Click, Click… Confirmed.
Holy sh*t… I just bought a one-way ticket to a continent I’ve never been to. Alone… What have I done?!
Is this real? Am I really moving to Thailand?
Did I just make the stupidest mistake of my life? Am I ready for a new way of life?
All of a sudden a rush came over me. I wanted to laugh, cry, and crawl into a hole all at once.
I felt like my heart was about to explode into a million pieces. My mind was racing. My body was on fire.
I have never lived abroad. What was I thinking?!
A Desire For a New Way of Life
After taking that flight and wandering the streets of Bangkok, my travel life was in full swing.
I was born again…
No, not in that religious way, but the way you’re born again when you start a new leaf in your life.
When you enter a whole new world. When everything as you know it around you totally changes.
I felt something similar when I moved away from my hometown to attend Florida State University. It was my first time living on my own, I didn’t know many people, and I had to do everything myself.
It was my first time food shopping for just myself. I got to pick my own bed sheets and pay for them with my own money (yes, all of my university life was on my OWN money).
It was weird but exhilarating! I was finally on my own!
But this was something even more. This was far more profound than just moving a few hours north of my home city and figuring things out for myself.
This was moving to literally the opposite side of the world where I didn’t know a soul, didn’t have a job, didn’t have a car, and didn’t even have a hotel booked for my first night!
This post is to talk more about how I got to that point. How I started a new way of life to travel? Did I even know what I was doing (HINT: No!)? Did I think my life was going to end up like this? How did everything start?
I can’t believe I’m sitting here nearly seven years later, looking at my inked to death passport, and I still haven’t properly told my story about how I ended up here. It’s finally time.
This is how my life of travel was born…
PS – This is a long one so strap yourself in and enjoy the long read… Let me also preface by saying it was NOT easy to write all of this out and make it some wonderful, deep and thought-provoking piece of literature.
I spilled this on paper years ago and have widdled, edited, and thought it over many times. I’m just finally hitting publish.
It is what it is. A
simple long winded run down of the emotions, the story, and how everything started.
You might want to grab a coffee. I’ll wait…
Back? Awesome. Here is the beautiful mess that I call my life…
August 2007–Graduating University
Graduation day. I did it! I graduated from Florida State University! My AMAZING Alma Mater that I love so much and I’m so proud to have graduated from. I loved my school more than anything.
I proudly wore my garnet and gold, had a killer “chop,” and I gushed over how incredible and beautiful my school was. (Seriously, it is! Go walk around if you’re ever in Tallahassee)
I double majored. Criminal Justice and International Affairs.
I’ve always been fascinated with two things: The world and crime
Wtf was I going to do with these two majors? Eh, for a little while I thought I would work for the government because that would probably be the only way I was going to be able to investigate crimes while traveling but at the end of the day … uhm… fuck the government.
I decided not to… and given the
orange troll president in charge of my country and the current situation the USA is in, I can’t thank myself enough for not getting involved (to say the least).
I mean, what did I really think I was going to do? Dress up in hot tight leather garments and stealthily peek around corners aiming at bad guys on the streets of Cairo or the waterways of Venice? I mean, come on, Nina! Get with it. *slaps myself on the face*
At the end of the day, I was like almost every other graduate… I had no fucking clue what I really wanted to do.
So after graduating, I moved back to Tampa with my mom for a couple of months until I found a job at a crappy restaurant and gathered enough funds for a place to live.
June 2008–My Euro Trip Made Me Broke
For a year or so, my friend Jessi and I had toyed with the idea of teaching abroad. I was super serious about it. I wanted nothing more than to have someone to travel with. Making a long story short… Jessi started dating someone and was no longer interested in teaching abroad.
Instead, we went on a 35-day tour of Europe. It was EPIC!
And that really started solidifying that I needed more traveling in my life. However, this trip was SO expensive! Notice the year—2008… Literally, the dollar at its worst in my lifetime.
The exchange rate was embarrassing and my dollars practically turned to dust while I gallivanted through the streets of Munich and four-wheeled my way around Corfu without a care in the world. Until I got home.
I went home broke and started working again. But with a serious itch to travel more.
I found a second job at an awesome bar around this time and I was applying “for a real job” like a mad woman. I had been applying since I graduated! But nothing. What gives?! It’s been a year!
Oh, yeah, every job wanted experience. Womp womp. I had none, like every other grad out there. This year was one of the worst years to travel and to be job hunting.
July 2009–Finally Scoring a 9-5 & Talking to Strangers
I finally got my first 9-5 job. No, the date above isn’t a typo. Two.Fucking.Years. That’s how long it took me to get a “normal” 9-5 job after graduating.
Circa 2007 and 2008, if you remember, were quite possibly the worst years ever. Politically, economically, everything.was.shit.
Most recent graduates found it VERY hard to get a regular 9-5 gig, especially me with my weirdo degree choices…
I applied, day after day. All I wanted was a “normal” life.
It’s not like I was unemployed and mooching off my parents during this time. Don’t get me wrong. I was working at a restaurant and a bar, but…
I hated the restaurant I was working at. I lived with two girls that I met working at the restaurant and they ended up being the filthiest most disgusting individuals I’ve ever met. I won’t even get into that mess, I’ll just say I found a new place to work and live.
I found this hole in the wall bar in downtown Tampa. I would have never applied to this place if my cab driver didn’t tell me I should.
Lesson: Talking to strangers is awesome. Mom lied. (jk. Kinda)
I banked at this place. It was the most I’ve ever made at a hospitality gig and it was super laid back. I really liked this spot. I was even saving a bit of money!
And my luck was on a roll, a few months later, I finally got an email back for an interview in July 2009. And I got the job.
Nobody ever admitted it but I knew I was the guinea pig hire. They wanted to see how long it took to train up someone without any experience in the field.
I was hired as a processor at a foreclosure law firm. I worked on the home title side. Essentially I took a boatload of puzzle pieces from all different areas, cleaned up the mess, and put them together so a new person could purchase the house.
I had no idea what I was doing but I worked with an amazing team and eventually—I was killin it!
I didn’t like the job but it was a big girl 9-5 gig!
It paid crappy but I was working like a real person was SUPPOSED to. Right?
I never quit my bar job. I was working both because I wanted the extra money. I wasn’t making enough at the 9-5 either. Not enough to do anything except just cover my bills.
Funny enough, I made more at the bar job than I did at the 9-5 gig. I only took the 9-5 because I was “supposed” to. But something told me (I mean, besides my pathetic looking bank account) that I should keep that bar job. So I did.
December 2009—I Got Another Travel High Bump
I had been working my 9-5 for nearly six months now. I was good at it!
This month I went to Dominica and it was life-changing. I visited a friend who was studying there and this trip pretty much changed my life. It was like my Eurotrip but x10000.
My brain was already on the “travel drug” and this was a major bump and high that I didn’t want to give up.
I was renewed. I was hooked. I wanted this new way of life.
Again, the same thought again… I NEED TO TRAVEL MORE. BUT HOW?!
After leaving Dominica is when I got SUPER serious about traveling. I had been saving a bit so I could go on this trip and a few others… but just going on these small trips wasn’t enough for me. I needed more but
Money was always the deterrent. How do money and travel happily mix?! It’s not easy…
It seems, to get the money, you don’t have the time to travel or enough money saved, and to travel, you need money. WTF world?! Why are you doing this to me!?
January 2010—Project ‘Save Every Dime’ TRULY Commences
After Dominica, I knew I had to do something. I had to do something that would allow me to travel or get me abroad for longer than a week. A week is a tease. What can I do with a week?
I’m mean, I’m not complaining. I’m lucky to have a week compared to some people. But I needed more. I was willing to do anything, but I had no idea what to do? Where does one even begin?
I wasn’t sure but I did know one thing: I was going to need more money… In case you didn’t catch that yet.
So, as you have read in a million other places… I start saving everything and spending very little. I gave up any luxuries. Anything that I didn’t NEED to survive.
I was already working two jobs and I got another doing promos for a popular beer company. I was working 50-70 hours a week depending on how many bar and promo shifts I got in addition to my 40 hours at the 9-5.
My 9-5 even allowed me to work a bit of overtime. I took whatever I could. Some days I would go from my 9-5, change in my car, and go work at the bar or do some promos. I was DEAD every night. Completely exhausted.
But my goals of stockpiling money were happening.
I had wads of cash sitting in my closet from my tips that I would periodically bring to the bank. Surely the bank teller thought I was a drug dealer or prostitute rolling up with close to a grand in cash! I probably should have deposited more frequently… Anyway.
All of 2010—How To Start a New Way of Life To Travel More?
What was I doing with all this money, though? There had to be a point, right?
Not really. Not in the beginning.
Again, I had no idea what or how I was going to travel, but surely I was going to need some cash to back it.
So that’s what I was doing. But what’s the next step?
I turned to my BFF–Google
I Googled my brain to death. Reading about people living abroad, working abroad, traveling perpetually… How are these people doing it? They didn’t look like anyone that special. They seemed to be just like me! But they were in exotic places like Thailand, South Korea, Italy, and Colombia… How could I do the same?
Teaching English kept coming up.
Literally, nearly every person I researched seemed to have started their new way of life abroad by teaching English.
Why? Because it’s a job that’s highly available, it’s easy to get for people like me (American, English tongue, Bachelors degree. Boom. Done), and it’s a way to start a life in another country AND be able to have cash flowing in.
Hmmm, I thought. This could work. I qualify to teach ESL. All I need is an easy TEFL certification to complete the qualifications. This could be my answer!
Also, it pays! So worrying about money when I get abroad could be alleviated by having a job abroad!
The rest of 2010 was work, work, work, Google, Google, work, work, work…
January 2011—Realization I’m Going at This New Way of Life Alone
I officially sign up for a TEFL certification course. It’s now been well over a year of saving and my account is looking decent enough for me to pull the trigger and get certified. I told myself—THIS is the year.
I’m going to get certified, then on a plane. This NEEDS to happen.
I was procrastinating because I was worried about going alone and not having enough money but my bank account was doing OK!
And the whole going solo thing? I was so tired of waiting for someone to come with me. I had been trying SO HARD to convince people to go with me, it was like my fourth job. I was done asking.
I accepted that I was going alone.
I wanted this so bad. Was I really going to stop myself because nobody else would join me? That’s just stupid.
Also… I was starting to break. I needed out. I was MISERABLE.
April 2011–Paying Off My Debt And Getting A Plane Ticket
Time is getting close. I wanted to leave in summer which was around the corner but I had debt I wanted to get rid of.
I DON’T want to go abroad with debt on my shoulders.
Credit cards—Done. I paid them off and cut them into tiny pieces. (about $5,000 USD worth! EKK!)
Student loans—These won’t be paid off for AGES! There’s no way I’ll be able to do it. But I didn’t want to have to worry about paying these each month, especially in the beginning. So I prepaid them. Eight months in total.
That bought me eight months of freedom abroad and I told myself I’d figure out what to do after that.
Now, my last thing to do… Buy a plane ticket. I had been toying with the idea of living in Thailand.
I didn’t know why but it seemed like the easiest place to start. I had looked into it intensely during my manic late night Googling. It was the only constant in my head.
Next thing you know, I find out a few girls I went to college with had just taught English there. That really solidified the idea for me. If they can do it, I can too. Granted they did it together, but I know I can do this on my own. I got this!
I sat there on my comfortable, white, fluffy bed—staring. Staring at my computer and this flight I was thinking of buying.
The browser had been up for days. Just sitting there looking at me.
I must have refreshed it a thousand times over. Every time my mouse got close to the purchasing button I got sweaty. I heard my heart beating in my ears, the butterflies in my stomach flew around more violently and I questioned everything in my life.
If I don’t do this, I’ll never know what could have happened. This could be the biggest mistake of my life but it could also be the best thing that ever happened to me.
I clicked refresh, move my mouse around frantically, and skimmed the details of the flight for the umpteenth time.
Tampa to Bangkok—departing May 3rd, 2011 and arriving May 5th, 2011 – ONE WAY.
Click, click, CONFIRMED.
I just bought my one-way ticket to Bangkok!
I was officially going abroad and living in Thailand for a year (HA! A year… I laugh at this now.).
WTF Did I Just Do? I’m About to Shit My Pants
As soon as that (very expensive flight) was booked, I felt my heart exploding. What did I just do? Was this the right thing to do? Did I just make a major fuck up? Am I even ready for this? Can I do this? HOW am I going to do this?!
I will tell you how NOT together I was:
- I had no job lined up.
- I had no hotel booked (I never did book one!)
- I had no solo travel experiences. At all.
- I had no cell plan sorted or even an unlocked phone. (total travel fail)
- No knowledge of Thailand at all beyond, “it has temples and beaches and it looks pretty.”
- I paid a stupid amount for my flight because I had NO idea what I was doing. Flight hacking? Huh?
I was totally clueless. Like… I could not have been more clueless. But I had the plane ticket, and about one month to get my life sorted.
Just. One. Month
I gave myself ONE MONTH to sort my life out before my flight. Here’s what I did:
- Sold everything worth a dime. TV, furniture, old clothes, everything.
- Gave my notice to my job. “Sorry, g2g! I’m moving to Thailand. byyyyeee”
- Freaked out.
- Moved out of my apartment and spent one week living at my mother’s packing before leaving.
- Packed… WAY WAAAYYYYY too much.
- Freaked out.
- Figured out how to give my car back to VW (leasing a car is actually awesome. I paid a $250 penalty fee and they took my car back no questions asked! It was amazing. I literally dropped it off on the way to the airport.)
- Went to my little surprise going away party thrown by my awesome supportive friends.
- Lastly, after paying off debt, repaying loans, buying what I needed (suitcase, flight etc), and adding up how much I made selling my stuff, I counted how much of my $16,000 savings I had left. I had $6,000 to my name.
For the record—”freaked out” didn’t mean totally freak out. I just felt these overwhelming moments of anxiety and excitement! I was so excited but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. In fact, I was totally petrified… But I was just as equally excited! This is happening!
The Day Came
My day to get on the plane came. I said goodbye to my family, dropped my leased VW Jetta off the at the dealership (freaking loved that car), and then sat waiting for my flight.
I had a layover in Dubai then landed in Bangkok… To find out they lost my luggage and then I got violently ill. It was actually the worst day ever! But hey, that’s another story! This has been long enough.
And that’s how everything started, ended and then began again for me.
So what? What was the point of all this?
I want you to be able to do this too! If it’s what you really want, that is… I hope you find this as a source of inspiration. I want you to know you’re not alone. I struggled. I had no idea what I was doing. I was scared shitless too.
I want you to succeed. My last points of help, wisdom, and random ramblings that hopefully move you… Maybe? Maybe literally?
Find Your Person
I found others on the internet who made this life happen, followed their journey, read about them, studied how to do this myself, and made it happen. If they can do it, if I did it, guess who else can do it? YOU!
Maybe this person for you is me? Maybe you’ll find someone you connect with more? Maybe find someone who is doing something that more closely aligns with what you’re wanting to do? Find an inspiration. I’m flattered if you “choose me” and hopefully I can help you! That’s the point of this blog anyway…
Tools! I have so many tools on this website to get you started and I’m constantly adding more. Becuase of my experience (when information was way slimmer on dem internets—over seven years ago) I want to make sure I provide exactly what I wanted to know when I was going through this transition in life. I have so many tools here for you, use them, and use me!
I always state in all my newsletters, on my contact page, on my facebook page, everywhere, that I’m open for you to message me. I wanted someone to talk to, and I found someone! She was so helpful! I can be that person for you.
Don’t be shy. The only thing I ask is that you do your homework before emailing me (commenting here, messaging on Facebook, whatever!).
Make sure you read my resources and give me specific questions so I can better help you. If I can tell you literally never Googled a thing or read a thing on my blog before reaching out first, I’ll probably
reply with sarcasm and sass ignore your emails.
Nobody can help you if you can’t help yourself first.
Not being harsh, just real. Nobody is going to hold your hand. Do your part first and then ask for some help.
Find Your Thing
When I was researching, I mostly found things about teaching English online. It’s NOT the only thing available out there to get yourself abroad. I’ve posted about many other opportunities which are particularly helpful to all my non-native English speaking readers. So again, I’m offering so many tools and to as many people as I can! Please use them!
You CAN Do This
If you have enough drive, ingenuity, willpower, if you don’t give up easily and don’t mind taking the challenging route, if you want to see what there is beyond your backyard – You can.
I know you can, because please, trust me, I’m nobody special. I just wanted something and I went for it. That’s it. I wanted it so bad, it’s all I thought about and I dedicated my life to making it happen.
My road wasn’t perfect but it was MY road. I’m showing you the road I took but making your ride a bit smoother than mine was with chances to turn left or right because there are choices! And I present to you as many choices as I know (and even beyond) right here on this blog.
Do You Know Why I Started This Blog?
I was an accident. People were asking me how I was doing what I was doing. Instead of continuing to write random messages to people that were grammatically pathetic and haphazardly compiled, I decided to write a helpful post so I could send links to people instead.
I started a crappy blog on an unknown and now defunct platform and I journaled. This way, my parents knew I wasn’t dead (my trip was meant to be a year) and so people understood how to do what I do because I kept getting messages from a friend’s, uncle’s, dog’s, BFF.
It was amateur but it was informative for the reader and I was saving time. I was being kinda lazy but really, it was more beneficial to the person to get that link so I could make sure I was giving them all the info I knew.
Now I have a blog that’s read across the world and I’m helping more people than I even know. I want to help as much as I possibly can and that’s the point of everything I do here now.
To show you my bare naked beginnings without the frills. I started with nothing. I didn’t even have an idea in the beginning. I just knew it was going to cost money. Oh, and I was SCARED!!
So maybe you’re there in that place like I was. Totally clueless and scared. Just know it’s likely going to cost some money before getting to where you want to go… Wherever that may be. So if anything, just start saving.
And yes, it will definitely be scary until you just jump and realize for yourself that you will live and your world will not come crumbling down. It will work out.
Think about what you want and then spend the money to get there. Whatever it takes.
Do everything possible to make your wants and dreams come true because unless you manifest what you want, they will remain dreams.
WORK to make those dream realities.
Otherwise, they will live buried deep in your thoughts and remain there eating away at you. Imagine a life full of, “What if I did this…” That’s miserable to write and think about, no less live it…
I have no idea if this post was helpful, meaningful, or awesome, but it’s the truth. It’s what I went through during those two years of working to get abroad. It’s the truth on what I felt. And I’m telling the truth when I say that I know you can do this. You got this!
Oh, and those resources I mentioned?
Everything about making money abroad and getting jobs around the world is on my work abroad tab.
I’m going to shut up now.
Feel free to comment here and let me know what you think, what you’re scared of, what is holding you back…? I’ll answer all comments here.
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.