How to Make a Living as a Nomad: Karina Greco's Solo Travel Story
How to Earn Money from Abroad: Interview with Karina Greco, a Female Solo Traveler
- Name: Karina Greco
- Instagram: @theblacksheeptravels
- Website: theblacksheeptravels.com
- Age: 28
- How many countries have you been to? 45
- What inspired you to begin a solo traveling journey?
This is a great question. I have always had a passion for traveling to new places and being immersed in new cultures. It all started when I was young - My mom left Ukraine and moved us to Canada in search of a better life for us filled with more opportunity. I got on the plane all by myself at 5 years old, after living with my grandparents for an entire year in Ukraine. I guess that’s where my courage came from. I had a great life growing up in Canada, but I remember every time I got asked by the school teachers what I wanted to be, I would say I want to find a job where I can travel the world. I had such a fascination with traveling. I would draw pictures of different places, but the recurring theme was drawing a sunny beach with Kangaroos. At some point in elementary school I became fascinated with Australia and had a dream to go travel and live there one day. As soon as I graduated from college, I couldn’t think of anything worse than staying in Toronto and living a cookie-cutter life. I had my entire life planned out for me - graduate, become a teacher, marry my high school sweetheart, and buy a house in the suburbs. But my heart was aching for something more. I needed to find a way to get to Australia, and I found an exchange program for a year teaching degree on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. This felt like it was a sign from the universe, and I did everything in my power to make it happen and move my life overseas. As soon as I moved to Australia in 2014 and finished my first-semester teaching, I began planning where I could go on my break. Meeting so many new people overseas got me extremely excited about the sea of people out in the world that I could potentially meet. So I planned a trip to Bali with some girls in my teaching program, and then I decided to book a one-way ticket to Thailand for my first ever solo trip. I wanted to push outside my comfort zone, and go completely alone this time. After that trip, my entire life changed and I have been solo traveling around the world for the past 5 years.
7. Can you share how fear has shaped your travels/plans?
I never really had the fear to travel solo. Of course I had some anxious thoughts right before I got on the plane, but who doesn’t the first time they travel alone? Or do anything for that matter? I was always really independent growing up, so doing things alone didn’t really feel like a big deal to me. I guess the biggest fear that shaped my travels and my plans was disappointing my family. I was raised in a conservative family, by Russian/Ukrainian parents and grandparents who always controlled my life. This is just how they expressed their love and care - through wanting to plan out exactly what my life would look like - from my university degree to my career, to who I would marry and where I would live. Deciding to move overseas to study in Australia was a big shock for my family, especially my mom. She didn’t want to let me go. She did everything in her power to try to convince me to stay in Toronto and study teaching at one of the local universities. Getting into arguments with her and seeing how much I was disappointing her because I would leave her and stray away from the traditional path of life really took a toll on me. Convincing her to let me go live and study in Australia was hard enough. I didn’t even want to tell her about the first solo trip that I planned to SE Asia - I knew she would just worry about my safety. But this time I was already on the opposite side of the world, and she couldn’t really do anything to stop me. So I got over that fear, and told her my plans, knowing that finally, I had full control of my life.
8. Can you share a bit about your past solo travel plans and which destinations you’ve been to?
In my first year of living abroad in Australia at the age of 22, I traveled to Thailand and Laos all by myself for 6 weeks during my university semester break. After that first solo trip, I had become absolutely fearless. I returned to Australia to finish my last semester and couldn’t wait for the next time I could travel solo again. After my year student visa was about to expire, I had been offered a full-time teaching contract for 6 months on the Sunshine Coast in Australia starting in July 2015. It was literally the day that my return flight to Canada was due to depart. I had accepted the offer and decided to ditch my return ticket. During a two week September break, I had to take an impromptu visa run out of Australia to apply for my working holiday visa in order to return to Australia to complete my teaching contract and come back to my new life. I decided to book a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand. It was the end of the winter season, and the perfect time for a cheap last minute snowboarding trip. During those two weeks I fell in love with solo travel again - staying in hostels, going snowboarding with new friends, and hiking the peaks in the South Island. The next trip I did alone was to Western Australia during my second year living in Australia, although I did meet some friends there and we went on a kiteboarding road trip. After my second year in Australia was up, I decided to move my life to New Zealand and do a working holiday visa there. I moved my entire life over to a new country, completely alone this time. I didn’t know anybody there. I flew to Auckland, and spent 3 months there working in hospitality/teaching and kiteboarding. I bought myself a huge SUV, that I turned into a campervan, and I embarked on a 3-month road trip across the entire North and South Island of New Zealand. I then arrived in Queenstown just before the winter season was beginning, to find an apartment, a job, and buy my winter ski pass for the upcoming 2017 winter season. Before the winter season began, I had the opportunity to go on another solo trip to Aitutaki in The Cook Islands for 10 days. It was a kiteboarding camp that was all-inclusive, and I found it online as a last-minute deal for half price! At this point I had worked a few weeks, and had some savings, and couldn’t pass it up. I went on that trip, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Kiteboarding became my passion when I learned it in Australia, so money was no object to me when it came to my passions and traveling experiences. After that winter spent snowboarding in Queenstown, I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for two months during the shoulder season (the few months between winter and summer). I went all alone to go chase the wind for kiteboarding, to study and take some courses at yachting school, and do a two-week volunteer program at a Safari. My next plan after living in NZ for two years was to enter the yachting industry as a deckhand. I had become so obsessed with traveling and living in beautiful destinations that I knew this would be the perfect next career and chapter for me. After completing my courses in Cape Town, I rented a car and drove down the Garden Route and went to volunteer alone at a conservation safari called Shamwari. When I returned to Queenstown, I finished off that year and stayed for another winter season because I had made such good friends there and wanted to stay until the end of my second-year visa. When I had to say goodbye to my NZ life and family, I went to Fiji all alone for a month to recharge and reflect on all the experiences I had those past four amazing years living, working, and traveling abroad. I was so excited for my next chapter after Fiji. I flew home to see my family in Canada, and then prepared for my next move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to get my foot in the door and enter the yachting industry. Since working in this industry for almost two years now, I have traveled to the West Coast of the States, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, and the Philippines just to name a few solo trips on my time off from working on yachts.
9. Where do you live now?
Currently, I am back in Toronto with my family. I haven’t lived at home for almost 10 years since University - apart from visits here for a few weeks to a month at a time. Due to COVID, and getting laid off from my last yacht job, that is the reason I am back in Canada. Although I am hoping to get back on another yacht soon and get back to traveling and working abroad. Or else, I may move somewhere to work remotely and begin my new online coaching business venture.
10. What types of job(s) have you had while traveling abroad?
I worked as a high school teacher (mainly freelancing) in Australia and New Zealand. I did some tutoring as well. I also worked in hospitality as a bartender and waitress. Both of these jobs provided me with a good income and the ability to save and be able to travel freely.
11. Tell us about your newly launched travel business.
So this travel business has been launched very recently. Losing my yacht job because of COVID has honestly been a blessing in disguise. As much as I dreaded coming back home to live with my parents at 28, I always had this project in the back of my mind, and now this was the perfect time to start laying the foundation. I started working with an online business coach, who is actually a friend I have known since high school. I told her about my idea to start a blog, but I didn’t want it to be like a regular travel blog. She helped me to create a business plan and helped me come up with the idea to start coaching women who want to find the confidence to travel solo. I have been an expert in my field of solo traveling now for 6 years, so I thought that this would be a brilliant angle to take with my blog. I have started coaching clients since the beginning of May 2020 - I now have 4 clients, and I am looking to recruit more soon.
12. What is your biggest goal with The Black Sheep Travels?
My biggest goal is to help as many women as I can. My goal is to make it a really successful blog and community, where women can come and read my blogs and use them as free tools to help them before they decide to embark on their first solo adventures. I have already started offering coaching packages as I mentioned, and my goal is to work with more clients and eventually create digital courses that will help women have the tools to prepare them for solo travel. I would love to be able to work remotely while doing this and eventually create workshops and retreats to bring a community of women who have a passion for solo travel together.
13. How did you come up with the idea?
I have always had a passion for helping and inspiring others. I am a natural leader - I am an Aries after all. I have been told by many over the years that I have a way with words and people. Many of my friends have told me that I should create a business and help women to travel. I didn’t want to be a travel agent or a travel guide, I wanted to stand out. Knowing that travel is a supersaturated industry, I decided to really niche down and think of a creative way to help others. I also have a passion for writing. I love sharing my stories, and have already treated my Instagram as a mini-blog over the years. I decided to take it to the next level and finally create a blog, but think of how I can eventually monetize with it.
14. What type of courses are you planning to offer?
This past month I have conducted a lot of market research, spending entire days sending DMs to women that I found on traveling Facebook groups or through hashtags on Instagram. I had about 50 of them respond to a questionnaire and I have been able to list about 60 different fears/obstacles that hold women back from traveling solo. Working with my four clients this month has also helped to give me an idea of what kind of courses I can offer in the future. The first course that I am planning will cover all the basics of safety while traveling, as this has been one of the top concerns for women who are thinking about traveling solo. The second course will be about overcoming various fears/obstacles such as: dealing with anxious thoughts, loneliness, and disappointing friends/family just to name a few. A third course will be about planning and traveling with a purpose such as: how to book flights, hostels, etc, and how to plan a more spiritually mindful trip. I have a few other ideas such as courses on how to move your life overseas and the logistics involved.
15. How do you plan to grow your business?
I plan to grow my business by using Pinterest mainly. I have just bought my first digital course called Pinfinite Growth by Melyssa Griffin. She has been a huge inspiration to me - started off as a teacher and now has a 7 figure online business generated mainly from passive income with these digital courses. You can say I want to learn from the best and work extremely hard to get to her level one day. I am also using Instagram to engage with women, but 80% of my focus will be going toward Pinterest.
16. What do you think holds most girls back from traveling/traveling solo?
There are many things, and different pertaining to each person. From the market research I have conducted thus far, safety is the number 1 concern. Then there are all the fears: not having the confidence to do it alone, being lonely, not making friends, not having enough money/running out of money, getting lost/having a bad sense of direction, not knowing where to start with planning, disappointing friends/family and so many more.
17. What have been some of the most exciting parts of your travels?
One of the most exciting parts of my travels has been the opportunity to meet so many like-minded people. I wouldn’t be where I am today with all of these memories, experiences and life long friendships that I have formed. I wouldn’t have this new business venture if I didn’t get on that flight to Australia 6 years ago. That is a crazy thought to me! Another exciting part of my travels has been the spontaneity that has come from all my trips. I rarely plan things when I travel, so a lot of exciting things tend to unfold. The best memories are the days where I didn’t plan anything, and amazing opportunities and experiences would just come my way. For instance, when I traveled to Fiji alone, I met a local woman on the ferry ride over to Taveuni who invited myself and a Dutch girl that I had been traveling with for a couple of days to come to stay at her village. Being open to change and new opportunities are what allowed me to have such beautiful memories and experiences to look back on.
18. Do you have any bucket list travel goals?
So many. I feel like I have just scratched the surface of seeing the world. I want to travel through all of South America, I want to do a van trip through Canada and the States. I would love to travel more in Europe and see Portugal, Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia. I want to start my digital nomad journey where I can help women every day and be able to live in a new country each month, preferably ticking off all the windy locations where I can kiteboard and explore.
19. How old were you when you started traveling?
I have always traveled while I was growing up, but I guess the day I moved to Australia and began solo traveling was when this really took off. I was 22.
20. How do you pay for your trips?
Like I mentioned earlier, I have always had a work hard and save approach. Since I was 15 and I started working as a swim instructor and lifeguard, I would put away 80% of my money every paycheck. I earned higher wages than the average minimum wage job working in this industry for 7 years. When I turned 20, I started bartending and waitressing during the 4-month summer university breaks in Canada. I earned really good tips and continued to work as a full-time swim instructor/lifeguard during the days, and part-time throughout the school years and managed to save almost 20 grand before moving to Australia. As I said before, I worked as a teacher and in hospitality while living in Australia and New Zealand. Recently working in the yachting industry, I have been able to save a lot of money quickly as I don’t have any expenses when I am working on board. This has funded my most recent travels.
21. How far in advance did you plan for this solo trip?
My very first trip to Thailand I planned months in advance and had my entire itinerary planned down to the minute. Now, most of the trips that I plan are very spontaneous. I get off the yacht, I go just go somewhere new and make the itinerary up as I go. Of course if I have a place in mind, I will book that one way flight a month or few in advance, but that’s about it.
22. Favorite travel destination?
That’s a hard question. I have fallen in love with so many different places. So far, probably Cape Town, South Africa. The mountains and the sea are two of my favourite things combined. The fact that I could kiteboard there and hike made for the ultimate travel lifestyle and destination for me.
23. How did you prepare for your solo travel?
The very first trip to Thailand I prepared months in advance. I booked all the flights, hostels, and even ferries which I later regretted. Once I arrived, I ended up canceling everything I had pre-planned that I could. I realized that traveling spontaneously was the way to go. I ended up meeting so many people and getting tips and advice on where to go, that my itinerary changed daily.
24. Do you ever feel lonely while solo traveling and if so what do to alleviate those feelings?
When I was 22 and arrived in Thailand the very first day, yes I did. I never ate alone at a restaurant before, and the first time I had to do it I was dreading it. I hated the idea of people staring at me and judging me. But after that moment, I got over it. I realized how liberating it felt to be on my own, happy in my own company. I don’t ever feel lonely anymore. I crave that time to myself, but also put myself out there to meet people when I feel like being social.
25. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with solo traveling?
I have faced many challenges. The biggest one is having no one to fall back on - being completely responsible for everything. I’ve made a lot of rookie mistakes - missing flights and having expensive repercussions in the end. But I always got over the hurdles and the adversities have made me much more resilient. It’s always a learning and growing process.
26. What items do you travel with at all times? Do you have any packing tips for long trips?
I always travel with my DSLR camera, my favourite bikini, my reusable water bottle, my fanny pack, and my kiteboarding gear if I am going to a kiting destination. I used to have a GoPro, but it died on a diving trip in the Philippines recently.
Packing tips - I have always overpacked - and recently I have downsized to a 45 L backpack that I can travel with as a carryon - This would be my biggest suggestion. Pack only necessary things - one or two things of everything - bikini, workout gear, shoes. Don’t bring entire luggage or overpack your entire wardrobe - you will NOT want to lug it around, especially if you are planning to backpack. I end up wearing the same outfit, and honestly nobody notices. You can wash it often, especially if you are traveling in tropical destinations. If I travel with kite gear, well there is really no way around packing less with that.
27. What is the best piece of advice you can give to female travelers in terms of safety?
Have your wits about you. This means looking confident where ever you go. Always wear a fanny pack, don’t flash your nice things (like phone, jewelry, and cameras). Leave those nice important things (passport and expensive jewelery/laptop) locked away in a safe back at your hostel. Some countries will be safer than others, but I believe you can feel safe anywhere you go if you take these precautions. Obviously don’t walk alone at night, and always tell someone where you are going. Especially if you are an avid hiker who likes to do long treks like me - just tell the hostel staff that you are going to climb a huge peak that day if you going at it all alone.
28. What are your favorite and/or recommended countries to solo travel as a female in?
My favorite countries to travel solo as a woman has been: any countries in South East Asia - mainly Thailand and the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
29. Do you have any specific tips for booking hotels, Airbnbs, and/or hostels?
Yes, I always compare 3 main apps: booking.com, Agoda, and Hostelworld. Hostelworld I find a bit more expensive sometimes. I tend to travel to places during their off-season as well - normally all the hotels will be half the price. I’ve used Airbnb in the Philippines when I wanted more privacy and found some private places the same price as a dorm. I like to mix it up and do dorms when I am feeling more social, and private when I need to recharge.
30. How do you typically keep your friends and family back home updated on your travels?
Normally I message my mom weekly, or she messages me because she loves to check-in. The world we live in today is great for that - Whatsapp Group texts and video chats go a long way!
31. What types of things should travelers research before visiting new countries?
The top things would be a one-way flight, or round trip if you are going on a shorter trip and knowing when you will return. The second thing is booking your first hostel for the first couple of nights, I wouldn’t book anything past this unless you are planning a strict and short itinerary. The next thing I would research is the weather so you know what to pack, the culture so you pack appropriate attire, and the currency so you convert a bit of cash to have on you for when you arrive. I would also find good travel insurance that would cover you in that country. I would also research how to get around - any type of transportation you could take from flights to buses to trains to ferries. I always like to research what types of activities I could do there too.
32. What do you miss most from back home when you’re traveling for long periods abroad?
Honestly I don’t miss home at all. I love Canada, but Toronto was never going to be home for me. One day I can see myself settling down out West near Vancouver in Squamish or Banff, but I want to see so much more of the world before that day comes. I have never gotten homesick, and I am lucky that my family visits me overseas sometimes. I guess the thing I miss the most is having a base - it’s hard to be on the road for long periods of time without wanting to have your own space for a bit. That’s why I book myself in private rooms from time to time.
33. Do you have any funny/interesting stories you can share about past trips?
Oh yes - so many. Probably the funniest story that I definitely didn’t think was funny at the time is an unfortunate event that happened on my very first day on my first solo trip. I arrived to Phuket in Thailand and checked into a party hostel. I was so exhausted and had a 7 am ferry booked the next morning to the Phi Phi Islands. I was staying in a 4-bed dorm with another guy. I tried to go to sleep, and the loud music at this hostel was keeping me wide awake. Rookie mistake #1 - booking a party hostel the first night you were planning to relax. I remember hearing this American guy stumble into the dorm around 1 am in the dark and all of a sudden I heard a familiar and daunting sound. He started peeing in the corner of the room, and in that corner happened to sit my entire 60L backpack. I was traumatized, I yelled at him and screamed: “What are you doing?” He was so drunk that he thought he was in the bathroom. I had to catch a ferry in about 6 hours. At this moment a girl came into the dorm and saw what happened, she immediately told him that he had to give me some money for my troubles. He drunkenly stumbled to the ATM and paid me 100 American dollars for peeing all over my bag. I woke up that morning having to lug this heavy bag covered in his pee onto the ferry. It has extremely hot that day, and I almost got sick from smelling the bag on my back. As soon as I arrived at my new hostel in the Phi Phi Islands I asked the staff to wash my entire bag. I explained the situation and they weren’t impressed but did it for a few bucks. I gave them double just for their troubles. I guess I can now laugh about this experience. Thanks to that American guy, he funded my first week in Thailand!
34. Other tips/advice you’d like to share?
If you’re thinking about traveling solo, then just do it. Don’t overthink it and book your one-way ticket. I promise you will never look back and the memories you will have will be priceless.