Ep. 166: How this remote non-profit director helps to empower youth through travel with Carmela Resuma
In this week’s episode, I speak with Carmela who is the Executive Director of FLYTE, a non-profit that empowers youth through travel.
She’s also a non-profit & data analytics consultant, math enthusiast, remote worker, and self-proclaimed chocolate chip cookie connoisseur.
Since 2012, she’s been intentionally creating a life that combines her love for youth empowerment, travel, and social impact.
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Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am so excited to be speaking with Carmela. Hey Carmela, how are you?
Hey Debbie! I’m great.
Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
I love how that question starts ’cause offbeat is definitely a way that I have managed my life for the past 5 years. In short, and I will dive into this a little bit deeper later, I currently live and work remotely.
I run a non-profit and I do consulting for different non-profits as well as private companies doing data analytics. And while doing that, I live and work all over the world. Right now, I’m in Hawaii other times I’m based in Asia which is the area of the world I love the most second to Hawaii. But I’m originally from the New Jersey, New York area.
I definitely have a different lifestyle than most of my family and friends. That’s why I’m so grateful to you and the rest of that kind of offbeat life, like, remote work, location Independent community ’cause it’s really inspiring to see, kind of, all the ways we’ve lived in intentional life.
And also really just see the world and explore and tap into our talents and interests.
There are so many people right now who are going through this, right? So before we thought we were all offbeat and now everyone is kind of forced into this lifestyle.
So has there been a lot of people coming to you recently Carmela? And was like, “How do you survive this? This is harder than I thought,” like how do you actually work and not get distracted from all of this?
I know. Funny is the wrong word ’cause we’re living in a pandemic right now. But it’s just so interesting to witness everyone transition into a remote work because for the longest time I felt like people thought, “Oh, was she just on vacation all the time? She doesn’t have an office. She’s somewhere in the middle of Thailand or in the middle of Malaysia. She’s not really working.”
And then, now, those people are actually at home having to get things done: answer emails, get on these Zoom meeting calls. I’m like, “See, I do that but I just so happen to be not in the U.S. I just so happen to not be in the office.”
So, I think people can relate to what I do more, And then, in terms of tips. I am kind of proactive when I see someone struggling with something. I’m really determined where I kind of just try to, intentional and kind way, share my experiences and struggles because I like to believe and am very candid about doing that.
I’m working from the airport or, like, holding my computer up to the air so I get Wi-Fi, so I can send the file. So, I’m just very candid and real about how this is oftentimes portrayed as glamorous in social media, on the internet.
But, really, it takes a little bit of work to kind of create the routine and create the systems to work remotely regardless of if you’re at home, which we all are now, or somewhere on a distant island, a beautiful place.
How did you decide to actually start getting into this lifestyle, Carmella, because we mentioned that this is definitely offbeat and it’s not usually what most people think of. We weren’t raised to be digital nomads or remote workers. We kind of figured this out on our own, maybe we see other people do it.
How did you actually decide that this was something that you wanted to do?
It wasn’t really a day where I woke up was like, “I need to work online.” It was a kind of a slow transition over several years.
So I guess it really started back in 2012 or so. Gosh, it was over eight years ago. I had recently gotten married and my partner and I were just thinking about travel. We’ve always wanted to travel and we’re like, “For our honeymoon, let’s do “around the world” honeymoon. Check off all the things, like, all the places we want to see.”
And we kind of get it out of our system and then come back and have like a “normal life”. And as a new person who traveled long term, kind of laughed at that now. Because Some people when they get on traveling you realize, “Oh, there’s so much more of the world I want to see.”
One extended trip isn’t enough like how you do this long term? And so, that around the world trip wasn’t really long, it was about four months. We just kind of bought a one-way ticket and just kept going.
And when we came back to New York, my husband took a leave from his job. I completely quit my job and we’re like, “What now?” We actually lived in New York for about 2 years or maybe two and a half years before we were like, “Okay. Well, New York.” We tried that again and we’re like, “That’s just not the lifestyle,” that really limits itself to what we really want to see which is passion, the things that we’re really excited about.
I work in the nonprofit social impact space, my partner is an artist. And so, how do we combine all those things and just get out of that grind? Because I know living in Europe is this constant, like, 40 plus hours a week, like, high cost of living everywhere. And it just takes a lot out of you and we knew that we just wanted something different.
So, in the middle of 2015 about three years after our extended venture, we’re like, “Let’s figure this out. Let’s try what this is like – working online.” And so, we made the leap then and haven’t turned back.
And so, being kind of stationary now because of the pandemic This has been the longest years I’ve lived in anywhere for the past five years. So, it’s something interesting to have, like, that contrast: starting the offbeat, nomadic life so many years ago.
What was your first experience as a remote worker? I know you said you guys were living in New York for 2 years; not definitely wakes up a lot of people because it is super expensive. And, like you said, the hustle is definitely strong in New York City.
I am a bred New Yorke. I wasn’t born there but I’ve lived there for over 20 years and I definitely see a lot of turnover from people, right? So most people I’ve seen who are not from there and who move there as adults probably last, average, 5 to 10 years.
And then, it just gets to you and people are like, “I need to get the hell out of here ’cause this is too much.”
Yeah. I know. I think it’s a good trend. Like before we took our long trip, I mean, I was born and raised in New Jersey which some people joke is like the “6th borough”, but yeah, it’s just interesting to see the friends that I have moved in.
You’re right, it’s like the 5-10 year mark and at 10 years people decide, “Okay, I’m going to stay or go.” I feel like a lot of the people, my colleagues and friends, are kind of a 50-50 split. ‘Cause some people love it and some people are like, “I’m ready to go back to California, Minnesota, Wisconsin,” whenever they are originally from.
Yeah, that’ll be interesting to witness. But I think it might be different now. Now that we’re all kind of experiencing a different way of life. Who knows if the hustle is going to really need to come back to New York in full force as it was before. I don’t know, who’s to say?
Well, the thing is in New York City if you don’t hustle you don’t live. It’s kind of a thing that you have no control over because of how expensive it is. So, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.
Yeah. I know. You’re right. That’s probably the reality of it. I think about how much I used to pay for rent and I’m like, “I cannot believe. That is just as crazy.” But at the same time, I still believe in New York, it’s one of my favorite places just ’cause there are so many amazing things about it.
So it kind of looks like love, not so much love. I will never say more. Whenever anyone says, “Where are you from?” I say I like, “New Jersey, New York.” One ‘cause New Jersey – not many people know it. But also New York is a place I lived and worked for most of my life. It’s a place I look at fondly.
And so, I’m really sad to see everything that’s going on there right now. But one thing that I think, you probably know and anyone else who has lived in New York for any extended amount of time knows, that you, guys, are super resilient. I just love witnessing everything that the city does: kind of push people and get people moving forward which is definitely admirable.
Yeah. It’s pretty crazy how much New Yorkers have gone through so many things. I mean we’ve been there. I was there during 9/11, now the pandemic, the financial crisis, all of these different things. It’s pretty insane.
So definitely, the hub of a lot of different things.
Going back to your journey as a remote worker and entrepreneur, what was that moment like when you and your partner finally decided to do this full-time? Did you have a “what now?” moment when you finally took that official step to be in this fully?
Oh, yeah. I think I had multiple “what now?” moments, like, every 6 months for the first like a year and a half. Because, like I said, I didn’t have a career where it was like a natural step to working remotely.
So for example: my partner is a photo retoucher and he works in advertising. Everything he does is on the computer anyway so he isn’t in the office. So, for me, I’m like, “Well, he used to have meetings with people and work with students. How do I do this now?
And so, I think, for me, it was really just a whole lot of reflection in a lot of making mistakes and a lot of trying stuff out and seeing if it works. So yeah, I definitely had multiple “what now?” moments but I think what I love about the “what now?” moments is that they prompt such deep reflection, goal setting, and just really understand who you are, what you’re good at, what you want to do.
And then, the most important part: what the demand is, what the world needs. And then, just figure out how to meld all those together which is an ongoing process regardless of if you have sitting income or if you have something that has been established.
It’s just a good life skill to develop. I’m glad that I learned that 4, 5 years ago because I think it’ll just be something that, as we kind of advance in our careers, I get something that we always just need to assess. Like, “What now? Is this the thing I should be doing? Is this how I imagined this to be? Because I feel like oftentimes you kinda just go in one direction and not really realize if it’s really something that you’re enjoying or not.
So, yeah, I think the “what now?” moments definitely taught me to be very intentional and reflective about what I’m doing.
What do you think are the key skills that you had to learn in order to be really prepared for this lifestyle?
Oh, that’s a good question. I think in terms of skills. I want to say a lot of it was soft skills. I mean, I know a lot of technical things like how to write a grant, I know how to create an amazing budgeting spreadsheet.
But in terms of how to really be successful as a remote worker and live this kind of lifestyle, I think it’s the soft skills. So, learning how to network, learning how to put yourself out there, kind of getting over the fear of getting into the unknown.
And then, really just being able to find what you’re interested in and things that are related to that. Learning how to do research, learning how to connect with the right people in an authentic and non-sleazy way.
Just doing the things that I think can be done in any career regardless if you are a web developer or if you’re a coach or if you’re a tutor. Just being able to put forth the right energy and effort.
And then, there’s also a level of grit and resilience because things aren’t going to be seamless from day one. There’s going to be a lot of self-doubts, there’s going to be a lot of questioning. A lot of things are going to go wrong.
So having that innate capability, or not even innate, but to develop the capability to just push on and realize the greater “why” as to why you’re doing these things. And having that, those are the skills that moved me. ‘Cause I think if I didn’t have any of that, I probably would have gone back to my job.
2016-2017 was when I was burnt out or when things weren’t going as exactly as I had imagined them to.
One of the things that you are really good at, because of working in the nonprofit, is connection and networking and you had mentioned this a little bit: a lot of people are afraid to connect with people because they don’t want to feel spammy and, like you said, sleazy.
And that’s a huge part of what you do, right? It’s that connection with people. How do you make those connections more authentic and not feel gross and sleazy, like you said, when you are trying to make those?
I think, for me, maybe it’s two or three strategies that I have, I guess, realize that I do as part of exercising this muscle over the past several years.
The first one is really having a spirit of giving before receiving. I think a lot of people approach networking in the “I want this, I need this” but really it has to come from the spirit of generosity and then, giving of yourself. And when you do that, put yourself in a different position, in a different mindset than actually wanting or needing something from other people.
So, having the mindset of “I really just want to help” and help in whatever way it is. Whatever skill that you have or whatever the talent is. I think that is the key mindset when entering any networking space. Whether that’s going into an event that has 20 people or if it’s just reaching out to a person in your industry that you idolize.
Just being from a spirit of “I am so excited and I want to give” whether it’s giving praise or whether it’s offering some type of support or help. I feel like, for me, when it comes from that space, that’s when you are able to make yourself authentic.
It’s hard to just say, “Okay, you should be authentic.” It should come from a space of generosity, from giving from abundance and that’s when, I think, the networking happens most organically and in a really meaningful way. People are people and I feel like just being curious and being open about meeting other people is great energy to have.
And then, that kind of goes into my second strategy, which is what’s the worst thing that could happen? Like, what do I have to lose going into any networking situation? I kind of got that quote from my husband ‘cause when we started this whole nomadic living thing he was like, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Imagine the worst-case scenario – It’s not so bad afterward. Whether it’s emailing someone that you really admire, what’s the worst that can happen? He or she won’t respond to you. Or if you’re in a networking event, what’s the worst that can happen? Well, maybe you don’t meet someone who you necessarily jive with or really connect with.
But, at least, you put yourself out there and created an opportunity. And the best-case scenario is that you meet someone or you meet a new community that really just helps to elevate your career. But then, also, you get to contribute more into an industry that you really want to be a part of. I think it’s just really having a great follow-through.
I often go to networking events and meet a bunch of people but you need a bunch of people. So it’s hard to remember what the next step is. So, really be proactive about going afterward, just doing the quick follow-up. Because more often than not, I feel we get bombarded so that follow-up doesn’t really happen all the time.
And so, I think that’s another great way to be authentic but then, also just set yourself apart ’cause it’s a small thing: the follow-up email or the message afterward. But I feel like that’s something that can get overlooked just because of the busyness of life.
Connection and networking are really even more crucial when you are working remotely or you are a digital nomad. Otherwise, you’re just going to be in your apartment, in your house and you’re not going to be able to speak to anyone really unless its, like, your co-workers.
So, learning all of these skills, putting in place what Carmela was talking about, is so helpful because, obviously, now, everybody is feeling this. But once this is all done, you really need that human connection wherever you go.
It’s not just about traveling but it’s also about connecting with other people in other cultures. And all of this really makes sense when you have to implement it firsthand.
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. And in my line of work, I run a nonprofit so a lot of the day is connecting with people whether it’s our donors, whether its potential donors, our students that we serve, or our corporate partners. A lot of it is connection and connection is being curious about other people and genuinely caring about what their mission is or what they have to say or what their goals are.
And I think just coming from that kind of deep human desire to just know other people and feel understood, I kind of hate going way back into the kind of like the psychology of it. I think that really helps ’cause it’s not “I need a job from you. I need a donation from you.” It’s a “Who are you as a person? What are the things that we have in common? How could we connect deeper than things that are on like a more superficial business, formality level.”
Because I think, as humans, we just all crave that. We all crave that sense of belonging and understanding other people. Having them understand us and to be able to have our conversations. It’s not going to be that with everyone but to be able to just put yourself out there.
I think about my journey and how many people I’ve met in the past 8 years. My life would be completely different if I did not take that long term trip in 2012. I don’t even know what it would look like now because the people that I’ve met have definitely got into the journey and met them because of networking.
And networking isn’t necessarily going to an event but it’s being at a cafe and asking someone, “What are you working on? ‘Cause I could see this cool Excel spreadsheet on your screen.” And then, having that really great conversation and seeing where that goes.
It’s so amazing what you can learn, the connections you can make when you are out there and you take yourself out of that comfort zone. Especially if you’re a solo traveler and you really don’t have anyone to talk to and then, you really put yourself out there. It’s pretty incredible.
Carmela, one of the things that you’re doing now is your part of this organization called FLYTE and it was founded by Nomadic Matt which a lot of people in the travel industry know about him. And you have been helping him with this project and it’s a really great organization.
What do you guys do in that non-profit organization? Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Sure. I can talk about FLYTE all day but I’ll give you the overview. So, our mission is to empower youth from other communities. Talk to any traveler who has done this for a long time or who just loves to travel and they’ll speak something about how it transformed and changed their lives. I’ve just been gushing about it like 30 seconds ago.
Matt is Matt and he’s been around forever. And his goal was to get more people out into the world and doing it on a budget like demystifying travel as expensive. And so, at some point, he realized, “Well not even with the best budget hacks, the best travel tips. There are some people in our world that just will have so many more challenges in getting travel.”
And that’s why he created FLYTE to meet the needs and to create access to travel for underserved communities where families have economic challenges. Where travel is not something that’s in their realistic outlook.
And so, we have partnered since 2015 when we were founded and we have partnered with five schools and sent 70 students abroad, on trips across the world. I did the math earlier and, I think, they collectively traveled around 300,000 miles.
As you can imagine, for all of these youths, it’s their first time not only out of the country but on an airplane for a lot of them. And it really just exposes them to so much more and really pushes the boundaries of what they can expect or what their potentials in life. “Cause when you travel, you realize there’s so much more to the world than what I know, what I grew up in.
And to be able to have an understanding, coming from a place where there might be limited opportunities for, words are fire so they’re off doing amazing things now. All because they took that trip and because they saw that there was a huge vast world.
A lot of what we do is having them connect with local social enterprises on the ground. So if they come from a community where there is a need they see someone doing work in their community: in Quito Ecuador or in Guatemala. And they realize, “ I could be that changemaker. I visited this great social Enterprise and they’re creating a feeding program, or they have a great after school program. I want to do that in my community.”
So, taking those lessons that they learn from their travels and then bring it back to make their own community better. It’s just this amazing full-circle experience that really just hit all of my emotions. And as to why travel is great: because it makes us not only better people but it gives us the power to make the world a better place in whatever way that makes sense for us.
And so, I feel I should be able to create access for more youth to do this – is just so powerful. The ramifications and the ripple effect are beyond what we ever expect.
Traveling is, I say this all the time, the best type of education. I think it’s, a lot of ways, so much more than books because you actually experience it. Real-life is really what we all need because there are so many things that I learned in school that I don’t even implement in real life but the things that you learned in the real world are what you actually need to survive, to thrive – all of those things.
So, I love this nonprofit organization that Matt has started and you have run with him. So, congratulations on that. That is super exciting.
Thank you. I tell people it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my entire life for the least amount of money. But I’ve never felt richer, more fulfilled just because I know that this is important. It’s something that is, kind of, often overlooked in the education space.
Travel is such a fulfilling experience and it makes us more compassionate people. And I think our world and our country need to really understand who the ”other” is and how they live and how they work. Just because I think it really creates better global citizens now where there’s a lot of division and dissonance.
And in the US, I think it’s a great way to change our next future generation of leaders, of policymakers where they could realize there are people who are different from them – this is how they live. And to be able to be empathetic. I think just those soft skills make great leaders and that’s what we’re doing. And what we’re gonna be doing for many, many years to come.
So, when you’re traveling around, Carmela, because you obviously do this with your job and even just with your lifestyle with your hubby, hopefully, you can keep doing it again after COVID, what type of travel insurance do you use?
Because that’s a lot of things that everyone is worrying about right now.
Yes. I definitely always have travel insurance.
I actually use different ones depending on what’s happening. The travel insurance that I use consistently is IMG Global because they cover me both in the US and outside the US. Because I am never inside or outside the US at any given time like for an extended period of time.
So, that way I know that if anything, something catastrophic happens, I’m covered both internationally and domestically. And then, I also have Clements Insurance as property insurance for my laptop and for all of our more expensive items.
And then, when I have friends who are coming to drive me or were doing a very specific, kind of, more adventurous trips, I’ll have a group of friends and we travel every year and often we do multi-day hikes and we do things that are a little bit more adventurous and have a little bit more risks. I use World Nomads as my insurance and it’s also our insurance provider for flights as well.
Those are such great providers for sure and especially right now. I’ve been talking to so many people and a lot of them don’t have insurance and there are a lot of travelers and remote workers who cannot go home right now because borders have been closed and everyone is just super afraid to travel.
And they have been finding out that the insurance companies that they have been working with don’t cover a lot of things like a pandemic or even natural disasters in their policy. So, if somebody was to fall ill and need treatment for coronavirus, for example, or any similar future pandemic they are not covered.
I mean, we’re all figuring this out right now and they would need to pay for everything themselves, which is horrible because obviously you’re all feeling the hit that’s happening right now. And then having to do that and having to deal with that as well is just awful.
That’s why I’m so glad to be working with Integra Global. They believe it’s their duty to support their members in uncertain times like these and stand by them when they need them. They have no exclusions for pandemics or natural disasters in any of their plans which is really interesting because before any of this happened, Integra Global already had it and the people that had their plans were really affected by it.
So, if you guys want to know more check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage you need, and maybe some you never knew you would. Because right now, everything is so uncertain and it’s one thing that at least we can be trustworthy of like, “Oh my gosh, it’s crazy right now.”
At least we have something. Insurance, right now, that’s what we need and at least there is something that we could trust. Oh my goodness. Hopefully, there is a silver lining to all of this because I feel like we’re just living in, like, the Twilight Zone.
Or Black Mirror.
Yeah. It’s crazy. I’m like, “Is this Groundhog Day?” You know what’s really weird about this too, Carmela? I feel like everyday is the same. It is like Groundhog Day because there’s really nothing to look forward to. Like we can’t go see your friends, we can’t go out to eat in nice restaurants, we can’t have parties. Like what are we gonna do?
Oh my gosh. I’m like, “Hopefully everybody stays home. Only go out when you need to, guys.”
So, Carmela, let’s fast forward to 30 to 40 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?
Oh, wow. What a cool question. 30 to 40 years from now, I would love it if my legacy was that more people went out in the world, traveled, took risks especially young people who didn’t have the opportunity.
I would love it to be able to empower communities, whether here in the US or local communities we work with when we go abroad, to do whatever they need to do to uplift their community.
I think in the nonprofit space there’s a lot of this like, “I’m going to go and save the world,” but really everyone has the potential to save their own world. And so to be able to empower those people with knowledge or skills. And the ability to do what they need to do to make their own communities a better place.
That would be the legacy that I would love to have. Empower and inspire people to do that and take action. And to be able to realize their own potential however that looks whether that’s our students that we send abroad or whether that’s local community partners that run amazing organizations that need the support and infrastructure from the people that travel to them.
I would love to have that legacy of inspiring and empowering people to create better lives And also ‘cause it sounds that would make me incredibly happy.
And I also love the fact that you are actually doing this right now and you have been doing part of your legacy. And it’s just going to keep continuing and building up as the years go by. So, that is so interesting how it’s already happening. So that’s awesome.
Thank you. That’s heartwarming. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, like I’m in the middle of a 50-page grant application, I’m like, “What am I doing with my life?” But then, to have moments where you kind of have that clarity I’m like, “Okay, this is what I should be doing.”
I think it’s a gift ‘because sometimes it doesn’t happen like sometimes when you’re not in a place where that doesn’t feel as right. So, I am definitely lucky to do my work a lot of the time. I tell people it’s my dream job. I mean, I got to run an organization I love from anywhere in the world. Like what else could I ask for?
Absolutely. Carmela, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
Oh, wow! I’m in a bunch of places on the good old internet.
And I can be found on Instagram, my Instagram is @carmesu.
Perfect. Thank you so much, Carmela, for being here with us. I really appreciate everything that you have told us today.
I am so glad to have been able to be a part of this community. And, like I said, how I want to leave my legacy: just share whatever knowledge I can to get people out into the world. Whatever way they want to be out there in the world and taking risks and living that offbeat life as whatever it means to them. So thank you for having me.
Thank you so much.
Audio Engineer: Ben Smith