Ep. 288: How This Nomad Creates Income as a Virtual Assistant and Travel Researcher with Ali Sullivan
In this episode, I speak with Ali who is the owner of Ali’s Happy Desk & Alvintures.
She graduated college, quit the 9-5 and started traveling full time 6 years ago. Since then she’s been to over 30 countries on 4 different continents and has no plans on stopping.
After working and teaching in different countries for 3 years, Ali fully transitioned to remote work as a digital entrepreneur. She then started her blog Alvintures, as well as a Virtual Assistant & Travel Research business.
Listen on to find out how Ali travels the world as a virtual assistant and travel researcher.
Ep. 287: How This Freelancer Travels The World As A Virtual Consultant with Emily Fang
Ep. 286: How This Digital Nomad Couple Creates Income From Their Passions with Jaxon and Angel
Ep. 283: How This Website Consultant Became a Digital Nomad with Kayla Ihrig
Hey everyone, thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to speak with my guest today.
I’m here with Allie.
Hi Allie, how are you?
Hello. I’m great. How are you today?
I’m wonderful. I’m so excited to talk to you today about your journey.
Can you tell us more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
So, I always wanted to travel. That’s something I always wanted to do when I was growing up.
So, I did everything by the book. I went to school and then I graduated. I went to college. I got my degree and I took a gap year, which was supposed to be about a three month trip through Europe and that actually ended up turning into six years and it’s still going on today.
I ended up really loving the lifestyle and figured out how to do it and make a living at the same time.
Well that is amazing because that’s what most of us wanna do, right? We wanna make sure we’re doing something that we love, also see the world.
How did you really get into that process and how did you find out the right way for you to create income, make this a sustainable lifestyle while still enjoying a life that you want?
So, when I first started traveling the first few months that was just traveling on its own. I didn’t really know exactly how I was going to keep going. I just knew that I wanted to.
So, I originally started with a lot of volunteer programs that would give me housing and food that went along with everything.
So, that saved me a lot of money with that, I worked in hostels, I bartended, I worked in a few kite surfing lodges and different things like that.
Then, I started looking into teaching English overseas and that’s where I started actually making money, finding a job and I like to do short term jobs.
So, I was able to be in a lot of different locations, in the same year, but still able to make a living off of it too.
After I started teaching, I taught in a few different countries around. I lived in France for a few years and when covid happened that kind of changed everything.
I lost my job, I lost my apartment, came back home and that’s when I started working online.
So, now I teach online and I also started my own virtual assistance business online too.
That is definitely a whirlwind and that changed your entire life, right? With covid and everything.
And that is definitely a setback because you feel like you have things going and it’s running smoothly and then all of a sudden you are smacked with something that was unexpected.
How did you deal with that and how did you know that, you know, what was the right decision for you at that time?
It was hard. It was really stressful. When covid first hit, I had just got back to work in France. I had taken some time off and did a four month backpacking trip.
So, I wasn’t working at that time either. Then when covid hit, they closed all the schools and I was stuck in France for about three months because if I left the country I knew I couldn’t come back, but my job was there so I was able to stay in my apartment that my job provided but after about three months we figured out this was a lot bigger of a deal than what everybody anticipated it was going to be.
So, I came back home and I didn’t really know what to do all summer. I came back with no job and nowhere to live and not a whole lot of money left because I hadn’t been working for a while. But I had jobs lined up for the next year and a half, which also I couldn’t go and do because the world was closed.
So, that’s when I figured out that I needed to do something online, because even if the world is still closed four or five years from now, I could still do something on the computer and travel when the world would open up again.
Yeah and that’s I think one of the biggest lessons that we learned during the pandemic is that working remotely is one of the best ways that you can really make anything sustainable, because I remembered years ago when when I started working remotely, people would tell me that it wasn’t ideal. Right?
It wasn’t realistic and you needed to have a regular nine to five and then the pandemic happened and then it became switched. It was a total opposite.
Yeah, in the beginning I never really got a whole lot of support in the idea of what I wanted to do.
Everyone thought I needed to get a real job and buy a house here and make sure I had my master’s degree and continued going back to school.
But now I think a lot of people’s mindsets are starting to change a little bit and it’s becoming more of a normal thing for people to at least look into doing.
Before it was such a radical idea, it was such a radical lifestyle and now it’s becoming the norm or at least more people are understanding of this type of lifestyle and you have been able to do that.
Now, you said that you are teaching but also you have a virtual assistance agency or company, how did you get started on that?
So that I started actually it’s been a little over a year now I started doing that. I like teaching and I do enjoy teaching online but teaching online is a lot different than teaching in the classroom and I knew that I liked it but I didn’t wanna do this for the rest of my life.
And I also like the idea of being my own boss. So, I’m able to travel when I want to and I can work when I want to. That was part of the reason I liked the idea of traveling in the first place was to have the freedom to do what I want. As long as I was able to make a living on it, then I thought that was okay.
So, I started figuring out what I was good at. I learned a lot of new skills online last year because I didn’t know what else to do.
So, I started teaching myself a lot of things how to do online. I thought about what I could already do. So, I started with a virtual assistance and travel researching business.
So, I plan a lot of itineraries for people who also wanna travel but just don’t exactly know how to do it or maybe how to do it by a budget or where to start planning.
So, I help with that a lot. And freelance writing has kicked off bigger than anything else, that’s probably 70% of my clientele now, but last month I was able to triple my income from what I make teaching.
So, I’m able to make more off of my own business now than I did teaching online anyway.
I love hearing that because there’s so many skills that you are able to learn and in the beginning you really don’t think about it because it’s, you know, it’s something that you just do and now it’s actually more than half of your income.
Now, did you always know how to do these researches and even write so that you can actually make income from this?
How did this all start from you just doing it maybe for fun or maybe just for yourself to actually making income from that?
I did like to write, I wrote a lot in college. That was something I was always good at was grammar and writing papers. I was more of an English person than a Math and Science person, so I did like writing.
I even started, I had my own blog for a while when covid hit, I kind of put that to the side, but I had my own blog to keep up with everything that I was doing too. But when covid hit, I really sat down and thought about what I was good at.
But then I realized people will pay for about anything, even the smallest little skill set that you have, even writing cover letters. People will pay a lot of money to have someone else do that for them.
So, I just figured out exactly what I knew that I could be good at right now and start with that and then build onto that as it goes over.
Was there anything that you had to learn specifically so that you can get hired for the job so that you could stand out or was it kind of just like trial and error for you?
A lot of it was trial and error. I started to try and work local and get clients of people that I knew, but then over time I found that it was really a lot easier to look online.
I used a lot of platforms in the beginning like LinkedIn, I used Fiverr for a while and then I built my own website and once I did that then I was able to kind of draw people in and let people see online what I could actually help them do.
And when it comes to traveling, I’m a budget traveler and I research everything because I know one little mess up can cause a lot of other outcomes to happen that can cause a lot of problems in the long run.
And when I first started traveling I researched for about nine or 10 months. So, any question that anyone in my family asked me, I had an answer for. So, now I’m still able to do that and I like doing it.
A lot of the trips that I’ve planned and researched for other people, I would love to go and do the itineraries myself.
Well that’s the beauty about what you do is that you can pack up and go when you want and actually do the itinerary.
And it’s funny, Ali, cause you can actually do those itineraries for them and also it’s kind of like a dual thing, you’re getting paid for it but then you could also use it.
Oh of course. And if it’s somewhere I’ve been before, I like to give my own personal favorites and little recommendations.
But if it’s somewhere new then that’s something that I can learn about too and plan my own trip in the future.
And you also mentioned that now you are using your website to attract your ideal clients and you were using other platforms before like LinkedIn and Fiverr.
Why did you decide to focus on your own website instead of going to these other platforms to get your clients?
I used other platforms in the beginning because I knew that I was a beginner. I didn’t have a whole lot of experience. I wasn’t able to attract a whole lot of clients just from word of mouth.
So, I knew I kind of needed a platform in the beginning to get started and I had heard good things about Fiverr and LinkedIn has a lot of networking opportunities so I started there and I still use those platforms from time to time.
But with that, Fiverr, they also take a commission. So, I still don’t always earn all the money that I make from one job. But I’ve built a lot of clients from that that have moved off of the platform. So, that works out well for me and them. They don’t have to pay the extra fees but it’s a good place I think to get started.
You’re able to get a lot of testimonials as well. A lot of reviews from people. Now, with my own website I would like to, I’d like to expand the website eventually and offer downloadable services as well.
So, I knew if I went ahead and built the website now and got started and got some attraction from people, once I offered more services then there would already be an audience to sell them to.
Yeah, that is such a great idea to use these platforms to build your clientele and also get reviews because you could take those reviews and you can even include them in your website as well.
So you have people who trust you but then you also have a built in clientele already, which is pretty amazing. For the website that you have now, how do you attract new clients from there since you’re focusing on that right now?
I do a lot of social media marketing, it would probably be the most, Facebook I think has been the most successful.
I’m able to draw more people from Facebook rather than Instagram for example.
So do you do Facebook, when you say that, do you do Facebook ads or is it just in communities? How do you get clients on Facebook?
I do run Facebook ads. I joined a lot of communities. There’s a lot of virtual assistance pages out there. There’s a lot more groups than what I had realized.
So, I made my own Facebook page for my own personal business. I linked my website to it, that way I get a lot of my clients usually through that one link alone.
But I have found that Facebook ads do do a world of good too. They’re definitely worth paying the little bit of money for.
Yeah and especially if you know what you’re doing in those ads, like it can really put a lot of eyes on your content on your website.
Did you need to learn some techniques so that you understand how to use and really utilize the Facebook ads or did you pay somebody? How did you go about that?
That’s something, I had someone do that for me. I didn’t go and learn that skill. That’s something I actually paid for.
But that is a big skill that’s in demand right now is learning how to run Facebook ads. And the more I look into them, the more, it doesn’t look like that difficult of a skill to actually learn. And if you go through Google, Google Ads will also, they do a lot of trainings and they’ll teach you how to do it themselves.
Then you can go off and get your own clients from that. So, it is a good idea. I don’t know if it’s something I would personally enjoy doing, but if that’s something you like to do, that’s a great example for something you could do online.
There’s just so many different opportunities out there. I think, for the most part it’s just finding out what really speaks to you, because if you love to write but you don’t like Facebook ads, you know, then at least you know where your niche is and even with writing there’s a different niche in that too that you could really do as well.
And there’s just so many things now, especially when a lot of the things that we do are online. That means there’s so many more people who needs different types of skills that will help them in some way, whether it’s their business or just their daily lives to make it easier.
Oh yeah, of course. And a lot of it comes really with trial and error and just playing around and seeing what you like to do. I mean there’s a lot of things I know how to do online but it’s not something that I actually enjoy doing.
And part of the reason I started the business in the first place was to do what I like to do and have the freedom to live out my own dreams other than my life revolving around work. So, it did take some time to figure out exactly what that was and what works.
And even still now I play around with different things and some things I find out I enjoy doing more than others. It’s definitely time consuming but in the long run I think it’s really worth all the research.
Absolutely. And it does, it takes a little bit of time to figure out where you belong and what you enjoy because you also don’t want to do something that you hate cause we, you know, that’s one of the things that we wanna do is we obviously want to work remotely.
We wanna be able to travel and see the world, but we also wanna do something that we enjoy or at least something that we don’t mind doing everyday and it’s going to make us income and it’s gonna make things sustainable for us.
And I’ve always been a big one to, I’m not gonna work a job that I don’t like. I understand that you need to work to make an income and you need to do something to make yourself money to live on, but I would rather make less money and have a job I like doing than make tens of thousand dollars a year and hate my job and never have the freedom to go and do what I actually want to do.
And this way I’m able to go and live out my dream and work at the same time.
And there’s really, you know, what, what more can you ask for when you are living a lifestyle like that? Because that’s what we all aspire to do, is just to figure out something that we enjoy and you know, not just something that we have to do or we tolerate so that we can, we can make a living.
And I think in today’s world there’s so many more opportunities that you can do to actually make income and make it sustainable and also do what you love. And sometimes it feels like you are like, already retired.
At least this is how I feel, you know? Cause it doesn’t really feel like work, what I do. And a lot of people in the past and even now still think that they have to wait until they’re retired to really enjoy their life and to start living.
But you know, I think in like our generation, Ali, people are like, “Why wait when you can have both like work,”,
“Enjoy it”, but also like, do these things that you think are only for retired people.
“Enjoy it”, but also like, do these things that you think are only for retired people.
Well, yeah, exactly. And I look at it, I may not even be here to be retired, so I’m going to do this, I want to do now and I can always make more money.
I mean, you can make the money back, you don’t have all the time in the world. And I think covid opened up the eyes to a lot of people on that and I think that’s why a lot of people now have made the transition to work from online or travel a lot more because you never know what could happen.
And the world was closed for so long and I think a lot of people realized how big of a luxury traveling was now that you weren’t able to do it for so long.
Absolutely. And yeah, that’s a really good point. You may be waiting for retirement and you, you know, knock on wood, like you, like hopefully we all make it to that age.
But you know, there are circumstances that you may not, and if you’re waiting for life to happen at a certain timeframe, maybe it’s something that you’re gonna miss out on. So, I love that idea that like live your best right now because you don’t know what’s gonna happen, but also be realistic about it and make it sustainable.
That’s why I’m a huge advocate of remote work and the flexible schedule because you can make this sustainable for yourself, make the income, but also live a life that you really want to live before retirement.
Oh yeah, exactly. And you’re not gonna do it the exact right way right at the beginning, when I first started traveling and working online, I made every mistake that you could possibly make and I’ve known how it feels to be stranded somewhere with no money.
And now that I’m able to work online, if that ever happens again, I’m not gonna be as worried anymore because I can still make the income no matter where I’m at.
Yeah, absolutely. And again, it’s so much more, I guess like, it’s just, it just gives you so much more now working remotely because there’s a lot more possibilities and it’s not taboo anymore or look down upon and all of these things because especially with people who are working remotely, we have multiple streams of income and it’s a tough economy right now.
The job markets are tough and you know, if you have multiple streams of income, that means that you always have some, hopefully you always have something on the back burner. And also because you have multiple skills you can always take them and input them to something else that somebody will pay for.
Oh for sure. Yeah, if I could say anything to anybody now is to have more than one stream of income, it doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure there’s something else that is making you money other than your main basic job.
Even over the summer, I knew I don’t have as many classes over the summer when it comes to teaching because everyone’s on summer vacation, but I knew even with not having as many classes and not making as much money with that, I still had my own business to fall back on and all of my other clients on that side too.
And vice versa, if I’m running low one month on clients, I know that I can overbook my schedule and teach extra classes that much to supplement what I’m missing out on on the other side.
Yeah, that is such a great way of thinking that.
Now, when you are going through these moments, and I know that things changed for you and in some ways it changed for the better because it allowed you to really figure other things out with, you know, with starting your business, making different streams of income.
How do you deal with, you know, when you are hit with something and you are struggling, how do you keep moving forward?
In the beginning it’s hard. I know when covid hit, like I said, that I lost everything for a minute. Everything that I had been working for for a long time was kind of, it didn’t matter anymore.
So, I was pretty depressed for a few months, a good while. But after that I knew if my main goal, I wanna go to every country in the world, and I know that’s a big goal to have. So, everyday you have to do something to work towards that goal, even if it’s something little, even if it’s watching one YouTube video a day to learn something new, that little step is still gonna get you closer to your goal, whatever that is.
So, if you’re wanting to travel or if you’re wanting to start your own business, don’t look at it as one big goal. If you break it up into a bunch of small little pieces, every small little piece will bring you a little bit of enjoyment.
So I know even if I’m working slow, even if I am kind of stuck at home and not being able to see the world, I was still able to work on myself. I was able to see my friends and family for holidays and a lot of events that I wasn’t home for in the past.
So, even though I did lose a lot, I tried to look on the positive side of everything. And I know that’s not always easy, especially depending on the circumstances, but if you can find even a little bit of positivity in it, I think that will give you more motivation to keep trying.
Yeah, and you’re right. And also just being grateful for what you have right now. And I know sometimes that’s really tough to do, especially when things are just falling apart and you don’t know what’s happening.
And I think we’ve all been there, you know? just being really confused, just being lost and not knowing where you should be at any time, you know?
In your life and I always find that that’s actually the moment where I have complete clarity because if things are taken away from you, you have to also be more, I guess like you have to think outside of the box and it allows you to really think more creatively in that sense.
And most of the time we don’t appreciate that at that time.
It’s like then you step back after a little while and then you say to yourself, “Wow, yeah, there was a reason why that happened. It was because I was meant to be in this other place.”.
Oh exactly. You can always find some good aspect in any kind of bad situation, but I think a lot of the time, exactly what you said, it takes maybe losing everything or having everything taken away, to figure out what’s really important and what you want to keep working for.
So now I’m, whatever happens now I’m like, “Okay, well this is what’s happening now, now I need to figure out how to deal with it.”.
Yes, exactly. I should be, I actually should have went from Ecuador to Colombia today, but back in July I was supposed to fly out and the day I was leaving there was a big explosion in the city I was supposed to be going to.
So, the airports were closed, no one really knew what was going on. So, instead of rebooking the trip the following day or the following week, I’ve pushed it back for a few months and came back home.
But I’m able to spend more time with my friends and family. It’s football season so that’s a good time of year here. So, I mean, I didn’t get to go but South America is not going anywhere. It’ll still be there in a few months.
Yeah, exactly. And now, you know, you’re there for, for the holidays like you said, football season, that’s good memories you’re gonna be having.
Oh yeah, yeah. I even spent the 4th of July here this year and I went to a festival this week I hadn’t been to in seven or eight years cause I was never home for it.
Aww. See, like sometimes it’s amazing to stay like or be at home too, because there’s certain things that maybe you didn’t appreciate while you were living there.
And then now if you’re not there as much you’re like, “Oh yeah, this was fun. Now I can actually appreciate this.”.
Oh of course. And now I work from home.
My nan will make me homemade lunch everyday, so I can go eat at her house and that’s something I always miss a lot when I’m traveling.
Aww, that’s amazing. Wait, so where are you from Ali? Is it, you said Oklahoma or?
I’m in Ohio.
Oh, Ohio. Oh my gosh. I’m like thinking Oklahoma because my husband and I were talking about Oklahoma the other day. He was like, “We should go to Oklahoma”. I’m like, “that’s very random. But yeah sure. I’ve never been there. That would be interesting.”.
So, Ali, let’s move forward to about 40 to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you wanna be remembered for?
I’d like to be remembered for doing something different. I never wanted to do the same thing that everybody else did.
So, I’d like to be remembered for actually going and doing something different and making it work. A lot of people start doing things and they realize how hard it’s gonna be or the amount of time it’s gonna take, but the time’s gonna pass anyway and there’s always gonna be a hard aspect and whatever you do.
So, even when people, a lot of people told me I couldn’t do it and especially from where I’m from, I’m from a very small town, nobody does this. People think that I was crazy in the beginning.
I was able to prove a lot of people wrong and I like doing it. It’s something different and a lot of people can’t say that they’ve been able to do some of the things that I’ve done.
So, following your dreams and actually you have to rely on yourself believing in yourself that you can do whatever you wanna do, then that would be enough for me.
I love that.
And also just, you know when nobody has done it in your circle and most of the time you’ll, you’ll get people who really don’t believe that you can do it and maybe you’ll have naysayers, you know, but there’s also people who do believe in you and will stick by you and that’s actually the time when you know like real friendships and real relationships, right?
Oh yeah, yeah. A lot of people think that what I do is really cool and it’s really exciting until it affects their life in some way then it’s not so cool and then they don’t think it’s a good idea.
But I do know the people that will always be here when I do come home, even if I stay gone for five or six years, there’s certain people that I know will still be waiting for me when I get back.
Yeah, that well, that is amazing cause that’s real friendships, that’s real family and that’s what we love.
So, thank you so much, Ali, for joining us today.
If our listeners wanna learn more about you, where can they find you?
Oh you’re welcome.
You can visit my website, it is Ali’sHappyDesk.com. That is for all my virtual assistance work and travel researching.
There’s also a Facebook page with the exact same name or my Instagram handle is Alvintures, so you can find me there as well.
Perfect. Thanks, Ali! We really appreciate you!
You are very welcome and thank you for having me today. I really enjoyed it.
Listen to Ali’s extended interview where she talks about budgeting your way into a nomadic lifestyle.
What you’ll find:
In this episode, Ali talks about how to budget your way into creating a freedom lifestyle and live as a nomad.