it, it’s who I am. So even if I’m thinking about SEO or branding, I’m always thinking about the writing and the storytelling underneath.

So yeah, it was interesting. It was really weird to just have that opportunity. Again, writing a novel is not as exciting to me now because I’m so much older. But at that time it was really exciting. 

Debbie:

That’s a huge freaking accomplishment for a 16-year-old to do that and then to sign with a publication at 17 and then right after college, working for USA Today, to pretty much living the dream, right? 

And you’ve worked with a lot of really great companies too and now you have a business. And for you, maybe this is not something that you think about because this is your lifestyle but I do know at some point or another you might have had this conversation with other people you know, strangers, with income security.

Because for the most part, that’s one of the biggest things that people talk to us about once whether you’re leaving your nine-to-five or you’re like yourself, Alex, that this is really the life that you’ve always wanted to do is: Why would you do that when you can just have job security? When you can have insurance and money coming in securely every single month or every two weeks. 

How did you get over that hump or even if it wasn’t on your mind? Like, having those conversations and feeling okay with that and accepting that as your reality. 

Alex:

That’s a great question because I come from a very chill but Midwestern background, where my dad is a financial advisor. So when I told him I wanted to go to school to be a writer, he was like, “Uh, okay. Well, how are you going to make that work?” And I said, “I don’t know,” and he’s like. “Okay. Just so you know, it’s probably not going to work out for you.”

And you know what? He was kind of wrong, it did work out for me. But I definitely have anxiety, especially when I was first starting out. Well, I don’t have the insurance I would like, I’m not making the amount of money I would like, I’m living in a foreign country and what’s going to happen when I come back or if I come back?

Definitely, all those thoughts ran through my mind and other people not understanding that life choice definitely made it a lot more intimidating for me to give it a shot. The joke is now because I had writing as a skill, I was able to build up other skill sets. 

Once I had that foundation, I was able to learn copywriting, and then I was able to learn SEO, and then I was able to learn UX/UI design and things like that as well. So now I’m making more money than I ever could have if I was a business major or something like that.

So it’s just funny how that ends up working out in the long run but trust in yourself and trusting that you know what’s best for you, it’s not an easy thing but it’s important. 

Debbie:

Isn’t it interesting when you actually do what you want and then you build up that resume portfolio and things start to happen? And I think most people, if it doesn’t happen right away, they often give up. 

I think there’s like a meme or like a picture of a cartoon of someone who gave up and it’s just only a few inches before they hit gold and then someone who keeps pushing, then they finally hit that jackpot. 

And I think that’s really what happens with most of us. Sometimes it happens a lot faster and then sometimes it happens later. So you just have to make sure that you’re obviously learning from what’s happening with you. 

So you mentioned, Alex, that from writing you learned how to do SEO, you learned all of these other things from it, like copywriting. How did you do that? How did you learn all of these different skills? Did you take any classes? Did you go to school? How did this all come about? And how did it turn into actual income for yourself? 

Alex:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve always loved to learn and, again, I tribute this to having a lot of free time as a homeschooler. I am just saying I’m going to pick up whatever interests me. I love to just pick up a book. I will read books on the dullest topics ever and find them fascinating. That’s just something I love to do.

So I just kind of also learn by doing as well. So I’ll read a ton about something and then I’ll do it and I’m okay with making mistakes. So that’s a big thing I do. Take some courses occasionally on things for UX/UI. I definitely had to take a course but a lot of SEO for me was just playing around. My husband’s an SEO manager. So he could kind of teach me the basics.

And then from there, I kind of just learned it on my own. It really is just being open, I think, and saying I am willing to learn everything and then I’m willing to specialize. And knowing what you’re good at, knowing what you don’t like and you don’t want to include in your skillset is really just as important as learning new skills as well. 

Debbie:

And I think the key point for all of this is trying things out and seeing if it sticks, right? If it’s something that you enjoy because then once you really figure that out, then you can drive into that and then you can start creating income from it. 

So when you finally figured out that SEO is a big part of it, your copywriting skills and obviously writing was a huge part of what you really love and you’re passionate about, and realizing you can make money from this, how did you get clients from it? How did you make money from this? How did you make the most you’ve ever made from all of these skills that you have?

Alex:

A lot of it was just putting myself out there honestly, on social media. Starting to learn which places really I could get clients. Instagram, I’ve learned, was not good for me to get clients. I love posting things, it was fantastic. I got a lot of feedback because it’s Instagram but it wasn’t necessarily the best place for me to get clients.

However, posting on LinkedIn, which you only need to post once or twice a week in order for it to make an impact, I was able to pick up people. 

So it really is just, like you said, trying new things seeing if they stick, being open to learning new things, and saying, “Okay. You know what? I might look a little silly doing this or look a little desperate or not be doing it enough but I’m going to just give it a shot and see how it goes.”

But definitely, LinkedIn for me has been a big one when it comes to clients and getting a hold of new people because it is so easy just to post once or twice a week.

Debbie:

That’s amazing. People tell you to go to LinkedIn all the time to build your profile there. But to actually use posts, that’s incredible to actually do that. 

So when you are actually putting in your post there once or twice a week, are you offering your services? What does that look like?

Alex:

For UX/UI design, what I just do is I throw up a design I’ve been working on. It could be unfinished, it doesn’t really matter. And then you just mention in the captions and say, “Hey, this is something I’m working on. What have you been working on or what are your needs currently?” 

But I don’t directly offer my services. I just kind of put it out there and say, “This is what I’m capable of doing.” And again, it doesn’t have to be the highest quality work but just that you show that you know your expertise.

Same with SEO, if you say, “Google had an unconfirmed algorithm update recently, what are your thoughts on that? Have you noticed any change in your rankings?” Things like that. Then people are going to engage with that and it really shows up on people’s profiles just because of the LinkedIn algorithm. 

So that’s usually what I just do, just kind of engage in a conversation. People are always surprised and impressed and saying like, “Okay, the person knows what they’re doing, I’m going to contact them and see what’s up.

Debbie:

Love that. That’s such a great tip for people who want to start out and want to start getting leads from just creating content and posting. And like you said, Alex, not every platform is for you, not every platform is going to land you clients but it’s just experimenting in figuring out where they are, where they hang out, and where those people will try to find information and also help. 

So that is a great way to do it. Thank you for that Alex. 

Alex:

That was so lovely, happy to help.

Debbie:

So you have done this for a really long time, for years and years and one of the things that can be really hard for someone to do especially when they’re just starting out is to manage your time as a remote worker because there are days, I’m speaking personally for myself, where I just feel lazy and then I will just like watch Netflix all day and then before you know it, the day is done and you’re ready to go to sleep. 

How do you stop yourself from doing that, Alex? Because if you’re not used to this lifestyle and you don’t have an office where you have a boss, it is a little hard in the beginning I feel like.

Alex:

Absolutely. And I think time management is something that you never fully master. I’m always impressed by people who say, “I know how to manage my time.” I’m like, “Do you really or do you just know how to manage it today?” Because It’s constant where what I like to do at the beginning of the week is I have a weekly planner and I plan everything I think that I will need to get done by the end of the week. 

I also do it before I go to bed at night as we go over the tasks that I need to get done immediately. And I try not to think too far into the future about, “Okay, next week, this is what I need to do.” I mostly just try to focus on that week unless there’s a huge project and I know that there’s a deadline.

But that has really helped me break it down bit by bit and saying, “Okay, I need to get this done by tomorrow,” as opposed to, “I need to get this done 5 days from now.” Because I can’t think that far. It’s something I can’t do.

So yeah, I think having those tasks laid out for me really helps. I know that people do it differently. You gotta do it your own way but that’s what helps me. 

Debbie:

That is really true. I think day-to-day can be different, it’s not the same. Like, it used to be before the pandemic especially if you’re traveling around. If you’re a digital nomad you have different days. Almost every single day is different, so that can be a lot harder, right? 

But for me, I don’t know how you feel about this, Alex, I tried the digital nomad thing for like a few months and I was like, “This is just not viable for the lifestyle that I have.” Like, me trying to do work for my clients, finding clients, and then also traveling. It just wasn’t for me and I know a lot of people who have been able to do it successfully, I’m like, “How the hell did they do that?” Because that’s hard. 

Alex:

It’s really hard. When I was traveling, what I tried to do is really limit my clientele. So, when I knew that we would be resting for a while, maybe a month or two months, and we just have a place that was kind of our home base for a while then I could take on another client or something like that. 

But I really tried to just keep it to maybe one or two while we were on the road and not really in a secure place and that helps a lot. It was still overwhelming. There were times where I was working really late and there were times where I didn’t want to be working and I was. 

There were times where I was like connecting with the hotspot on my phone with the laptop and being like, “I hope this internet connection works ‘cause I need to turn this in.” So it is stressful, there’s no doubt about it. To reward that way, that stress, that’s up to each individual, what they need, and the kind of job they have too, the kind of test they have to do.

Debbie:

Yeah. You’re right. It really depends on each person, the company that they’re working for or if it’s your company, it depends on your productivity level and what your clients expect from you because yes, this lifestyle is really great but you also need to make sure it’s sustainable and maintainable because if you can’t maintain it, then it’s not going to work out. 

You’re going to lose people. You’re going to lose trust. And I think that’s so important to always remember when you are doing this lifestyle. I mean, right now I think we’re all situated, most of us, in one place so it’s a lot easier. 

Hopefully soon when this is all lifted, there’s more mobility for everybody. I think a lot of people are figuring out right now if this is the lifestyle that they want, which is kind of nice. 

So, when you were traveling around, Alex, what type of travel insurance did you typically use? 

Alex:

Honestly, I used some World Nomads depending on what we were doing. I also had a credit card that covered certain amounts as well. So it wasn’t a main concern because we were abroad for so long. If I had US insurance, it really just depended on what we were doing.

Like, my husband and I climbed up to the Everest Base Camp and we definitely needed insurance or something like that. If we were only going to be gone a month and then we were returning back to the US, then we would just do World Nomads or something like that. 

It really just depended. And I know that’s not a great answer or helpful for anyone but it was one of those things where you just played it out by ear and we were the kind of people too where we would see a flight and we’d just go. 

So insurance was something we thought about but probably not as much as we should. And we were also a lot younger.

Debbie:

You feel like you’re invincible when you’re young.

Alex:

You do.

Debbie:

And it’s so crazy. I used to do that to my fiance and I used to do that too. I would find a cheap flight, we would just go there and be like, “Yeah!” I wouldn’t even plan most of the time but it’s so crazy.

I think right now especially with the pandemic, everyone is thinking so much more about travel insurance, and as a remote worker, it can be really hard to find out ‘cause there are so many insurances out there with different requirements. 

And then if you don’t have it, then you’re kind of done especially with covid when all this stuff was happening, I think there are so many people that were like stranded in the middle of another country and they couldn’t go back because their insurance didn’t cover it. 

That’s why I’m really happy that I’m actually working with Integra Global because they have a ton of comprehensive plans and they don’t ask their members to build one because how do we know it will be needed, right? I mean, who knew covid was going to happen?

And their insurance actually covers it all and everything is built-in. So if you all want to know more about their information and how they have covered everything, pretty much check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some you never knew you would. Again, that’s IntegraGlobal.com.

It’s so crazy how I’ve been talking to so many people like, “What do you do now? How do you prepare to travel right now?” And the number one thing is like, “Oh shoot, do we need insurance? How do we make sure that we get the right one?” So it’s such a crazy time but we gotta do what we gotta do. 

Alex:

That’s true and it changes everything, it really does. Like, from planning from the very beginning to I’m way more in the planning thinking about trips now than I ever was for sure.

Debbie:

You have to because everything changes, right? Like, do you need requirements? I had a friend who was actually traveling last year abroad and they were halfway there and they had to turn back to the US because they were, like, either information that was missing and they changed information because every time it’s always changing and they didn’t have a certain type of paperwork. 

So it’s so crazy now.

Alex:

Oh, no.

Debbie:

I know. I’m like, “Oh my God, that sucks. My goodness.”

Alex:

Oh, my gosh. Yeah. That is stressful enough, like, with the visa and everything before.

Debbie:

Now, like, medical things that you need to have, it’s ridiculously crazy.

So, Alex, let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Alex:

That’s a great question. I want to be remembered for my compassion, first and foremost. Having amazing experiences, being able to travel, having that freedom, is great for me as my day-to-day life.

But at the end of the day, I want people to look back and say, “She was really a kind person and she really just made people feel good. She had a lot of compassion.”

50 years from now, I would love to be able to say that I have a kid who’s happy in the world also, feels comfortable in the world. That was something I had to learn growing upcoming from a really small town in the middle of nowhere, Montana.

My eyes were wide open when I first thought I was traveling by myself. And I think fostering in that new generation of just being open and say, “Okay, we’re going to go here, you’re going to meet these people, you’re gonna try these foods,” is an experience I never had but I would like to bring that to the new generation for sure. 

And yeah, I think overall what comes down to it is my character more than anything. 

Debbie:

I think that’s why people remember you by. It’s interesting ’cause, I mean, I’m probably sure this is one of those motivational quotes. Like, it’s not the money that you make, it’s how you make people feel,” right? That really has a lasting impression on everyone and for the ones that you leave behind.

Because I don’t know if I’ll ever be like a big name, a legend, or something – I don’t know. But it’s the people that you leave behind that’s so important. So I love that, Alex. 

So before we say goodbye to you, I have 5 rapid questions for you. So you have to answer in one sentence, are you ready? 

Alex:

Yes, I think I got this. Okay. 

Debbie:

First question, Alex, what’s the best money you’ve ever spent while you were abroad and wh?

Alex:

A hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

Debbie:

Oh, my God. That’s like, “Oh!” I’m pretty sure you have, like, beautiful photos from there too. 

Alex:

Oh my gosh, they were. And it was so funny too because that was really a big expense at that time. Now, I look back on it and I’m like, “Not so crazy…,” but then it was really expensive. So I was like, “Do we really do it? And now I’m so thrilled.

Debbie:

Yeah, because you said that’s the best money I’ve ever spent while you are abroad. So… damn!

Alex:

Yeah. Honestly, I’m like, “Wow! Okay, still number one.”

Debbie:

Describe what your ideal day would look like.

Alex:

My ideal day… Honestly, this sounds really corny but everyday I have with my husband is my ideal day.

Debbie:

Awww… That’s so cute.

Alex:

Really corny but the journeys I’ve had have been so much more enriched when we are together. So it could be anywhere, it could be here, it could be wherever. 

Debbie:

That’s so nice. I’ve traveled solo before without my fiance and then I’ve had moments where I like, “This sucks. I wish he was here to experience this.” Because it’s not the same when you’re trying to explain it, right? You’re like, “Huh! Okay…”

Alex:

And then if they love to travel too it’s like, “Oh, man. I’m here and you’re not. Bummer!”

Debbie:

So, where is the best location to live in as a remote worker? 

Alex:

I love Melbourne, Australia. I felt Melbourne was a very good place for that. Great wifi, great people, great food, what more could you want?

Debbie:

What was the cost of living like there? Was it inexpensive as well? 

Alex:

Ahm… No. It was expensive. I would say it was probably just a little less than New York quite honestly but you do get access to Southeast Asia. And I love Vietnam too. Vietnam was amazing as well but Melbourne was the most liveable city, I think, that I’ve been to.

Debbie:

That is awesome. And yeah, you’re right. It’s so close to Southeast Asia, which is so cheap over there, which is nice and beautiful and the food is so good.

Alex:

Oh, so good.

Debbie:

If you could have a superpower, Alex, what would it be?

Alex:

I think flying, which sounds so lame. That sounds so lame. But I’ve always, as a little kid, like, “I want to be able to fly.” So that would definitely be it. Plus you can just go wherever you want, whenever you want. 

Debbie:

That makes sense for you because you live in, like,  the boondocks in Montana so you’re like, “I wish I could go somewhere else.” But I do have to say, if you could fly though, the one thing, would you be able to carry your husband, would you or would he be too heavy?

Alex:

Absolutely not. Definitely not. 

Debbie:

You’re like, “Sorry…”

Alex:

Yeah. It’s like a joke because I’m pretty small, I’m like 5’2” and he’s like six foot. 

Debbie:

Oh my God!

Alex:

It’s a running joke how small I am and how big he is. So definitely not. 

Debbie:

It’s so funny. You would need to have super strength as well as be able to fly so that you could carry your husband with you when you’re flying around. Otherwise, you’ll be like, “Sorry, you’re going to have to take a cab, a plane, whatever it is that you need to get to where I am.”

Alex:

Yep. “You’re on your own.”

Debbie:

Alright. What’s the one thing you wish you did sooner? 

Alex:

That’s a great question. I think, learn to love myself. I really do like who I am now but I can’t say that was the case for a long time. So if I could tell my younger self, “You know what? As soon as you learn to love yourself, things are going to get so much better. You’re just going to enjoy life more. You’re going to feel more confident. You’re just going to feel good about getting up every day.”

That’s what I would do if I could have done that sooner. I would be a lot happier.

Debbie:

Yeah. It’s so crazy, right? I mean, it’s not crazy, I guess, it just happens, right? You grow up, when you’re young you’re very insecure about yourself, you don’t know much about yourself, you’re figuring things out, and then it just happens. 

Hopefully, you become more secure as you grow older. Personally, I think that happened to me when I started to go out there and experience things because when you’re clustered in and you don’t experience anything, then the insecurity becomes bigger. 

But when you explore, you make mistakes, you get up, you do it again, you realize, “Oh, all of this stuff is not a big deal, it’s just life and you just keep moving forward.” 

So yeah, it’s nice to figure things out that way too. 

Alex:

It is. It’s a lot more fun, I guess, than waiting around for it to happen. You’re actively saying, “Okay, I’m going to make myself uncomfortable and I’m going to try these new things that maybe I wouldn’t have otherwise.” 

And I think it does kind of speed up a lot of the process a little faster than it normally would because you start realizing, “Man, I’m awesome. I figured all this out. I did this, I did that.” So I think those experiences, yeah, really do help a lot. 

Debbie:

I love that.

Thank you so much, Alex, for joining us here today. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you? 

Alex:

Absolutely. You can find me on any social media platform and I mean, any @alexonthemap. And then also my website is AlexOnTheMap.com. So, pretty simple. 

Debbie:

Love that. You hear that? That’s how branding is: she’s on everything everywhere with the same name. So that’s a good lesson for everyone to learn. 

Awesome. Thank you so much, Alex, we really appreciate you.

Alex:

Oh, thank you, Debbie. I had so much fun today.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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