We first met Grace on our excursion out to the Grand Canyon at the beginning of 2019.
She was sitting in front of us on the 1.5 hour shuttle ride from Flagstaff to the national park. We didn’t talk much for the first half of the ride.
After all, Grace was already caught up in conversation, trying to defend her accomplishments as a solo female traveler from a grubby guy who spoke in disbelief of her experiences.
“Aren’t those people dangerous over there?” I comically recall him asking.
Grace, though slightly flustered with the onslaught of discriminatory remarks, kept her cool. She spoke warmly of the people she had met on her global travels. From Southeast Asia, to the Eastern Mediterranean, Central and South America, Grace reassured that the world is much safer than we’re often led to believe.
The grubby guy, who had additionally been planning on wearing flip-flops for his first day working in the kitchen, became dissonant. His loss for words signaled that he could simply not expand his imagined reality to incorporate the distinguished experiences Grace had known as a solo female traveler.
I think that’s when we figured out that we were really going to like her.
Another synchronicity arose when Grace mentioned how she had been able to afford life on the road. Although she had worked as a chef in Costa Rica, her primary source of income was through Cambly—an online English tutoring platform.
Coincidentally, we had just discovered this website no more than a few hours before our shuttle ride. (Cosmic luck?)
As the conversation turned to more refreshing discourse, we found that we were greatly inspired by Grace. She had been traveling the global circuit for a number of years doing unimaginable things, like boarding down volcanoes, and swimming in bioluminescent waters.
Over the next two weeks, before we departed from the Grand Canyon, we built a friendship with Grace through story sharing, hiking together, and sharing a few beers.
Although our window of time was but a mere two weeks in getting to know one another, her sustained travels continue to inspire us. At the time of writing this, she’s currently in Mexico house-sitting after months of trekking around Central America.
We’re extremely grateful that we’ve been able to form a bond with Grace that spans continents.
In honor of her extraordinary adventure, and in hopes that she may encourage other would-be travelers, we put together this interview with Grace by combining some of our most pressing questions. We hope that she’s as motivating to you as she has been for us.
Take it away, Grace!
How long have you been on the road?
How do you keep it going?
I have been traveling for about 4 years now.
I do make it back to the States once a year and usually try to stay for at least a month. When I first started traveling I was relying on just my savings. I traveled to “cheap” countries like places in SE Asia and Central America. The USD really stretches if you stay in backpacker hostels, cook your own meals, take public transportation and eat what locals eat.
After the savings ran thin I found a Chef job in Costa Rica. I worked in the high seasons and traveled in the low seasons and did that for two years. But, things change and it was time to move on.
I ended up back in Costa Rica, but opted to work online rather than “on the line.” I started tutoring English on a global application called Cambly. And I have been doing that for two years while moving at a very slow pace.
I also have added in house sitting and pet sitting in the last year. This is a great way to cut back on the expense of accommodations while at the same time living in a neighborhood instead of a hostel. You have a lot of comforts of home which is really necessary from time to time.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I think 32. But 2020 is going to be a big year!
I’m adding two far flung States and a minimum of 5 new countries from the other side of the world!
What sort of sacrifices have you made to maintain the nomadic lifestyle?
I guess one “sacrifice” that I have made is that I can’t buy new things, or any things for that matter. I don’t really consider it a sacrifice though, since I don’t really identify with the consumerist way of life that many North American’s abide by.
No offense to anyone. It’s just not for me. I spend my money on traveling, experiences and education.
Another sacrifice is proximity to family and friends. But again, this doesn’t seem to be that big of a sacrifice these days with how great technology is for keeping in touch.
I remember when I first started solo traveling 20 years ago there was no such thing as a smart phone. In order to keep in touch with my family I had to find internet cafe’s and pay phones, remember those? Try using an international calling card at some ancient pay phone of a Greek island.
My mom says, the summer I backpacked Europe alone is the summer she got all her grey hairs. Nowadays, I FaceTime my family two or three times a week. I’m probably closer to them now then I ever was before.
I do have to mention one thing though. Being so nomadic can make it hard on relationships. You are always saying goodbye. People come and go in your life and you may never see them again. But, the silver lining is that I have friends ALL over this globe and that’s really exciting.
How do you connect with the places you travel to?
The best way I connect is by learning the local language and traveling SLOW.
One of the reasons I have been in Central America for so long is that I am learning the language. I think being able to communicate with others in their language is the upmost sign of respect.
I NEVER assume someone can speak English. I always try to communicate on their terms. I think it’s the best way to make friends with locals and learn about their culture and way of life first hand.
And I travel slow. I prefer staying in one place for one month at least. You can rent an apartment, go shopping at the local markets, talk to people, practice the language and see what it is like to live in the place you are visiting.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about humanity through the combined experiences of your travels?
One thing I have discovered is that most everyone I meet on my travels is very friendly and genuinely interested in you.
I come from a media culture that spreads fear and hate for “otherness” and in my travels I have learned there is nothing to be afraid of.
We are all beautiful beings all living on the same planet. We all just want to be safe and happy. We all want to learn and discover.
I think traveling is really important for learning how to not be prejudiced or afraid of people who are different. There are so many cool, smart, adventurous, open minded, and kind people out there.
Can you share one of your most memorable travel moments?
One of my favorite memories is the time I swam with bioluminescence off a tiny island in Thailand.
I was traveling solo for awhile and coincidentally met up with two old co-workers from my restaurant days in Portland, Oregon. We were on a hunt for badass snorkeling and some rumored bioluminescence.
We ended up on Koh Ngai, a secluded island that has no electricity and only have tourism infrastructure 6 months out of the year. The place runs on generators and is pitch dark after the sun sets. This island is crazy beautiful. Those insane pictures you see of Thai islands on the internet….thats Koh Ngai.
We met some Australians one night who claimed there was the famed bioluminescence in the waters. And sure enough, in the dark of the night around 11pm we saw the sparkles.
I swam in the warm pitch black waters. The bioluminescence lights up with agitation, so every stroke of my arms created an arc of purple and blue light.
I felt like I was an angel swimming through magic. I’ll never forget it.
What do you think the secret is to living a meaningful life? Or, is there any secret at all?
Do the best you can.
Try to see how things are through other peoples eyes.
Keep learning. Listen.
What’s the most important (or unusual) thing that you bring along on your travels?
I hate to say it, but now, my most important things are how I can make an income on the road. My MacBook Air, my iPhone, noise cancelling headset and an ethernet cord are indispensable.
Without these, traveling long term would be much more difficult.
How do you keep your well-being in check while living the location independent lifestyle?
GREAT question! This is something I struggle with. It’s taken me years to figure out how to stay healthy emotionally and physically. And honestly, it’s a work in progress.
I’ve started house-sitting and pet-sitting a lot more, that helps with the loneliness. Having cutie pie dogs and cats to follow you around for a month is a blessing. I love pet sitting.
I try to do yoga. Again, work in progress. I love hiking, so I do that as much as possible. Food is easy, I cook 95% of my own meals. It’s not only healthier, but much more economical. Plus, one of my favorite things in the whole world is food markets! Win Win.
What is the next big thing you aim to accomplish?
1. Fluency in Spanish
2. Start learning Portuguese
3. Get that job I applied for in Antartica!!!!
Do you have any strategies or budget suggestions for aspiring nomads?
Stop buying stuff you don’t need. Buy second hand. Borrow. Mend things you already have. Give up your apartment or rent your house out and get rid of your car.
Pay off your debts if you can. If you can’t, go anyways. Be frugal. Travel to places where your home currency is strong.
Get a credit card where you earn points for everything you buy. Pay your bills with this credit card, but pay it off every month. Always volunteer to get bumped off a flight in exchange for a flight voucher (Thanks for that $1500 Delta!!).
WorkAway, Help X and WWOOF.
You don’t need lots of money to travel. Believe me.
What inspires you and motivates you to continue traveling?
The beauty of the planets landscapes.
There are so many jaw dropping places I haven’t been!
How have you changed as a person since you started your nomadic adventures?
I take no shit! And I have learned a lot about languages. Also, I have learned you really don’t need a lot of things and stuff in your life. I live out of a 45 Liter backpack!
First and foremost, thank you, Grace, for doing this interview with us!
You have enriched our hearts and our minds, showing to us all kinds of experiences that are entirely possible and within reach.
If I would have been asked a few years ago about the feasibility of adventures like yours, I may have expressed a similar kind of disbelief as that guy on the shuttle bus to the Grand Canyon.
You’ve not only proven that you don’t need a lifetime of savings to start traveling, but that you also don’t need a full-time, soul-sucking career to sustain it.
You’ve shown us that the vast majority of the world’s population wants the same things: happiness, safety, and the ability to discover.
And most of all, you’ve shown us that despite fear, and judgment, and doubt, there is a much greater life beyond those common evils—a certain kind of living in the present, just waiting to be unwrapped, and ready to lead one into the most splendid journeys of the soul.
If you’d like to follow Grace’s adventure, check out her Instagram at: @gracelorrainebud
Thank you for reading!