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Ep. 264: How This Nomad Turned A Backpacking Trip Into Lifelong Freedom with Paula Carvalho

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In this episode, I speak with Paula, who is a digital nomad from Portugal.

In 2018 she decided to backpack in Southeast Asia for 4 months, a trip that ended up changing her life.

She created her blog where she shares information about her adventures that can be useful to other solo travelers.

Nowadays she is a remote worker for a Portuguese company. She is a part of the marketing department, and working remotely gives her the freedom to be anywhere she wants.

Listen on to find out how Paula explores South East Asia as a digital nomad.


Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to speak with my guest today. I’m here with Paula.

Hey, Paula, how are you?

Paula:

Hello, I’m great, thank you for asking.

Debbie:

I’m so excited to talk to you Paula, because you have gone to a lot of different places and you’re a digital nomad and you have a ton of great stories for us, and obviously, we want to learn more about your experiences. Can you tell us more about you, and why you live an offbeat life?

Paula:

Yeah, sure, so, I’m Paula. I’m from Portugal and I’m 31 years old, even though no one tells me that and they are very shy about it.

Debbie:

You do, you look so young. I thought you were like twenty.

Paula:

Yes, exactly like that. When I say I’m over thirty they’re like, “No way”, and they insist that it’s not possible. It’s a good thing.

Debbie:

That’s always good.

Paula:

This life change came at 26. So I was having the very normal life working for a company, an office job, from 9 to 5, like we usually say. I worked there for a while, and I started to get tired of doing that and being there. I found I was stressing a lot with work, so I thought that I should do something different and something exciting, and I always liked to travel before.

The highlights of my year would be my holidays and those days that I would travel.

So I thought yeah, why not dedicate myself to the things that I like the most and that would be traveling. So that’s why the idea came up, and it just came very naturally. I was just watching this movie, Pray, Eat, Love, or something like this with Julia Roberts when she goes on a trip.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Paula:

She goes on trips, and I was like, I feel like I can do something like that. And I started searching and searching and then I had all my research done and I was like, “Now what?”. I did all this research and I will do nothing about it? Now I have to go.

So yeah, that’s when I decided that I would backpack in Asia. Being from Portugal, I think that traveling to Asia is a totally different experience because it’s a different continent and the culture is very different. So yeah, I wanted something really, really big, so I thought that Asia would be the best, the best place and I did, basically, South East Asia.

So, I backpacked South East Asia, for about 4 months. Then, I went back to Portugal, and I realized that this is not for me anymore. Because I had a little break in my job and I took a special license and I was off for those 4 months, and then I came back to the same job. But when I came back to the same job, I wasn’t the same person.

I have experienced so many things and I have learned how other people lived and how they managed to live in so many different ways and when I got back to that little world, I was like, “No, there’s no way, that now that I have all these knowledge, that I will go back to the same.”. So yeah, basically I got back, I stayed there about 6 months, I quit my job and I came back to Asia and I stayed in Asia for one year and a half, and that was until covid hit and then I went back home because of covid. And then I escaped from home to here, to Asia again, where I am, in Thailand, right now, and it’s very short lived what happened.

Debbie:

That is definitely a story that is pretty amazing because it all started from the movie Eat, Pray Love.

Paula:

Yeah, it was.

Debbie:

And now, yeah, and now it’s a permanent thing. Now, you made this something that is more of a lifestyle and not just a, you know, a curiosity that turned into a lifestyle, which is pretty awesome if you think about it.

Now, what made you take that leap from just this movie? What was it about Eat, Pray, Love that really inspired you to go out there and do this whole different lifestyle in a way.

Paula:

You know sometimes, I really have no idea. And I think it was just meant to be. Sometimes, I really think it was just meant to be, because I remember when I was younger, as a child, when you ask a child, what do you want to be in the future and things like that, I don’t remember seeing a specific thing and I just remember saying that I don’t want to work. So I never saw myself working for others forever, you know?

So, in some way, I think that was supposed to happen, because it just came up so naturally like I have never thought of traveling the world or it was never my passion to see all the countries in the world, it was not about that, it was just, I was planning to do something different for myself, because the idea would be to be a normal person like the others and maybe what I would do would be buying a new car, but I thought, “what would make me more happy?”, buy a new car or go on a four month trip to Southeast Asia, and I don’t have to think even for one second to make a decision, you know? So yeah, basically, that was it.

I was watching the movie and then I started to search and I was searching like cheap places to travel because I needed to travel on a budget, and I came up with South East Asia and I’m glad that I came up with South East Asia, because it was the best thing that happened in my life.

Debbie:

That is amazing cause I love South East Asia too. I’m from there. So I love it when other people enjoy southeast Asia and it is so much cheaper than a lot of different locations in the world. You can go there and your money just goes a longer way and you also live like, I know a lot better lifestyle than in America or Europe.

Paula:

Right.

Debbie:

Yeah, and also it’s nice. The weather is really nice. That people are great. So that is not a bad decision that you made there, Paula.

Paula:

Yeah, exactly. I think that a lot of people do that too because, for example, like you said, it’s much cheaper so I think that I will spend three times the money I spend there, here in one month, so I can live here longer with the same amount of money. You know?

Debbie:

So now they’re after you went back home. And you knew that your life completely changed after seeing a different country, understanding that you can live a different way. You come back home, you go back to your job. And obviously this changed you as a person, how did you make this become more sustainable?

How did you become a digital Nomad and earn a living while you’re still traveling?

Paula:

Yeah, well, when I was traveling, I met a lot of people with different stories, they bring me so many different things, and when I was traveling I also did some volunteering. One of them was helping in an English center in Vietnam, and I learned that it was easy to find a position to help people with their English skills, in Vietnam, so when I got back and I found that I can do, I can try to do that, because there were people telling me, “oh it’s so easy for you to do that”, and I met people that were doing it, and I wanted to find a way to go back to Asia because when I went back to Portugal after the trip, it was like, it was just the ideals have changed for me.

The way we see life, the way that we think we should live our lives just changed for me, so yeah, I was definitely trying to find a way to go to Asia and stay in Asia and I was like, even if I just volunteer and I can stay there, I don’t mind. Because when I’m volunteering, I’m not paying for accommodation or food. So, I don’t actually need money. So, that’s also a way of cheap traveling and just volunteering through this platform it’s called “Work Away” and yeah, that way you don’t actually need money and you can travel.

So, yeah, I decided, I’ll just go to Vietnam and I’ll see if I can manage to find something, I went to the same English center I have been before, and I met some more people that were doing the same because apparently there are many people doing it here in South East Asia, especially in Vietnam, so yeah, that’s how I manage to stay in Asia. And I stayed in Vietnam for 1 year, but right now I’m not doing that, and I’m working remotely, basically, I’m doing the same, it’s not the same, but a similar job that I was doing before this trip but the company has accepted for me to work remotely.

Debbie:

Well that’s good that you were able to negotiate that and now you can do what you did and still get paid for it. But I love the two ways that you’ve been able to do it, right? Because a lot of times when we think about becoming a digital nomad or traveling while working, we always think about remote work, finding remote work that way, but you were able to do it in two different ways.

The first is when you did “Work Away” and volunteering, which is a really great way to do that so that you can not even worry about earning a living, yet. Right? And it’s also a great way for you to figure out if this is really the lifestyle that you want to go into and then you’re able to find a, a company that allowed you to do pretty much the same that, that you were doing, which is amazing. But during your time when you were volunteering, were you able to save any money or how was the financial situation like? Because a lot of people will wonder about that and also, you know, that’s a concern too because we also want to make sure that we’re not constantly worrying all the time about where our next meal is coming from, right?

Paula:

Yeah, sure, well, that was just the beginning, so when I went that way, I was just volunteering, and after that, it comes an opportunity for me to actually work. So after that, after being a volunteer, I found a position. It was a school, I was collaborating with the school. So I was actually earning money that way. So I was actually working.

Debbie:

That’s another great thing too with the volunteering, cause you can really do a lot of networking with the people there.

Paula:

Yeah, exactly, networking is so important in this area.

Debbie:

So, how did you do that? How did you not work with people? Was it through the volunteer programs that you were doing? Or was it meeting people while you are just in the area?

Paula:

Yeah, it was basically just meeting people because there’s a lot of foreigners in Vietnam, teaching English or helping with English. So it was very easy for me to find a person that was doing the same and she connected with me and we got friends and that way I was able to find a proper school, and that’s how it works, it’s basically networking or you just alone and someone else is alone and you just start talking and currently we are there to do the same thing and whoa, we are here to do the same thing.

So yeah, it happened. It happened to me. It happened that way. I just met this girl randomly, and she already had some connections and basically, yeah, it was just a coincidence.

Debbie:

And that’s another thing when you’re traveling by yourself, you, will you get out of your shell, right?

Because you have no choice, you have to interact with other people because you’re on your own. Rather than if you’re traveling with somebody else, you always have somebody to talk to and you have an excuse why you shouldn’t talk to another person because you don’t have to and in some ways but it’s great when you go to a different country, you’re on your own, you push yourself out of your boundaries and then you find kindred spirits, people who are just as adventurous as you, maybe they’re also a little bit apprehensive or even scared and then you know, they talk to you as well and you create relationships for yourself and you know, somebody who’s done the same thing as you.

So it’s pretty wild and awesome at the same time, when you experience things like that.

Paula:

Yeah and it just happens so naturally because you look at the other person and get kind of a feeling that the person is feeling the same way that you do. So with the first hello, you can already tell if it’s a person that’s willing to talk to you and we instantly connect with each other, because imagine we are in some place and we can see that someone is also by himself or when you ask someone when you are in a place and you have no one with to take your picture, so you need to ask someone to take a picture or something like that, even that way you can connect with people so it’s very very easy and when you are traveling alone, I had no idea it was so easy before I did it.

Of course but it was really really easy like I will stay in hostels, so that would even be easier to meet people, because when you are sharing a dorm, it’s inevitable to say hello to the person sleeping next to you, you make friends that way or you can make friends for example, you are eating the breakfast at the hotel and someone is also alone and you ask them to join and then you have a friend.

There’s so many ways of meeting people, and basically the ones you meet are usually the ones that are also alone. It’s exactly like you said, when you have company, you are not so open, let’s say, you’re not so open to talk with different people because you already have someone with you to talk to. So yes, usually, this happens more often when it’s another solo traveler, it also happens when there is more than one, when it’s a group or when it’s two friends, but usually more often when it’s with another solo traveler. We just recognize each other, we say hello, and that’s it.

Debbie:

And then it’s, instant friendship you make while you’re traveling. So let’s talk about, Paula, when you first went there and you did this big thing. Now, you decided to live in a different country, was there anything that was surprising or maybe certain things that was just so different for you that you didn’t even expect when you finally made this into more of a lifestyle than just a little detour in your life.

Paula:

Well, the first place I moved in was Vietnam, now I’m in Thailand, they are a little different from each other, Vietnam and Thailand, but now I’m way more used to things than when I moved to Vietnam. I was there for one month, the first time and I was very lucky because I met this woman and basically I got myself a Vietnamese family because I just met this woman randomly on the street and I was just walking on the street and she approached me and asked me if I can help her and son with English, just like that, you know?

You see how easy it is, I was just walking on the street and this woman approaches me and I was like, okay. So at that time, everyday I would go to her house, she would offer me some food and fruits and I was there with her kids, so I felt like I had that support, if I moved to Vietnam, at least I’d have their support because just one week that I was with them but we created such a strong relationship I would say, and if I decided to move to Vietnam, I knew that at least, I would have them. So, living close to this family taught me so many, so many things that I would never, ever know if I was living like an expat, that stays in the area where all the foreigners are and doesn’t have much interaction with the local community.

So I learned many, many, many things about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture that were, yeah, it’s very different. Sometimes it was kind of frustrating, because, it was the way they act towards some situations was just so new to me and so weird that sometimes it was frustrating, sometimes it’s just like, “what is happening?”, so I lived through many weird experiences but that helped me grow up a lot, they taught me so many things, I know Vietnam so much better because of them, I was with them every night, the grandmother would cook for me, so I was like a part of the family, on the weekend we would go together sometimes to some places. One thing that I remember that was really funny, it was for the New Year, their New Year, so she said I should buy the traditional clothing that is Ao Dai or something like that, I don’t remember, and what we would do, I would wear the traditional outfit and we just went on the motorbike to try and find some tree with flowers and try to take pictures with that tree, and that was what we were doing for New Years.

That’s how we were celebrating, we were just taking pictures with flowers we would randomly find on the street. For me, it was like, that was so weird, but it was definitely an experience. And then another thing like they don’t worry much about things like we do like with time and that was like upsetting me so much, and I then was looking at their reaction like they were so relaxed and I was so stressed and I was like, “why am I acting like this?”, I look at them and there’s nothing wrong and I’m here, very stressed about it, so yeah, I definitely learned to be more relaxed, more easy going and not care so much about things that don’t actually matter or make a difference. Yeah, at least, they taught me that.

Debbie:

It’s really interesting when you go to a different culture and the way they think about life and they go through just even the day-to-day business of things is so different. Yeah, and it’s funny.

It’s so much more chill and here in in the US and, you know, certain parts of Europe. That’s the same way too cuz we’re just like go go go, that’s what you have to do. And then you have, you know, in Southeast Asia and even in Latin America was it’s just like, okay, you have to chill, you need to, you know, you don’t rush, you take your time.

That’s a really great way of living life because you probably have less heart attacks that way.

Paula:

And anxiety, that is a huge problem.

Debbie:

Yeah! Well, people have a lot of anxiety and there’s a lot of deaths in heart attacks because of that, so I’m like they’re probably, you know, that they have that going for them. So which is really good.

Paula:

Yeah! You know sometimes I give it a thought, I give it a thought like when think I visited Myanmar, and I visited some villages there, 20 people living there in the middle of nowhere in the mountain, you know and I was thinking, if I would tell these people what anxiety is, I think they would never understand, what stress is, they would never understand, I usually compare like, how ridiculous it is that we are stressing about this and I’m looking at these Burmese people, and thinking how silly it would be for them, our reactions and the things we do to our lives, like, it’s crazy.

The difference is just so big, they are so much relaxed, and I think that they care about the things that really matter, we pay too much attention to things that when you look at others and others that have way less things than you think you need to be happy and you look at them and they seem to be happier than you and then it makes you think a little bit, you know? And that also helped me very much to make this change, it was basically, it was very much about Myanmar and those remote places I have visited because it’s a very different experience going to Myanmar and those places or coming here to Thailand, where there’s a lot of tourists and there are places that look like Europe, you just basically see Western people, so yeah it was those more specific experiences, in rural areas, I would say, those are the ones that taught me much.

Debbie:

Well, because if you’re just surrounded by people who are similar to you, then there’s really no change, it’s like being back in your own house. And, you know, you mentioned, they’re just different in the way they think about life. I

t’s all, you know, and it’s the way they prioritize what’s important, and what’s not, and for the most part, here, we prioritize money getting ahead in life. And for the most part, in those small villages, they grow their own food, they make their things, so you don’t really need money for that when you already have it, maybe your biggest anxiety is when your crops are not doing well and you’re eating less, but it’s so crazy that you see them. And they’re so much more grateful for what they have. But us here, we’re not that grateful, even though we have so much more so and we have so much more to be grateful for.

So, which is really interesting and it’s just the difference is again, with the priority that you have.

Paula:

Yes, it’s a lesson and I think that’s what made me change so much was looking at them, that maybe why is our way of living the right one and not theirs? So yeah, why is ours the right way, because now I think their way is the way.

Debbie:

Yeah and if you think about it too, obviously right now we’re romanticizing their lifestyle, because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to live like that. But, there is always something to take away from that. You know, it’s easy to see that from our position and say, wow, the way they live is really great.

But then coming from that, you know, part of the country looking at us, they’re like, oh my gosh, they’re really great. They get to travel to get to do all of these things because a lot of those people in those small villages, they can’t afford that, right? Because there’s not as many availabilities and opportunities for them to do what we do.

So they’re probably looking at you too Paula and was like, oh my gosh, her life must be really great cause she could do all of these things.

Paula:

Yeah, I know and you know what when I talk to people, I always say that I’m talking as a privileged one because if I was not a privileged one, I could never have this speech.

So I’m totally aware that I can say these things because I am, I am privileged. Comparing to them, I am totally aware of that. Totally.

Debbie:

Yeah, I think once you start traveling you have this different mindset and you realize too, like, what’s really important and what is a possibility and what could be worse, what could be better, it’s a different, it’s a way of thinking that is just beyond what you would have had and been capable of if you had just stayed where you are.

That’s why these experiences are so important and obviously, it’s not for everybody. But if you can do it at least once just to see it’s, it’s a pretty amazing thing to have in your life if you have the opportunity to do it.

Paula:

Yeah, of course and I always say, well, it was mind changing for me because of those interactions with these rural areas because if I just came here and I will stay in a resort, like stay in all the time, I would never learn about these things, you know?

So yeah, it’s the type of experience that you have when you are traveling also that helps because each different person has a different experience.

It depends on the places they go, the attitude they have towards people. So yes, it really depends a lot on people, on how they act because I also believe that if you have good vibes, then the good things come to you and you come here with the bad attitude and like criticizing them, because many people do that. Coming here and criticizing the way they live and these kind of things, I think when you look at it with a positive and open mind then things become much better.

Debbie:

Yeah, and it’s always interesting to me, and a little strange, when people go to a different country and criticize about how other people live, or they’re complaining that. Country or that area doesn’t have the certain things that they had when they were back home.

Like, what did you expect, like, you traveled to a different country to experience new things, not to bring what you have with you. So it’s just so interesting when I meet people like that.

It’s yeah, I’m like, so then why travel, if you expect the same thing.

Paula:

Exactly! Exactly! You go stay here but you still eat pizza and hamburger everyday.

Debbie:

Like I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but then when it’s like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe they didn’t have this or this side dish, that I really love and it’s my favorite. And I think it’s like you said, Paula. It’s having that open mind.

Paula:

Yeah, I think it’s about that. There’s nothing wrong with going to a resort and just say that, that’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I’m just saying that with that kind of experience you will not change your mind, to change your mind you have to put yourself in different positions that you have never been before, that’s how you can change. If you keep doing the same thing forever, you will never change. So, if you’re talking about changing, that’s the thing.

I totally understand people who just go to a resort laying there doing nothing. Yes please, sometimes, I need it too. I’m just saying it’s more enriching if it’s a different experience.

Debbie:

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean that’s you know, sometimes you need that in your life. You just need to relax. You don’t need to think about anything, you know, I do that too.

But if it’s an experience that you want, then that’s a different aspect of. It’s a different way of living it.

So Paula, let’s move forward. To around 40 to 50 years from now and you’re looking back in your life. What legacy would you like to leave? And what do you want to be remembered for?

Paula:

Well, you know I discovered my dream when I was traveling. Cause I didn’t know exactly what was my dreams. But now I know what’s my dream. And I want to create a place. I want to create my Paradise. So I want to create my Paradise.

I already know the types of trees and plants that I want. I’m already looking for the architecture here in Asia and taking ideas for what I would like to build in the future. It would be a paradise-like place, with trees and birds and rabbits running. And you have little bungalows that have to be totally different from everything else around. And I would grow my own food there and I would have like a little community, maybe some kind of thing like this “work away” and receive other travelers that would go there and share experiences.

Yes, that’s what I would like to do for the future. In the next 10-15 years, whatever, I will work towards that. And that’s how I see myself in about 10-15 years, to create my own paradise-like, unique place where people will go and be happy.

Debbie:

Well, that definitely sounds like a little piece of heaven that you’re going to be creating Paula. So yeah, let us know once that’s up and running and we’ll definitely come visit because that’s great especially the little bunnies.

Love that!

Paula:

Yes, the little bunnies, that’s what we want.

Debbie:

Exactly.

So if our listeners want to learn more about you, Paula, where can they find you?

Paula:

Well, I have a travel blog where I share all my travel experiences, they can find me at whileyoustayhome.com. I’m not sharing, it’s not another travel blog where I say, 5 places you should go, things you should eat or something like that, it’s a blog where I write about my day, of course I write about the things I visit, especially it’s about the things I do and the things I visit and how I do it. So other people that would do the same can already have an idea what to expect on how to do it. What’s the best way of doing it, so maybe they don’t do the mistakes that I have done, cause I share my own experiences over there and I also have my Instagram where I share some pictures, and yeah people can find me on Instagram or on my blog.

Debbie:

Love that.

Well, thank you so much Paula for sharing with us all of the information that you sent us, sharing with us your journey. We really appreciate it, and we appreciate you.

Thank you again for being here.

Paula:

Thank you so much for the invitation. Thank you!


Follow Paula:


Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

1 comment on “Ep. 264: How This Nomad Turned A Backpacking Trip Into Lifelong Freedom with Paula Carvalho

  1. Paula says:

    Thank you for the pleasant conversation! 🙂

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