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Ep: 173: Bonus: How to live the expat life and pivot your business during a crisis with Kach Howe

In this week’s bonus episode, I speak with Kach Howe who is the blogger behind MrandMrsHowe.com and TwoMonkeysTravelgroup.com, where Kach shares how to travel the world with a Philippines passport and helps other Filipinos with their travel and visa applications.

Listen on to find out how Kach has been able to travel all 7 continents with a Philippine passport, lives the ex-pat life in Montenegro, and pivoted her travel business during times of crisis.

Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to be speaking with my guest again with Kach.

Hey Kach, how are you?

Kach:

Hi Debbie? I’m good.

It’s been a while since our last interview. Thank you again for inviting me.

Debbie:

Thank you so much for doing this. I know you have been super busy with everything and we’re going to talk about that. But before we get to your amazing process and journey and how you’ve been surviving all of this, can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Kach:

My name is Kach, I am a travel blogger and I’m from the Philippines. And in the last seven years since 2013, I’ve been traveling around the world and visited 143 countries while working online.

Debbie:

It’s amazing what you and your husband have been able to do because when we first did our interview, you talked about how you and Jonathan, when you started going and traveling, you barely had anything, right? Like, you were doing massages and you are doing all of these things

And then, you figured out that you were going to start working online and you started your blog and now it’s this business that you have that has allowed you to, not only travel the world but also have a boat that you guys were traveling with. And now, you have a base in Montenegro.

So, can you tell us about that? Because you were on the boat the last time I spoke to you a few years ago, and now you have this amazing stone house in Montenegro. That’s incredible. And every time I look on social media I’m like, “Oh my God. Kach is in this beautiful place. This is a great place to be at right now especially.”

Kach:

You should visit one day. Maybe next year.

Debbie:

I’m going to take you up on that.

So, can you tell us how you were able to transition from boat life? First of all backpacking life, boat life, and now, you have this, like, an incredible stone mansion in Montenegro. This is incredible.

Kach:

So, I think the main, not secret, but, like, the main thing is having short and long-term goals. We want to leave the digital nomad lifestyle but we know that we don’t want to be backpackers forever. We don’t want to be staying in hotels and hostels forever.

When my husband and I met while backpacking in Southeast Asia in 2013, we didn’t know what we wanted to do but I know that by age 30, I could accomplish things. Like, certain things that I wanna get done.

And when my husband and I, like, started our travel blogging in 2014, our original tagline then was, like, From Backpackers to luxury Travelers but at that time we were just hitchhiking, volunteering, teaching yoga, doing massages, and just barely have money when we arrive in South America.

Until we started our online business with the aim of monetizing it and making money out of it and experiencing luxury travels later on. And by 2015 and 2016, we’re able to achieve that and, at the same time, save up because my husband’s dream is to sail a sailboat, like, be a skipper of a boat.

And we’re able to buy a sailboat in 2017 in Florida and we sailed all over the Caribbean but, like, from Florida, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and the Dominican Republic. Until we reached Puerto Rico when we decided it’s about time we finally sold the boat and not just moved but, like, do something else.

But that time, my husband was turning 35 and I was turning 3. We have two cats and we were like, “What’s next? Shall we continue sailing?” Thankfully, we were able to sell our boat in April 2019 and moved last year to Montenegro.

And we actually just thought of moving to Europe because we lived, like, two years in Latin America and in the Caribbean and it’s been a while, since we moved to Europe and be closer to his family, be closer to my family. It’s easier for them to come and visit us.

And we thought of moving to Portugal and Spain but then, realized that in Montenegro it’s easier to get residency and properties are more expensive compared to our destinations because it’s a smaller country. But the opportunities – there’s still a lot. It’s not like the EU, there are so many things that you can do that why we started another company when you moved here.

But, unfortunately, COVID happened and of course, everyone’s affected. Thankfully, we finally have a house and not just float in the Caribbean.

Debbie:

Which is not a bad gig and you, guys, did that for a while. And I love your story, Kach, and your husband because you really set out to do something and you accomplished all of them, right?

You and I came from the Philippines, it’s like, this is not something that most people would think Filipinos do, right? We’re either nurses or caregivers, what you do is, like, the dream come true.

Honestly, like, for most people where we come from it’s, like, it’s not even on our radar, right?

Kach:

Yes.

You, as well, as a popular podcaster. It’s not really popular yet in the Philippines and you’re doing an amazing job.

Debbie:

It’s kind of amazing that’s why I love highlighting your story, Kach, ‘cause I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be like Kach when I grow up?” Do you know what it is too? You have this really great base of audience and they’re so loyal to you that you’re, like, a rockstar in your own right that everyone’s like, “Okay, we know Kach, we followed her journey.”

Kach:

It’s been a while. They followed when I was still single until I adopted more and more cats.

Debbie:

They’ve been there throughout the whole thing. It must be really crazy when people are like, “Okay, I know everything about you, what you’re doing right now, like, how you started?”

Kach:

Yeah.

Debbie:

So, since your business really came from traveling and you have this whole company, from that, how has it affected you since COVID happened and how are you guys able to pivot and make sure that you’re still able to make a living from this?

Kach:

So, basically, we have our two websites and even during COVID, we are still making money from passive income and ads. But, unlike before, our income dropped, like, 80% down,

But, thankfully, aside from that, I was doing coaching and teaching people how to get visas but, unfortunately, of course, travel stopped so no one is applying for a visa, American visa, and embassies are shut down and everything.

But the best thing about this is I started a new company in Montenegro which is immigration services in November 2019. And, basically, it is for people who are looking to move to Europe, have a residency in Europe, and either buy a property, start your business, or, like, working online and just hire themselves as self-employed.

And now, with the COVID situation, not that I’m saying nice things about the government, but there are more and more people who are considering getting another citizenship or another residency.

I had an increased amount of people inquiring so I didn’t get a lot of clients prior to that or even inquiries prior to that. But because of COVID and people knowing about Montenegro and how Montenegro handles these things then, looking at the bright side of things, it’s a positive impact for me.

But, of course, my other business is affected but, thankfully, we’re able to save up before all these things happen.

Debbie:

It’s really interesting how you always learn how to pivot. Like, you understand what people want and then you just start new services. And that’s really what I love about you, Kach, is because you are such an entrepreneur.

Because you don’t let him push you down. You’re just like, “Okay, well this is happening and I can’t stop it from happening. So how can I change my services or at least change it for now before things go back to…” I don’t even know what’s normal after this. At least, once people can start traveling again

And I love that about you. You’re just like, “Okay. There’s still going to be issues during the time, how can I service those people who have these new pain points that I can actually give them?” So, that’s amazing. I love it when you do that Kach.

Kach:

Actually, I forgot, from April to June, I taught two batch classes on how to become a digital nomad and I was able to grow that group into 1,500 I think and that was fun.

They are asking me to do another course because now, more and more Filipinos, readers, people who lost their day job, are encouraged to start working online as virtual assistants and stuff so I did courses as well.

And compared to other instructors who charge a lot, I’m charging thirty euro and a lot more people signed up and a lot more people have changed their thinking’

Like, some of them are already working online which is good as well that happened during the last two months ‘cause I will not be able to do that when I was traveling because I have to do it consistently and in, like, 4 weeks time.

Debbie:

It’s an amazing opportunity now because you and I, your husband, and a lot of people like us have been doing this for quite some time. And it’s interesting that now, this is considered stable, right?

Not having a 9-to-5, working in an office is not anymore. Now, everyone’s trying to transition to working online which is pretty amazing. Now, people understand why we love this lifestyle so much and it just showed throughout this whole thing why it’s so important to be able to do this and at least, have it in mind for you to do it.

Kach:

Yeah. Now, there are more and more people listening to podcasts, like yours, just to know how people do it. It is not, like, you’re not responsible if you work online ‘cause now, people are moving to home-base and getting more and more part-time jobs.

Debbie:

Absolutely.

And love it that you also thought of that and you have a huge audience and, like you were saying, you have a specific niche and also a specific audience of Filipinos who look to you. And this is something that a lot of people want to do in that space as well. So that’s amazing.

So, just to reiterate for our listeners, just make sure that you are looking at people’s pain points during this time and servicing that because that’s really what Kach is so great in doing. She doesn’t just say, “Okay. Well, this sucks. I don’t know what’s to do now.”

You really look at people’s problems and you answer that and you create income from that and it doesn’t matter what happens.

Kach:

Yeah. I think that’s the best way – you’re doing two things at the same time. You help them and at the same time, you make money out of it. It’s just, like, a win-win situation.

So, like, just look for a problem that you think you could help, solve, or improve then, a lot of opportunities are going to open up.

Debbie:

Yeah. There are so many, right? I think we need to take a look at the brighter side of it and see how we can add it to our current business.

This is also a great way of making you more versatile because maybe you just had one business, the mainstream of income and now you have to really think outside of the box because of what’s happening in the world.

Kach:

That’s true. Don’t put everything in one basket.

But people would say, “Oh, I have a diverse source of income. I put in stocks, I put here, I put there,” but everything is affected. So, I think during this time of pandemic and during this time where everyone is affected your asset would be thinking of ways or new things.

The money will run out but, like, losing your ideas, your plans on what you could do next to – that’s the end of it.

Debbie:

Yeah. You can always make money, right?

There are always ways for you to make money. So you just have to be versatile and really see what’s going to work. And a lot of it is just testing to make sure if it’s the right way to do it. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Kach, you’ve been at this for, like, what’s 6,7 years?

Kach:

6 years.

Debbie:

Yeah. So it doesn’t happen overnight and you, guys, just have to understand that Kach is doing really well right now but she and Jonathan really struggled in the beginning.

Kach:

Yeah. We were so broke,

Debbie:

And I think a lot of people just take a look at where you are now and be, like, envious about that. But they don’t really see where you guys started from and you didn’t have money coming in from anybody else. It was just you and you brought yourself up to this point that now, you have the luxury to have this incredible life for yourself.

Kach:

I think another technique is finding a place where you could live, like, a luxurious lifestyle on the budget. That’s why we’re in Montenegro. I don’t think we can live like this in the UK or New York.

Debbie:

Absolutely. And that’s really the important thing too, it’s where your money goes the long way.

I live in New York. Well, I have no choice right now because Aaron has a steady day job there. So until he can leave then., we are kind of stuck in New York – but hopefully.

Kach:

I love New York, though. If I can afford to live there, like, with the lifestyle that we have, I’ll live there. But, no, I can’t afford to live there with the lifestyle that we have.

Debbie:

Well, listen, you and Jonathan are always welcome to come to us because we’re there, we’ll visit each other.

Kach:

Yeah. My last best experience was with you there, so it’s good. We will come back.

Debbie:

I know.

Kach:

We will do it again.

Debbie:

It was really amazing.

Okay, so just a little background on what Kach is talking about. So, she came to New York for only, like, a few days and she visited me and Esther from Local Adventurer. And we went to a gay club and it was, like, the best time we’ve had in, like, a long time.

Kach:

It was amazing. You could just dance and laugh, like, oh my God, it was so fun. And you weren’t even drunk.

Debbie:

No.

Kach:

We were just having fun. I think we only had one drink. It’s amazing.

Debbie:

I know.

Kach:

You guys know where to go.

Debbie:

It was just the best time. So we pretty much almost closed down the place. We were just like, “This is too much fun, we can’t leave.”

Kach:

Yeah.

Debbie:

So, Kach,I know that when this whole thing, when the whole pandemic happened, you and Jonathan were, like, in two different countries. He was in the UK and you were in Montenegro. How did that work out?

Like, that must have been so hard for you to be apart from each other. And on top of that, you are still building up your house, right?

Kach:

Yeah, it’s crazy.

So this is what happened: Jonathan got a job in the architecture industry which used to be his work before quitting to go traveling around the world with me. So technically, like, we knew that the pandemic would happen and that we are slowly seeing the impact of our ads, income, affiliate income, and other stuff And Jonathan got an opportunity to work in Bristol, UK.

So, okay, why not? If this really is going to shut things down and our business will be affected and we’re in the middle of construction with a lot of bills to pay. And we don’t want to stop our construction.

Our house is built but we are renovating it. So he said, “Okay,” he’ll accept the job, and then, he flew to the UK which he thought would only last for a month or two then, he’ll come back. But, unexpectedly, he returned after 4 months and I ended up staying at home.

I still got some jobs, like, publishing articles. Because the traffic is low, the ads are low with the travel industry. And there’s no affiliate income because no one’s looking for hotels and flights. There are still a few people booking but they are just, like, usually last minute.

But SEO companies are doing more advertisements because there are more and more companies that have physical stores and then, they move their business online. So there are more and more people in the SEO industry who are trying to buy content, doing more marketing promotion online. So, the work is still ongoing.

So, I was able to do that and I was able to project manage our house while Jonathan was in the UK. And then, he returned and the house was done. It’s not done done but, like, we have another phase to do.

But, like, now the first thing, where we are living properly, is already done and he’s like, “Okay, back to real life and there’s a lot of things to do.

Debbie:

But that’s a good “real life” that you have.

Kach:

It was hard being apart.

Debbie:

Yeah, that must have been so hard – to be apart from each other for 4 months. That’s crazy. But I’m so glad.

Kach:

They also did the lockdown so I was not able to go outside as well but I have cats so I think that helped.

Debbie:

How many cats do you have now? I know when we met you had two.

Kach:

People will think I’m a crazy cat lady. When we lived in a sailboat we had two and when we arrived in Montenegro, there’s a cat in our apartment, were so afraid ‘cause we’re by the road so we adopted one. And when you move to our village, in this villa, there were 3 kittens outside and they’re so cute. So, we adopted them and now, we have six cats.

Debbie:

Well, you guys have a huge place so that’s okay. That’s scary when you have, like, a one-bedroom apartment in New York City and you have six cats. That I’m concerned about but you have a huge place. So that’s okay. You’re not, like, in one room with them – that’s creepy.

Kach:

They have the mountain, they can run around.

Debbie:

Exactly.

Kach:

We don’t have neighbors so it’s good.

Debbie:

So now, you guys, are settling in, you’re in Montenegro, and you’re trying to get other people into this country too, huh? I mean, I’ve been looking at all of your pictures and they’re so beautiful and it’s really not a huge leap because, definitely, there’s a reason why you guys fell in love with this place and decided to have your roots there.

Kach:

I think, Debbie, you should come to visit next year because, like, Estonia and other European countries are being hubs for digital nomads. I think digital nomads should consider living in Montenegro because the weather is like Greece.

We have nice beaches here, you could rent an apartment here for 350 euro a month and it’s fully furnished. Electricity and water will not cost your 50 euro and then, less than 30 minutes away from Herceg Novi is Dubrovnik Airport – ii’s an international hub. And to that airport is another 30 minutes and it’s an international hub for Europe too.

So, it’s, like, a really good strategic location and it’s not yet EU so the rules are not so strict compared to other European countries. But they’ve been trying their best to become UN If you’re already a resident, especially for Americans like you. You can only stay 90 days in Shengan, right?

Debbie:

Yeah.

Kach:

And you could go to Montenegro for 90 days and then, go to Shengan and then come back.

It’s just a really good, strategic location and we’ve traveled 143 countries and we decided to live here. So, I think, there’s a reason for that and everytime people ask us why, “You have the water, you have the mountain, the cost of living is so low. The technicalities of residency and stuff are easy.”

Debbie:

Well, I’m already convinced from your photos and I’ve never been there. So we’ll definitely come to visit and you have to try to convince Aaron because…

Kach:

Take a sabbatical. We have fast internet and stuff.

Debbie:

We may just do that.

Kach:

Just book your flight and stay with me. And I’ll host you, you know that.

Debbie:

I’ll be like, “Okay, Kach, convince Aaron for us to stay here,” that will be good.

But you know what? It’s good. If we do decide to move there we already have you, we already know you and we’ll know people already. So that’s always good.

Kach:

Yes. And there’s a growing ex-pat community. When people ask me, “What’s Montenegro?” Montenegro is beside Croatia – and you know how popular Croatia is. So, think of Croatia 10 years ago, not as behind Croatia, but, like, raw Croatia. So, that’s Montenegro.

It’s a tiny country. The same coastline as Croatia and almost the same culture, like, they understand each other with the language. So, that’s the only thing: we don’t speak the language but people speak English with us.

It’s just so easy to navigate around.

Debbie:

That’s awesome. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people are concerned about, right? But honestly, like, you can go around, most people speak English anyway, but I do have a question for you: are you and Jonathan trying to get your citizenship there? Do you need it in order to actually stay there for a long period of time?

Kach:

No. Just like in other countries, you process, like, a temporary residence on a yearly basis. So there are, like, seven ways to get a temporary residence like starting your own company which is easy. You just need to get a lawyer and an accountant and they’ll do that for you. And then you hire yourself as the CEO of your company.

Unlike in other countries where you have to hire three other local employees to set up a company here, you get a good lawyer and an accountant and set it up and that’s it.

And after 5 years of consistent living here, you get your permanent residence. Just the same when you live in other European countries. And after 10 years, you get your citizenship.

But we don’t have plans to become citizens, we just want to be residents. And now, our residency is based on our property because if you own a house, then, you can have a residency.

And we just want to get permanent as well. Hopefully, in the next five years but I don’t want to give up my Filipino citizenship because I’m traveling around the world and writing about being a Filipino traveler so I can’t just give it up – I’ll lose my audience.

And my husband is British. It’s funny because during this pandemic, like, before we’re always like, “Okay, a British citizen and powerful passport,” but, like, in the last few months, it seems like being Filipino is more powerful. I can travel to more countries than him.

Debbie:

There you go.

Kach:

My husband just got back and he’s processing his residency now.

Debbie:

That’s amazing. I love how it turned, right?

Now, the Philippine passport is better. Okay, first of all, Americans, we can’t travel anywhere outside of the US. Like, there are so many places we can’t travel to because of what’s happening in here.

Kach:

Yeah.

Debbie:

So, your Filipino passport is actually ranked higher than ours right now.

Kach:

Right now. Yeah.

Debbie:

Exactly. It’s like, “Kudos to you. There you go. It’s all turning tides.”

Kach:

It’s crazy, isn’t it?

I don’t know how long this would last but you guys can still travel to some Caribbean countries. Now they’re opening up, you could stay up to a year whatever you want.

It’s crazy. In the last few months, they locked down Montenegro and they would allow British citizens, Americans are still not allowed to enter. Filipinos are allowed to enter it’s, like, weird and nice.

Debbie:

That’s kind of nice though, right?

It’s like now we know how it feels like, Americans know how it feels like for other people in other countries who have it so much harder.

Kach:

Yes, that’s true. They’ll appreciate it more.

Debbie:

Exactly.

It’s like we used to have a very strong passport, during this time, not so much guys, not so much.

Kach:

I think It’s just going to be, like, in the next 1, 2 months.

Debbie:

Yeah. Let’s see what happens.

Hopefully, next year, we can come to visit you, Kach. But I do have to say it’s funny because Aaron and I, he’s planning on leaving his work.

And then, ‘cause I can work remotely and he’s trying to do that with his business as well, every time we talk about a place that we want to settle in, like, the two things that we want is, like, we love the water and the mountains because we love hiking and we also have the sea.

So, we’re like, “It has to have both because we can’t just have one or the other.” So, when you were talking to me about Montenegro, I’m like, “It has both.”

Kach:

Yes. You can go swimming in the morning and then go hiking, like, the same day.

And then, some people, like, during winter, they go sailing and they go skiing ‘cause it’s tiny. You can go from one end to the other end of the country in 4 hours.

Debbie:

That’s amazing. Does it get really cold there in the winter?

Kach:

It’s not as crazy cold as other places. So, maybe, like seven or eight degrees?

February and March it becomes windy by the coast but it’s not really cold that I could not handle. I couldn’t like in the UK for so long because I couldn’t handle the cold but here I’m just like, “Oh, this is so chill.”

And by March and April, I’m wearing sleeveless.

Debbie:

That’s nice though. Okay, that’s good ‘cause we also hate the cold. I mean, coming from New York City, it’s so cold there during the winter were like, “We hate the cold.” So yeah.

Will try to convince Aaron.

Kach:

Here, there’s something they call 300 days of sunshine. I don’t know, I have to check it.

We moved here in June 2019 and we bought our house in October 2019. So, we’ve seen the weather and it’s just really good. But now, it’s just really hot, like, 20, 31 degrees.

Debbie:

Oh wow.

I mean, that’s beautiful ‘cause you’re by the sea so you can just go swimming if that’s really hot.

Kach:

Not a hard life.

Debbie:

That’s good, you’re all good. Thank you so much, Kach, for speaking with us today. We really appreciate it. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can I find you?

Kach:

Type TwoMonkeysTravelgGroup.com on Google or Mr. and Mrs. Howe. And you could also find us on Instagram or Facebook. And if you need tips about moving to Montenegro, living in Montenegro, or becoming a digital nomad, feel free to message me on those – you’ll find my email address and social media channels.

Debbie:

Perfect. And I will definitely talk to you more about going and living in Montenegro soon. We’re gonna come and visit you.

Kach:

We are going to be neighbors.

Debbie:

I know. We’ll be like, “Hi.”

Thank you so much, Kach, we really appreciate you for being here.

Kach:

Yeah. I miss you and so good to talk to you again.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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