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My Story Unfiltered

My Story Unfiltered

I’ve traveled a lot for the most part of my life. For the last 15+ years, I made anywhere from 5 to 10 international trips a year while living abroad. It comes as no surprise that a lot of people ask me how I manage to do this and who pays for all of it!

When people say you are so lucky to be able to do whatever you want and travel, I say that it’s not luck… 

When I say that if I did it, so can you, I mean it. There is no one way to do things, no magic formula. One day I’ll finish writing what I learned over the years, but a very short version of my journey below.

I once read an article that readers are getting tired of bloggers who claim that everyone can travel. Articles such as: ‘I sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket’, might not be very helpful to everyone. Not all of us have something to sell. I haven’t for instance. I started from zero: no car, no house, not even a cushy job to quit or work experience at the time I started traveling.

You don’t have to sell your belonging to be able to travel (I had nothing to sell). You can manage to travel by working abroad, or getting a scholarship. Europeans, for instance, can do Erasmus Mundus exchange that will pay for your expenses to study abroad, but there are similar programs for Americans – in fact, there are more opportunities out there these days.

How I Could Afford to Travel & Other Nice Things?

In a traditional sense, I’ve never been rich or poor. In Poland, my family was living off a decent salary but if you translate it internationally it wasn’t even close to a minimum wage in the US.

My family has never taken me to any luxury resorts or even hotels unless my dad had to go on a business trip and we all squeezed into one bed. In fact, for every holiday we visited the same guesthouse by the Polish seaside a few hours away every year, where the whole 3 floors of people (about 50+ guests) lined up to two shared showers in the basement every night and shared toilets were at the end of the corridor – that’s how fancy this place was 😉

I’ve been abroad before on my dad’s business trips and I did a few “colonies” – in Poland various summer camps are taking place abroad, but you get there by bus. I went to Italy and Turkey for summer camps and yes, I know what you’re thinking: it’s over 1000 miles 😉

The first time I got on a plane was at the age of 16. My parents made a deal with me that if I pay for it with my own money then I can go on a summer camp by plane, so I used my saved money made on tutoring and went to Crete in Greece.

2007 – The beginning of my journey as an adult

I graduated high school and worked all summer as a waitress. A lot of money I earned I spent on my first solo trip, to Egypt.

In Poland, you can officially work at 18 and graduate high school at 19 so officially it was my first job (I was tutoring before). I knew wanted more, so I went to college.

My first solo trip - Egypt 2007
My first international SOLO trip – Egypt 2007.

2008

While others partied in college, I worked my butt off to get the best grades and completed 2 years in 1. It wasn’t officially possible, but it happened. Or should I say: I made it happen.

Before all the Americans ask “how could you afford college then?”, let me explain. In Europe college is free or costs very little and in some countries, if you have good grades, you’re able to get a scholarship. I basically actually got paid to study!

Meanwhile, I shared a room the size of my closet with 2 other girls and worked on improving my English, because it was crap, so I swapped traditional holiday options for a language course.

I was lucky that my parents managed to pay for the course, but don’t be fooled – a lot of day-to-day expenses during the course I had to pay for myself… hence why I kept tutoring during the first year of college and saved a lot.

2009

Thanks to good grades I got a scholarship and completed both semesters in one (again, this wasn’t officially possible and I ended up graduating before they actually had diplomas available). I completed my first internship and applied to various universities in the UK for a postgraduate degree. 

I took the “second semester” to travel around the world and did more English courses (needed for my next degree) as I had money saved from my scholarship. My plan paid off. I proved to myself that I can do things on a budget (ever tried to live off $600 for a month in NYC and California? I have and it’s totally possible). 

Got heartbroken twice on the way and then, I finally moved to London for my Master’s but as you can suspect I also had to get a job to sustain my expenses. I believe I was living off 700 GBP a month. I found a job in a bar and an internship and realized there’s more world out there to see.

I never took out any loans either as it’s not common to get loans in Europe for most things. I was always able to find a way to finance my expenses by working part-time jobs. I’m not going to lie to you: sometimes my schedule looked like this: 8AM-2:50PM internship, 3:30PM-5PM classes, 5:30PM-11:45PM bartending. It wasn’t fun, but in the end, it paid off.

This is when I rejected an opportunity to stick around for PhD while everyone expected me to do so, including my family. I feel like everyone was trying to convince me my whole life that was the best for me, but I knew better. I would have been totally comfortable stopping whatever I was doing at various stages of my life, but I always pushed for more and took risks to see what can happen.

Bartending
Bartending in London

2010-2011

That year changed my life in many aspects. I loved and hated London at the same time, but it’s become my home in Europe. My studies at UCL were pretty bad in my opinion, and I worked evenings and weekends at the bar and mornings at an office, so I never belonged with the standoffish rich crew of students (#SorryNotSorryIsaidThat). 

I met some people who thought that working as a waitress or bartender during college was beneath them. I strongly disagree. After all, this doesn’t need to be a career you are starting, it’s just a way to earn money – which ironically allowed me to save over 15k over a few years that I spent on traveling.

I moved about 5 times, because cheap rooms always came with issues, and I even lived in a kitchen of a flatshare for a bit.

I wanted to travel and experience more. I saved on a trip to Zimbabwe recommended by the university and decided not to finish this Master’s degree to save money instead, do something else with my life. I wasn’t afraid to quit things that weren’t working. I took every shift possible at the bar to save money instead.

Meanwhile, I worked on getting a seasonal job in the US and ultimately took a different course at Harvard, even though I knew no one will understand.

While at Harvard, I decided to learn Spanish and planned for a few months in Latin America before going back to London to find “a real job”. That plan collapsed as I met someone and moved to Mexico after my planned internship in Argentina on a complete whim – it was the best decision of my life. 

Meanwhile, my psoriasis got the worst outbreak and it became clear that I’ll need to figure out a way to get an expensive new drug somehow.

I spent weeks learning Spanish nonstop and after months of teaching English to executives in Mexico City, I was able to get a residency and work in an advertising agency with locals. 

This time showed me that everything is possible and I discovered I really felt more at home in Mexico than anywhere else, even though I was living off $400 USD a month. Plus, now I knew Spanish as an asset.

2012

I had to leave Mexico and move back to London for frequent visits to Poland to my mom. My relationship ended badly (but in the end we figured it out and are still good friends today). I also had zero money due to a long story of getting screwed over by an employer (I literally walked with my suitcases from the airport, because I had no money for a train and arrived with £20). 

But, I knew it was going to be fine and replenish at some point. I worked two jobs, often 16 hours a day, then every week I was taking a night bus to the airport and was in Poland for a day off, then heading straight to work from the airport again. I was simply good at saving the minimum wage and dealing with tips 🤷‍♀️

My mom passed and I wasn’t happy with London becoming my European home once again… so I changed it. I moved to France and Italy spending my money on language learning.

I wanted to get a job abroad and do more, even though where I come from most people assume this isn’t really possible. I applied for a new Master’s degree in the Netherlands… working on improving my Dutch again.

But just to prove that I also had a social life on the way, I met someone in the most unexpected situation in Italy and decided to go live in South Africa improving my Dutch/Afrikaans there, before continuing my studies.

While waiting to hear back from Leiden University I decided to apply for a law degree in the UK. Funny story here – ironically, to apply for any degree as a non-native English speaker, despite possessing a TEFL teaching certificate, all universities required me to take an English test during my stay in Italy. At the test, I was terribly failing to understand examination instructions in Italian after just 2 weeks of learning Italian which honestly showed me how easy the US and UK citizens have it in life, not having to deal with any language learning.

2013

The year everyone thought I was crazy… After completing the first semester of international law in the UK moved to the Netherlands for my Master’s, but continued my UK studies.

People usually don’t believe this story, but it’s true. I was commuting weekly with overnight buses and hostels. As crazy as it sounds, I also interned at the university in the Netherlands and had an incredible student life and hosted many parties.

Many probably assumed I had no life and while I was always busy, I had fantastic memories and met a ton of people (if some of my old friends are reading this please say hi!). I also went back to Mexico for research (and lived in a hostel dorm for 2 months) which was later published. It was an amazing year! 

2014

I graduated from both universities. I also got my dream job that turned out to be not as expected (story for another time), so I took a marketing job that I got thanks to my Spanish actually!

I traveled a lot on my days off and thanks to a discount from my job I was able to afford my first ever hotel stay (the room had no window, but hey – it was an upgrade from 16+ beds in hostel dorms).

That year I started my travel blog on a rainy afternoon after work. It’s been a learning curve and the blog wasn’t making much money, obviously. Most people laughed at me for doing it, but I was pursuing it mostly as an asset for future opportunities.

2015

While living in the Netherlands I got engaged to someone, and at the end of the year we moved to the US. Once again I was living in California… although this time firstly in a flatshare next to a crazy person and then in a studio with a toilet in the kitchen – on top of living with the wrong person, for me. The relationship was the worst mistake, but it pushed me to do even more and rely on only myself once we borke it off.

While in the US I wasn’t able to work normally, so I found remote gigs and kept improving my blog. Eventually, I was very unhappy in every aspect of my life, but kept working remotely for very little money, and on the blog believing it could get better despite everyone telling me that spending money on traveling and working from a laptop isn’t a way to live (and look at the world now, huh!).

I felt like nothing was working out in my life the way I wanted, had nowhere to live, and had no other choice, but to work my butt off again…

I stayed in the US for a while after networking and at the end of the year, I met Matt at the conference and spent some time in Playa del Carmen before returning to London at the end of the year.


2016

On January 1st, I packed my London life for good and moved back to Mexico – this time Playa del Carmen. I finally realized there were more people making a career by working remotely and making money blogging and this is when things took off.

Oh, and we also got together with Matt after a few months of totally not dating (as I lived with friends at the time we made sure to always tell them we’re not dating but Matt was there daily 😅).

I was starting to make some decent money from the blog and it became enough for me to start living just off the blog, because I was used to not spending much. My asset – the website basically became my job as I officially became an undesirable candidate being told “you’re good, but this will take off and you’ll quit in no time”.

2017

Brexit happened and my nomad status got endangered, so Matt & I we made a decision of moving to the US, to Colorado. I had to put lots of international travels on hold because of the immigration and we couldn’t have a wedding… so we got ourselves a Poofy as a wedding gift 😅

We flew acrobatic planes and helicopters when we went to Vegas and we were both falling asleep at our celebratory dinner after the ceremony. And, becaus we’re very romantic, we only had metal cat rings from Amazon.

However, I didn’t last in Colorado and it was definitely not my crowd. Soon enough we packed up and went to live in Los Angeles which allowed us to work on many projects. It was the first year I unofficially hit 75k per year. * To my European folks: I know it sounds like a lot of money because in Europe I was making 34k and it was fine, but it’s not an amazing salary in the US. However, for an immigrant it isn’t bad.

2018

We were both very focused on work and I was trying to get as many client works from the blog as possible. 

Honestly, it seemed like an easy money and while some of it was indeed, it wasn’t the right way in the long run. I hated dealing with chasing invoices or being given 24h notice to fly somewhere random. I broke the 6 figures profit (underlined profit) which was a huge achievement.

I was finally able to get my expensive drugs for psoriasis after years of being forced to basically treat myself with methotrexate. It was a game changer, and I got pregnant with Dylan. 

However, I missed Europe, and after debating it for a while (and being kicked out of the rental house by the owner helped for sure) we decided we’re going to live in Italy

2019

If you missed the story about Dylan’s birth in Poland instead of Italy it’s on the blog, but things in Italy went horribly wrong and while I loved Europe with a baby we had to come back to the US. 

My work also took a hit, because I wasn’t able to do projects (they somehow stopped coming when they found out I was pregnant) and being in Italy didn’t help either. Basically, one year things were going great and the next it all went downhill, which was frustrating.

Looking back, it allowed me to work on my passive income and not rely on sponsors or projects. Ultimately, they did me a favor.

Traveling with a baby was stressful and a learning curve as well and even my solo trips felt different. However, Dylan was an easy baby and I took zero maternity leave so continued to work while he napped.

I self paid for a freaking trip to Antarctica and it was the best thing ever to be able to enjoy it without stressing over it. And ironically, because we sold the penguin video we basically got a chunk off the trip price back. #karma

My passive income kept increasing and when we decided to move to Utah this time I was ready for starting to do something else while enjoying passive income.

2020

What a year it was! I got accepted to a nursing school and thought it’s going to be a good year, especially considering we just bought our first house in Utah. Little did we know…

In January, I got diagnosed with a third autoimmune disease, thyroid this time, and I was basically at the fertility clinic every week when doctors tried to figure out what’s wrong. 

Once they did, and everything seemed in order I went to Socotra while c*v*d was beginning to erupt and thankfully managed to get back… one not just because of flight cancellations, but also as I ended up in the ER a day later with ectopic pregnancy. If it erupted there is safe to assume that I’d have been dead. 

One surgery and tube later I was suddenly even more frustrated, we had a house to redo with no workers, Dylan’s daycare closed because of the earthquake that week, and my wonderful plan of studying went to the trash, because all my income disappeared.

From 4 figure months it went to 3-figure months: I believe my worst month was $670.

On top of that, I was back at the doctors bi-weekly, but thanks to IUI and some drugs Holden got created.

After seeing market trends I started a toy store along with another blog. I was back to working million hours a day and night, and took a giant loan without any guarantees. I created so many products, learned new things and dealt with suppliers and clients. Somewhere on the way I started a third website too. It’s been a busy journey…

2021

Holden was born in Mexico. I turned my toy store into a clothing brand with a newborn on my hands, and dealt with other unexpected health issues as usual.

I told Matt that I don’t want to do any of this a million times when I was talking to suppliers at 3AM every other day, especially when the garage was full of $20,000 worth of merchandise that I had to pack and ship and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell it… and still maintain my websites, new baby and a growing active toddler.

I kept going and eventually the hard work paid off, as halfway through the year my income got better than EVER before. 

My store made a profit in its first year! My blogs were starting to have solid 4-figure days and became assets for the future. I was finally able to decide that I want to move to France and stay at the Four Seasons, or that I want to visit South Sudan and camp in the cow poop (just to be clear: traveling around Africa even when camping in poop isn’t cheap btw). 

I finally reached a stage again when I wasn’t feeling stressed saying no to big sponsorships and I could basically manage the workload on a 4-hour work week (btw, don’t be fooled… you have to work your butt off to reach that stage) and go to Mexico for fun instead or move to France for a few months because we feel like it.

When you think that someone must have gotten lucky, maybe they did, but many people worked by trying different ways. I didn’t have a secret recipe, in fact, growing up in Poland you’re always told you can’t do things rather than you can do anything like in the US. I think both are equally bad for kids’ mental health actually) and I believe that if you really want something you can get it.


Why Didn’t I Want to “Just Travel”?

I never had any intentions of heading on a long never-ending trip around-the-world trip. I’m generally not a big fan of these sorts of journeys (apart from the fact that I had not much to sell in order to afford it).

During my travels, I saw so many young people who embarked on an adventure to figure out what they want to do and see where things will take them. Not surprisingly, none of them found the answer, because that’s not what traveling is more – in fact, it actually made me look at my dream jobs in a different light and I decided not to pursue them.

I’ve always wanted to have a backup plan. Especially, because at some point every traveler wants to stop somewhere and settle down, and I didn’t want to be left with no opportunities. It might not be in a year, maybe not in your twenties or even early thirties, but look at how many fellow travelers or digital nomads get a base somewhere at some point in their lives.

Right before graduating from college, I realized that instead of spending my money on “just traveling around”, I could also use my education and internship opportunities to travel while doing something beneficial for my future at the same time.

It might seem less fun than drinking and partying in hostels, but by doing what I did I had a chance to actually get to know the culture of every place I lived in. I didn’t just pass through these countries by seeing only tourist attractions (again, nothing wrong with that per se if you want to enjoy your holidays!).

As a result, I was always earning money and my piggy bank of savings was used towards short trips in the meantime. And I still partied a lot actually 😉

My method of traveling wasn’t very unique or innovative. Many people do it and you can as well – little did I know I was becoming a digital nomad before it became cool. Your situation may be different, but if you really want to travel, you can always find a way to do it and even save money on the side.

Holland 20141
You can do plenty of fun activities when you’re studying or working – like flying Cessna in the Netherlands!

Did I Ever End Up With No Money?

YES, because I’m a huge risk-taker. In 2011, due to some personal reasons, I had to leave Mexico and move back to London. Living on a Mexican salary in Mexico wasn’t a problem, but saving money to live elsewhere was a challenge.

As a result, I got back to London with next to nothing to my name. I stayed at my friend’s house for a month, quickly found two jobs, and worked day and night for the first month. Thanks to that, I rented my own place (read: room in a shared flat) fairly quickly. 2 months later I was able to save to fly to Rio de Janeiro for the Carnival as well…

I’m not saying that you need to always work extremely hard to travel, but if you set your goals and work towards them, everything will work out.

I’m actually very glad I came to London with no money, as it made me more confident that I can dig myself out of any situation.

In Rio de Janeiro in February 2012!
In Rio de Janeiro in February 2012!

How Did My Blog Help Me Financially With My Travels?

I recently read a discussion between travel bloggers about the possibilities of sponsored travel. What I read there was horrifying. A lot of bloggers demand to receive everything for free all the time like they’re at least a royal family and refuse to pay even a little bit for anything.

I must agree with an article Liz Carlson wrote that unfortunately, the gimme attitude has become a common thing for bloggers. As I’ve done an extensive amount of traveling before the blog, I don’t always write about sponsored trips. Therefore you can find sponsored and not sponsored content on my blog (these days most isn’t sponsored by choice).

I can also recommend a bunch of excellent blogs that won’t feature the next stay at Radisson Blue or touring Phuket beaches again, but can give you tips on hiking in Ethiopia, visiting Eritrea or any other less Instagrammable spots.

You can be a travel blogger and never take a sponsored trip. You can review things for a mommy blog and not rely on brands and freebies. Spoiler alert: your advice will be better after non-sponsored things and as a result you’ll make money to spend on your own travels wherever and whenever you want.

In fact, in 2019 I decided to reject a free trip to Antarctica because I thought that it wasn’t my preferred itinerary. I paid 15k on going independently and trust me, it paid off big time.

Since then I basically never take any sponsored trip. I believe it’s just not worth the hassle.

I still have to eat even if my activities are sponsored...
I still have to eat sometimes even if my activities could be sponsored…

Do I Make Money From My Blog?

Since November 2014 I’ve become a full-time blogger. Ironically, not by choice, but since I was traveling and leading a nomadic lifestyle I just had to make my blog a proper business.

Before you make a ton of money from your blog, there are tons of side things you can do as a blogger: freelance social media consulting, implementing affiliate links, ads, sponsored posts and many other things. You can see some sample income reports I published for my other website.

Read more about monetizing a blog and how do I make money these days here. However, there are many non-blogging ways of making extra income.


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The honest truth – I never have the money I need to travel, but I buy the ticket anyway 🙂

Sommer Ryan

Wednesday 29th of July 2020

I totally agree with your point of view Anna. My traveling is always been in a fixed budget (not too lavish) but i didn't miss a single joy. One should know how to make a budget for their traveling plans.

Jon

Thursday 20th of February 2020

Wow, you are such an inspiration to like minded people who don't have a lot of money, but find travel so important for a healthy life and outlook. My wife and I are super frugal and while our friends are out at fancy restaurants and shopping at Department stores we are eating take out chinese and researching our next trip. Now that we can take our kids and expose them to the world the experience has bloomed exponentially. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story, you have such an incredible can-do spirit, best of luck continuing your adventure! :)

Spargle

Wednesday 12th of June 2019

I think a lot of people who are stunned that someone can travel internationally for cheap probably live in the US. It is very expensive for us to travel to anything that isn't North America or South America!

Betty

Tuesday 7th of May 2019

Hello Anna! I must say first I am greatly inspired with your blog.. and i actually find your blog the easily best around here for young travelers.. I just wanted to know how the job of bartending is like? I am a girl of 18.. and I want to do some earning.. which i am going to try for the first time along with studying. Which one would you say between bartender and waitress is better?

Anonymous

Tuesday 7th of May 2019

Hello Anna! I must say first I am greatly inspired with your blog.. and i actually find your blog the easily best around here for young travelers.. I just wanted to know how the job of bartending is like? I am a girl of 18.. and I want to do some earning.. which i am going to try for the first time along with studying. Which one would you say between bartender and waitress is better?

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