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128. How this online marketing strategist is able to travel the world while still working her 9-5 with Christa Romano

In this week’s episode, I speak with Christa Romano who is an online marketing strategist and travel addict.

Before becoming a full-time digital nomad, Christa was like all of us, doing the daily grind and wishing she could travel the world.

But she knew that having a steady job is crucial to afford the lifestyle.

So, she took the chance and asked her boss if she can telecommute and they said yes!

Listen on to find out how Christa has been able to travel to over 55 countries while working her 9-5.

Listen Below:

 

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Show Notes:

Debbie:  

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I am here with Christa. Hey Christa, how are you?

Christa: 

Hey Debbie, I’m great. Thanks for having me.

Debbie:

Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live in an offbeat life?

Christa:

Sure. I am a full-time digital nomad. I’m a full time employed digital nomad, which I think separates me a little bit from maybe the other nomads that are out there. I’ve been traveling full time for the last four years. Prior to that, I was actually living abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. I’m also working at a professional job there as well. I basically just dedicated my whole life to travel for the last six years. So that’s why I live in an offbeat life. You have a really great story because most people want to leave their nine to five and you were able to take yours on the road.

Debbie:

How did you get the idea to do this?

Christa:

So with my story, it actually came up by accident. And for anyone who’s listening, I don’t want you to think, Oh, this girl, it just fell into her lap and therefore it’s not possible for me or anybody else unless I get lucky. That’s just not true. But for me, it actually did happen by accident. So like I said, I had been living in Thailand, which moving to Thailand was really the catalyst for the beginning of my travel life. That was when threw with papers up in the air and I gotta get outta here. And I moved to Thailand and so I worked there for a couple of years because at the time, this was 2013 there just wasn’t really any information online about being a digital nomad.

I had never heard of that term before. I was just Googling how to make, how to make money while traveling, I think. And so my conclusion was to move abroad and get a job abroad and I worked in an office and did the whole thing. Just in Thailand. So then Thailand is too far away. I came back home not necessarily wanting to move back home. I’m originally from Boston, not, not necessarily wanting to move back home. I just wanted to keep traveling but didn’t want to keep living in Thailand. So that was when I was exploring all these different options and thought maybe I’ll move to Malta. I actually had a job opportunity there. So, in my mind I was like, the only way is to live abroad and get a job abroad in order for me to travel.

I had this job offer, but it was several months away. So I was just online looking for short term contract jobs to hold me over until that time came and I stumbled across this remote writing job and basically that was just like a short term thing. I took that job, I was working from home, which is something I never wanted to do.

Just because I’m a very social person and I wanted to be around all these other people while working. And I ended up getting a full-time offer with that company. I was in Costa Rica for just like a two-week trip when I got this job offer. So basically I was sitting by the pool on my laptop making money and then my boss was like, yeah, so we want to offer you this full-time job.

And I said, I’m in Costa Rica right now, is that a problem? And he said, I don’t care where you work like as long as you’re online or need to be online, as long as you get your job done, you know, you being in Boston is no different than you being Costa Rica to me. So for me, it totally happened by accident, which is really cool. But now that I’ve been doing this for four years and I met hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other people who are also nomads, I just wanted to assure anybody who’s listening that this, you don’t have to happen upon it by accident. You can go out and find an opportunity just like this. That’s my spiel.

Debbie: 

It’s amazing because now the way we look for jobs is pretty much the same thing as we do with digital nomad jobs. You can just go online, look for a job, put it as remote, and then you’ll find it right away.

And there are literally thousands of jobs out there. And I think that a lot of people still think that it’s really hard to find them. But if you go to any big job boards out there, you’ll find them. So this is the time to do it.

Christa: 

I’m nodding along. It’s so true. It’s so true. I think so many people. So, um, I have a presence on Instagram for anybody who’s listening. I’m Christa Bella travels with C H. and I’m always talking about my digital nomad life and I have a whole list of job boards that I often send to people who asked for it just because so many people are always saying like, Oh, I really want a job, but I think I might have to work in an office because of whatever reason. And it’s just not true.

In my opinion, if you resort to working in an office when you don’t want to, it’s just because you’re not looking hard enough or long enough.

Debbie:  

And also we have this whole thing where we have to leave our nine to five to start traveling the world. And you did not do that. You took your nine to five when you to travel the world. And this is the greatest example I think for people like you Christa, is that you are not worried about money. You’re not constantly wondering where your next meal is coming from. And that’s really the difference between someone who is just going and saving up money and then all of a sudden you run out of it and now you don’t know what to do and then you’re back to square one. And you definitely strategized it in a really great way that you can do this full without having to worry all the time where the money is going to come from.

Christa:

Yeah, I’m definitely very blessed to have you know all the job essentials, I guess the traditional things I have. I have benefits. I have vacation time, I have my salary obviously. I can expense some particular things. So yeah, all in all my job and work and professional life is if I worked from our headquarters in Washington DC, my career path would not change whatsoever. My benefits wouldn’t change whatsoever. I just happened to not be in that office.

Debbie:   

I’m sure you have encountered a lot of different setbacks during and before and then now that you’re at this type of lifestyle, what has been the biggest one and how did you handle it?

Christa: 

I guess I guess just figuring it all out from the beginning. Going back to my original story, how this all happened in the first place. It really was completely by accident. I had booked a two week trip with a friend over new year’s cause I didn’t want to travel alone because I wasn’t used to traveling alone. I just brought my laptop cause I was like, I’ll just make a few bucks while I’m here. And then when I was offered that full-time job, it was snowing and cold in Boston. So I was like, I should just stay here on this beautiful beach. And then my friend left and then I was alone, with no prior travel. I mean I’d had lots of travel experience but never by myself and never as a nomad. I didn’t even know the term digital nomad again at the time. So I didn’t even know where to look for resources.

online marketing strategist

I guess the biggest setback or challenge was just figuring out the lifestyle on the fly while I was sort of balancing a new job. The first six months were tricky for sure. Figuring out what are places that are conducive to my work. Cause you know, I had a lot of calls for my job back then, so I was needing to be in a quiet place with fast wifi. Figuring out, I guess how to balance conversations with other people at work that maybe didn’t necessarily know that I was jumping around the world and Nicaragua cause central America, Columbia. So figuring out if I should be open about what I’m doing or if I wanted to kind of keep it on the Down low meeting people so I wouldn’t be alone and figuring out where I should sleep at night all the time, where to go next.

Cause I didn’t know any other people to travel with. At first, it was hard. It was really fun. It was awesome. It was totally the richest six months of my life in terms of personal growth. I’m very grateful now that the digital nomad community and lifestyle and movement have grown so much that I don’t think anybody will ever have to be in that position again because there’s just so much info out there.

Debbie:  

Yeah, there are definitely a lot more people doing this. So you’re not alone if you decide to do this. That’s for sure. Now, what about right now, Christa, do you have any current challenges that you’re facing in your job or this lifestyle?

Christa:  

Um, not really. It’s been four years, so I’m kind of on auto-drive now. I mean, work’s good. I’m traveling faster than I really want to be, but that’s just because there are so many fun things that I can do that I’m just excited. Honestly, the biggest challenge that I deal with right now is not being able to say no to all the amazing opportunities in my life.

Debbie:  

And that is a good challenge to have. I wish we all had that every day. Right.

Christa:    

Yep. I’m blessed for sure.

Debbie:  

You talked about being alone in a lot of your travels. How do you deal with loneliness when you’re on the road?

Christa:

So I have to put myself back into the shoes of Christa four years ago because now I know so many people who are nomads.

I literally have to escape. I have to not tell anybody where I’m going and go off the grid and maybe even lie to some people because I know a lot of people now that are a nomad. So loneliness is just virtually a non-issue. However, back in the day when I first started, before I had this big network of friends and community that I was in I stayed in a lot of hostels, which hostels are not so scary. Depending on who your market is, Americans have sort of like a bias towards it I guess. I think because of some movies, but hostels are great, such an amazing way to meet a lot of people. Which was really cool at first because I would be working all day and then I would close my laptop and then immediately would be in travel mode and I would want to be meeting travel people.

So if I was in a hostel then those friends are kind of like built-in, there are always people around. So that was huge. I think loneliness too while traveling it has a lot to do with FOMO. You feel like your friends at home are all doing stuff and you’re missing out on things back home and you wish you could be around them because it feels good to be around people, you know. But also I think practicing gratitude and just being super aware of why you’re in the position that you’re in in the first place as a nomad helps so much. I remember one time I did feel exceptionally lonely. I was on this beach in Northern Brazil the first time that I went there and I was like, so alone, it was low season, so I hadn’t met any other travelers.

Um, and that was weird. And I just pictured myself as this like little blue dot on a map where you zoom out and out and out and out and out and out. And then finally you see North America coming into the map. And I’m like, that’s where all the people I know are. So I kind of freaked out in that moment, but then I thought about it and I was like, wait a minute. No, I’m on a beautiful beach in Brazil. It’s okay that I’m alone because this is just, it’s a fleeting moment. I’m gonna be able to go see my friends and family again. And when I do, I’m going to have amazing stories to tell them. And I can always go back if I want. That’s a mindset thing that I think helps a lot.

Debbie:

It’s funny that you talk about FOMO for people who are at home. Meanwhile, they’re doing the same thing with you and seeing you and like drastically.

Christa:

I know, but it’s really a thing. It is hard to be away from everybody that you know, um, and to be having all these amazing experiences and maybe you’re not necessarily sharing with somebody else. That’s just why it’s so important to make a community yourself and develop relationships with people that can have these experiences with you. I’ve spoken to hundreds of digital nomads now, freelancers and entrepreneurs who are able to do this full time and travel all over the world. And I think the one thing that we all don’t realize before we got into this is that we miss out on so much when we’re away from home. Like things that are super important, like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, all of those things. And you don’t realize how important it is to us until we’re not there to celebrate it with our loved ones.

And it comes back, it’s really hard, especially on your birthday. And even though you’re surrounded by friends, it’s definitely different when it’s friends you’ve been close to since you were a kid or your family?

Debbie:   

Christa, you mentioned that you now have your lifestyle streamlined. What were the lessons that you learned that really helped you make this lifestyle and your job easier?

Christa:       

So one thing that I think does make my lifestyle a little bit easier is, I have less flexibility than the average nomad because I do have to work nine to five. So that means that no matter where in the world I am if it’s nine o’clock in New York, that’s when I’m opening my laptop. So sometimes that means 4:00 PM. Sometimes that means, two in the afternoon.

Because I have less flexibility, I’m not conflicted with so many decisions about when I fly about what day I can travel basically. I’m not allowed to just take the day off of work because something came up. Do you know what I mean? I think because of my schedule, work is my number one priority and I always have to make sure that that is the thing that gets done. As a result, I never shirk my work. One of the other podcasts that you did that someone mentioned they might go for two weeks without working because they’re in the process of moving or all that stuff. For me, that just won’t fly. It’s just not an option.

I think while, maybe some nomads might think, Oh, you’re living this free lifestyle but you’re not really free. At the same time, I do think that it takes a lot of stress and pressure off. So I just know that I travel on the weekends only or in the morning if I’m working later in the afternoon or later in the afternoon if I’m working in the morning. Schedule wise, I actually think that my nine to five has helped me streamline it.

It’s just knowing what your own rhythm is. So, I personally happen to be a very energetic person and I know about myself that I’m okay being physically uncomfortable. I probably move faster than maybe the average nomad could. Because I just know what I’m capable of at this point.

But I will say too, to anybody that’s listening, the longer you spend in each place, the less stressful your life will be. It’s just the best thing that you can do to give yourself a minimum of two weeks anywhere that you go.

Debbie:

It is really good to be able to travel slowly in that type of environment and that type of work environment that you have because moving from one place to the next and doing it really quickly, it can take a toll on your work. And it really takes a different type of person, right? So there are people who really thrive and making their own hours and they have to be their own type of boss in that way. I mean, you still are your own boss because you have to monitor yourself, but as you said, it can be a lot easier when you have that set timing to know when you need to work and you have to do it.

Christa:   

Even if I’m in the process of moving, I still have to work around my work schedule. It’s a non-negotiable.

Debbie:   

I think it’s also good because especially when you’re constantly in a new environment at least, or something solid there and something that is not all over the place for you that is actually setting you and putting you down.

Christa:  

That is such a good point. I totally agree and I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but yeah, it’s true. My job is very much a stable pillar of my life. You know, it’s like I talked to the same people every day. I know what to expect. I have my system. I have my schedule. So having that structure it’s comforting actually with this lifestyle.

Debbie: 

Were you able to save anything before you set off to be location independent and how do you usually budget when you’re on the road?

Christa: 

It’s a little bit difficult to answer that question without talking about my history of having moved to Thailand first because I think that really was, is the relatable part for anybody who is wanting to be a nomad, but it’s still in the nine to five because when I quote-unquote left, I left a job and an apartment in New York City where I hadn’t been saving any money at all. The catalyst for me was my lease was ending at the same time as a contract job that I had and I wasn’t super happy with my career choices at that point.

So I was kind of at this point where I was like, do I resign my lease without a job? Without a good job that I even like and it’s so expensive to be here and I really don’t have any savings and all I really want to do is travel, but how am I going to do that? And I have no money to travel. So that was for me, I guess you could say the bottom of the well moment where I just was like, what do I even do right now? And so after researching and researching, I decided that the best option for me was to move to Thailand to teach English. So, because it would be like automatically I knew I would be able to find a job relatively quickly. The investment was relatively small.

I had to pay for the TEFL degree. And then the one-way ticket and basically, and I had two months’ worth of savings for Thailand. So I pretty much had like $5,000 to my name, which part of that was getting my security deposit back and selling my furniture. I mean there’s always gonna be someone broker than you, but I felt pretty broke when I first started. It was imperative that I start working right away. So, I did. I moved to Thailand. I got a job relatively quickly. And I did the ex-pat thing for two years and when I left there, I had saved more money than I saved when I was living in New York City. It still wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to I guess get me started.

Then when I was in Costa Rica, that’s when I got my full-time job and then all of a sudden I was like, okay, I can be comfortable with my finances now. But still I was trying to save, so I was still very much on a budget for the first year, that I was traveling. Budget tips are like if you have to choose between going to London and Nicaragua, go to Nicaragua because it’s way cheaper and you will be able to live a much better lifestyle there than you could if you were in London for the same amount of money. So yeah, thinking about currency and just the general cost of a country or a city is super important. Factoring in your overall monthly costs.

So like when I say monthly costs, when you’re living a traditional life, that probably means your rent, your car payment, and your bills like your utilities and stuff. And they’re recurring payments every month and they have to happen and they’re very predictable. Usually. Maybe like in the winter changes your utilities. But other than that, you always know that maybe you have to pay, I don’t know, say like $2,000 to this stuff. When you’re traveling as a nomad, a good way to think about it is like, so if you’re spending $2,000 a month at home on all of your, all of your like regular expenses, so that’s $24,000 in a year. So when you’re a nomad, you want to take that amount and then average it throughout the year instead of like on a daily rate because you might save a lot of money one month because maybe you go spend that month at home or you spend the month in a very inexpensive country.

So the next month you might be able to afford to go to a slightly more expensive country and don’t be stressed out about it because you’re thinking about your costs of the year as like from a much more birds-eye view rather than daily payments. I mean it’s just about balancing it and also you have to take a look at the lifestyle that you want to live in. I mean you talked about living in New York City.

Debbie: 

I also live in New York City and you definitely will have a smaller margin of income that you’re going to be able to save if you’re living here versus if you go to Thailand or in Nicaragua as you said. So if you can work from anywhere and there’s really nothing here to keep you, I mean why not, right?

You’re going to be living like Kings and Queens over there compared to New York City, London, San Francisco. You can’t even compare it cause it’s just ridiculous how much money goes a long way over there.

Christa: 

So true. And actually this is a little bit off-topic, but I do think it’s important to talk about because for me it’s something that I never realized would be a benefit of living as a nomad. But when I lived in New York City, as I said, I’m from Boston. So if I wanted to see my family, I would have to carve out a week, a full weekend, take the bus or the train or fly on Friday night or Saturday morning and then come back on Sunday night so I could start work on Monday. It was exhausting to do a trip like that, that I would do it maybe like once a quarter.

Now as a nomad, I can spend like a full month at home anytime that I want. And that’s a money-saving opportunity for me cause it’s a free place to stay. And usually, my parents feed me. Also just like another great benefit of being location independent. It’s not just about money, it’s also just having the freedom to spend your time currency in any way that you want. That’s big.

Debbie:           

And that’s really one of the biggest things that we love about this lifestyle is freedom, right? Because when you want to be with your family, you can be with them. It doesn’t mean not working, but you could spend it however you want to spend it and you’re not stuck in an office where you could do something else more worthwhile when you have those types of downtimes.

Christa:           

Absolutely. It’s like when I come home now it’s for quality time. It’s usually at least a week. I get a full weekend plus the workdays to hang out. So it’s nice to be able to go back and feel like I can just pop right back into my old normal life for a bit. Whereas when I was living in New York, I was just always a visitor. And it’s so fast-paced that you don’t know what’s happening most of the time because it’s just all over the place.

Debbie:  

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?

Christa:   

That is a beautiful question. Thank you for asking that. I think I would like to be remembered as being a pioneer in the digital nomad movement. I’m really passionate about it. Like I said earlier, Instagram has been my main channel for the last couple of years. I know that I’ve been able to help a lot of people become location independent either just by inspiring them, but also educating them because they write to me afterward and they’re like, thank you so much for, for helping me or for putting up this post because now I’m a nomad.

online marketing strategist

I love that more and more people are adopting it every year. That means for me that I have more friends, more travel buddies, a stronger community, more likely to run into my friends and everywhere that I go.

I would like to be remembered as being one of the first pioneers in the movement, just like you.

Debbie:  

Do you have any last thoughts that you would like to share to our audience?

I guess if anybody has any questions, I try to respond to everything, especially if it’s a question that I can actually help. So just reach out.

Is there anything that you’re working on today that’s really exciting to you.

Christa:     

I am in the process of launching a YouTube channel, so that’s super exciting because I just think it’s going to be another platform where I can reach even more people. So, stay tuned.

Debbie:           

If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Christa: 

They should find me on Instagram. So it’s Christa Bella travels.

Debbie:   

Thank you so much, Christa for being here with us today. I can’t wait to see where you’re going to be with your YouTube channel and watch that as well.

Christa:   

Thanks, Debbie. Thanks, everyone.

 

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTA WHERE SHE SHARES HOW TO TAKE YOUR 9-5 ON THE ROAD AND BECOME A DIGITAL NOMAD.

 


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Show Credits

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

 



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