113: How to find opportunities abroad and be a badass travel blogger with Nina Ragusa
This week I speak with Nina Ragusa who is an adventurer and traveler who’s been abroad since 2011.
She is also the founder of the blog Where in the World is Nina and has a life mission of traveling, living and working on all continents.
Nina takes you around the world with her sassy yet informative writing and gives the low-down on how to work abroad and travel like a badass.
- How this former accountant quit his job to make money on the road.
- How to become a location independent writer.
- How to create more opportunities for minority travelers to see the world.
Hey Nina, thank you so much for being here today. I’m so excited to talk to you about your lifestyle. How are you?
Thanks for having me. I’m doing great.
We were talking before we were doing this interview and we realize that we’re only an hour and a half away. We didn’t realize we were so close to each other!
I’m home in Florida and I only come back maybe once a year for a visit. So I didn’t even think to ask you, where are you? And you didn’t think to ask me where I was because we are regularly traveling or just always somewhere else. So we’re going to meet up guys, by the way.
We’re going to try to meet live in person. See what a podcast can do?
Your life has been so interesting. You have been at this since 2011 I believe. So why do you live in offbeat life?
I guess because I want to, but I did it all by accident. None of this was planned. I didn’t think I could do it, but once I realized that I could, and I kept working on it. An]= I love it and I don’t plan on changing anytime soon.
So how did you actually get to the point where you wanted to leave your secure life in the United States and start traveling pretty much all over the world?
I wanted to do it way before it actually happened. I just had this thing in me where I was like, okay, I really want to travel. I was really racking my brain, trying to figure out how can I travel a lot? I knew it was super expensive. I obviously have to work, how can I make this happen? So I was totally clueless for years and I just did, what everybody else does, do a little one month trip in Europe after I graduated from university, took a one week vacation one year to go to Dominica and the Caribbean and just kind of vacation like normal people and was really annoyed that that’s all I got to do but in my mind I’m like, okay, realistically speaking, Nina, you need to work.
So I just kept on searching online and working three jobs because I’m like, whatever it’s going to be, I’m going to need money. So I worked three jobs. And I just kept on having teaching English pop up when I was researching and I said well, that will earn me some money. I get to live in another country and then I can maybe teach in another country and then live there for a bit and travel there.
So the teaching English came up and I just went for it. I was super scared. I was trying to convince anyone who would listen to me to come with me. I’m like, so doesn’t that sound amazing. Do you want to do this too? Because I don’t want to do it alone and I was just freaking out about doing this alone, but then I’m thinking at the same time, I just need to do it.
If nobody wants to come with me, I’m not going to sit here and wait. At this point, it’s been a few years, I’ve been working three jobs for two years at this point. And I just needed to get a move on with it. So I went to Thailand first taught English and then eight years later I’m here!
So when you were in Thailand and you are doing teaching English abroad, how did you transition from doing that to actually creating an income online?
My life is just one big accident that I just stumbled onto totally on accident. I was actually looking for another job in another place in Thailand, another teaching position and I lived in another small town and I was doing it to travel. So it would be nice to just go to teach English in another town so that I could have that experience. So I’m looking online and I stumble upon something that said online English teacher and I’m like, say what? Let me dig into this. What does this even mean? And I found out that you could teach English online. So I was totally keen to see what that was about and if it would offer me more freedom.
I got the job, it’s a huge thing now, but I was doing this eight years ago or maybe like seven and a half years ago now. So now it’s only grown to be such a huge thing that everybody is talking about teaching English online and it’s such an awesome opportunity.
And once I found that, I was telling some of my other teacher friends, oh my God, I got this job teaching online. Teaching in Thailand is great, but I definitely make more money online and I get more flexibility. And then my other friend was like, Oh yeah, you know, I do some things online too. I just found people want you to write about your travel stories for their blogs and online magazines and stuff. And I said well that’s pretty cool too. So I kind of started dabbling a little bit in that, I didn’t get paid very much, but I’m living in Thailand at this point and at one point was living on $10 a day because that’s how little it cost.
So I was totally fine with any of that stuff. I kept finding all these other random gigs online. I was just freelancing, and teaching English online and any job I could find online. I just ate it up. And I was writing my story for other people and then I was like, why don’t I do this for myself?
I’m not going to call it blogging. It was more like online journaling because I was like, hey mom, this is what I did today. Hey, mom and dad, you know, I’m not dead. I went to this waterfall today or I was on a motorbike and did this. And it was just kind of a little story about what I was doing.
And so friends and family could keep track. And then people were asking me how I was living in Thailand and teaching, so I would write a little bit on there. And then send them a link cause I was going to be too lazy to send them a whole novel on Facebook Messenger. And I was like, well, maybe I can make my blog better and offer better information. And then little by little, I was like, oh, this is a job. People actually are bloggers and this is a job and I can make money. And so I just started teaching myself everything I know I taught myself and just went with it. And literally, all of it is just an accident. And me being like, Oh, let me look into this more and see what I can do with it. And here I am. And so now I just blog that that’s all I do. Now. I don’t teach English anymore. I don’t freelance for anybody else. And plus they’re paying me very well. And that’s about it.
Funny that you started all of this stuff because you just wanted to keep in touch with your family back home and you had so much to say and now this is what you do full time. And a lot of people are bloggers now and you did this a long time ago, you know, how has it changed now, the blogging community when you started and how it is now?
I kind of kicked myself for this, but then again I don’t, because everything kind of just happens for a reason, you know, and you can’t go back and change it. So I don’t want to kick myself for it, but I almost can’t answer that question because I didn’t really know I was blogging. I didn’t understand that that’s what I was doing. I didn’t know that it was a job. If I knew what I knew today, then like I would probably be maybe way bigger.
Not that I’m trying to be famous or anything. I’m definitely not, I just could’ve started making money on my blog way before and I maybe could have gotten that extra leg in before other people. I’m really glad that I’m self-taught, but also I think if I would have realized, just take a course or pay somebody to do this, in the beginning, I could have been a little higher up.
Things are definitely a little bit more saturated now. But I think that the travel blogging community only seems more saturated than it is because so many people are like, I’m going to start a blog and make money yesterday. And it’s like, okay, good luck with that dude. Okay, it’s not happening. And so I think that a lot of people are travel blogging, but are they making money? Are they doing it well? Are they actually providing useful content? You can’t just bang on the keyboard, click publish, and actually help somebody or have any money rolling in.
It’s going to sound cheesy and cliche, but you do actually have to have a passion for it. And there’s no way around it. If you don’t like it, it’s gonna come through in your writing. If you don’t like it, you’re probably going to give up. Pretty much most travel blogs, they just give up. So it seems supersaturated because everybody and their mom can start a website, for fairly cheap and very easy. But are you actually doing it well? And do you know what you’re doing? And Are you actually making money doing it?
There are so many people out there who start a travel blog and that’s only a small percentage that actually makes it. And I have a few friends who are big travel bloggers and it’s crazy how you all know each other. You all know each other or have heard of each other or someone you know knows them because it’s such a small community, even though it’s very saturated, there’s only maybe two or 3% of you that are actually big and are making a lot of money from it. So it’s very small in that sense.
And it takes a really long time to actually be respected and do this craft well. And right now there’s a lot of courses happening, but you have to do the work even though you’re learning. I wish I had known what I know now 10 years ago. But it takes a long time to learn all of these things. And we’re also blessed to be able to have online jobs and businesses we can make money from, which is pretty incredible.
I am so thankful that I can work online, be my own boss. I can have that freedom. Before we started the podcast, I was talking to you about my sister. Everything’s totally fine, but she did need to have a procedure done and I was able to bust out my laptop while sitting in the little hospital chair right next to her while she was napping, because she just had this procedure done and I could be there for her while still getting work done. And if I didn’t want to take my laptop out, I still would have been making money in the background, you know? And my mom’s moving. So I’m helping her with that and all of these things are going on in my family and I’m just very thankful I was able to come here, help them with all of these things without freaking out. Because if I had a regular nine to five, I’d probably won’t be able to be with my family.
But here I am taking off, days and weeks really to help them do these things. And it affords me so much and I’m glad I stuck it out because it took me a long time to make money again. I self-taught myself. So I definitely took the long route, that’s for sure. I look back and I’m just like, oh my God. It was like staring me in the face for years before it clicked. And then I finally was able to say, I can do this. And then it just started working and I was like if I only knew. So again, I’m not kicking myself, I’m not kicking myself.
I definitely could have done better before, but everything happens for a reason and could have hired so many people to do this and that for me. But I’m actually kind of a psycho control freak. So it’s really good that I taught myself because if I ever do hire somebody eventually to help me, which I do have people that help me. But certain other things like fixing my website, I’m just a crazy person.
I want to do that and, and I know how to do it. So I always had this nervous thing in my mind wondering how I’m going to pay somebody to do something and know that they did it. So I’m so happy I taught myself cause now it’s like, okay, I’m paying you to do this. And by the way, I know how to do it, so I’m going to actually check. I know that you did it, so everything’s all good. But it definitely afforded me my freedom now and I’m very happy.
I was speaking to another person the other day about this, because as entrepreneurs, it’s pretty normal for us to be perfectionist and we want it done our way and it can be really hard to take someone in and have them get control over a certain job or certain tasks that we have in our business.
New Speaker: But if you have done it already, you know how to train that person, they could pretty much do what you did, sometimes maybe even a little better. And it changes everything and it changes the whole business for you. But it’s really hard to give it up. And I totally understand that.
But you know what, to anybody who is listening to this, who is saying I don’t want to hire anybody. I don’t have the money or I want to keep more of the money for myself at the moment. As soon as I started spending money and hiring people to do things, I literally started making more money because it affords you that extra time to do the things that you can not hire anybody to do. Cause it has to come from you.
Nobody can write about the place that I just went to, it’s my experience and I was always behind on writing my articles or whatever it is or just something else on your plate that you keep pushing back. Hire somebody to do the random tedious tasks, which is what I have. And I just have this template for them.
I created this little checklist and I’m like do this or that. And I’m on top of them and make sure that they do it. And now my VA is with me for like a year. He’s really great, very nice, does exactly what I need. It’s, he does a lot of the easy things that are very, very easy. And maybe you’re like, oh well I can do that and save money. But you can also do that and save time. And what is time? Time is money. So definitely don’t be scared to hire people.
If you think about it you have all of this knowledge, how much is your time worth? If you’re paying somebody 15- $20 an hour, and you’re worth l$200 an hour. Why are you doing $20 an hour type of jobs? If just doesn’t make any sense. So if you think about it that way, you can do the $500 an hour jobs and make more money like Nina is saying. Or you could do the $15 an hour job and keep it that way. So it’s an investment for sure. And I know in the beginning it’s really hard to do that. But it pays for itself and you really have to think about it as an investment and what it’s giving you in the long run, which is really important.
Agreed. I mean, worse comes to worst. You can always try it for a month or two and just to test how much extra time you have to do those important higher-paying tasks like you said. I’m not lying when I say this. As soon as I started hiring people, I literally made more money even though money was going out to paying them. So once you see that, test it for a month or two and I’ll never go back.
And you have to give yourself a little time to adjust to that person, for them to adjust to you, you have to be patient when you’re actually training them because it also reflects on how you train those people. If you’re not a good person to train them, then it’s going to take them a long time to do it. So make sure you do that. And if you’re frustrated, maybe it’s because you’re not explaining it well. And one of the things that I’ve done that have been really helpful for me is to create videos to do it so I don’t have to keep explaining it over and over again. And it’s there.
Me Too. I have a little video and then a checklist so you can always go back and just be like, oh yeah, how do I do that? And then just go for it. There you go. And you might go through a person or two, so don’t give up after the first person. The first person for my first VA I was like, oh my God, this is a bad experience because we’re always late, doing things badly, just doing things too quickly. And I was patient at first and just gave 20 chances to this person and was very understanding and then it was time to move on, find another person and he ended up being much better.
Nina, you’ve done so much already, this incredible blog and you’ve lived a really full life, you’ve experienced so many things. What has been the biggest setback that you’ve encountered so far and how did you handle it?
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I mean going back to what we were speaking about before about me being stubborn and teaching myself everything. And I definitely could have been where I am at today, I think a little bit sooner. I wouldn’t necessarily call that a setback though. It’s just another experience I had under my belt that made me who I am, made my blog, what it is.
I almost want to say I haven’t really had any setbacks. I mean, I’m a person who just takes things as they come and uses it as a stepping stone, as experience under my belt to just continue moving forward. I like how everything has gone. Things could have gone a little bit better here, a little bit better there. I could’ve done this instead of that. But I mean, that’s just life.
You’re the type of person that doesn’t see certain things as setbacks, things that will stop you in your tracks. It’s something that you’re learning from and not necessarily something that is going to stop you from reaching your goal. So that’s always a really good outlook and how life in treating you. Or even if you do, you just keep going and you reach that goal no matter what.
That’s, that’s exactly it. I don’t know if it’s luck or just my outlook on life, I don’t know. Again, super cliche and silly, but once you experience it, you understand those cliches. You just got to keep moving forward, keep going, never give up. All those like really cheesy lines that you hear. Just think of it that way. Go ahead. Be a cheesy person.
If you could go back, what would be the biggest thing you think you would change?
I’d probably hire somebody a little bit sooner. I definitely was very hesitant. I don’t know maybe a lot of people aren’t going to understand when I say this. I’m sure you will. And maybe some people who have thought about blogging, just learning about SEO and getting traffic to your blog and the ways to do it. I just didn’t realize the importance of it and I’m just going to use free tools and all of that.
Find a way to just put away a few bucks a month and spend a little bit of money to make money. You know, I bought a keyword tool soon as that traffic started increasing.
What happens when traffic starts increasing? You start making more money and it just became like a snowball when I started listening to those things that I had read before that I just put off and just thought just wasn’t that important. I think learning the hard way is not a bad thing. I would write, write, write, and sometimes you have to learn the way to know if spending that money was the right choice. I struggled in the beginning, going through all those free routes and not listening to what I was reading.
Nina, you talked about how you were able to create income when you first started this. How are you able to continue to create income today?
I didn’t create any income when I first started blogging. I was blogging for a while while I was still teaching English. I’m freelancing for other sites and all of that. So that is how I afforded the time for my blog. But I was kind of holding myself back because while I was doing all those other jobs, the blog was set, on the back burner because it wasn’t making me any money. And of course after I was done teaching English and writing for all these other people who are paying me, I was exhausted and I didn’t pay attention to my blog too much. So it was scary to take the leap to quit teaching online, which luckily is very easy to go back to.
Little by little I started quitting all those little side jobs so that I could make more money on the blog. And as soon as I started making a few extra bucks, I stopped doing that. I made a few extra bucks off the blog, stopped doing this and I just kind of kept going. And at that time I was living in Southeast Asia where it was very cheap. And then I also did go work in Australia where it’s expensive to live, but I did a working holiday visa and you make very good money in Australia.
So that also afforded me saving a lot of money in Australia. I think my biggest turning point because I just worked, didn’t travel. It killed me inside. I wanted to die, but it was so worth it because I saved over 17,000 US dollars in 10 months, which is a really large chunk of cash. And as soon as I could, I really wanted to take that and travel Australia, but I was speaking to my boyfriend about it and we just agreed that that cash would be gone like if we stayed in Australia because it’s not cheap.
So we were like, we could take this money, save it, and then go somewhere else cheaper. So we decided to take it out of Australia and that money afforded me the time to really not be worried about a job, have money to travel, have money to eat and have a shelter over my head and just get the blog to where it needed to go. And after that, that’s how I afforded my time to get my blog up to where it is today.
I was telling you how I just was living in a van and New Zealand and I didn’t spend any money that I’ve made recently on that entire trip because my boyfriend and I took only half of the money we made in Australia to live on. And we left the rest of it in our Australian bank account and we just left it there and forgot about it for two and a half years. It’s been two and a half years since we’ve been in Australia. And so when we finally made the decision to go travel New Zealand, that is the money we use, our two and a half-year-old money, which if you’ve ever find random money or you find that $20 bill in the dryer, it feels like free money.
So that’s how we went on that trip. We lived in a van for four months or so, and then we’re in New Zealand for about five months or so. And that was all the money I had saved in Australia.
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?
I’m going to have to listen to this recording when I’m old and gray and see what I said and see if I accomplished it. Of course, everybody kind of wants to live this legacy, but I feel like this is so selfish. I just want to make sure I’m happy and I did good and that I was happy with my life. And so far I’m very happy with my life and the track that it’s on. And I always tell my parents, cause you know even eight years later, they’re like, oh my God, where are you going? And I’m like, listen, just know that if I were to ever die, I would die. A very happy person right now.
I guess if I made myself happy and did well, people who saw that would see, I guess my quote-unquote legacy. But what I want to do is just be a happy person. I was the weird child who was like a happy person and I want to be a well-traveled person when I grow up. I legit said this to my mom when I was a teenager. So that is my goal and as long as I reached that, which so far I am fulfilling, I would be very happy.
So if people remember me by that, if that is my legacy, then I’m very happy and hopefully, that can be inspiring to some people. Hopefully, some people can take that and think, well damn, if that regular average girl can do that, then so can I because I’m really nobody special. Like I am just a regular person. I just made all these things happen and it does take a lot of work. So as long as you’re willing to put in that work, then you can get there. And you know, if I can leave that for somebody to lead you to be inspired by them, I will be happy.
Nina, are you working on anything currently that is really exciting to you?
I am kind of just chilling a bit. I just finished a van life in New Zealand. I’m working on a blog. I have some more blog posts coming out about that. Speaking about Australia, honestly, Debbie, you’re going to be like the first person knowing this and your listeners. I just haven’t told anybody because I’m just that person who waits to the very last second just to make sure everything goes as planned. You guys will be the first to know, I guess. I’m just gonna come out with this little mini ebook that I’ve wanted to get out there, about working in Australia. And it’s nothing novel or new, but I think it’s definitely something Americans don’t know about and that’s going to be my biggest angle.
Nina, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
You can find me at whereintheworldisnina.com, and Where in the world is Nina on Instagram. Where in the world is Nina on Facebook, and that’s pretty much it. Those are the three places whereintheworldisnina.com and the work abroad tab will help you out if you’re interested in the whole working abroad thing, which is kind of what we’ve been talking about today.
Thank you so much, Nina for giving us all of this awesome information.
Get the extended interview with Nina where she shares how to create a sustainable lifestyle as a digital nomad.
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Audio Engineer: Ben Smith