A month before her 26th birthday, Nina Ragusa landed in Bangkok, Thailand.
About five years later, Ragusa has only been back to the US twice.
"It's funny, the live-abroad lifestyle looks so easy when you're on the outside. You just see the bikini with a karst mountain background picture or the perfectly timed sunset photo," Ragusa told Business Insider.
But the realities of living and traveling abroad for an extended period of time are a little different.
When asked what people get wrong about long-term travel, she wrote in an email, people tend to think "you have to be rich, you have to know the language, you have to be with someone else, you can only take short vacations, not live there ..."
However, she's managed to sustain herself for five years without being a fluent speaker of multiple languages, without a trust fund, and mostly by herself.
When she's traveling, she said, in a typical day, "I attempt to get around in another language, I buy my food from the markets, get around on interesting modes of transportation, meet new people, experience the culture, see something breathtaking, amazing, and/or incredible, have a beer, and wake up to do the same the next day."
However, to support this lifestyle, "work is inevitable, despite what story the photo might portray. This life isn't always easy to maintain. It's a constant flow of challenges that you have to overcome, but it's worth every drop of sweat, tears, and beers."
In Rishikesh, India.
Ragusa arrived in Bangkok in May 2011 with $6,000 in her pocket — thanks to two years of saving — and with a newly minted TEFL certification she'd gotten in the US, certifying her to teach English. She was able to get a teaching job north of the city within days, and ended up teaching for two semesters.
In 2012, she picked up two unexpected jobs: teaching English online, and freelance writing. "Because I fell into those two jobs accidentally, I learned that even if you're not sure how something is going to go down, if you keep searching, take risks on what you go for, and make a solid effort, you can really make something happen," she said.
Now, Ragusa is based in Australia, where she's working as a bartender and in a surf shop to save up more cash for a camper van trip across the continent.
"Everyone wants to know how I'm able to do this, but ironically, I never had a clue myself how to live this life," she said. "Through my initial travels, I met people and inquired, I researched endlessly, I took risks, I leaped before looking a few times, and I’ve failed miserably along the way."